Tuesday, April 30, 2013

For PRogress.

Just as all runners are different people and run for different reasons, the words "Personal Record" mean something different to each of us. For the elite runners, a PR could mean qualifying for the Olympics or achieving a new World Record. For me, someone who just completed my first race one year ago, a PR means progress. My speed, or lack thereof, doesn't define me nor should yours define you. As someone who has found a passion in running and racing I have registered for and run many races over the last 12 months, most of them for fun. My two half-marathons in March and April were different.

Back in September 2012, I was the amazingly lucky winner of a personalized race training plan from Jason Fitzgerald and #runchat. When Jason asked me about my goals I told him I wanted three things: to become a more well-rounded runner, to be able to run a 5k without having to take walk breaks, and to become faster. Jason took my goals and running history and crafted a 16-week training plan unique to my needs. It was pretty awesome.

The week before I was scheduled to begin my training, I had coffee with a fellow runner. He asked me why I take walk breaks when I run and instinctively I responded "Because I have to." As soon as the words left my mouth I questioned their validity and so did he. He suggested I run as far as I could and then the next time try to run a little bit farther. I scoffed at his advice and we eventually went our separate ways.

One week later my father invited me for a 3-mile run and as we took off, he asked me the same question: "Why do you think you need walk breaks?" Again I felt myself wanting to say that I couldn't run without them but instead I responded "I don't know." In that moment I vowed to try and run the entire 3 miles. Guess what? I did it. Actually, we did it. (Thanks, dad!)

There was no finish line or medal that day but it's one that will stand out in my mind for a long time to come because it was a day of progress, not just physically but mentally as well. That day taught me that my biggest obstacles are not hills or treadmills or speed work. No, my biggest running challenge would be to overcome my own doubts. As I began utilizing Jason's training plan I felt myself becoming stronger both physically and mentally. My running buddy Rose accompanied me on many a long and hilly training run and I love her for it. She has taught me a lot about pushing myself out of my comfort zone to a place where progress can be made.

My training plan incorporated my March half-marathon as a training run or "B" race. Many runners have at least one time goal in mind for their races but I've always just told myself to run like hell. My goals have never been about beating someone else, my biggest competition is myself and those annoying doubts in my head. When I set out to run, either around my block or in a race, I run to make progress.

Back in March I secretly hoped to finish that race faster than my previous half, even if only by a second, because it would mean I had improved. I ended up finishing that race almost 8 minutes faster than its predecessor and I could hardly believe it. Something inside of me started to push those lingering doubts a little further away but they weren't gone completely. I continued to follow my training plan, my long runs peaking at 15 miles despite only training for a 13.1 mile race. I may have wanted to curl up in a ditch during some of those runs but I seldom faltered in my training.

I didn't have any expectations going in to this weekend's race. My friends kept telling me to trust my training, that I had worked so hard and I was all set to PR. I urged them to be quiet, not wanting to get my hopes up only to be disappointed. Again I had no specific time in mind other than to beat my own previous best.

When I tell you that two days later I still sit here in shock, it's the truth. Somehow in 4 week's time I managed to drop almost 12 minutes off of my previous best half-marathon. I wasn't trying to do it, it just happened and that's what I love most about it. I worked my butt off for 16 weeks and I blew my own goals out of the water. I am not ashamed of that in any way and I will not allow anyone to make me feel bad about it. It is a testament to my own strength and dedication, proof that hard work does pay off.

I realize that every race will not end quite this way and I'm ok with that. Those training runs and races where you end up walking more than running or crying more than laughing? Those are progress too. They teach us to take the bad with the good, they give us something to chase after and fuel us to be better runners. Find your strength, quiet your own doubts and run like hell. I wish you PRogress.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Racecation Recap - Divas Half Marathon

This weekend my friends Melanie and Francesca joined me on a road trip to Myrtle Beach, SC for the Divas Half Marathon. Our trip began on Friday morning and after arriving in MB and checking in to our first hotel, we decided to head to the outlets for some retail therapy. I got a sweet deal on the Under Armour 7" compression shorts that I've heard such great things about and I'm looking forward to testing them out. Our next stop was the race expo but somehow the GPS took us in the completely wrong direction! By the time we realized what had happened it was too late to turn around so we decided to grab dinner at one of our favorite places (Nacho Hippo) and call it a night.

Posing like a diva at the expo & my new necklace
Saturday morning we woke up and grabbed breakfast and then attempted to find the expo again. This time we were successful and we arrived just before they opened the doors. We were able to grab our bibs and shop a little bit before all hell broke loose. I treated myself to a sterling silver necklace with a winged shoe charm. I also bought a 13.1 charm and a "13.1 - I don't go all the way" tech shirt. It started to get really crowded after an hour so we decided to drive over to our oceanfront hotel to see if we could check in early. Luckily our room was ready so we were able to unpack and settle in!

We had plans to meet up with Jesica and Kat for lunch and we enjoyed some good food and great company. I was exhausted from having slept terribly the night before but I really enjoyed learning more about some of the ladies I "know" on twitter and in the blog world. After lunch some of us headed to the beach and I'm proud to say I didn't get sunburnt at all. It was probably the best-spent pre-race day I've experienced yet. Being on the beach especially helped to take my focus off of my nervousness about the race, I wish every race was at a beach location!

I had spent pretty much the entire week stressing about the race-day weather. Predictions of rain and thunder showers had me worried all week that the race would be miserable or worse, canceled! Luckily, aside from the major humidity, we had perfectly cool temps and cloud cover. The race start was slightly disorganized in that there were no formal corrals, just signs with paces on them as a suggestion of where to line up. It was also unclear whether or not there were pacers available. There was no mention of pacers either on the website or at the expo but I did see a couple of people with the balloons-on-a-stick on the day of the race.

This was one of the bigger races I have done and once the race began it took 3-4 minutes to even cross the start line. Once we did it was still rather congested but I hung in there and did my thing. Due to the humidity I was dripping sweat before I'd even completed the first mile! My legs felt heavy and my initial thought was "I'm just not feeling this today". Then I found my groove and the miles seemed to fly by. For this race I did run/walk intervals of 4/1, which is what I'd been training with over the last month, and I chose to forgo music and just focus on the experience. I felt from the beginning that I had started too fast but I felt good and told myself that if I ended up crashing because of it, I'd deal with it then.

Around mile 5 I still felt I was going too fast. Truth be told I started to panic! Why wasn't I tired? Was I really running as fast as I thought I was? Would I hit "the wall"? It was then that I saw a woman running ahead of me and printed on her shirt were the words "when your legs get tired, run with your heart". I did a mental self-check: did my feet hurt? Aside from a painful blister, no. Was it difficult to breathe? Nope. Any hesitation I had was due to the doubt in my own head. It was a huge wake up call to me and I kept my pace and ran with my heart.

There weren't many spectators throughout the course (they were all pretty heavily concentrated in one area) but the ones we did encounter were fun. As I ran by a sweet older couple who were cheering for us around mile 7 I said, "Thank you for coming out!" and the man replied "Thanks for making it this far!" Haha! Then a woman next to me shouted "She's going to make it all the way!" I thought that was sweet. It was a very girl-power type of race, which made for a fun race atmosphere. One runner was wearing a shirt that said "You just got passed by a pregnant woman!" LOL.

The course was the flattest I have ever run with just one or two speed bump-like "hills". When I reached the 10-mile marker and looked down at my Garmin I realized I hadn't even been running for 2 hours yet - I've never run 10 miles in less than 2 hours before. Then I started doing the calculations in my head. If I was under 2 hours with 5k left to go, there was a very good chance that not only would I PR but I could cross the finish line under 2:30:00 - a time I never in a million years thought I would see any time soon. After all, my first half was less than 6 months ago and I had run a 2:47:54 in that one. I mustered up every ounce of strength I could and I ran on.

As those final miles counted down, the spectators began their shouts of "Only _ miles to go!" and "You're almost there!" I felt tired but also excited and I pushed on. Some time between miles 12 and 13 I spied the Divas boa & tiara station where Melanie was volunteering. In my head I knew if it came down to getting a PR or getting a plastic tiara I was going to run right past that tiara. I glanced at my watch and knew that barring catasptrophe I would get in under 2:30. I started shouting Melanie's name until she saw me and I grabbed a boa and kept running. I stuck out my hand and someone put a tiara in it and I promptly stuck it on top of my head, still running frantically. As I turned that final corner with the finish line in sight, I gave everything I had and as I crossed the finish line I made sure to stop my Garmin (I always forget to do that after a race). I looked down at my wrist and almost fell to the ground in disbelief: 2:28:40!!!

Blue & yellow for Boston. My shiny new PR & shiny new bling!
I sort of wandered around in a daze for a minute, not believing that my Garmin was correct. Someone handed me a water and then I saw the gorgeous shirtless firemen waiting with their muscular arms full of medals. I went straight to the guy I was most attracted to and he gave me a smile as he put the medal around my neck. The guy beside him high-fived me and I'm sure I grinned like a fool as I followed the crowd to another location where champagne was being poured and a sweet woman handed me a long-stemmed rose. All of those little touches made my finish even sweeter. I couldn't have asked for a better race experience.

The medal-holding hotties.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston Memorial Run

As we all know, less than one week ago bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I have gone through such a range of emotions over the last week. As a human, I felt sadness that anyone would willingly cause harm to others. As a runner, I felt violated; as if someone had personally attacked my family. I have said many times before how thankful I am to have found the running community. For the first time in a long time I feel as if I belong to something larger than life. These feelings were only strengthened today.

One of our local race directors was there in Boston on the day of the bombing. Upon returning safely back to Raleigh, he immediately went into action planning a memorial run. He recruited other local race directors, running shoe stores and running groups. A facebook group was created and I watched as first a few hundred people agreed to run, then a few hundred more, and today over 2000 people congregated downtown to show their support for the victims of this tragedy.

Lined up to start.
In fact, so many people showed up that the City of Raleigh closed the local streets for us for an hour, and had police officers stationed at intersections to keep traffic at bay. The Raleigh Fire Department had a ladder truck display an enormous American flag as a symbolic start & finish line. Prior to the run there was a moment of silence followed by a haunting bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace and a beautifully sung Star Spangled Banner. Following the run a group of us sang along to Sweet Caroline.

My friends and I marveled at what an outstanding experience this was to be a part of. To see our running friends and our non-running friends all taking part in this thing of beauty; all sharing the same road for the same purpose. Before the run, I was standing on a corner taking a picture of the American flag when I was approached by a woman named Kim. She was in Boston on Monday, running the marathon. She said her phone's memory was full but she wanted a picture of the flag and asked if I would text it to her. I was so happy to share that picture and that moment with her. This is the type of camaraderie that has been born of this tragedy.

The picture I was taking when I met Kim.
When I heard that the city would be providing us police officers to stand watch along the run route, I knew I wanted to do something to thank them for being there. I ran with a small backpack that held notes of thanks and tokens of appreciation. I handed them out to as many of the police officers as I could along the 3-mile route and thanked them for their service to our city. They were all a little taken aback but very much appreciative.

After we finished, my running buddy Rose suggested we go cheer on the others that were finishing. That is always my favorite part of a race, seeing the looks on people's faces as they cross that finish line. As I stood there cheering, I thought about the spectators who had been doing just that on Monday and how their lives were now changed forever. I thought about the runners who were just about to cross that finish line in Boston when explosions knocked them off their feet. I cheered a little bit louder, for all of them. When my friend Jeanne found us standing at the finish, she jokingly asked if were were standing there because of the cute firemen nearby. My reply was "No. I'm standing here because every fucking runner deserves to be cheered for as they finish a race." No one can take that away from us; I won't let them.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Happy Race-iversary to me!

One year ago, on April 14, 2012, I ran my first race. It was a 5k and it changed my life forever. I learned that day that I am capable of far more than I give myself credit for. I also learned the huge impact that race spectators and volunteers can have on a runner. Running was a hobby that I took on for myself and mostly by myself. I enjoyed my solo runs because they gave me time to reflect. In retrospect I viewed running rather selfishly; it was all about me. One year later I can vividly recall my surprise at hearing a group of complete strangers cheering for me during that first 5k race. It was the first time in a long time that I had unconditional support for something I'd set out to accomplish, and it was amazing.

I credit that race and experience for being the catalyst that set me on a path to change my life for the better. Those total strangers made such an impact on me that I made a goal for myself to volunteer for two races in 2013.  So today, on my one-year race-iversary, I spent five hours volunteering at a water stop for a local half-marathon. It. Was. AWESOME! What a joy to be able to see and interact with so many runners, from the insanely fast to the back-of-the-pack!

The course was an out-and-back, so we had the pleasure of providing water and gatorade at both mile 4 and mile 12. I loved being able to support these runners, especially as they were about to embark on their final mile - up a huge hill. So many people thanked us for volunteering and for supporting them and it touched my heart because I know how much I appreciate that support when I am running a race. At one point I was shouting encouragement to a large group of runners and told them they were looking great. One guy ran over and said, "Really? Does my hair still look good? Can you tell I've been working out?" LOL! It was so awesome to see that even 12 miles into a race people had smiles, a sense of humor, and were enjoying themselves.

I am so proud to call myself a runner and to be a part of this beautiful and supportive community. I could not think of a better way to spend my one-year race-iversary and I look forward to many years of racing and volunteering to come!