I ran, uh finished, the Boston Marathon

Three weeks before the Boston Marathon, I pulled my calf and considered dropping out. I gave it some rest and TLC and decided that run, walk, or hobble, I wanted to experience the legendary race and take home the hardware. Cue Law and Order voice: In Boston Massachusetts, an injured desert dweller tackles 26.2 miles in the rain. This is her story.

At 3 AM Friday morning, my boyfriends’ parents and I drove to Phoenix to catch our flight to Boston. It was 8 PM when we finally reached our Cambridge apartment. We hit packet pickup and the Expo on Saturday. The finish line area had been set up, and runners swarmed the area. I was starting to get excited.

I knew I wanted to buy some of the official clothing, but the line to the fitting rooms was long. Ross’s mom, Sue, tied our jackets together and shielded me while I changed in a corner. A couple of other women liked the idea, and we took turns in the makeshift changing room. A man said, “Hey, if your arms are getting tired, I’ll hold those jackets.” One of the women rolled her eyes, and said, “My husband.” Note: my suitcase gained eleven pounds on the trip.

We explored the city a little bit on Sunday, and were continually amazed with how friendly everyone was. We struck up several conversations with runners and locals on public transit, in restaurants, and simply around town. People were quick to help us find our way around, point out local treasures, and talk about the race.

I had decided on my race outfit a few weeks ago. I’d been having a lot of issues with thigh chafing, whether or not I used Body Glide, so I decided to wear tri shorts for function and a wpid-20150420_074245.jpgsparkle skirt for form. I had cheap tube socks for makeshift arm warmers, an ill-fitting long-sleeved cotton shirt, and some cheap knit gloves for throwaway clothes. I fashioned a tank top and skirt out of garbage bags to wear on top of everything else. I gave Ross’s parents my light weather-resistant jacket to hand to me on the course. The rain wasn’t supposed to start until the afternoon, and I get pretty warm once I get moving, so I didn’t want to have it unless I needed it.

Race morning dawned cloudy and chilly. Unlike most marathons that started around dawn, my wave wasn’t slated to go off until 10:50. I woke up at 7:00 and had yogurt, granola, fruit, and tea at the apartment.

It was a short walk to the Red Line. We got off at the Park exit, and several buses were lined up ready to transport the runners to Hopkinton. The locals waved as we made our way out of town, and I waved back. I had heard about the legendary crowd support in Boston, and had seen it action several times before running a single step. I chatted with a local runner about the Newton Hills and ate a banana and almond butter on the ride. Rain splashed the front windshield.

The Athlete’s Village covered the grounds a local school. Canopies were set up to shelter the athletes, and there were plenty of tables laden with food and water. I grabbed a mini wpid-20150420_095337.jpgClif Bar and headed toward the port-o-pottie lines. The facilities were plentiful, but so were the runners, and the lines moved slowly. I had time, though, so I wasn’t worried. The excitement and nervous energy were palpable. Music was pumping, and a man in dreadlocks grooved along. I felt like hugging him for putting a smile on my face.

We had to walk .75 miles to reach the starting corrals. Some locals had set up a table and offered Vaseline, hair bands, and a host of other things the racers might need. The throng of bodies provided partial shelter from the wind as the rain misted all around. I was in the first corral of the third wave, and stayed in the back since I wan’t fully healthy. We huddled in the corrals for about ten minutes before we were sent off with the blast (and I do mean blast!) of the gun.

Everyone was corralled according to qualifying times, so the large group moved smoothly. I set off at what felt like an easy pace. The early miles were downhill, and I had been warned to hold back. When I checked my pace and saw mid-eight, I wasn’t sure if I should worry. I felt like it would take more of an effort to slow myself down than to go with the flow. I would run by feel, and I certainly wasn’t pushing.

I had a new, larger handheld bottle with shot bloks and a sunscreen stick tucked into the pouch for quick access. My biceps burned, so I kept switching it back and forth between hands. I felt each extra ounce. Shame on me for not trying it out before race day.

While I was still surrounded by runners, brightly-colored bobbing heads stretched out as far as my eye could see. I knocked off a couple more mid-eightish miles and started to think that the sub-4 hour finish was still a possibility. From time to time, male runners stepped off the course and turned their backs. The song “Whip It” popped into my head. Hydration tables were set up on the right side of the course and then the left, so the runners never had to move too far to reach them. I drank some Gatorade.

After four miles, my injured calf tightened up. I hoped it was just a reaction to the cold weather and would work itself out. Five miles in, tightness turned to pain, and I decided to walk up the next hill. When I started running again, the pain returned. My body was warm by now, and I tossed the garbage bag top. By mile six, the pain had intensified to the point that I knew I had to walk.

Ross’s parents were waiting at the 10K point and they asked me if I wanted my jacket. I was still fairly warm and said no. I told them that I was hurt and would probably be walking a lot. The course would be shut down six hours after the start of the fourth wave. The first six miles were faster than I had planned, but I still had twenty to go. The world record for race walking a marathon was 3:21:54. Time to see what I could do.

The next four miles went by fairly quickly as I was able to hold about a twelve-minute mile pace. Still, it was hard not to get discouraged as hordes of healthy runners flew by. Even though the weather was bad, the course was still lined with spectators who cheered, waved signs, and passed out water and food. There is no need to carry water at Boston.

As I approached Wellesley, I wanted to see if I could pick it up. Bad idea. A stabbing pain shot through my calf, and I was forced to slow down. My right hip flexor was also in agony because it was not used to prolonged bouts of speed walking. I lost it at this point and started bawling. My ragged, gulping sobs were lost in the cacophony. I felt alone and defeated. Every time I heard someone say, “You look great!” I knew they weren’t talking about me. I tried to focus on the beautiful trees and lakes and the Wellesley girls that were waving signs asking for kisses.

I was walking so slowly now that I wasn’t generating much body heat and a chill set in. My legs were in a lot of pain and my pace had slowed to twenty-plus minutes a mile. Far slower than what I needed to make the cutoff. Ross’s parents were supposed to be at the halfway point, and I decided that I’d quit when I saw them. There was so much race left, and I didn’t want to risk being injured for months. I thought about the special Boston Marathon medal display hook that Sue had given me hanging empty, judging me.

Mile 13 came and went with no sign of my support crew. I texted them. Nothing (I later learned they were having their own adventures with inconsistent trains and spotty cell service). All I wanted was to find them so I could get off of my feet and into warm, dry clothes. I texted Ross and Facebook-messaged his sister. As you can see, cold fingers do not type well.

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Ross called. I don’t remember what exactly what he said, but it was great to hear his voice. He encouraged me and said he’d keep trying his parents. My phone, which had been fully charged a few hours ago, was down to 37%, so I said goodbye and switched to airplane mode.

The rain let up a bit, and the slower pace eased my hip flexor pain, so I hobbled on. I thought about my friend Susie, whose twisted spine eventually caused her to hang up her sneakers. I thought about her husband Jon, who had finished an Ironman after being diagnosed with the ALS that eventually took his life. Limping or not, I was doing something they couldn’t. I’d like to say those thoughts immediately strengthened my resolve, but they were just a few of many that ping-ponged around my head.

I didn’t feel the part, but I said aloud, “I am a runner. I am a runner.”

At mile 17, I encountered the famous Newton Hills, which caused searing pain in my calf. I turned the toe of my injured leg at a 90-degree angle, and walk-sidled up the hills. One of the hills was so steep that I thought it had to be Heartbreak, which meant the course would soon flatten out again, but the hills kept on coming. By now, I was mixed in with the run/walkers and the occasional blind runner and guide.

A med tent worker asked if I needed help. When I said I had a calf pull, she told me to go inside. I laid face down on the padded table while a medic massaged my muscle. When she asked if it helped, I said yes. Being off it certainly felt better, but I wasn’t sure how much the massage would help once I started again. No matter. I had a race to finish.

Due to my side-walking, I got a good look at the spectators. I had written my name on my bib, and some people cheered for me personally. I made eye contact with a couple of guys who yelled, “Yeah, Michelle! You’re doing great. You’re awesome!” Something about their energy combined with those New England accents made me start crying. Again. They cheered louder.

I’d been on the course long enough to crave something more substantial than Gatorade and energy chews. A man and his daughter held out a box of cookies. Normally I’d pass because I’d be afraid they wouldn’t digest well, but at my pace, it was a non-issue. I savored the sweet, chocolate-peanuty crunchiness. I took a slice of watermelon from another spectator. Oranges, red licorice, and Swedish Fish were other popular offerings – the Boston Marathon was like a long trick-or-treating session with moisture-wicking costumes.

Since going uphill caused the most strain, I figured the reverse had to be true for the downhills, so I tried running the next one. I remembered reading that sometimes calf problems occur because the legs are too straight, so I adopted a semi-crouched position.

It worked.

I couldn’t reach the speeds I had been hitting at the beginning of the race, but it was an improvement. I felt like Forrest Gump after his leg braces fell off. I could almost hear Tom Hanks say, “I… was… running!”

After mile 20, things flattened out, and I realized I only had 10K to go. I can do this. I walked whenever the road sloped up, but I was on track to finish in less than six hours.

During one of my walk breaks, I saw the dancing dreadlocked man from the Athlete’s Village. His name was Eli and he was from Atlanta.

“I wanted to finish under 3:30, but after mile six everything hurt,” he said, drawing out the eh sound in everything.

“But we’re doing it, we’re going to finish!”

“Yes we are! We ain’t stopping.”

“We’re getting those medals. Tough it out, baby!”

“I tell you, eeeeeeverything hurts, but you’re inspiring me to walk faster.”

“We’ll help each other through. We’ve got this!”

We hung together for about a mile when he told me to go ahead and he’d catch up. Ten minutes later he passed me, looking strong. I didn’t see him again, but I was grateful for the short connection we’s shared.

The rain had started up again, and I sloshed through the cold puddles. Several competitors were wearing plastic rain ponchos and I wished I hadn’t tossed my trash bags. I was still wearing all of the clothes I had planned to throw away, so my crappy cotton shirt would survive to see the beginning of another race. My right toes hurt from slamming into the front of my shoes on so many downhills.

Despite the worsening weather and the fact that it had been over six hours since the elite women had toed the line, several spectators still lined the course. A couple of girls jumped up and down and called my name. The the crowd started chanting “Left on Hereford, right on Boylston,” and I knew my journey was almost complete. Some people banged on drums, and I focused on the pounding rhythm.

Boylston. Finally. There was still over a quarter mile to go, but I could see the finish line. I squat-ran as fast as I could until I passed that final timing mat. My body shook with tears. I’d made it.

Mission accomplished, my brain decided to stop pumping out adrenaline or whatever it had been giving me the last several hours. My raw, aching legs inched along. Since I was no longer exerting myself, I cooled rapidly. There was still a way to walk before I got my medal. A kind volunteer gave me a disposable poncho and tied a mylar blanket around my waist.

More walking. I shivered violently and a volunteer asked if I needed help. “Just show me where to find K in family meeting area.”

She pointed down the road and said, “They’re letting people warm up by sitting in the buses.” Since the bus was much closer than the K, I decided to hobble over.

A few runners were coming out of the bus and the driver said, “You can’t sit here anymore. Warm up in the med tent.”

Our little group walked to the med tent where we were told, “This is for medical treatment. It’s not a warming tent. Go sit in the buses.”

I made my to different a different bus, but got the same story: go to the med tent. At this point, I thought screw it, and headed toward the K area.

A wide-eyed volunteer stopped me and had me sit in a wheelchair while another volunteer gave me some coffee. My hands shook and hot liquid sloshed over the side of the cup and seeped into my already wet gloves. I had gone from a Boston Qualifying runner to quivering invalid in the space of six hours. They pushed me to the K sign, and I saw the Forees. They supported me on the slow walk/subway/walk back the apartment. As I relaxed into a hot bath and sipped a steaming cup of tea, I got a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Garmin data: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/756961394

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If you’d like to read about more Boston experiences and see some on-course pictures, check out The Half Ass Bad Ass, Blessed With Thunder Thighs, and Runs On Syrup.

As tough as my race was, it was nothing compared to what this man endured. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2015/04/21/boston-marathons-final-finisher-an-inspirational-story/

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The twenty that wasn’t on the road to Boston

A couple weekends ago, I woke up early, loaded my hydration belt, and headed out for a twenty miler. Even though I prefer shorter races, knowing this was probably my last twenty brought bittersweet feelings. I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to at the marathon distance. It had taken me three attempts to make it to Boston, and I was looking forward to finishing my journey on Boylston Street.

After some horrendous training runs, things were looking up. I felt stronger on my first twenty than I had on some of the fifteen and sixteen milers. I had ran a fairly hilly half marathon in 1:50:37. I felt pretty good about my amended goal of finishing under 4 hours. Four under four. Nothing motivates like a good slogan 🙂

The temperature was supposed to reach the low nineties that day, but it was a crisp fifty-something when I started. I was moving at a steady, comfortable pace, enjoying the fresh air and the antics of the desert birds. I was almost five miles in when I felt a pain in my left calf. I ran for about twenty more steps, stopped to stretch and rub it, and tried again. It still hurt. I knew from experience that continuing to run could turn an irritation into a full-blown injury, so I decided to turn around and walk home.

For someone who’s been at this a while, five miles isn’t that long of a run. It is, however, a fairly long walk. My brain was going haywire. Would my leg heal in time to run the marathon? Would I have to run-walk it? Walk it? What was the cutoff time anyway? Was I asking for serious injury if I even tried? Damn, damn, DAMN! It seemed like any time I started making progress, BOOM, I smashed into some sort of obstacle or injury. Every time someone ran by I wanted to shout, “I’m a runner, too!

My body had betrayed me. I felt like a broken-down jalopy. One of the reasons I love running is that it makes me feel good about myself. Strong. Capable. Fit. But for the past year and half, running has often reminded me what of what I was no longer able to do. What do you do when your workout makes you feel worse?

It was a rare weekend with nothing on my calendar, so after I got home, I did what your average introvert with a pint of ice cream in the freezer would do: stayed inside, cried a bit, and made a serious dent in my DVR backlog. I also scoured the internet for advice about calf strains. Fortunately, this one wasn’t as painful as my last one and it didn’t hurt to walk. Note: There are two spoonfulls of ice cream left. I’m capable of practicing restraint.

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My goal: Be as healthy as a horse

I decided to try everything and the kitchen sink. My boyfriend’s parents brought over some arnica cream and an ice wrap they used on their horses. I used heat treatments. I wore a compression sleeve for a week (even to work). I bought rocking calf stretchers for home and for work. I got massages from Ross and my marathon stick. After a week of not running, I started run-walking. The muscle barked the first couple of times, but the next few were pain free! I continued to teach my cycle and Pump classes, because they didn’t hurt. Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to do this thing.

Monday night, I wanted to see if I could run 5 miles at a 9-minute pace. I was still holding out hope for that sub-4. The first quarter was on target, and then I noticed that I was getting faster. 8:45 pace, then 8:30, 8:15… Nothing crazy – when I’m healthy. I tried slowing down a little after each lap, but ended up accelerating again. After a mile and a half, I felt a twinge. Stop. Walk. I alternated walking and slow jogging for a couple of laps, and called it a night. It didn’t feel awful, but it didn’t feel right, either.

Some people had given me advice not to run at all until the marathon, but I thought running 26.2 miles on an injured leg after three weeks of nothing didn’t sound wise. I was hoping that these test runs would give me some assurance. Maybe I was the foolish one.

Yesterday, my leg felt slightly pulled. It feels better today, but I’m nervous. If I can’t handle 1.5 miles at a moderate pace, how in the hell am I going to run a marathon? If it were any race other than Boston, I’d bow out and pick a race later in the year. But I want this. I earned this entry, and I honestly don’t want to try and qualify again. That unicorn medal will be mine.

So, I am going. I have a new, blue sparkle skirt for the occasion. My boyfriend’s parents will be my dedicated sherpas. I am going to try and run this thing, or at least run-walk it. Still, I can’t help but feel like a fraud. Does a hobbler belong at an event that celebrates excellence?

But Boston is so much more than a race. Today is the two-year anniversary of the day so many people lost their lives and limbs. This is the place where Katherine (registered as K.V.) Switzer kept on running, even though a race official tried to pull her off the course when women weren’t allowed to race. She said, “I knew, if I quit nobody would believe that women had the capacity to run 26 plus miles.” Thousands of women gratefully follow in her footsteps every year.

The city. The history. The crowd support. For 118 years, people have come Boston to test their mettle, and now it’s my turn.

I am humbled. I am proud. I am scared. I am persistent. I am a runner.

Sedona Half Marathon

Building my mileage on my weekend long runs has been a challenge this go-round. I’ve been running alone, and my body has rebelled a couple of miles before the end of each one. I hadn’t done a race since December, and I missed the excitement and camaraderie of competitive events. The Sedona course is known for its challenging profile (1000+ feet of elevation gain) as much as its beauty, and I thought it would be a nice addition to my Boston Marathon buildup. My boyfriend Ross would be racing as well, and he makes every run more enjoyable.

wpid-20150131_073604.jpgThe heavy rain the day before had damaged enough of the trail section of the marathon course that the organizers called it off, and the runners were given the option to run the half. The shorter courses were completely paved and would be held as planned.

When we left Flagstaff that morning, we were relieved to see that the rain had stopped. We fueled up the car, stopped at McDonald’s to fuel up Ross, and hit the road. We grooved to a cheerful, catchy tune called “Shantantitty Town” on the way down. We’d heard it several times before, but only just realized that it was about a whorehouse where one of the visitors finds himself “all freckled and speckled.”

We parked downtown and waited for one of the race shuttles to take us to the starting line. We waited and waited… and arrived at the race site with about fifteen minutes to spare. We managed to take care of our pre-race business, check our bags, and take a few starting line pictures before we were sent off. The lingering clouds against the backdrop of the red rocks were spectacular.

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While it was cool at the start, the sun shone warm, and we shed our warm layers before mile two. Luckily, Ross’s shorts had large pockets, and he kindly played pack mule for both of us. I was afraid that we’d get hot, but we stayed pretty comfortable throughout the race.

A few miles in, we were passed by a wiry guy in a Flagstaff singlet. The way he was running, I was surprised that he’d ever been behind us. Then we were passed by more and more people. I mean, it happens, but this seemed like an extreme number. Not that much later, we saw wiry guy running back the other way and realized that he was doing the 10K (they started after us, and I think he won). I decided to pretend that every person who passed us up until the 10K turnaround was doing the shorter race.

wpid-20150131_092803.jpgThe course was almost never flat, and we ran conservatively because of it. When we saw event photographers, we’d hold hands and make silly faces. The aid stations were well-stocked and just frequent enough. There were a decent amount of spectators for a smallish race. We waved at a family and their inert dog, and saw a guy in a green full-body suit. A couple of girls in sparkle skirts and shirts with It’s My/Her 21st Birthday! on the back passed us. They weren’t doing the 10K. The course was an out-and-back, and we started to see the male leaders. Then the female leaders. Ross kept count for about ten of them.

At the turnaround, “Total  Eclipse of the Heart” knocked Shantantitty Town out of my head for about a mile (Turn around…). We still felt pretty good physically and were now facing a stunning rock formation. It was one of those views that would have stopped me in my tracks if 1) I hadn’t been running a race and 2) I wasn’t going to be running toward it for over two miles. I wished that I hadn’t worn my trail shoes. The Half course was completely paved, and I longed for some extra cushioning on the downhills. The inert dog must have summoned the strength to move a few feet only to collapse again.

wpid-20150131_113555.jpgThe eleventh mile was steep. I felt the miles, but also felt like I could push the rest of the race. Ross wasn’t sure, but he tried to hang. This same woman kept passing me and taking walk breaks, during which I overtook her. I just wanted one of us to take the lead and be done with it! I pulled away from Ross in the last mile and kept testing my legs. I felt that old, familiar burn in my lungs and embraced it. I was happy that I was feeling strong, because the final miles of my recent long training runs had devolved into shuffles. I finally left the walk-run lady behind, and turned toward the finish line. There were a couple women ahead of me, and I tried to catch them. I passed one, but couldn’t overtake the other. I finished in 2:01:47, which I was happy with considering the course and my current fitness level. Ross crossed the line eighteen seconds later. It was the only time I’d ever beaten him in a race, and it will probably never happen again.

Once we stopped moving, our sweaty bodies quickly grew chilly again. We grabbed some post-race snacks, chatted with a few friends, and decided to take shuttle back. We waited and waited… Shuttle frequency is my only real complaint about this race. Later we found out that Ross was somehow listed as a 99-year-old, and ended up winning his age group. In his words, “It was the only way I was going win an award.” They mailed it.

Between the views, weather, and being able to share the experience with my sweetie, this race goes down as one of my favorite running memories, and I plan on doing it again.

Race data: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/688216929

Marathon Training: A Plan That Fits

As I sit here writing, there are 95 days until the Boston Marathon. This will be my fourth time tackling 26.2. In my earlier attempts, I met my goals of: breaking four hours (3:52:10 – Disney World), qualifying for Boston (3:38:41 – Tucson), and qualifying for Boston by enough to actually get in (3:31:32 – Phoenix). I used the Hanson’s plan for my third marathon, and while I was pleased with the results, I decided to try the FIRST plan this time. Despite very different philosophies, both have successfully guided runners to PRs.

The hallmark of the Hanson’s plan is that their long runs top out at 16 miles, while most prescribe 20 or beyond. The Hanson brothers believe that no one workout is that much more important than another, and that extra-long runs compromise the workouts that follow. They have you run six days per week, which includes an interval workout, a marathon goal pace run (up to 10 miles), and the long run. This leaves 3 easy runs of between 3 and 8 miles, wwpid-20150113_221348-1.jpghere the goal is volume and not speed. The plan may not seem too difficult at the outset, but it’s designed to build cumulative fatigue, and the long runs are meant to simulate the last 16 miles of the race, not the first.

Other than a period when I was injured and relegated to the Step Mill and elliptical, I was able to complete most of my workouts and hit the paces more often than not. My body felt good on race day, and while the last few miles weren’t easy, I wasn’t in agony like I had been with the previous marathon. The training, on the other hand, was a different story. I teach four fitness classes a week (three cycling and one strength), and I also like to get at least one additional strength session as well as an outdoor ride and swim in. I taught the whole time, but toward the end, the supplemental workouts fell by the wayside. It was also physically and mentally draining to work a full day, teach class, and then pound out 5 to 8 miles. I wasn’t enjoying my runs.

The FIRST program, named for the Furman (University) Institute of Running and Scientific Training, is built on 3 runs and 2 cross training sessions per week. Each running workout (speed, tempo, long) is to be run at very specific, challenging pace that adherents have called “tough but doable.” Intense cross training further develops the cardiorespiratory system while allowing the running muscles to recover. They recommend swimming, cycling, and/or rowing because of their dissimilarity to running. This allows the athlete to push the key runs faster than in many other plans. Even the long runs aren’t leisurely jogs. For their Boston-Qualifier version of the 3:30 marathon schedule (8 minute miles), the 20-milers start at 9 minute miles and go down to 8 minute miles by the end of the training cycle. Because I enjoy cross training and want to keep teaching my classes, I think the FIRST plan is a better fit for me.

It will be interesting to see how I improve during the next few months. When I started the Hanson’s plan, I had recently run a half marathon PR. These days, once I pass the 10-mile mark, my legs feel like they’ve been repeatedly flogged with a plastic bat and I fall off pace. Therefore, if this race is slower than my last, I can’t necessarily fault the plan. Still, based on my November 10K time and the charts in the book, I could be capable of a 3:30 marathon, which would be a PR. The target paces are nothing I haven’t hit before, but how quickly will I be able to get my endurance back? Two weeks in, the results have been mixed. I’ll keep you posted.

For more information on these plans, check out Hanson’s Marathon Method or Run Less, Run Faster

A New Chapter

My life has changed. After thirteen years of marriage, I am now living alone. There is a special (triathlete!) man in my life, but he’s a four hour drive away. After a few wonderful years of setting PRs, I have had a slew of injury setbacks. Nothing major, but enough stifle any progress because I’ve dialed down both mileage and intensity. I am trying to accept my new normal while still striving to improve. I have had to take a hard look at myself and what I truly value and believe. Sometimes life cracks your heart open and forces you to confront everything you’d stuffed deeply inside. Overall, I am optimistic about the future, but it’s been a challenging time.

Athletically, this year has been one lackluster race performance after another, with one notable exception: the Phoenix Marathon in March. After narrowly missing the cutoff for the 2014 Boston Marathon, I am happy to say that I was accepted for 2015. While my 3:31:32 fell short of my sub-3:30 goal, I was thrilled with a 7+ minute PR.

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Whether in life or running, it’s all about how you handle the obstacles.

During the spring, I chose the Phoenix 10K as my fall “A” race. I had hoped to crush the 44:01 (7:05 pace) PR I had set on a much hillier course in May of last year, but amended my goal to a 7:30 pace. My friend Shokofeh, who had run the 5K earlier that day, offered to pace me. My boyfriend Ross said he’d run the first five miles with us, and then we’d battle it out. During the race, she repeatedly told me I was doing awesome. He told me I looked pretty when I was suffering. I simultaneously loved them for running with me and hated them for cruising along while I struggled. Ross took off after the fifth mile and beat me by over a minute. Ultimately, their presence kept me honest during the second half of the race, and I finished in 46:32 (7:29 pace). It’s definitely harder to push when you know a PR is out of the question, so I was happy that I achieved my goal.

I’m also at a place where I am having to retrain my brain after skipping and cutting many a workout short due to injury. Speedwork and hills aggravated my calf, so I stuck with slow and moderately paced miles. My body is ready to ramp things up again, and my mind does not like it. It becomes habit to hold back, to take that day off… I’ve had a few small victories lately, though: a 27 degree swim here, a 10-miler before work there. I am beginning to remember the high that comes from pushing through when I’d much rather take the easy road. I want the athlete back.

One non-fitness related accomplishment that I am really excited about is that I have started writing short stories again. During my soul-searching time, I thought about what would I most regret if I were to die right now. I kept coming back to that fact that I had never published a work of fiction. Fear had kept me from even trying. I set a goal this year to either submit a story for publication or to a contest. I stumbled upon the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and thought it sounded perfect. Writers were are 48 hours to create a story of 1000 words or less that include an assigned setting and object in a specific genre. Here is what I came up with, if you’re interested. I welcome feedback, positive or negative.

Comedy/Speed Dating/Mousetrap

Mystery/Limousine/Magnet

Sci-Fi/Health Club/Welcome Mat

The contest definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t written any stories in ten years, much less a mystery, sci-fi, or pure comedy. Ultimately, out of over 1000 entrants, I was one of 125 writers that advanced to the third round, but was not one of the 25 who made it to the end. Still, my main goal was to put myself out there and grow as a writer. I’m usually never satisfied with what I write, which is a big reason I have avoided it for so long. And just like exercise, when you get “out of shape,” it’s hard to get going again. Inertia is a powerful force.

Other things vie for my time as well. I want to get back to blogging here at least semi-regularly. I’d like my house to stop looking like I just moved in. I am also determined to put a high priority on my love life. Both my ex-husband and I agree that we got lazy when it came to keeping things special, and I don’t want to fall into that again. So, while I am committed to staying fit, I may decide to pursue PRs with less fervor, and Boston will probably be my last marathon for a long time.

As this year winds down, I am grateful for many things. My slower body is still capable of pounding the pavement. My creative passion has been rekindled. And I get to share many a mile with the person I love.

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Falling short

Training for a marathon involves months of preparation, hours of sweat, and seemingly endless miles, all to be laid on the line in an event that lasts a few hours. Last December, I had the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I needed a 3:40, and felt that I was capable of 3:30, based on my 1:40:03 half marathon time and the McMillan calculator. I was trained, tapered, and ready to run. The race did not go as well as planned. I had persistent intestinal issues the morning of, which led to an unplanned detour into the desert. I wasn’t able to hit the speeds that I wanted, even though I felt like I gave it my best that morning. Fortunately, I still managed to BQ with a time of 3:38:41. With the new, tighter standards, I was pretty sure that it would be enough and I wanted to take a year off from marathons anyway.

After the bombings, I knew anecdotally that there was an increased interest in running the 2014 race and wondered if I would make it in. Still, I was committed to my goal of completing a Half Ironman in the fall and didn’t think I could do that and PR in a marathon. Extra slots were opened up for the race, but yes, more people were registering. I submitted my registration, waited a week and a half, and learned that the cut-off was 1:38 under qualifying time. I was 19 seconds too slow. All that preparation. So close. So far. After I got the news, I thought about my desert potty break. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d be looking up airline tickets right now.

Life doesn’t coddle. Sometimes, what you bring to the table isn’t enough. Sometimes your goals are thwarted by things beyond your control (although I think that I will skip the artichoke hearts the night before a race). In reality, all we can control is our preparation, our attitude, and our behavior in the moment. If something is worth it, we will press on, even when faced with setbacks and the very real possibility that we may fall short. Again.

There are endless quotes and songs about focusing on the journey, not the destination (including one from a fully-clothed Miley Cyrus). That’s where the time is spent, the tears are shed – the growth happens. It’s where we learn about ourselves. Finding strength, tenacity, and yes, weakness. There may come a time to shelve certain dreams, but that doesn’t have to lead to despair. After all, Johnny Depp originally sought to make it as a rock star.

In the grand scheme of things, I know that missing out on a race is not a huge deal, and I plan to make like Joe Dirt and keep on keepin’ on. I have already signed up for the Phoenix Marathon in an attempt to better my qualifying time. After a break from marathoning, I am looking forward to ramping up the miles and going long again. Me, Boston, and 2015? There’s only one way to find out. Happy Training.