Monday, November 29, 2010

Really Living.

As of 9:16 on Sunday morning, I finished my first half marathon. In short, it was fantastic, fun, easy and so much better than I ever would have thought. The fact that I just used those words to describe 3 hours of running is still amazing to me, but they are true.

The details
The entire week before the race I was really nervous. I felt like a fraud, ill prepared and over analyzed every ache or tight muscle. Friday morning we went to pick up my race packet at the local running store. They had 13.1 bracelets and T-shirts with the race name on it and of course the 13.1 magnet. Joe wanted me to get one but I was afraid I'd jinx myself. At one point we were talking about the different fonts used on the magnets and which one I would get. I suddenly worried "What if I don't finish?". It was a real fear. After that we drove the course and I was pretty happy. It wasn't as flat as I had been promised, but I would never call it a hilly course. The rest of the day I rested my legs and tried not to think too much.

Saturday night was the pre-race dinner at the Kennedy Space Center. As we all lined up to get on the shuttles to take us to dinner, I felt very intimidated. I know that appearances don't translate to ability. I've said for a long time that I am quite proud being fat and long as the fit is in there. There are skinny people that can't walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath so I know that looks can be deceiving. But looking around, there were so many people that were obviously runners I felt out of place. We rode to Center and watched a video about the Saturn series and then saw the control room as it was in the 60s and listened as they simulated a shuttle launch complete with rattling windows and bright lights. As a former space geek, I loved it! Then we went into the main hall where the Saturn 5 rocket was hanging from the ceiling. Dinner tables were set up underneath and it was so cool to sit under such a massive peace of equipment and an amazing part of history.

Dick Beardsley was the speaker of the night. I had read 'Duel In The Sun", the book about his race in Boston against Alberto Salazar. They averaged less than a 5 minute mile for the entire marathon. As a slow runner, I am in awe of his natural ability. He also has quite a story about after the marathon and genuinely seems like a nice guy. He talked about lining up for that race. He had won several other marathons and I think most everyone would have said he was a runner. But he said as he worked his way to the starting line, he felt like he didn't belong....that he wasn't a runner. Then he said he realized he had put in the miles. He had done the hard work. He deserved to be there. Then he said to us..."You have put in the miles. You have trained. You deserve to be here." My mom turned, patted me on the leg and I held back tears. I did do the hard work. I got up at 4 AM and ran 3 times a week regardless of how I felt, what the weather was or how late I went to bed the night before. I designed a training plan and increased my mileage. I was smart, but pushed myself past my inherent laziness. I deserved to be there. As we got back on the bus to take us to the Visitor's Center, the guard wished me luck on the race tomorrow. I proudly said "Thank you!"

Back at the hotel I got into the elevator and recognized a couple that had been at the dinner. I asked them if they were ready and they said no. I asked them what they were doing and they said "Just the half.' "Me too" I replied. They seemed shocked. "Oh really?" they asked. I was giddy as I ran back to the room. Someone thought I looked like a marathoner!

I woke up at 3:30 on Sunday morning and was completely calm. I was excited and all the nerves were gone. I took a shower, talked to my legs like I normally do before a long run and put on my race outfit I had planned. Joe pinned my number on me and we left for the race site. The weather was perfect, a cool 56 with a clear sky. We found a parking place pretty easily and found our way to the main pavilion. After 4 trips to the bathroom (hydrating has its price), we walked to the starting line. There were 2700 people that were doing the race so it wasn't huge, but it was crowded enough that I couldn't find my parents. About two minutes before the start I was on the phone with my dad trying to figure out where they were in the masses. My mom grabbed the phone from him and in a very movie like moment said, "Amy, we're here. We love you. We know you can do this." It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Instead of a gun shot, this race starts with a space shuttle countdown and then sounds of the blast off. Before I knew it I was running. There was a brief moment right in the beginning where I thought "Holy Crap....I'm running a half marathon." It was exciting. I settled into my race and was very proud of myself for running my plan. I had a great playlist (Coming in a separate post) and I paced exactly where I needed to be based off my training for endurance, not speed. Miles 1-5 went by pretty quickly but around mile 6 I did get a little lightheaded so I walked for 5 minutes, ate a power bar and drank. The turnaround was a welcomed sight.

As I ran back towards the finish, I passed the marathoners making their way up. It was amazing to see some truly great runners (who quickly passed me, finishing the marathon an hour faster than I did the 1/2) and I became the cheerleader as they ran towards me. It was invigorating to yell and clap for strangers and kept me motivated to keep going. I was also pleased with how many people returned my cheer with a 'thanks, you too!' I remembered the book Born to Run that asserts that basically being a nice person makes you a better runner. That might sound ridiculous but I felt better once I started cheering for everyone as we passed.

Miles 10-12 were spent with a mother-daughter team that were running their first half as well. We made small talk about the other runners, the dinner the night before and my Garmin. I eventually left them after the daughter had to slow it down, but I am so glad they were there for those miles. After I left them I realized I had a mile to go. One mile and I would be a half marathoner. At that point "Hey Man" by the Eels came on my playlist. Here are the lyrics:

Do you know what it's like to fall on the floor
And cry your guts out 'til you got no more
Hey man now you're really living

Have you ever made love to a beautiful girl
Made you feel like it's not such a bad world
Hey man now you're really living

Now you're really giving everything
And you're really getting all you gave
Now you're really living what
This life is all about

Well i just saw the sun rise over the hill
Never used to give me much of a thrill
But hey man now you're really living

Do you know what it's like to care too much
'bout someone that you're never gonna get to touch
Hey man now you're really living

Have you ever sat down in the fresh cut grass
And thought about the moment and when it will pass
Hey man now you're really living

Now you're really giving everything
And you're really getting all you gave
Now you're really living what
This life is all about

I had to choke back tears, (which trying to do while also trying to run and not get out of breath is hard). I was going to finish a half marathon.

Last September, after I finished the triathlon, I felt like I could conquer the world and decided I wanted to do an Ironman. One Problem: I finished the Ramblin Rose by walking the entire 2 mile run course. The thought of me doing a marathon was pretty ridiculous. I decided I could do it if I gave myself enough time to train. There was the shadow of doubt that I wouldn't train...but I signed up anyway. I procrastinated training but eventually in October started getting serious. And here I was...about to finish my first half, and feeling that I was really living...that this was what it was really about.

I rounded the corner and started the last 100 yards to the finish line while "Ali and Jungle" was playing.

It's, not, how you start, it's how you finish,
And it's, not, where you're from, it's where you're at,

Everybody gets knocked down,
How quick are you gonna' get up?

Like Ali in the jungle,
Like Nelson in jail,
Like Simpson on the mountain,
With odds like that, they were bound to fail
Like Keller in the darkness,
Like Adam's in the dark,
Like Ludwig Van, how I loved that man, well the guy went deaf and didn't give a ----, no...

It's, not, where you are, It's where you're going,
Where are you going?
And it's, not, about the things you've done, it's what you're doing, now,
What are you doing, now?

My parents were right at the finish line. Joe was a couple of people behind them. I crossed the finish line feeling elated. A volunteer said congratulations as he placed my finisher's medal around my neck. I was a half marathoner.

I still don't really know if I like running, but I enjoy the planning, training, seeing myself improve and I LOVE finishing. I know that I want to do a marathon. I know it will be harder, both physically and mentally, but I also know I need to do one for reasons I can't explain; for me. I have so much respect for the training process and the body's ability to adapt and to grow. When I think about the first time I ran and then compare it to what I did on Sunday, it is amazing, but fills me with pride.

I am not fast. I will never finish first. I can honestly say that is fine with me. I had fun running this race. I enjoyed myself. I felt fantastic as I crossed the finish line and even the next day. I am excited to tackle the marathon and then after that, the Ironman. Training with friends, being surrounded by family, using and appreciating my body: now I'm really living.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

This time next weekend....

My first half marathon is in 7 days. Six days, sixteen hours and 2 minutes to be exact. Am I ready? I have no idea. My running partner says I am. Most people who know me say I am. Yet I don't quite feel ready.

My longest run has been 10 miles. I did it twice - once was horrible and once was great. I wanted to do a little longer but my boss, who does endurance marathons and 50 mile runs, said that it was more important for me to go into the race with a positive feeling than to do a long run and feel worse. Realistically running 2 more miles isn't going to make that much of a difference. Yet I still wish I had run at least 11 miles.

I did a quick 5 miles this morning and will do an easy 2 on Tuesday. Today felt good on the first half. I was running quicker than normal and it was fun. The way back I felt OK. My pace was still fast (10:29 vs my usual 12:23) but my stomach was upset, my feet hurt and I just wanted to stop. At first 5 miles seemed so short but all of a sudden I couldn't imagine running any longer. That does not bode well.

I know I have trained, but have I done enough? I know I can walk it if I need to, but I really want to do well. I felt this way before the traithlon last year and in retrospect, that was easy. I am hoping that this time next week I feel the same way. I don't want to stop my body has been easy compared to training my brain to stop worrying and enjoy my sucess.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Public Declaration of a Private Truth

Years ago I remember standing in some body's house, a friend of a friend, and looking at her framed marathon display; pictures of her at various times on the course, her finishing time and race bib. I thought I'd like to do that. I've watched a 2 hour documentary on first time marathoners and cried at the end. I thought it would be a neat, but mostly impossible goal for me, the lazy, non runner, couch-lover. I researched it. I looked into Team In Training. I was jealous of people who had done a marathon. It was so far out of my reach; I hate running. After I did the Ramblin Rose, I felt like I could do anything, so I signed up for a half marathon to see how it would be...with the idea that if it wasn't that hard I would do a full marathon. I've been running, a lot, and lately, running hasn't been that hard. I've found that with training, I am pretty sure I can do anything. I'm not going to win, and will probably be finishing as most other racers are finishing up their showers and post race meals. But I'll start and I'll finish and I'll have a race medal to show for it and the inner knowledge that I set a goal, worked hard to accomplish it and did it. (Race medals are the coolest race perk. When you finish an endurance event, you get a medal. They differ by event, place and having a cool medal is a goal of most event planners. They are quite heavy and are a source of pride for many people. I didn't know about the medals when I started this all, but now I have to admit I want to build my collection of bling! Here's what my half marathon medal will look like.)

I've talked about Alyse Kelly-Jones and how motivational she is to me. She did an iron man...a 2 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and then a marathon. The first time I heard of an iron man was in 2009 when I was training for my first triathlon. I had to look it up online. My friend Courtney and I stared at the screen in disbelief. They can't mean they do that all on one day? I looked up results to confirm that yes, they do that all in one day, usually a 7am-9pm kinda day. Impossible, I thought.

But then I let it mull over in my brain. I spent a meeting looking at Alyse and thinking...she did it. She doesn't have a cape or other superhero tool. She has a family and a job and a belly. If she can do it....well so can I. With training, I am pretty sure I can do anything. I'm going to do a half and am pretty sure that the once impossible marathon is completely do-able. If that once impossible goal is now possible, well it opens up a host of events including an iron man. I talked it over with Joe. Training is key and you can imagine that if it takes 18 hours to complete an iron man, the training time is monumental. Training for an iron man means no weekend couch fests. I will spend an entire day riding, or running or both. It means early bedtimes, skipping parties and not a lot of drinking because I probably have a long ride/run/swim the next day. It means sore muscles, ice baths, iced knees and a bottle (or seven) of ibuprofen. (Check out this video...hysterical because it is true) Joe knows all that and even though I don't think he understands it all, he is very supportive.

So here is my public declaration of the thing I have known in my heart I've wanted to do for at least a year; I want to complete an iron man by the time I am 40. Here's my plan:
  • 2011 (37 years old) - half marathon, improve running, international distance triathlon and open water swim
  • 2012 (38 years old)- full marathon (probably the Flying Pig ( I want my first to mean something...and the Pig, while horribly hard and hilly, is like running through an episode of Amy...This is Your Life. I will run by my high school, where I had my first kiss, my first job, etc. )
  • 2013 (39 years old) - half iron man (Ever see a 70.3 sticker on a car and wonder what it meant? That is the total mileage for a half iron man.)
  • 2014 (40 years old) - full iron man (That would be the 140.6 sticker.)

I wish I could say why I want to do this or why I feel the need to essentially push my body off the comfortable couch. Sure, I'll get cool medals. But it is something deeper than that, something that is so personal for me. It has nothing to do with the competition and I am surprised by that fact. It's almost as if I feel "Of course I can do why wouldn't I?' I know people think it is crazy, but for me, it is the most logical, sane thing I could do. I just know that I have to do it, or I will always wonder. My brain certainly has very high expectations of me, and I'm OK with that. And if you have read this and thought I am crazy, that's OK. But if in a couple weeks you are still thinking about it, well sorry to say you might be doomed, but let me know. I'd love to have a training partner!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Roller Coaster Ride of a Fat, Slow Athlete.

I don't know when it happened, but I now have more workout outfits than I do jammies. That is a HUGE statement for me since I used to have more PJs than almost any other kind of clothing. Other odd things have been happening lately as well. Last weekend while running by myself on the greenway, I caught myself smiling. No reason, just running along smiling. Then there was the Thursday morning run that started out horribly. I was hot, it was humid and I took off my shirt and ran in my sports bra and HAD FUN. There was a day I had planned an evening easy run but work got in the way and I had to cancel and I was actually upset. A couple of Tuesday's ago I ran a 5K the fastest ever for me. Last week I did the same hilly 6 mile course as the horrible Thursday run and it was great. Sunday I ran 10 miles with Joe, and didn't feel sore or tight at all. So to say the last month's training has been revolutionary is an understatement.

Three months ago I reached out to a fellow Tri It For Lifer, Cindy Multer, and asked if I could run with her. She had been running in her neighborhood with another TIFLer. For some reason I never felt rude or odd asking her. I just did and she said yes. That first day was HORRIBLE. I hardly got two miles in and I felt like crap. It was hot, I puked and my average pace was almost 17 minutes a mile. I am pretty sure I can CRAWL faster than that. But reaching out to Cindy was the best thing I could have done, because I kept going. She had emergency gall bladder surgery so was out in September but we started back in October and this time, we were serious. All that bike riding I was doing did make a difference and I found it was easier to go longer and longer distances. Cindy pushed me to run when I didn't want to and since we are both slow, morning runners, we kept each other accountable. I increased my mileage and am now running 20 miles a week, all at around a 13 min pace. That is still slow, but I am happy since it is such an improvement for me. I fought the urge to walk up to co workers and tell them I ran 6 miles before they even woke up. I daydreamed about flying home wearing my half marathon medal and getting moved to first class. But.....

I consider myself a positive person but I am suddenly realizing how much negative inner thoughts I have and boy it is a ton. I run 9 miles and for a mere second I marvel at the fact that I just ran 9 miles and then it is gone and replaced with "But you ran so slowly. But you took walk breaks. But you are slow. But it was only 9 miles. I bet anyone could do that." It is horrible because there is part of me that knows that 9 miles is a huge accomplishment, but I FEEL the negative thoughts. I have two weeks til my half marathon. Even the fact that I am doing a half is slightly embarrassing. I say "Oh I'm just doing a half marathon. Not the WHOLE thing. That would be an accomplishment. I am slow and fat. " I suck. Three months ago I couldn't run a mile. Now I can run 10. Yes I am slow and yes I take walk breaks, but I actually run better when I do that. I am large. I weigh over 200 pounds. That is a lot of stress on the body. I am equally ashamed and proud of that fact. I WISH I was fast. A friend asked me if I was hoping for a time. "Yes, I am secretly aiming for 2 hours and 45 minutes but think my official time will be closer to 3 hours." Well turns out she did a half and came in under 2 hours. Suddenly I was mortified at making my 3 hours public.

But for me...3 hours is good, great really when you consider where I was just 3 months ago. Isn't it actually harder for me to trudge along for 3 hours rather than those people that finish in an hour, or even two? Isn't it impressive that someone who HATED running has come to actually enjoy it? Isn't the fact that I get up at 4AM and run even though I'd rather be in bed count for something? I don't feel tight or sore after running almost 10 miles and don't forget that I have a super cute matching outfit! I'm going to finish a half marathon. Yes, that is a big deal. I know that, and for a few minutes after a run I feel that. I just hope that when I cross the finish line I can tell my stupid self to shut up and let me enjoy it for at least 5 minutes. And I am going to wear my medal on the plane and if they don't upgrade me to first class, pooey on them, because I am going to be a slow, fat, half marathon finisher. Damnit.