Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marathon Day: An End and a Beginning...

Once upon a time in a land far far away.....

That's how I often view the world. I realized this about myself while chatting with my friend. It has stayed with me since.

I've lived in a world of fairy tales since I was a little girl. I think my love of writing is part of this. Writing the images in my head is something that makes 6 hours seem like one to me. I love it. It is my favorite thing to do next to reading.

I think in hindsight I expected this marathon to be a magical fairy tale experience in which I crossed the finish line an entirely different person. But I realized early on in the race that the person that crossed the finish line was exactly the same person that was at the start line. The marathon itself really was a victory lap of sorts, to quote a very wise person I know. The magic happened long before when I started running 3 years ago.

So details :)

Friday I woke up and was shocked to read the obituary of a friend on social media. I hadn't talked to him in quite a long time. He had helped us move 3 years ago. The last time I saw him was on St Patrick's Day when a group of us got together to go out and celebrate. He was always so much fun. He was the kind of fun that at the end of the night, you might find yourself at a fancy restaurant donning a shamrock tattoo on your cheek with a group of people in green t-shirts and leprechaun hats :)

It's hard when someone dies. It's even harder when they are the same age as you are. And it's harder yet when you find out about it all when you need to run the longest run of your life in like 36 hours.

Later in the day on Friday I drove to get my race bib to lift my spirits & try to get in a good place. The thumping of the music at the Expo did the trick. I left with a smile on my face.

On Saturday I received a message that my little running buddy in, I Run for Michael had been hospitalized. I was really sad reading this but eventually felt even more determined to cross the finish line for both of us.

Saturday night when I finally got to bed, I became convinced I was cursed. Around 10:30, my daughter started feeling sick. By midnight she was done throwing up.

Nothing was going according to my plan.

I think I got about 5 hours of sleep before my alarm went off, at 5 am. After reading an inspiring message that totally steadied me, I dried my eyes and hit the shower feeling determined to stay focused and positive.

I gave a woman I know a ride. She is 69 years old and she did the half marathon! I am lucky to know such amazing people.

I felt great at the start. I got a little teary lining up but I was super focused and ready to go.

I positioned myself behind the 4:30 Pacer dude. He seemed nice. The first mile I got to see a very special person with her big sign!!! It made me very happy.

So happy that I lost my Pacer dude :(

That scared me at first but I quickly recovered and told myself that I was perfectly capable of pacing myself. When I found my heart pounding in my chest and my body moving far too fast, the wind on my face served as a gentle reminder to slow it down. Those oddly familiar moments repeatedly steadied me throughout the entire race, drawing me in to the present moment while simultaneously carrying both my body and my heart and my mind miles away to another place.

It was fun seeing all the spectators lining the streets. 
I passed 2 more friends out on the corner around mile 5. I loved that they made the special effort to make a sign and come cheer me on!

By mile 6ish I reallyyyyy had to pee!! I was pretty much dying at that point. I asked a police officer where the next porta-potty was as I ran by him. He smiled and replied, Oh hun, the next bush?


I was on East Avenue in the middle of the city. Lots of people know who I am because of the nature of my job. 


I said, as I eventually found myself crouched down. Behind a tree. In a bush :(

Never say never....

Suffice it to say I felt much better after making nice with nature! And I even got some applause as I made my way out of the bush and back in with the rest of the runners :)

One big mistake I quickly realized early on was that I underestimated the hills. I have run steeper ones but not this season on such a long run. I slowed my pace considerably to try to compensate.

I got on the canal path around mile 10. The canal path had been my biggest worry. I trained exclusively on roads. And by the time I saw the path a week before, I didn't have enough time to do anything about it. So I decided that I would make the decision to like it. I got on and told myself I liked it. I told myself it was like a cushion for my body.

It was at that point my lost Pacer dude pulled up alongside me. I must have gotten ahead of him somehow! He was happily running along the path with a group of mostly guys. I found myself suddenly surrounded in this glob of sweaty men as it started raining! We were shoulder to shoulder and I felt really boxed in. I started feeling like I was running his race, not mine. So I slowed my pace and let them go. 

I became keenly aware at that point that this was my race and no one else's.

4 or 5 miles in on the canal, I started to get a pain in my right ankle. It seemed to be right on the ankle bone. It was tender to touch. Slowly as I continued on, the pain grew in intensity and moved up the back of my leg getting progressively worse mile after mile. I had to stop and stretch a ton. I tried rubbing it. I started taking regular walking breaks at that point.

Ironically the rain turned to a down pour with strong winds right when a Gun -n- Roses song, November Rain, came on. It made me smile in spite of the weather because I had a quick flashback to my wild and crazy teen years. I remembered my first and only rebel boyfriend :) He was a collegiate tennis player and he looked just like Andre Agassi! He once convinced me to go to a Guns -n- Roses concert with him and his roommate. 

PS Yes, I looked as awkward & as much like a fish out of water as you are imagining, dressed in my college hoodie and rolled up jeans :) The memory made me smile. 

Boy have I come a long way.

At one point the wind was so strong that I felt like I was barely moving. I passed a guy further down that was throwing up so I stopped to ask him if he was ok. Dumb question, right? He motioned that he'd be ok so I kept going.

I started to walk more and more as the pain in my leg grew progressively worse. I ended up breaking my rule of not looking at my cell phone until after I finished. I had told myself pre-race that I would not stop to look at my phone. But as I was on a walk break I looked and I was so happy I did. I had a text from my friend that she and her family were waiting for me at mile 22. I was at mile 18ish at that point. It became a new mini goal. 

4 more miles and you get to see your friends....

I had other texts pushing me on too. One, in particular from a very old friend. We had not talked in 2 years over something stupid. Our friend's death had brought us back together the day before. We had both started running together three years ago. I can't help but wonder if our friend that died might have had something to do with that...

Another friend had also sent an encouraging and inspiring text after finishing a marathon on the other side of the world! I was so happy to read that and it was a huge motivation to keep going!

At mile 22 I picked up some grapes from my friend and her family and I unloaded some stuff I didn't need. It was so awesome to see her. I also said my first and only negative thought at that point. They said I was doing great and I replied that I wasn't. They simply said, YES YOU ARE. JUST FOCUS ON FINISHING. And that's exactly what I did.

I started really struggling again with my injury around Mile 23ish. I was walking and suddenly this guy ran up along side me and started walking with me. It was the guy throwing up earlier! He thanked me for looking out for him a few miles back. We walked together a bit and talked until I felt stronger and then I started running again. He and I continually passed each other in our walk/run to the end, encouraging each other the rest of the way. I was really grateful for him.

At mile 25ish, we found ourselves running together again. I asked him if he thought we would make it in under 5 hours. He looked at his watch and said I think we will! We had 16 minutes.

I wished him well and broke away. I knew I was getting close to the finish and I looked at my hand. That morning, I had purposely put on my mom's ring. I thought of my mom for a quick moment. I silently told her I loved her and that she would always be with me but that I needed to do this on my own. And then I took the ring off and safely put it in my pouch.

I was so distracted at that moment and surprised at what I had done that I almost went the wrong way! Two police officers had to direct me to quick turn left! And just when I turned and looked up after putting the ring away, there on the corner was my mentor all by herself, waving and cheering for me.

I immediately thought to myself, I'm going to be ok. 

It turned out to be the perfect place to have a special moment because when I turned the corner I was faced with a really big hill! Slow and steady I made it to the top.

Later in mile 25ish, I ran into another friend. It was unexpected and awesome! I probably would have walked again if I hadn't run into her. We ran the end together. She is a veteran marathoner and running with her really kept me going. I still remember her saying, I'm not going to lie. We will turn this corner and the last .2 will feel like forever.

As soon as we turned the corner and the finish line was in full view she said, Let's go!

I still don't know where my spark came from. I found this speed and strength I didn't even know was there. My only focus was the finish line. I could hear the crowd, I even heard my name, but I saw nothing but the finish line.

Official gun time for my first marathon 4:55:42.

As I walked off solo for a minute with my medal around my neck, all I could think of was an image from the Wizard of Oz. when the good witch Glinda tells Dorothy... 

You don't need to be helped any longer.
You've always had the power.
You just needed to learn it for yourself.

What's next? More running of course :) But it also turns out that by fulfilling my marathon dream, I uncovered another. I'm going to write my own fairy tale. I'm going to write a book. Writing has been a long time passion and dream of mine. And one thing I have learned during this marathon journey is that dreams are simply plans in packaging:) Stay tuned 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Marathon Training: My Last Long Run

Tonight was the last long run of my marathon training. My plan called for 8 miles but I was really skiddish about heading out. It's been a solid two weeks of heavy legs and a heavy heart. I peaked too soon both mentally and physically leaving my confidence somewhere back on my too fast, too much to prove, 20 mile long run. C'est la vie.

My plan today was to map out the actual marathon route by car and see where the canal path portion actually starts. I haven't spent much time on pathways. It was the one drawback of doing this particular marathon. I'm worried about it. It turns out to be 12 miles on a path along the Erie Canal. 

Circumstances went from bad to worse and suffice it to say the end result was not testing the path. 

My state of mind sucked when I got home. I became all the stuff I have removed from my life. The stuff I hate feeling... Anxious. Afraid. Alone. I reached out to a friend and was able to get a grip and some much needed perspective. Part 1 settled my circumstance. Part 2 settled my soul.

Feeling better, I quickly grabbed the gift and ran with it, heading out for my 8. Mile 1 was good. I felt stronger than I have in a very long time. I passed a lady who started clapping for me and it made me smile. But by the upward climb starting at mile 2, the craziness in my brain started. 

My foot hurts. No my ankle. What if I can't finish?

My brain could have been a poster child for the quote about running being a series of arguments in your brain....

We argued up the hill. I started feeling weak again. Then a song came on. It's a little embarrassing to call out the title because the artist leaves a lot to be desired. So I won't ;) But the movie and the book are awesome, The Last Song. It's about a daughter saying goodbye to her Dad. This gives it away but who cares. Anyone can say the easy stuff. It's easy, right? And it's also boring.

'Cause there's no guarantee
That this life is easy
Yea when my world is falling apart
When there's no light to break up the dark
That's when I
I look at you

When the waves are flooding the shore
And I can't find my way home any more
That's when I 
I look at you.

You appear just like a dream to me 
Just like 
kaleidoscope colors that 
cover me
All I need
Every breath that I breathe 

Don't you know you're beauty-ful...

And the word hit me like a ton of bricks. 

Beauty-ful. She said beauty-ful.  

My dad often referred to me that exact way in cards and letters, in spite of my constant teasing him. Spelled just as it sounded. 

Yes, I came home and searched just to be sure my mind wasn't playing tricks on me ;)

Most definitely an Alchemist-like omen. So I looked at him. And I remembered how much he loved me and believed in me. And then I looked at the others in my life that have walked, run, and cheered me along on this journey.

By the 4th mile I magically became swept up in a familiar steadiness that often alludes me but that I nonetheless long for. It felt like it came in on a strong wind from miles and miles away. And it gently settled around my sweaty, tired body as if to say, slow down. No slower. And with that I slowed my body and my breathing soon followed. I focused on long, steady, slow breathes until my brain and my heart finally became soothed by the rhythm and they gave in too. 

I was turned off. 

No more brain arguments. No more worries. No more fear. No more circumstances or details. I was in the place that all that makes no sense suddenly makes sense. I was in the dream. 

It was so good to be back there.

It was dark when I finally reached home. I sat on the back steps and staring up at the sky, I had one last cry. Then I asked God to never let me forget how to get back to that place again.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Marathon Training: Taper Trouble

"I'm really struggling with my marathon taper," said no one ever. Except me. This was not at all part of my plan. My mental plan was if I made it to the peak training mileage of a 20 mile long run, I was home free. In my mind I had crossed the finish line. Taper Shmaper. Cocky? Maybe. Naive. Yes ma'm.

I hit all my big runs hard, like a girl with something to prove. I suppose that girl did have something to prove. I came so stinking close, but never crossed the finish line last year. Last year's longest 18 mile run just about killed me. See for yourself. Great improvement but I was running this new distance way too hard for a first time marathon girl. I knew better. Hindsight is 20/20.

Last year's 2013,18 mile long run, 

This year's 2014, 18 mile long run

My 20 miler was more of the same. My running partner has tossed me a number of lifelines during this marathon training but in sharing this article with me from Running World by Lauren Fleshman, he literally saved me from digging myself in a hole I probably wouldn't have been able to get out of in time to cross the finish line. While he is much too polite to say, "Darcey quit being a dumba$$", I so appreciate him sending me a message I needed to hear before I injured myself. I think I have made close to every mistake in this article...

1. Stick to the plan ALWAYS
I had prided myself on never missing one single workout ALL marathon training season on the exact day Mr Higdon recommends. I had zero flexibility in personalizing it to my unique body and circumstance. Until my body said, Um. Yea. No more.
2. Rest days are for babies. 
I hated rest days.
3. Be a hammerhead. 
Every run was hard core. PR or hills. In hindsight here is where I started the mental burnout. I started to lose the spark, the love of it all
4. Mileage is everything. 
I crammed the mileage in no matter what. I once went out with my sister for dinner and drinks only to get home at 10pm and run my scheduled 10 miles until midnight that night. I remember telling my brother in law my plan and his reply was, "You're crazy." 
Who me??
5. Ignore the physical therapist because you're faster than he is. 
Well I get a pass on this. No physical therapist :) But to be honest I really didn't heed any advice that told me to slow down from more experienced athletes. Touche. 
6.  Switch shoe styles mid season. 
I made this mistake twice just to be sure :/
7. Starve yourself. 
I continue losing weight in spite of every article pretty much saying you should be gaining weight. Time to tame the fears of my inner fat girl.
8. Cross training doesn't count. 
Never, ever did I account for cross training.
9. Pop out of a car or plane and do a hard workout as soon as possible. 
Guilty, but only of the car piece!
10. Get stressed out. 
Stressed out? I'm not sTreSseD!!$#! Everything came full circle this past week. Work deadlines, big business orders, kid's starting school, mommy of the year pursuit epic fail, oh yea and marathon training. Something had to give... And it did. 

Total burnout just when things should be getting easier. No fun.

But the good news is I am not injured and I've learned some valuable lessons. And I am slowing down. Tomorrow's long run will be done slow. SSLLOOWW. I have taken the past 2 days to reflect. Just prior to my burn out, I had gotten a piece of wisdom from a couple G+ friends. After I hit 20 miles I wanted to know about the 6.2 miles after that. What is that like? For a first time marathoner, the first time you ever run 26.2 is the marathon day. That scared me. A lot. I wanted to know what the last 6.2 miles would feel like and how you get to the finish line.

Ambition, visualization, and figuring out your "why." 

Why am I doing this?

I always say that I have no idea why I want to cross the finish line of a marathon, I just know that I am meant to do it. On my 20 mile run I caught a glimpse of my why.

18 miles had been my furthest run of all time last year. When I got to 17 miles I was tired and fearful that I had to go 3 more miles. I thought back to my mom like I always do on my long runs. In life I used her to get to where I needed to be when I was afraid. If she were alive, I would call her and tell her how tired I was. This is how it would go.

Me: Mom I'm so tired. I don't know how I am going to do all this. What if I don't make it?

Mom: Darcey, honey. Why are you doing this? Take a break. Stop this nonsense. Why are you running so far anyway?

Me: Mom. You don't understand. I need to do this for me.

Mom: That's crazy.

Me: Mom you never dared do anything for yourself like this before. Stop killing my dream. 

Yip. I was a mean, mean girl. And that was our dance. I never really had to face my own fears because I focused on hers, which were really mine too but at the time I don't think I knew it. Our dance gave me this bizarro and unhealthy strength to prove her wrong.

She isn't here anymore to prove wrong and I have to find my own strength in the face of fear.

So I cried while I was running when I thought of her and reached my furthest distance of 18 miles. I was exhausted mentally, emotionally and physically.

"As he was about to climb yet another dune, his heart whispered, be aware of the place you are brought to tears. That's where I am and that's where your treasure is. " The Alchemist by Paulo Coelo.

Thanks mom. Thanks for getting me back to 18 miles. But it's time for me to look forward now. I can't look back anymore and still move forward. I have to let go now.

And with that I said goodbye for now, tucking my mom carefully in my heart. The thought of my mentor replaced my mom. She is the here and now, the epitome of strength and courage and all things I lack and want to be. All things I need to learn to be for my daughters. Thinking of her and my girls reminded me of my strength and it was the bridge that got me from mile 18 to mile 19.  

Shockingly, by mile 19 I thought of none of that. Mile 19 to 20 was just me, facing my fears alone and relying on my own strength for the first time in my life. Yes sadly, I say that at 42 years old. But better late than never.

I am still afraid, but I think I'm just about ready to attempt to see the other side of 20 miles. The only thing I know for sure is that somewhere in those last 6.2 miles lies my strength, and it feels like it's time for me to try to find it.

You sure do learn a lot about yourself when you train for a marathon.