Chicago Marathon Reflection

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Chicago Marathon 

As I mentioned in my last post , I ran my best marathon yet this past weekend at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.  My official finish time was 3:20:35, nine minutes faster than my previous personal record of 3:29:37 from the 2014 Detroit Marathon*. This time will also allow me to compete, two Aprils from now, in the 2018 Boston Marathon. It seems like the “third-times-a-charm” theory applied for both of my BQs as it took me three marathons to qualify for Boston the first time (Nashville, NYC, Detroit [BQ]) and then three more to re-qualify (Marine Corps, Boston, Chicago[BQ]).  Needless to say, I’m thrilled to go back. Saying that I want to avenge my first Boston seems wrong as I honestly don’t think I would have done as well in Chicago had I not struggled so much in Boston. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind collecting some of the pride I left on that course. (So long as I don’t trade back the humility I gained there. 😉 ) You can read my Boston reflection here, but on with Chicago for now…

I didn’t step up to the start line of Chicago thinking “I’m going to have a great race.”  The John Bingham quote I mentioned a few posts ago ** was incredibly resonant with me; particularly the words “every finish has the potential to…devastate me.”  I definitely do not recommend abstracting these words from the rest of the quote as any sort of pre-race mantra unless you are able to support (or combat) them with more positive ones. More on this in a second…

I think that the marathon’s potential to devastate me resonated so deeply because :

  1. I felt temporarily devastated after my last marathon (Boston).
  2. I blamed much of this devastation on the fact that I’d run with a head-cold-turned-bronchitis.
  3. I woke up with a similar head cold the Monday before Chicago.

I’m not going to harp on the fact that I had a cold leading up to the race as my intention for this entry is to reflect on the race itself. What I will say is that I think that having a cold, both leading up to and during the race, forced me to be more gentle with myself than I usually am, and I think that this helped me a lot in Chicago.

I still wasn’t feeling 100% the morning of the race, but I woke up feeling much better. I didn’t get too excited about this; I knew that, if not the cold, a number of other things could derail me from achieving the PR and BQ I wanted to achieve.

Again, I’m not recommending this sort of defeatist mindset before a race. But I think that, somehow, understanding and accepting that the race I was about to run might not end as the race I wanted it to be kept me grounded. I knew that there was only so much I could control.

But I also knew that I had a lot going for me. I had run more miles this training period than for any other marathon and, aside from the week leading up to the race, I hadn’t missed any workouts. (And honestly, the extra rest that final taper week probably helped.)  I’d gotten faster in my speed work and PR’d my 10k and 10-mile race times. I knew that regardless of what my time reflected at the end of this race,  I  had gotten stronger over the course of my training and, more generally, over the course of my running “career.” So if understanding that I could cross the finish line devastated kept me grounded, I guess that knowing and believing in my own strength allowed me to take off.

I took the mantra I discovered during the Crim (“I’m strong enough to surprise myself”) with me, and recited it throughout the race. Sometimes I would think the whole sentence, and sometimes I would just think “strong enough.” Going along with this, I only allowed myself to think of people or situations that supported this mantra. If the thought of someone who made me feel less than strong arose, I imagined myself leaving them in my dust. (This was very fun.)

I took two other words  with me to support my “strong enough” mantra. On my right shoe I wrote “grace” and on my left shoe, “grit.” I told myself, especially during the first part of the race, but in later miles too, to run gracefully. The word “grace” reminded me to run with acceptance of where my body was, all things considered (my training, my strength, my cold, etc.).

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Brooks Launch 3 (I’m in love with these shoes ❤ )

I thought “grace” a lot over the first few miles. These miles were not comfortable for me for a few reasons…

My GPS signal was wonky at the beginning of the race, and though I thought I was running around an 8:15min/mile pace (I wanted to start conservatively), I was actually running sub-8 minute miles from the start and through the first 5k. Luckily, this didn’t cause me to burn out and I was able to sustain this pace throughout (thank you, high-mileage weeks and speed work). Anyway, perhaps it was the quicker-than-anticipated start, the fact that I’d been in a car the day before, the cold (who knows, really) but my feet and calves felt on the verge of falling asleep at the beginning of the race. I’d never really experienced this before.  Additionally, I was wearing a new pair of compression socks and they felt like they were falling down my calves. Lastly, I was a snotty, congested mess and struggled to breathe through my nose.

This is where I think that having the cold caused me to be more gentle with myself than I might have been otherwise. Rather than panicking over the fact that I felt so uncomfortable, I repeated “grace” to myself and trusted that the foot/calf discomfort would fade away. Sometimes I even visualized blood flowing to those spots, flushing away the “tingles,” and filling my feet and calves with a more comfortable feeling.

Unfortunately, I was not able to visualize the snot out of my nose. WARNING: the next couple paragraphs might be kind of gross…

I have always been disgusted by snot rockets. I’ve been snot-rocketed on twice while running, and I had never been able to bring myself to do one for fear it would backfire in some way. Also, the image (the thought even) of snot flying through the air makes me gag, and I just prefer to avoid it at most costs.

I have a new relationship with snot and snot rockets after Chicago. There’s a scientific purpose to snot-rocketing: better to get that groseness out of you than to suck it in.  The last thing I wanted was for any gunk to settle in my chest and further interfere with my breathing. I knew that I was going to have to do something to get the snot out of my nose and that I might have to do whatever this something was on a regular basis throughout the race. (And yes, I should have perhaps carried something to blow my nose in, but I didn’t wake up feeling stuffy!) I couldn’t bring myself to fully commit to snot-rocketing as there were people all around me and it was somewhat windy, but I needed to do something.

I think that my “grace” mantra and the relaxation that came with it allowed me to strategize v. panic. My strategy: water cups at water stations. I’d grab an extra cup at each station, dump or drink the water, and hold onto the cup in case I needed to blow my nose (which I did almost each mile). I highly recommend this strategy for other snot-rocketaphobs. It’s still quite gross, but somehow seemed less gross than blowing snot into the wind. [NOTE: one of my happiest moments was when I reached mile 23 and trusted that my ears could sustain the rest of the course uncovered (it was a pretty warm day, but my ears always hurt in temperatures below 60 degrees; especially if it is even slightly windy). Once I hit mile 23, I took of my headband and blew my nose in that. (That’s what I’m holding in my hand in the photo above.)]

I consciously thought of “grit” much less than “grace,” but I liked having it on my shoe and in the back of my mind, as a secret weapon of sorts.  Once I reached about mile 10 of the race,I had settled comfortably into my stride and my desired pace. I continued to strategize by breaking the race up into mini-races. I’d tell myself to get to the half marathon mark, then check in with where I was and where I thought I could be at mile 16 (10.2-mile remaining mark), then checkin again at mile 16 with where I thought I could be at mile 20. I tried my best not to anticipate where I would struggle or assume that because mile 18 was coming up that I would likely hit a wall within the next four miles. I actually never hit “the wall” this race. I got very tired, but I never felt so tired that I couldn’t sustain an 8-minute mile or under pace. I wonder if I couldn’t have gone faster, but consistent pangs on the inside of my knee and in my hips  toward the end of the race told me to relax where I was.  All of this being said, I never had to fully summon the grit I thought I might have to, but I think that knowing it was there to call upon when and if I did need it might be some of the reason for that.

I’ve focused a lot on what helped me psychologically, but I should mention a few physical things that helped me, too.

My fueling methods for Chicago–both before and during the race–worked better than any past marathon. I was a carb monster for the days leading up to the race, and I didn’t let thoughts of how heavy that made me feel derail me from eating enough to stock up my glycogen stores. To prevent some of the carbo-bloating, I focused on eating small amounts of high carb/sugar, low(ish) fiber foods frequently throughout the days leading up to the marathon. I also drank  a lot fruit and veggie juices.

I was very conscious of and deliberate about hydration, too–especially since I was fighting a cold, which seems to make it more difficult to hydrate in general, let alone for a marathon. I drank Pedialyte in the days leading up to the race and the night before the race. I also kept water or gatorade in my hand at all times, and sipped on it constantly the day before the race. This made for lots of pee stops on the way to Chicago, but it was worth it. [My dad might disagree, but I’m sure we still saved time in the end if we take into account the extra hour(s) I might have spent either on the course or on an IV had I not hydrated properly. 😉 ]

During the race, I did something runners are advised never to do–I tried something new on race day. I carried a water bottle mixed with Generation UCAN to the start line***.  Rather than starting my race with a Gu as I usually do, I sipped on this bottle of UCAN starting about thirty minutes before the start of the race through the first four miles, then ditched the bottle. As this was my only time using UCAN in this way, I guess I can’t say for sure that starting my race with it is what helped me avoid bonking, but I am almost certain it did. UCAN is made with “superstarch” (hydrothermally cooked non-gmo corn) which is a slow-release carbohydrate that provides energy while keeping blood sugar stable (v. the spike-crash cycle we often subject ourselves to). I used the tropical orange flavor which is naturally sweetened (v. sucrolose sweetened).  Starting the marathon with UCAN allowed me to start the fueling and hydration process before I reached the point of needing to fuel or hydrate. I still took Gus throughout the race, which also helped immensely. And it wasn’t until the last mile or so that I started to feel like I was running on anywhere close to empty.

Chicago’s water stops also played a role in my ability to fuel/hydrate well as they were frequent, relatively long, and well-organized. On the stops I decided to take Gu, I didn’t need to stop. I could grab a water take part of the Gu, and if I felt I needed to take more, I still had time to grab another water. Perhaps related to the fact that I didn’t hit “the wall,” this was also the first marathon where I didn’t reach a point of feeling like my body couldn’t take any Gu or water.

A few notes on the course itself:

I heard some people saying that the few tiny hills later in the race felt nearly impossible since the majority of the course was so flat.  I saw a couple of people running near me cramp up on inclines or soon after. I had a different, and actually positive, experience with the slight hills when they occurred as I felt like they let me favor different muscles for a brief moment. Everything I had read and heard about Chicago was that it was a fast course because it was so flat, but that it could be tricky because you are relying on the exact same muscles for almost all 26.2 miles.  Looking back, I’m not sure if the hills actually felt “good” to me or if I just told myself they were good for me. Either way worked. I also think that so much of my training was on hills (they are hard to avoid in Clarkston) that the 26.2 miles of flatness felt refreshing to the nearly 500 hilly miles I ran in August and September.

The weather was near perfect; around 60 degrees, not at all humid, and sunny, but not brutally so. I typically like weather closer-to 50 degrees, but then again, my fingers tend to lose circulation as the temperature drops closer to this point. I didn’t have notable circulation problems (aside from the first few miles) this race. I imagine that this was due to the warm-but-not-too-warm weather and the fact that I felt more relaxed most of the race than I have in past ones (i.e. less fist-clenching).

I could probably write more, but this entry is getting pretty long. I’ll just end by saying that having my Dad in Chicago with me helped me immensely, and I know that this race wouldn’t have been as successful as it was if not for him.

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My dad & my medal 

He is a grounding presence in my life on a daily basis and his impulse always seems to be to strategize over stress. I’m lucky I’ve picked up at least some of this from him. No surprise at all that he popped up at mile 13 and again between miles 16 and 17. These were crucial spots for me as I have “fell off” at both of these mile markers in past races. His presence and encouragement helped me power through any anticipated difficulty.

I mentioned earlier that I only allowed myself to think of the people from my past and present that made me feel strong. I feel so fortunate that my life currently consists of a large number of people who have done and continue to do so. I ran faster and stronger because of every text, Facebook post, positive thought, or prayer that was sent my way.  I’m grateful for my experience at Chicago and everyone in my life who helped make it a positive one.

*As a side note, I highly recommend both of these races for those looking to BQ and for those just looking to run fun, well-administrated races in awesome cities! 🙂

**“I am a runner because I am willing to lay it all on the line. I know that every finish line has the potential to lift my spirits to new highs or devastate me, yet I line up anyway.” (John Bingham)

***I have used Generation UCAN numerous times, so I wasn’t trying out an entirely new product on race day; just a new way of using it.

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Ten Things Michigan That Helped Me Run My Fastest Marathon Yet

I ran the  Bank of America Chicago Marathon this past Sunday and finally broke my personal record (set two years ago). I’ll write more of a “race recap” for my next entry, but sharing this list for now…

Ten Things Michigan That Helped Me Run My Fastest Marathon Yet…

1.THIS MICHIGAN-SHAPED STATUE:

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Michigan statue located outside of The Gateway in Clarkston, MI

 

For most of my runs longer than four miles, I’d pass this statue on the way out and back from my run (it’s about 1.5 miles from my home). I usually appreciate it most when I pass it the second time; it prompts me to reflect on what a wonderful state Michigan is to run in. 🙂

2.GREAT LAKES ATHLETIC CLUB (GLAC) 

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My pre-marathon manicure from Vitality Day Spa at Great Lakes Athletic Club (GLAC)

My home-base gym and, in my opinion, the best one in Southeastern Michigan. I relied on these treadmills for any days this training period that were too hot, too rainy/stormy, and on several days where I simply didn’t feel strong enough to maintain a desired pace without prescribing it to myself via running machine. There is a greater sense of community at GLAC than at any other gym I’ve ever gone to or belonged to. It actually feels like a club, but not in any sort of pretentious way (i.e. country clubs).

In addition to the treadmills, I also love the pool at GLAC, and I took to swimming laps as cross training way more than I ever have before (undoubtedly related to the  massive amount of Katie-Ledecky watching I did during Rio). I think that mixing swimming in with all of the running I was doing allowed me to simultaneously rest and strengthen muscles that I often neglect to rest and strengthen. What’s even better now is that GLAC has drained the pool of chlorine water and replaced it with salt water, which is way better for skin, sinuses, and probably most things in life.

Last but not least, I got regular massages (crucial) and manicures/pedicures (less crucial, but still essential) at  Vitality Day Spa.

 

3.THE UNION

Located in downtown Clarkston (just another half mile past the above Michigan statue)–this is my favorite bar and restaurant, especially when I’m marathon training. Some of my best Sunday’s this training period involved a long run perfectly mapped out to end at the Union where I would recover with a Michigan beer (and water, but the beer is the more important part 😉 ) and THE. BEST. EVER. MAC & CHEESE.

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GF Mac & Cheese: “Vermont sharp cheddar, piconning, ziti rice noodles, gluten-free béchamel, parmesan & crunchy flour-less crust” (From the menu )

A little tangent about this Mac & Cheese…I was a strict vegetarian for a pretty lengthy period of my life (I’d say from age 18-25) and I identified as vegan and ate predominantly gluten-free* (sin beer) for many of those years.  HOWEVER, the Mac & Cheese has always been an exception and an exemption.

And it’s inarguably awesome for post-long run recovery. (Being that I am in post-marathon recovery now, there is a high likelihood that I will eat this dish more than once this week.)

*NOTE: Good news, people who are stricly GF–The Union (and it’s sister restaurants, the Woodshop, and Vinsetta Garage) now offers gluten-free Mac &Cheese (pictured), made with rice noodles instead of the usual Penne Rigate and I honestly think it’s just as good as the original.

4.MICHIGAN BEER 

Living in NYC, I would get so excited whenever a Michigan beer was on tap. Now I’m thrilled to be surrounded by them. Beer and running are very connected for me and there is a strong correlation between my passion for both of them. Running (marathon training specifically) brought me from “not much of a beer drinker” to  a beer enthusiast.

I crave beer after (and sometimes during) long and/or intense runs and I really believe that it is good for me (in moderation, of course). I really don’t think I’m being biased in saying that Michigan beers are my favorite ones. Some specific favorites include: Bell’s Two Hearted, Founders Porter and Centennial IPA, and Shorts Space Rock  (gluten free!) and Huma Lupa Licious.

5.PIPER! 

You really only have to know me for about five minutes to know that I’m obsessed with our family’s yellow lab, Piper.

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Pre-run porch pep talk

We got Piper the summer before my sophomore year of college, and she is my angel puppy in so many ways. Piper has a reputation of being “the laziest lab,” but she prefers laid back to lazy.

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Piper and my Chicago Marathon medal 

She doesn’t understand why you would run for any reason beyond someone holding up a cookie or another piece of food. Don’t try to play fetch with her, but if you want to run around the yard chasing tennis balls or sticks or frisbees, you are welcome to do so while she chills and watches. Piper reminds me that sometimes I need to slow down the pace, and sometimes I need to pause (“paws”…) completely. ]

6.MY “HOME” TRACK 

Adding weekly speed work to my training regime in general was probably the biggest factor in my marathon PR as well as my PRs in the shorter races I ran. screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-3-17-45-pmI started doing speed work regularly with my running group in Astoria, the Hellgate Road Runners and took the weekly workouts with me to my Clarkston, Michigan track. This is where I ran track in middle school, and where I played soccer in high school, and it was responsible for some great nostalgia-fueled workouts this training period. For the most part, I stuck with the workouts I knew my Hellgate group was running on Wednesday mornings, which alternated between: 12 x 400m, 8x800m, 6x1200m, 4x1600m and an awesome workout called “the pyramid.”

7.HELLGATE ROAD RUNNERS 

This is a NYC (Astoria-based) running group, so arguably doesn’t belong on my list of “things Michigan,” but I am including it because I accredit the short time I was with this group in NYC with much of the strength and speed I developed over this past training period.

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My amazing coaches and Hellgate founders, Jared and Luann Mestre, and me after my last NYC race (literally moved back to Michigan the next day) 

I can’t say enough positive things about my experience training and racing with Hellgate and I am thankful to have virtually maintained my relationship with my coach, Jared Mestre, and several teammates since moving back to Michigan.

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Three Hellgaters and me after the Chicago Marathon

Since joining the group in April, I’ve achieved personal bests in the 5k, 10k, 5mile, 10mile, and marathon distances and I’m hopeful that I will PR half marathon time (currently 1:36) this fall. I highly recommend that anyone who lives near or within commuting distance to Astoria, New York join this group.

 

8.RACES 

I ran several races this training period and I think this played a huge part in my success with Sunday’s marathon.

My races included: Long Beach 10-Miler, New York Mini 10K, Queens 5k, Front Runner NYC LGBT Pride Run, Crim 10-Miler,  Run Wild for the Detroit Zoo 10K.

The last two races before Chicago (the Crim and the Detroit Zoo 10K) were, aside from Chicago this past weekend, two of my strongest races to date. My “I’m strong enough to surprise myself” mantra surfaced in both of these races as I surprised myself with sub-7-minute miles in both and a first-overall-female win in Detroit Zoo 10K.  I used this mantra and the concept of strength in general a lot throughout the 26.2 miles of Chicago and I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that I discovered it while racing in Michigan.  img_6326

Mantras aside, having run 10 miles and 10k at sub-7-min paces made me feel confident at moments/mile-markers I’ve started to doubt myself in the past (i.e. mile 16 and mile 20). Knowing that I had the potential to run these remaining distances at paces far faster than I intended to run them that day helped me to relax rather than panic and trust my legs to take me, at me desired pace (or faster!), to the finish line.

9.GIRLS ON THE RUN (GOTR) 

In September, I became a Girls on the Run coach for the GOTR Detroit Chapter; coaching girls ages 8-11 toward running a 5k in November. My girls and my co-coaches are amazing and inspiring and their energy and enthusiasm is contagious.  We talk a lot about “Star Power” in GOTR and encourage each other to let go of notions of comparison and competition–things that can make you feel inadequate–in favor of concepts of gratitude, diversity, and universal beauty.

Speaking to young girls about running and helping them cultivate a healthy relationship with the sport has made me more aware of how I talk to myself about running. The goal of GOTR is to help girls discover a love for running that isn’t based in how “good” they are, but in how strong and capable they are (not matter how fast or slow!). We want them to feel grateful for the fact that their bodies can move, regardless of pace and we want them to work toward actualize their own potential without judging themselves against ideas of what they “should” be. The desire and commitment to helping our GOTR girls  relate positively to running keeps me in check with myself and my own relationship with the sport. I am competitive, yes, but I am not an elite runner and I am not competing for elite runner times. I’m running and racing to better myself and  it seems that the more I remember this the more potential (i.e. Star Power 🙂 ) I discover for myself.

The Wednesday before my race, I felt like I was fighting a head cold so didn’t go to practice that day. After practice I received a video of my co-coaches and all of the girls wishing me good luck for Sunday. Needless to say my heart melted and I took their energy t o the start and through the finish line of my race Sunday.

10.NUTRITION & FUELING

Not referring to just beer and Mac & Cheese, and not even referring to just food and drink, although I did put a lot more emphasis on both of these things over the course of this training period. I knew that the increasing the mileage and intensity of my workouts was going to require increasing my nutrition. I learned very quickly and very early that this didn’t just mean eating well (supplementing workouts with protein drinks, being conscious and timely about when and what I was eating, taking extra vitamins and making sure I was hydrating properly). It also meant noticing and eliminating other toxic  things.  By toxic, I’m referring to anything that doesn’t allow me to enter a run feeling like a strong runner and/or person. This, for me, does not mean eliminating beer and french fries (although I do not recommend trying a 20-miler the day after subsiding predominately on those things the days before…#beentheredonethat). It does mean eliminating thought processes that cause you to feel weak or inadequate and eliminating contact with the people or things that trigger those thought processes.

Prior to the start of the Chicago Marathon, I made a promise to myself that I would only think of those people that made me feel strong and who I knew believed in my strength.  I am lucky that the people who believe in me the most live in Michigan, that I had the opportunity to interact with them on a daily basis this training period, and that they never failed to remind me of my strength even when I didn’t feel so strong. 🙂

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The Crim

This past Saturday, I ran my first-ever Crim (a ten-mile race in Flint, Michigan). This was an extra-special race to me for a few reasons:

  1. It was my first race since returning to Michigan, after nearly eight years running and six years racing in NYC (well, primarily in NYC).
  2. It was family event. 🙂 My mom and sister ran the race too, and my Uncle, who lives in West Virginia, drove in for the weekend to visit and spectate.
  3. I ran one of my best races ever, finishing at 1:09:20 (6:56/mile)
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My mom and sister finishing strong and happy 🙂

I’m proud of my time, but I’m not writing this entry to brag (that would be a pretty short and obnoxious entry). The reason I want to reflect on the race is because I came out of it with a new mantra of sorts: I’m strong enough to surprise myself.

I mentioned before that I sometimes like to pretend I’m a fairy when I run. This is helpful at times, making me feel lighter, more graceful, and more carefree than I might otherwise feel in some instances. But there are also times when my legs, lungs, or body in general feel so heavy that it is impossible to imagine myself as anything more sprightly than an ogre or gargoyle. These instances are the ones in which words like strong, grit, power, etc. resonate more for me than concepts of lightness or flying.

I’m not entirely sure why the word “strong” emerged in my reflecting on the race v. “fast,” but I think it’s because I didn’t necessarily prove to myself I was any faster than I already knew I was. I’d been doing speed work and some shorter races for the past few months, so running at a sub-seven-minute pace didn’t feel entirely unnatural to me. I just didn’t know I would be able to sustain that pace for all ten miles of the Crim.

When registering for the Crim I had entered my predicted finish time as 70 minutes, but this was more of a dream time and an actual goal time. The only other ten-mile race I’d run (back in May), I ran in 1:13, and it was an almost-entirely flat course (the Crim is notorious for a hilly patch known as the Bradley Hills). I’d run a 10K later in May in 43 minutes,  but I definitely didn’t feel like I could run nearly four more miles afterward.  My goal for the Crim was a loosely-worded and non-committal one–“try to PR, and try to run as close to 7-minute miles as possible, but we’ll see what happens, and we’ll see where I’m at”–and it was padded with several excuses and justifications as to why I probably wouldn’t succeed (the hills, my “marathon training legs,” my unfamiliarity with the course, etc.)

I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a good idea to forgo goal setting and I’m definitely not condoning excuses, but I think what I’m getting at is that by not defining any sort of rigid expectations for myself, I created a space where I could surprise myself by exceeding my expectations. And within this space, I discovered something new, in addition to my mantra: the magic of using a pacer .

Pacers are the people who commit to running an exact pace per mile for the entire duration of a race, and they typically hold signs indicating what pace that is (either in minutes per mile or finish time).  They’re planted in corals so that people with concrete time goals can use them as guides and/or reference points.

Saying that I used a pacer might seem contradictory to what I just said about my lack of goals/expectations, but I think that the two things went hand in hand for me.  In the past I’ve used pacers as measurements of success and failure. For example, “Yes! I am beating the 3:20 marathon pacer, I’m awesome and I’m doing soooo well.” or  “F! The 3:35 pacer just passed me. I suck and I’m losing.” But my relationship with my Crim pacer was different.

The 7:00 (min/mile) pacer for the Crim was like a meditation object for me; a mandala of sorts. This might sound a bit creepy, but hopefully when I elaborate it will sound less so…

I wasn’t anticipating pacers at the start line of the crim, but when I approached my coral I saw one holding a 6:30 sign and another holding a 7:30 sign. I knew that I wouldn’t be trying to keep up with the 6:30 group, and I hoped I’d be ahead of the 7:30 one.  I told myself that if I got passed by the 7:30 sign at any point, I should step it up. I was wearing my Garmin, too, and I thought I would be using that to make sure that I wasn’t dropping too far below seven minute miles during the first few “easy” miles of the race. Lack of goals aside, I wanted to at least run smart, fast-ish, and finish strong if for no other reason than to feel confident for the remaining period of Chicago Marathon training. (A Garmin though is NOT a meditation object. It’s perhaps the antithesis of one…)

Anyway, my guiding-star 7:00 sign appeared just minutes before the start of the race. He positioned himself a few people in front of me and, for whatever reason, I felt my pre-race nerves (which seem inevitable despite looser expectations) relax; nervous energy dissipating out of me with each breath I took while focusing on that sign.

My usual Maria mindset would have been “I have to stick with that guy the whole time,” but despite focusing all of my attention on the pacer, I was able to do so in a somewhat detached way. This allowed the race to be, in many ways, a moving meditation.

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(C) MarathonFOTO

As expected, the first few miles felt almost effortless; flying without trying. But I knew that hills were on the horizon and the likelihood of me maintaining that pace without significant effort was slim, but not impossible. I didn’t think too much about it, but I told myself that it was okay if the pacer lost me.

Sure enough when the hills came, I didn’t try to keep up with the pacer as he seemed to glide effortlessly up and over each hill. But I did still keep my attention on him, and without me consciously willing him to be (i.e. by forcing myself to run faster so he would be) he was always in my site.

This was the part that really started to feel like magic. Speed came with patience, mindfulness, and relaxation; not with trying to muscle through, anticipate, or control anything. There were moments where my legs felt heavier and/or my breath and heart rate felt faster than comfortable, but rather than focusing on the discomfort, labeling it as such, and then rabbit-holing into any sort of “well, I’m F’d now” mindset, I stayed in the moment, focused on the pacer.

Having my attention on something outside of my own potentially-anxious thoughts prevented me from engaging any voice that might nag me about how things hurt or tell me that I didn’t have it in me to maintain the pace I’d successfully and (relatively) effortlessly maintained thus far. And what was so awesome about this was that I got to experience my body silencing that voice that could have been loud if I had in fact engaged it. The effort in my legs didn’t feel like pain, it felt like strength, and the more I felt it, the stronger I felt, and I was able to experience my heart racing and breath quickening without panicking or slowing. Magic! 😉

I think whatever felt magical about my experience using a pacer was as much routed in detachment as it was in concentration. I kept my attention on him, but I also told myself that it was okay if I lost him. This reminds me of what Roland Barthes says about anxiety in love in A Lover’s Discourse.  He writes that the only way to not feel anxious about losing somebody you love is to be reminded, “Don’t be anxious anymore–you’ve already lost him or her.” I used to read this quote as a somewhat dark, sad, and cynical one, but thinking about it more I think that what Barthes is saying is that love exists in the space void of anxiety, which is characterized by detachment. We tend to lose what we hold onto too tightly, but we don’t always lose what we let go of.

Or, sometimes you do lose what you let go of, and it’s for the better!

My “I’m strong enough” mantra kicked in at about the seventh mile mark. Three miles to go, and now that the hills had subsided I was much closer to the pacer. I knew I could stay with him at least another mile, and then at least another after that, and then probably another after that. A little into mile eight, the pacer and I were side by side and he spoke to me for the first time.

“You’re kicking ass,” he said.

“Oh. no. Just trying to stick with you,” I responded (in typical self-deprecating Maria fashion).

“Well, we’re coming up on mile nine. I won’t be offended if you want to take off without me then.”

“Ha. Me either,” I said.

Because I hadn’t expected to still be running at a 7 minute/mile pace, I hadn’t even considered finishing below this pace. But at mile 9, I did “take off.” I ran my fastest mile, and it didn’t feel like flying (not even on the downhill finishing stretch!), but it did feel strong*. Very curious to see how focusing on a pacer (one slightly slower than the 7 minute/mile one 😉 )might impact my race in Chicago next month!

*To say that I credit my 62-minute “relationship” with this man for my self-deemed successful race would be failing to acknowledge several other people to discredit several other people and factors–most notably my former Hellgate Road Runners Group and coach, Jared Mestre (who I still train “with” in spirit) for encouraging me through the last few months of speed and hill work, making be both stronger and faster.  

 

 

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Crim (2016) Finish Line

 

 

Line Up Anyway.

I am a runner because I am willing to lay it all on the line. I know that every finish line has the potential to lift my spirits to new highs or devastate me, yet I line up anyway.” 

I’ve been obsessed with this John Bingham quote lately. In my Boston recap entry I wrote a bit about the relationship between running and control, and I think that his quote perfectly negates that relationship.

Line up anyway. These three words speak directly to the ambiguity of running a marathon (to the ambiguity of any situation a person might willingly enter without a guaranteed positive outcome, really). Why do anything that might hurt or devastate you?  Why risk becoming dispirited? Not “lining up” is just as easy, and even just as understandable of a choice. (If not more of one–I think a person is more likely to ask why run marathon(s) than why not run them.)

A more-often used, but perhaps comparable sports metaphor is baseball’s “stepping up to the plate.” Every time a baseball player goes to bat is a sort of  risk/reward moment. It seems like the odds are that they’ll strike out, but they step up because of the possibility that they might get a hit, might get to one of the three bases “safe”, and might even hit a home-run (and obviously also because the game depends on them doing so).

I think what makes lining up for a marathon scarier than stepping up to the plate in baseball is that the ambiguous space you are stepping into is a bit more vast. It’s not a pitch-pitch-pitch-OUT!  or pitch-pitch-pitch-HIT! series of moments, and then you line up again another inning or so later. When you cross the start line of a marathon, you willingly step into a multiple-hour journey that will probably try you on every level of existence that you believe in, and probably (though temporarily!) defeat you on some of those levels.

The more I think about it, I think the key word in the above quote, for me, is willing: “I am willing to lay it all out on the line.” Obviously, because this quote is written by and for runners, it is meant to be motivational, and I certainly find it to be. But at the level of the human will, I’m not sure it’s so easy to say willing is good/positive and unwilling is bad/negative when it comes to the will to lay anything out on the line. The state of having laid everything out on any line, be it actual or metaphorical, is an incredibly vulnerable state to be in. You risk being gutted. And who in their right mind would want to willingly subject themselves to that risk?

I think the answer to that question is: people in the right heart. It’s not necessarily irrational-minded people who haven’t considered the risks/rewards of a situation, but people who do consider them, but let their hearts speak louder than their minds. You can rationalize your way out of any risky or ambiguous situation, but then you squash whatever potential you might have realized by fully entering it. (I’m not just referring to running.)

The above John Bingham quote perfectly articulates what I love, admire, and respect in marathoners (both actual and metaphorical ones 😉 ) and what I aspire toward in being one–strength in willingness. Willingness to not only cross a start line, but to dive head and heart first into the hazy space between start and finish, devoted to seeing the whole journey through all of its ups and downs, calms and storms, ecstasies and aches; true to the end, and then on to another start.

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Currently training for the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon 

#BostonMARIAthon

I’ve had people ask me in the past if my running obsession is linked to a need to feel “in control,” and I think I’ve probably alluded to or demonstrated numerous times that it is. I get weird satisfaction in crossing out a completed training run off of a training plan, and even weirder satisfaction when once all of the runs prescribed to me for a week have been crossed off. And honestly, some of the more accomplished-feeling moments of my life have been when I notice that a certain amount of work (i.e. training) I’ve put into something has resulted in a specific, desired outcome (i.e. a strong run, a fast race time, a PR, or all of the above). Qualifying for the Boston Marathon at the 2014 Detroit Free Press Marathon was one of these moments:

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Detroit Free Press Marathon, 2014

Leading up to this moment, I followed my Hal Higdon program religiously, missing only one mid-week five-miler early in the training period and one full week later in the program when I was sick (only six runs total!). Moreover, uncharacteristic of me in most races, I ran a “smart” race in Detroit; I paced myself. Knowing that I needed to run below 8:12/mile to qualify for Boston (faster to achieve a time that would actually guarantee me an entry), I made it my goal to run around eight-minute miles the entire race, and managed to do precisely that (official average pace was 7:59) which felt like as much of an achievement as qualifying for Boston did. Detroit, in a nutshell, felt very controlled to me: I put in ___ amount of time and energy into working toward a specific, desired result, and I achieved that result.

This wasn’t so much the case for Boston, which I finally ran a few Monday’s ago. The whole “Boston” experience for me (encapsulated in my cheesy, but awesome hashtag #BostonMARIAthon) was way more about relinquishing control of everything than it was about feeling in control of anything .

This is effectively visualized in the two photos:

Photo #1: The last several weeks of my training program.  

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Both skulls represent weeks nearly entirely off running for different incidents. Skull number one was a fussy left Achilles/ankle. Nothing so terrible, but it hurt and compromised my running form enough that I knew I should back off for a few days (which ended up being nearly a week). During this week I told myself that the potential fitness I would gain by running on a prickly Achilles was not worth what I could potentially lose by not letting it heal (pun intended). I felt confident in my decision to ease off running for the week, but I was very antsy and voiced to anybody that would humor me how frustrated I was because I’d felt that the weeks leading up to this setback had gone “soOoOo well.” I’d reached a point where I was effortlessly settling into paces for easy-paced runs that had been paces I’d struggled to achieve for speed workouts in the past. I had also, unlike every other training period, been more committed to strength training and had noted a huge difference in the affect it was having on my running. A few weeks before that first skull, I’d run a 10K in Central Park at my typical 5K pace and still felt strong-ish during a thirteen-miler the next morning . All in all, I knew I wasn’t losing whatever fitness I’d gained in the first twelve weeks of my training (or in the months before that), but it’s still hard to accept pressing pause when it seems like momentum is in your favor.

Perhaps rejuvenated from my week off, and perhaps in a subconscious attempt to regain this momentum, my next week of training felt like my strongest yet. Having read somewhat obsessively about Boston’s course in the time I wasn’t running, I made every effort this week to add as many hills to my runs as possible, and to focus a lot on my quads and core during strength training (I’d been focusing on all of these things up until this point, too, but there’s nothing like a week off to make you worry that you haven’t been doing enough on the things you’ve been doing enough of). This week culminated in a twenty-one miler that started and ended on the Queensborough Bridge, with repeats of Central Park’s Harlem Hill in between. This run was my strongest yet, and my legs didn’t even feel too bad going into the next week. I high-fived myself for taking the week before off, and I started to feel confident not only in my ability to run Boston, but to race it.

Enter: skull face number two, which you can see is preceded by a circle with a red cross in the middle of it, representing my trip to the Emergency Room early that morning. Not to worry, it was not the Appendicitis I thought it was (went to the hospital thinking no Boston for sure, because surgery), but rather a large ovarian cyst that had ruptured during the first few minutes of my attempt at four miles on the treadmill that morning.

Taking the next several days off running wasn’t really up for debate. This meant starting my taper period over a week earlier than I normally would have, which I wasn’t thrilled about, but being too upset over that seemed trivial when I’d also been presented with the possibility that the “I” in #BostonMARIAthon might no longer be a thing. I could be hopeful that the combination of extra rest,every homeopathic remedy even semi-related to ovarian cysts, and the awesome combination of tylenol+motrin+bendryl (thank you to my sister, Alyssa, for prescribing this magical combo to me and to my friend, Sehaj, for bringing me all three in the middle of one night) would effectively combat and destroy my evil “little cysta” (as my Mom, very creatively, named it), but I was told that the monster just had to run its course (ha!) which could take up to six weeks. Boston was is four…

This is probably where the issue of control (or lack thereof) first began to surface. It was up to me to take care of myself, but I couldn’t will my body to heal faster than it was ready to (though I did practice some awesome imagination-based, cyst-zapping visualizations that I’m going to assume helped). The reality was that no matter how much I ran, how much strength training I did, how diligent I was in nursing mini injuries, things could happen—totally unrelated to running—that could negatively impact my opportunity to run this race that I’d hailed as the top goal of my marathon “career” thus far.

I scheduled a follow up appointment for April 5th, a little under two weeks out from Boston. Leading up to this date I had started to feel progressively better, and managed ten slow (run/walk) miles in place of my scheduled 20-miler that weekend. Also leading up to this date, I felt some of the tighter-wound goals (time goals, etc.) around my anticipated Boston experience begin to loosen as I told myself that I had accomplished a lot just by qualifying, that I would be able to qualify again if I didn’t run this year, and that, if my prayers were answered and I could run this year, I’d treat the race as a celebration of the opportunity it was rather than as an obstacle I needed to conquer*.

On the day of my follow up, less than two weeks before my race, the cyst was nowhere to be found, and I was given the go-ahead to race. I felt so relieved and invigorated by this news that I almost jumped off the table before the sonogram was over. Once again, Boston was the future reality I’d longed for it to be.

Now, all I could do was look forward…and at every article posted by every running magazine/blog that seemed to tell me all of the things that I should have done in preparation for Boston, but did not do or did not do enough. Even though I had technically been tapering for nearly two weeks before my scheduled taper, my mind was right on schedule in assuming its typical taper-inspired anxieties: I should have run more hills, I should have run more, period, I should have had at least ten less beers over the course of my training period, I should have slept more, I shouldn’t have gotten that stupid ovarian cyst, and so on. As the list spiraled from things I couldn’t control now to things that weren’t ever within my control to begin with, I began to combat them in the most proactive way I knew how: Google. Search by search, I Googled my way toward a more grounded, rational mindset—an optimistic one even. When “why it is perfectly okay to taper for five weeks before a marathon” and other such searches didn’t yield the exact results I needed, I decided to (try to) focus my energy more on what I could control moving forward rather than on trying to justify the past. I thought about how hard I’d worked to get to the point of even being able to cross the start line of Boston and told myself that crossing the finish line—at whatever pace—was just an additional opportunity. I thought about all of the support from family and friends I had in the almost-three years it took me to qualify for Boston who would be supporting me while I ran. Through some combination of these thoughts, I decided that my mantras for the race should focus not only on grit, but also on gratitude. And, wow, did I need both of these…

Photo #2: the last several miles of the race…

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(C)MarathonFoto…Also, I promise I actually purchased the photo in which I am not sobbing/hyperventilating.

Okay, I didn’t look like this the whole time, but I was actually thankful to see this photo as it perfectly illustrates how I looked and/or felt, on and off, for about the last ten miles of the race! It would be nice if I could end this entry along the lines of “and then, after letting go of all my destructive anxieties, trusting my training, and focusing on gratitude, I magically and effortlessly ran my fastest time and strongest race ever, and lived happily ever after, and so on,” but that wasn’t at all the case. But I can conclude, after what has now been over two weeks of reflecting, that although I might have finished in my slowest time yet, I crossed the finish line a stronger runner.

So here’s my Boston recap:

Exactly one week before the race, I woke up feeling like I might be coming down with a cold.  I tried my best not to worry too much about this, and what that means is that I said out loud to almost anyone I talked to, and sometimes to myself, that “I wasn’t too worried about it,” even though I was a bit worried. I assured others (as a somewhat successful attempt to assure myself) that I had plenty of time (one week) to fight the cold even if it did surface and that it was probably just in my head (physically and/or mentally) and nothing that would really affect me anyway.  I also combatted this potential cold with excessive amounts of Zinc (in the form of Zicam and lozenges), tea, Pedialtye, Vitamin C, and sleep, and, day by day, my symptoms seemed to lessen. Focus on what you can control, I told myself, and I spent the week before Boston doing exactly that.  To be honest, I was as much concerned about killing my cold because of how it would affect my racing as I was concerned about how it would affect my weekend with my parents who had taken yet another weekend out of their lives to support me in a marathon. (I have a reputation in my family for, in  the words of my sister, “not being very fun” before races and I wanted to disprove this at Boston.)

I arrived in Boston on Friday, three nights before the race, which gave me plenty of time to enjoy the city and my parents’ company. Feeling like I had nearly, if not completely, prevented my cold from surfacing, I felt pretty relaxed (unusual for me before races) those few days before. Looking back, perhaps some of the reason for this was tiredness from my looming cold, but I also think I was more relaxed because I had an underlying feeling that the race was really out of my hands at that point. This (the underlying feeling, not the imminent cold) is something I would like to try to take with me to future races.

You know how in slasher films, there seems to always be that moment where the killer seems just dead enough to walk away from, but the second the soon-to-be-victim character walks away, they suddenly turn back to see that the “dead” killer has noiselessly vanished only to turn forward again to see the same killer coming at them, full-force, with a knife? Well, my sore throat on Sunday was like ominous music that would underscore that scene;growing louder and louder until it suddenly goes silent, waiting (1, 2, 3…)for the killer to jump out of the darkness. All of this to say that I woke up the morning of Boston with a full-on chest cold.

 

I had a dream that night that I nonchalantly decided not to run the race and woke up at 4:30am (my alarm was set for 5am) in some pre-conscious state feeling as if not running was actually an option I’d consider.  I don’t think a full five seconds went by before I flung myself out of bed thinking (and perhaps saying) something along the lines of “F that. Of course I’m running.” 

The human mind and will can be very powerful; this is something running reminds me of repeatedly.  However, the mind and will also have their limits. This is the case for running and for anything. I don’t mean this to sound negative and I definitely don’t mean it as any sort of argument against any “believe in yourself and anything is possible”affirmations. I just think it’s important, sometimes, to realize that we’re limited. (For example, Elphaba from Wicked might have never ended up defying gravity if weren’t for this realization…)

Anyway, I didn’t necessarily feel limited by my cold before the race or really during the first half of it. The feeling of relaxedness I mentioned earlier (which, again, might have had to do with having less energy than usual) stayed with me in the anticipatory moments leading up to the start of the race, through the gradual decent of the first six miles and up until just past the half marathon point (pictured below).

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Boston Marathon, half marathon mark. (Thanks to my friend and running buddy, Jessica Sarubbi, for the photo and support.)

I ran fast, but cautiously during the downhill beginning and felt both strong and confident giving myself permission to back off a little for (what I wanted to be) miles 10-20, where I would then summon the strength gained from my past  quad and hill workouts to really race Heartbreak Hill and the last 10k.  Sure, I had to use some of the wet paper towels they were handing out for people to cool down with to blow my nose a few times, but I didn’t feel as if my cold was really interfering too much otherwise.

Looking back I am so thankful that my parents surprised me at mile 9 , when I still looked and felt strong and spritely, rather than mile 14 (or 15, or 16, and so on). This later part is what I was referring to when I responded to anyone’s “congratulations” or “how’d it go” texts with a skull emoji and nothing else**. At about mile 14, I went from feeling strong and in control, and ready to run a few more comfortable miles before I raced to the finish line, to feeling uncertain as to whether or not I would make it to mile 15. I started to cough a bit, and then I started to cough a lot. Soon I was coughing to the point of not being able to breathe so well, which caused me to panic and breathe less well, and then start walking, and then start crying (as pictured above). This happened at least once per mile from that point on, causing me to (once again)  toss out my strategy and any expectations pertaining to a certain finish time or race experience.  The only goal was to finish the race and there were several points where I felt willing to relinquish this goal, too.

Every time I thought I had caught my breath enough to pick up the pace, I’d lose it again and have to walk to get it back. I felt frustrated and embarrassed as I watched my pace plummet from 8 minutes/mile to 11 minutes/miles, knowing that people were tracking me and watching it do so. I started to feel defensive, knowing that people would assume I was walking because I “hit the wall “when in reality, my legs felt okay, I just couldn’t breathe (I guess that is a wall too though). Having miles take so much longer than I was used to caused me to get even more anxious and frustrated. After years of working toward running Boston, I was in the middle of doing so and the point of being able to say I ran it seemed to be getting further and further away. (Obviously, this is not the case–it was getting closer because I was still moving forward even if I was doing so at a slower-than-desired pace.)

My Boston finish felt bittersweet. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. I felt proud, grateful, and relieved to finish, but I also felt uneasy about the race itself. I thought this had to do with my time being slower than I’d hoped for, but as more time passes I realize that what feels bitter from the race are those moments in which I remember feeling weak, defeated and frustrated for not being able to run the exact race I wanted to run rather than feeling grateful to be running the race I had dreamed for more than three years of running. I’d fixated on factors outside of my control beyond the point of being able to control them, which caused my mental state, at times,to be more of “I wish I wasn’t here” (i.e. in this sick, limited body) rather than “I am so  thankful to be here” (i.e. in this awesome city, running this amazing race, surrounded by these supportive people, regardless of the outcome).

When I say I came out of Boston a stronger runner, I mean that I think my races will be at least mentally much stronger moving forward because I will be more aware of and willing to accept race day factors that are outside of my control. I can say I didn’t have a great race in Boston because I was sick, but if it weren’t that perhaps I would be saying I didn’t have a great race because it was hot, or because of the hills, or because ____ hurt, etc. The reality is that there are a lot of things that can go “wrong” no matter how hard you’ve worked for things to go right, and that’s where the grit and gratitude I mentioned earlier come into play–in being able to struggle gracefully through the things that limit you, and recognizing that you are strong both in spite of and because of these things.

 

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Post race, with my amazing parents.

*My parents and a few others can vouch for the fact that I did not handle the situation entirely as gracefully as the above implies, but I think they would at least commend my efforts to do so.

**Apologies to those text recipients. 

 

 

On Indifference & Delicacy

I witnessed something terrible while running the other day. And by “the other day,” I mean over a month ago—I recognize that it has been a little while since my last entry. There are a few reasons for this, although none of them are valid excuses, not really. Perhaps the most invalid of these (in)excuses is that I have felt uninspired. I recently Googled the definitions of both inspired and uninspired:

Inspired: imbued with the spirit to do something.

Uninspired: not inspired, not creative or spirited.

I know it is (or should be) a pretty obvious root word, but this is really the first time I’m noticing spirit as a significant part of both the word and meaning, inspire. Observing spirit in inspire now makes me all the more frustrated with myself for my claim not to be so—not so much because it wasn’t the case, but because I had allowed a couple of dispiriting circumstances (er, mainly one dispiriting circumstance) to make me feel void of spirit altogether. I think, in general, I tend to identify with being a relatively spritely person, which is not at all to say that I consider myself a bubbly or carefree person, but rather that I’m typically energetic and I tend to be “inspired” even when the circumstances, thoughts, or emotions inspiring me aren’t definitively positive ones.

I digress.

The other day I’m referring to happened to be the day before my 29th birthday. I woke up early to do the seven-mile run I was scheduled to do on my birthday under the assumption that my birthday would be a rest day (i.e. beer and French fry day). I was listening to “Clementine,” by Sarah Jaffe on repeat. I was listening to the song on repeat not only because I liked it, but because I was fascinated by how a song with such seemingly simple lyrics could affect me so strongly. After a number of listens I began to associate its affect with two repeated words/phrases: “now I feel indifferent,” and “I wish I were a little more delicate.”

Hearing “delicate,” I was associating the word with fragility and vulnerability—with being easily damaged or broken—and I thought the phrase “I wish I were a little more delicate” was a somewhat ironic one. I was interpreting the wish as a wish to be a little more vulnerable or fragile. And what felt personally ironic to me is that I think I spend a lot of my time trying to transcend being both of those things. Running, for me, has become one way of doing this, which probably explains why I typically continue to run no matter how uninspired I might feel otherwise.

Another digression.

While I was running, listening to “Clementine,” and contemplating the words, “delicate” and indifferent,” a cat sprinted out from under a stoop, directly in front of my feet. The cat was determined to cross a street that was becoming increasingly busy with Manhattan-bound rush hour traffic. It hadn’t seen me and might not have seen me had I not become startled and screamed when I saw it. Upon hearing me, the cat looked up, and, terrified, lost its stride for a split second, and then continued on the path it has set out on. And I spent the last two miles of my run trying not to think about whether or not the cat would have made it across the road had I not screamed.

The thing about running as a means of distracting yourself from what you might be thinking or feeling is that sometimes you can outrun (or run out) the thoughts and feelings, but other times (most times) the thoughts and feelings catch up with you once you stop running; no matter how many miles you can run, they seem to have much greater endurance than you do. Although, on this note of endurance, I have discovered recently that while it might not be possible to outrun the things that you don’t want to think or feel, you can run yourself to the point that you are too exhausted from running to entertain them once they catch up to you. The result is some momentary state of indifference.

Like heartbreak. The more I think about it, the more I think heartbreak is less about emotions you feel or the vulnerability you experience than it is about the moment where you seem to have exhausted all of your emotions to the point of emotional defeat. And the scary thing with that is that what used to stir you to fight, cry, etc., starts to fade until what your left with is a strong feeling of indifference. The indifference isn’t the result of no longer caring, it’s the result of feeling you’ve exhausted yourself by over-caring about something or someone that cannot match your feelings. It’s the moment of realizing that you now have to will yourself to let go of something that you’ve put a significant amount of your energy—your spirit—into holding onto.

The other day (a more recent “the other day” than the one mentioned at the beginning of this entry), I was running down the same street that I witnessed and perhaps caused that cat’s death on. I was running on an uncomfortably tight (what I call prickly) Achilles, toward a conversation that I would have much preferred to be running away from. And I started feeling bad for the cat. I had assumed it was stray, but even if it wasn’t stray, it was running, and I started to think that the cat’s death was an even sadder one because it was stray (i.e. unloved) and/or running (i.e. dejected).  And then I thought, for a moment, that I was like that cat.

This  melodramatic  thought (in combination with my increasingly painful Achilles) was enough to make me stop running, and start thinking…

When you Google the definition of delicate the second definition listed is “easily broken or damaged; fragile,” but the first one is “very fine in texture or structure; of intricate workmanship or quality.” The example listed for the first definition is, “a spider’s web, strong but delicate.” Reading this I understand more why the phrase “I wish I were a little more delicate” resonated so much with me. Perhaps it isn’t a wish to be more vulnerable or fragile, but a wish to be strong while being both of those things. On this note, running shouldn’t be seen or used as a device to escape from or exhaust yourself to the point of not having to deal with uncomfortable feelings or circumstances, but rather as a way of proving to yourself that you can move and that you are strong in spite of whatever mentally or emotionally might make you want to call yourself weak and allow yourself to feel uninspired or indifferent.

My self-pitying and melodramatic I-am-like-that-cat moment was a simultaneously embarrassing and illuminating one. I am currently running with and for an organization devoted to giving money and treatment to children who are being forced to face and fight death before they’ve lived long enough to experience heartbreak. When I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon with a charity there was no doubt in my mind that that charity would be St. Jude. But for whatever reason, when people asked me, “why St. Jude,” I was struggling a little bit to articulate my answer. Surely I should have some specific explanation as to why the charity I am fundraising for is close to my heart when I am asking people to help me raise at least $4,500 for them (writing that number now, it actually doesn’t seem like such a high one considering that it takes nearly two million dollars each day to operate St. Jude). I  can now say confidently that my reason is this: if there is anyone in this world that can speak to strength in delicacy it’s these children. I am running and fundraising for St. Jude because they are an organization that provides a platform of support from which the most vulnerable of humans can let their wills to live shine out in spite of something as dispiriting and disheartening as cancer. These children exemplify courage and grace at ages way too young to have to summon either of those characteristics. And there really isn’t anything more inspiring than that.

Read more about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital here and visit my personal page to donate.  

 

20 Insights to My Running Psyche

  1. I have a heightened sense of hearing for all running-related conversations which allows me to eavesdrop on even the quietest of discussions from hallways away.
  2. I run faster if I’m angry or sad, which means I’ve run equally fast listening to Eminem’s “I’m Not Afraid” as I have listening to Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”
  3. I don’t need to run to music…I’ve gotten through several twenty-mile runs on daydreams alone.
  4. Some of my fastest race times have been when I was sick or uncomfortable in some way.
  5. When I’m training, I crave French fries nearly 24 hours/day.
  6. I’ve cried at the finish line of every marathon.
  7. I drink black coffee before every run.
  8. My former boyfriend used to threaten to break up with me if I ever peed my pants during a race for the sake of a better time. Note: This is not why we broke up. And I have never peed my pants during race. Yet.
  9. I once raced a girl all the way around Central Park who had no clue we were racing.
  10. I never really liked beer until I started marathon training, now it’s one of my favorite drinks and I crave it almost as much as French fries.
  11. I have a tendency to play make believe when I run. For example, when I run down long, steep hills I pretend that I’m a fairy by leaning forward, taking long strides, and gaining as much speed as I can until I feel like I’m flying. Also, sometimes when run on/in obstacle-heavy terrain/weather, I pretend that I’m a character in a video game.
  12. My relationships with running shoe brands and models have often paralleled my romantic relationships.
  13. If you run with me, I will talk to you the whole time—this will happen regardless of if you wear headphones or not.
  14. My sister is my favorite running buddy because she also talks the whole time. In fact, some our greatest heart-to-hearts have been during ten-plus mile runs.
  15. Sweet potatoes are my go-to night-before-a-race meal.
  16. I once spent the entirety of a fourteen-mile run daydreaming about what I would do if I saw a mountain lion. (To be fair, this was in Southern California where my chances of seeing a mountain lion are one-billion percent more than in NYC.)
  17. I have confirmation bias down to an art form when it comes to convincing myself that running is good for things it is not necessarily good for and/or that things that are not necessarily good for running are good for running. For example, I have Googled “running is good for colds” and “beer is good for running.” (I have also, on one or two occasions, Googled, “beer is good for colds.”)
  18. I’m terrible at eating “enough” protein.
  19. When I’m running in New York, I tend to smile at everyone I pass because that’s what people do in Michigan, but when I’m running in Michigan I feel weary of the fact that everyone I pass smiles at me.
  20. My parents don’t necessarily love my passion for marathon running, but nobody has supported me more than they have. There’s a lot of personal time, work, and willpower that goes into marathon training/running, but I would not have crossed any of the finish lines that I did if it were not for my parents, my sister, and my aforementioned former boyfriend/current friend. Note: RE #12–I am not still friends with any of my ex-running shoes.

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