One More Mile has a great sticker that says "Running is a Mental Sport and We Are All Insane". This definitely holds true for me - every time I lace up my shoes the mental game begins. How far am I going? How much will I push myself? The competitive type A personality wonders if the mile splits will be faster than the last, can I push myself around the track for one more set of 800s... To know me is to have a mental image of all of this and be smiling in recognition. No one is harder on me than well, me.
To commit to running Nike I had to also commit to the realization that I wasn’t going to achieve a new faster, personal best on a course where mile 6 starts a steady climb that doesn’t end until about mile 7.2. In a somewhat genius move, the race organizers cleverly place photographers at mile 7.3 to capture the grins that come with being on a downhill stretch. Nike also meant learning how to run hill repeats - I spent many a Thursday night this summer running up and down Independence Ave from the front of the Capitol building to the back. Even it wasn’t going to be fast, after my experience in May I didn’t want it to HURT, because after that first downhill and its glorious views of the Golden Gate Bridge, comes another uphill.
Running Nike was also about something bigger than me – 5,000 people from all over the country wore the same purple Team in Training singlet that I did to tackle 13.1 or 26.2 miles. Together we raised over $18 million for leukemia and lymphoma research. I knew that every time I thought I couldn’t hurt any more I had only to think about my honored teammate Rhonda, whose chemotherapy regime has put her blood test levels in a state of remission but sapped her daily energy.
About that crying thing – after the second hill between mile 8 and 9 I crested the hill and was rewarded with a panorama of the Pacific Ocean. All of a sudden there were tears of joy as I thought about my honored teammate, what I had accomplished, what I knew I could finish if I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I had achieved that moment that John “The Penguin” Bingham described the night before – knowing that I could do this. The self-doubt made a brief return at mile 11 where I made my first Team in Training coach run a stretch of Golden Gate Park with me while I mentally pulled myself back together. As I came out of the park and onto Great Highway with the finish line in sight, I realized that I had mentally won in a way I never have at any other race. I crossed the finish line and made the time goal I had set for myself (you didn’t think I went without a goal now, did you?!?). The reward for all this?
A tuxedoed man handing me a Tiffany blue box with a finisher’s necklace.
At last posting I was recovering from a head cold, a pity party and a half marathon. Since then I have run a 10 mile race (new personal best thank you very much) and another half marathon. At the half marathon I made the acquaintance of something I will become closer friends with this summer- a hill - at mile 10. Now part of me would like to leave ole Mr Hill in the past but I can't ... because I have committed to running the Nike Women's Half Marathon in October. Mr Hill has lots of friends on the Nike course which winds through San Francisco, which isn't exactly known for being flat. ;-)
Why exactly am I torturing myself this way? The first answer is well because I am crazy about running at this point. But the second, more important reason is that I will be running Nike with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program. This race is a double win for the society - all proceeds go to the society, regardless of whether participants train with the Team. 2008 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Team in Training program and I have a very special reason to run - to celebrate my friend and mentor Rhonda Radliff's courageous boxing match (her words!) with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). My little battle with a hilly race course is nothing compared to what she goes through every day.
Rhonda's CML was diagnosed a little over 6 months ago and fittingly I found out when I was on my way to another race. Doing another season with the team in her honor was the second thing that popped into my head after the first "it's not fair". Cliche as it may sound Rhonda has a heart bigger than her home state of Texas, an amazingly generous spirit that welcomed her daughter Lili into her life three years ago and impact felt round the world (literally as she has worked for two multi-national investment banks in her career). Even though she was my client, Rhonda became a professional mentor and friend to me as I was learning my way through the institutional equities business. We share a love of dark chocolate, champagne, and have been known to pick out the same pair of shoes in a store. She gives of herself every day - to her daughter, family, friends and faith community - and I can think of nothing more that I would like to do but give back. Some of the drugs she takes are second generation versions of drugs whose clinical trials where funded by the society. When I feel like a run has gone bad - I think it's nothing compared to chemotherapy. So crazy as it may sound - I plan to train for and run 13.1 miles up and down the hills of San Francisco to celebrate life of my friend.
Unlike my friend Sarah, I haven't been dutifully posting much about my training (other than complaining about my boredom with the Capital Crescent Trail in my last post). Leading up to the National Half Marathon, I dutifully ran hills (not enough, more on that later), sprints on the treadmill (the running clubs at the track scare me), and pushed a fairly aggressive pace for long runs. (Sub-10's... which still shocks the shite out of me). So I thought I was ready for Saturday and I planned to PR.
Well pride (and planning) goeth before the fall. A cute almost two year old gifted me with some really nice cold germs on Easter Sunday. I woke Wednesday morning and thought this is.not.happening. I took allergy meds/decongestants until Thursday night, while mentally trying to will the crud to clear up before Saturday. Since ephedrine and distance running can be a bad combination I boldly chose to keep up the good fight drug free. Sheer determination (read my stubborn disposition) made me decide to run the race even though 24 hours without decongestants had moved the gunk into my chest. (Yum, I know. Trust me, I was living with it).
Saturday dawned clear (Thursday's rain went away) and cold. Um, isn't it spring? The race was also EARLY... 0700 start and we left the house at 0515. . As previously reported we test ran the middle part of the course and its series of hills from miles 4 to 8. I don't what we did that day but they were much harder than I remembered. Plus, every time we came to a new one (especially the one on Michigan Ave), I thought "I don't remember this hill, I thought we were done with hills." I was buoyed by the crowd near mile 8 though... the students of Howard University gave us a loud welcome, in a spot on the course I would have predicted would have been desolate. A fellow TNT alum had jumped in with my partner and I just past mile 6 and paced us when we needed it most. (While we were climbing the hill leading up to her, the thought of her presence was neck and neck with the next water stop as our leading motivating factor). When my spirits (and lung capacity) began to flag at mile 11 she lured me to the finish line with the promise of alcohol. (What can I say? It worked - I made it across the finish line.)
But as I crossed the line, I knew I hadn't met my (aggressive) goal. But a foundation of good training and the support of my friends had gotten me across the line about 19 seconds faster than in Philadelphia. After much reflection (ok and a little pity party), I will take that. There is always next time...
When you find something new to train for. I've had a registrations for May's Historic Half since November (the field was capped at 5,000 entrants and I had to make up my mind quickly) and Cherry Blossom 10 Miler since December. (What's with all this having to make up your mind so early about races?!?) I went and signed myself up for the National Half Marathon again and suckered, er convinced some fellow TNT'ers to join me. At this point we're: sick of the Capital Crescent Trail (though we got smart and run uphill first), ready for spring and close to being ready for the race. We've done a test run of the hills and have 13 miles planned for tomorrow. I am pondering another TNT season in honor of my friend Rhonda, who is battling CML. If I were to sign up it would be the Nike Women's Marathon (half only please) because first and foremost 100% of the proceeds benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The Tiffany finisher necklace is just icing on the cake. ;-)
As April turned to May I gleefully returned all of my TNT training captain gear, got a new job, and started final preparations for the Cleveland Half Marathon. I made the decision to run with the Clif Bar Pace team -- in hopes that I wouldn't come off the starting line too fast and to shave another few minutes off my time. Both things happened along with an unexpected third thing -- I barely used my run:walk ratio. When I look at the finish line photos I remember the elation I felt at the sight of the clock and the realization that I had run almost the whole way.
I then coasted into summer without another race in site until October and faced up to the challenge of training on my own. No coach telling me what to do, just my own self-discipline. (If only I could apply that to housekeeping!) I worked on increasing my run to walk ratio, conquered my pacing issues on the dreadmill/treadmill and discovered the joys of solitary running. (Though on the most painfully humid Saturday mornings I missed my buddies). I trained all summer with the Army Ten Miler and 100 minutes in mind. The race holds a special place in my heart for all it represents... the alternative to Washington's other premiere fall running event, the faces of the young soldiers who call me ma'am, the monuments, and 20 years of being an Army "brat." When the five-day forecast rolled around and it looked an average August day I was forced to reevaluate the whole darn plan. (I won't deny I was a little heartsick about it). I added 5 minutes to desired finish time and focused on finishing safely. I was lucky... many that day experienced heat stroke or worse in DC and Chicago. The final stretch of the 10 miler takes you down an off-ramp and under an overpass, rather like going through the final "chute." It still gives me chills to think I stood in the relative shade of that overpass, waiting and watching for friends to finish and saw the medics rush by on a golf cart. I would later find out that a young man, who probably ran right past where I stood collapsed near the finish line. All of sudden times didn't matter so much.
I ran Philly again in November... an excellent way to burn a few calories the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I gave thanks to my pacer from Clif Bar on turkey day and headed into the blur that is the holiday season. I avoided seasonal stress by setting a mileage goal for December and exceeding it by two miles... but still I busted the goal, in part by being one of those crazy people who exercises on Christmas Day. (For the record I was not alone out there). 2008 looks ok so far but it's a story for another day.
April was about two things -- 10 mile races and job searching. Preparing for the former was a pleasant salve for the unpleasantness that comes with the latter. The worst thing about job searching is the best stuff has a tendency to come to you, through networking or a recruiter seeking you out. This was true for me as well.
The first race of the month was the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, an annual DC tradition that I was so eager to be a part of that I spent two days attempting to register. (Thanks marathonguide). Only after I had shelled out my money did I put two and two together and realize that April 1 was a week after National Half. In my head I was giving myself a week between races -- given that other runners have told me they did the same thing, clearly it makes perfect sense. Just nod your heads and smile at my inability to read a calendar properly. Race day dawned (too early, but thanks to our early start on daylight saving time not as early as it could have) and I schlepped on the Metro to Metro Center, road a school bus to West Potomac Park, and frankly six plus months later I still remember how flippin' cranky I was. Thoughts such as running 10 miles a week after a half marathon was the dumbest idea I'd ever had, it was too early... you get the picture. I dutifully waited to start with my group and found myself in the front of the corral because it was the only place with room. By the time we started I was at least calm, the weather was decent (no rain like the week before) and I just started running. When we ran across the Memorial Bridge I saw a sign for another runner exhorting her to run in 100 minutes or bust. I have on the fly math calculation issues in the best of circumstances, plus my ability to do "splits" math while running is bad so I thought that's too fast for me. As we rounded the circle at the end of the bridge I realized the split math was painfully easy and 100 minutes wasn't as far out of range as it had been in 2006. I busted 100 minutes, but only went over by 2 minutes. Not bad for cranky pants way I had started the morning.
The other 10 miler was the GW Parkway Classic. A few weeks had passed, I was tuning up for Cleveland Half Marathon, but I still thought I'd see if I could repeat Cherry Blossom. I also grappled with the idea that not every day can be a PR day; a humbling thought for a newbie where every race so far had been a better showing than the last. I finished about a minute slower than earlier in the month and enjoyed a hearty post-race breakfast at The Royal Restaurant with my running buddies. My other enduring memory of the day was the sheepish look on another runner's face when she was the only one dropped off at the 5K start (both races are point to point). Someone assured her that she was probably the sane one.