It’s only a goal if it’s your own

Assuming you know the story of My First MaraNot (if not go back and catch up, I’ll wait) . . .

Okay, now that we all know the story, there’s one line in there that turns out to be not-quite-so-true for me. When I said (repeatedly) and wrote (just the one time) “And, I still have a marathon to run!”, well, it turns out I didn’t really mean it. Okay I meant it in that ‘All the Kool Kids are saying/doing it!’ kinda way. But it turns out it wasn’t really so much a part of My Truth after all.

Those of you who are diehard, driven, The Goal is The Goal kind of folks might want to stop reading right now before you get to the ‘throwing up in your mouth a little’ part. Unless you already have and in that case: I apologize. Here’s a breath mint.

To say that I have been ambivalent about running for the past two months is an understatement of epic proportions. As I was sharing with my Sole Sister/RYL (Running/Yoga/Life) Mentor Tonia there was a day a couple weeks ago when I was sitting at my desk glaring at my gym bag when the thought “I’m just going to quit running” walked purposefully through my mind.
Followed by complete and utter silence.
There was no immediate outcry from The Parts of Me That Lurve Running.
There was nothing.
No argument.
No “But you’ve got Nashville coming up!”
Nada.
Zip.
Infinity x Zero = Crickets.
And that was the moment I realized that there was something seriously wrong.

The problem wasn’t running. I ❤ Running! Really, I do!
I wrote more about running than my husband on Valentine’s Day!
If that’s not proof I don’t know what is.
But somewhere between Friday morning when I typed out that cherubic little missive to my sport of choice, and Saturday afternoon when Tonia texted me asking “Can you talk?” (or words to that effect) I realized that The Problem was The Goal.
Not MY Goal.
Rather the goal I picked up and took home that really wasn’t mine.

Here’s the deal. (Yes, I say that in actual conversation. Frequently.)
When St. Jude was cancelled I was upset.
Correction I was hurt.
Corrected correction I was hurt and disappointed.
Correcting the corrected correction: I was hurt and disappointed and angry.
I was robbed!
I’d spent six months of my life training to run that marathon and now It Wasn’t Happening!
Oh sure, I could have gone out on No-Longer-Race-Day and run the course – hundreds of people did and they had a blast!  But we had other things to take care of.
The next week there was very well put together Make Up Marathon I could have taken part of.  And I just couldn’t get into it.
I did neither of those things.
Because I spent six months of my life training to run That Marathon.
Nothing else.
Not the Run It Anyway Marathon, not the Make-Up Marathon, not even one of the three races we were given the opportunity to transfer our registrations to.
That Marathon.
The 2013 Memphis St. Jude Marathon.
And It Didn’t Happen.
Not because I couldn’t do it or because I didn’t feel like it.
The event simply didn’t happen.  (For completely valid reasons.)

In all, 100%, complete, total honesty my first reaction was “Okay, well, it isn’t meant to be.” And I was okay with that.
Until everyone around me started saying (to be encouraging and supportive) “So you’ll Find Another Marathon to do? Right? Right!! Yay Julianne! Ewe can dew eet!”
And because I didn’t want to be A Quitter, and because I didn’t want to let everyone else down, I Found Another Marathon! And I registered and I set up a training plan based on the one we’d used before and even with having to have one of my 2,000 parts forcibly evicted (removed, surgically, it was my gallbladder, not my brain) I had more than enough time to recover and train and Run My Marathon in April!
Only that wasn’t ‘My Marathon’.
It was Everybody Else’s Marathon.
I had been perfectly okay releasing my Marathon Dream to “Eh, it happens!” and move forward to my stated goals for 2014 that centered around reducing my times in shorter races and embracing my Inner Halfer.
But I said I was Running A Marathon!
And Everybody expected me to Run A Marathon.
Many of my running buddies dove headlong into the next closest-on-the-calendar Marathon and did it! Others opted to get into trail running, and some into really long trail running. I admire each and every one of them for what they’ve done.  Especially those really long trail running people.  (They’re crazy, but it’s that admirable kind of crazy.)  Sometimes admiration is the sincerest form of flattery, not imitation.
And when I finally said, out loud, to Tonia “I really don’t think I want to train for and run a marathon, any marathon” I felt like the weight of the expectation of a thousand expectated expectations were lifted from my shoulders.

Because here’s the thing: Nobody – not one person runner or non-runner – ever said to me “Okay Julianne I/we expect you to run another marathon or you will be dead to me/us!”
Nobody threatened to take away my Asics or all the miles I’d put in training or the fact that I love running or even the really cute skirt I’d bought Just For That Race if I didn’t find some other marathon to run.
*I* did that to me.
*I* put that expectation of an expectation on me. And them. But mostly on me. On their behalf. Wasn’t that good of me?

There’s nothing wrong with saying “Okay, that race didn’t happen” and taking that as the answer to “Is it part of my journey?”.
Funny thing is that when I blurted all of that out to Tonia her answer was “If it isn’t your passion – don’t do it!”. And when I shared with my ‘nother running friend Tracie on Sunday she said “If you’re not going to enjoy it – why do it?”
Yet another reason I ❤ ❤ ❤ Runners!
We’re big fans of that whole “It’s your race!” concept in and out of our Asics. Or Brooks. Or whatever fits your footfall.

So I’m running in Nashville (and I’m still raising money as a St. Jude Hero, as is HCRP) but I’ll be running the Half. HCRP hasn’t fully made up his mind yet, and whatever he chooses to do is his race.

Won’t you be my Valentine?

Dear Running,
What to say?
I know I’ve been distant and aloof these past couple months.
Oh, I’ve flirted with you here and there.
Those quickies on the treadmill.
That long weekend in New Orleans that wasn’t everything it could have been. By the way, thanks for doing your part there even though I didn’t do mine getting ready and all.
But really, we both know my heart hasn’t been in it.
And truth be told, I haven’t missed you. Much.

Because I love being part of The Kook Kids Klub, I’ve kept up the facade that we’re still A Thing. But you and I? We know what’s been up between us. Or hasn’t.  Thanks for not blowing my cover.

And really, it hasn’t been you, it’s been all me babe.
I got my feelings hurt when that Big Date we had planned back in December fell through. That wasn’t you or me. It was that witch Winter Weather. But I let disappointment turn into a long-term pout and I took it out on you with that whole silent treatment thing.

Of course having one of my 2,000 parts decide to stop doing that voodoo it (used to) do so well and having to be evicted didn’t help. But I’ve been over that for weeks now.

I do still love you.
I promise.

I’ve got too much invested in this relationship to back out now.
And we’ve got that whole Spring Prom thing planned in Nashville at the end of April! I know you’ll be there and I have no intention of standing you up.
I’ve just needed my space.  Okay maybe not “needed” but I took it anyway.

But this morning I woke up truly and fully missing you.
Everything about you.
The sweat.
The time and distance with nothing but the two of us.
The caring about a time on a clock at a finish line and wanting to make it something different. 
The Zone. That mile or so when it feels like my feet aren’t even touching the ground and I Could Do This Forever.
And yes, even that first sucktastic mile or so when I have to remind the legs and the lungs that yes they’ve done this before.
Yeah, I woke up missing that too.

So I guess what I’m saying is it’s time we got back together.
For real now. No more treadmill flirtations or half-hearted weekend getaways.
It’s time for me to come back to you. You’re right where you’ve always been: under my laces, on the streets. Thanks for that.
See you tomorrow morning!

If it isn’t one thing, it’s an organ…

This will be a short post.
It’s late (for me – it’s past 9pm).
I’m tired (I slept for crap last night).
And I’m under the influence of half-of-a-pain-pill.

Remember back in October when I wound up in the ER and then went to the GI Doctor and then he sent me for an ultrasound and then told me I had gallstones and he was all “We need to remove your gallbladder.” and I was all “Can it wait ’til after 2pm on December 7th?” and he was all “What the whaaaaa?!” and I was all “I have a marathon to finish!” and he was all “Okay as long as you’re careful what you eat and don’t have any more major flare-ups.” and I was all “I will totally make that happen!”?
And I did!
?  (The gallbladder keeping part, not the marathon.  Mother Nature had other plans for that.)
Sure you do!
Because you hang on every moment of my life.

Well, in the parlance of my boys when they were teenagers (aka about ten years ago – Holy Crap!  TEN years ago?!  That can’t be right.  No, wait.  It was.  Damn.  Sorry for the cuss word Mother.  I digress…) “Wha’ ha’ happen wuz….”  The ticker ran down on my gallbladder and it’s time to suck it up and get this thing out from under my skin (and liver) so I can move forward with marathon training.
And life.
But mostly marathon training.
Did I mention we’ve registered for The Country Music Marathon in Nashville on April 26th to get our marathon under our collective/respective belts?
No.
Oh.
Well…
We registered for The Country Music Marathon in Nashville on April 26th to get our marathon under our collective/respective belts.

Anyway…
Ye Olde Bladder of Gall hadn’t been bothering me since a couple weeks after my ER visit when I got stupid, and in a hurry, and ate convenient instead of healthy/smart.
Until last Friday.
I didn’t eat anything ‘bad’ (Read: High fat, fried, otherwise unhealthy) but by the time I got home from work I was fully expecting to wind up at the ER before sunrise Saturday morning.
That (thankfully) didn’t happen.
But the overall discomfort hasn’t ever gone completely away and since yesterday morning the inflammation has been significant enough that it is visibly more ‘swollen’ on the right side than the left.
Two days worth of phone calls to several different doctors offices later and I have an appointment Friday morning for a consultation with a surgeon.

I am hoping to have the surgery scheduled and completed before the end of this year.  Honestly, I’m hoping to have it done before Christmas.
Because of the holidays?
Ummm…
No.
So I can be recuperated sufficiently to be in full Marathon Training Mode by January 1st.
Because I do have my priorities…
*rolls eyes*
Runners.

My First MaraNot

By now I’m pretty sure everyone who knows me on any semblance of a personal level –  and most people who follow charity marathon events – knows that The Memphis St. Jude Marathon was cancelled.
My/Our First Marathon.
Cancelled.
When I got the email – which, frankly, I’d been anticipating all day – I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.
I wasn’t surprised.
Just felt the full weight of a disappointment I’d been anticipating for hours.

Memphis got hit by an unseasonably early ice storm.
Ice storms, for those of you who’ve never had the privilege of experiencing one, are nothing to be trifled with.
There’s black ice.
There’s ice on trees.
There’s ice on power lines.
There’s just ice.
The overall accumulation in any given area might not look like much, but when you take into account the overall impact on a major (or semi-major) metropolitan area you have to take into account The Greater Good/Need when there’s something like a marathon involving 20,000 participants, (roughly) 3,000 volunteers, who-knows-how-many First Responders, and even more who-knows-how-many spectators/supporters over a 26.2 mile course involved. (Not to mention the entire rest of the metropolitan area who – believe it or not – have no stake in The Marathon but might have a stake in first responders’ availability and medical personnel.)
Oh and the Finish Line which had become, basically, a potential skating rink.
Not sure about anyone else, but I don’t run in ice skates nor do I carry an extra set of strap-on blades.
In short: The Race Director and other Race/City Officials made The Right Call.

Was I happy?
No.  When I got the email that preceded the Official Announcement (because HCRP and I were assisting with the Race Planning Committee) I burst into tears.  And my BFF who’d come to town for the express purpose of seeing us run/finish Our First Marathon, and one of my Running BFFs/Mentors grabbed me and hugged me and let me cry.  (HCRP had stepped away from where we were to get with the captain of our marathon training team.)
Then I cussed.
Pretty much all the cusses I know.
Then BFF and Running BFF swept me away to grab a beer from the beer table at the celebratory banquet we were at.
Then the CEO of ALSAC (St. Jude’s fundraising organization) took the podium and explained the multi-faceted reasons behind the cancellation.

And then he shared with us how much we – The St. Jude Heroes – had raised for the hospital: $8.2 million!
And then he shared Sam’s Story.
And then he introduced us to Hillary, who spoke so beautifully and from the heart and for every child who has ever crossed the threshold of that place.
And suddenly the fact that I wouldn’t be running tomorrow (which is now today) Just Didn’t Matter quite so much.

Oh I was still disappointed.  I’m not gonna lie.  We’ve been training for SIX MONTHS!
But I gave myself 24 hours to pout about it after which it was time to Move On!

I have a 5K to plan for March 22!
And, I still have a marathon to run!
So HCRP and I will be re-beginning our marathon training come Monday morning.
We’ll be running the St. Jude Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April.  Possibly as Heroes.  The jury’s still out on that.  (Most likely, we will.  I mean, why not take advantage of the opportunity to raise more money for the hospital and its mission?!)

We spent the morning at the Finish Line venue helping to break things down and pack things up.
We spent the morning finishing what we started as our part of the Race Planning Committee.
We spent the morning with good running friends.
We spent the morning doing what we love.
Being involved.
Being engaged.
And come Monday, it will be Training Time again!

I commented to my BFF who’d come down to see us finish this race that, as I see it, we’ve spent the past six months “training to train for a marathon”.
We’ve made mistakes.
We’ve skipped runs.
We weren’t exactly diligent about cross-training.
Which means we have room for improvement.
And finishing even stronger in April than we expected to today.

So, yeah, our First MaraTHON ended up being a MaraNOT.
And that’s okay.
Because, like everything in running, it’s all part of The Process.
And The Process is The Thing of It.

Thought #4,365

There are a bajillion thoughts that go through your head while you are tapering for a marathon.
Most of them are the result of a little known condition commonly known as “Marathonirritationitis“.
Until you are in the grips of it you are apt to think something like “Oh, it can’t be that bad!”  And, until you are in the grips of it, you would be WRONG!
WRONG Mister!  Just WRONG!
W-R-O-N-G!
The opposite of right.
Everything that is not ‘correct’.  That would be you.  Y-O-U.  But not me. Never me.

So…  Yeah… I’ve been around.
And I’ve been running/training.
And I haven’t written here in a ridiculously long amount of time.

I spent some (Read: Way Too Much) time trying to figure out Why exactly I wasn’t writing about this whole Marathon Training thing I’ve been doing.
Writing is my ‘thing’.  It’s how I process – and by ‘process’ I mean ‘deal with’ – life.  It’s what I do.
Yet I have avoided that very ‘thing’ that ‘process’, my ‘deal with’ about what is arguably one of the single most significant events of my life.
And you want to know why?
Let me tell you.
One word: Fear.

Everything was going ‘too good’.
The Really Long Training Runs went good – mostly – and even the bad ones weren’t horrible. They were merely challenging.  And the week after The Really Hard Ones would come a Really Long Training Run that went so much better than I would have ever imagined on the whole, let alone in light of the previous Long Training Run.
So I stopped writing about ‘it’.
And ‘it’ became ‘them’ and before you knew it a superstition was born!
If you write about it, it will fail!

Yet here I am, less than four days from The Day – Marathon Day.
Ummm….
Yeah.
Here I am Less Than Four Days from Marathon Day.
And I started this post with a thought in mind.  Thought #4,365 to be precise.
Which was . . .
Ummm…
No clue.
None.
And this is what happens The Week Before A Marathon.
Your brain gets eaten.
You develop the attention span of a gnat on crack for anything that isn’t directly relate to Race Day.
Or The Weather on Race Day.
Or What You’re Going to Wear on Race Day based on The Race Day Weather Forecast.

In short: You become self-absorbed and single-minded and boring.
So “Thought #4,365” essentially becomes about The Marathon.
Your Marathon.
Your First Marathon.
MY First Marathon.

Holy Crap!
I’m running A Marathon!!

It’s all about the numbers

Numbers of miles run.

Numbers of calories burned that simply must be replaced.

Numbers of ounces of fluid lost that absolutely must be replaced.

Numbers of ‘other things’ you pass on because “I have to run tonight/early tomorrow.”

Numbers and numbers of numbers.

And the numbers that matter most of all? 12/7 and 26.2.

Oh, and 1.9 million.
That’s the number of dollars it takes every single day just to open the doors and turn on the lights at St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Only those doors never close, and those lights never go off.

So all those numbers of miles and calories and ounces and “Can’t make it”s really don’t add up to a hill of beans in light of that $1,900,000.
Now do they?

One number that keeps resounding in my head, because it’s pretty huge for me, is Sixteen.
That’s the number of miles we ran last Saturday.
That’s 2.9 miles further than the half marathon that seemed like So Many Miles a little over a year ago.
That’s four miles further than than my Waterloo Distance of Twelve Miles.
And at the end of the Sixteen I felt pretty damn good!
Or at least better than I’d expected to feel.
I think I actually got a little Runner’s High around fourteen miles because suddenly my legs that had been filling with lead at Thirteen felt awesome!
I felt awesome!
The air was airier, the sun was sunnier, I think I actually levitated for a few steps!  Okay maybe I didn’t levitate, but  I can see how people get addicted to running these longer distances.

Tonight’s seven miles started out great.  Legs and lungs were working together from ‘Go!’ and everything was awesome until it wasn’t which was around four miles when my right hamstring started tightening up.  Then my left knee started humming in harmony, and by 6.75 miles both hamstrings were doing all they could to secede from the union of my legs so I walked the last quarter mile and until HCRP could get back to the car and come pick me up a little past seven.

I know what caused it.
Lack of consistent cross-training.
So we’ll be correcting that immediately.
And I’ll be getting in to see Dr. Awesome Sauce, Official Unofficial Chiropractor of Every Runner I Know, to see if he thinks taping my hamstrings will help.  Or if he, like TJ (my Running Friendtor – Friend + Mentor = Friendtor) thinks this is lack of consistent cross-training.
You know, doing what I know I’m supposed to be doing.
Another thing that adds up.
Doing + What You Know To Do = Success
What You Know To Do – Doing = Pain/Possible Injury
That’s math I know how to do.

Merrily we run along! And longer and longest!

I promise I’ve not forgot about you.
I didn’t forget my password.
I didn’t lose my laptop.
I’ve just been . . . well . . . running.
And working and other things, but what I mostly think (and I’m sure my non-runner friends will say talk) about is running.
And eating.  There’s a lot of eating and thinking about eating and talking about eating going on too.  My appetite has been taken over by an adolescent boy and that kid can put away some groceries.

We’re 73 days from Race Day and the training miles are starting to ramp up.
Last Saturday we ran fifteen miles. All at once. On purpose.
This week we’ll do the same thing for sixteen miles.

Twelve Miles seems to be my personal Waterloo Distance.
Last year when I ran twelve training for my first Half it was torturous and involved far more walking than I’d have preferred. I don’t recall all of what contributed to that, likely the fact that it was the first time I’d ever run that distance. But it was awful and had me going into that Half with more fear and angst than was necessary. Fortunately I paired up with another first-time Halfer who was as nervous as I was and enough younger than me that my Inner Mommy sprang into action, my own fears were set aside, and the race itself was a blast!
I know exactly what loosened the lug nuts on the wheels of this year’s twelve miles: lack of rest and insufficient fueling. Those lug nuts started dropping around mile nine when I actually considered stopping. As in sitting down right where I was and calling someone to come get me. Quitting.  And crying. There might actually have been a few tears mixed in with the sweat dripping down my face during that mile. I did not; however sit down, quit, or phone-a-friend.  But with the wheels falling off we walked nearly all of the last two miles.
It was ugly.
It was awful.
It was demoralizing.
It was a Lesson Learned.
You must rest.  You must fuel.

Fourteen Miles was looming the week after The Worst Twelve Miles Ever which began with me really, truly, not caring if I ever ran another step.  After consultation with one of my Running Mentors, I blew off Monday’s short run. I just wasn’t feeling it (not good when you’re coming up on The Longest Distance You’ve Ever Run at the end of that week).  But, according to the wisdom of my Mentor (which turned out to be wise wisdom indeed) sometimes you just need to step back from something, even something you love.
As it turned out what I was feeling was a combination of defeat and sinus infection.  I went to the doctor who put me on one of those antibiotics that upholds the adage “the cure is worse than the cause”. The combination of illness and side effects of the ‘cure’ had me walking more of those last two miles than I ran as well.  I spent a fair amount of the next couple days beating myself up over those last two miles until I finally accepted that being sick (and medication side effects) were a factor and it wasn’t (entirely) a huge personal failure.

Sidebar:
Before we get to Fifteen Miles, Let’s talk about running on flat courses versus running hilly courses, shall we?
Conventional Wisdom would dictate that running flats is easier, therefore it is better. Right?
Wrong!
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong wrong!
Remember that fourteen mile run? We ran that one out of town.  We were in St. Louis for HCRP’s 30 year reunion and rather than running the ridiculously hilly (and sidewalk deficient/not very safe) course he’d mapped out (not knowing about the no sidewalks/shoulders thing) we opted for one of their Rails-To-Trails courses: Grant’s Trail.
Beautiful trail!
Very well maintained trail!
Essentially flat trail.
I say “essentially flat” because the way we ran it it was seven miles of a ½% – 1% ‘downhill’ grade followed by that same percent ‘uphill’ grade on the way back. Essentially flat.
Our first run back home we ran on Memphis’ own R-T-T which is flat, then the Friday night we ran a race whose course was also essentially flat. For those of you playing at home that comes to twenty-four miles of . . . Flats!
And buddy boy did my quads let me hear about it on that ‘just’ nine miles!
Yet another Lesson Learned: Hills are our friends!
End Sidebar

The next week (after Fourteen) was a ‘drop back’ week – nine miles.
The night before our nine mile run was one of the best and most popular races in Memphis and since we’d missed it last year we were determined to run it this year. This meant switching up our training schedule, skipping Thursday and running Friday, but since it was ‘just nine miles’ (cracks me up every time I hear myself say that) I wasn’t worried about it.
And I PR’ed the four miles!
I mean, it was a ‘given’ PR since it was my first four mile race. But I PR’ed the first mile (11:03), ran the entire first 1.45 miles with no walk intervals, and finished the race with an overall pace of 11:41 min/mile. Official Finish Time: 47:48.  Booyah baybee!
For someone who sticks to those regular run/walk intervals like they are oxygen and maintains a consistent 12:00 – 12:30 min/mile pace that was pretty cool! 
We stayed up way past our bedtime enjoying the race’s after party and the company of our BRFF Couple so Saturday’s nine started well after our accustomed 6am start time and we ran that nine in our (very hilly) subdivision.
Running Friday night then getting up and running our long run Saturday was good experience for running on ‘tired legs’.

In the wake of my recent ‘disastrous’ twelve and fourteen mile runs, I went into this past Saturday’s FIFTEEN MILE run with a fair amount of ‘fear and loathing’.
Lots of fear and loathing.
I had visions of not just thinking about quitting and sitting crying on a curb waiting on someone to come get me, I had visions of that actually happening.
Not because I wanted to quit, but because I had to.
Because I failed.
Because I had bit off more than I could chew with this whole “Hey everybody! I’m gonna run a marathon!” delusion and was simply not capable of it.
To say I started Saturday’s run with ‘butterflies in my stomach’ would be an understatement of hyperbolic proportions.  I started Saturday’s fifteen miles nearly nauseous with butterflies stomping around in combat boots in my stomach. Combat boots made of fear and laced with loathing.
My mantras (mantri?) for the entire fourteen miles were:
This isn’t harder than chemo for a kid.
and
I can do anything for five minutes.
And at the end of that fifteen miles? I did it! We did it! Because HCRP was there with me every step of the way.
When we came to a completely unexpected overpass where I nearly stopped dead and turned back around.
When we ran (TWICE!) past one of Memphis’ best breakfast joints and did not stop in for either biscuits & gravy (first pass) or bacon (second pass).
When we knew we were absolutely, positively Dead Last by a good distance.
We were doing it.
And we did it!

At about mile thirteen when I knew we still had two more miles to go, and the specters of the ‘walked more than run’ last two miles of Twelve and Fourteen playing at the back of my brain, I had an epiphany: I felt really good!
Not “That was a great massage” good.
Not “Mimosas and Omelettes at Noon” good.
But definitely good for thirteen miles in and two more to go good.
We finished those last two miles running more than walking. In fact, with one brief ‘walk off a cramp’ exception we ran every run interval and only walked the walk intervals and hit the ‘finish line’ marveling at just how Fifteen of Fifteen Miles Good we both felt.
And for the first time in all this running, and running longer, and Running Longer Than I’ve Ever Run Before I began to see The Finish Line of This Marathon (My Marathon) as truly doable and not just some pipe dream made of other people’s marathons and finish lines.
Now I’m excited!

One last ‘shout out’ before I put this one to bed…
Our local Running Store that sponsors our training program/runs are some of the most incredibly supportive people I could ever imagine having behind us on this journey.  And these are some serious, experienced, fast runners I’m talking about!

Saturday’s fifteen consisted of a 7.5 mile loop through neighborhood streets, a greenline trail, and trails through a large urban park that we ran twice.
There were five points along the trail where store employees (and the owner) were set up to provide us with water, make sure we didn’t miss turns, and make sure we were okay (by which I mean vertical and moving). When we got to the first aid station on our second loop we told the guy standing there that we had ample water in our CamelBaks and to call ahead and let everyone know they could go on about their days since we were Dead Last by a good distance and knew it. He asked if we were sure, and we assured him we were.
As we got to the second aid station, there sat Michael. Encouraging, offering water, and just there.
We got to the next place where we knew someone was ‘supposed to be’ and sure enough: There sat BR (the owner) with water and encouragement and shrugging off our “We told him you didn’t have to wait for us!”, because that’s just not how they roll. They’re not done supporting until there are no more runners out there.
You don’t get that just everywhere. But here in Memphis, and especially with Breakaway, it’s pretty much the norm.
For which we are grateful beyond words!
And because of which we’re really gonna do this thing!

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!)

It’s only Algebra if you let it be

After my last post I received a text from a very dear friend that brought me up a little short and forced me to realign my thinking.  She started with “Just read your blog, as usual I loved it.” because she is my friend and she loves me.  And then she stopped preachin’ and started meddlin’.  I love having friends who do that for me.

Among the points she brought to my attention was that if I exercise only one hour a day that is only 4% of my day.  I did the math and she’s right!  Whether you divide 1 by 24 or 60 by 1440 (then multiply the result by 100) it still comes out to 4.  And if something that’s important to me doesn’t deserve 4% of my own time, I’m not 100% certain what does.
Since we began our marathon training program right at a month ago I have found it all too easy to allow Other Things to come between me and our scheduled runs.  Tiredness, busyness, doing-other-thingsness.
You name it, I’ve skipped runs for it.
I even stalled on seeing a doctor for a nagging pain I allowed to go on for a month.
Me, who “learned my lesson” with Ye Olde Knee over a year ago.

It has been all too easy to say “It’s ‘only’ a couple miles.  Missing that won’t make that big a difference at this point in the training.”  Which, from a strictly physical perspective, is true.  I mean heck, I ran a 10K virtually ‘untrained’ back at the beginning of May.  I certainly hadn’t built up to running 6 miles, but I did that race and finished in decent time and without any injuries to show for it.  I have developed enough basic fitness about myself and I’ve learned enough about running, pacing, and my body that I pulled it off.  Not the smartest thing, but crazier things have been done by runners other than me.
But how far I can (or can’t) run on a given day wasn’t the point.  And I knew it.

But getting back to my friend’s point – which was spot on – even I had noticed that it seemed way too easy for me to let “other things” come between me and the miles.  I’d actually been a little puzzled by it given that I truly do love running.  Her point (and I knew it and she knew I knew it but she still spelled it out for me in Just So Many Words because she knew I needed that) was this: YOU deserve that time.  To me it’s like a spiritual practice and a must do every day.  I love you and feel like you struggle with doing for yourself.  Just do what makes your heart sing.

And then it hit me:
I had made running my Algebra.
Let me explain . . .

Math is, simply put, not my forte.
I’m not talking in that ‘Math Is Hard’ Barbie kind of way.
Obviously I can do math – I did it up there with that whole 4% of the day thing up there!

I mean in that This Is My Strength and Brings Me Fulfillment/Accomplishment and Makes My Heart Sing way.
Writing is my Thing.
Cooking is my Thing.
Laundry is my Thing.
Singing is my Thing.
Math is notsomuch my Thing.
I can do it.  Like I can clean a toilet and clip my toenails.
Because it has to be done.
But there is no joy in my personal little Mudville or music in my heart from having done it.

In high school (and a-freakin’-gain) in college, Algebra Had To Be Done.
Not like Breathing Has To Be Done.  I could have simply Not Done the Algebra.  But it was a necessary, nay mandatory, step in accomplishing the goal of achieving the accomplishment of graduation.
And so I did it.
I slogged through every “Solve for X” and found every “Y” with varying degrees of success.  But I did it.  And at the end of both experiences I got to The Finish Line and was handed the less shiny “Finisher’s Medal” of a diploma with all the honors, rights, privileges thereunto appertaining.  And the student loans.
When I look back on the experiences of high school and college I can’t tell you who sat next to me in study hall while I beat my head against the Algebra, and I don’t remember the answers to any of those test questions.  Because, for me, Algebra was the necessary evil.  The foe to be conquered.  The thing done because it had to be in order to get what I wanted.

It did not make my heart sing.

What I do remember are the choir concerts and who I stood beside and what part I sang.
What I do remember are the works of literature I read and the short story that got published in the high school’s literary publication and the essay that made gave the professor “that Emily Dickinson top of my head just came off” feeling.
I remember sitting in the church sanctuary or my parents’ basement playing Beethoven over and over again for nobody but me.
I remember cooking dinner for my family and having it pronounced “Delicious!”
Those things made my heart sing.
I loved the doing of the things.
I loved the time spent with others.
I loved that something I did touched or inspired someone else.
I loved that even if nobody else got anything out of it, ultimately I did it for the joy I got from it.

Here I am, thirty years after high school and almost twenty-five years after college with another Big, Long-Term Goal ahead of me: Finishing A Marathon.
And there are the “have to” aspects of it. Cross-training on an elliptical.  Possibly even getting on a bicycle and riding.  Because I know it will make me a better runner and benefit my body.  Not because I particularly enjoy ellipticalling or cycling.
Another Algebra.
I will do them, with varying degrees of success, but in all likelihood there will never be any heart singing in it for me, and they won’t be what I remember when I look back on this marathon years from now.
And I’m okay with that.
But the running itself, now that makes my heart sing.
Because I never thought I ‘could’ run.  Like I never thought I could hit a high C.
Even the runs I start out “not feeling” end up being some of the best, not unlike being handed A Tale of Two Cities sophomore year (which is now one of my favorite books).
But somewhere in the past few weeks I had begun to see the training runs not as “time spent doing something I love” but as some sort of big, long algebra equation to be slogged through to find the ‘X’ of Finishing the Marathon instead of focusing on the joy of doing the runs for their own sake.
Just like all the hours spent in practice rooms, and the time poring over words (my own and those of the masters) were done with the joy of my heart singing, and at the exclusion of other activities and distractions because they made me happy; so shall be my commitment to The Practice of my running.
And that’s really what it is: A Practice.
Like going through Salvation over and over for the sheer joy of hearing the notes coming from my mouth.
Like reading Dickens’ opening hyperbole of adjective knowing it will eventually lead to a far, far better thing.
Like knowing that seventh grade home-ec’s Tomato Cheeseburger Pie will eventually become to Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

Like prayer and meditation.
I do it for me.
Oh I am doing it for the Finish Line and that big, heavy medal around my neck!  Make no mistake about that.
But every run between now and then, and all the ones that will come after, those are for me because I do deserve those moments of a singing heart that comes somewhere between start and finish.
I’m done with Algebra, it’s time to run!

We run. We learn. We suffer Ignominity.

In the one year and roughly ten months since I laced up my theretofore walking shoes and set out on my first outing as a runner I have learned many things.

  1. That I can, in fact, run!  Not just run “because zombies/people with big guns/IRS agents/Student Loan collectors are chasing me”, but run because I want to and I actually enjoy doing it.
  2. That falling on a run is generally never as bad as we imagine it will be before we’ve done it.
  3. That sometimes when one adopts a major lifestyle change, other people aren’t so much fans of it.  And that’s okay.  They don’t have to be.
  4. That if you push yourself past one “I’ve never/I could never” boundary you start looking for others to barrel over.
    I started running saying “I’ll only ever want to run 5Ks.  I have no need to ever run A Marathon!”  I currently have several 5Ks, three 10Ks, and a Half under my laces, and now those laces are with me as I train for what? A Marathon.
  5. That once you open yourself up to One Big, New Thing other Bigger, Newer Things follow quickly in its wake and your life becomes the Biggest, Newest Thing of them all.
  6. Tonight I learned that I can, in fact, stay on an elliptical for more than 1.5 miles and it will not kill me.
    And by “stay on” I don’t mean just stand there texting and flirting with the weight lifters (seen it!).  I mean “stay on” as in actually moving the foot sleds in an appropriate rotational motion over and over and over and over again for all of 3.0 miles!  And I didn’t quit.  Not even when my quads were screaming in two part harmony “Get thee to a treadmill woman!”  (They didn’t say “woman” but Mother will be sorely disappointed if I repeat their little potty-mouthed commentaries.)

Like many other runners I’ve come to love reading about running.  Amby Burfoot, Christopher McDougall, Hal Higdon, and George Sheehan are my new Jodi Picoult and Alice Hoffman.  Runner’s World has replaced O and Real Simple.
Most of my “Liked” pages on Facebook have to do with running.
And our social life revolves around races, either running them or volunteering with our running club because that’s another running is: A community.

But I’m digressing a bit here . . .
Back to the reading about running . . .

As I’ve read about running I’ve come to the conclusion that there certain Inevitable Ignominious Interludes in the life of every runner.  After Sunday’s run I’ve knocked two off the list. It was actually during Sunday’s run (which was supposed to be Saturday’s run but got put off due to circumstances beyond our control) that this list came to me.  So here I will share:

The Runner’s List of (mostly) Inevitable Ignominious Interludes

  1. Falling.  Otherwise known as face-planting.
    Been there, done that.  Got the high fives from other runners!
  2. Eating a bug.  Covered this one on Sunday.  Okay, kindasorta covered it…
    There I was running along and feeling pretty good given that Sunday was “Suddenly Summer Day” here in our fair metrolopolis when *ack* *cough* *gag* I felt the distinctive sensation of a bug hitting the roof of my mouth.  Thank God my lightening quick “I don’t want to choke to death alone on this trail” reflex kicked in and I managed to trap it between my tongue and the roof of my mouth and spit it out before I ended up curled up on the trail praying for a Heimlich Certified ‘nother runner to come along before I gasped my last gasp.
  3. Spitting/Being Spat Upon
    Much like everyone poops (the cute children’s book, not the runner version – I’m getting to that) every runner spits.
    I learned to spit.
    Unlike my little sister and her childhood BFF Angie I did not hone my spitting skills at a young age.  I was blessed to have a Southern Grandmother who instilled in me a strong sense of what Young Ladies do and do not do.  Spitting ranked high on that list.  Little Sister had the same Southern Grandmother, she just didn’t care about The List.
    However, once you become a runner many otherwise socially unacceptable behaviors become necessities.  Spitting is high on that list.  It didn’t take me too many runs to learn that swallowing too much water while running would more than likely lead to ignominity #5 or #6, so my ever-patient HCRP worked with me on the vital skill of “Swish and Spit”.
    But with great power comes great responsibility and in the case of spitting one must learn to look left, look right, look right again, then spit.  To the right.  I have yet to spit on another runner and, thankfully, I have yet to be spat upon.  My days are, obviously, numbered.
  4. Snot Rockets.
    I’m reasonably certain I just lost every single non-runner who’s ever stumbled across this blog with those two little words.  But runners know the nose knows and sometimes you just got to blow.

    I actually saw Kara Goucher blow a snot rocket at the Starting Line of the New Orleans Half this year and was shocked when I found myself respecting her style instead of being utterly disgusted. Another “I’m A Real Runner Now!” moment.
  5. Puking.
    There are a host of reasons why puking happens in running: Nerves, fueling too close to your run, changing what you eat to fuel before a run the day of a race (never, ever, ever do this!), consuming too much water or sports beverages during a run (hence the importance of mastering the Swish and Spit), and heat (a big one down here in Dixie).  And the one that I think maybe about 10% of us ever really do: Leaving absolutely everything on the course and having nothing but the waning contents of your stomach to leave at the Finish Line.
  6. Peeing.
    As in down one’s own leg, not just in general.
    Again, a number of factors can lead to this, but it generally comes down to either skipping a port-o-john or being so intent to PR or win that you honestly don’t care about anything else and stopping is not an option!  (I can assure you this one will likely never happen to me. If I have to choose between peeing anywhere but down my own leg or pretty much anything else, the “anything else” is out the window.)
  7. Remember: Everybody Poops
    And sometimes runners poop . . .  well . . . on the run.
    This is one that easily 99% of us will never, ever experience because we don’t run that far or that hard.  But it does happen.  To the Extreme Runners.  And from what I gather, they really don’t give a crap!  Okay, they do but not the way most of the rest of us would.  They’re too busy being awesome and superhuman to care about such.  In fact, at that level, I’m pretty certain it’s almost a badge of honor.
    However, if you’re concerned about preventing this in your own running experience I had a little time Sunday during The Longest 2.75 Mile Run Ever to come up with my personal list of Things That (might) Make You Go Poo:
    Changing your pre-run/race fueling foods. This is not the time to change partners in mid-dance people!  Replacing peanut butter with almond butter is probably perfectly safe, just not right before running.  Tummies are funny things.
    Switching sports drinks.  If you’re a Gatorade drinker switching to Powerade is probably best done on a rest day just in case there really is a substantive difference in their chemical composition.  (This is a lesson I learned from personal experience, thankfully not during a run or race.)
    Deciding that the night before a race (or run) is the perfect time to try “Thai Hot” for the very first time.  It isn’t.  It never will be.

I am certain, because I’m still a Running Newbie, that I’ve either missed or completely mis-conceived something in this list.  But if you’re Running Newbier than me I’m probably not too far from right.