Mile 18: “Faith Restored”

Buffalo Creek Half Marathon was yesterday and I achieved a new P.R. by nearly two minutes! For anyone who has ever pushed themselves to achieve more than they thought they could, you know how hard this is and how much it means. I trained well this year and struggled through workouts in the heat/humidity of the past summer months. I have burned the candle at both ends, so to speak, adjusting my training around several jobs and rotating schedules. I experienced days upon weeks upon months of repeated disappointing runs and overwhelming questions and doubts in my ability to perform come race day; but I have never given up and I have always shown up.

I thought about quitting more than I ever have as the time came to run the Erie Marathon this past September; but I showed up, enjoyed the experience, and embraced whatever the race would bring my way. I felt surprisingly good and had the potential to not only meet, but significantly exceed, my marathon goal/P.R. for that day. The unforseen events, documented in a previous blog post, changed the course of that day. And while I do not regret my decision to let go of my goal in order to help another runner survive the race, the thoughts of what would have been or could have been weighed upon my mind. It was hard not to feel saddened over all those months of work, with the sweat and tears left out there on the roads and the track, and no climactic victory to bring the story/experience full circle. So when my friend, Lori, offered me the chance at a “Do-over” in Steamtown, I jumped at the chance. For those of you who have read my most recent blog post, you know all too well how Steamtown turned out; another blow to my dwindling racing confidence. As I returned to the grind of life after Steamtown, the residual fatigue of all that I have been doing seemed to finally catch up with me. I ran once and then spent the next week doing little more than working and sleeping; culminating in this comical exchange between myself and my Coach just days before our next race.

I did what he said and arrived, with him and my friend, Matt, at the START line of the Buffalo Creek Half Marathon yesterday morning. I felt good, rested, and strong, with my mind focused on the goal at hand.

 “1:58:59” was my goal, yet, the last two races had not produced the results I had been wanting or expecting, therefore, I was hesitant to put too much hope upon the end result for this day. “Once burned, twice shy”, I guess you could say. So as the anthem was sung and the race begun, I settled into an easy pace and quickly found my rhythm, doing my best to not think, but rather, just breathe and run the best race that I could for the next two hours. My friend, Lori, had joined me here to exercise her pacing skills and to help me achieve my goal. She seems to have taken a liking to me and, in getting to know her and her story, I find my own belief in myself restored; that I, too, can make significant progress and achieve great things in my running. (BOSTON!) Her enthusiasm for life, for running, for racing, and enjoying every wonderful or horrible moment along the way, is much like my own and, therefore, I believe we make a really good team. On this particular day, at this particular event, Lori chose to wear a banana costume. Yep. A full-fledged banana suit. 

Oh, how I adore this girl! She was not only open to meeting my Coach and friends, but excited to do so, as well. Runners recognize friendship and “family” in other runners regardless of background or “group association”.

Lori’s magnetic personality (& banana costume) attracted a small following of hopeful runners desiring a sub-2 hour result. Unfortunately, for me, this newly formed “pace group” consisted of a few who like to talk. ALOT. I don’t mind some comfortable, easy conversation on training runs…but when it’s race day and there is a focused goal in mind, I am not one to spend the time, energy, or waste needed oxygen talking about it. Apparently, my face could not even hide my obvious frustration at times.

Many times, I fought the urge to yell: “SHUT UP! JUST RUN!”. Instead, I turned my attention inward and prepared my mind for the miles ahead. We crossed the halfway point and I was pleased at how strong I felt and how easy the pace seemed. I knew that it would not feel like this the entire race though, and Lori knew this/expected this for me, as well, from her previous race experiences with me this summer;  so she allowed me to push the pace a little more than normal. We both knew that any amount of time that I banked now would come in handy late in the race when I would not be feeling as well. I held strong until well into the 10th mile before my struggle began.  At this time, it became necessary for me to run my own race, regardless of what the group chose to do. The ones who had indulged the most in conversation so easily in those early miles were no longer with us or our pace. Lori kept our original aggressive pace and began to pull ahead. I glanced at my watch and did the math; our banked time had earned me a nearly 5 minute window to play with, but I knew from experience how quickly that time can dwindle when the going gets tough. “Run to the pain and push it back.”, I could hear the words of my friend, Joe, echo in my mind. The pressure in my chest began to increase and my shoulders and arms ached. Mentally, I was strong; physically, I was beginning to drag. I knew my pace was beginning to falter, despite my desire to pick it up. I calculated that I just needed to stay above a 10:00/mi pace from now till the end of the race and I could still crush my goal. We had been running in the mid-high 8’s for most of the race, thus far. I could feel the nausea beginning to nag at my throat and I had to take a few deep breaths and control the exhale in hopes of making it subside. We came upon a struggling runner doing the “survival shuffle”,a series of run/walk intervals,while obviously struggling to breathe. I recognized this woman as a friend of mine from another running group. I asked if she was ok? Did she need help? Did she have her inhaler? She assured me that she was fine and waved me on when I slowed down and looked back, feeling my heart strings pulling in her direction. I called up to Lori, who also knows this phenomenal runner, and told her that she is not ok. She was audibly wheezing and I felt deep dread for her wellbeing. She yelled at me to keep my pace and P.R. this race and then she began to speed up and run alongside me. She said, “If I can run this race with a hemoglobin of 7.2, there is no excuse for you not to keep your pace!”. So we ran. I counted my steps and coordinated them with my breaths while she continued her run/walk intervals in her current method of getting this done. As I approached the 12th mile, I realized that Lori was no longer in my sights. My heart sank and I looked down at my watch. Had I lost more time than I thought?! No, I was still good; a nice window of time for the final mile still logged nicely in the previous miles, but the struggle was now very real and I began to search the horizon for “the final hill” that was notorious at this race and still looming somewhere ahead of me. As I approached a sharp right turn up ahead, I could see the runners trekking up a hard core incline and spilling out onto a bridge. This is it. The final hill and the bridge that everyone had told me about. According to them, I would be able to see the Finish line from the top. I could hear the music and the booming voice of the announcer calling out the names of runners as they completed the race. Just as I was about to make the turn towards the hill, I saw Lori standing along the course, waiting for me. She fell into step beside me and told me to power up that hill, adding, “We are almost there.”. We began the climb and I felt the vomit rising up in my throat. “Steady pedal, not cruise control.”, the words of Shep rang out in my head. I shortened my stride and steadied my pace but it was too late. I started vomiting everywhere. Everything went white and I thought I might pass out. I staggered to the guardrail and steadied myself as I continued to vomit. A runner behind me began to ask a thousand questions as I tried to wave her on. “GO!” I was finally able to yell as I heard Lori’s voice enter the conversation and assure the other runners that I was fine. I stood back up and began to shuffle my feet towards the bridge ahead. Once there, the downhill slope was a welcome relief! I let gravity take over and pull me down the hill as I caught my breath and regained my composure. I heard Lori say to take advantage of  the downhill and prepare to pick up the pace. I wiped the mess off my face and shook off the pain. I saw a photographer ahead and faked a smile. I threw my arms in the air and assurred myself that I could still do this. 

The finish line was so close! “There’s your Coach!”, Lori shouted, and my eyes caught a glimpse of Shep and Matt cheering along the course, calling out my name. “Time to peel out!”, I heard Shep say, pun intended, towards Lori’s banana costume. The humor of it did not register in my brain until well after the race. I focused my eyes on the clock and saw that I was still ahead of my goal. I kicked my legs and pumped my arms for the Finish line as fast as I could. I caught Lori and clipped her shoulder, crossing that line just one step ahead of her. A volunteer steadied me and placed a medal around my neck. I made a bee-line for the grassy area at the side of the finisher’s area and immediately began to vomit again. My Coach and my friends crowded around me, offering water and tissues, as I did my best to recover quickly and not alarm anyone. “1:57:35” was my official time! A new P.R. and I could barely contain my excitement…which was a great photo opportunity for the photographers.

So now that it is over, I can’t even begin to express the relief that I feel. This particular race and result are exactly what I needed to restore my faith in myself and my ability. I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I am beginning to see things more clearly, especially in regards to where I need to go from here. I have had an interesting year; packed full of a wide variety of races, conflicting goals, and haphazard training and work schedules. I have trained continuously, raced at two 5K’s, a 10K, two half marathons, a 15-miler, a 30K, three full marathons so far this year. I still have one more half marathon and two more 5K’s to complete this year, and I know no other way than to race then all; striving for new and better P.R.’s at each one. Once all of my race commitments have been fulfilled though, I look forward to focusing on my training again. There are many changes and improvements I plan to make. My biggest goal is to simply focus on one goal at a time and not allow myself to become distracted with “all the pretty race experiences” out there to choose from. I would love to run them all and one day, when I am no longer concerned with goal times and personal records and “Chasing Boston” is a goal that I have laid to rest in my list of personal achievements, I might just do that. Because when the last P.R. has been set and the loftiest personal goal has been attained, the only thing that lasts in running is the act of “lasting”, itself; something that I hope to do for a very long time, if not for all of my remaining life.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

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