Mile 22.5: “The Water Stop; Find Your Second Wind.”

There comes a point in every race, particularly the marathon, when the runner questions their ability to continue. A few more miles down the course, they question their desire. And, if you’re anything like me, at some point you stop counting the miles altogether and start focusing on points; in this case, the water stops. Inevitably, in every race, there is a water stop between miles 22-23. That particular water stop is like a cold drink of water in a proverbial hell of running; a merciful oasis set up to help you find your way through. It is usually at this point in the race where my own water bottle is empty and the welcoming arms and kind faces of the volunteers invite me in as they fill my bottle and hand me a cup. Not usually a moment for conversation, but a silent communication of understanding and support is imparted in their smiles and brief words of encouragement, as I hobble through in an attempt to keep moving forward. I am not the only one. I have looked around with tired eyes and seen many other runners doing the same; sipping the cool water from those cups, letting it refresh them as they summon the mental strength they need to continue on. Collectively, we take a deep breath, we let it out, and quicken the pace once more in search of that ever elusive, yet glorious, “second wind” that carries us “home”, ticking away the miles with a pace ever so slightly faster than the miles before.

Sometimes the same concepts that get you through the tough workouts and races are the same thoughts that get you through this thing called “LIFE”.

Recently, I was offered a complimentary bib into the 2018 Boston Marathon. My profession as a fulltime Paramedic, the recent loss of my parents, and the subsequent emotional and legal struggles we have been facing as a result, apparently pulled at the heartstrings of others like me and it was proposed, out of the goodness of their hearts, for me to run alongside them and their charity group. I respectfully declined. I told only a handful of people I know about this offer and, regretfully, wish I had just kept it to myself. Most of them understood; my coach, close friends, and the few who have run Boston themselves. But there was one whose words were not so kind and whose mind was not open for understanding. “You should have taken it!” He said, “It might be the only real chance you get. Nine minute miles will never get you to Boston.”. My heart sank because a part of me believed he was right. My response though? I am well aware of that fact; but if I never make it, then so be it. I’d rather spend my whole life trying and failing than to take the honor of running this race without having done the work to honestly earn my place there. Gary Robbins, ultrarunner and 3x Barkley Marathons participant, said it perfectly in his own blog, as pictured here in my favorite clip:

Boston is meant to be earned; and I have not yet even come close to achieving this. The charity bib offered to me, although a beautiful gesture, was “a pity bib”. It was offered to console my aching heart and to motivate me to continue running and pursuing my dream of Boston by showing me the reality of the event as it unfolds in real time on April 16, 2018. It’s not how I want to experience this epic race though and I do not feel that my recent life experiences makes me deserving of such an honor. Losing my parents didn’t make me “brave” and wearing my heart on my sleeve by talking, blogging, and posting about it doesn’t make me “courageous”. It’s simply an outlet for me to push the weight of it all off my chest so that I can breathe and go about my days being functional again. It gives me a sense of control over myself and my emotions again. I choose to let it out in hopes that “letting it go” will bring me comfort and that someone out there reading it might realize that they are not alone in the things that they are dealing with as well.

So this is where I am at right now, much like that water stop at mile 22.5, catching my breath and finding the strength I need to continue on. I have a half marathon next weekend that I am not currently prepared to run well or officially “race”. (Which is actually ok since Shep talked me into signing up for it only as a long training run; a way to keep us accountable and motivated to train in these dark days of lingering winter.) But the Pittsburgh Half Marathon is now just 5 weeks away and, despite the roller coaster of emotions, appointments, and court dates that have become my life, I do wish to run our hometown race well. I can’t promise myself a course PR right now but I can promise myself a strong attempt and, as a result, a race day performance that I will be proud of.

My next full marathon is not scheduled until fall of this year, explained in my previous blog posts, over the one year anniversary of my parents deaths; an emotional blow that I was initially not certain I could handle. I considered not running it. This will only set me up for an emotional breakdown on that day though, so this is not the answer nor the solution. Recently, I met up with my Aunt (my mother’s sister and one of her closest friends) at a coffee shop nearby. I had some pictures and belongings from my mom that I thought she might like to have. We talked for several hours, trying to make sense of things and, each of us, searching for closure regarding issues that have been left unresolved since her death. I told my Aunt about my running and about Boston. I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure that she could/would understand, but I ventured to tell her how I had originally hoped this race in the fall would have been my first opportunity to Boston Qualify but how the date was released and my heart just sank. I was unable to read her thoughts by the look on her face. She was looking at me intently and when I paused to wipe the tears from my eyes she said, “Well…you and I both know your mother, and if this is what’s holding you back, you know she wouldn’t want that. She’d tell you to let it go and be happy. Go run that race. And go run Boston too.”

I will never forget that.

As time has gone by, I have secured my lodging reservations, scoped out the course map, and concluded that this is the perfect location and race setup for what I will be in need of that weekend. To get away from home, away from work and the duties of life, to surround myself with friends and nature, perhaps a campfire or two, and a good strong long run; 26.2 miles long to be exact. I already feel the glimmers of competitive hope emerging in me again; thinking, planning, and preparing for a full summer of strong training so that when we arrive at the start line that morning, we will have the option and the ability to unleash my untapped potential on that course and bring home a new marathon PR. I can not confidently say that I will be prepared to BQ that weekend; I still have much further to go. But I am prepared to let go of what holds me back and run my race in a way that would make my mom proud.

So, once again, this is where I am. And in moving forward from this place, I hope to find my own “second wind”; the inner strength needed to continue on and finish this…except that, in my case, I’m nowhere near the finish line yet. In reality, I have only just begun. And so continues my “year of completion”: completing the miles, completing the workouts, completing the races; because sometimes completing the most immediate goal you set before yourself is the only thing that matters and is just what you need to keep moving forward towards your dream.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

**Letter from my mom, Alana Dale Hudson, many years ago as I started out in life on my own.**

Mile 22: “Find Your Way Through.”

“This isn’t ME. I thought that I would be over it by now.” I said to my counselor and was caught off guard by his surprise.

“It’s only been 4 months.” He replied, “Your parents DIED…that’s not exactly something you simply get over, like the flu or a common cold. What happened that day has left an imprint on your life that will never go away. Things will never be the same again.”

The conversation continued with him trying to help me wrap my mind around and accept this grief as a process, not a roadblock or a speed bump. He wisely incorporated my running experiences into an analogy that I can understand. He said: “Think of the marathon; when you get to those late race miles and everything hurts. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally painful. It’s hard to keep going. This is not the point in the race where you stop and think: I need to get over this. No. You don’t get OVER those miles; you find a way to get THROUGH them. Quitting is not an option, and no matter how badly you feel, how much you cry, or disappear into your own mind and personal space, the miles aren’t going away. You don’t get over them. You find a way to get through them. You accept the degree of difficulty and keep moving forward. That is the only way to successfully progress and cross that finish line. So when you start getting down on yourself for how you feel, where you are, or where you think you should be with this great loss, remind yourself that, just like the marathon, this is not something that you get over; you FIND YOUR WAY THROUGH.”

So, here we are, on “Mile 22” of my blog, and well into 2018 already …and still my struggle continues. There is currently no “end” in sight in regards to my parents case. My sister and I continue to face those challenges one court date, email, and phone call at a time. I have become professionally restless, quit my position in the clinic environment, and opted to make the move back onto the front lines of EMS again. It’s a “calling” to those of us who have been in it awhile. (16 years for me.)

The internal, emotional NEED to be there for those in physical need; at all hours of the day/night, in all manner of circumstances, regardless of how ugly, brutal, violent, or shameful it might be. To hold a hand, to save a life, or simply bear witness to what was, and preserve the dignity that such circumstances deserve. To be human and find strength in the act of serving a community of people who are facing their own struggles. In this way, I am better able to see beyond my own problems and continually move forward. It helps me just as much as I help them. As for my running, I do well when Shep and I train together regularly. But I have struggled continually with motivation, belief in myself, and in my goals. Sometimes, when I’m feeling really down, I wonder “what’s the point?”, and I really have no answer for myself; but then I think about Boston. I follow my friends on social media who are training for the 2018 Boston Marathon next month and my heart aches to be among them. I re-read Meb Keflezighi’s book “Run To Overcome” and re-play the marathon clips from 2014, when he won the Boston Marathon the year after the bombings, and again, my heart aches to be there. I have watched YouTube clips, read books, magazines, and even google mapped the Boston Marathon course, turn by turn. I know all the iconic places which I want to see and photograph when it’s my turn to be there. I do my training runs and finish fast, envisioning myself racing across the line of the race that will qualify me. To those who don’t run, it may not make sense; but to those who have ever run for a reason, I know that you know. So my training, as of late, has been inconsistent due to a multitude of factors; out of my control, as well as, self-imposed. My performance and results from last weekend’s Spring Thaw 10-Miler do not lie. I had hoped to hold an 8:55/mi pace and finish under 90 minutes. Instead, the struggle was all too real. My legs could keep pace, but my lungs could not. It was hard for me to breathe. We crossed the halfway point just a little behind pace and Shep hoped that I could pick it up and close the gap on the second half, but I simply could not. By Mile 8, we both knew the plan for a sub-90 finish was no longer possible. Shep had been running slightly ahead of me, as this is usually what will keep me pushing for a faster pace, but now he slowed, turned around, fell in step beside me, and said “If this is all you’ve got, I’m just gonna run with you.”. I replied by raising my middle fingers and huffing under my breath, “Yeah, Shep, this is all I’ve got.”; a moment we laugh about now, because he was not being mean and I was not slacking. He was simply not going to push me for more than what I had when I was obviously running on the edge of my current ability. I ran that race to the best of my ability on that particular day and, for that, I have no regrets. We finished in 1:31:50 which, as it turns out, is a 2:21 course PR for me, so still something to be proud of.

I can honestly say, though, that my training these past several months has not been the best. Some days I could not run, some days I did not want to, and still other days when I showed up but simply finishing the mileage (not keeping a certain pace) was all that I could manage. It has not been easy. Yet, nothing worth having or doing ever does come “easy”; especially Boston. I know this. So this morning when Shep and I were talking, each struggling with our own issues for today (his wife having died just 2 weeks after my parents), we made up our minds that the only way to progress past this point is to “find our way through”. We met up over coffee and laid out our plans. We constructed a training plan, day by day, for the next several months; factoring in work schedules and appointments, and decided upon our races for the year, as well as, our hopes for the year to follow. By doing so, we are building a strong foundation on which to progress and, eventually, Boston qualify. I know that it will not come easy. I know that it will take everything I’ve got, perhaps even more, but I know that it will be worth it in the end. There’s a reason why my mind will not let me forget this dream; a reason why my heart keeps pulling me back to it. And when I finally make it there, and find my “why”; the reason behind “Boston” and all that it will take to get me there, you can trust that I will write about that too. If nothing else, perhaps it will help one of you who read it? And perhaps, in some way or another, my words, my feelings, my struggle, will somehow help you find your own way through?

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun