Friday, November 27, 2015

Post Marthon Happenings and Ramblings

For the past four years the Seneca Valley Cross Country team hosts a Turkey Chase in Cranberry. I've done it every year. A couple weeks ago Tiff texted me asking if I was thinking about doing it. Without skipping a beat I said no because it would be four days after my marathon. Fast forward to Wednesday night and the thought was lurking in my head that I had to do it. I love that race. It's held at the Dick's Sportsplex at Graham Park, a super flat course that I know like the back of my hand from running it often. I could do it with my eyes closed. It's also a great race to actually race being that it is flat and fast. I woke up Thursday morning and felt pretty good. I was walking fine at this point and not having any trouble on stairs or standing and sitting. Kelli texted me that morning and asked if I was going to do it. I tossed back and forth about going to CrossFit or the Turkey Chase and on an impulse decision I committed to the chase. Leaving my house at 8:20 for a 9 am start I had just enough time to park, register, and jog to the start line. Luckily, at the front of the pack I saw my cousin Norah and Kelli.

Then the horn went off to start. Not even two minutes into the race my right hamstring was lit up like a Christmas tree. It had been sore after the marathon, but didn't feel injured. Now here I am, four days later, racing a 5k. I don't get the award for the sharpest crayon in the box for that day. Either way, the thoughts racing in my head we're, "you just paid $30 to do this five minutes ago, you're NOT walking." I saw Kelli just a couple steps ahead and figured I would do my best to keep up with her for as long as possible and if my hammy really starts to hurt, maybe I'll have to consider walking/dropping out even though I really didn't want to. Keep in mind Kelli is an AWESOME runner (she just ran a 3:48 marathon in Columbus!), so for me to pick her to keep up with was not a casual jog by any means. None the less, I pushed forward and was able to stay just a few steps behind her for the entire race

Doing my usual obsessing over my Garmin while running I noticed my splits were around the 7:35s/mile. My official time came out to be a  23:37.... a freaking PR. I'm not a running expert by any means, so please don't take this story as advice to ever race a 5k within a week after running a marathon. I actually wouldn't endorse this at all. My hamstring is alright and I'm walking just fine but I certainly irritated it. Now I really need to lay off it for a couple days. Special thanks to Kelli for "pacing" me for the whole race even though she didn't even know she was. I did some marathon training runs with her and I definitely credit her for my speed work getting better and faster. She always pushes me on our runs and the splits don't lie. Oh, and if you're wondering how my cousin Norah did, that little speed demon ran a 21 minute race!

Ran in my newer Brooks PureCandence sneaks. I'm afraid they may be discontinuing my beloved PureFlows! 

My Turkey Chase official times over the years:
2015 - 23:27 (7:34/mile)
2014 - 25:38 (8:16/mile)
2013 - 24:16 (7:49/mile)
2012 - couldn't find the results online

2015 Age Group Results - 6th of of 57

Now on to thoughts about last Sunday:

One of the biggest things that boggles my mind about my marathon is that I didn't listen to music once. Not for a single second. I kept my headphones tucked through the strap of my tank top so they would be ready as soon as I wanted them, but they never moved. They say the first half of the race to take it all in. Enjoy the crowds and feed support from them. Not only did I do just that but I also had Courtney with me that whole time. We had amazing conversations about life and relationships and hardships and love, etc. I have this strange feeling that even though I never got her last name somehow our paths will cross again. On to the next half of the race, it was at that 15ish mile marker that even though I had company to talk to, I somehow did not want to talk. Not because I didn't want to make conversation, or that I wasn't having fun with the girl I was running with, but because somehow my body was just saying no. I wasn't huffing and puffing at all but the headwinds were REALLY strong from mile 13-20 and I think that maybe had something to do with it. None the less, for some reason I still didn't want to put in my headphones because I was really enjoying the sights and sounds around me. I was watching and listening to other runners. The elite runners were starting to fly by on our right on their way into the finish. And somehow I was just really enjoying being in a state of just... well, being. Then once I got to mile 22 when I started having my problem the LAST thing I wanted to do was listen to music. I was fighting a different battle at that point and no song could cure it.

I had made this huge play list before the marathon that contained mostly songs that I had listened to during my solo training runs, many of which were songs that reminded me of my fiance or our wedding. Songs we both like, songs he likes, songs from movies we like, etc. There is something about music that just gives you the feels. When I first started going through this unexpected tragedy I couldn't listen to music, it was too painful. Any song that reminded me of him in the slightest bit just overwhelmed me with emotion - which at that time, I could just about relate any song in some way shape or form.  I heavily relied on Podcasts at this point: Serial, Undisclosed and Girls Gone WOD. But then as time went on I was having some of my best runs while listening to songs that I relate to him. Last week on my last training run I hit 4 miles at a 7:30 pace listening to the freaking Jersey Boys/The Four Seasons. I once ran for 60 minutes listening to Eric Church - Springsteen (our wedding song) over and over and over again the whole time. I'm fully aware telling you all this makes me sound crazy, but as you all already know anyway he's a huge part of my life. People have asked if  I would change the last six years of my life or if I could skip this hardest part of my life since everything has happened, and I wouldn't. I've gone through so many dark, dark days but there is one thing I know and that is my thoughts and my feelings. I always get the "you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to" but, talking and running and music have been the three most therapeutic things for me. And those aren't the only things. Believe me, between counseling, CrossFit and my family there, having friends constantly take me out, spending time with my biggest cheerleaders - my family, and so on that carried me through these endless days. And while my mind was still focused on this very one thing in particular for those 4 hours out on that course, I totally shocked myself being content being unplugged.

The next question I've been getting is "so, are you ready for your next?" and the answer to that is absolutely yes. I have no idea when or where it will be, but I know that OFFICIAL sub four is in me. I'm not setting out to do anything crazy, but I have found some of the best friendships through my marathon training and running friends and I can only hope I inspire them as much as they inspire me. So many people, runners and non-runners alike, have come through for me during these days, they lifted my heart and kept my spirit alive. I now know its my job to help people the same way they helped me. And, because I have to keep running. Running has truely made me a stronger person throughout all of this heartbreak. People comment on how strong I've been since that day but the truth is losing my soulmate made me hit rock bottom. While many days it took every bit of me to get out of bed and get out and run, something about totally exhausting myself while pounding the pavement at least made me feel a little bit better, even if the entire run was spent in tears.

There is a scene from the movie Southpaw that I relate many of my runs to. If you haven't seen the movie yet you absolutely must. I've watched it probably 51 times now- it just does something for me. Boxer Billy Hope loses the love of his life, his wife, in an accidental shooting after a charity event. Coping with his loss and suffering extreme emotional distress, he loses everything, including his possessions and custody of his daughter. While trying to rebuild his life, he starts working at a small gym owned by Tick Wills. Tick coaches many young boys that don't come from fortunate homes, quote, "It's my job to protect these boys." After finding out one of them is shot by their own father, Billy finds Tick alone in his gym, laying it all out on a punching bag. Punching and yelling, he hits that point of pure exhaustion and just bear hugs the bag and holds on while crying out. That's what I felt after many of my runs. You just collapse in exhaustion because you're fighting for something so bad, only to have it taken from you, and not be able to control it. Tick says, "I'm telling them (the boys)... you can control your destiny. You could control this, you could control that.... you can't control shit. I think God's trying to teach me a lesson, I just don't know what it is." And just like Billy hitting rock bottom losing the love of his life, or Tick feeling helpless over not being able to protect his boys, I think sometimes we have to hit rock bottom to see those lessons, even if they're not immediately clear. Not everything is ever going to be in our control. But, we can control the fact that we cant ever give up our faith and our will to fight, for whatever it is that we want, even if it means we need to improve ourselves. "With every ounce of my blood, with every breath in my lungs."

This thanksgiving, I'm thankful for my dark days. I'm thankful for my family, friends and loved ones who have shown me endless amounts of support and love while I've internally struggled day after day. I'm thankful because I know what its like to hit a low that all you have is your faith. I'm thankful for the past six years. I'm thankful that I won't stop fighting for what I want. I'm thankful.

"At any given point you have the ability to say this is not how the story is going to end."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Philly Marathon Recap - 11/22/2015

Reader beware: this is going to be a long and very personal post. I decided to write this recap so I will always have a play by play of this amazing day.

My parents and I decided to walk from our hotel (The Inn at Penn – right next to Penn University) to the start line. It was a 1.8 mile walk and was a beautiful morning. We left our hotel just after 5:30 and the walk was the perfect way to get my legs moving. It was still dark out, but not too chilly. I felt perfect in my throw away shirts and trash bag.

We got to the area around the start line and moved right though security with no problems at all. It wasn’t until after the race that we found out at some point the security lines got backed up and caused the race start to be delayed. I also found out the group of ladies I know who also ran we’re stuck in those lines for almost an hour! I’m not sure how we got so lucky, but I had plenty of time to spare to use the restroom and get into my corral.

My parents stayed with me until about quarter to seven when I decided to get into my corral. I was anxiously looking for the four hour pacer as it was my plan to run with a pace group. Hal, our lead pacer, showed up shortly before seven. We made a few introductions to the group as we would become best friends for the next couple hours. After the national anthem I decided to ditch my throw away shirts before the start of the race. It was windy and chilly waiting for the start, but I knew I would immediately warm up as soon as I could start running.

Our corral made its way to the start line and just like that we were off! Well, Hal (our pacer) was off! Holy crap, chasing him that first mile was crazy. He was bobbing and weaving like a mad man trying to pass through the start line crowds to get us on target. There were a few points where I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I can do this (keep up with him) if this is how it is going to be the whole race!” Luckily by mile two he seemed to settle into a steadier pace and our group was starting to reform.

I quickly made friends with a girl named Courtney who also had a four hour goal. I so wish I got her last name. We exchanged our life stories in those first couple miles and she was so supportive and encouraging. She told me about her divorce and I told her about my fiancĂ© and our wedding. I stuck with her and she kept telling me positive and encouraging things that kept my mind right on track. I also saw my good friend Katie who came into town to cheer at the race. Seeing her, even if for a brief second, was exciting and put a huge smile on my face. She had made a sign but our sighting was so quick that all I saw on it was “BEYONCE” so I knew it had to be a good one! (I later saw that it read, “EVEN BEYONCE DIDN'T RUN 26.2 MILES” - love it!!!)

Not too long into the race Courtney and I kept looking at our Garmins and noticed that our pacer had us well under the 9:08 pace we should have been running to hit an even four hour race. We kept asking Hal how we were doing and he would respond “right on target!” Oh Hal, I know I may not have the fanciest Garmin but I certainly don’t think my watch and body felt anywhere near 9:08s. Our watches were reporting sub nine minute miles and even in the sevens for miles 7 and 8. What was going on?! Even runners around us would comment on our pacer being way too fast. It seemed like Hal would speed it up and we would be chasing him only for him to then settle in for a few minutes before speeding up again. None the less we constantly kept Hal in our sights. We were making great timing. My 10k results showed we were on target to finish at 3:57:00. I felt great, but we were starting to worry that even though we were banking time there was still a potential to crash later. We still had MANY miles ahead of us.

At the 13.1 halfway mark my time projected us finishing at a 3:55:00, we were really booking it, but again, I felt strong. I started realizing that I could potentially run this thing in sub four hours. I also had noticed that I PR’d my half marathon time by 57 seconds. So Hal, I’m not sure what you meant by we were on target because we certainly did NOT cross the halfway point at two hours! It was unfortunately at this point that I realized I lost Courtney. I saw her again briefly at another turn around, but I know there is that unwritten mutual understanding that everyone needs to run their own race even if we didn’t officially get to exchange a 'goodbye' when we parted ways. I then quickly hooked up with a girl two years younger than me named Tori from New York City. She was also running her first marathon and was shooting for a four hour finish as well. We headed out to the long out and back portion of the race and could really feel the headwinds. Tori and I technically ran together from mile 13 to about mile 21. However, around mile 15 I just didn’t feel like talking anymore. She was super sweet, but my body just didn’t want to talk. I wasn’t out of breath and my legs still felt great, but for some reason it seemed as if talking was expending unnecessary energy. I felt so bad and even tried to position it as “please don’t feel like you HAVE to talk to me,” but we still trucked along together for the next couple miles.

At mile 18 I was still making excellent timing and feeling strong. My tracker was projecting a 3:54:00 finish at this time. I was getting really anxious to get to mile 20. My (experienced marathoner) friend Kelli suggested I mentally break the race up into three parts: two 10 milers and one 6 miler. My step grandma who has run 47 marathons (amazing!) also kept telling me to not forget that the race doesn’t really start until mile 20. I kept that information in the back pocket of my Lulus and trucked along. About mile 21 I could feel my pace slowing, but I still felt okay. I fell behind Tori and the pace group, but I kept looking at my watch and doing mental math. I could still finish at four hours and maybe sub four even if I slowed my pace down a little. Positive splits weren’t necessarily my plan, but I knew I had banked a lot of time from running under pace up until this point. It was also at this point that I noticed my head went into a “haze” of sorts. I didn’t feel like I was about to pass out or anything like that, but my head definitely felt groggy. I’ll chalk it up to being on my feet for so long at a pretty decent pace.

Then came mile 22. Oh, mile 22. They say at some point you hit the “wall” and this was certainly my wall. Some people hit mental walls, but that was not the case for me. Yes I felt tired and yes I felt like it had been a long time on my feet but once I had hit that 20ish mile mark six miles seemed minimal. I kept mentally justifying it as “just a few more miles that should pass quickly” even though I still had about an hour of running. Even with five miles left to go I still felt like it would only feel like two miles with the excitement of running a marathon, so my mindset was great. My wall, however, was physical. Oh, so very physical in the most literal sense. Don’t get me wrong, my legs were starting to really hurt, but overall I felt fine and was not feeling any signs of injury or blisters or anything like that. My wall came in the form of the instantaneous need to use the restroom. Womp, mother ‘effen womp. I had taken care of business many times before the race, but I guess consuming many liquids on the course and the pounding on my feet caused my stomach to have other plans. I tried to push through it for the next two miles, I really tried. I would jog, then power walk-ish thingy, then jog, but I still felt uncomfortable and I think that may have even made it worse. I saw Kim at this point while I was walking and probably had the look of a troll on my face. She looked so positive and happy and gave me a huge high five, it was a boost I needed. However, I still kept telling myself “just don’t think about it and the need will go away,” but it didn’t. So much so that when I saw my parents just before mile 24 they knew something was wrong- they read it on my face. My mom hopped in to run with me for a little. She asked what was wrong and she encouraged me to stop. At this point I felt defeated over this “problem.” I was watching the minutes tick on my watch. I knew if I stopped, by official clock time I would not make my goal of four/sub four hours, but I did end up stopping. I had always vowed long before I even signed up for a marathon that I would NOT be one of those people who don’t stop to use the restroom and just go in their pants. I’ve seen it happen to other runners before and it looks absolutely, positively miserable. Disclaimer: I stopped my Garmin while I stopped to use the restroom so that way I could still track what my actual running time was. Looking back on this I should be grateful in the grand scheme of things my problem was not really that much of a problem. While it stinks that it caused me to not meet my time goal it could have been much worse, like an actual injury.

Anyway, I felt much better after and got back to jogging with my mom. While my stomach felt restored I was still getting upset over falling shy of my goal by the official clock. I told my mom by my watch I’ll still make it (to the tune of a SUB FOUR marathon at 3:57:36) but that I knew the official clock would definitely say otherwise. She told me to stop worrying about my watch and focus on finishing. Shortly after, I saw Katie again and shouted to her what had happened. She laughed and it made me feel better. My mom continued to run with me up until the crowds started getting thick into the finishers chute. She darted off the course and at this point I just tried to drill it on home. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me and picked up a bit of a sprint. (I tend to do that... I somehow always have the ability to save up for a sprint at the very end and it pisses my mom off in a friendly competitive way, haha!) All I remember was DJ Kool “Let Me Clear My Throat” was playing on the loud speaker. I crossed the finish line at an official time of 4:05:04 and was crying so many tears of happiness.

For so long I talked about how I wanted an authentic Philly cheesesteak after finishing the race and unfortunately I didn't get that. I watch a lot of Food Network and for years I have wanted to do the Pat's versus Geno's test. But for many runners after running for that long as soon as you finish you actually aren't that hungry. You certainly know that you need to start replenishing calories ASAP, but something as complex and rich as a cheesesteak isn't on your stomach's radar until a couple of hours later. We had to get on the road after I was able to get back to the hotel and shower, so my "big meal" didn't come until we got back to Cranberry and I chose a big steak, a couple of Blue Moons and my beloved hoho cake at my favorite - Springfield Grille. In terms of fueling I planned to fuel at miles 5, 10, 15, 20 and 24 and I packed appropriately. I tend to nurse a Gu for about a mile so in reality fueling actually happened at miles 5, 11.5, 16 (CarbBoom) and somewhere in between there about two gummy worms from my fanny pack. Just like when you finish, once I got past mile 16 the only things that sounded appealing were water or Gatorade. It kind of stinks because people are always handing out wonderful treats along the course, including beer, but when your stomach just can't even handle the thought you end up being like Will Farrell in Elf, "not now arctic puffin!!"

Hoho cake was not on the dessert tray that night but I asked our server to check in the back and she delivered! 
We got the Asparagus Spears with the parmesan horseradish dipping sauce for an app and they were fantastic.

For those of you who know what I’ve been going through the past couple months let me just say that this race was monumental. I had signed up for the race before my whole world was turned upside down. When I signed up I could have cared less what my finishing time was and to be quite honest, I’m not sure I would have ran the same race that I ended up racing. I signed up for this race just really wanting to make my fiancĂ© proud and he was supposed to be there to cheer me on with my parents. However, having my heart broken gave me a purpose to still run this marathon. So many people encouraged me that I had to still do it and keep running, the one thing that gave me a sense of “normalcy” throughout day after day of pain and sadness that I still suffer from. My parents took me out to North Park on days I didn’t even want to get out of bed and met me at mile markers to support me. My friends who would go out on runs with me let me ramble on for hours about my heartache and struggles. My non-running friends encouraged me that I had to run this race and cheered me on at the race and from afar. Suffering through a whirlwind of emotions made me determined to not only end up setting a time goal for this race, but one that was super challenging and required me to haul serious ass on that course versus set out for a leisurely run. It gave me determination to prove that no matter what someone throws at me I will not let heartbreak overcome my ability to run and run strong and run happy. I found strength in pain and let it all out on that course. At so many points during the race I just would randomly break out in tears thinking about how much my life has changed and how much I love that certain person, but that also gave me the drive to just keep pushing forward with EVERYTHING that I had.

There are so many people I have to thank for my ability to run this marathon. So many people that the only reason I don’t want to start naming people is fear of forgetting to name someone, because there are so, so many people that deserve recognition. From family members, to my running/crossfit friends, to my non running friends, and coworkers, etc. So let me just throw this all out there: If I’ve talked to you since July 1, 2015 when I signed up for this race, thank you. In more ways than anyone will know my spirit was kept alive by all of you. Your hugs, love and encouragement carried me 26.2 miles. I can never thank you all enough.

In case you were wondering, the liberty bell on the medal DOES have a bell in it that makes it ring. It gives you the ample ability to annoy the shit out of everyone when you walk around with it on your neck. I may or may not have also hailed for my dad to assist me by ringing it.

To my ladies who also ran Philly: Susan, Tracey, Jaime, Kim, Meghan, Charlene and Kortni: congratulations to ALL of you on finishing this marathon. You all ran your own races and dominated in your own ways. You all inspire me in your own ways and I'm so glad we have this race to add to our memories! You are all strong mother runners that I look up to. Keep kicking ass, I love you all. 

"Cause I've been lost trying to think of what I did to get here but I'm not a quitter… kings never die."
Andddd one more close up, check out that SALTY sweat on my forehead!