Thursday, September 15, 2016

Revel, Big Cottonwood Marathon (sub-3!), Salt Lake City, UT, 9/10/16

There's a hole in my pocket where my dreams fell through,
From a sidewalk in the city to the avenue
There's a leak in my dam 'bout the size of a pin,
And I can't quite remember where the water's getting in.
But when you're wearing on your sleeve, 
All the things you regret, 
You can only remember what you want to forget ... 

It is rarely ever just about running. Especially for us non-professionals runners, who still go out and suffer through the miles, experiencing intense physical and emotional pain just for the chance to feel the intense joy of doing what we set out to do.

For some people, like me, running defines them. Or maybe it saves them from a lot of things that would beat them up inside. It is not about winning a race or getting a medal. It is about feeling complete. 

For some people, like me, running "fast" (this is relative, no matter what that time is), reminds us that if we set our mind to do something, then work hard when times get tough, accept pain as part of the process, expect nothing to be handed to us, cope with obstacles, and never ever give up hope, then we just may find that we can achieve more than we ever dreamed of. 

This important lesson about our personal strength transfers to the other parts of life, where resiliency is needed ... in situations that are more “real” and more serious than any race could ever be.  

For me, running strong when things get hard helps me to see that I can overcome the “impossible” by recognizing my strengths and believing in myself. The race course is one of the best classrooms to teach people, like me, this lesson.  Sometimes I need a refresher course. Today was that day. 

Brief History (for those who may not know): My story starts way back, over 10 years ago, when at 29 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Running and racing saved my soul. Cancer is an insidious physical and emotional trauma that teaches some that our bodies can betray us at any time without warning. Cancer can take everything from us in one fell swoop.

Running is my defense to this fear. Each day I run, I know I am doing everything I can to be the healthiest person I can be. This is the only way I know to minimize my risk of battling cancer again. If cancer comes back, I will be physically strong enough to handle the treatment. Running every day is a constant reminder that I am STRONG. Running is not just something I do for exercise. It means more to me than that. As a coach and student of exercise science, running has become my life’s purpose.

May 2015, my back spasms took away my ability to run. I could run about 15 minutes only, before spasms hurt so bad that I feared I would pass out or throw up. My business was threatened and my income plummeted. I had to cancel all my In-Person training sessions because I could no longer do this work reliably. I began to doubt the decisions I had made  to quit office work to try to build a life doing what I love. I felt I was failing. I had become depressed as my identity was destroyed. I gained weight because I could not move like I used to and I tend to eat more when sad. Everything felt hard. I did not enjoy my life as much. 

Five doctors could not help me. I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and Degenerative Disc Disease that had degraded my spine to the extent that I could no longer run pain-free. I was told there was nothing that could be done to repair the discs that are now destroyed and that if I could not run without pain, then that was a sign that I should not run at all. 

I died inside that day in November 2015 when the doctor told me to give up my dreams.

I worked on acceptance. I was willing to accept that my best running days were over, but not until I tried everything. I looked for exceptions.There were days I was able to run marathons in 4:00-4:15 without any pain, but most other days I could not make it to the 2M mark without suffering. There was something that allowed me to run some days but not other days. I don't know what that was but I would try to figure it out.

In May, I changed my nutrition, stopped training by pace, and worked first to lose weight and build muscle strength back. By June, things started to turn around in a big way. My back still hurts when I train, but in a race I have been able to run with less pain. 

Once I started to believe I could beat this, I then became the leanest, strongest, fittest version of myself. I religiously stuck to my plan. I logged my training, my nutrition, and my sleep patterns. As a result, at 40 years old, I started to blow my life-time PR’s out of the water.

Big Cottonwood started out as a goal race picked for a friend. I wanted to see her BQ. I chose this race because it was the fastest race in the country on the last weekend to BQ before Boston opened registration. She could not make the trip, but I decided to see what I could do. I knew I could PR and this was the place to do it!  

It was not until Friday AM, when things started to feel real. As I drove myself to the airport, Brandi Carlile was in my CD player. The song linked above, played. This CD was something I bought when I was feeling remorseful about many things, my running life being just one of them. The metaphor of how her dreams simply fell out of a hole in her pocket, that she did not know was there, really spoke to me. I regretted not doing more when I could. But as this song played, I thought about how I worked to change my situation. 

As I parked at the remote lot in Newark, I glanced down and noticed my arm, and then snapped this photo. Ok, Grandma … I know this is from you…. :)”

I got on the bus to the terminal and felt compelled to write this note to myself

“For a long time now, I have felt the weight, a struggle, pushing me towards regret. I am fortunate to have been able to cope with this while figuring out my life’s path, even when times felt a little dark. Acceptance of change helped me stay focused on solutions. Patience during adversity helped me to not suffocate from despair. I know that if I want to find my way out of a dark place, I need to keep my eyes open and look for the opportunities around me. This world is full of caring, compassionate people who want to see me succeed. There is opportunity for positive change everywhere. It starts with first believing it exists. It starts with believing I can achieve it. Over 12 months ago, I felt my world crumble and it broke my heart. But today I have found a brighter more hopeful existence. God Bless Second Chances. They are everywhere. They are all around us, if we are patient, solution-focused, remain aware of our opportunities, and believe in ourselves.”   ok… so no pressure, right?

The course!
Race Day: 

I woke up at 3:30 am to board the bus outside my hotel at 4:00 am. I had some coffee, two chocolate honey stinger waffles, a few chocolate-covered espresso bean, and 15 oz of gatorade while riding the bus to the starting line. I knew the course would be really fast when the bus had to pull over from overheating on the climb up to the start. 

As we stepped off the bus, about 1300+ runners huddled for warmth on top of the mountain at 9696 ft elevation

The air was chilly and very thin.  I could feel it impacting my ability to breathe. 

Inspirational music played loudly as the sun slowly rose over the summit.  

As I threw my gear bag into the truck, I thought about a man I have been FB friends with, but never met in person. He had posted yesterday that he was on his flight to Salt Lake City to run a marathon. I wondered if he would be here and at that moment he walked right in front of me. This made me smile. It was like seeing an old friend. 

When you are going to do something hard, it is really nice to have a friend in your corner to keep your focused. Abel became that person for me today.  (Thank you Abel).

We discussed goals. I told him I wanted to target an even spit and if everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3.  We get up front and after the national anthem and then a count down, I cannot believe we were off and running.

20 weeks of focus. 20 weeks of trying my hardest to do everything “right”... so when my back finally does go out in the years to come, I will have No Regrets.   

If everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3, which was a pipe-dream and never something I felt could be a reality.    

There is so much pain... at Mile 1.5... 
Now here we are running in the dark down a mountain so steep that in Mile 1 I can already feel my toe nails banging against my toe-box. I am trying to look at my Garmin, but I cant read it in the dark with my eyes tearing up from the cold air. I am running so fast, too fast. The hill is so steep I can't slow down with out jamming on the breaks… I decide to just go with it.  

At M1 my Garmin beeps: M1- 5:53. Holy Crap! That cannot be correct. My first sub-6 mile in a race… and at the absolute worst time to do it! This is NOT good.

“If everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3.” 

But this is very very bad! This is one full minute under sub-3 pace. I pump the breaks to get myself under control. Abel looks back, to check on me, I waive for him to just go. I need to settle down.  

As I try to slow, the front of right shin spasm hard. Shooting pains are sent up my leg. I cannot step without pain. I never cramp.  I am today. I can feel my big toe is swollen badly and now I can't step without pain. It is not even Mile 2 yet. Then my Garmin loses a signal and I have no information about what my pace is. 

"Will it away!"
If everything goes perfectly today, I should be able to run a sub-3”  

My Garmin timer is working, so I have that for information at each mile. It feels like the entire field is passing me as I giddy-up with a contorted painful gait.

We pass the 3 Mile Mark and start to run uphill. Up hill at 8700 feet is hard on a chick who lives at 100 ft. My Garmin picks up a signal here, just to tell me “Hey do you know you are running a 7:50 pace!” then it dropped again. Thanks! 

My devastating internal dialogue begins: “If everything goes perfectly today, you should be able to run a sub-3…. Well, guess what! Today is NOT your day. It is not yet mile 4 and you are running a 7:50 pace with shin spasms so bad you can’t step and bruised toenails making it harder than it needs to be. It is only going to get worse from here! You can’t even get your turnover fluid. Accept it! You are not a sub-3 marathoner and you never will be! What even made you think this was possible. If you can’t do it here, at one of the fastest courses in the country, today, when you are in then best shape of your life, then it will never ever happen for you. So right now you need to stop dreaming and start figuring out a way to be OK with this because 22 miles is along way to go feeling sorry for yourself... if you  can even make it that far.”

Just Believe!
And then I remembered glancing down at my wrist when I parked the car at the airport. "Believe!" I thought about how hard I worked. I thought about my last race where I had bad foot pain and I focused on “Willing it Away” and how that worked for me.  I thought about my 1:27 negative split half marathon that I won outright (against like 35 runners ;), but so what, I still won). I thought about a story Laura D. shared with me about her dad telling her to always “Have Fun and Never Give Up”… 

I thought about my Grandmother and how I felt she was there with me and I said to her: “Ok Grandma, I am not ready to quit. I don't care if I don't make it. I just need to try… I need to keep trying no matter what happens!”

And then the MUSIC in my head started. When a song gets stuck in my head during a race, good things happen. At the starting area music was being played… and one perfect song wormed its way into my brain and here it was, just as I needed it most.

And with this music, my shin loosed up… My gait became smooth… My toes still hurt, but I know that if I run hard enough a bruised toenail will blow up and actually feel better…  So with this music in head, with my grandmother in my thoughts, I ran my heart out!  

As I ran from Mile to Mile, not really sure how I was doing, I told that negative voice of self-doubt to Shut It. I don't need a “perfect day.” I just need a chance!  Today, I have my chance!

I came through 13M sub-1:28’s… Yes! I had a chance!  

I took off my singlet and got comfortable. I take a lot of unwarranted crap for running in a sports bra from judgy people whose opinions don't really matter. When I run in a sports bra I feel strong and confident. My body cools itself better. I always run faster when cooler. A chick yells out “Nice 8-pack!! You go Girl! You are crushing it!” and that is all I needed to hear! 

Everything comes together. The fast course pulled me at paces I don't often get to see in a 5k!  My Garmin was working again (finally) and I clicked off a series of incredible splits from M13 - M17: 6:08, 6:12, 6:14, 6:22, 6:14.  

This stretch of running, brought me back to life!  Every mile under 6:53 was giving me something to use during the hardest miles of this race that were about to hit from 18M-24M. I just needed to get to mile 24 with a chance. 
Then I think, “OMG! What if this is a dream?! What if my alarm for the bus is about to go off and I am not actually here doing this”… but the pain feels so real.

We entered the harder stretch and I hold a 6:36 for M18. I fade to a 7:00 for M19. I am ok with this because, I banked some time.  

But then my hamstring spasms and I feel like I am about to pull it… “Not now! Will It away!  Will. It. Away!”  

I see Abel on his way back and he looks good, but also like things are getting tough. I know they are for me. I ignore my watch. This stretch is hard. I focus on the people around me and I try to reel people in. M20 - 6:58.
M21 - 7:01. 

I’m having trouble holding on. I feel my shin swelling and my shoe, around my ankle, starts to get tight. I need to be at M22 before 2:30 to have a chance. I glance at my split: 7:24.  I cant bear to look at the total time. I don't want to know… I am afraid it will tell me I am too slow, so I look away and just run.

I get the pace back under 7:00 for M23 (6:52). I tell myself, just get to mile 24 with 16 minutes to go (7 minutes for 2 miles and then 2 minutes for .2).  I hit Mile 24 at 2:41 OMG I think I really can do this!!! 

Then as the course starts to head back downhill my left pinky toe explodes in my shoe… it blows up and my foot pools with blood and fluid… :Not Now!!!! 2 miles to go… Not now!!!"

I see Abel, he is reaching back towards his hamstring. I can see he is working for this but he, too, is in pain.  I catch up and I say to him “Will It Away!” (He tells me later all he heard was me say “Suck it up!”  LOL!  That is not what I said!!!). I tell him “We can do it!  But I secretly I believe in him more than I do myself.”

Starting to Believe!
I need to be at M25 before 2:50. I hoped be there by 2:48. I am taking nothing for granted.  

Everything hurts, but I am so close. I am checking my time and I see it roll over 2:50 and I ask the guy next to me if we passed M25. I never trust mile markers. What if the others were short? What if I did not reach mile 25 yet and now it is 2:50???  

He says, “We are just past 25.3 miles!

OMG, less than a mile to go if he is right!  If he is right, I can run a 2:56!  But what if he is wrong? He could he be wrong?   

But what if he is right?

At 2:54:xx I pass the flag for M26…  "At two fifty four I pass the flag for mile twenty six" This does not feel real to me. It is now and only now that I truly believe. 

I open my stride as much as I can and my heart fills with joy. I cry. I don't care. I run the last .36 miles (on my watch) in a 6:12 pace. 

I am escorted to the med tent because my legs are weak, I am emotional, and my asthma is making it hard to breath. I look at my watch… 

Two Fifty Six … 2. 5. 6…. 2:56!  

I cant believe it. 

I did it. 

And with a 10 second negative split! 

Abel finishes shortly after and gets his first Sub-3, too! 

After I returned home to New Jersey, I get in my car, with the CD still in the player. I was greeted by this song which really sums it all up.

I think it's time we found a way back home
You loose so many things you love as you grow
I missed the days when I was just a kid
My fear became my shadow, I swear it did

Wherever is your heart I call home
Wherever is your heart I call home
Though your feet may take you far from me, I know
Wherever is your heart I call home
(I "Heart" Marathons)

Thank you Grandma. I know you were there to see this, to help give me strength when I was full of self doubt, and to help me believe I could overcome everything thrown in my way, if I just made sure to believed in me. 

Time 2:56:14 (6:43 per mile)
OA place: 29th
Gender: 3rd

Age: First Master Female

We don't need perfect, 
We just need a chance.  

Dream Big.


The Aftermath: Lost toenails and bruised shins.
(Not for the weak-stomached).

You may look at the elevation chart and think "Downhill races" are fast courses. 

Yes, this is true... They are, but for those who can survive the beating. Be prepared to get you butt kicked for 26M straight without a break. Do your downhill training. Expect round after round of jarring impact without relief. This may be fast, but it also painful. 

I lost 3 toe nails already and my shin spasms resulted in a nice bruise from the inside out.  My hamstring is still knotted. 

Recovery from this race is taking me longer than when I ran 110 miles in a day. I am being patient, but I already know this was the hardest race I have ever run even with gravity assisting me most of the way. 

Yet, still, when I look at my feet, I am proud.  

I hear toenails are over-rated, anyway :)

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