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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Marathon Lessons: Pain is Temporary....

...but pride is forever. That's the sign I see a race volunteer holding around mile 21 as I circled around Lake Merced in San Francisco. That's also the moment in the Nike Women's Marathon when I read it and nearly came to tears because the 5 miles before that had been so painful that it now had become impossible to run. My running partner-in-crime, Carol, (who I've trained with since May) and I have succumbed to walking, both our knees in serious trouble (sympathy pains?). The wind, rain and cold off the Pacific have also made it challenging, numbing our hands and chilling our water-logged bodies to the bone. But we keep going. We see Team in Training chapter names on the backs of TNTers' race shirts from across the country - there goes Arizona, Delaware, Oklahoma, even Hawaii and Canada. It feels like every state in the darn country is passing us. And there was Georgia...plodding along. Frustrating. For the last 10 miles we have roller coastered through every emotion from delrious laughing to cursing as if we had a condition. So, the sign makes me want to cry.

Carol and I see it as a moment to refocus for the last 5.2 miles. Ok. It's not long now, we think to ourselves, The rain hasn't let up and neither has the stabbing pain in my knee, but so help me there was no way I was NOT going to complete this marathon, even if I had to crawl on my hands and knees and drag my sorry, sore butt to the finish.

We set our next thoughts on looking for our beloved TNT Coach Ed around mile 24. We knew he was going to be stationed around this stretch of the course helping the hunredreds of TNT participants with that last little push. This was a critical point -- a few miles before the finish. It's impossible to miss Ed because he's so incredibly tall and gazelle-like, and sure enough, like a beacon of purple light, he's there running toward us. Only now, I feel even worse. He sees the looks on our faces. We are at least an hour behind where we should have been at this point. Strangely, I feel like I have let him down when I see him. I still don't think he knows that, but in some weird way that's how I feel. I had great training runs and know I was capable of finishing this race strong. Ed and Carol were there with me on every long training run - helping me get to 16, 18, and 20 mile runs. The miles were challenging, but I got stronger as the weeks went by. So why was this happening to me now? Ed tries to comfort me as I hobble along, but my internal questioning fuels my anger and this Georgia girl was not a happy camper. Here's a pic my TNT friend Bruce snapped at this point. I'm on the left, beside me is Ed and Carol. It's probably good that my lips were blurred so you can't make out some choice words!:
Well, the finish did come and plunging through huge puddles of water, Carol grabs my hand and thrusts it upward with hers. We did it!! It didn't take long before I took my second step past the finish line and my elation turned to uncontrollable sobs (I'm not a cryer except in unusual circumstances) Yes, I had myself an ugly cry. It was a cry of exhaustion and the feeling that I made it. I was so lucky that my awesome hubby Brian was there along the race course, but especially at the finish. I stumbled toward him as he snapped the progression of my emotions with his professional grade camera - all caught on digital memory forever. It sure made for a great laugh when I saw the series of these photos later. Here's me walking toward Brian:

This post may indicate that physically and mentally I had a terrible experience at the Nike Marathon the weekend of Oct. 17, 2010. But in fact, I actually didn't. Of course there are many things I wish were different about my race day and my first marathon experience. It just wasn't my day - that's for darn sure - but there were many great moments of inspiration that entire weekend in San Fransisco with my Team in Training partners. That weekend, I was surrounded by stories of preserverance through sickness, moments of courage, laughter and rememberance of loved ones who've passed from a blood cancer, and strength from those who continue to endure. This entire training season was a journey and lesson in gratitude for the good things in my life. There are those people who will never have the chance to have another "race day;" another do-over. There are those who will never attempt run an endurance race. I will.

...And now for a moment of cleansing.
A pic with Carol and the SF firemen greeting us at the finish. I just wish I had been a little more coherent to fully enjoy it!

jumping for joy, brief moment of elation at mile 3. Clearly, early on in the race!:

Friday, October 15, 2010

No turning back now!

So friends,...I'm on the plane. On THE plane to, yep, San Francisco! Two days left and I'll be running toward that little blue box and into the arms of San Fran's finest firefighters! Got your attention? Mine too - that's how I got started on this crazy journey called a marathon 5 months ago. Well, not entirely of course, but a little Tiffany's bling and man muscle at the finish line never hurt no body. No ma'am.

Lemme splain. October marks not only my first marathon, but a year with Team in Training, doing things I never thought would ever do, including making a promise to Evie and keeping it, and then some too...So in many ways this race is more meaningful to me than I had imagined. Evie said recently that her treatment is almost like a marathon training in many ways. Though you can't really possibly put them both in the same category, both have physically grueling moments and mentally draining challenges that test your will to keep going. But we keep keepin on.

And here we are.
So all this work will be put to the test! I'm a wad of anxious energy; no doubt annoying anyone within a one foot radius...knees bobbing up and down like a 6 year old mainlining Pixie Stix. So, we shall see my friends. I'll do the best I can Sunday morning! Selfishly, I'm hoping you all send some good ju-ju in the direction of the Bay Area from wherever you dwell. If you're really bored on Sunday morning, you can follow along my Facebook wall. There's even a nifty Nike GPS app (yes there IS an app for everything!) that connects to my page at the start of my run. If you "like it" or make a comment, it will activate a "cheer" action directy to my iPhone that will be nested in my -- yes people -- fanny pack (or as I'd like to call it my "accessoire of essentials".)

Side bar. Lesson #63 in marathon training: Function over fashion. Get over the need to be too cute. This is also closely related to Lesson #47: Become accustomed to, if not excited by, the sensation you feel when entering running apparel and accessory stores. This became all too apparent when in Chicago last week my shopping radar skimmed right over Neiman Marcus on the same block as my hotel and went right for the Niketown and Garmin stores. Runner euphoria!

I digress. I cannot sign off without thanking all the good people who donated to my fundraising goal for this race!! I'm beyond greatful for everyone's generosity and it has inspired me to keep going.

So peeps, the plane is landing and I guess all I have to say is that I'll catch you on the other side of 26.2! GO TEAM!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sweet Sixteen

So, I reached a major milestone over the weekend by karate-chopping 16 miles!! AHHHH-YAH! I actually was nervous all last week knowing I was going to do this kind of mileage. I had only done just under 14 miles one other time so this was unchartered territory. So Sunday I headed out at 6am in the dark with three other marathoners (two of them have run countless 26 milers) so I was the only virgin.

What's two more miles, right? A-LOT.

Running certainly keeps you humble. I've done a lot of races already this year, including two half marathons, but I'm always amazed at how hard just one or two more miles can really be when you're inching your way to 26. So on Sunday around mile 10 and slogging my way up a seemingly...Never. Ending. this neighborhood, I thought - oh my God, am I really going to be able to do 16.2 more miles after this?!? The race is in a little over a month! In this gargantuan and affluent neighborhood, I kept passing smiley joggers in their neatly coordinated workout outfits who probably just came from the grips of their coffee mugs and morning papers and they looked so fresh and bouncy. I became acutely aware that at this point I looked less than fresh after running for more than two hours straight. I probably looked like a sweaty, crazy-eyed serial killer. Alright, a slight exaggeration, but I was definitely feeling dazed like my legs came out of autopilot and were asking "um, it's been hours - why are we still running?" My running mates thankfully kept reassuring me, but a shred of self doubt is there in the back of my mile at a time I keep telling myself.

Sticking to a training schedule and related rituals has been hard but absolutely essential. It's even funny how before all of this crazy running I used plan my outfits before work, carefully thinking about what cute shoes, jewelry and bag I was going to coordinate with a dress or my favorite trousers. Now, my night time preparation entails carefully packing my gym bag. Picking out a cute red patent leather belt to match a skirt, for example, is less of a concern...but forgetting to pack my 3-inch, velcro-closure fuel belt with holsters for water bottles is disasterous! Sexy. Of late, my bra purchases have been less Victoria's Secret and more Sports Authority. Double Sexy. I have come to not only embrace Spandex shorts, I now really prefer them. Never in my life would I have thought those words to exit my lips. Yes's actually more about comfort than what my hind quarters look like these days. Although torching over 1,000 calories a run certainly has its benefits! And for goodness sake, I'm buying Glucosamine suppliments (for healthy cartilage!) in economy sizes. Anyway, you get the changes.

Well, on to more substantive matters. I want to thank SO many generous people for their amazing support of my TNT efforts so far - I'm at 80% to my goal - just a little left to raise in over a month! I've been working hard to reach this amount from seeking generous donations, to hosting a fundraiser and silent auction, to working concessions at Braves games! It's been great to inch closer to that $2,900 goal. I've been touched by so many people through TNT and it has enriched my life in ways I never knew. I thought I was just doing this for my dear Evie, but it's grown to mean so much more. I'm now even a TNT mentor for a whole new crop of TNT participants so I get to see them experience what I did a year ago, which is amazing! So, I hope to inspire others to "karate chop" this cancer thing and help them reach their own personal training goals too.

Seeing what a bunch of people in purple can do is pretty nifty. Here's a team picture of the "new kids" I took a few weeks ago.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's so hot, I can't even name this post

Geez all mighty, I've been slow like molasses to write...and for that I am sorry, gentle readers. I think it may be this insufferable heat that zaps any spare energy from my brain cells. I will say, however, my spare time is spent...well, you guessed it - running. And like Forrest...I-AM-A-RUH-NING, Jenny! (yes, I like this movie).

I've never run this much in my life! I got used to training all last winter and spring for my first two half-marathons, but this marathon thing is serious business. I'm not afraid to admit: I'm dern-well nervous. Maybe it's not really a bad thing...I think it's keeping me a little anxious and on my toes. October will be here before you know it. I'm sure my running pal Carol is getting sick of the barrage of questions about the Nike Marathon in San Fran last year. I'm like a little kid, begging their parent to tell the story over and over again. "So, Carol...tell me again, how did the Nike race go? What did you feel? Did it hurt? Was it hot? Was it cold? Are there really fire fighters in tuxes? How bad are the hills? Did you have to pee? Did you vomit? What about blisters? Did you chafe?" She patiently answers all my questions for the umpteenth time and again today after our 10 miler. Clearly, you end up sharing A LOT with your running partners. So we're just now starting to get into the mileage I've never run before. Last week was 14, we were down to 10 this week, and then a big 16 next weekend...yikes! We're inching up little by little which makes for more digestible bites out of this gigantic mountain I'm calling a marathon. So yeah, we'll put my neuroses on the shelf for a moment.

On to more important matters. I dedicate this post to my crutches. Not the kind you think; I'm not talking about the metal poles with the foam pads that dig into your armpits and are given to you in unfortunate circumstances. I'm talking about the friends (including my hubby) who have helped me in so many ways (ways they probably do not even know) and who I literally depend on to new running friends, to work friends, to my life-long soul sisters (A,E,D). This work and this process has definitely been mental as much as it has been physical and I'm learning a lot about myself; especially what I'm capable of. But, my friends...well, they are priceless and life crutches...they are steadfast fixtures that have held me up along the way. If you are reading this - you rock my world!

There are so many wonderfully special people in my life to mention, but in honor of crutches I do want to give one special "shout out" to my dear friend Rebecca, affectionately known as RTL or Rebequina. Since this post is dedicated to crutches she deserves a little special recognition. You see, she and I ran the ING Half Marathon back in the math...yes that's like 5 months ago. So, that's how long she's been on crutches! And yes, the unfortunate kind! She had a hip injury from the race (I swear it wasn't my fault!) but she was recently liberated (WOO-HOO!!) and I'm proud to say she's literally back on her feet. She is an awesome friend and also happens to be Hodgkin's survivor of 10+ years (DOUBLE WOO-HOO!!). And she was one of the first people I called hyperventilating when I found out Eve was diagnosed with the same cancer and she quickly calmed my fears. She also met with Eve and Michael soon after the news and I will be forever grateful for her sharing her own experience with us and being a calming presence. Thanks, RTL, and I'm sorry I broke your hip :) - let's go shoe shopping soon, m-kay?

So..yea for good for the bad kind. I leave you with a pic of me and RTL post ING back in March. That was a really good day.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Has anyone seen my endorphins?

Man, oh man. This has been one of my worst training weeks ever -- so much so that I feel like I just started running for the first time...and I have been running regularly for the last 8 weeks! A five-miler earlier in the week felt like 10; eight felt like 18. I just haven't gotten in the groove. Blah. Sometimes you go out when you don't feel like it, but eventually you start to feel a little better...the endorphins kick in and you're glad you went out anyway. Not this week. Hrmph. Every step felt like lead. Every breath felt tight. Even my clothes didn't seem to fit right this week! Fooey.

I seriously thought how in the hell am I ever going do a marathon when a few miles feels like scaling Mt. Everest...ok, I exaggerate, but I've done two half marathons this year, several 5Ks and a 10K. This is not new stuff. It's amazing how this affects your mind. Three bad training runs in a row and I'm thinking to myself: maybe I am crazy to do a marathon and I should just throw in the towel. I was reading a post from a fellow TNTer and blogger Jessica. She also had a not-so-great week but posted this quote: "You have a choice. You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off of your face." (Gatorade ad).

It was time to check mah-self.

I know I needed to get over it. Aside from my crappy runs I did have an AWESOME outpouring of donations toward my TNT goal this week! I'm almost at 40% to goal, which is great. I still have a ways to go, but I'm off to a good start. A ginormous THANK YOU to everyone who has donated so have no idea how much this means!!

Today's run was a little under 10 miles and I felt good...finally! Carol ran with me this morning and it was great to get my mind off this suffocating heat and the pounding of my tired legs. Plus, afterward I rewarded myself with some new running clothes (that fit)...a little retail therapy never hurt anyone.

So, just like anything you have good days and you have bad's the getting up part that's important. I leave you with a running scene from Forrest Gump just because I think it's funny...but unlike Forrest, I do happen to have a particular reason for running.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New Beginnings

I'm not really sure where to start. I guess I could say the last month has been about new beginnings. A new start to my training, and in more exciting news, a new start in married life: my best friend Amanda tied the knot with her her awesome man Mark. The wedding was in steamy New Orleans and it was a reunion among really amazing friends and family. Steamy is an understatement in NOLA, but the air was thick with a whole lotta love and good energy. This gathering was especially exciting because my three very best girlfriends - my girls - were going to be there...Dawn was coming from Boston and Evie and I were coming in from Atlanta to celebrate and be with each other...and it was an amazing couple of days, but I will say it really started off sadly. Brian and I left for NOLA a few days before the big day, so we were waiting at the airport gate early in the morning. I was killing time checking my email and saw Dawn sent me a message that Eve posted to her blog the night before. So like I often do, I checked her latest blog entry.

This time I was stunned. I was finding it hard to process the words on the screen. Her cancer was back after only 3 months since her last chemo. My throat instantly grew tight and the tears brimmed over my face. I show Brian and we just hug each other in sadness. I read her post again; I couldn't believe it. We would be seeing Evie and Michael in a few hours and I was sick wondering how they were...would Evie be ok?

We land in NOLA and we all meet up in the French Quarter, and Evie is smiling. I'm wasn't sure how much she felt like talking about the news, but all I thought to do was just hug her as tightly as I could. We took her lead and just set out to have fun for the next few days celebrating and hanging out. On Saturday it was hard to say bye to Eve (she was leaving before the rest of us), because just under the surface was the reality of this heartbreaking news. The strange timing of this whole thing is that Evie found out she had lymphoma a few weeks before her own wedding not even a year ago. A lot to take in. She has such a hard road ahead of her, beyond anything I can possibly imagine; heart wrenching and incredibly difficult both emotionally and physically. But, I know Evie - and she is always finding the good, the beauty, the light in every situation. She stayed strong all last year through her treatment, and I know she will do it again.

So, big breath. It's with some new-found motivation that I keep on in my training for a new race with Team in Training. It's given me new perspective on this race we call life.

P.S. In the spirit of new beginnings...I updated the look of my blog too - I hope you like it. And don't you love this pic of Evie and Micheal watching Amanda and Mark come down the aisle? I do too.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My name is Karen. I am a runner.

Never say never, right? Right.

My biggest breakthrough: I finally admit it -- I really am a runner. A straight-up, running, crazy-woman fool. Granted, I was crazy before, and have done many a foolish thing now and again, but now I just have another adjective to add to that I'm proud of.

It's been a while...sorry gentle readers! Spring just came and went too fast. Since we last chatted, I crossed that glorious finish line at the ING half marathon and Eve and Michael were there to put that medal around my neck! I didn't expect to feel what I felt - a huge wash of emotion and happiness! (and, I cried! yay!) To recap, here's what I shared with my teammates at the time:

"For me personally, I had the most amazing race day - I'm still on a high!!! It truly was the culmination of all this hard work and made it worthwhile. The pasta dinner the night before was so inspirational, not to mention chocked-full of great last-minute advice (Vaseline in your navel; licking someone's neck for salt -- inside joke for those who where there!) I was so touched by Don, the leukemia survivor and TNT coach, and his amazing story of perseverance. I was thinking about how hard it must have been to go through his treatment and I went to bed thinking about my own best friend who was going through chemo and why I was doing this for her. So the next morning on race day at the start line, at the moment we started, I felt a touch on my shoulder -- I turned around and it was Don telling me to have a good race. Of all the other 18,000 people there, I can't believe I turned around and he was there!!! It was a sign that things were going to go well and I had nothing to worry about. And I didn't - I smiled the whole way. I also was running with my friend Rebecca, also a cancer survivor, so all of this was full of meaning.

Every purple jersey that passed by would pat me on the back, or shout "good job" and "way to go". The other TNT coaches along the way came off the sidelines to run with you -- they were like a purple ARMY of encouragement!! I was with Bruce at the start, I tackled Carol with a hug at the TNT water stop and gave Marie a running hug at mile 7...I knew that there would be a ton of TNTers there, but I can't tell you how awesome it was to have a purple cheer squad at every turn!! And to top it off, my best friend Eve who just finished her chemo was at the finish line to put that medal around my, what a great day. I'll never forget it!"

So, yeah, it really was a life changing experience. I had so much fun that three weeks later, I ran the Nashville Country Music half marathon with the other half of my TNT teammates. Since then I've sprinkled in few 5Ks for fun. Ha! I run for fun and not because I have to! So weird...

So what's next you ask? Well, apparently this running thing has scratched a little itch...hmmm, what's over there? A marathon? Ruh, roe. Yes. I have truly lost my mind. Apparently the half marathon is the gateway friend and last season mentor, Carol, broke it (and me) down:

(Disclaimer: this is a re-enactment. The author is exempt from any liability from exaggerations, real or perceived.)

Carol: Karen, you should DO the Nike Women's Marathon! Besides, everyone's doing it...
Crazy Running Woman (a.k.a. Me): yeah, 'cept me...I said I would NEVER run a full marathon. Marathons are for crazies!!(excluding you, of course).
Carol: Did you know they give you a Tiffany's necklace at the finish line?
CRW: WTF?? Are you serious?!?
Carol: A firefighter hands it to you.
CRW: No freaking way!
Carol (in a very soft, sped-up voice you hear only in disclaimers): it's in San Francisco...and there are hills, but not that bad...and oh, I cried at mile 16...and it's not that bad...and I said I would never do another marathon...but you should do it.
CRW: Wha?? You said Tiffany's and firefighters, right?

Three weeks later I was in a kick-off meeting signing up again with TNT for the FULL Nike Woman's marathon! Oh we go again.

Apparently, the first hit's free...