Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Zombie Rush - October 19, 2013

So I don't know really where to begin this post. I feel as if (to a certain extent) I have peaked in my writing... having completed such a huge goal as 6 half marathons in 6 days, that talking about anything else just pales in comparison. So I drag my feet on writing, because nothing could be quite as epic a tale to tell.

I spent the adequate time off my feet like the doctor suggested and the week of October 13th, I wanted to try getting back out there and logging some extra mileage. I started small. On Oct 14, I went to the beach and walked 4 miles with my dear friend Tracey. 2 days later, I went back to the beach and logged another 5 miles.

And that was a mistake. In retrospect, while justified in getting back out there because the Dr. said to give it a try and ease back into it... I think my definition of easing back into things may be a little different than the his definition. After walking 4 miles and another 5 miles, my heel was screaming for respite once again. Back into the boot I went... for another few days of TLC.

Flash forward to the following Saturday and I was scheduled to run The Zombie Run 5K. Husband Ray and I had both gotten Groupons for this event, and we figured that even if we walked it together it would be a good day. And it was.

This race was a first time event for the promoter, and while I thought some of the logistics needed some work, it wasn't a complete disaster like I have seen other OCRs to be. I felt that some of the obstacles also needed to have been checked for exposed nails or other metal objects which might pose an impalement risk... because you know... who wants to survive the zombie apocalypse only to die of Tetanus a week later?) But for the most part I felt that the obstacles were OK (albeit they weren't over the top difficult and some of them needed to have been wider to accommodate more runners). The terrain was OK too... although we had previously participated at events at Amelia park so we weren't all that challenged in the bike trails or the dirt roads/water crossings. In terms of venue location, I am not so sure that I would pay full price for an event at this park again because it just seems like you've done one race there and nothing else will stimulate you...

But that being said, we had a good time out there with some of our friends at Karma Athletes, they helped me over a tough obstacle (a big drainage tube that was up to my neck in height), which was an accomplishment. I had to skip one obstacle because it was really high and didn't have that great of handholds for me at the top and I didn't want to hurt my foot more should I fall... and somehow we managed to finish as survivors (still having at least one flag each). This event was untimed, so I can't gauge how well I did in the time department, but that's ok, I wasn't running it for time. I was walking it for experience.... and yes, with an injury, there is a difference.

I got home that night and questioned the decisions I had made. Ultimately, it was a lot of fun, but the return of foot pain and another few days in my boot might not have been worth it. With less than a week to recover for my next half marathon (The Miami Beach Halloween Half), I didn't know if I would have enough time to recover.

Grudgingly, back into the boot I went.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Charming Life...

When I first began my running adventure, I could only imaging what it would be like to actually complete a half marathon. At the time, my goal was to participate in ONE... because how absolutely awesome would it be to complete a half marathon?

This week last year, (when I was preparing for my first half marathon) while visiting my family in New Hampshire, I bought a sterling silver charm bracelet with a 13.1 charm on it. At the time, I wanted it because I never wanted to forget that feeling of determination and having a lofty goal. I loved my bracelet and as time went on, people would ask about it... always wondering if I had plans to add additional charms as time went on.

And the answer was no. I didn't want to add additional charms. I just wanted to commemorate the training and preparation for my first half marathon. I loved this bracelet as is, and nothing was going to change that.

But then, while on my wild 6 half marathons in 6 days adventure, I met many people who were members of a member of a club called the 50 States Half Marathon Club, having the ridiculously lofty goal of completing a half marathon in each state.* One woman had a beautiful Pandora Charm Bracelet which was basically one charm bead after another commemorating the states that she had run half marathons in... and I really liked the concept.

So when I got home, and the post-race depression let up, I found myself trolling various websites looking for charms. and I decided that now was the time to add charms to my 13.1 bracelet.

Now the reality is that people who see it will probably think that I am a travel enthusiast and I like to get charms when I visit various places. And that's ok.

Because this bracelet isn't for them. It is for me.

And every time I look down at my wrist I will be reminded that anything is possible with a little hard work and determination.

* right now I am contemplating getting a membership with the 50 state half marathon club, but that may be something for down the line a bit.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Day 6: Center of the Nation Series: Chadron, NE- September 20, 2013

This is the final installment (day 6) of a seven part (6 day) set of entries chronicling my big birthday trip in which I participated in 6 half marathons in 6 consecutive days in 5 different states with 2 of my good friends. I have really dragged my feet on writing these blog posts, and this one is particularly difficult for me to write because not only was the final half marathon an incredible day for me, but because writing the blog post symbolically means that this is a part of my life that is officially over. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to close off that chapter of my life, but I think I am finally ready to write. But first:

When I left off, I had just completed my 5th half marathon in 5 days in frigid temperatures and high winds. Because the winds were so high, and it was such a difficult course, I must have overexerted myself unlike I ever have before. I'd still been babying my bad foot... following doctors orders to wear my aircast for every waking moment when not actually on the race course. I had been icing and elevating. I had been eating my anti-inflammatories and my pain-killers religiously. I did everything I was supposed to be doing. But after 65.5 miles in the first 5 days, and after that unbelievably difficult course and conditions in Albion Montana... I was spent.

When I got out of bed after our pre-dawn wake-up call, I could barely put any pressure on my right foot. It wasn't swollen as badly as it had been in the height of my injury but I knew that didn't mean much. I was determined to get out there to Chadron State Park for the final race in the series, and if that meant that I would be hopping the 13.1 miles, I was pretty much prepared to do just that.

I've not always been the smartest when it comes to making decisions and listening to my body. The doctor had cleared me to run the series (warning that it might be excruciatingly painful and it may set me back in terms of my overall healing process, but he had cleared me none-the less). The one caveat, of course, was that I was on doctors orders to listen to my foot and do constant checks-ins with myself about the pain I was feeling. And I did just that. I got dressed, we drove to the park. We parked what seemed like a mile away from the start line, and I hobbled along behind my friends.

I was down on myself from the moment we got to the park. I had come all this way, and here I was thinking I may not even be able to start the final race in the series. I didn't want my friends to know just how bad it was, so I put on a happy face. And when the race started... I put one foot in front of the other. Afterall, a did not finish trumps a did not start any day.

The course was gorgeous and the weather was amazing. A woman named Pamela slowed down to my pace and kept me company. Listening to her stories and talking about the amazing experiences during the earlier part of the week kept my mind off of the fact that with each excruciating step I was getting shooting pains up my heel, into my calf and up through my knee and hip. I knew it was going to be a long morning out there. And strangely, it NEVER ONCE crossed my mind to sit down and give up.

By the time we were done with our first lap, I knew I had to make some changes, but my attitude had changed. I told myself I only had 9 miles left to reach my goal, and I would get there come Hell or high water. While Pamela went to the restroom, I sat down on a bench and replaced my right running shoe with my aircast... and I was ready to go.

The cast slowed me down even more, but at least now I could avoid the shooting pains up through my leg. And putting pressure on my foot was far easier. And that was how I finished the last 9 miles. Nothing was going to stop me. It was slow, but my goal had nothing to do with time. The goal was to finish, and not let my experience be defined by what I couldn't do (as had been the recurring theme before I began running in 1012).

Instead, I took the opportunity to define myself by what I could do in the face of adversity.

And I really like this definition of myself.

My ridiculously slow finish time of 5 hours and 8 minutes for the half marathon earned me the daily caboose award for being the last to finish, but I will cherish that award for as long as I am alive.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Day 5: Center of the Nation Series: Albion, MT- September 19, 2013

There are just no words for Montana. Apparently, Montana and I have a love hate relationship.

Montana Race #1 was awesome and left me with a PR. Montana Race #2 was le suck. And as awful as the race itself was, the experience was amazing. I'll get there.

But first, If you haven't figured it out yet, this is part 6 (day 5) of a seven part (6 day) set of entries.
The final installment will be coming soon, so stay tuned...

Day 5 of this badass trip brought us back to Montana, and a little ghost-town called Albion. Technically the registry of Montana ghost towns lists Albion as a ghost town, but in fact it is not entirely abandoned. It is still technically a town of residual population (similar to Colony WY, I guess). The only thing that indicates that this area of Montana had once been a town is the abandoned schoolhouse that was found right near the start line for the race. 

Once again, the course was fairly straightforward with a 2.3 something-ish mile out and back where you collect 5 rubber bands and perform a victory lap. Unfortunately, the first thing that was going against us was the unbelievably cold and windy temperature.

When those with smart-phones could get service, the temperatures were reading at 37F with a wind chill of 29F. I knew that I was going to be cold in my running tights, skirt, and multiple layers of shirts, but cold is a word with little meaning compared to what we were experiencing.

Imagine this... go into your kitchen and take a bag of frozen peas and drop it down the back of your panties. then put a frozen steak over each nipple, put a bag of frozen broccoli under each armpit and between your legs. now stand there in your kitchen in front of your open freezer for 3 hours. That still doesnt seem cold enough to me... maybe turn a fan on high and aim it right at you and eat some icecream while you are at it. Then you might know a fraction of the type of cold we were experiencing. 

The first trip out on the course was decent enough... albeit frigidly cold, but it was the return trip that was brutal. The return trips had us running into 30+ MPH SUSTAINED winds, that chilled you so badly you felt like all of your joints were going to explode and your tears were going to freeze to your face. I was putting in twice the effort to run my intervals, yet I was going so incredibly slow. It was absotively exhausting...

Now, some people may think that I am exaggerating here, but I kid you not, this was the most brutal experience I have ever been through. My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad race at Singer Island on April 27th had nothing on the brutality that was Albion Montana. One would never understand how horrible the wind was or how bad the cold was from the spectacular photos, but you are going to have to trust me here...

What made it worse was that there was an extreme pitch to the gravel roadway, leaving my feet screaming in pain with each excruciating step as the tendons and muscles tried to keep my feet underneath me. My my legs felt as if they were going to shatter off with every step and my muscles never wanted to warm up. 

At one point, after nearly being blown off the road (and I am not making that up either), I was in such mental and physical anguish that I  turned to one of my fellow runners (Jim) and told him that I had to listen to my body and I would be giving up. I wasn't even sure I would be able to make it back to the vehicles I was in so much pain. I was cold. I was crying. I felt like a complete and utter failure. Had I done a video of myself I would have looked like that poor snotty nosed girl from The Blair Witch Project... But I didn't, because my fingers and hands wouldn't even work well enough to unzip my camera from the case. 

And when Jim saw me struggling, he stood in front of me to block the wind, and said we would walk together. He crammed athletic socks on over my mittens. His friend crammed a winter ski hat down over my head when we passed the turnaround point again, and we carried on. I wanted to give up with every fiber of my being. But I had come this far already... as much as I wanted to give up, and seriously thought that the next step would be my very last... I kept going. One excruciating footstep after another.

Once again, Seth and I brought pennies hoping that Brina would find them and have the luck she needed... but it was really me that needed all the luck I could get.

And finally, after 4 hours and 23 minutes, I was hobbling across the finish line and to the car where Brina was waiting for me with heat and a shot of Fireball.

It was the worst race I have ever participated in, but one of the best experiences of my life. I could never fully explain what happened out there next to the abandoned schoolhouse at Albion Montana, so I am not even going to try.

Just know that I have forever been changed because of that day. And believe it or not, to learn the lessons that I learned about myself during that race, I would gladly do it all again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Day 4: Center of the Nation Series: Colony, WY- September 18, 2013

Almost 2 weeks have passed since September 18, 2013, the 4th day of my 6 day/6 half marathon adventure. I am still struggling with how to fully write this and do these stories the justice that they deserve. I think in the end though, though I rarely allow myself to "just settle," I feel I have no choice in this matter. No matter what I say or do, nobody will ever understand what we went through during this adventure than the amazing men and women who joined me to log this kind of intense mileage. All I can do is try to tell this story to the best of my ability, and hope that I do this story justice...

So, If you haven't figured it out yet, this is part 5 (day 4) of a seven part (6 day) set of entries.

The next installments are coming, so stay tuned...

I woke up early on the  morning of Day 4 with some tummy troubles but that wasn't going to stop me. This, afterall was not only the 3rd day of the Center of the Nation series and miles 39.3-52.4 of my 6 day running adventure, but it was also Boston Day. One of the fellow runners in the series had run The Boston Marathon and was active in fundraising for the Boston One Fund. This generous man asked that everyone wear Boston related gear to the WY race, and in exchange, he would donate $5 for each to the One Fund. So of course I was looking forward to Boston Day, and of course Brina and I wore our Boston Strong Shirts. It was too cold for just our tanks so early in the morning, but we quickly shed our jackets. And it was worth every moment of being chilly to join together to remember the tragedy at Boston.

Day 4 brought us to Colony Wyoming, AKA "The Bentonite Capital of the World." Colony is so small that county officials and the US Census Bureau don't even bother to keep track of the town's population. From what I understand the only thing that really exists in Colony Wyoming is Bentonite, the factory, spectacular sunrises and views, and wonderful people like Janet and Thorval Jansen who graciously opened their land up for us to run (and play) on.

Just me!
My game plan for the day was to once again take it easier. I knew what my body and mind needed were a nice relaxing day enjoying the sunrise and the beautiful scenery. I needed to recoup, regroup and prepare myself for the last 2 races of the series. My stomach was bothering me (perhaps just from normal travel issues like not eating the right things at the right times, or perhaps related to runners issues), and this made me realize that slower was better. I had long since resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be impressing myself with good finish times, and had already moved to the point that my goal was to just finish the series.

I don't want anyone to think that I had given up, because that most certainly was not the case, but I know my body. I know what I am capable of. And you know, if there is one thing that I have realized is that the fast times aren't what make you an impressive athlete. Yes, having an amazing half marathon time of 1 hour and 45 minutes makes you an impressive endurance runner. But meeting all of these people out there caused a shift in my thinking.

Without her permission, I didn't want to post her photo.
Because people like me are impressive too. We go out there and put one foot in front of the other for consecutive hours. It is a different type of endurance. And it doesn't make sense to compare the 2 types of people out there. So I know that I am way off topic now, but I have to say that there were some impressive runners out there who ran 3.5 hour marathons each day, but there was one woman who blew me away. I think each day she finished her full marathons in 7-8 hours. I could NEVER be a strong and dedicated as this woman and my hat goes off to her. She was the type of inspiration that I needed on Day 4 (and 5.... and 6).

Because despite the gorgeous course, the spectacular sunrise, the perfect running surface of shale, the amazing people I was enjoying my time with... my body was failing me. My stomach issues quickly spiraled out of control and I spent enough time in a port-o-potty to last me a lifetime. Then my heel was bothering me and I felt myself altering my gait a bit, which quickly had some blisters re-emerging. Between the bathroom breaks and the emergency blister surgery, I was a hot mess and wound up sitting out for a combined total of 40 minutes of the race.

By the end of the race, it was mind over matter. One foot in front of the other. And eventually I would get there. It took me 4 hours and 16 minutes, and was my longest half marathon time to date, but I finished.

And I didn't beat myself up over the time. Because I had spent the morning realizing that the term "endurance athlete" doesn't always have to do with a fast time. Sometimes it is about time in general.

And what a time it was!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 3: Center of the Nation Series: Belle Fourche, SD- September 17, 2013

I am sitting at my desk staring at a ball of rubber bands. Having completed 6 half marathons in 6 consecutive days (5 of which were the Center of the Nation Series by Mainly Marathons), I have come to have a deep and meaningful relationship with rubber bands. You see, because each of the 5 races in the CONS were 2-3 mile out-and-backs or loops, you marked your progress by collecting a rubber band each time you returned to the start line. Rubber bands signify progress. They signify sweat and tears. They signify perseverance. And smiles. And good friends. And as I sit here preparing myself to write about my race in Belle Fourche, SD, It only seems fitting that I spend a brief minute contemplating what rubber bands REALLY mean to me.

So, If you haven't figured it out yet, this is part 4 (day 3) of a seven part (6 day) set of entries.

The next installments are coming, so stay tuned...

I have to start by saying that the race course at Belle Fourche, South Dakota was probably my favorite course out of the 5 races put on by Mainly Marathons. It wasn't really that pretty, and we ran on concrete pathways for most of the course, but it was fairly flat, and there was a lot of shade to be had. The course started next to the Belle Fourche chamber of commerce, ran down a path lined with flags from each state ("avenue of flags?"), and past the Center of the Nation monument. From there, we turned down a path along the river and the rest of the race continued either on this path or up a short street nearby. It was a 2+ mile out and back where half marathoners were expected to pick up 5 rubber bands and then do a victory lap.

What was different about this run than the day before was that runners all recognized on another and the comeraderie had grown exponentially. Runners high fived one another non stop, encouraged one another, smiled, cheered one another along, and really got into the running community spirit.

Fellow runner Sam stopping for a photo with me
I started the race a little sore, but I soon felt myself wondering if (as strange as it sounds), 3 half marathons in 3 days is EASIER than doing 2 in 2 days. I ran my 1/1 intervals. I felt slower than my pace at home, but I wasn't slogging through it either. I didn't have much heel pain, but my right foot was already double the size that it normally is, so I didn't want to take much risk. I kept remembering that slow and steady does it.

Up until this race I had always been acutely aware of just how long a half marathon was. I had always rolled my eyes thinking that there was still XXX miles left, and I still had so much more to do. This was the first race I have ever run where I suddenly looked down at my garmin and said "seriously? how did I already get to 7 miles?" and "wow, eleven miles, already????" It was like some kind of switch had been flipped, and suddenly a half marathon didn't seem so long. and an hour and a half of running would fly by like nothing. It was unreal.

I think passing the time was also made easier by pennies.

Brina, Oblivious to the fact I just dropped 3 pennies at her feet
Brina and I had decided to run the races separately during the Center of the Nation Series, although we have been running races together since March. One of the little quirks that I love about Brina is that she gets easily distracted by shiny things. She is always pushing me to do my best and be my best, but if there is something shiny, she always has to stop and check it out. She is also in love with collecting pennies on her runs. That's not my story to share about why, but she feels that she is getting a little extra oomph of good luck when she finds pennies while running. I have always lovingly teased her about how easily she distracts when she sees pennies on the ground, but I actually find it really sweet.

After finishing the Bowman race the day before, Brina had confided that she had a tough run and that she felt like she was struggling. She said she was looking for pennies on the run but hadn't found any and that maybe that might have made her feel more confident or stronger.
Me with only 0.1 miles to go

So Seth and I had gotten some pennies and each took about half a roll with us to the race at Belle Fourche and tossed them on the ground every few yards for her to hopefully find a little inspiration along the way. It made us feel good, and it helped pass the time... but we later learned that she hadn't found any pennies at all. Yikes. Where did they all go?

Anyway... It was a good run. I felt relaxed and in touch with my own body mechanics. I felt encouraged and strong. I loved the weather (especially after it went from jacket/gloves weather to tanktop weather), and I felt good. I don't really have much more to say about the actual race though. 

At Mt. Rushmore
My garmin said my finish time was 3:40:41 with a pace of 16.36 per mile. not bad for taking it easy. I don't feel badly about that pace because it paid off. I made it through day 3 without any pain. I was certainly swollen, but no pain.

And still enough energy leftover to visit Mt. Rushmore!

39.3 miles down, 39.3 miles to go. be continued...