“Are you ready?” That’s the question I’ve been getting more and more frequently as the days tick down. I stare back with a somewhat blank look on my face, because I don’t really know how to answer that. Ready for what? Ready for a nap? Absolutely. A snack? Always!
Ready to run a marathon? I’m not so sure about that. Does anyone ever feel ready? Supposedly scientifically speaking my legs and my lungs are – but the rest of me?
There’s a few things I’m ready for. I’m ready for this to be over because to be honest, I’m exhausted. I’m ready to not go to bed Saturday night fearing my long run the next morning. Ready to not wake up with random aches and pains. Ready to look down at my feet crossing that finish line. Ready to feel the weight of that medal around my neck. Ready to prove that I can do this.
But I’m also ready to go back to the beginning and start all over again- because you only get to experience your first marathon once. I’m ready for more time, more long runs, more practice fueling. Ready for more tips, more advice, more time to get this right. Ready for the countdown to stop moving so damn fast suddenly.
I’m ready for my last 20 miler out on the course this weekend because it means I get one more chance to practice. But I’m also scared shitless because I know this is it – I don’t get another chance to get it down. The next time I’m out there it will be the real deal. I’ll be alone. And I will have 6.2 more miles further to go until my feet cross that finish line. Until that medal hangs around my neck. I’m not ready for that yet.
The high from my 20 miler spilled over into the next day or so. I wore the sore hamstrings like a badge of honor. That is until I realized it was time to run again. And then the cloud I was floating in quickly dissolved. “No thanks, I’m not ready”.
My legs still hurt, my mind was still tired and the LAST thing I wanted to do was put on my shoes. And unfortunately, that feeling stuck the rest of the week. Before every single run I found myself whining and literally having to push myself out the door. What the hell? Is this normal? What happened to that bad ass girl from Sunday?
Our long run fell on a Saturday this week meaning I had one less day to pull myself together than normal, which couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. Add that to a cold, rainy morning and I was one miserable human being. Fifteen miles should have felt like a breeze compared to the week before but like every other run that week I moaned, groaned, and dragged my feet. I was mad at everything: that it was raining, cold, that I was slower than the rest of the group, that I had forgotten to shake the rock out of my shoe from the week before. Mad that the nagging pain I had been feeling in my ankle lately was still there. Mad that I had forgotten my lip balm.
Eventually all I could focus on was the pain in my ankle, and then an all too familiar ache in my hip – just before I hit Mile 12 I decided to call it quits and get a ride back at the last water stop. Clicking “save” on my Garmin made my decision official, but it sure didn’t make me feel any better about it.
Once I dragged my sorry ass home I climbed in the hot shower, and of course regretted my decision. 5 weeks to go and I’m cutting runs short? Not okay!
I’ve spent the last three months training for the marathon. I’ve been preparing my body for it since early fall. And I’ve been talking about it (at least with my coach) since the middle of the summer. When I wake up I immediately cross off another day and my last thoughts before I fall asleep are usually about crossing the finish line. If you are a friend, family member, or co-worker this is all you hear about – all day long (I’m sorry, I really am!). Right now I live and breathe the Boston Marathon. I can’t help it. Aside from getting married and eventually having children, this is one of the biggest things I’ll ever do in my life. I can’t help but try to absorb every second of it- to the point where I’m getting absorbed by it.
So I’m trying to take a step back. Take a deep breath. Take care of my aches and pains so I can get to Hopkinton healthy. Find things to do to take my mind off of it. Stop stressing myself out over every little step. It just not so easy to do with just over a month to go. Deep breaths.
It seemed years away when I first got my training schedule. “Plenty of time before I even have to think about that” I told myself. Then again I was pretty preoccupied with worrying about all of those numbers in the middle-, 12, 14, 16, 18. But as we all know- the more you try to push something to the back of your mind the faster it seems to comes up. So before I knew it it was March, and suddenly I found myself watching the hours close in on my first 20 miler.
For some reason 20 miles just sounded like this absurd number to me. I mean to a normal person it IS absurd, right?! TWENTY MILES. That’s freaking far. Almost mythical. But if you’re training for a marathon, it’s what you do.
After a fitful night of sleep my alarm finally went off at the crack of dawn- quite literally since as luck would have it it was also Daylight Savings. “OH SHIT” was the first thought that popped into my head. I arrived at B.C. just as the sun was coming up. As I stood in the group waiting for the bus I hoped that people would just assume I was shivering from the cold, not from fear.
As soon as the bus door shut and we began to roll out of campus I felt my stomach drop. All I could do was stare out the window and force myself to take deep breaths. With every intersection that we drove through it wasn’t an “Are we there yet?” but a “WE’RE SERIOUSLY STILL NOT THERE YET?!” Twenty miles felt far even DRIVING (Which reminds me- someone slip me a sedative before the bus ride on April 20th?)
Somewhere between wanting the agony of the ride to end and wanting to stall for more time the bus pulled over to the side of the road. It reminded me of a scene in one of those movies where suddenly you see the main character emerging from a cloud of exhaust next to a corn field as a bus pulls away. Except that we were in Ashland Massachusetts, and the only way to get home was to run there.
Despite the fact that I was an absolute shit show of nerves somehow my feet still knew what to do. And I noticed that with the more steps I took the more my breathing fell into a pattern, my hands got less clammy, my nervous chatter slowed down to my every day babble. The more the miles passed the more my nerves disappeared. My confidence grew.
And then this magical thing happened- Mile 10 hit (the halfway point) and I barely felt it. 10 miles is far too often my crashing point but for once, I felt strong. I started to get giddy. “Holy shit, I’m ACTUALLY doing this!”
Naturally as the miles increased I became more tired, but I also kept getting more and more excited. Every mile down was another mile closer to this mythical number, this unreal goal. At 17 I squealed in delight that there was “Only a 5K left!” and when I heard Mile 19 chime on my Garmin, goosebumps flushed over my body. Good lord I’ve never been so exhausted, elated, and in shock in the very same moment. As I rounded the last few corners back to the gym it might have been my delusional state, but every person stopped and smiled at me as if they knew, they knew I was about to finish this incredible thing. Once I made it back inside I collapsed in a stiff, sweaty pile of happy tears. I just couldn’t believe I had done it.
I know there’s a lot of technical details behind the concept of a long run. But more important than the time on my feet or fueling properly that day, somewhere in those twenty miles I learned how to push myself a little further. I learned how to be a little stronger, how to believe in myself a little more. I took that big scary goal and I did it. Less than a month and a half till Marathon Day and while I’m still scared shitless, there’s just a little more pep in my step (errr waddle, I’m still feeling those 20 miles).
It takes only a second after my alarm goes off for my brain to register what day it is. Sunday, long run day. Lying in bed I quickly calculate how many miles I have to run, a job which feels absolutely impossible when you’re still under the protection of warm covers. Before my brain goes to a bad place I’m up, changing into the clothes I laid out the night before. I usually panic that I’m going to be too cold or too warm and make a last minute change in wardrobe.You think by now I’d learn to stop second guessing my wardrobe decisions.
Downstairs I shove half an English Muffin in my mouth, the nerves in my stomach making it hard to swallow. I’m tempted to throw the second half out but then I remember what it’s like to be starving mid run. I compulsively check my bag, because God forbid I only have one pair of running gloves to choose from 5 minutes before we head out.
Once inside the Rec Center people are chatty as they adjust their laces and turn on their watches. I’m usually pretty quiet, thinking about what the next few hours will be like, praying to the running gods that I don’t %&$! this one up. This morning is gray and cold (colder than it was supposed to be, which of course makes me worry that I didn’t dress appropriately). Despite the typical winter air – something feels different today.
We pour into the street and in a flash, everyone passes me. I turn my head around to realize I’ve quickly become the last runner. Before I can throw myself into a fit and ruin the morning I push my earbuds in. “My race, my pace” I remind myself.
I run through streets that are still relatively quiet. Past the spots where our teams meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. I’m reminded of who I’m running for. After a while I find a rhythm. I make a pact with myself that I won’t think about how much further I have to run until I reach the halfway point. And for once, it actually works.
I make my way down the Cambridge side of the Charles River, then back up on the Boston side, the white tundra keeping my mind off the miles. I pass other runners and we give each other a friendly smile. I wonder if they’re training for Boston too. I wonder if they know I am.
I hit mile 10 and smile, remembering how once double digits were so daunting. Now I barely blink. Just past my 10 mile mark I reach a water stop and see the familiar faces I’ve been waiting for. They put a little energy back in my step. In my happiness I miss a turn and somewhere around 11.5 realize I’m off course. My instinct is of course to panic but I spot a State Police sign, and a friendly officer puts me back on track. A situation that normally would bring me to tears didn’t even phase me. I’m on a mission.
My watch beeps at mile 13 and I laugh manically. Half marathons are old news now too. My legs are heavy. I’m cold and tired, but I am so determined. 14, 15, 16.. bring it.
Eventually the Rec Center comes into my line of vision, and I feel the sting of tears, from the cold wind and from pride. I tell myself I’ll be done before this song (which I’ve now heard 3 times) is over. I can’t believe I made it.
I hobble inside to find a janitor waiting to close up the room. My duffle bag now sits alone on a table next to a bunch of bananas, my consolation prize. One would think my face would be red with embarrassment that I am the last person back but in fact I’m beaming.
There have been a lot of tough runs, days where I’ve thought “Why am I doing this?” and “What if I can’t?” But as I make the long trek back to my car carrying my bunch of bananas a little voice inside of me says“What if I can?”
Anyone who’s run a marathon, or who maybe hasn’t run a mile in their life, has given me their advice, wisdom, and two-cents since I announced that I was going to be training for Boston. Some of it has stuck. Some of it hasn’t. But there’s one nugget of wisdom in particular that has been keeping me (somewhat) sane during these last few weeks: “Life is like marathon training, it rarely goes according to plan”.
I like planning. I like for things to go according to said plan. I absolutely hate when things are out of my control. I’m only human.
Most of us start things with the best of intentions. At the beginning of a new semester we declare that we will do every reading assignment. At the start of a new relationship we tell ourselves that we’ll never nag our significant other. On New Years Day we make a vow to go to the gym 5 days a week, to eat more veggies and drink more water. A few days or weeks in, and those plans have shifted. We get sick. We get busy. We fall behind. Life happens.
When I copied that first week into my training log I envisioned every week looking as neat as my handwriting on the page. And then injury happened. Deep freezes and nearly 8 feet of snow. Long runs cancelled. Swims instead of runs. Routes changed. Treadmill miles. There’s been a lot more crossing out in my training log than I anticipated. And that’s the stuff that tends to throw me into panic mode. There have been quite a few times where I’ve thrown my hands up and cried “This isn’t what I signed up for! This isn’t how I expected it to go.”
And then I realize what a princess I sound like, and I try to bring it back to reality. Life doesn’t always go according to Plan A or B. Sometimes it’s not until Plan G rolls around that things work out. All you can really do is hope for the best, work with what you’ve got, and appreciate the little things. A room of friends, family, and even strangers who are gathered simply to support you. Running buddies who will delay their pancake eating just to wait for you to finish your slowpoke miles. The way a hot shower and pjs feel after a run when its -2 degrees. The feeling of pushing yourself that last half mile when all you wanted to do was quit. Having someone in your life who will stay up way past their bedtime just to calm your doubts and fears. Random conversations that say “Hey, I believe in you. You can really do this”. These are the little things, the things I need to remember when training gets tough.
Life is messy. Life is complicated. Life is challenging, beautiful, and tear inducing for all of those reasons.
So is marathon training.
And that’s what makes it all worth it.
Remember just a week ago when I was all hopped up on motivation, marathon jackets and munchkins? Yeah, that’s gone now. Buried under feet and feet of snow to be more accurate. This (to quote my favorite singer and all-time girl crush) – this is exhausting.
It’s been almost a month of snow storm after snow storm. In between storms there’s deep freezes. Cross training has become shoveling snow to banks that loom far over my head. There are barely street to drive on, let alone sidewalks to run on. And in between the shoveling, pushing my little Corolla out of snow ditches, and commutes that have nearly tripled in time, I still have to figure out how to train for a marathon.
I want to quickly throw in a disclaimer that I know there that there are problems MUCH bigger problems in the city of Boston than not being able to run right now. People can’t get to work, roofs are caving in every hour, and businesses are losing money. But this is my little space to vent, and this is my challenge right now. Training for Boston isn’t just something that can wait until the snow melts.
My “F this S” moment came late Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a snowy cemetery. This was now my second long run that had become a chaotic “just try and get the miles in before the blizzard hits”. I had spent the last 11 miles trudging through snow banks, out of breath from running up Heartbreak Hill and from the wind blowing another storm in. I was cold and achy and – OVER IT. I absolutely love running – until I want to stop. And then I absolutely hate it.
I’m now three weeks “behind” in mileage. I wake up in the middle of the night frantically checking the weather to see if there’s been any updates to the weekend forecast. I haven’t run in my neighborhood in almost a month. I’ve spent more hours on the treadmill than I ever thought I would in my life. I knew training for a marathon was going to be hard. I knew that training for a marathon in the winter was going to be hard. I knew that training for the Boston Marathon was going to be hard. But sometimes this all just feels damn near impossible.
It was standing there in that cemetery that every fear I’ve been holding in came oozing out of my brain, and then out of my mouth. “What if my body just isn’t made to handle 26 miles? What if – what if I just can’t do this?” The fears have been circling in my brain long before training began but I don’t dare say them out loud. I’m the one that wanted this, I’m the one who declared “I WILL do this!” I shouldn’t be allowed to be standing among snow covered graves questioning my ability in the middle of February. I signed up for this shit, all on my own free will. But yet there I stood, wanting to be anywhere but there.
I keep telling myself that eventually the snow will eventually stop, my mental game will turn around, things will get better. But as I say this I’m stalking the weather for another storm this weekend, hoping that I get my long run in and that my fundraiser isn’t cancelled for a second time. “Spring” is just a month away, and the Marathon just a month after that. Ain’t nobody got time for this.
In case you are reading this and don’t live in the Boston area (or have been hibernating under a rock) – we’ve gotten a lot of snow over the last two weeks. A lot doesn’t even begin to describe it actually. A SHIT TON OF SNOW.
I don’t know whether I want to cry or laugh hysterically at the fact that the year I decide I’m going to try and run a marathon Boston gets HISTORIC snowfall amounts. If this isn’t Mother Nature’s hint that I should go back to being a fat kid- I don’t know what is.
But as much as I’d like to throw in the towel, or better yet, curl up in it and take a nap until I can see grass again – that just isn’t an option. Cus’ this thing is really happening – as confirmed every time I open the fridge.
So I’ve put together this little list of things that are helping to keep me motivated and excited during these dark, cold, snow covered weeks. My back pocket toolkit if you will.
… Searching “Boston Marathon” videos on Youtube. There’s nothing like Go Pro footage of someone breathing heavily as they make their way down Boylston to help me imagine what it’s going to feel like.
… If I wasn’t training for Boston I probably would have missed the gorgeousness of this run. I might despise winter but sometimes it can be beautiful – and a reminder of all you’d be missing if you just stayed in bed.
… The people I’m running for. Like this amazing woman who I think of every time I curl up with this quilt.
… My new collection of Mantrabands. I’m obsessed.
… This music video on repeat.
… Post long run splurges. Truth: they taste even better when shared with a best friend.
…And think about one of these around my neck.
COME ON SPRING!
It took a week longer than I planned but it finally happened….I broke past 13.1! After a few days of rest (which was strongly enforced by Mother Nature in the form of 3 feet of snow), I was finally able to do some test runs on the treadmill. And when the pain didn’t return I got the much anticipated green light for my long run. Wohoo!
As I laid out my clothes and packed my bag Saturday night the usual nervous butterflies started to creep in. The fact that I was finally going to run beyond the half marathon distance was pretty daunting. I kept thinking about how miserable I’ve gotten towards the end of every single half marathon. I thought about how I had to run further than that. And then I remembered how I felt just a week prior, devastated that I wasn’t spending my night preparing for my long run the next morning. That shut the butterflies right up.
Sunday morning was a balmy 14 degrees, with a real feel around zero. I was pretty nervous as we headed out, especially since it had been over a week since I’d run outside. Magically my feet still knew exactly what to do. The miles ticked by painlessly. Once we hit the water stop that was my cue to turn around and head back (I was cutting off a mile since I had missed the week before). I kept reminding myself that I was already halfway done and still feeling good. And just as my legs started getting tired I hit the stretch of Comm Ave where the CITGO sign looms above you. Instantly I felt goosebumps flow through my body. Suddenly my legs weren’t so tired anymore. If there was ever a “Holy shit, I’m training to run the BOSTON *%&!-ing MARATHON!”, it was this one. I’m glad the snow banks were high enough that people couldn’t see me cackling up the sidewalk. I finished the run tired and sore, but still alive.
I have a feeling that time is going to fly by from here on out. For months it felt like the Marathon was a stove pilot- there, but not much was happening. Suddenly it feels like everything is picking up. The miles are just going to get higher and higher. In just over a month I’ll attempt my longest training run. My first fundraising event is happening this weekend. I just keep telling myself to take a deep breath and take it all one day at a time, one mile at a time, one step at a time.
75 days to go!
I was going to just not write a blog post this week – let Wednesday go by and see if anyone noticed. It’s one of those weeks where I don’t want to write some BS cover up post, but I’m also tired of thinking about what’s been going on. But blogging is about the good and the bad – so here I am.
“What goes up must come down”. It’s a phrase we all learn as kids. As runners, we use it to help our legs power up and over hills. And as I’m learning, it’s also a phrase that also very much applies to marathon training. Just when things are going well, something happens to remind you this isn’t a smooth ride. Let me back up.
As I was leaving my weekly chiropractor appointment last week I got a fist bump as he said “How PUMPED are you that you are just killing marathon training?!”. I had finished my 12 miler that past weekend faster than I’ve run any of my halfs. Hills were back in my life and weren’t leaving me attached to my ice pack. Things seemed to be really working in my favor.
Then I got home later than expected and still had 4 miles to get in. It was cold, dark, and windy (as it typically is on a January night when you live by the ocean). I sat around in my running clothes for a solid 20 minutes throwing a temper tantrum because all I wanted to do was throw on my PJs, eat dinner, and curl up on the couch. It’s so late. I deserve a night off. I’m not in the mood to be outside for 40 minutes. Finally the guilt spoke louder than my excuses and I huffed and puffed my way out the door. I was barely a mile into my run before “battery low” turned into silence from my iPod. If I wasn’t pissed before, I was now.
Here’s where I keep trying to go back and remember what happened, what I could have done wrong. I know I ran angrily through the dark streets, cursing everyone and everything I could think of. And then somewhere around mile 3 I felt that familiar throbbing in my hip. That was the deciding factor that I was done and I headed inside to stretch and foam roll in a panic. Maybe it was my imagination. But when it hurt to lay on my side that night in bed I knew the pain was back.
I spent the rest of the week with my ice pack, the foam roller, and extra chiropractor appointments. And when the weekend came around I had to make the decision to miss my 14 miler. To say I was devastated is an understatement.
Every Saturday night I’ve been scared shitless about my long run the next morning, but despite my fears I was secretly excited for 14. It’s been 14 months since I’ve run a “new” distance and I just wanted to know what being on the other side of 13.1 felt like. My chest felt this combination of panic, anger, disappointment and sadness all rolled into one and I didn’t know how to deal with it except to cry (Which let’s be real – that’s my go to emotion for everything). I know this all sounds pathetic and absurd to be crying over such a thing as not being able to run 14 miles but until you’re an injured runner, until you are someone training for such an incredible goal, you don’t really get it. But when you’re there in that space, the emotional pain is so much stronger than the one you’re feeling in your body.
The good news is that as I’m writing this my hip is already feeling a lot better than it did – and as I’ve said before but will never say enough – I have an incredible team that’s working to get me to the start line healthy (and from not jumping off the ledge in the meantime). I know I have to stay optimistic, I know that this is just one of the bumps there will be in my road to Hopkinton. After all nothing worth having comes easy, and there is nothing I want more right now.
About a week ago I found myself standing with a colleague (who is also running Boston) and another man. It came up in conversation that we were both running the marathon and the man looked the two of us over (She happens to be incredibly long and lean) and then turned to her and said “Well, you look like a marathoner”. I instantly felt my face turn 15 shades of pink. I tend to reaction to situations like this in one of two ways: I either immediately spit out whatever slides onto my tongue, or I pinch my arm and keep quiet. I chose to go with the small bruise inside my elbow.
Of course when I replayed the scenario to my husband later that day I was all riled up. “How could he say that? How could he make that kind of comment? And what does HE know?!”
“Exactly babe” replied my always calm, always rational husband. “What does he know? You’d probably lose him in the first mile.”
It occurred to me then that after 2.5 years, 4 half marathons and a few dozen race bibs later, I STILL feel like I have to prove myself as a runner. But why?
The thing about runners is that you never know their full story. When you drive past someone chugging down the street you don’t know if they’re a quarter of a mile into their run or if they’re pushing through the last of 12 miles. Unless it’s tattooed on their body you don’t know how many marathons or 5Ks a person’s completed. You don’t know if they started running a week ago or if they’ve been a runner their whole life. The person you judge at the start line could pass you on that hill in the last mile. You just never know.
So I guess I have to let it go and cut the guy some slack. He has no idea that I am (about to be) a marathoner. He hasn’t seen me push through a double digit run, legs aching but determined not to quit. He couldn’t see the definition in my legs, the muscles I’m starting to discover. He didn’t get to look at my weekly schedule which besides running includes strength training, yoga, chiropractor visits, and swimming – all just to get me to the start line healthy. He hasn’t seen my feet, which are starting to require a larger than normal tip at the nail salon. He didn’t get to the hear the conversations that go back and forth in my head on a daily basis “Can you do this? You can totally do this. Are you crazy? You can’t do this!” He doesn’t know that 50% of the time even I’m not quite sure I look like a marathoner.
At the end of the day I don’t need to look like a marathoner to anyone but myself. And even if I don’t see it at times, I feel it inside of me. I feel that desire to push myself further, to run new distances that both excite and frighten me at the very same time, to see my feet cross that finish line, to feel that medal slide over my head.
And don’t worry buddy, after April 20th it will be hard to see me and NOT know that I just ran 26.2 miles. :-P