Mile 7: “Adapt and Overcome”

Yesterday I ran the 30K portion of the “Just A Short Run-5K, 8.1mi., Half Marathon, or 30K” race. I had no intention of signing up for this event at all, but as everyone in the late stages of marathon training knows; you will have to run longer and longer training runs in preparation for race day anyway-(this week being my scheduled 18 mile long run)-so why not do it at an event with hundreds of other runners to share in the magic and the misery of such an endeavor? Pace groups, free snacks, water, gatorade, beer, energy gels, a pair of shorts, a pair of Balega socks (love!), and a new finisher medal for my wall. Truth be told, I have officially reached the point in my running journey where I no longer even care about such things; with the exception of the pace groups and the thought of hundreds of other people out there pounding the pavement all around me; facing the same miles, the same magic, the same madness, the same hell, the same demons, and yet the same glorious feeling upon crossing that finish line. So I signed up…and, almost immediately, the “race day anxiety” set in. The mental stress of a ticking time clock, pushing you to give your absolute best, and the internet posting of official race results that any runner, obviously, wants to reflect well upon. That being said, Joe immediately agreed to and encouraged me to run this event as my long training run. “Surge on terrain that is favorable to you and finish strong.”, as is always his admonition. However, looking back upon my previous long runs, an “issue” that keeps rearing its ugly head becomes apparent in preparing for this event; FUELING. I can perform well in the shorter runs/races: 6-10mi and, for the most part, half marathons, because these distances require very little, if any, substantial race day fueling. I can just go and run, with a few sips of water and/or electrolyte drink. Once we get into the 15, 18, 20, 26+mi runs/races though, I crash. Not fueling causes the “running through sludge” feeling in my legs, mental fog/fatigue, and cramping in my calves. Yet, fueling at regular intervals induces stomach cramps, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. So Joe and I decided that this race would be used as a training run; cover the distance, don’t focus on or worry about pace, and fuel at regular intervals; planning upon half the normal intake at twice the regular intervals while continually moving forward. (Previous attempts at comsuming a full gel with water at the “recommended” times resulted in me having to walk to get the full intake and then horrible stomach cramps and projectile vomiting.) So we had a plan. Let’s just say though- things don’t always go “as planned”.

Saturday, March 25, 2017: RACE DAY.

My husband dropped me off 40min prior to the start of the race. I immediately found and began talking with a friend who I highly admire and respect. She has conquered and mastered the endurance race in a way that I can only ever hope to. She promised to look out for me throughout the course, as she was there to Coach a charity running group that she is actively involved with. I then continued to scour the crowds of faces, attempting to meet up with my friend, Andy, who was registered to run the 8.1mi race. We were unable to do so though as the races had a split start and different starting points. I placed myself directly behind the 9:00/mi pacer in hopes of reigning in my urge to surge ahead at the start, leaving little energy left at the end. This was difficult but beneficial. Sometimes I was ahead of her, sometimes just behind; but keeping with this helped me from burning myself up in the first half. If only this were my only issue on this day. I quickly realized that I am not a fan of this particular event and will probably never run it again. They gave those of us running the full 30K a 5 minute headstart but started us out upon what I have affectionately named our hometown “Heartbreak Hill”. It was approximately half a mile to the point where the runners in the 5k, 8.1mi, and Half Marathon converge head on upon the route and we all blended together. I was slightly ahead of my pace group at the time and trying to keep near them yet converged upon the other race(s) start with the 11:30’s and immediately jammed up; shoulder to shoulder people. The next 2-tier hill faded some of this out and the surging on the downhill helped, as well, but it was still awkward, frustrating, and at times, hazardous. Once we set out past the 5k finish and into the first of three 5 mile lake loops, all runners had seemed to have found their stride. Although we were running the lake loop in the reverse direction of how I usually run it, which I am not a fan of. I began to meet and speak with the people also running with the 9:00/mi pacer. All was going well until it came time for me to start fueling. I took in half my gel with only enough water to aid its affectiveness. Within one mile my stomach began to cramp and I felt the rise in my throat. I was able to breathe through it and keep pace, but I was struggling. I held the pace as best I could while choking down the urge to vomit. I saw another girl on the sidelines of the race, vomiting over the guardrail. I placed my hand on her back and told her “I know what that feels like. Just breathe, you will be okay.”, as I ran by. I completed the first loop with tears in my eyes, snot running out my nose, and vomit in the back of my own throat. As I started into the 2nd lake loop, I caught site of Andy on the sidelines, cheering me on. He saw my struggle and immediately jumped out on the course. He ran alongside me, begging me not to quit, as I told him how sick these gels make me. He continued out on the course with me, ushering me into my second lap around the lake, encouraging me to do whatever I needed to do just to finish. “You only fail if you quit”, he reminded me, “Do what you gotta do; just finish this.” As we neared mile 9.5, Andy apologized that he could not run the entire distance with me. He gave me his classic thumbs up and smile then set me off alone, as he turned back towards where he had parked his car. At this point, I was at least a minute or two behind the 9:00/mi pace group; I could see them but knew that I could not catch up just yet. I was feeling better though so I rallied within myself to keep moving and try to regain my pace in an effort to stay ahead of the 9:30/mi pace group. It was time for me to take in another half gel though so I gave it a try…with almost immediate regret. The next few miles were a blur of tears, sweat, and vomit. I threw up 4x during this race. At some point in the final 4-5mi I began what I call the “survival shuffle”; a mix of running and walking while trying to regain composure and explain to myself why it is that I do this. Anyone who has ever struggled in a race can relate. This is the place that nightmares are made of; where one questions everything about themselves and their reasons WHY. I envisioned myself posting to my fitness groups: “JASR30K-DID NOT FINISH. #Let’sNotTalkAboutBostonRightNow” or even “#ChasingBostonNoMore”.  Just the thought, however, broke my heart. I reasoned with myself that this is just ONE BAD DAY; a singular bad run; a lesson learned in fueling and hydration that, obviously, does not work well for me. It means nothing to my future running and chasing Boston unless I quit. At this point, I told myself that it truely is only a training race and that this is exactly what it is for; to figure out the specifics of what does and does not work for me so that I can get it right on race day. Despite the almost overwhelming urge to borrow someone’s phone in order to call my husband to come pick me up, I told myself over and over again that the only thing that could disappoint me today was for me not to finish this race. So I continued on with my “survival shuffle” for about another mile before having to spend about 4-5 minutes in one of the not so pleasant smelling porta-potties along the course. I, officially, no longer cared about my pace; instead, only what kept me moving forward. In mile 15, I saw the race photographer laying in the grass alongside the road and put on my “happy face”, despite feeling like death.

 I stopped briefly in mile 16 to pet a Borzoi (similar to a greyhound) and talk with the owners who were walking her. This lifted my spirits and helped power me slowly through another mile. At mile 17, my misery had, again, returned but with a little over a mile and a half left to go, I caught sight of a man with a young child on the other side of the road, walking towards me. The boy was maybe 2-3yrs old and smiling so big. His dad was hunched over him, hands on the boys thighs and knees, PHYSICALLY stepping the childs legs into a walking motion, as the boy teetered and laughed and tried to hold himself upright. If his dad let go, even in the slightest, the boy fell. My best guess is that some form of muscular dystrophy plagued him. I immediately stopped feeling sorry for myself and immediately felt ashamed that I ever even had. I smiled back at this beautiful young child; I clapped for him and waved, then forced myself to run again and not stop until I crossed that Finish Line. I have no right to feel sorry for myself. My struggles pale in comparison to this little boy’s. I am running and chasing a dream that, in my case, can only be classified as “recreational” while this child is struggling and trying again and again to simply stand up and walk like a functional human being. As I came down the final stretch of road, maybe a quarter mile from the Finish, I saw my husband walking toward me and was so relieved. I waved him towards me and choked up for a moment; just like the sight of him brought me to tears when I ran the PghMarathon2014. He fell in step beside me and encouraged me to keep going; pushing me to finish strong, just as he has been doing in a few of my recent, more difficult, training runs. My stomach hurt so badly at this point that I could not run without pressing firmly into it to keep from getting sick again. I kept switching from one hand to the next, holding the pressure exactly where I needed it so as not to throw up. I crossed the line and finished this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad run. 

I said hello to a few friends and was lucky enough to run into some other friends that I have not seen since last year, when we ran the Lt. J.C. Stone UltraMarathon together at this same exact location. They listened to my fueling complications and offered a few suggestions of their own; including the fact that several of them have the same problems and fare better without any solid form of fuel for runs under 18-20mi! They simply conditioned themselves to run through the pain rather than face the illnesses that gels, chews, or tablets produce. I must add that these particular people are not the “average runner” either. Each of them are masters of the endurance race; completing and competing in multiple marathons, ultras, and trail races, as well as, winning such races overall or at least in their age groups. I said my goodbyes and walked away, leaving my frustration and disappointments on the course. For the first time, I refused to bring those negative feelings and emotions home with me. I immediately went into “recovery mode”, doing what I needed to do to make sure that I am able to return to training on Monday. For the first time, I did not even know what my finish time or average overall pace was until my husband showed me; 

It was not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. So I opened up my Nike+Run App to take a look at my individual mile split times…and my struggle from mile 9 on was apparent.

 I could have performed so much better. I am capable of so much more than this. It was a learning experience though and the biggest thing I learned was to never, ever give up; no matter how sick or miserable I feel or how poorly I think that I am performing. Adapt and overcome, but do not ever quit. Progress may be slow at times and working out the details of how to adequately fuel my body while not pissing off my, obviously sensitive, stomach may take awhile…but these things are temporary. Quitting is forever. And while I may be alot of things, a quitter, I am NOT! Maybe I may never get the training, the fueling, the pacing, or the performing “just right”; and maybe Boston will forever remain my unfulfilled fantasy or dream…but it certainly will never be because I quit trying. So long as I am healthy, able, and uninjured I will keep on running, I will keep on trying, and I will never EVER give up. I will continue on with my training and putting forth my best effort with every run. I will find an alternative way to overcome my issues with fueling; and no matter what happens in Pittsburgh, or Steamtown, or wherever else this journey takes me, I will never take for granted the fact that I am ABLE to run. (I don’t HAVE to run…I GET to run!) I will never lose sight of my goal; or the simple fact that progress is still progress no matter how small because, once again, this journey is PERSONAL and the struggle is simply a part of the story.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

Mile 6: “Chasing A Dream”

“I have a story to tell… It’s about chasing a dream; and how it can define you, destroy you, and rebuild you.”-Elizabeth Clor ,(author and story teller of “Boston Bound-A 7 year journey to overcome mental barriers and qualify for The Boston Marathon”)

My training has been going well, overall. I am making progress, but it has begun to slow. Truth be told, though, I do not feel that it is because I am maxed out physically; far from it, actually. Lately, I have been struggling mentally with this daunting challenge. I have let my mental guard down and have begun to succumb to self-sabotaging thoughts. “It’s too fast for too long and too far.”, “It’s too soon to shave THAT much time off my marathon finish time.”, “The course is too difficult for me to do THAT on.”, “I’m just not good enough, strong enough, fast enough.”, and even “Perhaps Boston is just too big for me.” The list goes on… I have refrained from posting such thoughts on my social media accounts. I never want to bring my friends down and I do not wish to give any weight or power to these doubts or fears. Just this week, I was at an appointment and not one, but TWO, people in this particular office went on for several minutes each about how they have been following my training posts and are “so inspired” by them. I spoke with the first woman briefly, and she proceeded to tell me (with the biggest, most beautiful smile on her face) about how she used to run before “life happened” and got complicated with work and family, etc., but that reading my posts and seeing my race photos inspired her to blow the dust of those shoes and she laced them up and started again. The other female, a new friend that I had the honor of welcoming to one of my Facebook running groups, I was able to speak with at length and, even though I was feeling particularly down on myself that day, she saw a light in me and my way of expressing my thoughts that prompted her to say how much I motivate and inspire her and how I should become a motivational speaker someday. I was transported back, in my mind, to the moments when I met Joe and Beverly, in person, for the first time at the J.C. Stone UltraMarathon. I was in awe of them and their generally positive outlook and optimistic way of looking at and interpreting most everything. I have since become very close with them, interacting daily, and have come to love and view them both as my own family. Joe  has taken me under his wing and adopted my Boston dream as his own, making it his intention to train me for and run with me to my very own Boston Qualifing success. He has known the sweet taste of victory, as well as, the bitter taste of defeat, yet, never once has he ever entertained the thought of quitting or giving up. Just this past week, I let my current insecurities be known to him in regards to my current training and racing paces in relation to the “professional race calculators”. (A tool used to help predict your estimated finish time in a marathon based on your current pace level and recent race results in smaller distances.) Needless to say, the numbers obviously were NOT adding up to the goal we have set our sights on for the Pittsburgh Marathon coming up in 8 weeks. This was Joe’s reply: “This is why I wish we could throw our watches away in training. Just trust me, you can get there…maximum effort in training and you will run better than you ever dreamed of on race day. I won a marathon once, in 2012. There were a lot of people there that had beaten me before…but in the last 6 miles I ran faster than I ever had before (or since) once I got the idea that I could win. It was the same for my first BQ …I didn’t think I could do it until I felt great and missed it by ONE SECOND. At my next race I did it by 9 minutes….it was one week later. The only thing that changed was my confidence. It will be the same with you…Effort…effort…effort  at every training session and not only will you BQ, this old papa will have difficulty keeping up with you! As you can see , my method of training doesn’t seem to add up sometimes. It’s because I’m betting on an intangible-how much you will really want it on race day…if I we can get ourselves to remember how hard we worked in training, when we are very tired during the race, we will succeed. Our whole is much bigger than the sum of our parts, when we put it together. This is not a theory…I have lived it. So we always fight from where we are, advancing from here. We are not there yet, but we get closer every time we put effort into our training. It’s not “show up and check the box”, it’s PUSH and even feel failure in training on occasion. I want you to feel “the wall” before race day. That is the purpose of race effort at the beginning and end of some long runs…” (and so continued discussion of the next week’s workout assignments and how to go about performing them.)

On a side note, “Super Joe” and “Super Beverly” as we all affectionately call them, have travelled to Washington D.C. this weekend where Joe will run his 150th career marathon at the Rock&Roll D.C. Marathon in the morning and I am so proud! I know he will do well. He has trained hard and always gives his best effort in every run, and especially so in a race. 

 Also, etched into my memory forever, is the day I met Merhawi Keflezighi (Meb Keflezighi’s brother and sports agent) at the expo for the Inaugural USA Half Marathon Invitational in San Diego, November 2015. I was in awe of this man and how down to earth and easy he was to talk to. I don’t know why I expected to feel inferior next to him…but that certainly never happened. He was easy to talk to and seemed genuinely interested in me, as a person and a runner, myself. I am no elite athlete, but he drew out the “elite mindset” in me and encouraged my “champion spirit”. 

And how I had a moment of “silent support” with my running icon, Meb, at the 10K point of that race. THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY RUNNING LIFE SO FAR! So many things I wanted to say to him and ask him…but all I could do was get a photo and continue on to finish that race.

To this day, it is still difficult to put into words and describe in a way that does it justice…just believe me when I say, if you are out there trying to improve yourself and your ability to excel at something, and you come across someone like Meb, or Hawi, or Joe and Beverly, you will feel this impartment of encouragement that will elevate your belief in yourself and your belief in the endless possibilities…you will realize that the ONLY one that can tell you that you “can’t” is YOU…but that you don’t have to listen. And if you truely want to succeed, you won’t. You will do everything in your power to silence that voice in the back of your mind whispering of negativities and doubts. So this is what I have been doing. When these thoughts arise, I have been telling myself to just “stop”. I have been forcing myself to just “NOT THINK” anymore. I do the workouts Joe sends me, I report back. I take care of my family and I go to work. I try to eat well and sleep enough. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time, one run at a time, until it gets easier…but it has been slow coming this time. So I have gone back to immersing my mind in the printed words of my favorite athlete, Meb. I have read and re-read his book, “Run To Overcome”, and have refreshed myself in “Meb-ology”, as I call it. 

(I, also, posted this clip from a magazine ad on my locker at work so I see it and am encouraged by it daily, along with a photo of The Boston Marathon start and finish lines.)

The thought process that Meb practices and encourages others to do centers on simply doing the best you can on any and every given day or occasion. (“RUN TO WIN”…but “Winning doesn’t always mean coming in first. Sometimes winning means just finishing the race and giving it everything you have on that day.”….”…sometimes it just means getting the best out of yourself.”-Meb)               It is this mindset and commitment to excellence that has led him to achieve a level of success that most of us can only dream of. When it comes right down to it, Meb is still just a man. Human. Just like you and I. But his level of personal motivation, drive, and concrete commitment to excellence and balance elevates him to a level that we all would do well to recognize and imitate. His greatest career moment came one year after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. He had trained well, avoided injury, silenced doubts, and arrived on race day mentally and physically prepared. Previously, someone had doubted Meb’s ability to run a better, stronger, faster marathon stating that Meb “would never break 2:08”. Instead of letting this get him down, Meb “mentally files statements like that”, and uses it to fuel his training. Despite his history and current potential, Meb was not “favored” to win Boston 2014. In fact, I remember hearing that he was not even being entertained as a potential placer in this race. “He’s too old.”, “has been too injured in recent years”, “too slow in comparison to the other elite athletes running the race this day”. But Meb was not deterred. He had trained hard each day, always to the best of his ability, and when race day came he believed in himself and all other things just happened to fall into place for him. “Boston 2014 was probably the only marathon where I was able to run my own race.” Meb is quoted as saying in his book. His race was not without struggle, but he drew on the strength that his training and experience had ingrained in himself, and he “drew energy from the people in the crowd, lining the race course.” He ran, not only for himself, but “for the people of Boston and for the victims whose lives were taken” on this very day, one year ago.” (Martin, Krystle, Sean, and Lingzi) He had written their names on the four corners of his bib. He ran “BOSTON STRONG”.  He went on to win Boston that day, with a personal best of 02:08:37. He made history that day as the first American male to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years, as the whole wide world watched in amazement and cheered him on, chanting “USA! USA!” all the way to the finish line. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest sports moments of all time. (Watch the video here: )

I also read the book “Boston Bound” by Elizabeth Clor…an “average, middle of the pack runner”, like myself, who set her sights on Boston and faced a 7 year struggle to achieve this dream…and it wasn’t until she finally came to terms with the fact that her biggest obstacle was her very own mind that she finally succeeded in qualifying for Boston.

Her struggle, and mine, is different from that of Meb’s in that Boston holds no monetary or career boosting benefit to us. Running is Meb’s JOB. It is how he supports himself and his beautiful family; which is a whole other level of pressure to excel and succeed that I can not even begin to fathom. For Elizabeth, and myself, Boston is “personal”. Our struggles and endeavors towards Boston are to achieve a personal level of athleticism that will earn us the honor of simply running this iconic race. “Winning Boston” is not even a thought, let alone a possibility. (Nope! No matter how much my amazing and supportive friends “believe” in me!) Regardless, qualifying for Boston in itself is still a difficult and daunting task and it wasn’t until Elizabeth changed her mentality and way of thinking and “interpreting” things, that she truely began to progress and, eventually, succeed in obtaining that previously elusive Boston Qualifier. (Her starting point was actually slower than my own; which speaks volumes to me in regards to her ability…and the very real possibility that perhaps I can and will do it too.) 

After many years of trying and failing, she finally had this mental breakthrough; “I had come to terms with Boston…I realized that I wanted to run Boston, but it didn’t define who I was as a runner or a person. It was just something I wanted to do eventually, and the fact that I hadn’t done it yet didn’t make me any less of a runner. I no longer saw it as a goal or dream of mine. But it was also not something that I was trying to ignore or avoid. Boston was simply a marathon with a qualifying standard, and I planned on running it eventually.” At this pivotal moment, she successfully shifted her focus, emotional energy and angst away from the goal itself and, instead, immersed herself in the journey; the PROCESS of qualifying for Boston. She began to run based on perceived effort, rather than try to hit certain paces. (A training technique that Joe has been stressing with me and trying his best to help me understand and embrace; despite my initial resistance and, even still, occasional confusion and angst.) She further relates in her book that “One of the greatest challenges of the marathon is accepting that an extraordinary amount of hard work and preparation seems to all boil down to something that happens within just a  few hours. It can feel devastating when such a large investment of time and effort doesn’t pay off- particularly when it happens repeatedly. Looking for the payoff where I KNOW I can find it has been the key to unlocking my mental handcuffs.”. She realized that, to succeed in the art of marathon running, she had to master her own emotions and not allow self-sabotaging thoughts to become “self-fulfilling prophesy”. She learned how to relax and become “emotion-neutral” regarding anything and everything that was beyond her control, in training and in racing. She became a master of “adapting and overcoming” (something I know quite alot about, being a Paramedic for the past 15 years). She, also, realized that if she can’t correct it or change it, it is best to just ignore it; thus truely becoming “emotion-neutral” and not allowing those things to affect her, control her, or dictate her performance. She finally mastered the art of “Meb-ology” and the strategy of “Joe-TheRocketMan-Guilyard” in her next race. Despite  many obstacles and unfortunate circumstances which would have caused a less mentally strong runner to either quit/”DNF” or simply not even start, she relates in her own words: “I asked myself if I was truly giving 💯 and the answer was YES. I told myself that my goal was to run a race that I would be proud of. I needed to make sure that I was giving 💯 at all times and never giving up. No matter how badly I felt, no matter what the watch said, I was going to give 💯 (of myself)…All in all, this was not the race I hoped for, but it is a race I am proud of.”     This moment right here, was where, in my eyes, a CHAMPION emerged.

A short time later, she qualified for Boston and wrote: “It’s somewhat ironic that only in the absence of obsession can I truly accomplish the things that I would otherwise obsess about. Boston is now a reality, and I plan to approach it the same…: boldly, without fear of failure, and with high expectations of pushing the boundaries. It’s not the endgame-it’s the beginning of a new chapter.”

So here I am. Working on my own “mental game”. Encouraging and inspiring myself with these people, their stories, and the knowledge they have chosen to share with people like me; people looking, searching, and reaching for the inspiration and encouragement to “JUST KEEP RUNNING.” To keep putting one foot in front of the other. To keep running the mile we are in and repeating this over and over and over to the best of our ability in hopes that one day it, too, will be enough to deserve the title “Boston Qualified”! 

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun