Saturday, December 3, 2011

In The Woods

Today I celebrated the 2nd anniversary of the day I fell in love with trail running.

It was December 5th, 2009 and though I'd been running for about a year I'd never ventured onto the trails. I was deeply depressed because in a two week period I'd gone through an unexpected and extremely painful break-up and found out that I was losing my business due to the economy. I woke up that day, which was my birthday, and all I wanted to do was stay in bed, drink whiskey and eat chocolate. I felt sad and pathetic and alone and mad at myself for taking a chance on a relationship and a business and seeing both fail.

But for some reason I dragged my pitiful self out of bed and resolved to try the trails. My best friend had been encouraging me to go check out the Wildwood for months but I'd put it off as I focused on my fall road races. I'd just completed 3 marathons in 61 days to qualify for the Marathon Maniacs and my body felt as beat up as my heart and soul did. I thought, might as well go check out this Wildwood, just so I can say I did, and if it sucks, well I'm already miserable.

I went to what I thought was the Wildwood trailhead, but later found out was the Birch trail, and immediately headed down a steep hill. I picked my way slowly through the mud, feet slipping in my worn out road shoes, and willed myself to keep moving as I intersected with Wildwood and headed into the woods. I ran slowly, scared to death of falling on the uneven, muddy trail and as I ran I cried, I cried until I couldn't cry anymore.

Then a funny thing happened. As corny as it sounds, I felt like I was reborn that day. It took a while for the peace and beauty of the woods to seep into my soul but when it did, it washed over the hurt and the pain like cream on a burn. I felt comfort among the trees, listening to the birds, breathing in the fresh cold air and I realized that that although I was in pain, I was strong and I would survive. There in the woods I resolved to keep moving forward and make some changes in my life.

When I tried that first trail run I'd never spent much (or any) time in the woods, though I'd lived in Oregon for many years. I just didn't think of it. We didn't have woods growing up in Chicago and I didn't realize the appeal. Since that first time I ventured out to do a few miles on Wildwood I've traversed all 31 miles of that trail, and many other trails throughout the area. I love the trails and feel fortunate to be so close to so many incredible places I can run.

Running through those woods I feel happy, I feel like a child. I didn't have the privilege of a childhood, living with fear and neglect and poverty, but in the woods I'm the child I wish I could have been: young and carefree and light and happy. In the woods I feel alive.

One year later I recreated that first trail run, re-tracing my steps, and today I did that again, my annual homage to that "special day" that for once really was special. I run not only to commemorate that fateful trail run but also to celebrate another year of life, another year of being active, another year of evolving and growing.

During my first trail run I vowed to eliminate the negative people from my life and only surround myself with people who treated me the way I deserve to be treated. I resolved to work less and play more. Today I find myself surrounded by a wonderful circle of friends who share my interests and lead healthy lifestyles. We run together, go to classes, have a beer. We laugh, we share, we spend days cooped up in van doing a relay. And while I haven't found love again, I'm open to the possibility that it can happen, that it will happen some day.

Before that first trail run I didn't find a lot of joy in my running. Although I was thrilled to have qualified for Maniacs I started each race with an anxiety attack and grim determination to not embarrass myself. I had a secret fear that someone would realize I was an impostor and ask me to leave the race. I finished my races feeling only relief, no sense of accomplishment or joy, the negative voice in my head criticizing my performance. Today I start a race excited, usually surrounded by runners I know, and even when I finish last I'm thrilled to be there and actually enjoy racing. Where I used to be embarrassed by how slow I am, now I proud that I can do it. In the 2 years since I found myself on the trail, I have run farther and longer than I ever dreamed I would go, farther and longer than most people ever go. I've dug deep into myself to find the determination to keep going no matter how much it hurts, no matter how tired I am.

I've changed in other ways as well. Today as I ran I saw someone I know on the trail. Now I hardly ever go for a run or to the gym without seeing someone I know now. The old me had a very small circle of acquaintances, the new me is blessed to be a part of a large group of some of the most kick-ass women runners in Portland, to have lots of real and virtual friends on DailyMile and lots of buddies in the Maniacs.

The old me would have been embarrassed to run with people faster than me, worried they had to slow down so much. Now I regularly run with people who are several minutes a mile faster than I am. The old me wouldn't reach out to people to make plans or try new classes or go to events or attend a group even, but the new me puts herself out there.

As I ran today I reflected on all the positive changes in my life, and I felt content. I also thought about a colleague who died this week, and how fleeting this life really is. I thought about friends who have had the gift of running taken away from them, betrayed by their bodies, and I thanked my body for hanging in there with me for 44 years, even though I haven't always treated it the best, or always appreciated what it can do. I don't have the perfect body, I carry around much more weight than I should, and eat too much crap, but my body still gets me through a marathon - and farther. There are steel rods in my spine and other various issues that cause me pain, but my body perseveres through long runs and yoga and all the activities that make up this active lifestyle I love so much now.

The forest was quiet today. It was a beautiful day, cold but dry, the fog low in some places on the trail, like a children's fairy tale. Today I ran without a watch, without a thought for speed. I ran when I felt like running, I walked when I felt like walking, I stomped through puddles and up and down hills with joy. Today, like the forest, I'm alive.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chicago Marathon Race Report October 2011

It’s been 18 years since I moved from Chicago but two things are still as true as they were the day I left:  the Golden Nugget is still serving pancakes 24 hours a day on Clark Street and it’s not the heat that kills you, it’s the humidity.

I was really excited to go back to Chicago to do my hometown marathon for the first time.  I remember years ago when I lived there I was trying to go to work one Sunday and couldn’t get there because the streets were closed for the marathon.  Sitting there in my car, weighing about 300 pounds, I was absolutely livid that they’d close the streets and inconvenience me for a bunch of “damn runners”.  If you’d told me then I’d be back almost 20 years later, 100 pounds lighter, and excited to join the “damn runners” I would have thought you were crazy.

I arrived in Chicago Friday night and immediately started eating all the foods I can’t get in Portland, starting with real pizza.  Mmmm,  Chicago pizza.  The next morning I had a breakfast skillet about twice the size of my head and we headed downtown for the Expo.  (Note to newbies: eating huge quantities of fatty food the day before a marathon is not actually your best plan).

The Chicago Marathon Expo is HUGE.  I was a little star struck as I saw people like Hal Higdon and Scott Jurek wondering around.  My brother George & I got our race packets, snagged some samples and headed over to the pasta dinner.  I’m not huge on the pasta dinner, especially when it’s the overpriced event dinner, but George wanted to check it out so I went along.  Had a mediocre dinner and went back to the hotel to get ready for our big adventure the next day.   As I started laying my clothes out for the race George asked me what I was doing.  “I’m making my flat Rose”, I told him.  “I’d better get started making my Flat Awesome then,” he replied.  No shortage of self-esteem in that kid.

After a typically restless pre-race sleep George & I were up early to get down to the start.  We walked about 1.5-2 miles to the start and I noted that I was already sweating from the humidity.  Bad sign. After several trips to the port-a-potties and some nice chats with a newbie and a really sweet fellow maniac, we were ready to roll. 

Chicago is by far the largest race I’ve ever done, with 45,000 people registered.  It took us about 35 minutes to get across the start but the energy and music made the time pass quickly.  As we approached the start line they started playing “My Kind of Town” and I sang along happily.  We shuffled across the start but it was probably a good quarter to half mile before we could start to run due to the crowd.  I took off at an easy pace. A variety of factors have contributed to my current speed being the slowest it has ever been since I started racing and I knew the heat and humidity wasn’t going to help me either so I resolved to just have fun and enjoy my foot tour of my hometown.

In his usual fashion George had done absolutely no training for the marathon and in fact had never run more than 16 miles, and that was when he was swept during last year’s marathon.  Like me he’s overweight and lacking any natural athletic talent so we both knew going in that it was highly unlikely he’d actually finish the race.  We’d decided that we’d start together and I’d drop him when he needed to slow down.  It didn’t take long. About a mile into the race we went under an overpass where a long line of guys were peeing on the wall (so rude to pee when the girls can’t!) and George said,  “Hey I’ve gotta take a leak, I’ll catch up with you.”   I laughed because I knew between my being faster and the crowds I’d never see him again.  And I never did.  He did actually get close to mile 21 before he got swept from the course so I was very impressed that he got that far.

After I dropped George I looked around and realized I was right in the 5:30 pace group.  Not my best racing strategy but for the hell of it I decided to see how long I could keep up with them since a 12:35 pace is blazing fast for me right now.  I hung on with them for 30 minutes before I cracked and I was pleased with that effort.  Then I started the gradual slow down that would last for the remainder of the race.  I alternated running and walking and later downshifted to  shuffling and walking.  I didn’t listen to any music, just enjoyed the sights and the energy of the crowd.

This race was a bit of memory lane for me…..going past Rush Street where I went to get drunk on free drinks when I turned 21…going past the Golden Nugget where you could find me eating pancakes any weekend during my 20s after the bars closed…passing restaurants and shops that I was surprised were still there…going through Chinatown and Greek town…passing White Sox park…staring at the Sears Tower which oddly enough seemed to be visible no matter where you were on the course, regardless of the direction you were going, yet it never got closer.  I also thought fondly of all the friends I’ve lost touch with over the years, or maybe only know on Facebook now, and the good times we had in the 80s and early 90s.

It seemed wherever I went on the course I was reminded of my life in Portland too….I passed a sign that said “Some day you won’t be able to do this, today is NOT that day” and thought of my friend Seth who had to retire from running…I passed a few people handing out donuts and thought of my Krispy Kreme-obsessed friend Esther…Greektown reminded me of Betty, etc.  I also thought of all my fellow chicks running the Portland marathon at the same time, especially Lynn and Liz and Amy, and focused on sending them good vibes for their own races.

I tried to talk to a few runners on the course and when several of them acted like I was crazy (and one was openly hostile to me) I was reminded of a conversation I had with my friend Andleeb about how much friendlier runners are in the northwest.  I did have a great time finally meeting fellow Maniac Dave Mari and talking to another guy who was using the race to qualify for Maniacs.

Over my summer of relays I’d made a conscious decision to focus on shorter faster runs and I started to really feel the combination of lack of endurance work and heat/humidity around mile 18.  I spent a couple miles feeling like death before I passed a handsome young man passing out beer to the runners.  “You have beer?!??”  I said in excitement.  The young hottie gave me a Miller Lite and I said gratefully,  “I LOVE YOU!”   He smiled and said,  “Well have the whole can then!”  I declined that offer, fearing my already wonky stomach would completely rebel, but that beer really perked me up.  Like Popeye’s spinach the beer gave me the boost I needed to get through the race.

I was pleasantly surprised at the crowd support at this race.  Seemed like on nearly every block there were cheering spectators, people passing out water or food or beer or jello shots (seriously) or people sprinkling you with garden hoses to cool you off.  It was awesome.  And did I mention the hottie with the beer?

As generally happens for me I had a nice spurt of energy right at the end so I could put in a nice kick at the end.  I cruised across the finish line hot, chafed, sunburned, tired but really really happy.  Later I heard that a young fit runner had died right before the finish line and I was doubly grateful that I’m healthy enough to do marathons, regardless of speed, and most of all I’m grateful that I can enjoy them.

After the race I decided I was too wiped to walk back to the hotel so I wandered a few blocks away where my chances of getting a cab would be better.  After a few minutes an open cab came by and I saw that another runner and I had both waved to it at the same time.  I sprinted to that cab and snatched it, much to the dismay of the other runner.  Noting to myself that this was by far the fastest I’d moved all day I said to the disgruntled woman, “You’ve gotta be faster if you want a cab around here!”.  Just goes to prove that you can take the girl out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of the girl. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rose & Margaret's Belly Dance Experiment

A recent Running Chicks ab work challenge has reminded me that I need to do some serious core work.  So when my sister Margaret suggested we try out a belly dancing class at our local 24-Hour Fitness, it seemed like a great way to work our abs and have fun doing it.

I love music and dance and it’s one of my great disappointments in life that I have absolutely no skills in either.  That did not keep me from being a fixture in my gym’s zumba class until it got so crowded you couldn’t move anymore. 

Here’s one of many things my sister and I have in common: we both lack some key ingredients that make for a successful dance class.  Things such as grace, rhythm, coordination and the ability to move our hips independently from the rest of our trunk.  Nonetheless, we decided to take the risk and headed to the gym.

Fortunately it was a small class where it was easy to see what was going on.  We started by walking in a circle with “sexy hips”.  That’s where it all started to go bad.   We gradually added on different hip rolls and twists, arm movements, grapevine steps.  First the teacher would demo, then we’d do them slowly for a while, then faster, then we started putting the pieces of the dance together into a sequence.  Let’s just say I felt sorry for anyone behind us.  I can’t tell you how many times I realized either Margaret or I (or both of us) were facing the wrong direction.  Or doing the totally wrong thing.  Ooops. 

I had a sneaking suspicion that all of our moves looked the same.  The instructor would roll her hips, then shake them, then glide,  and I’d look in the mirror and while I was carefully trying to mimic her and felt like I was doing the same thing, I appeared to only be swaying my hips side to side with the jerky movements of one of those funny toys we had in the 70s, the ones that were birds and they’d bob up and down drinking out of a glass.  Very magical when you were a kid.  My hip movements?  Not so magical.

It was particularly entertaining when we started doing movements where our chests were supposed to move while our hips either stayed stable or did something different.  Ha!  That was so not happening.  Judging by my sister’s progress in that area,  I’m thinking we might have some genetic mutation that makes it impossible to move our hips and chests in different directions. 

I spent much of the class imagining I was in an episode of The Great Fitness Experiment and wondering when Charlotte was going to jump in and do the splits.  (If you haven’t read this book and blog, check it out, it’s awesome! You can find it at

But here’s the thing: just like Charlotte and her “gym buddies” we still had fun even when we sucked.  It was very non-judgmental kind of class.  No super skinny super serious “you’re all losers if you’re not as good as me” kind of chick in the class.  You know what I’m talking about, she’s in your yoga or body pump class acting like she’s better than the instructor.  Fortunately our class was just a bunch of regular women laughing and dancing and using our sexy hips.  And that made it totally fun.  Add to that a feeling of soreness in my waist and abs that tells me SOMETHING was working and I’m pretty sure I’ll go back.  I could use a good laugh.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nina & Me

Long before anyone had heard of "Marley and Me" there was Nina and me.

Nina wasn't even supposed to be my dog, not really. It was 2000 and My grandfather (who'd lived at my house his last few years) had just passed away. My dog Snuffy, always a social animal, was despondent. As his depression dragged on I realized I needed to get him a companion. I fell in love with Nina the first moment I saw her at the shelter. She was a beautiful shepherd beagle mix with huge brown eyes ringed with black, as if she'd had eye liner tattooed on her. She leaned up against the cage, stared me in the eyes and gave me the "I'm so abused and pathetic" look that I later came to know so well. It was all part of her schtick, though I didn't know it at the time. Nina had been returned to the shelter a couple of times and I knew she was at risk of being put down, so I agreed to foster her for a while. That foster care placement became permanent by the time we'd gotten home.

Nina clearly had issues. Though she was 6 months old she hadn't been housebroken yet. She knew no commands. Most troubling, she had the strongest escape tendencies of any dog I've ever seen. Nina was a Houdini dog. She could escape out of any enclosure ever made. And if she wanted to go somewhere, she'd eat through doors and walls and break through windows if she had to. Nina was born to be a free spirit.

When she proved difficult to train I finally sent her to a doggie boot camp where I found out she was smart enough to learn commands like sit and heel, the question was if she really wanted to do them. Boot camp staff had one problem with her: every night she escaped. They couldn't figure out how. One night they put her by a nanny came and showed me a tape of her shoving her paw out of the front of the cage and sliding the latch. She was that smart.

At the vet where I boarded her she was known for causing mayhem. One time there was a new vet tech and when he came up front I asked if he'd put her in the sealed top kennel to keep her from escaping. He said to me in a condescending tone, "The kennel is 7 feet tall with concrete walls. It's not like she can scale those". I smiled, said, "Oh really?" and pointed behind him, where Nina was sauntering back out to the lobby.

Nina was famous among my friends and family for her dramatic escape attempts. She'd jump her 80-pound self on the counter, push out the window screen, leap over the bushes and end up in the neighbor's yard. You'd open the door a half an inch and she'd be a block down the street before you realized she had even gotten up.

Nina's escapist tendencies seemed to be fueled at least partly by anxiety and we spent a lot of time at the Animal Hospital becausue of it. The first time I left her alone on the 4th of July I came home to find her prancing around on the roof of my front porch covered in blood. She had jumped through a closed window, cutting herself badly on the way out. I could never leave her alone during fireworks after that, not matter how much xanax she had.

Another time she chewed through some chicken wire that was covering her 6 foot high indoor kennel. Unfortuantely she hadn't chewed a big enough hole to get her whole body out and I found her hanging on the wall of the kennel, half her body on each side, chicken wire dug into her stomach. I had to use wire cutters to get her out, and she seemed to be quite proud of herself when she pranced into the Animal Hospital wearing a wire tutu and trailing blood.

Nina got into trouble so much that I joked around when she met other dogs she probably told them her name was "God damn it Nina". She got into cabinets, chewed the lid off paint cans (covering the basement floor in paint), tore down window blinds, ripped up carpets, dug up bushes. But she was also a sweet and affectionate dog, jealous of anyone else who might divert my attention, human or dog. A hug from a boyfriend or another dog sitting on my lap and she'd try to push them away so I could focus on her. When I cried she was there to comfort me and if I screamed she came running to see what was wrong, poised for battle. When I pet her or we'd snuggle I'd make a play on her name, "Nina, Norena, Bobena, Fofena, Sosena" and she'd wag her tail so hard the entire back of her body would wag too.

Nina was unusually smart and I joked that she was an evil genius. I could write for days on all the tricks she pulled. My favorite was the night she wanted to be on the couch by my other dog Slim refused to move. She finally went and found Slim's favorite toy. She brought it to me and started shaking it. He ignored her. She brought it to me and indicated I should throw it for her. I threw it. She stopped to look at Slim and he ignored her. She grabbed it again and stared at Slim intently. Slim jumped off the couch and Nina dropped his toy and took a flying leap onto his spot on the couch. I swear she was smiling triumphantly. I have many stories involving her tricking us out of food somehow. Evil genius.

Once when my mother was staying at my house Nina started staring at her intently. My mom ignored her. Nina started whining and rubbing her. A few minutes later my mom went into a diabetic emergency. Nina had been trying to warn us. For years after that whenever Nina did that I'd make my mom take her sugar and every single time it was at a dangerous level.

Nina also warned me about her own health problems. One day she rubbed her neck against me non-stop for hours, whining. Finally I looked at her neck more carefully and there was a cyst there. The minute I saw the cyst she stopped whining and laid down. Another time she was acting weird when I was running on the treadmill. Although she'd always been afraid of the treadmill she suddenly leaped on and started running behind me, then fell off the back. She laid there with the belt rubbing her stomach, refusing to move until I turned her over to look at her stomach. Another cyst.

The one health problem she didn't warn me about was her last one. The vet said it appeared to have come on very suddenly. One day on a short walk with my sister she collapsed, panting and drooling, her tongue purple. By the time we got to the Animal Hospital she was fading fast, choking on the fluid in her lungs. We don't know for sure what even happened but the vet theorized that there was a fast growing tumor either inside or pressing on her lungs that had quickly gotten dangerous. They tried to save her but told me she was fading fast and I should come back to say goodbye. I saw her laying on the table, looking small and pitiful with a tube in her throat and wires everywhere. She looked me in the eye and for the first time since I'd seen her at the shelter she didn't wag her tail when she saw me. She was too weak. Her heart gave out while I was petting her and I heard her take her last breathe. My girl was gone.

I was shocked and heartbroken. Somehow I'd thought Nina would outlive all of us. She'd always been disgustingly healthy and had scarcely slowed down even though she was 11, old for her breed. She never lost her sense of mischievousness and never seemed to stop plotting. Yet she was loyal and loving and I knew without a doubt if I was ever in trouble Nina would be the dog to rescue me, she was the only smart enough to do it. And after over 11 years she was the second longest relationship of my life. We'd been through a lot together, Nina and me, and I'll miss her terribly.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why Women's Events Are Awesome After All

Last night I participated in a super cool race, the Women's Moon Walk/Run in Olympia. It was put on by one of my favorite organizations,  Guerilla Running in Olympia. 

I knew that the Guerilla people would do an awesome event, Rachael and Craig always do. But I was suprised by how much I loved the comaraderie of a "girl" event.  I'd often scoffed at girl-centric events like Nike Women's Marathon, Race for the Cure, the Disney Princess races.  They seemed too cute, too PINK.  Frankly I'd never had done the Moon Walk if it wasn't one of the Guerilla events, but I knew it'd be more about "girl power" than cute.  And it was.

For those who don't do these kind of events, runners and walkers are a very welcoming and supportive community.  What other sport cheers on the person in last place as much as the person in first?  Where else do the best athletes shout encouragement at the others?  That happens all the time in running races.

Walking on to the field last night I did see way too much pink for my taste.  But I also saw so many women of all shapes and sizes and abilities and it occurred to me that in the safety of the women-only event many of the beginners and slower people felt comfortable in a way they wouldn't if there were guys around. Many people, including me & my companions, were dressed up for the event.  We saw all variety of tutus, running skirts, crowns, dresses.  It was fun to be silly girls and enjoy checking out everyone's outfits.  What I liked best is it really lacked that frantic competitive energy that the shorter distance races in particular often bring out.  No intense looking guys stretching or running strides to warm up.  There were fast women in the race of course but no sense like they were going so fast they'd knock you out of the way.  Even the leaders were smiling while they passed us on the out and back. The best way to describe it is it just had a different vibe, a laid back, supportive, we're girls and we are kicking butt AND looking cute kind of vibe.   And it was awesome!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Stars v. The Body

Sometimes the hardest part about being an athlete is learning to listen to your body.  Or more specifically, separating your body from your mind so you know for sure which one was talking to you.

I was signed up to do a triple marathon this past weekend,  three marathons in three days.  I’d signed up months ago before I was injured and figured it’d be a great training for a 6-day race I was scheduled to do in August.  Fast forward several months, two nagging and slowly healing injuries later,  with the August race already canceled, I was struggling what to do about the triple.

I did a marathon last month and I’d spent a chunk of the race crying because I was in so much pain from my injuries.  I’d taken it pretty easy in the ensuing month and my knee in particular (the worse injury) was feeling less cranky.  I couldn’t get a refund on any of the three races, so I was out the money no matter what.  Finally I decided I’d do the first day of the triple and see how it went.

The Stars & Stripes Marathon on Saturday was the first race where I really held myself back.  My main goals were to not aggravate my knee and to have fun. I purposely walked the entire first half of the race, moving at a brisk pace but not my fastest pace.  I told myself if my knee didn’t hurt I’d start adding in some running the second half, and that’s exactly what I did.  Small increments of running, 1-3 minutes at a time, testing my knee, moving myself along, but trying not to strain it.  It was really super hard to go slower than I needed to, and my finish time was slower than I’d ever gotten, but I finished the race upright, with no pain, so I was very excited.  And I had lots of fun.  I even got my sister to walk the last lap with me.

The day of the second marathon I woke up with some stiffness in my knee but no other pain or soreness.  I knew I could push through that, especially if I walked most or all of the second race.  I had a huge debate with myself.  My mind said, “At least do the double marathon, you’ll get more stars”  (go up in rank in the Marathon Maniacs) and my body said, “Hey I was really good yesterday, don’t push your luck.”  I thought of all my friends out on the course. I thought of the money I’d put into the race.  But in the end I listened to my body.  It was super hard but I knew I would not finish that second race feeling as good as I had after the first race.  And there’s always going to be another chance to get stars.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Yesterday I started thinking, as I often do, about the assumptions we make about people.  We notice someone, maybe a stranger on a bus or another shopper in a store and sometimes we make a judgment about them that’s totally wrong.

A few weeks ago I tried one of those Bar classes for the first time. The instructor was asking me about injuries and I mentioned I was trying to not aggravate an injury because I had a marathon coming up in a few days.  Another woman there, very tiny, decked out in fancy workout clothes, looked up and down (the girl body check look) and said, “Oh, I assume it’s your first”.  She’d looked at me, honestly probably twice her size and made an assumption that I must be an inexperienced marathoner.  Her jaw damn near dropped to the floor when I responded, “No, I think this is about #16 for me.”

I posted that story in my Running Chicks group and there were several stories of people making assumptions about my friends because of how they look. One woman had someone make a crack about walking when she ran into her at a 5k, but my friend went on to win the 5k outright, beating the men.  Apparently some people think she looks chunky but she’s all muscle. She gets the “Is this your first marathon?” question with the girl body check a lot.  She enjoys telling them she qualified for the Boston Marathon – twice now.

Another woman tried to register for a race where there was a 50k and a 20k and the person said, “I assume you’re paying for two people?” then seemed shocked that she was running the 50k.  A couple woman had outright been told things like they were fat, they didn’t “look” like a runner, etc.  

My sister is a larger sized person and she just walked a 5k this weekend. It was something like her 4th or 5th race in the last 6 months.  A few days later she was at work and they were doing that ice breaker where you tell people 3 things about you and one of them is a lie.  One of her 3 things was “I just did a 5k this weekend” and every single person picked that as her “lie”, then looked incredulous when she told them they were wrong. Assumptions.

Sadly, I’m guilty of it too.  I was on the bus yesterday and I saw a very heavy woman sitting a few rows ahead of me. The bus was crowded but no one was sitting next to her because she needed more than one seat.  I looked at her and thought, “That used to be me.  I hope she finds the courage to start exercising and do something about her weight”.  Then she got off the bus and took her bike off the rack and rode away and I felt ashamed. 

There was a time when I was 300 pounds, 275 pounds, 250 pounds and people would have thought that about me too.  (Well actually many would have been way less charitable, but that’s another post.)  And I could have said to them, very honestly, I work out 5 days a week, because I did.  They didn’t know how I looked when I started, they didn’t know where I was in my journey. Just like I don’t know anything about that woman on the bus biking home. That’s the problem with assumptions, they’re often wrong.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Take This Test and Shove It

I know I’m not going to be popular for saying this but I’ve got a grudge against JFK.  My Grandpa’s rolling in his grave right now since JFK was our first and only Catholic president and therefore was, in Grandpa’s eyes, perfect.  But JFK was also responsible for the unique grammar school torture known as the Presidential Physical Fitness Test (PPFT).

If you went to grammar school (or if you didn’t grow up in the Midwest, “grade” school) in the 1970s you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Once a year we were subjected to a series of tests ostensibly designed to evaluate our stamina and strength.  I think it also had something to do with keeping us fit enough to fight Russians too. I don’t remember all of the components exactly but I know there were several including: pull ups, some kind of thing involving running across the gym picking up an eraser and running back, a touching your toes flexibility thing, a rope climb thing (although I think the girls didn’t do that one) and the mile run, my particular torture.

I hated the PPFT more than anything in school. Mind you I loved school, except for gym, which I hated with a fiery passion. But even gym was a picnic next to the PPFT. I can’t even summon the words to explain how much I dreaded this, even thinking about it now I want to throw up.  Seriously.  It's the only time all year I tried to fake sickness and stay home, that's how much I hated it. I never faked sick.

School in the 1970s wasn’t like it was now.  There were no anti-bullying campaigns, no tolerance for differences, no “everyone gets an award so no one feels bad”, no political correctness, no talking back to the teachers (unless you wanted to get whacked with a ruler).  And unlike today where it appears half the kids are fat, there was one fat kid in school -- and that kid was me. Grammar school was a freaking jungle where the strongest survived.  A jungle where we had gym every day and gym involved getting hit on the head with dodge balls and being mocked for having no sports skills and being picked last for teams if you weren’t athletic or popular.

Unsurprisingly it was completely impossible for me, the lone fat kid, the pass the stupid PPFT test.  A straight A student, the nuns also gave me As in gym for showing up.  Or maybe to make up for all the abuse I took there, particularly during the PPFT. 

The Mile Test was the worst. Literally 30 years later I remember how all the other kids could run a mile and I couldn’t.  I'd try of course. I'd go out too fast trying to keep up, they'd drop me in a few yards and I'd crash. I remember the humiliation of being out of breath, wheezing, having to stop and walk, the other kids taunting me as I lurched towards the finish line, sweat pouring down my little red face, bent over with hands on my knees, the nuns tsking disapproving at me, telling me I was the only one who didn’t pass and how it was making our school look bad.  I always passed everything, excelled at everything, everything except that ridiculous PPFT. Somehow it didn’t occur to the nuns that all that taunting probably didn’t help my performance.  Every year the anxiety got worse.

I grew up in a family where no one was athletic, no one did sports, pretty much no one ever got off the couch unless it was to go to the refrigerator for a beer. Instead of creating any interest in athletics or activity the PPFT taught me to avoid activity, to fear it. It taught me that there was nothing worse than trying something active and failing because there’ll just be a bunch of mean kids standing around laughing at you and mocking you while nuns glare at you disapprovingly.

Those messages burned themselves into my brain.  To this day whenever I feel like I have to be timed running I freak out a little. When my running group does mile tests I seriously cannot run a mile without stopping.  I run miles without stopping all the time, but when they are timing me, I can’t do it.  When I test myself during speed work on my own I can run a mile somewhere in an 11-12 minute range.  When I know they’re testing me in the group, and the rest of the group is already done, watching me, waiting for me as the last finisher, suddenly I’m running as fast as I can and I'm down to a 14 minute pace. And somehow I’m anxious, as if somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I actually think a bunch of adults are going to taunt me for being too slow, which of course they are not, they’re too busy chastising themselves for being slower than they wanted to be. Stupid PPFT.

The races I’ve struggled with the most, the races that have devastated me the most, have all been ones with cut-offs. Give me a timed race where you do as many laps as you can in 12 hours or whatever and I’m good to go.  Tell me I have to be halfway through a marathon by a certain time, even if it’s one I can generally do, and I freak the hell out, before, during and after the race.

Today I read an interesting article ( about a great runner named Lisa Bliss who is running Death Valley completely unsupported to raise money for charity.  In the article she says, “I realized I had no desire to do something at which I knew I couldn’t fail. How mundane! I want to risk failure. What’s the worst that can happen? I fail to succeed?”

Lisa’s quote really spoke to me because the thing is I worry a lot about failing, especially in running. Too much.  After I read that article I thought to myself, “Am I not doing PCT this year because I know I can’t do it? Or am I not doing it because I’m afraid to fail?”  And then I wrote the race director and asked if I could start earlier because really, what does it matter?  If I miss the cut-off again, what’s the worst that can happen?  I sit at an Aid Station for two hours eating popsicles again? I run 40 miles instead of 50? No one actually mocked me for that last year.  Except me. Everyone else thought that was a great effort last year.  Except me.

But getting back to the stupid, ridiculous PPFT, first of all, some of those mean little shitheads that made fun of me in grammar school are now my Facebook “friends” and I can tell you based on their pictures they couldn’t run across the street let alone run and walk for 23 hours.  So I hope they enjoyed their PPFT glory days. And secondly, in my entire adult life no one’s ever asked me how I did on the PPFT test. It’s never come up in a job interview or anything.  (No one’s ever asked me my college GPA either so I really wish I’d partied more in college).  I think no one else actually cares.  So I’m just gonna put this out there: My name is Rose and I failed every component of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test every single year in grammar school.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t pass it now and President Kennedy (god rest his soul as my Grandma would want me to say) can just take his stupid test and shove it.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I never mourned for PCT.

Last July I attempted my first 50-mile trail ultra marathon, the PCT.  I trained hard, went out to train on the course several times and knew it well.  Everything went perfectly during the race.  I got my obligatory fall out of the way early on.  I took my best race picture ever (right after the fall so there’s blood dripping down my face making me look like a total badass) yet through some miracle that has never happened at any other race before or since the photographer actually made me look slim in my racing gear. My head was perfect, no freak outs, no feeling like I didn’t belong, no feeling sorry for myself.  The weather was good, dry, not too cold, not too hot.  The trail was in good condition. I was right on with my hydration, electrolytes and nutrition the whole time. I came into the race with no injuries. I had friends crewing for me so I didn’t lose time at the aid stations. I didn’t get lost on the course like a bunch of people did that day. I had a very chatty pacer jump in at mile 30 to keep me entertained. I followed my race plan.  Everything went perfectly.

The only problem was I was just too slow.  Unfortunately it was a big problem. To paraphrase a cheesy old Pebro Bryson song that I really hate, “I did my best but my best wasn’t good enough”.

Thinking about now, it’s probably the worst thing that ever happened to me in a race. Up until then I could find an excuse for every other race I did not going as well as I’d hoped: I didn’t eat enough, it was too hot, I was injured, I’d messed around at the aid stations too long, blah blah blah. 

At PCT I had nothing to blame. No excuses.  As I ran along I felt great all day.  Even after 30 miles I felt great.  I felt so great that I had absolutely no doubt I’d make the interim race cut-offs.  I had no doubt I’d finish that race. I had no doubt I was good enough. I’d never had no doubt before.

I had my first inkling of doubt when I ran into my best friend on the course & asked him how far away I was from the aid station where the final cut-off was.  He had this weird look on his face.  He knew I was determined to make it.  He knew I wasn’t going to, although he didn’t say it.  I kept going on, grinding up and up a really big hill on the one part of the course I hadn’t done in my training.  The clock kept ticking and gradually the cut-off time came and went and I wasn’t there.  I kept going, hoping they’d let me through when I hit the aid station at mile 39.3 where the cut-off was. Then I saw the sweepers coming down right as we reached the aid station. It was over. I wasn’t going to make it.  I’d missed the cut off.  I don’t even remember by how much, I think it was like 10 minutes. 

My legs still felt strong. I asked them to let me go. They said no.  I told them I understood I was pulled from the race but I wanted to run back to the finish anyway, even if it didn’t count, just so I could say I did 50 miles.  They said no, they “had” to make me wait there while the sweepers cleared the course.

And so I sat there at the Aid Station, with a pacer I didn’t really know, and a bunch of Aid Station volunteers I’d never met before, tired, achy, dirty, nauseous, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, my legs stiffening up in a camp chair, trying desperately not to cry in front of these people.  Joking around, acting like it didn’t bother me.  It bothered me.

Later I learned there were several people pulled on the course behind me and I tried to take solace in the fact that I was the leader of the people who were pulled.  The fastest loser. Finally nearly two hours later we were driven back to the finish line. Of course in those two hours I could have easily run back there. 

My friends were waiting for me at the finish and I tried to put on a brave face.  I didn’t want to sit there and sob in front of them and ruin their experiences so I stuffed down all the emotions about the race and the DNF and put on a brave face and moved on from there.  And I went home and had a few drinks and went to bed and then it was a new day and I tried to not think about it again.

But here’s the problem: I never really mourned the race. I never acknowledged to myself how sad I was about what happened.  And by sad I mean crushed and devastated. I pushed it aside and moved on to the next thing.

But more crucially, I never dealt with the bigger issue.  There’s the logical part of me, the part that knows I did my absolute best that day, the part that’s proud of what I did and sad and disappointed that it didn’t work out. It’s even more disappointing because I tried so hard, because the conditions were so perfect, because I had no doubts.

But then there’s the other part of me, the critical part, the part that tells me I was a failure that day. A loser. The part that was mortified to be driven back to the finish line by the volunteers. The part that assumed everyone judged me for not finishing, that was sure they were all laughing at me, the fat slow girl who couldn’t make the cut-off,  thinking I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The part of me that says I should have never tried to do that race, it was stupid to try it, I never had a chance, because I’ll never be good enough so why try.  The part that dismisses my great effort that day and can’t be even the tiniest bit proud that I did my longest, hardest run ever up until that point the day I did PCT. That’s the part of me that is meaner to me than anyone would ever be. I really really really hate that part of me, that’s why I try to ignore her.

By ignoring those thoughts, pushing them aside, pretending they don’t exist or attributing those mean things to others they seem to take on a life of their own in the deep recesses of my mind.  Ignoring them is not making them go away. Ignoring them is not keeping them from hurting me.

I’d thought I was over PCT.  I’ve done longer distances since then. Had other race successes.  Moved on.

This weekend after a benchmark trail half-marathon I realized I’m going to have to drop out of PCT for this year.  After missing nearly 5 months of training due to injuries I’m about 3 minutes a mile slower on trails right now than I was at this time last year when I missed the cut-off at PCT. I don’t have a prayer of getting my speed back in time to make the cut-offs this year, even if my injuries heal tomorrow.

At first I thought to myself, “Well, it is what it is, you haven’t been able to train, you’ll do it next year” and I thought I felt pretty philosophical about it.  Then I heard those damn voices creeping in, telling me I wouldn’t be able to do it anyway, it was stupid to try the race again after I failed last year, and I realized I have to keep on with this process I started two weeks ago at Newport, I need to listen to those annoying little voices, because they clearly aren’t going away until they’re heard. I let the genie out of the bottle that day and I need to play this through.

And as I thought about it more I really started to mourn – not for this year’s race though, but for last year’s.  So today I’m truly mourning for PCT.  Not because I missed the cut-off last year. No, I’m mourning because I wasn’t proud of myself then for my outstanding effort, for trying my best. I’m mourning because I didn’t let myself cry for the terrible disappointment of doing my best that day and not being quite fast enough to make it.  I’m mourning because instead of comforting myself I beat myself up and imagined I didn’t belong, that I was an idiot for trying.  I’m mourning because I didn’t accept the accept the love, comfort and support of my friends that day. And most of all I’m mourning because letting this fester all year just made it worse.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Running....Not Your Cheapest Sport

I love it when I read something saying what an "inexpensive" sport running is.  "All you need is a pair of shoes" they say.


In the past week alone I've bought new shoes, a running hydration backpack, 3 pair of special running socks and a bunch of gels.  I've also registered for 3 races, although one of them only required a "donation".  And believe me when I say I've held myself back from doing more.

I've got a shelf full of running books, a stack of shoes for different types of workouts, an entire dresser full of all manner of racing shirts/pants/tights, special underwear, a Garmin (GPS), several types of hydration carriers, a plethora of first aid or preventative items, an entire shelf in the kitchen full of all kinds of running food & drink....the list goes on and on.

Inexpensive?  No.

Fun?  Yes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Darker Side of Weight Loss? Or the Brighter?

Many thanks to Colleen at Bee Fit for inspiring this post.  I just read Colleen's post about "The Darker Side" of weight loss.  It's a great post if you haven't seen it:

Losing weight is such a weird experience.  It's almost like you have an identity crisis.  In my case it was like I'd left -- or been kicked out of -- what I thought of as "The Fat Girl's Club" and didn't really know where I fit in the world any more.  

There’s something about losing weight that really seems to trigger other people’s food issues (at least in women).  You get all these comments like, “It must be nice” or “You’re making me feel guilty eating this cookie in front of you”.  People ask you if you’ve had surgery and what your “secret” is and when you say “I’m watching what I eat and exercising” they look away in disappointment like you’re hiding the real truth from them, the one pill or method that will work for them too.  Then there’s the “danger” comments like “Jeez, how much weight are you going to lose?” and “You’re just wasting away, aren’t you?” 

You can overlook the comments for the most part. It’s the lack of support from people in your life that you thought loved you that’s the hardest. It’s things like when you tell people you’re going to do your first half marathon and instead of being excited for you they say, “Why would you do that?” or “Are you sure you can finish?” Or you suggest taking a walk after dinner and they say, “You were a lot more fun when you were fat. Can’t we watch TV?” That really hurts.

If I wasn’t “The Fat Girl” (as I thought of myself in my head), then who was I?  One day I realized it was kind of exciting, I could choose a new identity.  It’s like going to a high school where no one knows you, you can be whomever you want to be. I decided I was going to be “The Active Girl”. That transition was harder for me than the actual weight loss was though, and sometimes I still struggle with it, even after 2 years.

It was the right transition though.  I love Active Girl.  She’s a work in progress, but she’s cool. She runs, she goes out more socially, she does crazy stuff like 24-Hour races, she buys Groupons for weird activities because they sound fun, she wears spandex even if it’s not flattering.  Active Girl kicks butt.

Losing weight showed me who my real friends are, and who I can depend on.  I’ve lost touch some of my old friends, and deepened my relationship with the friends who supported me in my weight loss and subsequent identity crisis.  A couple of friends in particular not only supported me but helped me immensely in that transition, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Losing weight also spurred me to make new friends, people who are positive and active and enjoy challenging themselves. People who, like me, aren’t waiting until they are the perfect size to live their lives, but people who live their lives out loud, regardless of what other people think.

I’ve got a great group of friends now including several in a group called the Running Chicks.  My new friends and I walk or run together, go to the gym, offer each other support and advice on a myriad of issues, share each other’s frustrations and celebrate our accomplishments, athletic or otherwise.  My new friends rock.

The old me wasn’t confident enough to have the friends I do now. The new me isn’t self-loathing enough to have some of the friends I had then.  I guess the “darker side” of weight loss also led me to the “brighter side” of my life. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Massages Used to Be Fun

I remember the good old days when massages were fun.  I'd be relaxing on the table, listening to New Age music, enjoying the easy smooth strokes, the tension leaving my body as I was blissfully sinking into a haze of pure joy that lasted hours after I left.

Sadly those days are long gone.  Now that I'm an athlete I get the dreaded sports massage. I'm awake and aware the whole time as the therapist pushes and pulls my limbs, digging deep into the muscles, breaking up adhesions and scar tissue, carefully working around whichever area is injured this month.  I cringe, I hold my breath, sometimes I want to cry. Afterwards I feel like I was beat up or rolled over with a steam roller like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But it keeps me moving, so in the end, it's worth it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Last Forty

I often tell people that losing the first 125 pounds was way easier than the last 40.

When I was over 300 pounds, starting easy exercise made the pounds fall off. Tiny changes in my diet made even more pounds melt off.  I would lose 5 or even 10 pounds in a week.  It's the honeymoon phase of weight loss.  You see this on the Biggest Loser every season.  The heaviest people start off posting huge weekly losses, then as time goes by they drop down to a couple of pounds a week.  Somehow the same things don't work any more.

I've been within a 20-pound weight range for 18 months now. Today I'm at the high end of that range but holding steady.  It's been a weird transition.  I spent all of 2008 and 2009 losing weight until my losses gradually came to a halt. I've spent a lot of time pondering this.  Is it that the same things don't work for me any longer?  This is at least partly true.  Your body adapts, you've got to change it up, "confuse" it, in order to fight whatever adaptations come into play.

I've also coincidentally spent the last 18 months focusing on marathon training. As many runners will tell you, running makes you hungry. Very hungry. As your body is adapting to the activity and burning fewer calories for the same miles, you're still hungry. And not for salad.  You're hungry for carbs and protein. Or if you're me, peanut butter cups and beer.

But lately I've come to realize my stalled weight loss is actually more than I've admitted to myself before. Yes I think it's partly because of my body adjusting and it's partly because of running. But I think I also just got tired.  Tired of avoiding ice cream. Tired of skipping beer.  Tired of ordering the healthiest option when I go out with friends.  Tired of the work, the constant vigilence, of weight loss.  Weight loss is hard work. It's freaking exhausting.  And I got tired of it around the same time that physiological adaptations made it even harder to lose the weight. And so I started to eat.  It's a slippery slope.  A peanut butter cup here, an order of fries there, a frappacino instead of a coffee, ordering the bagel instead of the yogurt because it's so much more appealing.
A part of me became very resentful.  It's not fair, why do I have to be so vigilent? Why can other people walk by the bowl of Hershey's kisses on a co-worker's desk and not feel compelled to eat them? How do they finish a meal and not think, "mmm, ice cream sounds good now"?

There's also a part of me that thought, well I'll just exercise more to make up for it. But the sad simple fact is you can't out-exercise bad eating habits. I know, I've tried. For every pack of peanut butter cups I need to do another hour of exercise. For every DQ Blizzard I need to do 2 hours extra of exercise.  It's an endless loop that's made worse by the fact that eating crap makes you feel like crap and feeling like crap leads to a crappy workout.  It's as simple as that.  If I'm not fueling my body for exercise, the quality of the exercise suffers as well.

Another thing I tell people is when I was over 300 pounds I didn't want to lose weight.  Sure I said I wanted to, but I didn't really want to put in the work.  Didn't want to make the sacrifice, didn't want to make the changes I needed. I was under no illusion that I was eating well back then, I just didn't care.  And if I look at myself honestly now, I have to admit that lately I'm eating like I don't care way more often than not.

So the question I have to ask myself now is this: with 40 more pounds to lose and the scale not budging, do I actually WANT to lose any more weight?  Deep deep down? Do I want to make that final leap down to a healthy weight? Clearly I know HOW to lose weight, I did it for two years.  But I'm not putting in the work. Sure I work out almost every day, but exercise is only half the equation.  I'm not fueling my body for what I'm asking it to do.  Do I care? Do I want to lose the rest of this weight?  Or perhaps the better question for me to ponder is why DON'T I want to lose it?


Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in the Helvetia Half Marathon.

Helvetia is my favorite half marathon and I’d done it the past 3 years.  Right before Helvetia my friend Amber, who has also done the race for 3 years, received some bad news from her doctor.  Due to the worsening of a health problem she was no longer able to do races or exercise for prolonged periods. She was understandably disappointed about this.

The two of us decided to do Helvetia for fun, that is, to walk it slow & easy and just enjoy the journey.  I suggested we do a shot every mile but the more level-headed Amber suggested we have fancy chocolate every hour, so that’s what we did.  Every hour we stopped, had some chocolate and took a picture, to the horror of people who were actually racing.  We also took a lot of pictures along the way.  It was seriously fun.  The weather was perfect, I love that race and 13.1 miles is very manageable for a relaxing walk. Amber & I had a great time and I have to say it was the most fun I’ve had at Helvetia.

However Amber’s situation got me thinking about how grateful I am.  We all have days where we don’t feel like working out. I think we all have races where it feels like a slog and we wonder why we signed up.  I often have those days.  But the fact is, I have the option.  I can choose to work out.  I can choose to do a race.  If I suffer during a race, it’s because I’ve chosen to suffer.  Either way, I have the option.  Amber no longer has that option.  Lots of people have serious illnesses or disabilities that take away their options as well.  My options remain open.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Newport Marathon 2011 Race Report

The Newport Marathon is my absolute favorite marathon so I was really looking forward to doing the race for the third time.  I drove down to Newport with my friend Laura who was also running.  As always, hanging out with Laura was an adventure.  We grabbed some food and left just after lunch, trying to avoid Friday afternoon traffic.  I’ve never been on a road trip with Laura before and she took this opportunity to tell me that she has a hard time staying awake in the car.  Kind of a problem with her driving and all. 

We decided to stop for coffee and somehow not seeing a Starbucks anywhere (shocking I know) we stopped at a McDonald’s.  Funny how those are easy to find. But when we pulled up to the window to pick up our drinks the girl said the espresso machine was being cleaned and it was going to be 45 minutes til we could get coffee.  She said this like maybe we’d wait.  By now Laura’s lack of energy was getting critical.  She was singing Barney songs (“I love you, you love me”) to keep awake.  Fortunately we found another McDonald’s and enjoyed a diabetic coma-inducing caramel drink of some sort, no doubt 10,000 calories.

We arrived in Newport, hit the cute little packet pick-up and headed towards the beach to check out our kick-ass house.  So nice.  We spent a lovely afternoon on the deck enjoying the sun, relaxing and going through our SWAG bags.  Newport has the coolest SWAG ever: q-tips, fish oil tablets, 5-Hour Energy drink, taffy, coupons, toothbrush, sunscreen, and more.  I love it.  That’s in addition to the bag of cool stuff you get at the finish.  Yay Newport!  And it’s about half the price of other races.  Other marathons could learn a lot from Newport.

Friends Aleta & Esther joined us for a beer and our other housemates Seth, Teresa, Amber & Josh trickled in.  After a lovely pasta dinner and a restless night, it was time to hit the course.

This is the first year Newport has had an early start but I didn’t take it since the course was going to be open for 7 hours and I’d been told all early starters would be listed as walkers in the results. I lined up with all the runners and we headed off.  A funny thing happened though: apparently ALL the slower runners did early start because even though I did my first mile in 12:30 (fast for me) within 1-2 miles I was alone. Completely alone.  This has never happened to me at Newport.  I could not see another runner ahead of me or behind me and that would be true until mile 9 when I started seeing people on the out and back.

That was my first break-down that day.  Watching everyone run off and leave me in the proverbial dust, being all alone on the course as far as I could see, was emotionally very hard for me.  There’s a part of me I try to ignore, a voice that says: you’re too fat, you’re too slow, you walk too much, you don’t belong here, you’re not a real runner and every time I race I try to ignore that voice, tell it to shut up and leave me alone.  During Newport, all alone on the course, instead of shoving it aside I said to that voice, “Fine, hit me with your best shot” and I let all those feelings flow over me until I started to cry.  And cry, and cry.  I ran and cried. I walked and cried.  I wondered if the spectators were thinking “Jeez she’s crying after 2 miles, how is she going to get through the next 24?” and I cried even more. It was very therapeutic though to face those insecurities and feel the emotions and eventually those voices faded away all on their own.

I finally saw another person around mile 9 as the leader flew by me on the long out and back.  That cheered me up because I knew the other runners were coming behind him.  From miles 9-15 I saw all the other runners and walkers, fast and slow, friends and strangers, and many Maniacs.  At least 3 people recognized me from Maniacs or Daily Mile and said Hi to me, it was so cool!  I saw my friend Josh cruising along at a blisteringly fast pace on his first marathon.  Yay Joshie! Close behind I saw Seth and Laura.  Later I saw other friends like Aleta and Esther as well as several other Maniacs and Running Chicks I knew.  Mentally that was the best part of the race for me and that part of the race seemed to go the fastest.

Unfortunately I wasn’t going the fastest. While I’d lost a lot of time in the beginning dealing with my emotional stuff, I was now losing time for other reasons.  A knee injury was making my knee stiff and later it became swollen and painful.  My feet were blistering terribly.  I was having back spasms.  And most of all I was hot.  It was 85 degrees that day, hot for the Oregon Coast, really hot when it’s been in the 50s for the last 8 months and this is the first truly warm day.  I’ve never been a fan of the heat.  While I deal with heat a lot better than I used to after a 12-Hour race in 98 degree heat last summer, I still could feel myself getting slow and lethargic as the temperature rose.  I was cramming in fluids & electrolytes to keep myself going.   

I saw that the heat had affected many other runners.  Ambulances kept going by every few minutes and I saw many, many obviously super-fit runners walking and looking like zombies, making me glad that I knew what to do to keep myself safe in the heat. Newport really rose to the challenge though.  Volunteers and police officers were cruising the course checking on runners, offering water bottles between aid stations and handing out fruit.  They were all so great.

I’d had a discussion with Seth about not letting things that come up in a race be an excuse to give up and not try my best. I’d taken that very much to heart, and while I knew it was hot and I was in pain,  I continued on, focusing on doing what I could with the conditions I had that day.  No judgment, no whining in my head about how miserable I was (and God knows I was seriously miserable) just thinking to myself: “I can do this.  I can run to the pole. I can walk a little faster.  I can keep moving”.  And I did.

After the out and back turnaround at mile 15.5 I was pretty much alone again, other than the volunteers.  I cried a lot, sometimes from physical pain, sometimes from loneliness, sometimes just because I felt so emotionally raw from facing my demons earlier in the race. I passed 3 people, those were the only other racers I saw.  I was glad to see that despite the fact we were bringing up the rear, every aid station had volunteers, fluids, cups and gels when they were supposed to, no matter how slow we were going.  Again I say, a lot of races could learn from Newport. Portland Marathon?  Rock N Roll Marathon?  Are you listening?

I continued to try to run but by this point I was running 30-60 seconds for every 5 minutes I walked.  I just trudged along the best I could but between my back, my knee and my blisters I was in serious pain.  I knew if I could just get to the aid station at mile 24.5 I’d find Seth there and I’d have some company.

When I got close to that last aid station I saw Seth & Laura walking out to meet me.  I was so happy to see them that for about the 12th time that day I burst into tears.  They told me about their races while I stumbled along crying and when I felt the most miserable I begged Laura to tell me a story.  Here’s what I love about Laura: you say that to her and it’s like she’s a little wind-up toy, she talked and talked and took my mind off my pain a little bit and Seth gave me his strength and love and told me I was OK and I felt better.

The funny thing when you’re truly tired in these races is you feel like you’re going fast when you’re not.  Several times earlier in the race I’d felt like I was sprinting only to see I was running a 14-minute mile.  As we were walking that last little bit of the race Seth commented that he couldn’t believe how fast I was still walking.  I looked down and I was only doing a 17-minute mile. 

With Seth & Laura’s support and encouragement (and assistance when I started hyperventilating from crying) I somehow got through the last 1.5 miles.  We reached to top of the hill around mile 26 and I knew it was all downhill.  Literally. All I could think was the sooner I was done, the sooner I could get off my burning feet.  I don’t know where it came from but suddenly I took off running, possibly the fastest I’d gone all day, I’m not sure but it felt really fast. For the first and possibly last time in my life I even dropped Seth, although he was all stiff and nursing his own injury.  I charged down that hill as fast as my legs would carry me.  I could see my friends waiting: Teresa was doing a little dance on the side of the road,  Amber & Josh and their family were cheering me on, and finally I was done. 

Despite their fatigue from their own races my friends swarmed around me like a pit crew, helping me find a chair, taking my shoes off, getting me food, picking up my race shirt.  That’s how cool my friends are. There was also a volunteer at the finish line to spray you down with water and cool you off and there was still fluids & food at the finish line, that’s how cool the Newport people are.

In the end it was both a PW (personal worst) in that it was by far my slowest marathon ever (about an hour slower than I usually do on that course) and a PB (personal best) in that I really dug deep that day, faced some demons, and continued on through both emotional and physical pain.  And for that I’m grateful.

Why Don't You Have a Blog?

"Why don't you have a blog?"  I've heard that question a lot.  People read my race reports and other ramblings on Facebook and Daily Mile and seem surprised that I don't have a blog.

I resisted creating a blog for a long time.  Everyone's got a blog, that's reason enough not to have one, in my mind.  Is it somehow self-centered for me to create a page devoted to....well, me?  On the other hand, some people have told me they're inspired by my story. Many people have told me they like they way I write or that I'm entertaining.  And where best to try out my material than on a blog?   

I'm still not sure about this blog thing though.  I do find writing therapeutic and decided if I use it for nothing other than self-therapy it's probably not a bad thing.  Not quite sure yet what I'll write about.  I'll definitely write about running and training and my adventures in exploring the absurdities of life.  Other than that, I make no promises.  

It'll be a work in progress, just like me.