Friday, March 29, 2013

Half Fanatics

After finishing both the Disney Half Marathon and the ING Miami half marathon, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had now done something that I never really believed that I would be able to do, and while not good at it, every time I was out there I felt myself being challenged in new and exciting ways.

At the ING half marathon, while we were getting ready to go to our starting corrals, my friend Shannon met up with her friend Tracy and some of their other friends who were wearing shirts from a group called Half Fanatics.

At the time I asked about it, and was just basically told that it was a running group for people who enjoy half marathons, and I didnt think much more of it.

Later that morning, around mile 5 of the ING Miami race, I caught up to a man who was wearing a half fanatics singlet. He heard me huffing and puffing (my asthma was acting up and I was just coming off the flu). As a veteran runner who had run dozens of half marathons by following the Galloway interval program, he gave me some tips about how to regulate my breathing. Before he left me behind, I asked him about who half fanatics were. He explained that half fanatics are runners who just may be a little crazy when it comes to running half marathons, and gave me their website. I was intrigued and looked forward to getting home to look them up.

According to their main entry page on their website, one just might be half fanatic material if they answer yes to any of the following:
  • Do your thoughts switch to the next scheduled race immediately after finishing a Half Marathon?
  • Are you signed up for more than one race right now?
  • Do you know specifics about many of the Half Marathons? Dates, courses, years run, etc.?
  • Do you know the story of how the Half Marathon got started?
  • Do you read books on running like Marathon and Beyond?
  • Is book marked on your computer? Do you look at the race schedule more than once a week?
  • Do you start to feel down when you haven't run a race in a while?
  • Are your closets and dressers filled with race t-shirts?
  • When asked about your racing from none running people, do you find yourself talking with great passion to the point that the person that asked the question regrets ever asking?
  • Have you run races on back to back weekends? Or better yet back to back days?
  • Have you run a Half Marathon as a training run? Or just to pace a friend?
  • When asked by loved ones what your plans are for the weekend, you feel guilty telling them your running another half marathon so you tell them "it's only a 10K this weekend"?
  • Do you plan all your vacations around a races? 
While I certainly can't answer yes to all of these questions (like seriously, there is a book called Marathon and Beyond, and it might be important to read?), I felt myself really enjoying the 13.1 mile distance (at least the first 13 miles, because the last point one will getcha!), and easily envisioned 13.1 becoming the distance of choice for my running.

Within this club, the degree of fanaticism is measured in moons, and runners must qualify for their membership. Qualifying at the lowest level of membership is a One Moon membership (or a Neptune level membership) and this is achieved by running either 2 half marathons in 16 days OR 3 half marathons in 90 days.

Well, crap. I actually qualified by running my first 2 half marathons in less than 16 days! I hadn't been so excited in a long time. This was a chance for me to be a part of something much bigger than myself. It excited me almost as much as getting my vest for the varsity ski team in high school, or getting my jacket to go to the National Karate Tournament in 2007. 

This was my chance to (if not be good at something) be the best that I can possibly be at something. This was my chance to join a group of people who would  nurture my desire to better myself. This was a chance for me to find support when my husband or my local running friends couldn't be there for me.

And this was exciting. 

I registered with them and was assigned number 3593. What does registration get me, you might ask? Really, it just amounts to bragging rights. And knowing you have a support system at any half marathon you go to, because even if you go to a race alone, there may be other fanatics there. Because really, Half Fanatics is a group of thousands of running friends that you haven't quite met yet.

I ordered a race singlet, and I anxiously awaited my next half marathon opportunity so that I could proudly wear it, and start meeting new people.

And it wouldn't take long. I'd already signed up for a couple more... because, yeah... I'd already become half marathon crazy.  
Half marathon crazy enough to think that maybe it might be fun to do 13 half marathons (13.1 miles) in 2013. Yeah, my membership to half fanatics came with yet another ridiculous goal. Will I be able to do it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

ING Miami - January 27, 2013

If I had been gauging all half marathon experiences by my experience at the Disney Half, I'm not sure I would have take a second foray into the world of half marathoning. But I had been doing some promotions work for the folks who promoted the ING Miami marathon and half marathon, and had earned free entry into the race... so why not take advantage of it?

Unfortunately I had a lot going on. I had returned from my first half marathon with the flu. I was supposed to be finishing the final preparations for my doctoral comprehensive exam, but instead I was stuck on the couch for 2 weeks, drinking hot toddies of Honey Jack with lemon, in the hopes that it would quell my cough. Of course I'm an idiot and didn't realize that I had the flu until it was too late for Tamiflu, So I had no choice but to let this sickness run its course.

And I had other stressors in my life too (aside from spending the 2 weeks between Disney and ING wasted on the couch and nursing the sore groin that had acted up at Disney). I was also right smack in the middle of my qualifying exam for my Ph.D. program... an exam which would determine whether I was eligible to begin writing my dissertation or not. This exam was a 3 part exam, each consisting of a 24 hour period, which ran Tuesday, Thursday and Monday. The ING would provide a good study break on the Sunday smack in the middle of the exam period... but it was also an added stress.*

On the morning of January 27th, Ray and I once again woke up at 3:00 am to be out the door and at our friend Shannon's house by 4. On the way out the door, I grabbed my bagel and was upset to realize that we didn't actually have any bananas (which had become a pre-race staple for me). I shook it off thinking no big deal, and made a mental note to plan better next time.

At Shannon's house, we met our friend Steve-Dave, and then we all drove down to Miami together. Parking and finding our corrals was uneventful. We said goodbye to Shannon as she split off from us to find her own corral.

Ray wasn't planning to run the race with me (because he said he would only do one half marathon per year and we already met that quota with the Disney half), but as Steve-Dave declared a similar anticipated finish time, he remained with me until the start of the race.

Steve-Dave and me at the start line.
I was nervous about running another race alone (Steve-Dave would leave me after our corral actually started). I was jittery about running when I'd spent the past few days coughing up stuff straight out of a Mucinex commercial. I was worried that my inhaler just wouldn't cut it. And really? I had to pee???? Why is it that no matter how many times I hit the bathroom before a race, I always have to go immediately before the race is about to start?

I briefly debated running to the port-o-lets, but I knew that I wouldn't have enough time to make it back to Steve-Dave before the start of the race. I thought about just throwing in the towel and not running at all. I wasn't feeling well, afterall. I knew nobody would hold it against me if I decided to just go sit this one out.

But then I thought about it a little more deeply, and reminded myself that I've sat out most of my life. Starting and not finishing is far better than not starting at all.

And so when our corral crossed the start line, I popped a cough drop in my mouth and I started. Steve-Dave had said that because he was a little under-trained, he would hang with me for awhile. But before we even got to the first 0.1 mile to turn onto the MacArthur Causeway, he was already pulling away from me. I told him to go ahead without me, and began the climb. The cough drop was working its magic, and I felt good. The sun rose over the seaport, and we saw the gorgeous view of the cruise ships, and I felt great. I had a little achiness in my groin, but that was to be expected.

The MacArthur Causeway to the beach was long. But somewhere along the way, I managed to get into a groove. I talked to a couple other runners, and we shared some motivational words. I would pass a girl, then she would pass me, then I would pass her again. She would wind up playing a crucial role in my finishing. Everytime that I felt that I was losing pace, I would look around for her and gauge myself by wherever she was. Sure, I had my Gymboss interval timer, but I tend to use other people as markers when I am on a course. Not really ideal, but I haven't been able to break myself of this habit yet.

For the first time ever, I was wearing a skirt (Running Skirt brand). I really liked how regulated my body temperature seemed to be without my usual capris. I had applied liberal amounts of Body Glide between my thighs before the race, but around mile 6, it began to wear off, and I was chafing something fierce. At the mile 7 med stop, I grabbed some vaseline and applied liberally. I hate the feeling of vaseline and until it gets sweaty, I find that it only makes my skin stick more than it actually prevents chaffing. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. And at that point, I was getting desperate.

Once that mess cleared up, I got back into a groove. The course was gorgeous. The weather was awesome. Other than the chaffing, I felt really good. Until I hit the Venetian Islands and Causeway heading back toward downtown Miami between miles 8-10. Prior to this race, I hadn't had a lot of experience driving through this area, so running it felt fairly new to me. I had expected a couple of large bridges, but instead, it was like a big joke. I thought that was the last bridge, then suddenly, I had another to run over. Then I thought that was the last one, and then there was another. And on. And on. And on. Forever.

Finally, the end of the bridges was in sight. I was on the descent from the final bridge and on track to beat my Disney time by about 15 minutes, when out of nowhere, my left calf seized up. I took a couple of tentative steps to try to shake it off, but the pain quickly shot throughout my body. Before I knew it, I was seeing myself in slow motion, losing my step and falling to the ground. I didn't have time to put my hands out to catch myself, and it was certain to end in a bloody mess.

And out of nowhere, I feel hands underneath my arms, and a voice over my shoulder saying "I gotcha." The 2 women walked me to a nearby police officer and handed me off to him. He started to radio for help, but I asked him not to. I knew I'd be ok, and I really just needed to stretch my seizing muscle.

After about 5 minutes, I was on my way again, this time resorting to walking. I made a mental note to never skip my pre-race banana again, and maybe not to spend the week before a race dehydrating myself with whisky. I tried my best to shake it off, but the reality was that I was devastated that this was my second half marathon and I found myself (once again) walking the last 3 miles. I had ONE goal in mind when I started this race, and now I was sure that I wouldn't reach it.

All I wanted was to finish this race 2 minutes faster than my Disney 3:35:28.

That would translate to 11 seconds per mile, and up until the cramp incident, it felt like I was going to blow that time out of the water. But now, I wasn't so sure. Now, I'd be lucky if I'd even make it across the finish line.

At mile marker 11, I passed Ray who was cheering me on. He gave me a couple Twizzlers to help boost my morale. Twizzlers on a race are like Mana from the Heavens, and immediately they began to help lift my spirits. Seeing him was really nice too. He is such a supportive, great man.

Another 2.1 miles through the city streets and we were at the finish. Coming into the final chute, I saw the girl I had been using as my pacer during the early part of the race. I plowed through my pain and sprinted to her side. And we crossed the finish line together.

Steve-Dave, Shannon and me after finishing ING
And wouldn't you know, I finished 2 minutes faster than my Disney 3:35:28.

Actually it was over 3 minutes faster.

Chip: 3:32:09
Pace: 16:11
OA: 14312/14878
Sex: 7173/7586
Div: 1226/1274

*The next day, I returned to school to finish my exam. It would be over a month before I got results, but I guess the study break worked... because I passed!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Can I be a runner yet?

When I returned from the Disney Half Marathon, I was excited to have finished 13.1 miles under less than ideal conditions. My body felt broken and abused, but my mind was in a good place.

Sure, finishing took me about 20 minutes longer than I had originally anticipated, but I finished something that not only had I been told I would never do, but also that (somewhere in the back of my mind) I really wasn't sure was possible.

And for the most part, I did it by myself.

Sure, I had a supportive husband and awesome friends (shoutout to Shannon, Kevin, David, Carra, and Steve-Dave), but on the day of the half-marathon, I was on my own. I did it myself.

And nobody could take that away from me.

A couple of days after we got home, Ray and I went to the local running store and got me a 13.1 sticker for the back of my car. Previously, I had thought that these were tacky, but now that I had actually gone the distance, you betcha, I wanted one. In actuality, I was so proud of myself I wanted more than 1, but it wasn't like I could put on the front, back and each side of my car, so I settled for just one sticker.

We drove home, and the next day, after getting my car washed and detailed, I put the sticker on.

But then it didn't quite feel right.

I'd been running for over a year, and now had completed a half marathon, but I didn't feel like a runner.

Would I ever feel like a runner?

What makes a person a runner?

In the end, I'm not sure it matters. I ran a half marathon. And I was suddenly wearing size 12 shorts that I could barely button 2 weeks before.... that makes the rest just semantics.

Walt Disney World Half - January 12, 2012

I thought about titling this post "Amy's First Half Marathon."

And then thought that using "Amy put biofreeze where?!?!?!" as a title may be more apropos.

But regardless of what I've titled this post, it will be both about my first half marathon experience, and how my brain doesn't seem to want to work after running for (literally) hours on end.

Grab some popcorn, this is going to be a long entry...

The months leading up to Disney's half marathon had gone fairly uneventfully. I had followed the Galloway training plan,  and much to my surprise, it wasn't as grueling as I had thought it would be.

In November-ish, I ran a 9 mile training run and it went well for the first 8 miles but my energy petered out after that, leaving me thinking I would never be able to increase my distance. During my 11 mile training run, the first 9 miles were relatively easy, but the last 2 miles left me completely spent, thinking I would never be able to increase my distance. In my 12.5 mile training run, the first 11 went fairly well, but I had to push myself so hard to just finish the last 1.5 miles that I was left thinking I would never be able to increase my distance. Do we see a pattern here?

During my 14 mile training run on Christmas Eve morning, I was able to reach 13 miles fairly easily but then (trying to force myself into overdrive) I pulled a groin muscle and hobbled the last mile home. Had this been the actual half marathon, that last 0.1 woulda got me.

But thankfully It was only a training run, and I had a couple of weeks of taper before my half marathon where I could let my body rest and relax (rest and relax being subjective here as I somehow managed to perforate both eardrums, then rupture one of them, then get incredibly congested with a headcold, leaving me well outside of the definition of being in tip-top condition, but I digress).

Disney Marathon Weekend was a weekend long trip, despite the fact that we were only running the half marathon on Saturday. The week leading up to leaving, when my balance wasn't off and I could spend more than 2 minutes vertical, I packed and allowed myself to get excited. On Thursday night, before heading to bed, I read my new issue of Runner's World Magazine, and was excited to read a story written by veteran runner Marc Parent about his first half marathon experience ("Oh my God- I just ran a half-marathon"). I would recommend this article to anyone about to run their first half marathon, and took pride in the fact that I was about to undertake a feat that many veteran runners have yet to do. *That* was both exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Friday before the half marathon, Ray and I drove with our friends Kevin and David to Orlando where we checked into the All Star Sports Resort and then went to the ESPN Wide World of Sports to pick up our packets. Having worked the expo before, I knew it would be crowded, but I was still really intimidated by the sheer volume of people there. 

Then we went off to Epcot, had an early dinner and it was back to the hotel and to our room by 8pm for a good nights rest. Only I was like that little kid in the Disney commercial who was too excited to sleep. I took some sleep aid, and some DM strength cold medication, but still, I tossed and turned. 

Before I knew it, our alarm was going off at 3:00 am. Yikes. It wasn't too long ago when I used to go to bed at 3am (or frequently later), and now here I was getting up and lacing some shoes to go run at 3am?!?!?

Well that's not true. We had to wake up at 3:00 am and have our laces tied by about 3:20 to be out the door and on the shuttle bus over to Epcot at 3:30 for the 5:30 gun that started the race. Ray and I both started in corral G, so we didn't actually start till just after 6:00 am, but that didn't actually change the time we had to be at the corrals. Let's just say it was Zero dark 30 by the time we got to the bag check area and they opened it up so everyone could then walk the 15 minutes to the start line. To wait. And wait. And wait some more.

Me and Ray before the race
And then it was finally time for our wave to go. And I was anxious. And jittery. And nauseous. And nervous. And full of self doubt. And I really had to pee. But there was no time. Before I could figure out where the nearest port-o-potty was, it was time for our wave to go. And we ran. Ray and I had an agreement that (because he runs a much faster pace than me) he would run at his own pace and I would stay behind, running my own race. But the excitement of the crowd got to me, and I started off WAY faster than I had intended. Normally, where Ray would pull away from me after the first 0.1 mile, I stayed right on his shoes until I could see the first mile marker. Veteran runners will tell you to be careful about the crowd pumping you up too much and starting too fast. But I didn't think that would happen to me. Little did I know, right?
So I started too fast. I ran my first 3 miles at about 14:50 per mile (which to me is WAY too fast, but please don't be rude about how this is still slower than your pet snail), and my energy was burning out fast. It was also really hot. I also hadnt slept much the night before. I was also alone, running with a crowd that was less-than friendly. 

I guess I figured because Disney bills itself as the happiest place on earth, that the 35,000 people who were running alongside me might also have been happy as well. Or at least friendly. I had people bump into me and jostle me with complete disregard, I had multiple groups of walkers refuse to give right of way even though I was going faster than they were, I had groups force me off the road, I heard people just be outright nasty to one another. 

Running isn't a pretty sport, but one thing I had hoped to really feel was that sense of camaraderie that runners always talk about during races. I got very little of that, so little in fact that if I was gauging all half marathon experiences by this one, I probably never would have run another half marathon at all (but I'm getting ahead of myself in the story). The reality of my thought process at the time was that I was in the middle of a huge crowd that never seemed to spread out much, and I felt completely and utterly alone.
People run Disney for any number of reasons. And everyone has a different expectation of what this experience is like. For me, while I knew that the majority of the race is actually outside of the parks with only about a mile through Magic Kingdom and about another half mile at the end through Epcot, I guess it never really occurred to me that the majority of this race would be on the really boring access roads with little scenery to occupy my time. Runners don't even reach Magic Kingdom until around mile 6, so that whole first half of the race is somewhat boring visually.

But then all at once, you round a corner and you are running down mainstreet Magic Kingdom toward Cinderella's Castle. And suddenly the race meets all of your expectations. I was starting to have some nagging achiness in the groin muscle I had pulled the day before Christmas, but how can you not get excited when you are suddenly running through the happiest place on earth with thousands of excited people cheering you on?
Then I rounded the corner into Tomorrow Land and the crowd seemed to spread out a little, but then (without spectators cheering me on), I was really hating the world. I hated my music selection, I hated my shoes. I hated Ray for leaving me behind. I hated my groin pain. I hated my friend Shannon for getting me motivated with this running thing in the first place. And thinking of a video that I had watched the week before about what a guy thought about during his marathons, I hated musicians Carlos Santana & Rob Thomas. And I hadn't even hit 7 miles yet! 
(edited to clarify that I didn't really hate Ray, Shannon, Carlos Santana or Rob Thomas. I really love all of them, but I was in a bad place and lashing out with my anger. I'm sorry to you all.)

After running through Cinderellas castle and out a back exit of Magic Kingdom, we were on access roads again. It was then that I learned that without visual stimulation, I got very bored. Whereas, normally on a training run, I could put my earphones in and go off into la-la land and work out any difficulties that I might be having in my personal life, at Disney I was completely unable to do this. Because I had to constantly be on the lookout for someone running me off the road of elbowing me, I never got to that place deep inside myself. And because I never got there, I was beginning to obsess about the things that were wrong. About how awful I felt. About that increasing groin pain. About how I was quickly losing my pace and falling further and further behind.

And then my mind stopped working altogether. My groin hurt really badly, and desperately wanting it to stop, my (broken)mind decided that it was a muscle pull just like other muscle pulls, and could be treated as such. So passing a medical tent around mile marker 8, I put my right hand out and took a couple of pumps of biofreeze. Without even questioning it, I pulled my pants open with my left hand and jammed my right hand down my pants to apply the gel to the inside crease of my right leg. I knew there was menthol in biofreeze, but I was careful to not get it anywhere near my panties or my nether bits.

Look at all those people still behind me!
Fat chance! The first few minutes after I applied the biofreeze, I felt fairly good. But it was all downhill from there. It didn't take long for the moisture in my clothing to pick up the menthol in the biofreeze and deposit it directly where I really didn't want it. For the next 4-5 miles, my lady bits were completely on fire. I was able to smile for the cameras and take joy in the fact that there were still thousands of people behind me when I glanced over my shoulder at the top of a ramp, but I started having visions of crossing the finishline and pouring water and baking soda down my pants. At mile 9, I quit my running intervals and chose to walk straight through.

And just like that, I was entering into Epcot parking lot and into the last 1.1 miles of the race. I was wiped. It took everything out of me. I was dehydrated. And exhausted. My groin hurt. My underwear felt as if I had crushed habanero peppers into it. I was passed in the last mile by an elderly speedwalker using a tri-wheeled walker (true story). But I finished.
I did it!
I was slower than I had anticipated. But I finished.

Then I went to the medical tend, poured water down my pants and had my groin area packed with ice.

Note to self: Biofreeze doesn't belong ANYWHERE near there.

Chip time - 3:35:28
Pace - 16:14 per mile
5K - 46:12
10K - 1:36:06
15K - 2:30.15
OA - 21774 / 43126
Div - 12145 / 13128

Friday, March 22, 2013

2012 Recap and Resolution (of sorts)

As we all know, I started 2012 as a couch potato, and quickly found myself motivated to start running.

I stayed active with weight watchers online. I tracked my runs on runkeeper, and I finished a number of 5K races.

I finished the year strong. While I didn't manage to lose more than about 10 lbs (bringing my total lost from June 2011 to approximately 25lbs). 8lbs in a year when I am trying hard to lose weight is a bit of a let down, but my clothes make it look like I've lost WAY more than that.

photo circa June 2011. Me +25Lbs
Photo circa November 2012

I still have a long way to go, BUT... I did manage to drop from a snug 16 to a snug 12. I started 2013 with the goal of fitting comfortably into a pair of shorts that I bought right after Ray and I married in 2007, however I didn't want to try them on for fear of failure.

More impressive though, I managed to track a total mileage of 271 miles in 2012. I also completed 5 5K races, including the Walk/Run for Wishes 5k, Expedition Everest 5K, The Glow Run 5K, Warrior Dash 5K, and Run For your Lives: Zombie Infested 5K.

I also somehow was able to finish the Galloway training program to get me prepared for my first half marathon, and had brought my total mileage up to 14 miles on Christmas Eve Morning (I pulled a groin muscle during that training run and it would bother me for over a month afterward, but I still managed to complete a 14 mile training run, which was something I NEVER believed I would be able to do).

I hesitate to make resolutions, because I can never follow through and then they just wind up being a source of self-loathing and guilt. So instead, I set goals.

And this year, my goal has to do with running. If I was able to log 271 miles in 2012, that translates to roughly 5.25 miles per week. Logically, my mind said that I was only able to log that 271 miles because I was training for a half marathon, so this year, if i am not training for a half marathon, it might be difficult to get that mileage in.... particularly if the summer can be so brutal on my asthma.

But a goal is about challenging the self, right? If I increase my weekly mileage to 6 miles per week, that would be 312 miles in 2013. that seems like a reasonable goal, right? I don't know if I can make that mileage, but its worth a shot, and perhaps it will keep me motivated.

Run for your Lives - November 17, 2012

My husband has always been a fan of Zombie flicks. Whether they are first rate or third rate, my husband can't seem to get enough of Zombies. It doesn't matter whether the undead can walk under water, whether they smell or hear their prey, whether there are chaser zombies or stumbler zombies... none of that matters. Ray loves them all. Me on the other hand? I had to look up the differences and then ask Ray if I understood the differing abilities that various filmmakers have given their ghoulish creatures.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about zombies. But I do know that I really enjoy watching the Walking Dead on AMC. Ever since the first episode, I've been sucked in. I started reading Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead graphic novels too. And much to my amusement, most of my friends were watching this show and reading the stories as well. Because it was less about zombie-lore, and more about what happens to humanity and the drama that ensues when people are staring face-to-face with the apocalypse.

So one night, Ray was surfing the internet, looking up mud runs (because that was one of the things that he really wanted to do when he first started running with our friend Shannon), and he found the website for Run For Your Lives: A Zombie Infested 5K obstacle race. There was an event scheduled for November 17, 2012 at an off roading course near Orlando, and we quickly began to investigate. From what we understood, it was an obstacle course similar to any other mudrun, but this time it was also a cross with capture the flag.

After a little investigation, we learned that we could reduce our cost of participating in the race by volunteering to also perform a shift as zombies. So in exchange for being able to run through this course and have people capture our flags, we also got to spend a few hours dressed as zombies capturing the flags off of other people.* SCORE! twice the fun for less the money!

So we made a weekend of it with our friends Shannon, John and Michelle. Michelle invited her friends Brina and Tracey, and we all arrived before dawn for makeup and costumes on Saturday morning the 17th of November. It was cold. We had stopped for coffee and donuts on the way to the course, but that didn't seem to help. We stood waiting to get checked in, hearing our teeth chatter over the sound of the generators humming in the makeup tent. We didn't have much time to marvel over the fact that we could see our own breath though... we had transformations to undertake.

We wound up using this as our annual holiday card photo.
First they dirtied up our clothes (I wish I wasn't so sun sensitive and could have just worn the bridesmaid dress without the undershirt because it looked dumb, but whatever). Then they applied prosthetic devices on our faces and did our make up and fake sores. This process was cool because a couple of the artists doing our makeup were contestants on Face Off, on Syfy. (I couldn't tell you who because I am not religious about that show, but I have seen it a few times, so it was a cool experience nonetheless).

Then we stood and waited for a little while until the sun rose and it warmed up a little. The final process in our zombie transformation was the application of dirt and blood. "Dirt" was applied with a spray brush and pump sprayers. Blood was far less precise. You stood in front of a tarp and closed your eyes while they threw handfuls of their blood concoction (KY liquid and food coloring). It was like a scene straight out of Carrie.

As an aside, fire ants are attracted to KY liquid, so keep that in mind should you ever want to get frisky outdoors.

Finally, our zombie transformation was over. We made a cute bunch of walkers, right?

Shannon, Me, Ray, Tracey, Michelle, John and Brina ready to eat your brains.

After a briefing of what was expected of us in our role as undead and how this whole race worked, our group hoofed it out to zone 11 of the course which was really somewhat of a natural obstacle. there was a quick way around, that was flat and straightforward, then there was a series of hills that we decided as a group that we wanted to funnel the runners toward to make their experience a little tougher.

John pushing runners toward Brittany and me.
Brittany and me showing off the first flags we got
Ray, Shannon and John worked at the bottom of the first big hill to funnel the people upward to us. A girl that I met named Brittany and I positioned ourselves halfway up the hill to bottleneck the runners and make it like shooting fish in a barrel, and then once at the top of the hill, runners met Brina, then Michelle and Tracey. We worked fairly well as team, and we really had a lot of fun.

One of the things that I noticed early on was that all runners are not created equal. From my own experience learning how to run (thus far), I already knew that there were some slower runners and some faster runners, there were those out to win an award and those out to just have a good time, and there were those who were in top physical shape and those who were out there for the first time trying to decide if this running thing is something they can handle. What I wasn't expecting was the discrepancy between those runners who remembered that this was just a game and we were all people underneath our makeup or running clothes, vs. those who took the game (and perhaps life) a bit too seriously and wanted to protect their flags at all costs.

Don't get me wrong, as zombies, we liked the challenge of "the kill," but runners seemed to forget that as people, the zombies could (and would) get hurt if they were too rough. And it seemed that the girls who were running the race seemed to forget this faster than the guys. I can't tell you how many times I collided with a male runner and we both apologized profusely to one another and checked to make sure that everyone was ok. On the other hand, I also can't tell you how many times I was swatted, hit, or pushed out of the way by female runners (my arms were covered with bruises for weeks after this event). After watching Brittany be (for lack of any other description) hockey checked off the path and into pricker bushes, I felt my  enthusiasm wane. I was out there to have a good time and pretend to be less than alive... I didn't actually want to be less than alive.

After our Zombie shift was over, we had a little lunch and then I returned with Ray, Michelle and Shannon to run the course. Michelle and Shannon ran a faster pace than me, and we lost them very quickly at the start. I was nervous going into some of the obstacles (after falling off of an obstacle at Warrior Dash the week before), but with Ray there, I felt like overcoming my fears was possible.

About halfway into the course, there was an open field that was loaded with Zombies, and I found myself sprinting through it dodging and weaving from the Zombies as they grabbed at my flags. I was having a great time, and I was going far faster than I had ever run before. I had a huge target on my back as I still had 2 of my flags, and there were 2 runner Zombies fresh on my heels.

And wouldn't you know, in the blink of an eye, just as Zombie-Girl snatched a flag off my belt, I must have found the *only* hole in the field with my right foot. My ankle rolled, my leg buckled underneath me, I didn't even have time to put my hands up to break my fall. I landed flat on my face, and felt every joint in my right leg twist and pop on the way down. Suddenly I couldn't breathe, on top of everything, I had the wind knocked out of me.

Thankfully Zombie-Girl who had been right on my heels was the good kind of Zombie, and she took control of the scene right away, getting on the ground with me into my line of vision, telling me to focus on her because help was on the way. Zombie-Girl clearly felt awful. She kept apologizing (as if it was her fault I'm a klutz), and tried to give me my flag back (I didn't take it because she had grabbed it fair and square, but it was a sweet gesture).

The EMTs came and were fairly forceful in their desire to cart me off to medical. When I finally caught my breath, Ray and I had a heart to heart. Would I take the ride with the EMTs back to medical or would I hobble through the pain for the last 1.5 miles and have the ability to look at myself the next day knowing that I had done what I set out to do. Would I know I gave it my best, or would I regret giving up? While still laying on the ground, tears streaming down my face, I weighed my options. And I asked myself why I do this.

What has this whole running thing been about?

And like that, the answer was clear. I do it because I was told I would never. I do it to prove to myself that I can.

I asked Zombie-Girl and Ray to help me to my feet, and told Ray we had some walking to do yet.

And every tenth of a mile from there was excruciating. Looking back, knowing I had less than 2 months left to train for my Disney half marathon, I probably should have taken the ride to the medical station rather than risk greater injury, but I did what I thought was best at the time.

And I finished. It took a really long time. It was excructiating. At times I had to put a majority of my weight on Ray's shoulder, but I finished. I was about to give up while climbing one of the last obstacles (a 15 foot ladder to take a waterslide into a frigid cold dumpster full of colored water), but a couple of other runners reached out to help pull me to the top, and I made it.

And I crossed the finish line.

I no longer had any of my flags, but I still had my pride.

Shannon, me and Ray after dying at Run For Your Lives

*What they hadn't told us when we signed up for both a volunteer shift and the run was that while we would run with flag belts, we would run without bibs or timing chips. We got t-shirts for volunteering, but they weren't the same shirts that runners got either. This was a little bit of a let down, but it was still a really good experience. We had a blast, and I would definitely do it again.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Warrior Dash - November 10, 2012

When Ray first started running with our friend Shannon, he said he really wanted to run a mud run. He could give or take road races, but he wanted the opportunity to challenge himself on obstacles, and get dirty like a kid again.

In November 2012, we had just that opportunity when we saw that Warrior Dash was going to be putting on an event 20 minutes from our house, and it fit into my half marathon training schedule.

I had thought long and hard about what I was going to wear to the race. I didn't want to wear nice running clothes because... well... mud. I knew I had to wear sleeves because I have some sensitivity to the sun (read: my skin burns so bad it turns blue if I am in the sun for more than 5 minutes with anything less than 50 SPF). And I had always thought if I was going to do anything like this, I wanted to do it princess style.

It was all settled on a trip home to see my family in October, when in the back of my old closet, I found my hideous taffeta gown that all members of our high school chorus were required to wear. On a whim, I tried the dress on, and realized that I had lost enough weight that it fit me once again...

And it was just as hideous as I had remembered.

With a little butchering across the bottom, it made a perfect outfit for crawling through pits of mud, swimming through storm drains, climbing over busted out cars, and hurdling over fire.

gotta be a cute girl in a dress?
eff that! RAWRRRR!

So we got to the race a little early. I had worked out an arrangement with a promotions company for another series of road races, and in exchange for free entry into one of his upcoming races, I spent a couple of hours wandering around the parking lot putting flyers on cars to promote their upcoming events. You'll hear more about this in a later blog entry (I promise), but just know that not everyone who is out there tossing flyers on cars is a jerk with nothing better to do. Some of us do this to help offset our own race entries (which we all know can be really expensive).... but I digress.

After passing close to 3,000 flyers, Ray and I returned to the Jeep, and got ready for the run. I had heard previously that people frequently get rocks in their shoes during mud runs, and that using a little duct tape around the tops of your socks can help alleviate this problem... so we duct taped away. I had some really cute hot pink duct tape, that you can kind of see in this photo.

Once I was taped up, we went to the pre-race party and listened to the bands and watches people make their way through the final 2 obstacles: a series of leaps over flaming logs, then a mud pit crawl underneath barbed wire. The mud was really liquidy, and it looked like a lot of fun, and we could wait.

At 2:30, it was time for our corral to go. The first mile was uneventful, as it went around the side of a lake. It seemed that the obstacles were really all compressed into the last 2 miles instead of being evenly spaced out, and I seemed to be handling them fairly well.

The 4th obstacle was the "leaders ledge"  (click the link to see someone else's photo of what this obstacle looks like to better understand), which proved to be very tricky. As we were in queue to try this obstacle, a girl managed to lose her grip and fall the 3 feet into the pit below. Because it was mid-afternoon and we were in South Florida heat, the water that should have been in the pit had dried up, there was nothing to cushion this girl's fall and we heard her head smack on the limestone below. It was enough to really scare me... but not enough for me to sit it out.

There wasn't a lot of space for my feet on the ledge and I clearly lack the upper body strength to hold on by my fingertips. I tried as best I could but when I got about 3/4 of the way accross, I lost my grip. Unwilling to risk serious injury, I let go, rather than fall. When I landed, my foot rolled slightly, but I shook it off and climbed out to the other side.

Ray made it through like a boss... and I was so proud of him!

Immediately after this obstacle, we had to climb a vertical wall using rope pulls. Again, I knew I lacked the upper body strength to pull myself up, but I had to give it a try. I made it about halfway up the wall, before losing my footing and falling to the ground. This time, I didn't have the time to prepare for the fall, and I rolled my left ankle. Immediately, I felt it begin to swell and throb.

Ray wanted to call medical, but I just wanted to finish.

I don't know what came over me. I was hurt. Every last ounce of my body wanted to give up and let the medical team cart me to the finish line. I wanted to pack it in, go home, take my toys, not pass go, get into bed and hope that this terrible horrible no good very bad day would soon be over.... but none of that actually happened.

Instead, I asked Ray to help me to my feet, and I began to hobble along the trail to toward the next obstacle (a series of balance beams), then the next (a sand crawl), and the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.

And before I knew it, we were face to face with the final two obstacles and the finish line. I took a couple of quick puffs on my inhaler, pulled my bandana down over my nose and mouth and (as gently as possible) limped over the flaming logs and followed ray into the mud crawl.

Unfortunately, as the day wore on, the texture and consistency of the mud changed. Whereas the mud had seemed soupy and fun earlier in the day when we were watching people cross the pit, by the time we got there, it had turned to a mix between quicksand and quick-set cement. Two steps in, and I started to sink and get stuck. The bottom floor of the mud pit was uneven limestone and with a twisted ankle, I couldn't quite get my feet underneath me. I was less than 10 feet from the finish line, but suddenly it felt like it might as well have been as far away as Montana.

The more I struggled to free myself, the more stuck I would get. I felt like Artax in the Swamp of Sadness in The Neverending Story. No matter what I did, I just couldn't free myself. My hands and knees were scratching on the rough stone at the bottom of the pit, my ankle was on fire, I was struggling so hard I couldn't catch my breath, and I watched Ray pull himself out of the end of the pit and start reaching for me. He was coming back for me... and it felt awesome to know he was there to help me when I needed it...

But I also recognized that some obstacles I just have to overcome by myself.

I was probably the last person on the course, and there was a large audience crowded around the pit watching. I could hear the crowd cheering me on, telling me I could do it, motivating me. I inhaled deeply, and with every last fiber of my being, I pushed my body forward. And then I did it again.

After finishing, I finally got some much needed med treatment

And my feet were suddenly underneath me. And I felt Ray's hand close around mine, as I pulled myself up.

Hand in hand, we crossed the finish in 1:11:20.95. But to me, the time wasn't important.

I finished.

And when I got really stuck, I didn't take the easy way out.

For once in my life, I didn't give up.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Determination & Glow Run 5K - November 3, 2012

In early September, I finally made the commitment to running the Walt Disney World Half Marathon as my first half marathon. 

Up until that point, I mentioned it to people, but in the back of my mind, I wasn't sure I believed that I would actually be able to run it. I was still having difficulty conceptualizing the idea of running a 5K, now I was supposed to multiply that distance by a little over 4? That was just really hard to get my mind around. 

Paying for my entry into my first half marathon was making a huge commitment, not only to myself but to a sport that I most certainly didn't enjoy.

Yes, you heard that right. I hated running. And I am sure that the feeling was mutual. 

I hated everything about it. I hated putting on the shoes. I hated the blisters on my feet. I hated the chaffing. I hated the sweating. I hated being winded and out of breath. I hated the pain in my muscles. I hated that I was really slow. I hated being bored on a run outside. I hated smelling bad afterward. I hated  the jiggle of my fat. I hated every last second of it.

And yet, I kept doing it. By September I had been doing it for 8 months and I was passionate about thoroughly hating it. So why bother?

Determination, I guess. When someone says I can't, I scream WATCH ME. And this endeavor was just another opportunity to prove that the world is wrong about me.

So I registered Ray and I for the Disney Half Marathon, and we began our earnest training using the Galloway training method (a program designed for "beginning runners who have been running 6 months or less) as provided by Run Disney. I printed the Galloway calendar and looked at it with my daily planner then went in search of a couple 5K runs that I could add to the schedule, hoping they could keep me engaged and interested in the training.

I found a promising race on 11/3/2012 in Miami Beach, called the Glow Run 5K, and promptly signed us up for it. Our friend Steve-Dave also signed he and his wife Marcela up for the race, and this was to be Marcela's first 5K race.

Me with Ray, Marcela and Steve-Dave
On Saturday 11/3/2012, the four of us drove to the start line at Lummus Park on Miami Beach where we decked ourselves out in all sorts of glow gear.  Then we waited on the beach until the sun set and the first wave was sent off. There were a lot of people there, and the energy was awesome.

There were no hard waves, they basically had everyone go into the start corral and wait. They would send a group of people off and then ask others to wait. When it cleared out a bit, they would send another group off. We were fairly far back, but we were unconcerned. We listened to the music, watched the helicopters circling overhead, danced with our glow sticks, and tried to remember those fuzzy memories we had suppressed from our late teens/early 20s where we also danced with glowsticks.

The start line at the Glow Run 5K
Before we knew it, it was time to run. Steve-Dave and Marcela quickly lost us in the crowd, speeding away from us. I was excited to see them go, knowing she was going to have a great first race.

The first half of the race was on the beach. I wish I had known this prior to the actual race. Apparently running in the sand is much harder than running on pavement or (yikes!) concrete. Granted, we were running in somewhat hard-packed sand, but it was still tough. It was a glow run, so obviously they wanted a darkness to show off all of the glowing paraphernalia, but it was scary running on the beach in the dark. I'm a klutz by nature, so I the first half of the race terrified I was going to fall into some kid's tunnel to China. I think they probably could have given us a little more light, and still achieved the desired effect.

At the 1.5 mile mark, the course veered off to the left, off of the sand, and into the street area for the return 1.6 mile route. I had hopes that we would be on the pavement, and was left heart broken to find that we were actually running the return on brick walkways through Lummus Park. I spent the next 1.6 miles debating whether brick felt worse on my back or sand felt worse on my legs. Ultimately, I think I decided I would do neither one again. Ever. Because I hated running and running hated me, and I was going to give it up altogether.
Steve-Dave, Ray and Me at the finish.

About a half mile from the finish line, we passed Steve-Dave and Marcela. Marcela was limping fairly badly, and said that her knee was really bothering her. +1 for the brick, -1 for my injured friend. Ray and I shared our sympathy and continued on. I was sad to leave her behind, but I had my own race to finish.

When we rounded the corner at mile marker 3, the finish line came into view. That 0.1 mile distance was so close I could almost taste it. I don't know where my energy came from, but it was like being shot out of a cannon. I kicked it into overdrive and sprinted toward the finish line. Ray, who had been meandering along at my snails pace wasn't expecting this final push, but he kicked it into gear and gave a good chase.

... And as we crossed the finish line, I realized that I came in a fraction of a second faster than him. Although he slowed down to my pace for the first 3 miles (and I could have never finished faster than him had we been in a real race against one another), I finished faster in the sprint for the finish!

Ray said later that he'd be picking sand out of his teeth for the next week.

Marcela and Steve-Dave at the finish.
I finished in 45:39.0
Pace: 15:13 per mile
AG 210/299
OA 1055/1392

Congrats to Marcela on finishing her first 5K race. We need to do this again soon!


Dear Ray, 

That last point one will getcha!



Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mama Needs a New Pair of Shoes

Sometime around August, I began noticing a good deal of wear and tear on my 6 month old Nike Pegasus running shoes. They had about 120 miles on them, and were starting to give me serious blisters on the ball of my foot. 

My friends Shannon and David insisted that I go to the running store and get fitted for running shoes... but I dragged my feet.

It wasn't the idea of going to a store designed for running that scared me, per se, but rather the feelings of being judged. 

I was still significantly overweight. I was still doing a modified version of the couch to 5k program. I certainly didn't look like a runner, and by no means did I feel like a runner. 

I had horrific thoughts of walking to the store and telling someone that I was looking for running shoes, only to be guided into a more appropriate section consisting of old lady walking shoes, or worse... being laughed out of the store altogether. My fragile ego couldn't handle that.

Then again, my poor feet couldn't handle my old shoes much longer either.

So the day after labor day, I bit the bullet, dressed in my most slimming outfit, and headed to the running store with my old shoes in tow. I had contemplated wearing multiple layers of spanx, but after realizing that wearing such constricting clothing would make it difficult for me to sit or move without feeling like I was going to explode, I thought better of that plan.

After about 20 minutes of self-talk in the car, I made my way into the store. I found a young(ish) guy to help me out, and he clearly knew what he was talking about. I was shocked that he didn't laugh me out of the store, and didn't bat an eye when I told him that I was about to start training for my first half marathon. 

He fit me for new shoes, and quickly declared that I had been blistering in my old shoes because they were too small... like 1-1.5 sizes too small. He explained why I needed more room in the toe box, and I was in awe. He fit me into the Brooks Ghost 5 running shoes, and I excitedly took them home.

But transitioning into them was awful. The very next day, I laced them up for a 3 mile run, and it was horrible. I couldn't adjust to the roominess in the toe box. My feet felt like I was slipping the entire time, and I was not happy.

So on day 2, I returned to the store and learned a better technique for tying them, which easily solved the problem of slippage. Who knew that there were multiple ways to tie your shoes and that the way you tie them could make such a difference?

My next run went far better. But then, after barely logging 10 miles on my new shoes, I noticed some interesting wear in the ball of my foot on two of the treads. I kept running, being more cognizant of picking up my feet. After 38 miles, the wear and tear on the treads of my shoes was far more noticeable, and I questioned whether something was wrong with my stride, or even just with the shoes themselves. I had previously read somewhere that running shoes are supposed to last 300-400 miles (perhaps a little less for someone as signifciantly overweight as me), so I was concerned. 

I couldn't afford to burn through shoes this fast, and have to replace them every 100 miles or so.

So I marched myself back to the running store, new pair of Brooks and old pair of Nikes in tow. 

This time, although I was once again surprised to not be laughed out of the store, the owners daughter did  look at me funny, asking me who these shoes belonged to. 

I told her that they were mine, and explained that I had 38 miles on the blue pair, and 120 miles on the pink pair. I explained that while the wear wasn't as very bad (yet) on the blue pair, it seemed fairly significant for only 38 miles. I was also concerned that the majority of the wear was in just one or two treads on the ball of my foot.

The lady said that she hadnt seen shoes wear quite like this, particularly Brooks (their best seller). She took the shoes to the owner and he looked at them, and he returned to me with a smile on his face, asking if I was a new runner or if I had been training somewhere for an extended period of time.

I thought for sure this would be when he would laugh me out of his store, and I began to mentally prepare myself. 

He explained that my problem was not actually a problem at all. Then he conceded that he rarely sees shoe soles wear in this pattern (in new runners) because this is the sign of a perfect center strike. As he explained it (or maybe as I understand it), people pay loads of money to train themselves to run with this stride, and apparently I do it fairly naturally. We see wear right in the center of the treads because they are made of a softer (blown) rubber over top of (more sturdy) carbon rubber on the ball of the foot. He estimated about 40 miles on the shoes (which was a really good guestimate because they had 38 miles on them). He tested the soles, insteps, and side walls for breakdown and left me with a final verdict that they are in perfect condition. He said I should expect another 300-350 miles on these shoes, maybe even more as I lose weight.

So I run slower than molasses runs uphill in the winter time, and cant seem to break 15:45 per mile in a training run, but at least I am doing something right and have a decent stride. I'm not sure how I learned to run with a stride like this, but perhaps it is something I've been doing unconsciously (knowing it would help protect me from shin and achilles injuries).  

Now that I know there is nothing wrong with these shoes, I love them. I can't imagine going to a different shoe.