You Could Run, Or You Could Save Lives

Only a couple of days after pledging to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and writing on my personal page about how “exhilarated” I was to be coupling my personal marathon goals with a goal of giving back, I found myself face to face with potential hypocrisy. The building that I work in was hosting a blood drive. I knew about the blood drive. I work on our company’s administrative team, and I sent out multiple emails informing employees of how, when, and where they could give blood. But the idea that I would donate my blood never crossed my mind—not until one of my coworkers stopped on his way out the door to the donation mobile and asked if I was going to do so.

I said “no” decisively and immediately. But then immediately after that I thought, “well, wait…”

I could give blood. And because I could give blood, I should give blood, right? I had never given blood before. I had tried once, I even received a sticker saying that “I tried,” which I wore to be ironic though I remember feeling pathetic and thinking that trying and not succeeding at something as seemingly inert as letting someone take my blood from me might be the ultimate human failure. (Obviously, this isn’t the case—many people are unable to give blood for a number of very valid reasons. I just happened to “try” during one of the more angsty phases of my life.)

The thing was that I knew that I could give blood now and that there really shouldn’t have been anything stopping me from doing so. But there was one thing…

“Can you run after you give blood?” I asked my coworker while simultaneously Googling the same question. Both coworker and Google said that it probably wasn’t a good idea. I thought about this for a minute, but then I also thought of the number of people I know who like to drink after they give blood because they get drunk faster, and I thought that running after giving blood really couldn’t be any more destructive than that.

Additionally, my Google search revealed a number of different running testimonials saying that it could take up to three weeks to be at your optimal performance level after giving blood. This sounded terrifying to me. I could already anticipate the distress I would feel if I went into marathon training feeling less than optimal. After all, I wanted to PR—that meant I had to run sub-eight-minute miles for every pace run I ran, and for the 26.2 miles of the race on October 25th. “I don’t have time to not feel optimal,” I proclaimed loudly and frantically, in my head.

“Well, you could run, or you could save lives,” my coworker said. He shrugged and walked out the door. Inner-turmoil ensued—I could do nothing else that day (well, that hour…the blood drive was scheduled to end at 4pm and it was 3pm, so my time to be an indecisive mess was limited) until I decided whether or not I would give blood.

I watched the elevator doors close behind my coworker as he went to “save lives” while I agonized over whether or not my attempt to give blood could jeopardize the eight-mile run I had been planning to do that evening, and I suddenly felt quite hypocritical. To confirm my hypocrisy, I looked at the American Red Cross Association website and read that not one, but three lives could be saved by one person giving blood. I also read, “most people have blood to spare…yet there is still not enough to go around” (interestingly this was listed as a benefit of donating beneath “free juice and cookies”).

I could run, or I could save lives. I found myself saying to myself, “Maria, if your intention this training period is to prioritize fundraising for an organization devoted specifically to saving lives over your personal running-related goals, how could you possibly pass up the opportunity to donate blood just because you might miss a run?” Decision made. Sort of.

The nurses working the blood drive did not seem confident in my ability to give blood. “Do you weigh 110 pounds?” one nurse asked, skeptically.

“Yes!” I said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

“Okay then, here’s the form. Fill it out and read it carefully.” I filled it out, but I did not read it carefully, which the nurse called me out on when I returned the form. “I’m going to watch you read it all the way through because I want you to know what you’re getting yourself into,” she said.

I read the form through (no physical activity right after, etcetera, etcetera…might experience anxiety, etcetera, etcetera…let someone know if you think you’re going to pass out, etcetera, etcetera…) and handed it back to the nurse who then proceeded to take my vitals. “Your blood pressure is very low, so definitely make sure to tell us if you feel like you’re going to pass out,” she said in a tone that seemed like she was at least ninety-five percent certain I would. And with that, giving blood became equally about proving that I could give blood as it did about giving it.

This competitive mindset that is perhaps useful for racing can prove to be destructive in other circumstances. This is because it involves relinquishing a bit (or sometimes a lot) of rationality—ignoring signs, suppressing impulses, and denying undeniable facts—in order to succeed. For example, during marathons, I have convinced myself that excruciating knee pain was all in my head, that I didn’t really have to pee, and that silver specks I was seeing were just little sparkles of encouragement signifying that the finish line wasn’t too far off.

My whatever-I’ve-got-this spirit was temporarily thwarted when the needle pierced my vein—it was the biggest needle I have ever seen or felt and I involuntarily said “ouch” and teared up. But when I looked down I was vindicated by how quickly my blood was racing out of my body and into the tubes. (For past blood tests, I has always underwent multiple needle-pricks in multiple veins just to get a tiny bit of blood out.) “My blood has never gone this fast before,” I said. The nurse smiled and nodded sympathetically.

I did not experience anxiety, and I did not pass out. So, I immediately texted my sister (she’s a doctor) and asked her if I could do an easy run after giving blood if I felt fine. She said it should be okay, but no more than two miles, which I translated to mean that if I did the eight miles very, very slow and even took walk breaks that would be fine. I also recalled my brilliant thought earlier that many people drink after giving blood so running was totally okay. Plus, the reason they tell you not to run after giving blood is because your plasma volume and hemoglobin levels are lower and surely running must help rejuvenate both of these things because.

No surprise conclusion to this post—it is not a good idea to run after you give blood. At just over two miles into my run (which was really more of a slow, Jell-O-legged trot) I ended up texting multiple people the skull-face emoji, walking to the nearest grocery store, buying spinach and red meat (i.e. iron) and going home. But competitive nonsense aside, I am proud to have finally given blood and it was well worth a missed/abbreviated run to do so. I will donate blood again, although not while marathon training and probably not as close to beforehand as this time was.

On Charity, Goals, & French Fries

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon (October 25th 2015). This will be my fourth full marathon, but two things will make this training period slightly different than my past three. The first is that I will be attempting Hal Higdon’s advanced marathon training program. (I’m a huge fan of Hal Higdon’s training programs. In the past, I’ve used both his Novice 2 and Intermediate 2 programs.) The second is that for the first time in my marathon career (if you can really call it a career), I will be running with a charity—the St. Jude Heroes charity for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

As I mention in the blurb on my personal donation page, I’m excited to be coupling my personal training goals with a goal to achieve something for a cause far greater than whatever my personal running-related goals could ever be. But with any sort of heightened excitement—for me at least—also comes heightened nervousness. In the past I’ve always said that I go into every race with an a-goal, a b-goal, and a c-goal (always a bit thrown by the number of people who think I meant “seagull’ after the last one). For the past three marathons I ran my goals have been as follows:

A. Qualify for Boston (i.e. run a 3:35 marathon).

B. Achieve a personal record (PR).

C. Cross the finish line.

Being the extremely competitive and slightly obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I’m not saying that on the occasions that I have achieved my c-goal and not my a-or-b goals (which has been two out of the three occasions) that I haven’t spent far too many hours obsessing over what I did “wrong” as if doing so could negate whatever “wrong” thing(s) I did. But whether or not my actions always add up to my words and thoughts, I do not believe that a person should ever be upset with themselves for “merely finishing” a marathon.

I didn’t qualify for Boston during the Nashville Rock n’ Roll Marathon. I guess I did PR, but that’s only because it was the first marathon I actually ran (I had trained for NYC the year it was hurricaned out). I neither PRed nor qualified for Boston during the NYC Marathon the following fall. But I both PRed and qualified for Boston in Detroit last year, which left anyone interested in my running/marathon goals (or anyone good at pretending they were interested) with the question, “now what?”

It was a really good question. I think at one point I saw qualifying and competing in the Boston Marathon as something of an end goal. But that isn’t the case anymore. I said to quite a few people, “no more marathons (until Boston) until I finish a draft of my ‘project,’” to which most responded, “yeah right,” and yeah, they were right. I should have said “no more wine” or “no more French fries,” but in all honesty I would have likely succumbed to my desire for those things too (possibly sooner than my I did to marathon-training one).

NOTE: “Project” is my intentionally-vague code word for novel that I’ve decided to use until the aforementioned draft is complete. That being said, I do still plan to complete a rough draft of my project  before running the Marine Corps Marathon. (I also plan to eat many French Fries before doing so.)

This may sound corny, but marathon training is a part of me now. Whether it is a good or bad (or sometimes good, but sometimes bad) part of me is up for debate, but it challenges me, grounds me, inspires me, and—in many ways—completes me, while also encouraging me to look for more/better ways to be complete. At present, that means adding fundraising for the incredible organization that is St. Jude to my marathon-training regime. I’m signed up to raise $4,500 over the next few months and, to be honest, this seems more challenging, more frightening, but also more exhilarating to me than the weekly mileage increase or interval workouts that differentiate this training program from the past ones. The stakes feel higher because they are not dependent on how hard I train or how fast I run. Well, perhaps my b-goal and c-goals are, but my a-goal this time around is to raise the money I’ve promised to raise.

If you’d like to donate to my personal page, please do so here.

Using Running to Start a Blog (Take 2): Or, Starting a Blog About Running…

I’m posting my “first” blog post on the first day of my official marathon-training period for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). I’ve placed quotes around “first” because this isn’t actually my first blog post on this blog. Though I’ve deleted the real first entry (written almost two years ago), it feels somewhat dishonest to suggest it never existed. I think that I’m also mentioning the former first blog post as a way of calling myself out on beginning a blog—a blog that also coincided with a marathon-training period (the 2013 ING NYC Marathon)—and not following through with it.

I was a little aimless in my first attempt at blogging, which is likely why I failed at it. Failed might be too strong of a word—it’s hard to fail at something you’re trying to do when you’re not even sure what that something is. Or else, it’s very easy to fail at it. Either way, what I know now that—as stupid as this might sound—I did not know when I wrote my first entry called, “Using Running to Start a Blog,” was that I not only wanted to use running to start a blog, I wanted to write a blog about running.

If my desire to blog about running wasn’t transparent in the entry’s title, it definitely should have been in its content. Here’s an excerpt:

[…]Why I love running should be transparent to anyone who has any idea of my temperament. I’m competitive, yes, but what I also like is that, with running, I put in a prescribed amount of effort for a prescribed amount of time in order to get a desired result. There is certainly an I-am-in-control factor to running which is most likely why many people who know me might prefer that I didn’t run (I have a history of over-attaching myself to things I feel like I can control in order to distract myself from the things that I can’t).        

However, I disagree with this idea that running merely empowers the “control-freak” mindset. In my opinion, it also challenges it. As a runner, while you are often rewarded with desired results for training hard and consistently, those results are never guaranteed. In fact, they are often thwarted. Being a runner requires a certain level of comfort with ambiguity and the ability to surrender yourself to things outside of your control (weather, injury, sickness, etc.). In short, training for a specific race does not always result in that race and training for a specific time, does not always result in that time.

That I have yet to prove myself entirely graceful in the face of either of these two uncertainties is just one reason for someone to question whether or not running and I are good for each other. That marathon training seems to be a waste of time and energy that could be more productively put towards other things is another. I think that one of my parents’ greatest fears is that I will wake up one day convinced that graduate school and career building are petty compared to bopping around Manhattan for hours on end. While it would be a lie to say that this does not ever feel like the case, I have not yet become so disillusioned by running that I see it as a be-all and end-all. For me, at present, running is two things:

  1. A positive displacement for energy that might otherwise interfere with “more important” areas of my life (work, relationships, dreams, etc.)
  2. An infinite vessel of enlightening, life-applicable metaphors. Running provides both an escape from and revelatory parallels to reality[…]

The logical and expected train of progression would have been for me to take any running-related thing mentioned above and expand on it in my second entry. But instead, I devoted my second entry to my missing and probably deceased stuffed-animal panda bear, Goggles, and his predecessor, Panda.

Looking back, I probably opted to write about a stuffed animal instead of sticking with the subject matter I set myself up to talk about for the same reason a child (or twenty-eight year old woman…insert embarrassed-face emoji) might have any sort of relationship with a stuffed animal to begin with: comfort in the face of fear, tangibility in the face of ambiguity, etcetera, etcetera.

I think that my previous resistance to writing about running came from a number of insecurities: What could I possibly have to say about running that hasn’t already been said by the trillions of people that already write about running? By blogging about running am I claiming to be some sort of self-proclaimed expert on the subject? I don’t want to be judged as an expert. Actually, I don’t want to be judged at all. What if the parallels I draw between running and the rest of my life seem too obvious, or too contrived, or too nonsensical, or too boring? Or–probably my biggest concern–what if nobody wants to hear me talk more about running than I already do? But I guess the whole you-don’t-ever-really-know-the-outcome-when-you-train-for-a-marathon idea could be the metaphorical combatant to all of these hesitancies.

All of this to say that I will be blogging about a number of things, but I’m going to—hopefully without jinxing myself—say that this is will be is a blog about running.