Thursday, September 8, 2011

I've come a long, long, long way

This is an art blog but I can’t help throwing out a quick personal story. My first thought was to keep it to myself and talk about it with close friends and family. Then I got to thinking about it and how funny the actual event really was and thought maybe I should jot down the details. You know, for memories sake. That’s when a close friend, Kristie (author of Just Being), suggested throwing it in a blog entry. Why not? That way my memories stay somewhat intact and someone, somewhere may actually find it humorous or even relate to it.

this is a map of the island...the race was run on the tiny northern section

My story is about the third annual running of the Beaver Island marathon (their third annual, my first). I decided before my daughter was born that one day, I would like to run a marathon. I actually decided back while running cross country in high school that I would never EVER run a marathon. But something happened to my very pregnant, hormonal self that made me think that this sounded like fun. So, the 175 pound version of myself (Oakley was a 40 pound baby so that’s where all the weight came wasn’t the donuts) set me in motion toward achieving this goal. After she was born, I did some training for a ten mile race and thought “yup, I am definitely doing a marathon”. That’s right, after completing less than half the distance my actual thought was “no problem!” Maybe it was a safe bet because I knew that we wanted to have another baby. That’s at least another whole year, year and a half of not actually having to do it. Then I started talking about it to everyone I knew. Again, my very pregnant self apparently has no ability to or desire to think about what this really means. So, I found myself committed. Truthfully, I did really want to do it and I did na├»vely think it would be no problem.

hmmm, I think I'll run a marathon, sounds fun...
I got to that point in training where I was doing 15, 16, 17 miles and thinking “this is tough, how am I going to add 11, 10, 9 miles to these distances”? But, I figured the good people who write these training programs know what they are doing. If I can just complete training, according to these “good” people, I should be just fine. For giggles, I registered to do a trail half marathon the week before my peak run of 20 miles. It’s called “The Legend” and it’s on a beautiful trail that winds around Lake Ovid at Sleepy Hollow State park in Michigan. I had done the 10 mile race the summer after having Oakley. Now, I don’t know who to blame, him or her…but one of my children must have stolen all my power to accurately keep things in my memory. I forgot about the rough terrain, the hills as steep as walls, the people running up so close behind that I swore I would end up in the bottom of the lake. Then there were those people who talked the entire course. The crazy part wasn’t the talking, it was that they were talking all about how awesome they are and how they had run other races in lightening quick times and they had done marathons and triathalons and all the other “athons” you can do… Keep in mind, these people were behind me. So, I hate to be the one to break it to them but, they aren’t that fast. Cause guess what talkers, I am slow, which means you are slow.

Now, all you real runners out there who know this area might scoff at my description of the course (the guy who sold me my running shoes made me feel like this race is equivalent to floating on a lazy river). But the hills were steep to me. Oh, and did I mention that every step of my training to this point was FLAT. As a pancake. I also experimented with some fueling tactics, like the breakfast that weighed heavy on my belly for the first 4 or 5 miles. Then at the 10th mile, in an act of desperation, I grabbed an energy GU (gel). Now, I had once picked up a running magazine and heard them refer to gels. Other than that, I was completely clueless. My dumb@$$ was doing all my training and placing all my fueling needs on Gatorade. That’s right, Gatorade. And I wonder what (besides the distance) made the training runs so sucky? Anyway, I digress. I grabbed a gel and as quickly as my shaking hands would allow, I squirted the entire content of the pack in my mouth…and almost threw up. What was this stuff? I guess the middle of an extremely difficult race is not the right time to be experimenting with my nutritional needs. So, I finished the race but felt awful. Physically spent. Not a good mental state to put yourself in one week before your longest training run and three weeks before your first marathon.

But, I carried on. After all, I had paid the entry fee (a whopping $90. Why does torture come with such a heavy price tag?), a 50% deposit on a hotel and had Dane take a day off work. Oh, and did I mention that I told everyone I was running a marathon? We were going, no matter what. My last long run (the 20 mile) went surprisingly well (I actually felt like I had a little left, very little, but some nonetheless) and I was back to feeling like I could, in reality, pull this off. I experimented with the gels again and found them to be quite useful. During that last long run, I spaced it out so I had a gel every five miles and Gatorade every fifth mile in between. I had it all figured out…

The two weeks of tapering down felt like I was barely running and left me wondering how prepared I was. How could 20 miles be enough for the longest run when the race was an additional 6 miles? That’s like an extra hour’s worth of running!? Back to the good people who write training programs…they must know what they are doing right? In them and the energy gels, I put my faith… These last few weeks I felt like I had ants in my pants. I just wanted to go and do it and be done already. The mental part of the game was making me tired.

We picked Beaver Island because Dane and I had taken Biology classes there when we were at CMU. We had always talked about going back and thought the marathon was the perfect reason. We planned on running together and had the perfect plan to stagger our runs so we both had time to fit them in. It was the perfect plan…until an old injury popped up on Dane and he was unable to continue with the training. So supportive is Dane that he insisted I keep going and he would be the supportive husband and amazing dad that he is. I am so grateful that we didn’t think the trip through too much (at least I didn’t, Dane is the careful type so I’m sure he knew full well what he was getting into). I won’t really get into the details of the travels, that would be another topic for another time…but if you have ever traveled with an almost 3 year old and a 1 year old then you know. You know that a three hour car ride, followed by a two hour ferry ride ending in a hotel room with no air conditioning on one of the hottest and most humid days of the summer…not a good time. Plus, our kids don’t sleep in cars, Dane got a little seasick on the way over and Truman blew a diaper out getting “poo poo” all over my shorts and shirt …Thankfully, being on an island in the middle of Lake Michigan has benefits and everything calmed and cooled down by nighttime. Also, I gotta say, I am blessed with a little family of troopers.

oakley took this pic while we waited for the ferry
oakley and daddy making the most of a choppy ride
This brings us to marathon morning. I did most of my training runs in the morning before the kiddos got up for the day, so my internal biological clock along with my excitement and anticipation made me wake at 4:30 in the morning. Wow, not a lot to do on the island at 4:30 in the morning. Thankfully, I drifted back off till about 6 and felt fairly energetic when I got up. I wanted to eat early so I popped out of bed and sat down with my power bar and a surprise gift from my best girl friend, Kristie, (not to be opened till race day) to watch the sunrise. By the way, the “hotel without air” had an amazing view of the harbor (hence the name Harbor View Hotel!). I thought the sunrise looked a little bleak until I noticed a brilliant flash of light. Oh, wait a second, that wasn’t the sun. Thunder and lightning surrounded the island as I felt my nerves coming a bit unglued. I opened my special surprise and found the coolest necklace inside. There were two ovals on a chain. One oval had the figure of a female runner etched into it and the other had the numbers 26.2. It was just what I needed. With calmed nerves, I went about the morning getting the kids up and being grateful for the support of my little family and all my friends.

So, in the pouring rain, I left our hot little hotel room to head down the road for the start of my first marathon. Everyone was gathering in a tiny church hall to stay dry before the inevitable drenching. By the time I got there, I was freezing and alone. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t warm up easily…and we’re not talking temperature here, people! I hate being in the middle of a room of strangers where everyone seems to know someone and it’s glaringly obvious that I know no one. Working a room…not my strong suit. Minutes ticked by and I occupied myself with some last minute stretching and trying to make it look like I knew what I was doing. Finally, the runners started to file outside, to be greeted by the cold rain and gray skies (which, by the way, I would take over heat any day of the week and twice on race day). I couldn’t have been more excited than I was when we walked up to the sounds of Eminem singing “you better lose yourself in the music the moment you own it you better ever let it go…” I would just put the name of the song but I don’t know it and am far too lazy to look it up. The moment got even better when the priest decided to say a prayer with Eminem blaring in the background. Just the crazy contrast I needed! I loved it so much I felt like I could cry. We’re talking real tears here.

my little family watched the race through the rain from our hotel window

blowing kisses! i finally saw my sweethearts at mile 16

So I am going to skip forward a bit and summarize the first 13 miles as very rainy (a nice cool blessing!), the next three miles got a little lonely (I hadn’t seen my family yet and there was literally no other runner in sight), the next seven miles were hopeful (I was getting slower but still feeling good) and then I got to number twenty three. Okay, so I had heard of the wall. I even thought about what hitting the wall might feel like. I was completely unprepared for the crazy animal instincts that kicked in once I smashed into the wall. I was honestly hungrier than I have ever been. The people of Beaver Island are lucky that this course was so remote or they would have had a beggar on their hands. Had it been one of those busy marathons, like Chicago or something, I would have dove into crowd and wrestled a hot dog out of a child’s hands. I couldn’t get images of pizza and burgers out of my head. If I never saw another gel again it would have been too soon. At the same time, I was cursing myself for not grabbing one at the last aid station. Apparently my gel every five mile strategy didn’t work out so good. Note to self, “self, you should have trained for this”. This was a bad strategy. I hit the ultimate low right after passing the 24th mile marker. By the way, this course consisted of a small loop and a big loop. The big loop was essentially running out five miles and coming back, on the same road, five miles. There were more mile markers posted than street signs in a crowded neighborhood. The first time I did the big loop and glanced at the 24th mile marker, I couldn’t help but to dream about how awesome that point would feel. I have never been so grossly off on anything in my whole life. When I saw this marker again, I actually had to physically stop myself from diving into and eating the vegetation on the side of the road. All I wanted was food.

this was the image in my brain during miles 23 and 24

finally, the final turn...i could literally see the finish. and people eating drinking. i no longer wanted to tackle them, i just wanted to join them!
Then something happened that changed everything. I still don’t know what it was, but I hit mile 25 and I felt totally fine. I picked up my pace and finished the race close to the pace I started with. It felt great. That is, it felt great until I stopped and had a difficult time feeling normal. Now, one of the thoughts that I had that kept me going through the entire race was the description the event coordinators offered: After your race enjoy a ‘dip’ in the cool, pristine waters of Lake Michigan! The race ends on a Lake Michigan Beach! As you emerge from your quick swim enjoy a cold beer and pizza compliments' of the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce.” Is this not the most blissful sounding race end that anyone can imagine? So, I bravely marched up to the keg. Then I saw the orange slices and immediately remembered my extreme hunger. I started grabbing oranges slices by the handfuls and literally shoving them in my mouth…oh the sweet taste of food! Within minutes, I was feeling better and decided to fulfill my dream of finishing the race and enjoying an ice cold beer. It was fantastic! Maybe the best beer I have ever tasted. It wasn’t until I heard the beer lady in the background calling out “come get your Blue Moon” that I realized the orange slices that I gobbled up like a ravenous pig were garnishes for the beer…and I ate them all. Oh yeah, and did I mention that this race was tiny and the crowd was very aware of what was going on. I turned around and noticed, to my horror, that the orange slice tray had been conveniently moved from public grasp…oops.

I have to digress for just a moment before I wrap this “not so short” story up. The night before the race my amazing and ultra supportive husband asked if I thought I would ever run another marathon. My answer was that I probably would. I would like to fulfill the plan of us running one together one day. When we met at the finish, the first thing I said to him was “the answer is no…to your question last night, the answer is no. I will never do this again”. Miles 23 and 24 were too fresh in my mind. It was much later that I remembered that I actually do love to run. I wish I had greeted him with something more positive....but oh well, I didn't. He understands. He's that kind of guy. We spent the rest of the day and evening just hanging out with the kids, taking a dip in the pool and relaxing. The next day was pretty much a repeat of the travel and then home!

more boat fun on the way home

Monday was labor day so we spent some time together just kind of doing our thing. I decided to google a plan on how to recover from a marathon. As it turns out, this is something that should be done before actually running the race. Again, oops. I didn’t do a single thing on the list of things to do upon completion of the race. Instead of keeping my legs loose, I instantly sat down. Instead of hydrating, I drank beer. Instead of stretching, well, I didn’t stretch…at all. I thought I was a planner, but apparently everything ended when I crossed the finish line. So now here I sit, four days later, and I have come full circle. I do want to run another marathon…someday. I feel like my initial reaction was to curse the whole thing because of two very tough miles. What about the fact that the other 24 felt great? The competitive person in me can’t help but to think that with the proper fuel I can do better. By the way, the "good people" who write the training programs are good people. I felt physically and cardiovascularly prepared to complete the race. There are lots of good programs out there but I followed one by Hal Higdon - in case your interested. He offers amazing resources and training programs for all different distances and levels of experience.

At first I wasn’t going to share my time. Truth be told, I have no reference to whether or not my time is good. I left thinking I would be happy around four and a half hours. I finished the first half in two hours and five minutes…so, I naturally got ahead of myself and began thinking that I wouldn’t be happy unless I was around four hours and ten minutes. My first thought when I rounded the final corner and saw the clock (at my original "happy time" of four hours thirty one minutes) was disappointment. Before I even crossed the line I was doing the math on how long it took me to finish the second half. But truth be told, now that everything has settled and I have regained some perspective, I am simply happy for the experience. I am so very grateful to have the health to have finished at all. I can’t thank my husband enough for getting up with the kids every Saturday morning so I could complete my long runs. I was so happy to have the special necklace around my neck the entire race (I think I reached up and touched it no fewer than 1,000) times. I am so grateful to my family for supporting me and for making such a sacrifice to travel all that distance so I could do this. I am thankful to anyone who actually makes it through my not so short story!

I will leave everyone with one parting thought…a lesson to take from all of this…if you want to do something, you can do it. But, it’s better if you don’t eat the garnishes!

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