Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Philadelphia Recap: From Fable to Finish Line

I won’t bore reader(s) with a mile by mile breakdown. I won’t discuss the lack of porta potties or nickpick my every step.  I hate recaps like that. You’re not going to get a weather report or a grid of my Garmin times. You can read any Philadelphia Marathon recap for that. This was my marathon and the apex of a very long, very personal journey.

Let’s rewind to about six weeks ago when I was huffing and puffing my way through a solo 20 mile training run. It was not going well. I was achy, hungry, and tired. My legs and head were not cooperating. Either my legs would stop or my mind would stop telling them to go. My Camelback was annoying the crap out of me. Everything was annoying the crap out of me.

And then I got a stone in my damn shoe. It’s one of the cons to trail running. Red clay provides a softer surface and therefore easier recovery but comes with little stone terrorists that jump into your shoes and make every step way more painful than necessary. Good lord, I hated that stone. No matter how I shook my foot, it would not come out of my sneaker.

I started to think of the fable, the Princess and the Pea. If I remember correctly, the Prince was searching for a true princess but everyone he met was unfit. Let’s  have Wikipedia finish the tale:

The story tells of a prince who wants to marry a princess, but is having difficulty finding a suitable wife. Something is always wrong with those he meets, and he cannot be certain they are real princesses. One stormy night, a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince's castle. She claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother decides to test their unexpected guest by placing a pea in the bed she is offered for the night, covered by 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds. In the morning the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed; which she is certain has bruised her. The prince rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through such a quantity of bedding. The two are married, and the pea is placed in the Royal Museum.

I drew silly parallels between the stone in my shoe and the pea under the mattress. This occupied my mind for at least three miles. Perhaps I was meant to be Princess of Running by because of this stone in my shoe. My final thought was that if I could withstand the annoying pain of a stone in my shoe than I could indeed run a marathon.  So, maybe I was no princess or prince but a very determined runner with a goal. Also, I had to get home.

This faulty logic or wishful thinking became somewhat of a mantra as I headed towards the marathon. Some runners rely on mantras just as “just do it”, “pain is temporary, pride is forever” “you’re lapping everyone on the couch.” Me—I modify childhood fairy tales. Regardless of the method, the motivation and determination were there. I knew that if I could endure that stone in my damn shoe while running along the Delaware Canal, I had the mental toughness to endure the 26.2 miles of the Philadelphia Marathon. I did have doubts though because that is a pretty shaky mantra. But I think a significant amount of self doubt when contemplating running 26.2 miles in one day is probably just good common sense.

Fast forward to November 20, 2011. The day I ran my damn marathon.

very nervous at the start

I’m standing nervously  in my corral, just waiting for my turn to cross the start line. I point to it as we cross and say, “You’re my bitch. I’ll see you later.”And I did. Five hours and 10 minutes later, I ran under the finish line with tears streaming down my face. I did the whole thing. It wasn’t easy. But I never thought I couldn’t do it. After three years of running and 18 weeks of dedicated training, I knew I could. I knew there would be awesome parts and I knew there would be sucky parts. I knew there would be a wall and I would have to push through it. I knew that the crowds in Manayunk would be awesome and that those final 6 miles along Kelly Drive would be a knock-down-drag-out-gut-wretching-soul-searching-stretch of pain and drive that defines champions.

somewhere around mile 6. 

I can’t even say the marathon itself was hard. It wasn’t easy. It was challenging. It was overwhelming at times. Even the thrill of a personal distance record at mile 21 couldn’t negate the fact that I had already run 20 miles and still had 5 to go.

around mile 14

My marathon really started at mile 15. The first half was fun and served more as 13 miles of anticipation for the real deal. The second half. It was like the first three seasons of Lost, a lot of build up and questions which alluded to something way more sinister and crazy coming.

The wall came at mile 18. I pushed through it. My legs didn’t want to move anymore at mile 22. I made them. My heart was beating so hard and fast at mile 23 and 24 that I had to slow down to control it. But I did. My feet were on fire for the majority of the race but I ignored them. I was thirsty so I refilled my water bottle at the water stations and moved on. I was tired but I kept going. The only goal I had was to finish. 

Finally, I saw Boathouse Row which singled the end of this marathon! I was at or around mile 25.5 and only had a little more than a half mile to go. I was REALLY ACTUALLY SERIOUSLY  going to do this! The finish line didn’t appear as magically as I thought it would. Even though I had just run 26 miles, that .2 took forever. I followed the course and felt powered from the screaming and smiling faces. And just as that mythical finish line, the one I’ve been visualizing for 18 weeks, came into view, so did my parents, boyfriend, and friend along the gates. It was a dose of perspective. I mean, who needs finish lines when one is so blessed to have a group of people willing to battle traffic, each other, illnesses, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority to come watch me finish some journey they don’t necessarily get but want to celebrate.  

Hi Guys! I'm gonna go finish my marathon now!

There they were and there it was and there I went. To finish. To be a marathoner. To believe myself as a runner. To believe in myself.

There I go! Weeee!!! 

While I knew about the running part, the pain part, the hills and the course, I didn't really know what to expect at the end. A volunteer handed me a medal and a blanket. I grabbed a bottle of water. I didn't feel like a marathoner, yet. It felt real when, out of all the commotion and the bored announcer calling off generic mantras and names, I heard my mom's loud cry and saw everyone running towards me. The hugs and relief and pride and love made it real. 
My face is so ridiculous because I was crying.
That is what I look like when crying and showing off.

All I can say here is BAM! 

I have the medal, the t-shirt, the photos, and the waddle of a marathoner now. But I could have none of those things because I got huge hugs from the most important people to me at the end. I could run a hundred miles with pieces of glass in my shoe if it meant feeling that loved and special at the end. 

Lauren ran miles 20-25.5 with me along with most of my long training runs throughout. I could NOT have done this without her. 

I don't think I'll ever love another photo as much as I do this. NOTE THE MATCHING SHIRTS!

Love = wearing the same shirt as your girlfriend's parents.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This time next week....

This time next week I will be resting comfortably on my coach. This time next week I will have a glass of wine in my hand and a medal around my neck. This time next week, my body will be sore from head to toe. This time next week, I will never want to run again.  This time next week, despite the pain, I will have a huge smile on my face.

Because this time next week--I will be a marathoner.

I will be celebrating the end of a sixteen week journey and the crowning moment of an adventure that started three years ago. Hopefully. I don't want to jinx anything because anything can happen between now and the finish line. If everything goes well and the sixteen weeks of training pay off---by this time next week, I will be basking in the glory of having run a marathon.

I close my eyes on focus on the feel good parts of this adventure because I'm really nervous about the beginning and middle. My thoughts are consumed with anticipation, self doubt, performance anxiety, excitement, fear, and nerves. Did I train enough? What if I hit the proverbial wall too early and can't finish? I only ran two 20 milers and the second one was rough. I didn't do enough speed work. Am I eating well enough? What if I get hurt? What if I get injured between now and Sunday? What if.............. everything.

I'm allowing the question marks because I know they're going to be replaced with exclamation points soon and my doubt will be replaced with pride. As the questions grow in absurdity (what if I roll my ankle while wearing heels to work and I can't run?), the harder I think about next week. When this will all be over and I won't have to run anymore. I will have achieved a goal I set for myself and will  move forward through life with that power.

And as my favorite Righteous Babe (and this blog's namesake) sings:

"The further the horizon
You know the more it holds my gaze
And the foreground's out of focus
but you know I hope it's just a phase"

-ani difranco

The horizon is that finish line and this time next week....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


It was 5 o'clock on a Thursday evening.  I stood up from my desk chair and was greeted with a loud crack from my lower back and a dull ache spread across my hips. I took a step forward and my calves burned. I moaned. 

"Why am I doing this?" I asked my office mate. I ask her this question everyday. And everyday she laughs at me. "I don't know! Because you're crazy." 
"Right. Good answer. And now I'm off to do it again." 
"How many miles tonight?" 
"I think eight. I'm going to shoot for six and try to push from there."
"How long will that take?"
"Forevvvvvvver!" I whine. 

Every fiber of my physical body wanted nothing more than to go home and take a nap. I wanted to nap, to cook dinner, and to watch The Sing Off. I did not want to go to the gym. But. Dammit. I'm training for a marathon. And so, I headed to the gym to face my old foe, the treadmill. Armed with my trusty tote bag, loaded with one sports bra, capris, tank, socks, sneakers, baggy t-shirt, headphones, I went towards the neon lights of LA Fitness. My training plan called for eight miles. That meant I had to eat a large lunch, chug 2 water bottles throughout the day, and wouldn't be getting home well past dinner time.

It was there on that stupid treadmill at the seventh mile, bored out of my mind, sore from my hip right down to my toes, the time is ticking closer and closer to eight o'clock that I realized THIS is the marathon. Sure, I'll gear up on November 20th and gather in corrals with thousands of others runners. I'll be excited, nervous, cold, scared, and anxious. My feet will cross that first timing mat and I'll be off. I'll run 13.1 miles and want to be done. I'll walk through the water stations. I'll hit a proverbial wall at mile 21 and find something in me to push further. I know my body is strong enough and my spirit is determined enough that I will cross that damn finish line. 

Because I've been doing this damn marathon for 3 years. The marathon is pushing through the exhaustion. The marathon is not giving into excuses. The marathon is setting a goal and working towards it. 
The marathon is running five miles to meet a friend on a brisk fall day and then hammering out 15 miles after that. The marathon is heading to the gym after a long day at work to get the miles in. It's leaving the parties early on weekends to be running by the time that most parties would be winding down. It's running 20 miles by yourself. It's running at night when the gym is closed for renovations because you're committed to the training plan (even if you're afraid of the dark). It's pounding out 16 miles on a treadmill because a Nor'easter is raging outside. It's coaching Girls on the Run, followed by running five miles. And following that with 45 minutes of intense cross training. The marathon is finding way to fit everything in. The marathon is being too tired to run and too determined not to. It is discovering deep wells of strength, stamina, anger, inspiration, motivation, and drive within yourself. And then actually using it. It's that incredible feeling of achievement earned from tackling one double digit run after another week after week. 

The start line of the marathon is not in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. It was the first day I decided to try to run. A training plan calls for 16 weeks. The distance is 26.2 miles. The marathon is more than miles run. It's a compilation of weeks or years or even a lifetimes worth of work. The 26.2 miles will really be the easy part.