Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gratitude post.

So this is a couple of days late, but I blame that on the fact that I've been in a food coma since mid-afternoon Thursday and just woke up, bloated, smeared with gravy, but content. I've seen people do that 30 days of gratitude project on Facebook and thought that's a great idea. Since I dropped the ball doing it in real time. Here's my condensed version, 30 things I'm grateful for right now, in no particular order of importance.

1. Food (remember I said this was not in order of importance, if it were food would totally be way further down the list, at like 3). But seriously I licked my plate on Thursday with this feast. It was also the first Thanksgiving I ate at an actual table since we it was only my immediate family (we had to go to DC because my sister could literally go into labor any day), and not my giant, extended family bonanza it usually is. We more than made up for the lack of people with an over-abundance of food. I made mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce (I like carbs).

2. This little monkey. My two year old niece is the most brilliant, funny, cute, insane two year old on the planet. I love her more than life.

3. My future little monkey. Any day now I will have a nephew. And I am seriously excited to luxuriate in all the babyness. I love being able to play and talk with my niece, but sometimes I miss those early days and months, when she was so tiny and cuddly, when she would fall asleep in my arms and make gurgly little baby sounds. I am so excited to experience all of that again with my little nephew.

4. My immediate family. I'm not going to get all corny and sappy, which I could. I'll just leave it short and simple. I have a great immediate family. I enjoy hanging out with them. I love being in the same city as my parents and brother and just a couple of hours away from my sister and her family. And I know not everyone would say the same. We're not weirdly obsessed with each other. My parents aren't who I call about my love life (seriously, grossest thing ever). We get in arguments from time to time. But at the end of the day, I don't just love these people. I like them. I like being around them. And I am so grateful for that.

5. My extended family. I had a great, quieter, more intimate Thanksgiving this year, but I have to say I missed the crowd and the hum of chatter of forty some people gathered in one house. I've spent almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas (and every other major holiday) of my life with a gaggle of aunts and cousins and second cousins and great aunts and every other kin folk you can imagine. I don't have to fly across the country to do it or even get on a highway. They've just always been there. And I'm so lucky to have that. 

5. My boyfriend. I also won't get sappy here, because I'm one of those people who reads any sentence starting with "my baby" on Faceboook and wants to throw up if that person is not literally referring to a child that came from their womb. I'll just leave it at this. He's pretty darn great, and I'm thankful for having in my life. 

6. My marathon medal. What? I am not above this. That sucker is hanging right where I can see it. If I could I would wear it constantly, maybe even in the shower.

7. My body. So ew, that sounds weird. I'm not going all magic of womanhood here. I'm referring specifically to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, cartilage, bursa, nerves, blood vessels, and bone that make up my legs, hips, and butt. Those things are why I have my beloved medal (aka my precious). They found a way to carry my weird, spastic, out of alignment self for FIVE hours of running (not to mention the hours and hours and miles and miles of training). And they suffered for it. My knees are not in the mood yet for real running. They may not be for a while. But that's okay. They've earned a vacation. 

8. My apartment. Sure, some of my neighbors are almost definitely drug dealers. The air in the building carries a near constant aroma of eau de pot (with undertones of eau de cigarettes and cancer). A fun pastime of my neighbors is to smash big glass doors and windows (never walk barefoot outside on Monument Ave). The entire building has 4 trash cans, which means that within 24 hours of trash pickup the cans are full, within 48 hours there are trash bags all over the sidewalk, and within a week, we are technically a landfill. There is always a torn up old couch or mattress outside. I am really not exaggerating. Even with all of this, I am thankful for my apartment. I am moving out in a little over a month. But I'm grateful for this year, for my first apartment of completely my own, no roommates, no parents, just me. I painted on my own,  squashed bugs (so, so many of them) on my own. I am officially an adult.

9. Coffee. Possibly the most important reason I haven't failed out of nursing school.

10. My classmates. There are only 28 of us left. Which is still insane to me, coming from a college with 12,000 people, to now know the first and last name of everyone in my college class. But it's really nice. It feels like high school, but in a good way. And I don't just know everyone. I like everyone. These men and women are the only people on earth who know what I'm going through in terms of school. They're the people who hyperventilated with me through our first days of clinical (and those first bed baths). They've been there through all the infuriating exams and long lectures, through the sad patients who have made us cry and through the victories, the first successful IV starts and the days when we feel like we actually helped someone. I love all of these people and know I will always feel tied to them.

11. My best friends (and this picture is missing a few :) ). Whether I've known them since college, high school, elementary school, or preschool, I have the best friends in the world. We sadly are not all in the same city, but when we do get together it doesn't matter how long it's been. They're my people, my anchors, my family.

12. My work. I get paid to write. Sometimes I forgot how awesome that is. 

13. Charleston. I don't live there. It's been (silent sob) 6 months since I was there last. But it's still in my heart and soul. It's my grace, my quiet, my peace. I don't even have to be there for it to be those things. Charleston is and always will be home to me. And even as I miss it, every single day, I'm grateful for that beautiful city, every single day.

14. Richmond. Because while it may not be Charleston, it's still pretty cool. 

15. Good TV. This may seem trivial, but after a long, exhausting day, sometimes there is nothing happier and more reviving than sitting down to a new episode of Top Chef.

16. Wine. Do I really need to explain this one?

17. The beautiful places I've been. I love traveling, because you don't just live that experience for however long you're there and then end it. When I travel, where I go stays with me. I leave a piece of my heart in every new place I visit, and every time my heart beats it reverberates with all of its pieces throughout the world. I feel it beat in Malawi, Thailand, India, Haiti, France, and Belize. I feel it beat in Spain, Italy, and Ireland. I feel it beat in Malaysia, Laos, and Indonesia. Every place I go makes me feel more tied down to the Earth, more connected. And I am so thankful for these countries and these cities and these towns. They mean everything to me.

18. Black beans, quinoa, avocado, tomatoes, hot sauce, and cheese. Perhaps the perfect meal.

19. Dark chocolate Hershey kisses. I keep them in constant supply in my apartment. For emergencies.

20. Learning to become a nurse. And loving so much of it.

21. Oysters. Because they're salty and briny and delicious. And also because they remind me of Charleston, of all those oyster roasts on chilly nights, of standing around talking with a beer and a shucking knife, of cocktail sauce and saltines, of the smell of brackish marsh tinged with fresh ocean air.

22. Netflix and Hulu. Because being able to watch the entire series of Friday Night Lights whenever I want is just a gift from God.

23. The fact that Rafael Nadal is finally hitting a tennis ball again.

24. The fact that the last time I had it checked, my BP was 90/50 and my heart rate was 52. A medal wasn't the only perk I got from running a marathon. My heart is pretty stoked about it as well.

25. Take out pho. 

26. For books. New ones (I've read so many great ones this year I feel spoiled-The Emperor of All Maladies, The Art of Fielding, Glass Castle, The Tiger's Wife, State of Wonder, Belle Canto, and so many more) and the old ones I can read again and again (Harry Potter, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Great Gatsby, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). I love stories in all forms, but my first and truest love of stories are when they come in books. 

27. For trashy tabloid magazines. I would not go to the gym with anywhere near the frequency I do if it weren't for the fact that I can read about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez as I sweat.

28. For my mental health practicum. As a class we've complained a lot about this, and I've joined in on many occasions. A full semester of mental health clinicals is a lot if you don't want to be a mental health nurse. And we've wondered about the utility of a practicum where we're taken to a mental health facility, pushed through the locked entrance door, and literally told to "go hang out."But still, I'm thankful. This practicum has torn my heart up. The people you see in mental health facilities are so often these raw, vulnerable nerve endings. And it can be painful to be near them, to listen to their stories, to witness their suffering. You want to help them, to somehow protect them from themselves and the world, and you can't. And there have been so many times when I've come home from that practicum and cried. But I'm still grateful for it. I'm grateful because I've seen things that I never expected. So many people in these facilities have been kicked around by life. They have these illnesses that leave them in a constant state of chaos, whether they're hearing voices or feeling manic or stuck in massive depression. Because of their illness, they've lost jobs and had marriages fall apart. So many of them are abandoned by their families, who see their illnesses as shameful, ignorant of the fact that mental illness is not a choice but a disease as real as any cancer. They've been homeless or in group  housing. They've been arrested or locked up in psych wards again and again. And you expect this to make these people mean and closed off. Because wouldn't you be? Wouldn't these experiences make a human hard and shut down? You expect that, but what I've seen so often is the opposite. I see these people who are so open and so willing to share the inner details of their life. They're willing to open up, completely, to strangers they just met. And what has touched me most, what has broken my heart in an entirely different way, is the compassion I've seen between patients. They're kind to each other and they help each other. They're in so much pain and anguish and they still try to help the person next to them. This practicum has allowed me to see human beings in this way you rarely see them. And I'm thankful for that. I'm humbled by the strength I've seen. People with diseases like schizophrenia fight a battle every single day just to function, to tune out voices or delusions. They suffer as much as a person with a physical disease. But where someone with cancer or heart disease receives support and compassion from the world, people with mental illness so often find fear and shame. They're sick and they're made to feel guilty about it, to feel like they're criminals. I'm thankful for this practicum because it's emphasized all over again how badly our society treats people with mental illness. And it's renewed my belief and my hope that we can change that attitude. I'm not afraid of any of the people I've interacted with during this practicum. I'm inspired by them, by how hard some of them fight just to hang on, to wake up every day and live. I will spend the rest of my life humbled by what I've seen during this practicum. And I will root for these people, always.

29. For rare, lazy Saturdays where I can stay in my pajamas as late as I want, do whatever I want, and actually breathe.

30. For turning 27. 27 doesn't scare me. It doesn't make me feel old. I'm grateful that I have yet to feel panic or anxiety with a birthday. I like feeling older. I would never in a million years go back to 16 or 21 or 24. Not because I didn't have a great time at those ages, but because I've liked myself progressively more with each birthday. I'm not wise but I'm wiser that I was a year ago. I'm stronger than I was a year ago. The experiences of 26 made me a better, more complete person at 27. And I hope to feel the same way about 28. 

So there it is, my 30 days of gratitude in one post. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Richmond Marathon Recap

Before I begin the story of my first marathon (spoiler alert, I may have given away the ending with the above picture, either that or I stole someone else's medal in a fit of hysteria, you'll just have to keep reading to find out), I must back up a little, to exactly one week before my first marathon. On Saturday morning I woke up bright and early (bright and early=the theme of my Saturday mornings since August), and headed out for an eight to ten mile taper run. The fact that an eight to ten mile run is now a "shortish" run is just mind boggling and makes me wonder if unbeknownst to myself I've been involved in some sort of Freaky Friday body swap. I honestly don't know how this happened. But it did. And so I set off for that taper run with every intention of finishing it. I hadn't not finished a marathon training run. Even on my 20 miler, which kicked my butt and soul and mind to within an inch of their lives, I finished.

However, about a mile into my last long run, my calf sent a very different message. I felt it twinge at the end of my 20 miler, and it had been sore the next time I ran, a 7 miler. After that run it was sore when i walked for the next couple of days. But I figured I could run through it. I honestly don't know what it's like to run a long run without some kind of pain. Our bodies aren't just dumb pack animals. They won't put up with abuse silently and plod along. However I know my body well enough from running to know that there are different kinds of pain, the achy joints kind of pain that you can run through, and then the other kind, the sharp, sudden, yikes kind.

It was that other kind of pain that showed up on the Saturday before the marathon. It showed up with a vengeance. By mile 2, I had to stop. Not only was the pain sharp and constant, but the muscle stiffened up so completely (at the time I thought it was the tendon), that I couldn't get the range of motion needed for a running stride. Like I said before, I've never not finished a training run. I've never stopped. I've always pushed through it. I couldn't push through this. I turned around two and a half miles in, and limped the rest of the way home with tears in my eyes.

This sounds dramatic, and it is. But you have to understand that I thought this was it. I thought I had lost my marathon, my great white whale, this goliath beast that had loomed in my life for months, this thing I had sacrificed for and trained for and given myself up to so completely. I thought it was gone. How could I run 26.2 miles if I couldn't even run two?

When I got home, I wallowed in self pity for a few minutes. And then I called Physical Therapy Solutions. They had helped me through a hip strain when I was training for my first 10k (oh how innocent the days), and I trusted them completely. At this point I mostly just wanted someone to tell me either a) I could absolutely not run the marathon or b) I could run it and not cripple myself. Since I thought it was a tendon issue I was seriously worried about what "running through it" could mean for my body and my ability to run at all after the race. I was scared and needed reassurance first more than treatment.

To make a long story really short, Physical Therapy Solutions squeezed me in last minute on Monday. After an exam it was determined it was a lower calf strain, not a tendon issue (I almost hugged my PT when he told me this), and with intensive treatment over the next few days, I could get to a state where running 26.2 miles was feasible. So for the next few days I got to experience a taste of what professional athletes experience, daily treatments and care for my calf from experienced professionals. They threw the proverbial sink at me. Ultrasound, deep tissue massage (not as nice as it sounds when you're massaging an inflamed and angry calf muscle), TENS (basically electrodes that give your muscle tiny little shocks), and of course since it's physical therapy, clamshells for butt strengthening (I think no matter what issue you go to PT with they will make you do those godforsaken clamshells). I was not at all surprised to find that the same body mechanics behind my calf strain were identical to the body mechanics behind my hip strain (ultra tight calves and hamstrings, weak glutes that make my stride weird and put tension on muscles that can't handle that tension, too much hip rotation, ankle joints that pull off the incredible feat of being both inflexible and double jointed, etc and etc). My body is a circus freak. I should go to physical therapy every day just to exist.

I can't emphasize enough how much these sessions helped me, not just physically but mentally. I was surrounded by runners for one thing, people who had run marathons before and who could offer advice, people who understood unequivocally why I needed to run this race, why I wouldn't throw in the towel unless I literally lost my feet and/or legs, and maybe not even then. My PT recommended two things that may have changed my running forever, compression tights and a massage stick roller thing that is better than the foam roller at getting to calf issues. My calves are just bizarre. I have really big calf muscles, but what they promise in strength is kind of negated by how tight and inflexible they are. I hope that compression tights and my massage stick might help fix some of these issues. I went for a test run on Wednesday (three easy miles) and crossed my fingers the whole time but didn't feel any pain. By Friday I felt calm and ready. I had done everything I could.

Other than the minor injury, my preparation the week before was as good as can be. I was super busy with school (naturally) and maybe didn't get enough rest/sleep as I could have, but other than that I was on point. I started cutting out high fiber foods on Thursday. I started adding carb filled snacks in between meals. I bought liter bottles of water and drank them like it was my job. I also drank sports drinks Thursday and Friday. I got everything ready in advance, my playlist, my gels, my outfit, my plan to get to the start line, my plan to meet up with people after. And I kept myself from ever completely flipping out. I was nervous, but I think being so busy with school helped keep my mind from ever over analyzing the insane thing I was about to do.

I woke up at 5 on Saturday morning. I never would have guessed that waking up at 5 or 6am on a Saturday morning would be something I would voluntarily do, not once, not twice, but over and over again over a period of months. Same for going to bed at 9pm on a Friday night without a glass of wine (okay other than the wine part, I secretly loved having an excuse to crawl into bed that early and not feel like an old lady). When I look back on my marathon training, I'm almost more proud of those sacrifices than I am of the distances. Running a marathon isn't free. You can't continue your normal life without any changes to do it. It takes legitimate sacrifice. I like that. I like that you can't cheat it (okay fine some people do but they're stinkers and don't count). But for most people, you have to put in that effort and time. And I'm proud of myself for that, for getting up when it's still dark on a weekend, not because I have to, not because I'll get in trouble if I don't, but because I know that every early morning is getting me a little closer to 26.2 miles.

But back to the marathon day. I woke up at 5am and did what I had done for my 16, 18, and 20 milers. I ate a plain bagel from Ellwood Thompson and drank a coconut water. I had everything together so after dressing and foam rolling, I headed over to my parent's house to get a ride to the start line. My mom drove me as close as she could get to the start at Broad St. near City Hall. I made my way the next few blocks to the start area, which was absolutely packed. The half-marathoners were just leaving and the marathoners were arriving. The hard-core marathoners were jogging around to warm up. The slightly less hard core were doing intense stretching. The slightly less of the slightly less hard core (I put myself in this category) were taking in everything with big eyes and waiting in line to pee. The line was long and so while waiting I struck up a conversation with a woman I will refer to as the first of many crazies I met that day. She was from New Jersey, a teacher, and part of a running group that has run marathons in every state once, and is on their second go round. She had run a marathon almost every weekend this fall, and was, wait for it, running not only the Richmond marathon this weekend, but the Outer Banks marathon THE NEXT DAY. I told her how incredible she was and how in awe I was, but mostly I was thinking, you need to be committed to some kind of facility. I mean seriously? Two marathons in one weekend is just nut balls insane. There is no rationalization for that kind of activity. I am going to propose it is added to the list of mental illness diagnoses. But it calmed me down, because what's running one marathon in a weekend when this wackadoodle is running two?

After peeing I quickly stripped off the old sweatshirt I wore. Here was the first surprise of the day. By 7:45 it was still chilly, but it was warming up, FAST. The sun was out and the temperature was rising much, much quicker than I anticipated. I found my place in the corral (at the back by the 5:00 pace group), and while I chewed on an energy gel with caffeine (my coffee substitute when I have to run), a girl with a beautiful voice sang the national anthem. Here's the first time I got a little choked up on marathon day. Every runner there stopped their frantic pre-race activity to listen. And I realized this was the first time in my life I've listened to the national anthem at a sporting event in which I was participating. I wasn't a spectator. I spent way too much of my life being a spectator only. It felt really freaking good to not be a spectator this morning, to know that national anthem was for me (okay, not me personally, I'm not a narcissist, but you get what I'm saying).

And then we were off. The marathon is different in that there are no waves. The front of the pack shoots off and everyone behind them ambles along slowly until they cross the official start. I'm going to break the rest of the race down into fifths, because that's how I broke it down in my head and how I planned out my Gu intake.

Miles 1-6 (aka The Miles of Innocence and Wonder)

I know everyone says this, but these miles were really good. I quickly fell into a good pace near the 5:00 pacer (he had a two color wig on and a foam finger so that helped me not lose him). The crowd was pretty thick but after the first mile or so I didn't feel too cramped. The hardest part was not running faster. I felt so great and the morning was still cool, and also I have this innate tendency when I'm running in a pack to try to pass everyone (maybe all those years playing Mario Kart?). In a marathon you cannot pass everyone or you will be running 5 minute miles (and in my case quickly dying), so you have to be comfortable having people in front of you. I did my best to keep a slow pace, and looking at my first 6 miles I did this. I was running almost exactly an 11 minute mile, only slightly faster than my goal (and yes, I know that's slow, all of you 3 hour marathon runners are probably like, 11 minute mile, were you even moving forward?, but while I am capable of running faster than that, I am not capable of sustaining speed for long periods of time without vomiting/falling over by mile 20, that is actually one of my goals for the future, but for this race, I was content to be a slow turtle and pace myself). We ran down Broad Street and over to Monument, and there were never too long of stretches without spectators. These were also the miles of sarcasm, because everyone at this point has the energy to be sarcastic. There were a good number of smart ass signs that said things like "You're Almost There!" or "It's all Downhill from Here." At mile 3 I had a nice chuckle over these signs. If I had seen them at mile  17 I might have punched my fist through them. There was also a lot of inter-runner chuckles. Many people would shout out things like "Only 24 miles to go!" when we passed the Mile 2 sign. Jovial times ensued. Again, these were the halcyon days. The route was beautiful. We ran past my apartment on Monument, down to Westmoreland and over to Grove. I love this route and I run it again and again, and I felt a certain amount of pride to share my city and my roads with all these thousands of people, especially the out-of towners. Every tree popped with autumn leaves, bright golds and reds in every direction. My calf was doing fine, thanks all of that treatment and my super, awesome, bright pink tie die compression tights (the only ones left at Road Runner that weren't like poop brown or orange).

There were only two worrying things about this stretch of the race: 1) my knee started hurting at like mile 3. Oh my poor knee. The calf issue was new and flashy, but my knee had been a cranky old man since September. Every long run it would start to shake its fist at me half way in, and mutter mutinously for days after the run until I iced it and took Advil. I had kind of neglected my knee, and I think it knew it. It didn't like this calf issue stealing its thunder. And so it started to hurt when I had double digit miles left. But I knew this pain. This pain I understood. I could run through it. The only other slightly worrying thing was how warm it got. When I train I run on sidewalks. Sidewalks are shaded. The middle of the street usually is not. There was not a cloud in the sky this Saturday and the sun was out in full force within a half hour after the start. I quickly realized I didn't need my cold weather head band that had been so nice on my 18 and 20 mile runs in colder temperatures. What I needed on this beautiful, sunny day that was supposed to get to near 70 degrees was a hat. Alas, you can never plan perfectly. We made it to the Grove and Libbie party zone and then to the mile 6 marker a little ways away from that and I felt strong.

Miles 6-11 (aka the This Isn't So Bad stretch)

This was one of my favorite parts of the whole race. We got to run down River Road, over the Huguenot Bridge, down Cherokee, and finally along the river on Riverside Drive. I loved running here for the marathon, because as beautiful as these routes are I would never run them alone. The road is much too narrow, there isn't a shoulder, and there are too many twists and turns. I am a city girl and am used to the safety of sidewalks. But I loved that I got to run on these roads at least once, surrounded by a few thousand other runners. We passed several porta pottie stops with super long lines (and a lot of very impatient looking pee-ers/runners), and I was stoked that I didn't have to pee (although this was probably due to dehydration, more on that later). It was very cool to run over the new bridge and see the James stretching out in both directions. I heard lots of out of town comments that were very positive about the sights and it made my little Richmond heart swell with pride. I had my trusty ipod with me, and I had heard both opinions about listening to music during a marathon. I understood both sides. So as a compromise I alternated between turning the music off and listening to what was going on around me and turning it on for motivation in the longer, more boring stretches. When we got over the bridge I saw possibly my favorite poster of the marathon ("Paul Ryan already finished"). If you don't know what that refers to go google, "Paul Ryan marathon time." I'll wait here.

Okay, everyone back now? I was actually very surprised at the number of signs and posters all over the course, even in the stretches without a lot of spectators (like Riverside Drive). There were all the usual ones ("Worst Parade Ever", "Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon"), as well as some new ones ("Run Faster if You Peed A Little", "Run Like You Stole Something"). One person put up like 200 posters alone, because they were all the same style and handwriting. That's dedication.

In all the pictures of the Richmond Marathon they always show runners next to the river, and beauty wise, it really is the most amazing part of the race.

(Disclaimer: I did not take this picture, nor am I one of the runners.But I figure you can use your imagination)

 Bonus points for the fact that this stretch was one of the few consistently shaded areas. This was also the section of the course where I encountered Crazy of the Day #2. A man running with his 14 year old daughter was loudly talking to the woman next to him about how in his house, when his children turn 14 they run a marathon, "no whining allowed." This was the only part of the course where I truly considered a DNF, if only so I could run to the nearest phone and call Child Protective Services. Because if forcing your 14 year old child to run a marathon isn't child abuse, I don't know what is. I mean seriously. No, and no, and no. There's making your kids be active and then there's making your kids run a marathon. One is awesome. The other is sociopathic. Do not make your children run a marathon.

I sped up to get away from that particular wackadoo, but also the fresh air and river and shade just combined to make me want to run faster. That and the fact that during this stretch and for a while before, I was right behind a SPEED WALKER. I know they're fast. I know it's a sport in and of itself. But there is something demoralizing about running slower than the person in front of you who is walking. I mean this guy was trucking. But still. There was also a stretch earlier where I was behind an old man running in a style that can only be described as limp/galloping. I don't even know how to do it justice. Basically he was favoring one leg, but making it up for it by taking these big, horse like strides with the other. It looked painful. I ran faster than him just because it hurt to watch. And he was like 80. There is definitely no shortage of people watching during a marathon. I was near the same core group for most of the race, and there was a lady in a tutu, a man in shorts so short that there may have been a little bit of butt cleavage, and also a guy who took a call on his cell phone at like mile 9. So many weirdos run marathons. But I don't want to analyze it too much, because that probably means I'm a weirdo. Also I saw the official Brightroom photos of myself running, and sweet Jesus. There's an episode of New Girl where Nick asks why all women who run look like "old Russian ladies." I did not understand that line until I saw photos of myself running. It is not an attractive sport.

But other than the weirdos this stretch was good. We made it to mile 11, turned away from the river. I took my next Gu, and suddenly we were in the land of hills.

Miles 11-16 (aka the Land of Hills).

This stretch was pretty tough. I kept up a good pace, which actually I realized around mile 12 was a faster pace than I intended. I thought I was still near the 5:00 pacer guy with the wig, when suddenly a 4:45 pacer woman came up behind me. I did a double take and realize that for the last few miles I had been running under an 11 minute mile, which was great and felt really comfortable, but which was faster than I had trained during my distance runs (which is usually a no-no, and again I know that's not actually fast, all you fast marathon runners hush up). I was feeling good though so I only slowed down a little. And then I slowed down more once we started going up the first of what felt like hundreds of hills between Riverside Drive and Forest Hill. Oh the hills. It was at this point that I started to get really, really thirsty. There were water stops every other mile, but that wasn't cutting it. I would be absolutely parched by the time I got to the next stop, which is not great. It had heated up considerably and I was sweating a lot more than I anticipated. I finally realized that the water stations also had jugs of water so I started filing up my handheld water bottle, which helped a lot for hydrating between water stations. Even though this part was harder I still felt pretty good. I was drinking Powerade with every water station. I hadn't originally intended to do this, but with the heat it felt necessary because I was taking in so much more water (too much water and not enough sports drink over five hours of running=very, very bad). The Gus were staying down okay, although not nearly as well as in my training runs. Again I chalk it up to the heat. My mouth was so dry that they just felt so thick and sticky, and I didn't want to use all my water from my water bottle to wash them down and then be empty. It wasn't the tropics or anything, but it was in the high 50s, low 60s by this point, which when combined with running, very low humidity, and really bright sun, makes thing a lot harder. Especially when my last few long runs had been in weather a good 15 degrees colder. But I adapted. I focused a lot on hydration and things seemed to be okay.

We finally made it to Forest Hill and past mile 13.1. I was half way to a marathon. It still didn't feel close, but it felt closer. I could run another 13.1 miles. Most of Forest Hill is kind of a blur. It was a really, really long stretch, and any really, really long, interrupted stretch in a race kind of stinks. Because you want the turn to come so badly and it just refuses to come. There was another party zone which was fun, although at this point party zones were slightly less charming, if only because seeing people drinking and enjoying themselves is less endearing at mile 15 than at mile 6. At mile 15 a teensy, tiny bit of irrational resentment creeps in. But I kept it in check. I also politely turned down the sometimes weird food offerings. I think there was junk food at one point, but I don't get how anyone can eat anything solid during 26.2 miles. There were also doughnuts at one point. Again normally delicious. During a marathon, not so much. One nice thing I saw on this stretch was that CVS was giving away free bottles of water to runners. Thanks CVS!

Hands down the best part of this chunk, and one of the best parts of the entire race was on Semmes, close to mile 16 and the Lee Bridge, when we passed a Fire Station. There was a large group of firefighters standing outside, and they were all clapping. This was moment #2 when I got a little choked up during the race. It's a very emotional feeling to see firefighters clap for you. These are people I respect tremendously, who I admire, and it's hard to describe what it means to see them stand up and cheer for you, to know they admire what you're doing in that moment. It's a moment from the race that I know I will remember even when a lot of the other moments fade. It was very cool and such an energy booster to go into the next stretch.

Mile 16-21 (aka Ouch mixed with Yay!)

Mile 16 was right before the Lee Bridge. And I was kind of worried about the Lee Bridge, because I heard it was really windy, but the wind wasn't too bad. What was bad was the blaring sun, and the fact that my knees were hurting, I was tired, and I still had ten miles to go. I would say miles 16-18 were my  worst miles mentally. I wasn't at the wall stage. I didn't regret what I was doing. I knew I was going to finish. But it just felt a really, really long way away. I started to walk for stretches here, which was probably a mistake. But walking at this point felt like such a lovely idea. Even just for a little while. The problem was that from this point on my body understood that walking was an option, and it would demand it. However, I managed to pick up my pace again half way over the Lee Bridge.

We made it to Main St., and I got a new surge of energy, because I knew my parents would be at Lombardy and Main. Sure enough they were there, and I am so grateful they were. People told me before the race that it made such a big difference to have familiar faces along the course. And I cannot describe how much it does, especially towards the end. It gave me so much energy when I was near the bottom of my fuel tank. Mentally it cleared my head, reminded me what I was doing and why I was doing it. I waved goodbye to them with plans to meet a little ways on, when not more than a block away, I ran into another one of my persons. My sweet, pregnant cousin Lory (who had run two marathons (fast ones!) and knows the score) was there with a sign. This was a total surprise and such a wonderful one. I gave her a big hug and it felt so nice to share that moment with someone who knew exactly what I was going through. I ran on and lo and behold, a couple more blocks down Main Street I ran into two of my friends from school, Theresa and Jessie. At this point I just felt spoiled. Main Street will always be near and dear to me now because in the marathon it represented just this warm, lovely well of support. I ran toward Boulevard feeling renewed and lighter. My legs were gone at this point. They were in so much pain I didn't know where the pain ended and my legs began. I was still so freaking thirsty between every stop (and I didn't have to pee, even though I was taking in so much water and Powerade, definitely on the borderline of dehydration, luckily I stayed on the borderline). But seeing my people made every difference in the world.

There was another damn hill (at this point I started to take hills as personal affronts) up Boulevard but then a nice downhill after. I made a somewhat unfortunate but necessary bargain with my body around here at mile 20. I would walk through every water station (which were every mile after mile 20). My body took this deal but added a caveat, I would walk through every water station and then for a couple of minutes after until my brain and heart could win the argument with my muscles and bone to start moving again in a fashion resembling running. At mile 20 my time was 3:45. I was on pace for a sub five hour marathon, close to 4:50. I didn't hit a wall. The wheels didn't come off. But I had made that walk/run deal with my body. And my body wasn't going to let me off the hook. They always say it's better to run than walk when you're in pain and exhausted, because both are difficult at that point. My only regret is that I couldn't heed that advice. Honestly, I was just too tired. I was going to finish, but I didn't have the energy left in me for an all out push to the finish. And I'm okay with that. I could blame it on the sun or the heat or running a little too fast the first half, but I'm not going to. My body was awesome on marathon day. It did everything I asked of it. It did the impossible. And I can't blame it for slowing down towards the finish. I'm proud of it regardless. It gave me everything I could have had reason to ask of it.

But this was mile 20 so I had six to go. The walk/run strategy was okay other than the first 30 seconds of starting to run again. Every time I did that I had to brace myself and hold my breath for just excruciating pain as my running muscle started up. Both of my knees felt like they had shards of glass in them and the transition from walking to running made those shards of glass really, really pissed off. But I did it. I got to Laburnum and Hermitage and ran into my cousin, Lory again, with my other cousin Margaret and her two year old, (my second cousin once removed or something, I just call her my cousin) Evelyn. It was another huge energy boost seeing them. Margaret told me yesterday I looked so poised at that moment. Let's just say I did not feel that way. But nice to know my face is a good liar. Shortly after I made it to Laburnum and Brook, mile 22. 4.2 more to go.

Miles 22-26.2 (The End)

A lot of people have asked me if I hit "the wall." And honestly, the answer is no. I feel like it's one of those things you know immediately when it happens. And I think I experienced it to a lesser extent during my 20 mile run. I don't think the wall is just physical. I think it's a lot mental and emotional. And at the end of my 20 mile run, I was in tears. I was so exhausted and so mad at the exhaustion and the toll of what I was doing. I hated every second of the last two miles of that run. I wanted to lie down. I wanted it to stop. It was horrible.

I never felt that way during the marathon. Not even a little bit. Don't get me wrong. The last four miles I was exhausted in a way I've never been exhausted. I was in pain. I was ready for it to be over. I started to be slightly loopy in the sense that I was sure, positive, that roads were longer than they should have been. I have never been angrier in my life at a road than I was at Brook Road during the marathon. I took it personally that it would not reach Lombardy faster. Stupid road! Why are you torturing me?

So yeah there was that kind of thing. I was losing a little coordination. There were a couple of water stops where I drank the water out of the cup and passed right next to a trash can and missed. I mean I was inches from the trash can, standing over it, and I couldn't get a tiny cup into a very big opening.

But I never hated it. I never regretted it. I always was confident in what I was doing, in the choice I made. And you know what, never once, not a single time, did the phrase "Never Again" cross my brain. There was a lot of pain around me. Runners dropped like flies. So many people were on the side of the road, holding on to trees, desperately trying to stretch out cramps (I bet you that random warm weather did a lot of people in with dehydration related cramps). I saw one guy stop abruptly, squat down in the middle of the road, and get ready to hurl (luckily I didn't see that part). There was a lot of walking. There was a lot of pained, okay I'm going to start running again moments.

I will say the crowd helped here for sure. I loved having my name on my bib, because those last few miles I got a lot of "Go Liz's" and "You can do it Liz" and "You're almost there Liz." That's a lot better than "Hey you, you're doing good." Although every time I whipped my head around expecting someone I knew. But it didn't matter. It's amazing how much the support of strangers helps and lifts you. Although toward the end of the race there is a razor thin line between helpful, supportive cheers, and I'm going to find you after this race and club you with my finsher's medal cheers. In the supportive column I would say all of the comments I mentioned above. In the other category were things like "Don't stop now" when I was taking a walk break or "It's all downhill from here" when there were in fact more hills left. Runners need motivation. They don't need blatant lies or to be chastised for walking a little bit after 20 some miles. But mostly it was great. I saw my dad at Grace and Lombardy, and then it was less than two miles to go.

This part was kind of surreal. I was exhausted, but exhilarated by the fact that I was so flippin' close to finishing a marathon. I mostly wanted to walk, but I found a way to plead with my body for just a little bit more. We turned off Franklin and I could see Brown's Island. It was there, waiting, and I was going to finish. So the Richmond marathon ends famously downhill (a steep downhill). It's used as something of a selling point. And the spectators loved to tell us just how downhill it was.

But any runner I've talked to does not love this aspect of it. At the end of a marathon, your (or at least the average human's) joints, particularly the knees, are just toast. You have very little strength left in them and they hurt. Do you know what is one of the hardest things on knees? Downhill slopes. To run down a hill you have to be able to stabilize, and the knees do a lot of that work. When you're knees are tired that's really, freaking hard. I have to imagine that people have fallen down that hill. My only goal at this point was not to end the marathon by rolling down the final hill (although if that had happened, I bet I would be on the news!). But seriously they videotape the final stretch. That would not be great for my self esteem.

This was the part where I just ignored the pain. I didn't care. I saw that 26 mile sign (oh marathons, so vicious and cruel to make you go just that extra .2 miles more) and I felt a wave of endorphins and emotion and adrenaline (there may have been some shock in there as well, possibly a hallucination or two). I picked up my pace and felt like I was flying (in the video, I look like I'm taking the most mundane, leisurely stroll imaginable, I honestly looked bored). I heard the cheers, saw a blur of faces (my mom included, thanks mom!), but all I concentrated on was that finish line. I crossed it, and it was honestly one of the most incredible moments of my entire life. I didn't care that my time was 5:02 (although just to make it clear, almost a thousand people finished slower than me, so hey, it's not like I came in dead last). I didn't care that my legs were toast or that I had possibly just given my future self arthritis. I didn't care about any of it. They put that finisher's medal around my neck, and it was real. I finished a marathon. Me, the girl who didn't play sports in high school or college, who would only run away from danger or toward a really good sale up until three years ago, the girl who thought a 10k was impossibly far, who was so satisfied with just being average in so many ways for so long.

I'm not satisfied with that anymore. I know what it feels like to not be average. Running a marathon isn't average. It's exceptional. My immediate reaction to everything is to be self-deprecating and make fun of myself for my many dorky and physically inept qualities (there are many). But when I felt that medal around my neck, when I looked around and saw this group of marathon finishers who I am now apart of, I felt exceptional, in a way we rarely allow ourselves to feel. I found my mom, found my other people (thanks Chrissy, MK, Jess, and Summer) and plopped down in the grass, spent, exhausted and absolutely giddy.

I cannot emphasize how hard this whole process was, how much it took, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I've basically been in a semi state of physical exhaustion since late July. I've given up a lot. This wasn't easy. It was in fact that hardest thing I've ever done. It's not just the culmination of four months of training. It's the culmination of the three years since I became a runner, of the shorter races I've done to prepare for this point. It's a privilege, that I have been able to train for this, that physically I'm in a place where I can do this. I've been in the hospital enough for school to know that physical health is such a blessing and that it isn't forever for any of us.

I ran the marathon for a lot of reasons, for health, as a challenge, for the really shiny medal, for bragging rights (why else do you think you see all those 26.2 stickers). But when it came down to it, when it was just me out there, I ran for the same reason I use to guide so many of my choices. I don't want an ordinary life. I don't want to wait for life to happen to me. I want to make my life happen, in every crazy, previously impossible way. On Saturday this former non-athlete made 26.2 miles happen.

This past Saturday I ran a marathon. I get to keep that. That's with me forever.

(see what I mean? total, old Russian lady vibe going on here)

But to not end on a completely "me, me, me" note, I do owe a lot of people a great deal of thanks for supporting me through the training and race. In no particular order:

-My parents, for braving Richmond traffic on marathon day to get me close to the start, for cheering me on in three (!) different places on the route and at the finish.
-My cousins, Lory, Margaret, and Evelyn for cheering and giving me a huge energy boost
-Theresa and Jessie for cheering on Main Street
-My aunt Mimi and uncle Mike for cheering at the finish even though I was in too much of a blur to see them!
-Three of my best friends, Mary Catherine, Chrissy, and Jess for coming from out of town to Richmond  to be there at Brown's Island at the finish :)
-Everyone who came over Saturday night to eat pizza and lazily celebrate
-Rob for his texts and calls of support throughout the day 
-Physical Therapy Solutions for performing a last minute miracle on my poor calf
-Everyone who texted, posted, or called with support race weekend and all through the training process
-Dave, Darci, Lori and other experienced marathon runners for their welcome advice
-Ellwood Thompson for their bagels
-Compression tights (even hot pink, tie died ones)
-Grove Avenue Water Stop-I planned all my long runs to go past you because you always warm my heart.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I voted.

It has been three weeks since I posted here, and my plan is to do a long (and probably long-winded) catch up post tomorrow when I'm rested and caffeinated.

But for tonight, just had to post, not about politics or political opinions or who I want to win tonight. I just wanted to post that I voted today, my second vote in a presidential election, and even the second time around, I found myself civically and dorkily swept up in a moment of pride and patriotism as I cast my electronic ballot. 

It's so easy to forget how frickin' amazing this is, what we do every four years (or more often if you're much more civic minded than I).

We vote. We vote without fear of persecution, without worry of corruption. We vote knowing that no matter how much the person next to us at the polls may dislike our opinions, we aren't enemies. Tomorrow morning there will be a president. The sun will rise. And the result won't plunge us into civil unrest. 

We vote not simply believing, but knowing, with certainty, that our ballot will be counted, that every ballot will be counted.

I've grown up with this. We all have. And for nearly every day out of every four years, it hardly even registers. But today as I voted it did. I was humbled by it, by the small, beautiful miracle that voting in freedom truly is. So many people would die for that ability. So many people have died. So many have dreamed and cried and hoped for it, desperately and fervently against a backdrop of oppression and violence.

This election has been mean and ugly so often. But none of that, not the TV ads or the phone calls or the bickering, gets to take away from what it means to vote the way we vote.

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