The Cherry on Top. WAY on top!

That’s what a marathon is.
I’ve already decided that’s what it is and it’s still four months and six days before the Starting Line is even set up.
It’s the cherry on top of the sundae that is made of dedicating months of your life to a single thing: Training for The Marathon.
It’s the justification for all the Friday night get togethers you skipped because you had to be up at the BCOD (Butt Crack Of Dawn) Saturday morning to get in your long training run.

And maybe it’s a little bit of vindication thrown in for all the people who couldn’t understand that you Made A Commitment to The Marathon that is just this side of taking vows.
The sprinkles are the exclamation points at the end of every time you answered “Is that all you do is run?” with a resounding “Yes, yes it is!”  (Except when you’re cross-training, eating, sleeping, and washing running clothes.  Oh, and working the day job that pays for the race registrations. And new shoes. And Glide. And Gu. And Other Runner Stuff.)

We are finally, HCRP and I, getting into The Meat of The Training Miles.
Earlier today I was staring at the calendar above my desk that holds all those miles in its memory for me, and seeing the mid-week and Saturday numbers steadily moving further and further away from ‘3’ and ‘4’.

We have a five mile race Saturday morning after which we have to run another three to get in our eight.
Two weeks from Saturday we have a 5K we have to supplement with seven miles to get our ten.
In August.
In Memphis.
Just another scoop of rich, creamy, sweet/sweat/salty, running goodness in the bowl that will make that cherry sit just a little higher.

Speaking of heights . . .
Last Saturday we were in Omaha for my thirty year high school reunion and we had to get a run in.  One of my former classmates took up running a few months before I did and we’ve enjoyed sharing our experiences as middle-aged, newbie runners via Facebook posts and commentversations.  As the reunion drew closer our discussions turned to getting together for the Saturday Long Run HCRP and I would be getting in.  Because I wasn’t athletic in high school I really wanted to begin and end our run in front of good ol’ CHS which is right smack in downtown Omaha (incredibly hilly!).  Bob’s kids go to our alma mater and are active in sports (unlike us back in the day – we were choir geeks) so he gets a lot of his runs in while he’s waiting on their practices.
During one of our chats he mentioned the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge which spans the Missouri River between Omaha and Council Bluffs.  I looked it up online and about fell over just looking at the website!
Here’s the thing: I am petrified of heights.
I get up high (defined as my feet more than a foot off of terra firma) and my entire equilibrium shifts and I feel like I am sliding/hurtling over the nearest edge towards sudden death.
Bridges really tweak this fear/sensation. Particularly bridges over water.
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is a bridge over water.
The very thought of running the 3,000 feet across that bridge (and back) was enough to make me dizzy.  And queasy.  And scared half crapless.
And so.
I had to do it.
It was a mandate.

If running has taught me nothing else it has taught me this: I can, in fact, do things I never thought I could.
I can run – not walk, run – a 5K.
I can run a 10K.
I can run a Half Marathon.
Therefore, I could run The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge during our trip to Omaha!

I started putting this intention “out there” back in March.
And I kept putting it “out there”.
I did this for a couple reasons.
First: So I couldn’t chicken out.  You can’t chicken out when it’s “Out There”.
Second: To convince myself that I actually wanted to do this. Theoretically, I did.  In practice?  There was some wiggle room.
By last Saturday morning, I was convinced.
If not “convinced” I was committed.  Or needed to be committed.  Jury’s still out on that…

HCRP and I met Bob at the high school and off we went!
The first couple miles getting from CHS to the foot of the bridge were nothing more than a warm-up/necessary evil for me, and I wasn’t even thinking about the rest of the distance we were set to run.  I had one, and only one, thought in my head: Getting across that godforsaken structure, then coming back across so that I could say “I.  Did.  It!”

We got to the foot of The Bridge during a walking interval and I paused to take a picture before we headed up.

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We’d been chatting along as we ran, but when we headed up the curly-cue ramp that led to the actual off-the-ground part of the bridge I told the guys (something like) “I can’t talk to you while I do this.  I’m turning up my music and not stopping until I’m on the other side.”
And off we went.

The liars at Wikipedia say it is 52’ above the Missouri River.
I say nay, nay!
It has got to be further up than that.
Whatever, Wikidiots. Wikiliars.  Wikiceivers.
I know the truth.
Somewhere in the middle of the (really freakin’ high up) bridge is a line that says you’ve crossed from Nebraska into Iowa (and vice versa on the return).
I vaguely heard Bob say something about it.
At that point I was focused on breathing rather than hyperventilating and keeping my feet pointed forward since everything inside me felt like the bridge was tilting from side to side and I was about to go hurtling off the side to certain death in the torrential rapids of the river below.  (I’m pretty sure, although not 100% because I wasn’t looking, that the bridge didn’t move and the river was flowing along smooth as glass.)
One of the reasons I “couldn’t talk” to Bob or HCRP was because I was exercising my freedom of speech by uttering every profane word in the known English language in what I consider to be some fairly creative combinations.

It is at this point in the narrative that I have to pay special homage to fate, karma, kismet, or whatever you happen to call it when The Exact Right Song comes on your randomized playlist at The Exact Moment when you need it most.
In anticipation of The Bridge Run – what this particular seven miles will always be in my mind – I had set up a very specific playlist.  I’ve been listening to it on every run for the past two months getting my mental game set.  There is No Fear in these songs.  They move me, motivate me, and make it impossible to feel weak or unable.
One of my favorite songs on that list?  Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl.
And guess what song came on just as my feet hit the Nebraska end of The Bridge?
You got it!
My Girl Gwen!
Okay, technically she’s HCRP’s Secret Girlfriend, but for purposes of that song on that playlist, she is all mine! 

We made it to the bottom of the Iowa end of the bridge at the start of a walking interval and paused, in part, so I could take a picture from that end.
For the record: All intervals were OFF during The Bridge portion of the run.  If I so much as slowed to a walk all bets were off and I was going to be on my hands and knees.  So it was “run or stop and wither” on The Bridge.

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HCRP and I hit our Gu, hydrated, I took a deep breath, backed back up to my girl Gwen, and we headed back across because . . .  well . . .  all my crap was in a hotel room on the other side for one thing.  And we still had four miles to finish for another.  (There was a reason I put The Bridge in the middle of the run.)

The picture below is me (I think) at the Iowa/Nebraska Line mark.

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Not fainting.
Not puking.
Not crawling on my hands and knees sobbing.
Running.
And damn well Doing It!

Because that’s another thing running does.
It shows you there’s nothing to fear but the fear of a thing.
Face-planting on a run?  Everybody does it once.
Finishing dead last?  Somebody has to.
Crossing a raging river ridiculously high above it on a reeling unsturdy thread of cement?
Easy freakin’ peasy!
Just keep breathing.  Keep your feet moving.  Think about The Run.
And it’s all over but the high five and (look away Mother) “I fucking did it!” at the end!

And that, My Minions, is likely going to end up being the biggest, best, creamiest, tastiest scoop of running goodness under that cherry on top of this whole thing.

(Betcha wondered how I was gonna get back to that whole ice cream sundae metaphor.  Din’tcha?  See?  I did that too!)

Vini. Vidi. Badissi.

No, I’m not calling myself a badass.  Badissi is one of the ‘uncommon’ Latin translations of the verb “run” or “ran”.
As in: Vini. Vidi. Vici?
Only instead of “I came.  I saw.  I conquered.” it’s “I came.  I saw.  I ran.”
But not ‘away’.  I did not run away.  Either with or from anything.  I just ran.

Saturday was another race under my belt.
I finished 257th out of 291 and dead last in my age group.
Freakin’.  Awesome!

And yes, I know, I know, I know what you’re itching to tell me.
I know all the platitudes about how many miles I was ahead of the people on the couches and that hey at least I did it and that it doesn’t matter if you finish last as long as you finish and all the other pablum we spew at late/last finishers when we’re working Finish Lines and as Course Monitors.
The truth is that none of that means a hill of beans until we are saying it to ourselves.
And meaning it.
Which I don’t just quite yet.
But back to Saturday’s race . . .

Truth be told I had no business running a 10K Saturday.
I hadn’t run in over ten days and that last run had been only two miles.
After some discussion with Tonia – my running buddy/mentor/yoga nazi – and HCRP I settled on a plan: Run the first three miles, walk miles four and five, run the last 1.2 miles.  And at all costs to myself and others: Finish.  Running!

HCRP stayed with me the first couple miles to make sure I wasn’t going to have any dizzy spells (I didn’t).  I ran my 5:2 intervals the first 3 miles then slowed to a brisk walking pace.

Walking mile 3 to mile 4 wasn’t bad.
Oh don’t get me wrong, the more people who passed me the higher my “I don’t want to finish last” anxiety crept, but I kept it at bay with a mantra of “Plan the run – run the plan!” and reminders of last year’s two month ‘break’ courtesy of Runner’s Knee courtesy of adding too many miles too quickly.

Walking mile 4 to mile 5 . . .
Well.
It sucked!
I kept looking over my shoulder to be certain there was someone behind me that wasn’t the “Bringing Up The Rear” Police escort or (even worse) the Running Club’s truck picking up the cones that marked the course.
And somewhere between the mile 4 marker and the (I am certain someone moved it) mile 5 marker the following conversation took place in my head.

Bad Voice: This sucks!  This is stupid.  Just start running.
Good Voice: No.  Plan the run – run the plan.
BV: Bullsh*t!  Look!  Everyone is passing you!  The Tutu Girls have pasesd you!
GV: So?  We’ll pass them back once we start running at 5.
BV: There is no ‘5’.  They forgot to put the marker out.
GV: No they didn’t!
BV: Someone moved it.  We have gone way further than a mile since we saw ‘4’.
GV: No we haven’t.  I don’t think.  Let me check Endomondo.
(Checks phone which is inconclusive since I was using the interval training program and not the straight run tracker.)
BV: Well?
GV: It wasn’t moved.
BV: You have no business being out here.  You are completely undertrained for this.  You’re making a fool of yourself!
GV: Hey!  I’m out here aren’t I?!  Besides between being sick and surgery recovery I was out of commission for training for ten weeks!
BV: Excuses!
GV: Reasons.
BV: And what about the last two weeks?!  What about those?  People run DRUNK!  You could have run with a few little dizzy spells.
GV: Hey!  Everyone I talked to said running with that dizzy thing going on was ill-advised at best.
BV: Excuse.
GV: Reason.
BV: How much further?
GV: I don’t know!
BV: You suck at this running thing.  You are inconsistent at best and you really think you can train for a marathon with your track record?!  Track record!  I crack me up!
GV: Shut up.
BV: Excuses!
GV: Reasons.
This went on for quite some time until, mercifully, the Mile 5 marker did show up and I switched from the audiobook I was (mostly) listening to back to my running playlist, hit ‘shuffle’, and Gwen Stefani came roaring to the rescue of my attitude.
Do you know how impossible it is to beat yourself up with Hollaback Girl rockin’ in your brain?  Now that I think of it, Good Voice sounds an awful lot like Gwen!

So I finished the race.
I finished it running.
I wasn’t last.
There was neither a Police car nor the cone truck behind me either.
There were 34 other actual human people behind me.
Including The Tutu Girls.
For some reason early on in the run I’d seen the two girls wearing net tutus and decided as long as I was ahead of them (they didn’t look to be very experienced runners) I was doing good.
We all do that.
We find the Other Runner we pace ourselves by.  Sometimes from in front and other times from behind.

And with having run a grand total of only sixteen miles since January 14th my time (6.2 in 1:20:52) was actually pretty respectable.
So maybe I am a little bit of a badass after all.
I badissied the b-a-n-a-n-a-s out of that race!

Billy Idol tried to kill me

I listen to music while I run.
Yes, I am one of Those Runners.
The Ear Bud Runners.
My reason for this has more to do with keeping my 12:00 minute per mile pace than escapism.
And as a Responsible Ear Bud Runner I do keep the volume at a level where I can hear “On your left!” in the (ridiculously unlikely) event a cyclist happens to utter them as they speed up behind me.

Back to my playlist . . .
I spent hours putting together my Running Playlist picking songs that would keep me at that consistent pace that I also enjoy and that will be more motivating than irritating.
I’ve added songs.
Pink’s “Get The Party Started”.
Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”
Katy Perry’s “Firework”.

I’ve deleted songs.
The Black Eyed Peas’ “Meet Me Halfway”, while a great song, begins with the lyric “Ooh I can’t go any further than this” and isn’t exactly what you need popping up on your randomed playlist at The Very Moment you feel like quitting running and walking because nothing – legs, lungs, clothes, the trail – nothing feels right.

I thought I had it perfected.
Until about four miles into Saturday’s ten mile run when Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” came on my playlist and I realized there was one huge oversight on my playlist!
Holy Way-Too-Fast Tempo Batman!
It was actually about halfway through The Longest Up-Tempo Song Ever that HCRP tells me “Pull it back, you’re pushing the pace!” and all I could say (and by ‘say’ I mean ‘gasp’) was “I can’t! I’m keeping pace with Billy Idol!”
Of course the “fast-forward to the next song” option . . . well . . . wasn’t an option in my brain.
Neither was the “pull out your earbuds” option an option.
This was Billy Freakin’ Idol!  You don’t fast-forward or earbud-pull-out Billy Idol!

Nope.
It was Me, Billy Idol, and The Trail for the next seven hours and eighty-five minutes. Because, really, in all truth that song isn’t only just three minutes and twenty-three seconds long. It lasts for-freakin’-ever when you’re running in time to the music and that tempo is way faster than your usual, comfortable Dave Matthews’ Band’s “American Baby” tempo.

If you haven’t yet, I’ll give you a minute to click on the links and listen to the differences in tempo.
Seriously.
I’m not going anywhere.

See what I mean?!

But I did it.
I kept that pace for the entire seven hours and eighty-five minutes and did not, in fact, drop dead.
Mr. Idol’s clear and early 80s pre-meditated wishes notwithstanding.

The run on the whole was great!
For a run that started with me:
A) Hitting ‘snooze’ not once, not twice, but three times;
B) Trying to convince HCRP that the light sprinkles of rain at 6:30 am were Our Sign to run later in the day; and
C) Him not listening to me At. All.
It rocked!

I felt great from start to finish with the possible exception of some knee less-than-greatness that was the result of a segment of our newly-chosen running path that is a fairly steep uphill ‘transition’ (what a lovely, easy sounding term) from one trail to another that is currently surfaced with loose gravel. The up-the-hill transition was no problem. The coming-back-down transition was notsomuch knee friendly for someone whose knees are notsomuch downhill appreciative.

Of course the reason my knees are notsomuch-downhill appreciative is my utter (and completely inexplicable) avoidance of getting to the gym for cross-training.
I don’t know why.
I actually enjoy weight lifting/strength training.
The first athletic thing I ever did in my life was taking a course in college called “Weight Training For Women” that I absolutely L-O-V-E-D!
I was bone thin back in those days courtesy of a rousingly ‘successful’ (thankfully short-term) episode of Anorexia that I was endeavoring to (kinda-sorta) overcome. I had to get some sort of physical education credit and there were really no other classes that interested me so I signed up for Weight Training For Women and absolutely loved it!

I learned a huge amount about training and muscle structure and the right and wrong ways to exercise (full range of motion, cross-training, resistance, front and back muscle relationships).
And I absolutely loved the way my body looked and felt with actual muscle structure rather than just skinniness.

All that aside, since I’ve taken up running the only time I’ve made it back into the gym was during the two months when I was rehabbing a raging case of Runner’s Knee. And of course that cross-training was a huge part of said rehabbing.
Given all that why don’t I go to the gym at least a couple days a week and cross-train?
I don’t knoooooow!
If I kneeeeww I’d be doing it.
So.
This is me committing to getting my happy butt out of the bed and into the gym for cross-training on Tuesdays and Fridays. (We run on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday.)
No excuses.
Geez…
Nag much do ya’?

So back to my half-marathon training.
I am – FINALLY – seeing myself finishing my first Half-Marathon at all, let alone finishing it within my stated 3:00:00 time AND finishing it (in the words of Jeff Galloway) vertical, breathing, and ready to do the next one.

It really is a numbers game

It’s the number of times you run at the beginning because you said you were going to do this thing.

It’s the number of times going up and down the same stretch of access road you think you’re never going to see the other end of.

It’s the number of times a volunteer Coach tells you “You’re A Runner!” and you half-heartedly repeat after them “I’m a runner” whether it feels true or not.

It’s the number on the time clock when you cross your First Finish Line Running, not walking.

It’s the number of layers you pile on – and pull off because who knew you got THAT hot when it’s THAT cold out – running on cold winter evenings.  In the dark.

It’s the number of times you get to That Mile Marker on the trail until the one day you get to it realizing that you’re thinking “Already?!” instead of “Who freakin’ moved it?!?!”

It’s the number of times Hollaback Gurrrrl comes on your playlist at Just The Right Moment to keep you going when some part of your brain is thinking “We really don’t have to do this you know…”  Thank you Gwen Stefani!

It’s the number of walkers you pass thinking “Yes, we really are racing and I just totally lapped you!”

It’s hours sitting with ice packs and rolling various parts of your body on foam rollers and with your newly acquired little blue handball.

It’s the (arguably more enjoyable) hours spent soaking in the tub with Epsom Salts.

It’s the miles run in The Sweet Spot when everything – and I mean everything – is Absolute Perfection.  The birds sing sweeter, the skies are bluer, your legs move effortlessly, your feet barely touch the ground, and your lungs are just made of air itself.

It’s the Epic Superman Sprawl First Fall.  That you survive.  And finish the run it came in the middle of.  And get to show off the Battle Scars.

It’s the absolutely craptastic day at work that suddenly no longer matters when you realize you really did feel like putting in those miles.

It’s the number of runs (and miles) you missed, truly missed, running while rehabbing an injury.  And the race you had to pull out of before you even started it.

It’s the runs that suuuuuuuuuccckkkk….kkk…kkkk…K!

It’s the runs that go from Sweet Spot to suuuuuuuuuccckkkk….kkk…kkkk…K in less time than it takes Usain Bolt to win a medal.

It’s the other runners you pass along the trail who pass you again later and then you see each other over and over and over again because you’re both out there again and again.

And it’s the runs like tonight when it wasn’t perfect but it didn’t suck and at the end of the run you just feel good and you’re glad you ran.

That’s when the numbers add up and you know they’re going to keep on adding.  Right up to 13.1 and crossing That Finish Line!