Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Journey of 26.2 miles begins with a single step!

I wanted to name this post "I'm Baaaccckkk!"  Perhaps I shouldn't point out that five months have passed since my last post.  But I thought that title has been a bit overused, and it might insinuate that I will actually begin blogging again regularly.  Not wanting to put too much pressure on myself I tweaked another popular saying and went with it for a title.

As I began writing, I realized that my last post was about running.  And here I am getting my feet wet again in the blogosphere with another post about running.  It sounds cool to say running inspires me, and in a way that's true.  But running allows my brain to think clearly and process life like nothing else.  I suppose that's why after a horrible first marathon experience I tempted fate and ran a second one - the 36th Marine Corps Marathon held in Washington, D.C. on October 30, 2011.  I can't wait to tell you all about it!  So, grab your coffee, put your feet up or whatever you find yourself doing to settle in for a longer than necessary read.  Feel free to humor me, but I know I can be a bit wordy at times.

God must have known I would need help deciding to take on the challenge of another marathon while the bad memory of my first one was still so fresh.  But honestly, I was borderline delirious when I agreed to it.  On the evening of February 22, 2011 I had an accident while biking with my kids.  I knew my collarbone was broken, and I had an appointment with my doctor the next afternoon.  Somewhere between the accident and the appointment my husband asked me if I wanted to run the MCM with him.  He pointed out it was eight whole months away, but oh, one more thing.  I had to decide right then because it sells out super fast!  Apparently, running 26.2 didn't seem so bad in the middle of exhaustion from no sleep the night before and wincing in pain with every movement I made from the waist up.

My dear husband has a way of making you think you can do anything, so after I mumbled, "sure, why not," I didn't think much about the marathon for a while.  I took four weeks off from running after my biking accident.  Then I began increasing my mileage slowly and enjoying the beauty of running in spring.  I was feeling good and began to think - This is going to be my year! My IT band injury from December 2010 and the broken collar bone were behind me.  It would be smooth sailing for a while, right?

Jump forward to June of 2011.  After weeks of being unusually down, feeling fatigued and experiencing episodes of heart palpitations, I found myself deeply depressed and anxious.  I was facing my greatest fear.    That may sound trivial to some.  But my blooming family tree has a history of severe depression, anxiety and other mental/mood disorders.  It was the monster I was always running from in my deep subconscious.  But I never thought it would catch me.  After all, I was a confident, happy, healthy, type A, busy homeschooling mom of three, goal setting, achieving chic.  Well, that's what I pretended to be.  Once the depression and anxiety surfaced I was no longer in "control" and things began to unravel.

Depression is painful, and at one time I wouldn't have wanted to discuss it if I didn't think you would understand.  But now that doesn't matter to me.  Once I was in those deep waters I didn't want to run anymore.  My husband would drag me out of bed making me promise to "just run two miles."  "Come on Christy, just a few times around our neighborhood.  Don't do it for you, do it for me."  Ugh. All right, fine then.  As if I didn't feel guilty enough already.  Then I had these three dear friends (Jacci, Cindy & Nori) who had no problem expecting me to still meet them for runs.  My best bud, Jacci, would even call me and tell me to put on some running clothes because she was on her way to my house.  So, between Randy and my friends, I maintained at least some mileage each week during the darkest days.  I thank God for them!  I tear up every time I think about their precious gift to me. 

My summer is somewhat of a blur due to countless doctor appointments and taxiing my kids to their various activities.  I faced many mornings looking forward to getting back in bed that night, but I continued to run.  I was conflicted about beginning a marathon training plan because I wasn't sure I should voluntarily take on that stress.  But at exactly 16 weeks before the MCM I began a plan.  I promised myself that I would take things day by day and not look too far ahead.  Amazingly, I was able to actually do that! 

The summer was HOT and HUMID.  My running buds met me many mornings before sunrise to get miles in during the coolest part of the day.  And for the first time, during my long runs I followed Jeff Galloway's method of using run/walk intervals.  (Surprisingly, this made my long run pace faster!)  The first 10 weeks of my training went really well.  Then one morning in September I hopped out of bed and felt a crazy pain in my right heel as soon as my foot hit the floor.  My first thought was "No.  No, no, no.  I can not have an injury!  Not now."  I immediately called and got an appointment with a great group of Orthopedic docs in our area.  Diagnosis: Achilles Tendinitis (mine was where the tendon inserts in to the heel bone - ouch!)

Looking back on this marathon journey I can not help but be in awe of the people that supported me.  My ortho doc and Physical Therapist were amazing, and they seemed just as committed to me completing my marathon as I was.  And for the last six weeks leading up to the race I went in for PT two or three times a week.  Both parents training for a marathon at the same time can be crazy, but add in my appointments and stretching/icing multiple times a day and it got down right hectic for our family.  Somehow we made it, and I am so proud of my three kids.  They were supportive little troopers!  When I first started training my three year old would say, "You yun, mommy?"  It was absolutely adorable.  By the time the marathon rolled around he no longer said "yun" but could clearly pronounce "run." Sniff. Sniff. (I can't wait to hear my kids' version of their parents' marathon days when they get older.)  They looked forward to staying with family and friends while we were away.  And as the race drew closer I began feeling quite excited too! 

The morning of the MCM was FRIGID!  Unexpectedly cold temps caused me to look a little ridiculous dressed in so many layers.  But I didn't want to spend any energy shivering for the two hours we waited outside beforehand. I was cold, but happy.  I love, love, love the energy in a big race.  There is just something about accomplishing a goal with so many others that causes me to smile.

With about 20 minutes to spare I wiggled in to an overflowing corral for runners aiming for a 4:30 finish.  I now know that for a lot of people choosing those corrals are sort of like listing your weight on your driver's license.  For the first six or seven miles I was running 45 seconds slower than my goal pace.  We were literally running elbow to elbow, and I just couldn't go any faster.  Once I settled in to a rhythm my mind was calm, and I began taking in the sights.  No, not of D.C., but of the marathon experience.  Here are some of the many highlights:

1)  I find lots of humor in how many male runners hop off the course to urinate, especially in the first few miles.  Personally, I think a lot do it just because they can.  Heck, I probably would too.  Anytime we were running through wooded areas, numerous runners could be seen running on and off the course.  Considering the LONG port-a-potty lines I didn't blame them.

2)  I love reading the backs of runners' shirts.  They can be encouraging, funny, sad, thought provoking, or all of the above.  Some that spoke to me:

"Cancer chose me, I chose the MCM"

"Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.  And to my man, I miss you."

"11/19/11 Bride" and "11/19/11 Groom" (How cool to run a marathon together before your wedding!!)

"Autistic Runner"  (This young man was accompanied on each side by runners wearing a shirt that read "Guide."  I began to cry.  Then I started cheering for him and a lot of other runners joined it.  Awesome moment."

3)  The crowd was AMAZING!  Thanks to my man (and brother-in-law) for having our shirts made.  My name was on the front with Phillipians 4:13 underneath.  Hearing total strangers cheer for you by name really pumps you up and helps get you through the tough miles.  Having a shirt with your name on it is a recommended must for marathon gear.  Oddest moment from the crowd - some dude was waving a deer head at everyone passing by.  I guess he grabbed it off of the wall on his way out that day.  It definitely got my attention!     

4)  Often you hear that running is more mental than physical.  And thankfully, I had a great day mentally.  During the race my low calf/heel tightened up a lot.  After mile 12 I had to stop every mile or two to stretch.  Normally, that would really frustrate me.  But oddly enough it didn't bother me this time.  I reminded myself to run smart, so I stopped when I needed to.  Another aggravation was having to use the bathroom during the race.  I was not committed to waiting 20 minutes in a port-a-potty line, and I even made a run for the woods at one point with no luck.  Usually, I would stress over continuing such a long distance needing "to go."  Thankfully, I managed to finish the race without embarrassment.  After the race I was so glad I didn't let my injured heel or irritated tummy zap my joy on the course.  But I also know that on any given day the outcome could have been different.  It really is true - attitude is everything!

5)  The finish line!  Before the race, several friends told me to remember that "The marathon experience is the reward.  You've already done the work."  I wasn't sure I believed that, but I wanted to.  So, I approached the marathon with a thought we try to teach our kids when they have something to accomplish - "I GET to run a marathon, not I HAVE to run a marathon."  (Although it's not so easy to convince your kid to think "I GET to make my bed today.")  But when you make that mental shift it affects everything.  I wasn't yearning for the finish line because I wanted the race to be over, I was approaching it with anticipation because of what I was about to accomplish.   

I crossed that sweet finish line like I started it - running elbow to elbow with other tired, tenacious marathoners.  My heart was full even though I missed my goal by a little more than 11 minutes.  And I had a thought I didn't think possible immediately following the finish - "I can't wait to do this again."  By God's grace, I learned so much about myself this past year.  My prayer was that I would enjoy the race (good or bad) that He gave me.  And He answered that prayer.

Realistically, I know I need to take some time off from marathon training and focus on being a wife and mommy as we prepare to enjoy the holidays together.  I have so very much to be thankful for.  In addition to my husband and running friends, I had amazing support from other family and friends along my journey - especially my three sisters.  And while I am thanking people, I have to thank our friend Kesha, her husband Bret, and super sweet kids for making us welcome in their home.  Our weekend of pampering began with Kesha picking us up at the airport, and it ended with her driving us back to the airport to fly home.  If I tried to list everything she did in between I would forget something!

To everyone - runners and non-runners - that read this way too long blog post, Thank you!  I hope that something spoke to you by me sharing my experience.  And if anyone thought for a second, I could never run a marathon, I once said the same thing.