It Takes A Village

13.1

It’s easy to think that you just train, you put in miles, you get up, you tell yourself you don’t hurt as much as you do, and then you do it again. But it is so much more than that. It is the entire community of people around me that has gotten me to where I am today. When I stop to think about all the people that have influenced me, encouraged me, kicked me, and prodded me, I am overwhelmed.

I had people cook for me, give me tools, give me gear, help me set up my Garmin watch, set up the Garmin connect on my computer, set up the tracking device. I had people email me asking when the race was, and encourage me, literally every step of the way. I had, and still have, individuals who inspired me to keep going, and in turn, I was told that I inspire others. It is a beautiful cycle.

I had a team of people that have kept my body in tip top shape – massaging muscles, making sure my spine was in alignment, showing me specific running stretches, stretching with me, reminding me when I need to rest, and giving me advice to keep me from injuring myself.

Even though I didn’t have a coach, and I made up my own training plan based on some pretty good guesses and something I read in a book, I had a whole team of trainers working with me. They challenged me to do the long runs, and then the longer runs. They explained the importance of speed and strength work. They told me not to skimp on core work and keep up with my plan. They reviewed my chart, my progress and told me where I was trying to do too much and when I needed to push harder. They affirmed my plan, and gave me options. They told me about different ways to approach running from the “run/walk” method to heart monitor training. At the end of the day, no one method is perfect, but part of my joy has been to try many things and see what works for me.

 

And then it was the day of the race. There were moments that I vividly remember….

I remember hitting the 1-mile marker and thinking simultaneously, “I wish these people would all get out of my way, they are slowing me down! And wow, I just have 12 more to go.” At the 4-mile marker, I realized I was almost a third of the way done. When I hit 5 miles, my hip started to hurt and I thought, “meh…give it two more miles and see how it feels.” At somewhere around mile 7, they were handing out gels and I had some because I knew I needed it, but oh, it was gross. Just before mile 8, I ran through a fire department and under two great flags – the Colorado state flag and Old Glory…. I jumped up to try to touch the flag, but missed by at least a foot. Somewhere around mile 11, another fire department was out in their fire fighting pants and boots (no shirts), giving us high fives. Upon reflection, it seems that I might have preferred them back at mile 4 when I might have been able to remember what they all looked like!

And I was humbled, oh so very humbled at the end.  I was somewhere around mile 12.5, and it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of another.  I kept seeing these people pass me, young people with their pony tails bobbing, still looking perky and talking to their friends, and older people with silver hair and skinny chicken legs…and all I could think of was that I hoped I could grow up to be that old person someday.  It was inspiring.

I remember crossing the 13 mile mark and thinking to myself, I’m almost there – I couldn’t quite see the finish line yet because it was around a curve, but somehow I was able to pull out the last of my reserves and I picked up my pace one more time…I was determined to finish strong, with a smile on my face and my arms up in the air.  And then I was over the line, and I realized I’d done it – that thing I’d set out to do, it was done.  My legs felt like rubber, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted something to drink or to just fall over.  But it was humbling to realize that I am part of an elite group now – I can never say that I’m not a runner again, and that is humbling in and of itself.

You learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself beyond your comfort zone and then push yourself even harder. In January, this seemed like an impossible thing to attempt. I did it, but I didn’t do it alone…it took a village.

Cramming For The Exam

Final Exam

There are a lot of things you can cram for – that driver’s written test when you’re sixteen.  That history exam that covers 400 years and is worth 60% of the grade.  A speech you’re supposed to give to a hundred people.  Packing your suitcase 20 minutes before you have to leave for the airport.  I’m not saying that cramming is necessarily the most effective way to accomplish any of these things; I’m just suggesting that it’s possible.

 

It is not possible to cram for a Half Marathon.

 

You have either put in the time, the miles, the stretching, the effort or you haven’t.  It’s hard to believe that my race is a week from tomorrow.  When I think back to the day I signed up to run, I couldn’t visualize getting to where I am now.  Now that I’m here, I realize that it was the culmination of all the time and energy I put in to the process.  I ran when it was cold, rainy, windy, hot, or snowy.  I ran when I hadn’t had enough to eat and times when I’d been paying attention and was raring to go.  I ran because I had a goal, I ran because I liked it, I ran on days when I was pumped up, and I ran sometimes when I didn’t feel like it.

I have tried new foods and fuel and gone back to what I know works for me.  I have gotten up early, missed parties, said no to happy hours, rearranged my schedule, chosen running over other things…  I have massaged sore muscles and asked for advice from seasoned runners.  I have read articles, bought gear, talked about running, written about running, bought more gear, dreamed about running, and then got out there and ran again.

I have had moments of doubt and I have had moments of sheer exhilaration when I thought I could conquer anything.  It is strange and exciting, and I’m still a little nervous, but in my heart, I know I’m ready.  I still have one week of tapering left, but if my race was tomorrow, I’d be ok.  I don’t have to cram for the exam – I have put in the time, one foot after another, mile after mile, minute over minute, day after day.  It’s time.

Opportunity

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Either you ran today or you didn’t.

This phrase shows up on t-shirts and posters or tagged in an inspirational post on Facebook, and while some might see a challenge to get out there, or shame in the fact that they didn’t, I see “opportunity”.

Every day is made up of a thousand choices. Some are mundane like deciding what to have for breakfast and whether to wear the blue shirt or the brown shirt and which route to take to work. Some choices matter a lot more, possibly because they have the potential to impact other people, perhaps because they define how one interacts with the world, and there is even the chance that a seemingly arbitrary choice can even change the course of a life. You may never know the ripples that your choices make.

There have been abnormal weather patterns around the country this week, and in Denver it manifested itself in 35 mile per hour winds, which I think, is crazy to battle while running.   This being the case, I chose not to run this week for four days in a row. It would have been easy to convince myself after getting home from work that I might as well just finish out the week in style and blow off tonight, too.

Opportunity. There is power and responsibility wrapped up in that word, because what it really means is also having the courage to own the choices you make. This afternoon, I had a moment of wavering indecision, choosing between a delightfully sunny patio and a pair of beat up Saucony’s. Truly, I was coming down on the side of the patio when I started to think about the rest of the week, when I didn’t have the same opportunity – it was gorgeous today!

Either you ran today or you didn’t…today I ran. That doesn’t mean I run every day. I don’t actually think it’s good for a body to run every day….but today I had the opportunity, and I took it. I own it. I had a great run.

The piece of my whole experience that really hit home for me today, though, was when the song “If Today Was Your Last Day” by Nickleback filtered through my playlist. While I was running, I listened, really listened to the words, and that’s when I realized that this song was talking about exactly the same thing.

Either you ran today, or you didn’t.

Either you made a difference today, or you didn’t.

 

I assume I’m going to wake up tomorrow, but what if today was my last day…did I live like it matters? Did I make the world a better place? Was I kind? Was I generous? Did I give it my best? Opportunity comes in many forms…. And I just thought I was going out to do four miles.

Crisis Averted

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Sometimes working through a crisis of confidence means staring it in the face and deciding to meet that demon head on. I set out to run 10 miles today, not because it was on my training plan, (my plan actually said to run 8 today), but because at this point, it is a mind game. My crisis of confidence was in my head, not in my training or in my body; physically, I could probably run 13 miles right now. Today’s run was about getting my head back in the game.

When I started training back in January, a great friend said to me, “Do you know when to stop?” I thought it was a trick question. In reality, it has become my inner battle cry when I’m out there pounding the pavement. “You don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when you’re done.”

That’s it – so simple. You stop when you’re done. The trick is deciding up front when “done” is going to be so that you don’t compromise later. For me, sometimes done happens in 3 miles, and other times, done happens in more miles. Today, Done happened a little over 10 miles. I knew I was getting close to my ten mile mark, so in my head, I decided I was going to keep going until I hit a particular street. That last block felt so good because I was smiling, I knew I had accomplished what I set out to do, and I didn’t stop until I was done. I finished today well.

I am still nervous, and 13 miles is still 3 more miles than 10, but I have more confidence now than I had a couple days ago. What’s more, I set out to run a half marathon because in my mind, it was a big, hairy, audacious goal – if I wasn’t just a little bit scared, I obviously didn’t dream big enough.

Crisis of Confidence

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I started running 3 months, 2 weeks and 5 days ago.

My race is in 25 days. I am terrified.

In these last few months, I have already accomplished more than I truly thought possible, but suddenly, it doesn’t seem like enough. I am having a crisis of confidence on the level of pure, unadulterated panic.   The kind of panic that paralyzes you, and makes you forget everything you’ve been done thus far, because the fear is so real and in your face and in the moment now. It’s the kind of paralyzing fear that has kept me from writing because I type 7 words and then stare at my screen for an hour, wondering what to say.

I am so afraid that even though I have been working hard, I don’t have enough time left to make sure that I will be able to finish what I set out to do. I have never run further than 8.25 miles and that was at sea level when I was visiting friends. I have never gotten to “double digits” in my runs, never mind getting to 13+ miles. Crisis of confidence.

 

I have been told all kinds of things that are supposed to be reassuring.

“If you follow your plan, you will be fine.”

“If you are able to run double the distance of what your race distance is in one week, you are good to go. You can split it up any way you want. Just be able to run 26 miles in a week.”

“You have run more than 8 miles? Oh, you are good to go!”

“On race day, you will have so much adrenaline and the crowd will pump you up, you are going to be fine!”

And my personal favorite, “Remember, you can always walk.”

 

My goal is to run 13 miles, not just finish 13 miles! Walking isn’t an option. (I mean, I know technically it is, but I don’t want it to be an option.) I feel like I have worked too hard to compromise myself at the very end. And that’s what it would feel like to me – a compromise. Crisis of confidence.

But this crisis of confidence is real, and it’s scary, and it’s staring me in the face today. I’m not sure I can do this anymore, and the really crazy part is knowing that I won’t actually experience doing 13 miles until race day. That means that no matter how much confidence I can find for myself in the next 3 weeks, I still won’t actually know, as in, have person history and experience of knowing, until it’s over! Crisis of confidence.

In the last month, I have gotten sick twice, which required me to take time off from running. I still have a cough that is kicking my tooshie, I’m fighting with seasonal allergies which adds a whole new level to not being able to breathe while running, and apparently I didn’t know how to stretch one of my muscles correctly, so I had to take a couple days off to let a pulled muscle heal. All of these things, in and of themselves, are probably a pretty normal part of the cycle of training – everyone deals with these things once in awhile. But I have just been having it all handed to me on a silver platter without any reprieve. Crisis of confidence.

I have people in my life that believe in me, that encourage me in so many ways, that have literally walked and run beside me along my journey.  I haven’t given up, and I’m not positive that I won’t find an overwhelming sense of peace and confidence before May 18th rolls around, but today…in this moment…I am having a crisis of confidence, and I don’t want to let those people down.  Even more, I don’t want to let myself down.  But I have to tell you, it’s really hard to believe that it will all be ok when you are in the middle of a crisis of confidence.

The Litmus Test

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Today is when I remember why I started to document my training journey, and once again, I am so grateful that I was encouraged to do so. I hit a milestone: it might not seem like much, especially to the seasoned runner, but I have been striving for the day when I could consistently hold a sub 10-minute mile pace. Somehow, running a mile in less than double digits was the magical number in my head that makes me feel “legit”. Doing at least 3 miles at that pace was my own personal litmus test, and today, I passed.

What is it about ten minutes? What is it about numbers at all, really? At the end of the day, a mile is still a mile, no matter how fast I run it. A ten-minute mile was a marker, a goal, something that I hoped was within the realm of possibility, but still such a challenge when I first contemplated the idea of pace.

I know that this is the one time in my life when I will train for a race and improve beyond my wildest imagination. The very first day that I started training, I ran 1.5 miles with a 12:30 pace, and at the end, I was pretty sure that I was in over my head to train for a half marathon. If I compare today’s run with my first training run, I doubled my distance and my pace was 3 MINUTES faster per mile today than it was my first day.

That comparison is not really fair though, because when I started, I literally did not know how to run, and during these last several months, I had no where to go, but to get better. I certainly couldn’t get worse! In other ways, today was exactly like that first day. Half way through my run, my lungs were on fire, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish what I’d started. When I was in the last quarter of my run, I was telling myself the same thing I did on that first day – “You can do it. You can make it to that lamppost, that street, that corner, that car…. Don’t give up now, you can rest when you are done.”

I am a goal oriented, end-product kind of person, and for the most part, I am not crazy about “the process”. Process to me is something that should be streamlined and strategized. Process is the necessary evil to get to the end product. When it comes to running and training, the process is necessary to get me to race day. Therefore, it’s imperative for me to have goals during the process, because that is what makes the process seem worthwhile. For instance, having a goal to run a mile in less than ten minutes gave me something to shoot for….

In three and a half months, I have gotten faster and I can run further; it feels good. I like checking things off a list, accomplishing a goal, and seeing tangible improvement. What has surprised me, though, was to realize that the process itself has also become the end goal. I like getting out there and running. Don’t get me wrong; I like seeing a faster pace, longer distances, negative splits and new personal “bests” in any number of categories. However, I’m also realizing that it’s not just about the numbers, it’s about the pride I feel when I finish a run.

#IRun4

IR4

Once upon a time, there was a boy who had bilateral hip dysplasia.  It hurt, and he had to stay in bed.  This boy had a friend who liked to go running.  “You can run for me anytime!” the boy said to his friend.  That simple phrase sparked a movement, and Irun4 was born.

Today, this organization has approximately 10,000 members in 24 countries, and it pairs up athletes (who are normal folks), with people who have disabilities or diseases that prohibit them from running or being active.  The athletes can dedicate their runs, workouts, or races to their buddy who can’t be out there.

I have two very special people in my life who inspire me on a daily basis; Kevin and Daryl are both my cousins, from opposite sides of the family, so even though they don’t know each other, they are sort of cousins, too.  For different reasons, neither one can run anymore, so when I’m out there, and when I start to get tired, I remember these two amazing guys who would trade places with me in a heartbeat, and just that thought makes it a little easier to push through.

When Kevin was 12, the summer after his 6th grade year, he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy.  MD is a genetic born disease where the muscle cell walls break down and don’t grow.  He described it to me this way, “Imagine a balloon with little holes – the balloon can’t hold in air with the holes.”  There are nine major groups of the muscular dystrophies – he has the one called Facioscapulohumeral MD (FSHD), and it initially affects muscles of the face (facio), shoulders (scapulo), and upper arms (humera) with progressive weakness.  Kevin’s is the third most common form of MD, and while some forms of MD are life threatening, his is not.  He does not live in pain, but because his 12 year old muscles are supporting a full grown man’s body now, it is safer and better for him to be in a wheelchair all the time now.

I remember being in college and, as college students do, a group of us (including Kevin) were sitting around talking about whatever.  The topic turned to the dreams we have when we sleep, and somebody asked, “what’s your favorite dream?” and we all took turns answering.  When it was Kev’s turn, he said, “It’s when I dream I’m running.  When it feels so real.”   That statement has always stuck with me because he dreams about something that I just take for granted.  The last time he was able to run was in junior high….

Daryl has been a runner his whole life – fun runs, runs with family members, cross country in school, track, etc.  When Daryl was in college, he was road-tripping home for Thanksgiving with some friends, and enroute from Grand Rapids, MI to Loveland, CO, they were in a car accident.  Daryl was thrown from the vehicle, and when he woke up, he was a paraplegic.  Today, he is an accomplished musician, writer, and teacher.  Recently he told me he is getting back into Hand Cycling, which sounds pretty hard core to me.

These guys inspire me because they would love to run, even though they aren’t able to anymore.  More than that though, they inspire me with their amazing attitudes every day.  These are not the guys that sit on the sideline – they are out there living!  They are out there in their communities, at work, sharing with family and friends, living courageous and joy filled lives.  It is my honor to dedicate my runs to these two extraordinary men – they inspire me to go further, push harder, and challenge myself when I think I’m done.

#IRun4KevNDaryl.    #WhoDoYouRun4?

 

If you are interested in learning more about IR4, donating, or being matched up as an athlete or a buddy, please check out their site here.

 

 

Your Gas Tank

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Food matters, what you put into your body matters.  It’s like gasoline for your car.  It might still get you from Point A to Point B on regular unleaded, but your car like premium unleaded better.  Your body is no different.

When you are training for an event, a race, or just generally stressing your body, you need more calories than you do in an “off season”.  What I have discovered for myself is that I can run when I’ve been eating crap – any calories is better than no calories when I’m 4 miles into a 7 mile run….but…  But!  Absolutely, there is a but.  If I have healthy and clean calories that my body is burning, I feel so much better!  If I must run on a scone and coffee, fine, but I struggle.  If I am running on free range eggs, spinach, a piece of fruit and some homemade carnitas, I don’t find the run as hard.

It also has to do with toxin build up.  Even things that could be generally considered “good” for me have toxins in one shape or another.  Even though I believe that red wine has some incredible properties, and I enjoy the taste of red wine, drinking in excess will lead to toxin build up.  For me, that happens in my hip joints.    For others, diary or gluten can be a trigger, even if that person is not allergic to either one for example.

When I did a paleo cleanse in January, I did myself a real service, and I didn’t even know it – in essence, I gave myself an oil change.  I reset my body, and in the process, I set myself up for more success.  For one month, I removed sugar, alcohol, gluten, grains, corn, legumes, and dairy.  I am not advocating that everyone should live this way – I certainly don’t.  But after my one month “reset”, I have to admit, my joints are happy.  I am running.  I am not having hip issues, (which I have struggled with for many years.)  I attribute this to having a fairly “clean” diet while I continue to train.

This is not to say that I deny myself now that I am not on the cleanse – I had bread, wine, cheese and sugar last night…and it all tasted great.  But I don’t eat like that every day.  For the most part, I am still eating in a quasi paleo format, mostly because that is what my body responds well to.  I have found that if I listen to my body, my cravings, when I am hungry and when I am full, I actually fill myself up with what I need rather than what I think I should need.

Yesterday I had an appointment with my kinesiologist who is basically a “body mechanic” and he gave me a tune up.  Before I left he looked at me and said, “I’m really impressed with how you have done your training.  I have to tell you, when you told me that you were planning on running a half in May, I thought you were headed for a lot of hurt and pain and I was really worried about your ability to finish and accomplish your goal because of all the hip issues you’ve had.  I think that when you did that cleanse in January, you really set yourself up for success…without even realizing it!”

Way to go, me!  Listen to your gut – sometimes you know way more than you realize.

Character Development

Sigh

Not every run is going to be awesome.  I’m not going to go further every time.  I am not going to always be able to do negative splits.  (Shute, 4 weeks ago, I didn’t even know what negative splits were.)  My point is, I know my runs are not always going to be amazing.  Mentally, I’d prepared myself for that day.  Being mentally prepared does not make it any better when that day comes.  It came for me today.

I have been exhausted all day, and I really seriously considered blowing off today, but I thought to myself, “no, I need to just get out there and get it done – I’ll feel better when I’ve finished.  I’ll be so proud of myself….”

Nope.  I just feel tired.  More tired than I was before, in fact.  I know it’s good to push through on those days that are harder than others.  Incidentally, I do believe that there are times when it’s actually a good decision to blow off a run.  I/e, when your body is telling you it needs a break, when it is so cold that your eye lashes will freeze to your face, when it’s so hot that heat stroke it likely in the first half mile, when you are recovering from injury or sickness, and maybe even when your best friend is in town visiting for one day.  I did not have any of these legitimate reasons to not run today.  Being tired is not good enough.

So I pushed through.  I finished what I set out to do, and I’m going to be brutally honest here, I don’t feel better, I don’t feel more energized, and I am not motivated to get out there bright and early and do it again tomorrow.  Mostly, I just want to go to bed.

So, the best thing I can say about today is that I did it, and now, the day is done.  And even though a day like today is probably good for my inner character development, I really hope that I don’t have many more like this.  I’m pretty sure I have enough character as it is.

The Turning Point

Believe In Yourself

This week has been the turning point for me – I have gotten to the place where I truly believe I will run 13.1 miles, without stopping.  My phrasing here is important, so I will say it again, it’s not just that I will be able to run 13.1 miles, it is that I WILL run 13.1 miles.  In the last seven days, I have consistently done more than I thought possible, and by continuing to surprise myself, and continuing to press on, and continuing to beat my last distance, time, pace, etc., I have received the most amazing gift – I truly believe in myself.

A week ago, I was scared of what I was facing in my training plan because it seemed like such a huge lift.  In a matter of 4 days, I would run more mileage than I’d ever done in 8 straight days.  I also jumped from 5 miles to 7 miles in one go, and while I wanted to believe in the plan, I also wondered if the plan was actually meant for a “real athlete”…not me.  Self perception has an amazing impact on self belief.

Growing up, my brother and sister were the athletes in my family.  I was the artsy one, the actress – I spent my time in rehearsals, building sets, memorizing lines, being on stage.  At best, I could claim that I wasn’t terribly clumsy, and say that I loved to watch sports.  However, watching sports does not an athlete make!  It takes the experience of actually getting out there, putting in the time, the sweat, the pain, the triumphs, the disappointments, being challenged a little bit more than you are comfortable with….  That right there, that experience which I did not have, is why running a half marathon was a Big Audacious Goal for me – it was outside my comfort zone, and while I wanted to believe in myself, I had no experience that it was really possible.

On Sunday I was running my 7 miles, and somewhere around 5 miles, I was getting tired, but I knew out of determination I was going to keep pressing on.  Around 5.5 miles, I realized that I knew the rest of the route home, and it wasn’t really that far.  By mile 6, I realized that I had already gone further than I had expected of myself, and I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  By mile 6.5, I was finding another second wind, and when I reached 7 miles, I knew I was ready to be done with this run, but I also knew that if I hadn’t already been home, I could have kept going.  I knew that when my plan says to run 8 miles in a couple weeks, I’m not going to be nearly so scared, because I believe in my heart that I can do it now.

It was in that moment, I realized that if I can do 8 miles, I can definitely do 10 miles.  I will probably be tired at 10 miles, and I might feel like I am starting to hit “my wall”, but if I push through that wall, and get to 11 miles, then I will be home free.  Because after all the training I have done, 2.1 miles is nothing now.  My perception has changed.

So suddenly in this one week, I went from being scared that I had signed myself up for too much, to being supremely confident that I will absolutely complete my goal of running 13. 1 miles on May 18th.