Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rock'n Recap: Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh Half Marathon

Last Sunday, despite a lengthy break from running and training, I participated in the Rock 'n' Roll Raleigh half-marathon. Before I get in to my own personal experience, I want to send my condolences to the families and friends of the two young men who passed away during the race. Both men were in their early 30's and their deaths hit close to home for me. Though running sometimes makes us feel invincible, Sunday was a somber reminder of how fragile life is.

Downtown before the race.
Due to a foot injury that occurred back in November, I've done very little running. My "training" for this race occurred a mere month prior, with only a single 8-miler being my longest run completed. In hindsight it was somewhat reckless, but I did what I could with the time I had and was fully prepared to walk the whole 13.1 miles (or seek out the med tent) if necessary. My only goal was to have a fucking blast.

The fun began the night before the race. A friend of mine lives pretty close to the start line and offered to host a pre-race slumber party of sorts. We raided the expo and carb-loaded like it was our job, excited and anxious about the following day. I slept for a solid three hours before the alarm went off and then we were on our way. Everything from parking to gear check was an absolute breeze, much to my surprise. I got to see a bunch of familiar faces before the race including Alan (who was running his first half) and my official race-nemesis, the juggler. One thing I liked about the RnR wave start is that every single corral got an official send-off and it seemed to make things less congested, which I appreciated.

Pre-race selfie with Superman! Photo credit: Alan Ali
Alan and I had driven the entire course a few days prior so I knew we were in for a LOT of hills. I ran the first couple of miles with my friend Francesca which I was thankful for. I felt like I was running through quicksand and while I'm usually slow to warm up, that was pretty brutal. I could feel a tender hot spot in the area of my foot injury and my brain was already trying to figure out what I would do if it went into full-blown pain.
 
We ran past a church where the priest was outside blessing all of the runners, which I thought was pretty cool (it was Palm Sunday). I'm not the most religious person but I will never refuse a blessing or a prayer. As I continued my journey I smiled and waved to the lady holding a "Wave if you're not wearing underwear" sign. That sign wins my heart during every single race. I started to feel a little better. Soon thereafter we ran beneath an overpass that had members of the Shaw University marching band playing on it. They were outstanding and really perked me up; I wish they could have followed me around the entire race!

At some point after mile three, I finally found my legs and started to pick up some speed. There were so many volunteers and spectators out to cheer us on and each time I thanked one of them they'd thank me for running. I had heard some negative rumblings around town in regard to the race so it was a welcome relief to have the community's support. Mile four was awesome because it contained a water stop full of friends and familiar faces from my Raleigh Galloway training group. High-fives were flying and this is when I really started to feel energized.

I used to be very anti-social at races and just zone out and listen to my music the whole time but I have found that races are so much more enjoyable when I am present in the moment and interacting with the other runners around me. Every time I exclaimed "more cowbell!" or let out an excited cheer, the runners around me would perk up and get a little louder too. One lady thanked me for having the energy that she did not lol. I was wearing my Sub-30 Club "Suck it up Princess" shirt and so many runners would either shout out "Suck it up Princess!" or run up to tell me they liked my shirt. My #2 race tip is to wear something that makes you stand out - those comments from spectators and other runners absolutely kept me going! (My #1 race tip is to always carry your own water.)

The hill kept going and going and going...
Mile six contained the steepest of all of the hills during the race and I enjoyed myself a nice long walk break. There was something about conquering that hill that kept me moving steadily through the rest of that series of inclines. We entered some residential streets with adorable houses and friendly neighbors shouting "Welcome to the neighborhood!" and cheering us along with mimosas in-hand. I fully expected to hit a wall at mile 8 because 8 miles was the longest distance I'd managed to run during training. After high-fiving a series of spectators and signs proclaiming "Touch here for energy", I looked down at my Garmin and realized I was almost at mile 10... and my foot felt great.

I kept plugging along, walking up the worst hills and running down the other side. As we entered the Dorothea Dix campus around mile 11 my eyes were drawn to a series of yard signs. Upon closer inspection I realized the signs contained the names and pictures of American military personnel who had died in the line of duty. My run slowed to a jog as I made a point to read every name and pay a silent tribute. As I got further along in the mile the signs gave way to American flags, tons of them, being held by volunteers I later learned were family members and friends of the deceased soldiers (their group is called Wear Blue: Run to Remember, check them out). Tears welled in my eyes and I slowed to a stroll, thanking as many of those folks as I could for such an amazing tribute. I'm tearing up as I write this, it touched me that deeply.

Breathtaking.
By then I was almost at mile 12 and completely ecstatic that my foot was in no pain. I ran that last mile on a total endorphin-high and I was so stoked to see the large crowds lining the street as I approached the finish line. I heard someone call out my name and saw my training partner Rose smiling from the side of the road. I was so happy to see her there cheering me on. I spied a woman from my running group walking ahead of me and called out her name, urging her to run to the finish with me.

The closer I got to the line the more excited I got, and the faster I went. I started passing people until I got to one man who saw me approaching and suddenly started moving faster, both of us looking over and acknowledging that this was a foot race. He edged me out at the finish but we were both grinning as we crossed the line and he gave me a fist-bump. One of the most memorable race finishes I can recall, and I was beaming. After grabbing some finish-line grub I found Rose and cheered the rest of my friends to the finish. I was thrilled to see Alan fly down the chute and complete his first half-marathon, which was incredibly inspiring.

Smiling all the way. Photo credit: Jon Baker
I went in to this race intending only to finish pain-free and with a smile on my face, and I'm overjoyed that I accomplished both. Being able to cruise through this race with no time goals really allowed me to enjoy the experience in its entirety, and though I was far from being the first to cross that finish line, I definitely came out a winner.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Power of Progress

Tonight was an eye-opener. We did kettle bell swings in bootcamp and I convinced myself to use a 40 lb kettle bell. The guy across from me was using the same size and making it look easy. Meanwhile I was making all sorts of crazy faces in his direction as I swung that thing, and yet I did it... 120+ times. I may have even grunted once or twice (OK, I definitely grunted). After that fun we "took a break" aka we ran 400m and I was the second one to finish. The guy that came in behind me playfully punched my arm and said "nice job, speedy." It's not every day that someone calls me speedy. That may have been the first time ever.


My new hobby is buying obnoxious gym shirts.
Later in the class, when we were stretching, the woman beside me asked if my clothes were fitting differently because she could tell my body was changing. Another girl chimed in and confided she'd admired my form during Friday's push-up-heavy WOD. Having spent so much of my life trying to be invisible, it felt different to be noticed (a little weird, honestly). As I sat there with my legs outstretched, gripping my feet, I marveled at the fact that four months ago I could barely touch my toes.

I don't tell you these things to brag, though I am proud of my accomplishments. I share these things because sometimes I need to type or say them aloud to see their truth. For a very long time I was afraid to step outside of what was comfortable. I did not have a network of supportive people surrounding me. Then one day I found the courage within myself to change it all. You might expect me to say that I haven't looked back but that would be untrue; I look back constantly because it's the way I measure how far I've come.

After class tonight, I had a conversation with one of my bootcamp buddies about the progress we have made in such a short period of time. Our strength, endurance, and flexibility have all improved. We both had childlike grins on our faces as we agreed that we have gained physical and mental strength, and that our quality of life was just... better. Looking back on my own progress I feel empowered, and I'm honored to be part of a group of people who feel it too.