MCM 2012 Recap – a day that could not be bad

Sunday morning as I stepped up to the start line of my 10th marathon, I knew in my heart that it could not be a bad day.  No matter how things went down, I was going to hold my head up high and be grateful for the privilege to run my 10th marathon.

Yes, PRIVILEGE.

I am truly grateful for the GIFT of running.  For my healthy body.  For my strong heart.  For the wonderful friends it has brought into my life.  I am grateful to have such a passion – one that is not only essential to my well being and to my inner balance, but one that is also good for my physical health.  No matter how much I struggled that day, and I was sure to struggle, I would come out on top.  I would come out a stronger, happier, more alive version of myself.  This is one of the most valuable lessons of the marathon.  It is about the journey, not the destination.  It is about how you appreciate the highs and grow through the lows.  It’s about how you handle the toughest moments and celebrate your victories no matter how tiny they may seem in that moment.  It’s about the people in your heart – the people who you love and who love you – your “pack.”  It’s about so much more than crossing a finish line with a certain time on the clock.

I’ll be honest though, I wasn’t arriving at the start line that day feeling my very best at all.  I was off emotionally – really off – and trying to collect myself, clear my head of the things that were bugging me, and cheer myself up before the race even started.  Needless to say that wasn’t how I wanted to be feeling going into a 26.2 mile race I had trained so hard for.  But it was what it was and right away I knew that the only person who was in control of me was me.  So I stood there with my good friends so near to me and I reminded myself:

This is who I am.
This will not – and in fact cannot – go badly.
This is my passion and a privilege.

And then it was time to go.

The first 8 miles of this race are pretty much all hills.  I didn’t tell myself to run a particular pace on them.  My plan was to have it feel easy through the hills and really through the first 10 miles.  It just needed to feel SO easy.  I didn’t look at my watch much at all.  I wanted to dial into myself, to not lose myself, and for it to feel effortless.  I was just “going for a run” at that point – no racing, no pushing, no hurting.  As I ran along it was just how I wanted it to be – I felt like I was holding myself back.  I felt completely in control.  I was having fun and soaking it all in.

Miles 1-10:
7:37, 7:50, 7:19, 7:06, 7:28, 7:20, 7:46, 7:18, 7:24, 7:10

Miles 9 and 10 bring us into and through Georgetown, which is a really special part of the city for me.  This was my 4th time running MCM and this is absolutely always a favorite part of the race for me.  I have a lot of great life memories in and around Georgetown (I went to high school there, I lived and worked there, my husband proposed to me there…) and it always just brings a smile to my face when I arrive there.  From here we loop around by the Kennedy Center and then make our way towards Haines Point, which is a very dreaded part of the course for most people because it can be extremely windy even on the nicest of days.  Suffice it to say, the day before a hurricane the winds were INSANE on Haines Point this year.  Once I realized just how strong they were, I decided that I would not fight it.  I was not going to spend a ton of energy pushing against the wind.  I decided I would rather slow down and let it feel easy than suffer so soon in the race.  Ducking behind people when I could, I eased up and did not worry about my pace. I would need the energy for later, when things would likely be even tougher than this.

Miles 11-17 (Haines Point)
7:28, 7:28, 7:29, 7:41, 7:43, 7:37, 7:26

Mile 17ish

When I finally turned out of Haines Point I was relieved – I could turn my jets on in just two more miles.  I was excited because my legs felt amazing.  I had survived a really tough 7 miles and my pace hadn’t slowed all that much through there even though I wasn’t pushing to hold it. About halfway through the 18th mile though a wave of nausea washed over me.  It was the strangest feeling – one I had never before experienced while running.  I was very aware of it but it went away as quickly as it came so I decided not to worry about it.

And then, about 10 seconds later, I knew I was in trouble.  I needed a bathroom IMMEDIATELY.  There was a water stop ahead and I was so grateful because that meant there would be porta potties and I could make it quick.  But there were no bathrooms to be found.  None.  I stopped running and walked, feeling so worried but knowing there was nothing I could do except move forward.  My awesome friend Maddie was spectating the course and had hopped in with me to see how I was doing.  I told her I was really worried – I really COULD NOT RUN in the situation I was in.  She helped me stay focused and I tried to run again.  Nope, not happening.  Finally I just got desperate.  I crossed the 18 mile marker and saw a tree off to the side of the road.  I cannot believe I did this – but I literally ran behind that tree on the downtown mall of DC and took care of business in broad day light in the middle of the marathon.  I have no idea if anyone could see me, but I didn’t care.  I knew I lost time but I tried not to worry about it.  I hoped my stomach would feel better and tried to find my pace again.  The next few miles were a major struggle for me.  My stomach did not feel better, in many ways it felt worse, but it was okay enough to keep running.  My pace didn’t feel natural and my breathing was way off and LOUD.  I got back into the 7s for miles 20-21 over the not-so-fun bridge but towards the end of the bridge I felt really off again.  My stomach was really unhappy with me.  I couldn’t believe it but as I neared the end of the bridge I literally stopped – dead in my tracks.  I stood there and said out loud to myself:

Hold it together, J.

Do not give up.

Ever.

Collect yourself.

You have a marathon to finish today.

Miles 18-22
7:52, 8:41, 7:49, 7:50, 8:07

I willed myself, out loud, to keep going.  I told myself that if I needed a bathroom again, I would deal with it.  I mean heck I had already done pretty much the most embarrassing thing possible on the downtown mall, how much worse could it be!?!  I would take it one step at a time and deal with it if and when I had to.

I came into Crystal City and heard the cheering of my lululemon wonderfuls.  The sound of their energy and music and support from up ahead brought tears to my eyes in the best way possible.  I had been looking forward to this moment – to seeing them and hearing them and feeling them.  It was an amazing moment.  Their awesomeness lifted my spirits and helped me find my wings again.  They helped me remember why I was there.  Because I love it.  Because I am strong.  Because I am passionate.  Because I am blessed.  Because I am not a quitter.

Mile 23:
7:31

Mile 23 Rejuvenation ~ Photo by Bobby Gill

I felt like I soared through there, and when that mile was completed I only had 3 more to go.  And then my stomach lurched on me again.  I scanned my body and knew my legs had so much more in them than they were giving.  My legs felt amazing.  They were not cramping or exhausted at all.  The trouble was with my stomach.  It felt so very off.  I felt like I was jogging the last three miles of the race, and though I knew I was coming through triumphant and strong with a new PR on a tough day, it was a strange feeling to finish with so much more to give in so many ways.  I have now had GI issues at mile 17/18 for three out of my last four marathons!  It is embarrassing but it is a reality for me.  One that I have to figure out how to correct.  Soon.

As I ran those last 3.2 miles, I began to reflect on the day already – on the race and on how I had handled all of it.  I felt proud of myself – there were so many moments during those last 8 miles when I really could have thrown in the towel.  Goodness knows so much of me wanted to quit – GI issues are zero fun to deal with and losing so much time because of it was mentally SO HARD for me to deal with.  I wanted to hold my head up high though.  I told myself – just keep running – who cares how fast or how slow you have to go – just keep running.

Miles 24-26.2
8:22, 8:28, 8:40

When I crossed the finish and made it up past the medals, I saw Dorothy right away.  She gave me a huge hug and told me she was so proud of me.  It could not be a bad day, no matter how hard it was.  I PR’d on a tough day – I toughed it out – and I should be proud.  And I was.

friends in running & in life

No marathon is ever easy.  They are ALL hard.  Harder than hard.  But no matter how you do – no matter what the time on the clock is when you cross the finish line – you are triumphant.  You come out of it a stronger person.  You learn things about yourself and about your character.

On Sunday I learned that I can endure pretty much anything.  That perspective matters more than you realize most days.  Reality is always going to be whatever it is going to be, but we make choices every day about how we see it and about how we deal with it.

I am proud of the way that I handled things on Sunday.  I finished the race in 3:25:20.  This was a 9 minute PR for me and 16 minutes faster than I ran the same course one year ago.  It was my 10th marathon.  I was the 115th female to cross the finish and 13th in my age group.

I am grateful for and proud of those stats, but MUCH more than that I am beyond grateful for my journey in life, and for the fact that running marathons is a part of the path I am choosing to take.

marathon eve – getting ready to celebrate

This week has been a little (ok, maybe a lot) crazy for me.

My emotions have been all over the place.  I’ve been sleeping more than I have in a long time, yet at times I’ve felt absolutely restless and anxious and have found myself staring up at the dark ceiling in the middle of the night, unable to doze back into a slumber for a little while.  My thoughts aren’t totally coherent when it comes to my pre-race anxiety, they sort of bounce all over the place.  If I start to doubt myself or feel nervous about the race, within seconds those feelings are replaced with sheer excitement and giddiness, certainty that I can and will do what I am setting out to do, and a powerful sense of calm and peacefulness about it.

I am SO grateful to be arriving at the start line of my 10th marathon feeling the way that I am.  Having made it through some pretty incredible months of training uninjured, stronger than ever, passionate about my sport and about my life.  And totally and completely happy.

This training cycle has been about discovery.  I have discovered a strength within myself that I never imagined could exist.  I have also realized that there is just this tremendous amount of love all around me – love from the truest of friends and from my beautiful family.  I will be running with a grateful heart tomorrow.

It is Marathon Eve.  Tomorrow will be a celebration.  A celebration of the many gifts I have been given in life.  A celebration of where I am in this very moment.  A celebration of who I am.  A celebration of my family, my friends, and my health. A celebration of all of life’s gifts.

Yesterday I went to the Expo to get my race bib.  I had a friend who SO kindly offered to pick it up for me on Thursday (because she is awesome) so I wouldn’t have to drive across the city on a busy day to get it.  It would have made my day ten million times easier if I had avoided the Expo.  But there were two reasons I REALLY wanted to go:

(1) I wanted to be a part of the pre-race excitement.  Expos are fun and there is so much energy buzzing all around in that room.  I wanted to feel that and experience it.

(2) I wanted to go because my dear friend and AfterNuun Delight van mate, Kim, was going to be there.  And I really NEEDED a hug from Kim.  If you have ever met this woman, then you for sure know exactly what I am talking about.  It was worth the drive and the time to get that hug.  Seeing Kim and talking with her was EXACTLY what I needed yesterday.  She looked me straight in the eyes and told me to relax, to not worry about what anyone else around me is doing, to remember that I am doing something that I LOVE tomorrow, and to think of this race as one big giant present.  And, of course, to have FUN.  She said – “just go for a run” – and there was so much wisdom in her words.

FRIENDS

Kim is good with advice and she does not hesitate to share what is in her heart.  She has amazing perspective.  SHE is a gift – love, gratitude, kindness – a true, true friend.  I have known her a short time, but I am telling you there is this tremendous amount of trust I have in her, and in so many of the amazing people I met when I ran Hood to Coast with Nuun this summer.

The heart doesn’t need time to love someone – it just happens.  Sometimes in an instant.  I trust my heart.  It has always led me to good places and to good people, when I REALLY listen to it.

Tomorrow, I will let my heart lead me.  And my legs will follow.

Late yesterday afternoon I opened the mail and was so surprised to find a letter from my sweet friend Molly who I shared a room (and bed!) with in Seattle before we went to Hood to Coast.  I haven’t gotten “real” mail like this in a long long time, and it just made me so happy to hear from her.

It was another reminder of how blessed I am in life.  A reminder that I get to decide how I choose to live.  My perspective, my attitude, my happiness, my gratitude – this is up to me.

from molly

Tomorrow I am going to keep all of this in mind.  I am going to think about all of the colors in my life.  The people in my life.  The choices I make and the gifts I have been given and what I choose to do with them.

And I will celebrate all of it with one awesome, beautiful, 26.2 mile long run.

Marine Corps Marathon, here I come!!

a different kind of but

It’s 4am and I’ve been up for a while.  Sometimes this happens – I’ll get up in the middle of the night but I am usually able to fall back asleep with no problem.  Not today.  Today I woke up and my eyes were not closing, my mind was busy and I knew that if I stayed in bed I would just stare up at the darkness and THINK.  In a totally unproductive way.  Not good.  So instead, I got dressed for my long run early, made a hot cup of coffee and sat down with my Believe I Am training journal and got it allllll out.  I feel incredibly at peace right now after that.  It was just what I needed.  To sit alone with my thoughts and write them out on paper with pen in hand.  Come to terms with what’s bugging me.  Let it go and get to the bottom of it.  To build myself up from the inside out.

To remind myself to have faith in who I am and in what I believe I can do.

The thing is, I know that I have the fitness to run a strong, really-amazing-for-me marathon, in one week.  I do.  I have earned it.  I have seen it and I have felt it.  Why then, do I keep hearing the word “BUT” in my head?

I have the fitness, BUT anything can happen in a marathon. I could get my heart broken.
I have the courage, BUT who knows how I will feel on race day.  Maybe I just will feel off.
I have the strength, BUT two of my kids are sick and maybe my immune system will fail me.
I have the determination, BUT my stomach could blow up on me and I could spend many minutes running in and out of port o potties along the course.
I have the experience, after 9 marathons, BUT who has the kind of year I’ve had, PRing in the marathon by an hour+ and then wants to chop off another 25 minutes in just one cycle??

I am so sick and tired of hearing the BUTS in my head!  I’ve decided that if I’m compelled to use that word, I am going to have to use it in a better, more positive, way.

Sure, I cannot predict the outcome of my race BUT I can decide how I feel about it!  This is my story to tell.  I get to decide what colors are in it.

Sure there are so many things that may be out of my control on race day – that is the nature of the marathon! – BUT I can control how I handle them.  I CAN control my attitude and I CAN control my perspective.  It truly is up to me and THAT is a beautiful, amazing thing!

People always talk about the heartbreak of the marathon and there is sooo much truth to that.  I have felt it many times over – BUT there is so much beauty to it and this is one of the reasons why I keep coming back for more.  I’m sure you know this quote “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  I live my life by this quote!!  I would so much rather love and live passionately and purely, and get my heart broken and shattered, than to never feel those amazing feelings that love brings to me.  It is the way I am built and may be one of the reasons that marathoning resonates so well with my spirit.  My heart may get broken on race day, that is a simple truth I must accept – BUT it will be worth it a million times over.  And I will pick up the pieces and build myself back up no matter what.  It is never the end, only the beginning of something new.  Every single marathon teaches me something about myself – every single one – and I am so looking forward to what awaits me on race day no matter what the time on the clock says.  THIS fact excites me and soothes me – and gives me so much hope.  It reminds me of why I am even doing this – not for some time on a clock but for self improvement and self love and passion and joy and living.  I feel so ALIVE in the throes of a marathon.  So very alive and grateful.

So, no more bad buts.  No more.  I am done with them.  I am going to check myself every time I go to say that word.

In one week from today I will get ready to spread my wings.

And FLY.

With a HAPPY heart.

tapped out and filled up

With just 9 days to go until my 10th marathon, I am getting REALLY excited. 

This week I’m logging around 45 miles – half as many as I did at the peak of my training a little over a week ago.  I find it totally mind-blowing that for this same race one year ago, the peak of my training was just shy of 50 miles.

I have come a long, long way over the last year.

My body is feeling good and strong.  It is enjoying the extra rest.  I can almost feel the energy building up in my legs.  The tightness that kind of lingers in certain spots is gradually loosening.  My mind is adapting … I would be lying if I said I don’t feel like a crazy person much of the time.  Because I DO really feel like a pretty major kook.  But in my heart – I trust the taper.  I believe there is magic in it and I know that when it’s time to run my race I will be able to spread my wings and fly.

Each week during this training cycle the honey badgers and I have met at the local high school track on Wednesday mornings.  As a result, Wednesday is possibly the hardest day of the week for me – and therefor the most rewarding.  This week was the last HARD track workout of the training cycle because next week we will just run a couple of goal race pace miles around the track – more an exercise of controlling our energy and pace and holding back when we want to go fast than it is working to get faster.  At this point, the hay is in the barn and we are not making gains in speed or fitness.  We are making gains in confidence and saving our energy for the big day.

This week’s workout was the following (with a 1 mile warm up, 2 minutes of active rest between each interval, and a 1 mile cool down):

1×1600
6:11

2×800
3:00, 2:58

4×400:
1:23, 1:22, 1:26, 1:24

I ran these all by feel, which is so awesome because with each passing week I’m really learning how to dial into listening to my body while I run and especially when I push myself.  I felt so elated when the workout was done – so completely satisfied.  I finish these workouts feeling as though I’ve simultaneously tapped myself out and filled myself up.  I know I could keep going if I had to, that I am always reserving some bit of heart and energy for myself.  And I am doing more than I ever would have dreamed I could possibly do.

Yesterday I checked in with the McMillan calculator and was really surprised to see that my paces were all in the range for a 3:05 marathon.  What!?!  I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to shoot for exactly on race day – I know without a doubt that I’m going to listen to my body and to my heart, that I am going to give it all that I’ve got and that I’m going to run a SMART race.  I want to come across that finish line knowing that I gave it everything I had, yet completely spilling over with happiness and gratitude.

One more long run to get in the books – 12 miles on Sunday.  And a few more miles to go after that, before I line up at the start line on October 28th.  I cannot wait for this race!

a killer track workout and dreaming bigger

Yesterday was an important track workout for the honey badgers.  With our marathon just a little over 2 weeks away, this was going to be one of the last really challenging track workouts on our training schedule.  We needed to make it count yesterday.  We needed to step up to the daunting task and hang outside our comfort zone for a while.  I think all of us were dreading it, just like we dread every other track workout before we get started.  They are HARD.  But they are always worth it.  Every single time.

Yesterday’s workout was as much about testing our fitness as it was about renewing our faith in ourselves and in our training.  It was about reminding us that we are where we are for a reason.  We’ve done the work to bring us to this point.  We’ve earned it.  We’ve shown up each and every week for run after run AFTER RUN – no matter the weather or the time of day or how badly we didn’t feel like showing up.  Or what was going on in our lives.  We’ve put in the time and the energy and the work.  Now we need to own it.  We need to believe that we can and we WILL do what we are setting out to do.  Everything is falling into place now as we begin our taper … and it is so cool to witness, in myself as well as in each one of my incredible friends.

Perseverance (aka, Dora)

The plan – 10 sets of 800s at a controlled – yet fast – pace.  Also known as “Yasso 800s,” this workout is KILLER and is a fantastic gauge of both physical and mental stamina.  Ten repeats is a lot, and 800s (two laps around the track) are FAST.  But you cannot make them too fast at first, or you will regret it then feel drained and heavy for the later sets.  Running on the track teaches you to push yourself in a controlled way.  You must learn to listen to your body, otherwise you will fizzle out or worse – hurt yourself.  When you practice pushing through discomfort, you come to realize that you can go even farther and are capable of so much more than you thought possible.  The track teaches you to embrace your own edges and the discomfort that exists there.  It shows you that you are the one in charge – perspective is a CHOICE and the track is great place to practice this.

Track workouts are different from the marathon in so many ways – the workouts are shorter, the paces are faster, the PAIN is different – yet the mental strength and self awareness they require are one and the same if you ask me.  What I learn about myself on the track, I know I can and will apply to my racing on marathon day.  Start out strong and determined, push myself – yet hold back in the beginning because I have a LONG way to go.  And when the end is near, when I know it is safe to do so, I will give it everything I’ve got and finish fast and strong.

Before heading to the track yesterday, I checked out what paces McMillan recommended I try to hit for a 3:15 marathon.  He suggests a range of 3:04-3:10 for 800s.  I wasn’t sure how it would feel, so I just dialed in and went with it.  I am pretty certain that I was right where I needed to be.

10×800 with 2 minutes active rest between each:
3:10, 3:04, 3:07, 3:07, 3:06, 3:05, 3:04, 3:04, 3:02, 2:55

The last few weeks of my training have inspired me to DREAM BIGGER than a 3:20 marathon.  At first this thought really scared me.  My PR (set this spring) is a 3:34.  Fourteen minutes is a LOT to try to shave off in one cycle, especially after making such huge leaps this past year.  BUT it is what it is and I am so grateful.  I know that I am capable of more.  I have earned it.  I truly believe that.  So in the next couple of weeks I am going to be putting my heart out on the line, setting goals for this race and dreaming very very very BIG dreams.