Running With Joy – Cowtown 50k

 

When I first started my running journey it was a way of releasing stress and tension from uncontrollable life events.  I would ‘run out’ anger, fear, discontent; any emotion that my brain was unable to process, I’d turn into physical pain, releasing it through my legs and into the pavement.  I would run hard, then quickly lose steam and fall into a run/walk slog until I finished however many miles I needed to get done.  I ran myself into crippling injuries and never thought twice about it.

Since then I have done my best to change my overall attitude towards running.  While I still use it as my decompression time, I try to not let my day influence the overall run. Over the summer, life got the best of me and I reverted back to anger filled running, resulting in multiple full out mid-run mental breakdowns.  In July, I totaled 5 miles for the entire month, when before my averages had been between 70-100.  This was were I found running’s rock bottom.  Only place to go from there was up, right?
After the semi-Dopey Challenge in January, I was to take a week off and then start rebooting for the Cowtown 50k; my first ultra marathon to take place at the end of February.  I entered the ultra because I had not been scared by a race in a long time, and I figured it was time to be scared again.  Six days after Dopey, I ‘tripped’ (we’ll just call it a trip) on some railroad tracks while walking down the road and smashed both of my knees into the concrete. ‘Scared’ immediately turned to panic as my knee ballooned up and turned purple for weeks following the incident.  I went from completely confident in my abilities after the Disney Marathon, to truly frightened about what was to come over the 31.1 mile course at Cowtown.  16 days before Cowtown I had my Ultra Marathon Meltdown.  Could my legs hold up after the time off I had to take? Would my knee hold up? If the pain started, when would it start and how long would I have to deal with it because I don’t own a DNF switch? Would this be the first race I DNF? Or, worst of all, would I do so much damage that I ruin my training toward trying to BQ?
“Control what you can control” —Steven Stam
I probably say this more times to myself than I say anything else.  Not only has Steven coached me so wisely in the running arena over the last few years, but he has also done an amazing job with my mental status…most days 😉
February 26th threw so many unknowns at me, it wasn’t until about 10 days before that I finally relinquished the reins of all that was out of my control and put my eggs into the Joy basket.  Whatever happened, I would run with Joy.  The joy of knowing I could still run; this ability is a privilege I have been graced with. The joy of seeing my parents on course, being able to share this journey with them.  The joy of having someone so special in my life, who truly wants me to achieve my goals and is supportive of my endeavors.  I have so much to be joyful for.  For 31.1 miles, I ran with a happy heart, mind and body.  What more could I ask for?

The Truth

“Truth is, you can probably run faster…Sometimes, the truth hurts.”

I saw this on a shirt as I was walking to the start line of the Walt Disney World Marathon Sunday morning. It was 4:45am.  My alarm had gone off at 2:45am. I felt like a frozen zombie.  The half marathon scheduled for Saturday had been canceled due to a pretty wicked electrical storm that came through on Friday night.  Many runners decided to do a virtual half marathon later on Saturday once the storm had passed, but I decided to shift to a different plan of ‘actually running’ the marathon…rather than just moseying through it like I have done in years past.  So, Saturday night, I decided I was going to push to PR the marathon.  Which was ridiculous…that’s something you plan for, not something that whimsically happens. I haven’t put in more than 14 miles since the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October, and, while my training has been going very well, there is a HUGE difference between averaging an 8:30 pace over 14 miles, or hitting 7:30s during 5 milers, and actually sustaining those paces through 26 miles.  But, why the hell not?  My legs had felt fresh through the 5k and 10k, Thursday and Friday, respectively, so I figured you never know if you can do something until you try, right?  My goal wasn’t lofty; shaving 2 minutes and 52 seconds off a marathon shouldn’t be that hard, right?  That’s….hold, please…let me math…6.5 seconds off per mile?  No biggie! hahahahahaha….sad face…So, anyways, new goal, run a 3:50 marathon!
Sunday morning, I see this dang shirt.  Like, really?  A shirt?  In my head I was thinking about how shitty 2016 had been and, in that moment, decided I wouldn’t just try for a 3:50, but instead I would go however fast my legs would take me…Fuck it, Boston Qualify! How crazy would that be?! Super Crazy!  How realistic?! Completely Non-realistic! But, who cares?! Screw 2016!  So, gun goes off and I settle in and start clicking in the mid-8:30s.  Coach had told me to stay within the 8:30-8:50 range. I figured, at any pace like that, I would crash around mile 17 or so, but at least I would have given it a shot.  Mile 5 comes around and I drop into the 8:20s..oops…time to slow down, re-focus…take a few pictures..strategy, right? Obviously, I planned this out! Bahaha…  Mile 10..still in the 8:20s…feeling good, but this is on par with my last, and only, 14 mile training run from a few weeks ago, so not terribly surprising.  Mile 15, I drop into the 8:10s…what the hell, Legs?  Where did you guys come from?  Mile 16, I bust out out an 8:01…Mayday! Mayday! Mile 18, the 7:40s show up…DANGER, DANGER! At this point, every red flag in my brain is going off in preparation for a complete and total final 10k melt down(Hello, Marine Corps!) While 19-21 were back to a more realistic pace, low to mid-8s, I didn’t really start having problems until the final 5k. Yay! I tried to math while I was running to see what was still a realistic goal, but let’s get actually real..I can’t do that…anyone who has run with me knows how terrible I am at just plain mathing…mathing and running is crazy talk.  I had an idea that I would still be very much under my last Marathon PR, but I really had no idea by how much.  So, the final 3 miles were rough.  My left leg decided all these whimsical shenanigans were enough and gave me a very clear middle finger.  I gave a pep talk to lazy righty and asked it to actually pull some weight, literally, for a few miles.  My worst mile was Mile 26…at a 9:15.  Final time: 3:46:35….a 6 minute and 23 second Personal Record.  Boom!  Not a Boston time, but closer than I was and putting Boston into actual sight!  This is my year.  I’m ready for the truth!  Let’s go, Boston!!!

Something Wild

In early September I wrote this to myself:

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Each day I wonder when the darkness will pass and my tangled, wrecked mind will finally be at peace again. All I look for is clarity, and yet I fall into a deeper blur of indescribable numbness and internal destruction. Malcolm Gladwell described the Tipping Point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

“They witnessed her destruction,

Then were left to wonder why,

She saw nothing but darkness,

Though the stars shone in her eyes,

But maybe they’d forgotten,

When they failed to see the cracks,

That a star’s light shines the brightest,

When it’s starting to collapse.”

-Ernest Hemingway

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To say the above paragraph foreshadowed my imminent destruction would be an understatement.  Less than a month after writing that, I hit my proverbial Tipping Point.  It was ugly and painful, and still is.  Luckily, I did not do anything incredibly stupid because I have been blessed with some of the most amazing friends and family you can ask for.  Friends who stood for me when I could not, spoke for me when words made no sense, and gave me light in a time of complete darkness.  I will be forever grateful for those who came to my aid when I needed it most.  I know I have not thanked everyone who was involved, and in some cases I didn’t even acknowledge people who reached out.  For that, I publicly apologize, and also thank you.

Fast forward to late October, I was listening to some random station on Amazon Music and the song Something Wild (the theme song for Pete’s Dragon) featuring Lindsey Stirling came on.  As soon as the song started I fell in love with it.  I gravitate towards music featuring string instruments anyways, but this one hit home(pun intended if you listen to the song) lyrically too.  A message of strength, perseverance, and, most importantly to me, hope.  The hope that my damaged mind and spirit can eventually recover.

So, I start 2017 with a new Hope, a new passion, a new drive.

I do not typically make a New Year’s Resolution, as I do not find them necessary for my personality.  I set Macrocycle and Microcycle goals continuously throughout the year; being an athlete, it is a never ending process.   What I will do is try to look at the New Year through new eyes.  In less than 12 hours, I leave for the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World.  While this will be my 3rd time completing this race series, 4th marathon at Disney World, and 17th total marathon, it will probably be one of the most meaningful trips I’ve taken.  While I firmly believe that every race I have run has its value, some have been more valuable than others.  For instance, San Francisco: my brother just *happened* to fly in that day and met me at the finish line. Or, New York City: my brother and my mom both saw me at mile 24 of one of the toughest races I have ever run. For this one, simply enough, I’m still here to run it.

Running is my Something Wild, I am Home, and, eventually, I will be okay.

 

  

Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon

The Kentucky Derby Marathon: the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a horse kid like me.  This marathon has always been a bucket-list race and I had the wonderful opportunity to check it off the list this year.  Traveling with a newer group of friends-half from here in Texas and half from Florida-we headed out to Louisville on Thursday afternoon, where we met up with the Florida based group.

Small Back story on meeting this group: I had an inside chuckle to myself as we were driving around on Friday because it wasn’t even a year ago when I randomly met Jason and his girlfriend, Gail, at the Rahr Oktoberfest 5k.  Over a ‘few’ drinks and a shared table on a that September afternoon, our groups soon realized we had all done many of the same races and would all be at the Ragnar Hill Country Race.  We exchanged numbers at Rahr and briefly saw each other during the Ragnar race.  During a later conversation, Jason and I got on the topic of horses and my small obsession with ponies of all kinds..and of course the Kentucky Derby.  A few weeks later, I got a message from Jason asking if I would like to join his group on their trip to do the marathon.  Ummm…yes, please!  Running friendships are so cool, and hopefully my trusting judgement doesn’t backfire on me one day.  I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of character though.

Fast forward to now.  We get to Kentucky and I meet the other 5 people who had come in from Florida.  Andy, Lynn, Kathy, Manuel, and Bego.  Little did I know, Bego is a BEAST, and Gail soon informed her it was her duty to pace me to a sub-4 hour time on Saturday morning, which she graciously agreed to do. (A million thanks will never be enough!)

We started off Friday morning with a driving tour of the route we would be running on Saturday. I have never done this before because most of the time I don’t have transportation at races, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  As nice as it was to know where we would be going and have a true understanding of what to expect and when to expect it, I have never been more pre-tired before a race…pre-tired isn’t a word, but it’s the only way I can think to explain the feeling.   Afterwards we grabbed our bibs from the expo, which was a decent size, but a little crowded.  Then, onto the best part of Friday, we headed on our cross country adventure to find the Maker’s Mark Distillery.  Awesome Friday, paving the way to an even better Saturday.

Race day! Our plan was to go out at a 9 minute pace and stay that way until the half way point, then drop to a 8:45 and finish that way giving us a final finish of 3:55.  Bego promised she would keep me on pace, and I had no doubt she would do it.  The weather was iffy.  It rained all night, but, thankfully, there was a break in the morning for the start of the race.  Though we were in corrals, the race was a mass start.  Pacing wise, Corral C wasn’t the most accurate I have been in. If we would have actually been going at a 9 minute pace it might have been right on, but we were at more of  8:30 pace because the first few miles were slightly downhill, something we did not notice when driving the course the day before.  We kept trying to chill out, but when you run at an 8:30 pace every day…every run…that’s your go-to pace.  It’s hard to not run what your legs have been ingrained with.  We kept trying to slow down, but mile after mile passed by and we were still clipping along at a 8:45ish pace.  Holding full conversation, no stress, feeling good.  Our house we were renting was on course at mile 6.5 and 19(out and back course), so at 6.5 we had jello shots waiting for us.  That was fun.  Mile 8ish brought on Churchill Downs, which was amazing.  Running by the Barbaro Memorial, inside the track, watching the horses work out.  Everything I wanted it to be and more.  Loved it.  After Churchill Downs, we headed towards Iroquois Park, which is where the true ‘fun’ would begin.  A good 5k of solid hills, Bego lead me up each one and encouraged me onward.  When I started doubting, she would yell and I would remember the weeks I have spent running at TCU, prepping for this very instance, dig in a little harder and trudge on.  This is also the time the sky decided to unleash its rain fury.  Pouring.  Just pouring down rain.  It wasn’t terrible though, kind of refreshing.  I was wearing my Marathon Maniacs shirt which got crazy heavy after being soaked.  Everyone who knows me well knows how much I hate shirts, so, needles to say, the shirt came off very quickly once it got wet(and, no, I didn’t drop it on course..that shirt was expensive!..I carried it until Mile 19, where our house was and dropped it there).  Mile 16 hit and Bego looked at me and smiled saying, “Hi! I’m Bego! We just met and now we are going to do a 10 mile run! Let’s go!”  We both laughed and continued on.  I commend her math skills, giving me mile by mile updates on our time left and what pace we needed to keep in order to make it in on time.  Mile 21/22, I really started shutting down.  The course took a hard right turn and ran us up another big hill, just for good measures.  I said a few expletives.  Lots of encouragement from other runners.  It was very obvious that I was not doing well and Bego was pulling me through the rough last few miles.  With the last hill done and the course meeting back up with the half course, reality set in that my goal would be reached.  We hit Mile 25 with 18 minutes left.  18 minutes.  Relief flooded over me.  I finally relaxed and took in everything from the last mile.  Enjoying every second.  I even had enough at the end to give a final push at to the finish line.  So much happy.  So many smiles.  A few tears.  I can’t thank Bego enough, as well as everyone else I was there with.  All they did was shower me with kind words and amazing feelings.  What a wonderful race.  Final finish time: 3:52:05 #winnerswin

Failure

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.  Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing” –Denis Waitley

I love this quote, though it wasn’t until recently that I really embraced its meaning.

Preface: I was scheduled to run the full at Cowtown on March 1st, but was ice stormed down to the half.  All of my training had targeted March 1st.  I replaced Cowtown with Irving, my coach adjusted the training plan, and we went from there.  I had a couple of bad weeks right after cowtown, partially caused by depression from the cancellation and a couple other unrelated events, but also due to a massive drop in my Iron levels.  We caught the Fe change quickly and I was able to bounce back within a couple of weeks.  I also haven’t PRed in anything since last October which was Chicago.  My 5k PR was in July 2014 and my half PR was May 2014.

Saturday, I ran the Irving Marathon; A course I had anticipated being fairly flat and fast-I made this assumption based on prior knowledge of where most of the course was located, but didn’t look at where the newer parts of the course took us..oops.  I was aiming to finally drop below my heart breaking PR of 4:00:00 set at Chicago (I’ve never felt so defeated by a PR before) and become a true sub-4 marathoner.  I was primed.  I was ready.  I’ve haven’t felt this healthy in a long time.  No aches, no pains.  Charles and I started off strong, holding a solid 8:45 pace for 13 miles.  Legs felt great, but around mile 10 I started having some stomach problems, quite a bit of nausea, ended up throwing up a little bit, nothing huge, but enough to tense me up for another 2 miles until I finally had to bail on Charles, making a pit stop at mile 13.  This was mistake number 1.  I think if we would have stayed together, both of us would have broken 4 hours.  We run really well together; he and Grant have become irreplaceable running partners.  After 13, I tried to find a new rhythm with my slightly aggravated digestive tract. I was still a little nauseous, so convincing myself to put GU into my stomach wasn’t happening.  I finally forced myself to take half the GU I had at mile 17, but it was kind of too little, too late.  I was able to continue with a fairly consistent pace up to mile 20. I had almost exactly 60 minutes to complete the last 6 miles, which on a decent day I can pull a 49 minute 10k, so I still felt pretty golden.  At 21, I finally caught back up with Charles, who encouraged me to go on without him.  My legs felt strong, but around 23, I started to crash nutritionally.  At 24, with 18 minutes left, I still had hope, but by 25 I was in tears because I knew I couldn’t make it.  I had failed…again.  It took me about 45 seconds to re-compose myself to a point where I could run again, and once I did I tried to hold my head high and finish with pride.  A 4:04 is nothing to be ashamed of, and to finish 100% sound with no pain is enough to throw a party about. But, I had still failed to reach my goal….that’s the 3rd marathon in a row to become a ‘could have been,’ which is what every race seems to be lately.

Sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself of the good while going through the bad.  Luckily, I have so many supportive and awesome friends, many of which were running their first marathon at Irving.  It’s exciting to be a part of someone’s first attempt at such a feat.  The feelings and emotions are raw and true; there is nothing more honest than watching people at the end of a race.  I saw Charles finish, only a few minutes behind me, followed by Lynell, Rebecca and Lanny, all first time marathoners.  I got to see Karen, Heidi, Ruth and Corey on course, in addition to the ones above.  There were many great things about this race, which were temporarily shadowed by my internal feelings of defeat at mile 25.

In the end, Irving did not defeat me, it merely delayed what will be an ever-so-sweet victory in Kentucky(hopefully!).  I learn something during every race, and more from the races which aren’t picture perfect.  Failure only truly comes to those who fail to keep trying, which is one problem I do not have.

*end note: As I said before, I love this quote, as it pertains to athletes and life in general, but would not agree with it fully if it were brought up in the classroom…just sayin….

How Times Have Changed

One of the main reasons I wanted to restart this whole blog thing was to actually put into words how my training life has been going for the last year.  Those who know me even a little know how much I train.  For awhile it was 7 days a week, but back in December I dropped to 5 days a week, which has finally settled well with my body.  I have battled through physical injuries  – crippling shin splints and knee issues, swollen/strained ankles, weak hips, blisters that covered the entire side of my forefoot – medical roadblocks – tanked Iron and B12 levels – and, of course, the array of mental demons most athletes deal with.  I’m a very ‘in the present’ person, when it comes to training, and I have trouble seeing the big picture, even though I know exactly what the picture is going to look like.  I send times to my coach and, to me, if I hit the times he has given to me, they’re good.  If I don’t, they’re bad. Simple as that.  But, today, I saw a light.

Today marked just over a year since I have been training with my current coach, Steven Stam, who is based out of Florida.  As an accomplished coach of many Middle School, High School and Adult athletes, Steven has been given the great challenge of helping me on my journey to qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

On Monday I did a track workout, which consisted of the normal 1 mile warm up, an 8×400 meter repeat, followed by a 1 mile cool down.  Timehop so kindly reminded me that a year ago I had a very similar workout, a 6x400m repeat, and I was shocked to see the time improvements.

March 25th, 2014 – 101, 107, 103, 101, 104, 102

March 23rd, 2015 – 87, 90, 85, 85, 87, 86, 88, 86  –  Sidenote: this was the day after a 16.35 mile run

So often, I lose sight of improvements because I haven’t hit a PR in months, or I have a few bad runs in a row, but you can’t deny these numbers.  Steven has developed me into an athlete I didn’t know existed, running times I would have laughed at two years ago.  He pushes me to the point where I don’t think I can do anymore, then he pushes a little more.

If you don’t keep a log of past workouts, I urge you to do so.  When you’re having a rough day(or week, or month), It’s very encouraging to look back and see where you came from.

2 years ago, yesterday, I ran the Dallas Rock N Roll Half at an average pace of 10:42/mile and was ecstatic because I ran a 9+ minute PR.

Today, I was angry because I blew a tempo run that was paced between 7:00-7:30/mile, and I was only able to hit 8:00, 8:08, 7:50, and 8:05.

Oh, How times have changed – pun intended 😉  Am I where I want to be? Not at all.  Am I closer than I was? Absolutely.

Thanks to Steven, and his extreme amount of patience and knowledge, I will make it to Boston one day.  This I know.