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Ready … or Not.

“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?

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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.

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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.

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But what if I can?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

This is exhausting.

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.

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Can you find the street sign?

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.

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I got to meet Johnny. He’s thinking warm thoughts.

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.

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So thankful for running buddies.

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.

Into the unknown.

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!

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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.

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Clearly not my picture as there is not a flake of snow to be seen.

 

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.

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75 days to go!

So….. I’M RUNNING A FREAKING MARATHON?!

I’m still giddy over last week’s post.

While this has been in the works for a while it’s finally now starting to feel real- this is really happening.

I’m going to run a marathon.

I’m going to run THE BOSTON MARATHON!

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Sometimes I catch myself saying it out loud to absolutely no one, simply because hearing the words come out of my mouth gives me goosebumps.

I am incredibly honored to be running Boston for my organization, Back on My Feet (more on that coming soon!). I know that some people frown upon charity bibs and feel that you don’t deserve to run unless you qualify. But for someone like me who knows they will never be fast enough – this is the opportunity of a lifetime and I am so appreciative of it.

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I know that over the last few weeks I’ve been talking about taking a break. Obviously this break was two fold: yes I’m tired and a bit burnt out from constantly training, but this is also a break to get my body ready for this crazy adventure I’m about to embark on. I know (or I should say I’ve been told a million times by now) that marathon training is going to be like nothing I’ve experienced before. So the next few months are going to be spent getting myself ready both physically and mentally. More time swimming, strength training, rolling, stretching, yoga-ing. I keep reminding myself that everything I do in the next few months is going to make me stronger for training. Make me stronger as a marathoner (Gah! That word!).

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Of course I’m still running, but minimal miles and just when I feel like it. The kicker? I’ve been Garmin free for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. (“Father please forgive me, it has been two weeks since my last Garmin paced run”). At first I thought I was going to hate it, but I’m kind of liking running according to how my body feels (I still tap my wrist at every intersection sadly).

I like that I’m going for a run because it’s nice out, because I had a bad day, because I know that I will feel better after those thirty minutes. I like that I can chose my route based on what view I want to see, not how far I have to go. I like that I’m running simply because I want to – not because it’s written on my plan somewhere. Without any goals I’m focusing on how my body feels, my kick ass new playlist, the leaves crunching under my feet.  I can’t remember the last time I ran this way, but I like it. I feel stronger.

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I know that marathon training is going to get tough, and it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to make me cry (a lot, if I know myself by now). I’ve heard it enough times that I get i – it’s going to suck. But I also know that I want to appreciate every second of this journey, even the sucky parts. I want to take it all in, I want to do it right. This may be my one opportunity to run Boston and I don’t want to look back with any regrets. I’m thankful that I have this blog to help me capture all of the moments of this journey, because I want to remember it all. And I hope that you’re not already sick of hearing “the M word” and that you’ll buckle up and join me for this crazy, crazy ride… errr run. 🙂

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A letter of love (Not to be confused with a love letter).

To the two idiots who shall remain nameless (because really, that’s all you deserve to be called),

On a beautiful day just over a year ago you committed a senseless, malicious attack on an event, on a community, and on a city. You thought that you would scare us. You thought that you would lead us to live in fear. And you thought that you would make us stop running. And just over a year ago, I almost believed you.

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That is until this past week. Until I spent so many of the last seven days on our beloved Boylston Street where you can’t blink without seeing the colors blue and yellow, or the words “Boston Strong”. Where every store window had a sign wishing runners good luck. A street that a year ago was covered in blood and twisted metal has now been blanketed in flowers, in prayers, and in notes of love and courage.

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I saw how wrong you were as I lined up with 9,999 other runners for the B.A.A. 5K, where I got lost in a sea of blue and yellow. I saw it outside of the Old South Church where I stood watching masses of runners lower their heads to be wrapped in scarves of love and courage. I saw it on Marathon Day as I again awoke to another clear, beautiful day. I saw it as I stood pressed up against an orange barricade waiting for one of my familiar faces to come into my line of vision so I could jump up and down screaming for them. I watched the expression on runners face as they found their family, their friends, or even heard a complete stranger yell their name. I watched as they trotted away, their feet a little quicker and their heads a little higher.

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I saw how wrong you were as I waited in the family meeting area, a place where a year ago I stood trying to catch my breath and stop my panicked tears. This year I watched families scan the crowds holding bouquets of flowers in their hands, and proud smiles on their faces. I watched husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends reuite. I watched children covered in ice cream and dirt, holding bent signs that said “Go mom go!” patiently waiting well beyond their naptime. I stood there and waited for my own runner and this time instead of being swept over with relief I was swept over with pride and happiness. The love I saw throughout that street smelled like sweaty feet and salty faces. It was absolutely beautiful.

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You thought that you could destroy us but in the end, you only made us stronger. You made us prouder. You made us work a little harder and celebrate a little louder. You didn’t win. Boston won. Runners won. Love won.

Love always wins.

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Why I will never stop running.

Today’s blog post wasn’t going to be about weight loss, or calorie counting. I wasn’t going to talk about triathlon training, or swim class either. Today’s post was going to be a recap of an incredible weekend celebrating athleticism and how great it is to be a runner in Boston. I had plans to talk about my first trip to the Marathon Expo, about getting the experience to take a right on Hereford, left on Boylston in the B.A.A. 5K, and about watching my friends cross the famous blue and yellow finish line after conquering 26.2 miles. But unfortunately- the finish line is where my story takes a terrifying turn of events.

After following our two runners throughout the course, my friend’s father and I made our way to Boylston Street and pushed our way through the massive crowds towards the VIP bleacher seats. We were lucky enough to have scored a pair of passes the day before and were so excited to see them end it from there. After spotting their running singlets we proudly cheered and screamed, and I snapped a picture of them as they took their last exhausted steps towards the finish line. The time clock in the picture eerily reads “4:04:38”.

Excited that they had finally made it we bounced down from the bleachers and began to make our way to the family meeting area. What should have happened next were joyous hugs, “Congratulations!” and “I’m so proud of you!” and lots of pictures of them holding their medals proudly. I don’t have any of those pictures.

As we made our way to meet them we stopped to quickly use the porta-potties. Standing inside, I suddenly heard this awful boom that sounded almost like a clap of thunder. The entire porta-potty shook, and I remember thinking that someone must have jumped on top of it. I heard a second boom, followed by screaming. A man’s voice started yelling at me to get out (my friend’s dad) and I opened the door to a cloud of smoke and the smell of burning. He told me that we had to run and grabbed my arm. I remember almost stepping on a little boy as I flew down the concrete steps, the police telling us to “walk slowly and calmly”, and the echo of sirens off the buildings. I remember dropping my friend’s inhaler, and having to make a quick decision on if it was worth it to go back and pick it up. We sprinted to the family meeting area and as I tried to catch my breath, I anxiously scanned the crowd, trying to find our runners.

What I’m sure was only a few minutes felt like the longest hours of my life. I’ve never known relief like that until I spotted the two faces I had been praying to see. What should have been a moment of celebratory hugs and pats on the back became a terrified embrace. We were all alive, and we were together. With what little battery I had left in my phone I was able to text my mom, dad and fiancee with the two words I hope to never have to use again: “I’m Okay.”

I think that I was in shock until I got home later that night and started to decompress. I took a hot shower, and sat on the couch with wet hair watching the news clips. As horrific images flashed on the screen, the actuality of what had happened that day hit me like a bag of bricks. An attack happened not only happened to my beloved city, but just feet away from me. I could have lost my limbs. I could have lost my friends. I could have died.

A lot of “what if’s” have been going through my head since then. What if we hadn’t had those passes to the bleacher seats? We probably would have been on the other side of the street- right where the bomb went off. What if my friend’s mom had had the day off from work, and they took the passes …and I was on the other side of the street with my fiancee instead? What if my friends had slowed their pace down, had stopped to stretch, had made their way to the finish line just 5 minutes later?

After a terrible night of little sleep and a lot of staring at the ceiling, I finally let myself get up once the sun was up. I felt confused, terrified, angry and upset. I needed to run. So I laced up my sneakers and I headed out towards the beach.

I wasn’t sure how running was going to make me feel. Part of me was worried that the events of the last 24 hours would take away what running had just so recently given me. But as I made my way down the familiar streets I felt my heart beating, I felt my breathing become a pattern, and I felt so, so incredibly lucky. Lucky that my friends crossed the finish line when they did. Lucky that I left the bleachers when I did. Lucky that I was inside a smelly porta potty and didn’t actually see the explosion. Lucky that I was with someone who stayed calm and got me somewhere safe. Lucky that when my phone finally regained power, I had multitudes of text messages, voicemails, and Facebook messages from people who were so worried about me. Lucky that I was able to come home and kiss and hug my fiancee so tightly. Lucky to still have legs to run with. Lucky to be alive.

I was afraid that the tragic events that happened at the Marathon would ruin running for me but in fact, it has made my love for it that much stronger.  The running community has taken me in with open arms,- with tips and training, with inspiration and guidance. To stop running now would be to let them down in some way. All of the participants in yesterday’s Marathon, whether they were able to finish or not, are absolute heroes in my eyes. They set out to do something that only a select and special few are actually able to complete in their lifetime.

Just a few months ago I learned the symbolism behind the Unicorn in the Boston Athletic Association logo…“An ideal: something to pursue, but which can never be caught. In pursuit of the Unicorn, however, athletic competitors can approach excellence (but never fully achieve it). It is this pursuit to push oneself to his or her own limit and to the best of one’s ability which is at the core of athletics.”

What happened at the Boston Marathon has changed all of our lives in some way. But it doesn’t have to all be negative. And it shouldn’t be, for that would be letting the enemy win. I’m taking the feelings that I have from that day, and using them in a positive way to better my running. I have always said “I have absolutely NO interest in EVER running a marathon.” And now? I can’t say that it will definitely happen…but I can’t say that it’s completely ruled out either. I’m gonna add it to my bucket list and think about it. What I’ve experienced in the last few days has given me a new perspective and drive and it just might someday lead me towards that Unicorn.

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