Sunday, May 3, 2009

Race Day..."What A Long Strange Trip it's Been."


The highest hurdle for this half-marathon run was getting to the start line.  I knew that, once I started, I would finish the race.  If I had to go much slower, walk, whatever, I would finish the race.  Starting was another story.  My nerves were not about my finishing time.  Considering how my training had been stalled and I was coming off a stomach flu, I had given up on that long ago.  I was concerned about how bad I might feel.

I'll admit, I was emotional race morning.  I was thinking back over the past 6 months of my life.  I was thinking back to the new year and my resolution to be happy.  I was thinking that, 3 months ago, trying to run this distance was not even on my radar.  I was thinking about squeezing in training between kids, work, school and countless other obligations.  I was thinking about how I hadn't run in forever.  My stomach was still not right after being sick.  It was raining.  I was thinking about how I almost sabotaged myself and then vowed that I would get there.  I was thinking way too much. Driving there, I started feeling angry, at myself, at my coach and running partner for the day, and at all the crap that had gone on for the past few weeks. He told me, later, that when I parked the car and let it run for the next 5 minutes in silence, he did not know if I was going to get out to start. 

At the start line, there was much nervous energy.  I looked at Tim and said, "My longest run was 10 miles and it was on a TREADMILL!"  I honestly don't remember his response, but it calmed me.  I told myself that this was just another run and that, if I could teach back-to-back Spinning classes, I could handle this.  As the horn sounded, I put one foot in front of the other and ran.  It was a slow start, trying to find space among so many people.  I was glad for the slow pace, as it gave me a chance to assess how I was feeling.  Feeling the little aches and pains, as I warmed up, let my body know we were doing this.  Overall, I felt great.  In fact, I was surprised at how great.

Pace had been my biggest issue during training.  I am not a fast runner to begin with, so to slow down even more can be very demoralizing for me.  I want to be faster...I have always wanted to be faster.  However, we really did not know how my body was going to hold up over time, so I needed to take it really easy at the beginning, which I did.  I realized during the first miles that this was enabling me to really enjoy what I was doing. I wasn't expending too much energy, I was just out for a nice relaxed run.  I soon became aware of holding on to the emotional tension that had so built up over the past few weeks, and started to release it.  I began to joke with Tim about the scenery we were passing, playing tour guide and commentating on our surroundings: "And here, on our right, we have the beautiful concrete structure of the Nassau Coliseum,"  "We are now crossing over the amazing Meadowbrook Parkway," "And, up ahead, we have two lovely factory smokestacks spewing out into our atmosphere..." Now, Long Island has many beautiful areas, but this race course is not one of them, not in any way.  This shifted things for me simply because it gave me an excuse to start laughing.  At the same time, I overheard  a conversation near me about someone who was running with a serious illness and, with that, I received the gift of perspective that often arrives just when we need it.  I said a silent prayer of gratitude, started smiling and did not stop for the rest of the time.  Once we take away all of the noise, it's all very simple.  At this point, by mile 3, I knew I was feeling good, I got into a groove and soon the miles just started falling away.

Problem with my groove was that I wanted to run faster.  Tim was on my left and, for probably 5 miles (he'd probably say more), spent his time reining me in.  Over and over and over, he'd have to tell me to slow down, pull back.  Sometimes he'd make an annoying noise (somewhere between a whistle and a "pssst") that I'd hear behind my left shoulder and, only then, I knew I'd pulled too far ahead.  I started to complain.  I started to get irritated.  He told me that if I wanted to open it up a little more at mile 10, I could.  I did not want to wait that long.  I was feeling good.  He told me that he was expending too much energy trying to hold me back and I snapped, "Just let me run MY race."  I think he told me he was going to let me learn my lesson.  That was the only moment of frustration I felt, and this, I knew, was highlighting one of my biggest issues.  I am fiercely independent.  In general, I don't like to rely on anyone for help or support.  I have a hard time asking for it and a hard time accepting it.  I don't want to "need" anyone. I worked hard on this during training runs because I knew I had to listen and learn and change things in order to run distance.  However, on race day, I did not want to listen to anyone.  It took a little while and a little self-talk, but I got myself in check.  I felt supported and, while he did not know how my body felt, he is the experienced one.  Once again, I surrendered.  I know I still pulled ahead at times, but I trusted just a little bit more. 

I don't remember much of the course or where we ran, but I do remember crossing over the 10K point and commenting that I was now running longer in a race than I ever had.  At mile 8, I remember feeling some doubts about how my body was feeling, but it passed very quickly.  Besides, the last thing I wanted to hear from behind my left shoulder was, "I told you so."  At mile 9, I was high.  I was grateful for the rain and the lack of wind.  Somewhere during this time, I made a comment about what I was learning and Tim asked me what my lessons were.  In that moment, I said "emotional control, and learning to hold back."  Now I know there are many more.

At mile 10, we did pick up the pace and I started to feel it.  But, I wanted to push a bit so we did.  Tim asked me how much harder it felt and I said about 20% harder.  He asked me if working that much harder was worth taking the minute or so off of my finishing time.  I was thinking, "Yes, dammit!  You know how competitive I am...I don't care if it's SECONDS!"  But, I said, "Ok, let me just see how I feel in a few minutes."  At mile 11, I began to feel the emotions.  I was not only going to finish this race, but I was going to finish it strong and feeling really good.  I wasn't going to do it as fast as I would like, but I was going to do it faster than I thought I was at the beginning of the day.
  
We turned into the park for the last mile and I did not care how far ahead I ran.  He had given me the green light and I picked it up.  However, being in the park was tough because it is a narrow paved path and we were running with a large group of mid-pack runners.  We were passing them one by one and it was difficult to weave in and out safely.  This frustrated me, but I kept moving.  By the last 1/4 mile, Tim passed me fast and started encouraging me to pick it up even more and keep up with him.  I was screaming in my head that, for all this time he kept telling me to slow down and NOW I'm having to chase him.  I told him my legs didn't have it (which he did not accept) and I was just praying to see the line.  I kept up as fast as I could and then I finally felt the line under my feet.  My breathing was fast and heavy, my legs were shot, I grabbed my medal and silver blanket, walked to the side, and let the tears come just a little bit.  What a release.

Having been around athletic people for much of my life, even running 13.1 miles did not seem like much of an accomplishment to me.  I know that sounds insane to some, but that's truly how I felt.  Out on that course, something changed my mind. At one point, I thought, "this is a long f-ing time to be running!!"  And it is, and I never felt bad, which was the greatest part.

So, I could sit here and end with all the flowery stuff I have been writing-about journeys and lessons learned, and thought processes, and blah blah blah. But, if I did not acknowledge my competitive side and say that finishing time doesn't matter at all, I'd be a fraud.  I am an athlete, that is part of who I AM.  Yes, I wish I was faster and I did have a moment of let-down after the race.  I know I can run it better, but that's what the next one is for, that's what experience is for, and that is what will keep me running instead of stopping once a goal is reached, as I have always done in the past. 

At my Spinning class the next day, those who knew I had done the run asked about it and how I did, and I shared some of what I wrote today.  Someone asked what the hardest part was and I joked, "listening to Tim slow me down the whole time" (and mile 8).  I talked about how I did not even know if I was going to do it.  We talked about my time and, in yet another questionable moment, after everything I had done, I said the following out loud: "Well, you know I'm not really a runner." And then, from off one of the bikes in the middle of the room, someone simply replied, "Well you are now."  

For both fun and perspective, I asked Tim to be a guest blogger on this post, sharing his thoughts on the race:


"The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy...It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed." - Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon champ

 

Jen’s ½ Marathon Race Report – from a different, and unique perspective.

 

Jen had spent enough time watching from the sidelines to have a better understanding of what it takes to run a ½ marathon (13.1 miles) than most other first timers do. “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play” were the words she had spoken softly for the past few years. This year, Jen decided to “shout” those words, and she was heard. Be careful what you wish for, because Jen was summoned to get in the game and go play.

 

There is no “one size fits all” training program, and Jennifer’s program needed to be adapted to fit her lifestyle and ever competing struggle of attempting to balance work, play, and school, all while being a single mother of 2 highly energetic boys. Jen continued to undergo weeks of stress, sickness, and a few bumps/roadblocks during her training program, but managed to make it to the starting line due to her personal commitment and resiliency to whatever life threw at her.

 

I could sit here and access all of the things that we did right with her training, as well as all of the things we did wrong and could improve upon. I could provide details of the race, analyzing each mile, while being overly critical of what we would do differently next time to improve our results. However, I’d prefer to highlight Jen’s dream and her accomplishment. After having sat on the sidelines long enough, Jen had the courage to shout “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play”. Having the courage to sign up for a race is easy, but committing to do the training while overcoming all of the hurdles and obstacles along the way is easier said than done. This dream was something that Jen was willing to work for, investing hours of time, energy, as well as a lot of sweat to making this dream happen. Jen admittedly took responsibility and choose not to let anything defeat her, which is why she not only started the race, but finished it, and in crossing the finish line, was no longer that person watching from the sidelines.

No comments: