Thursday, October 8, 2015

Better Late Than Never: Cherry Blossom 10-Miler Race Report

[Note: I wrote this post in the weeks after the race, but never finished or published it. I'm running the Army 10-Miler this Sunday so I figure now is a good time to start catching up in the blog!]

Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
Official Time: 2:08:08
Pace: 13:39/mile
Projected 10-mile time: 2:16:31
Place: 1726 out of 1770 Women ages 35-39
Goal Accomplished: Reach, sort of (I finished the race BUT it was only 9.39 miles, not 10!)


Another big race, another Expo/Packet Pick-up! What makes this expo special is that it's held in the National Building Museum, which has one of the loveliest interiors in DC. I hope out-of-towners who came just for the race took a few moments to appreciate the beauty around them as they picked up bibs and t-shirts and shopped for new running gear! Otherwise, the expo was fairly uneventful. I tried on a Fitletic hydration belt (planning to buy one when I'm ready to push my distance beyond 10 miles), and bought a fun reflective shirt that says "Looks like walking, Feels like running."

With my bib, t-shirt, purchases and freebies in-hand, I headed back home in time to stuff my face full of carbs, rest, and hit up 5:00pm mass. I really wanted to avoid having to attend evening mass on Sunday in an exhausted post-race daze like I did after Iron Girl last year, so I'm glad I made it to church on Saturday this time! That night I was up a little later than I'd hoped, but I managed to blog my race goals and get all my gear ready in time to go to sleep earlier than I usually do the night before a race. I consider this progress. Maybe someday I'll actually go to bed EARLY!


I started this race day off better than MCM 10K by not oversleeping. It's amazing what a difference it makes not to be frantic and rushed. :) Once again there was a festive atmoshphere on the Metro heading into DC. It's always fun to see the look of shock on the face of each non-runner who gets on the train, expecting it to be as empty as it usually is at that hour and instead seeing crowds of adrenaline-pumped, overcaffeinated racers!

When it comes to pre-race rituals, I don't have a set routine yet. I'd sketched out a timeline of what I wanted to do once I got downtown, but I was leaving open the possibility of changing everything up by switching to the 5K race if my knee was giving me trouble. Fortunately it turned out to be a "good knee day" and I was able to stick to my plan: porta-potty visit, last fuel (banana), sunscreen application, bag check, obligatory selfies with the Washington Monument in the background, etc. I finished it all with time to spare so I relaxed and tried soaking in the beautiful weather and festive atmosphere.

There was one confusing disruption to the festive atmosphere -- an announcement that due to an emergency situation, part of the course had to be re-routed, resulting in a shorter total distance for the race. It wasn't until later that I learned the emergency was a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle (a motorcycle, I think?) on the race course about an hour before start time. I commend the race officials and park police and everyone else involved who handled the unfortunate circumstance so well and kept the race running smoothly! What didn't register immediately in my brain was that the shorter distance for the race meant a larger cushion with the time cut-off, so I headed to the start still paranoid about being too slow.

The best part about being slow and thus assigned to the last wave at the start was that our wave was PURPLE! I'm always thrilled to be associated with my favorite color in any way, shape, or form. I tried getting as close to the front of the purple wave as possible, to put some room between me and the inevitable sweep bus. When we finally hit the start line and started running, I went out too fast, but didn't realize it. I guess I was just full of nervous energy and terrified of being too slow!

My first clue that I was running too fast was how quickly I felt winded and how soon I needed to take a walk break. However, I misinterpreted this clue and assumed it was merely a sign that I was out of shape and might not be able to finish the race. So after a quick walk break, I resumed running at a faster pace than is normal for me. This soon became a pattern that ultimately would repeat throughout the entire race.

The sweep bus made its first appearance in mile 2 after I'd crossed the Memorial Bridge and was crossing back over into the city. I knew it wasn't right behind me, but it was close enough to make me nervous, and so I kept on with the running-too-fast-and-needing-frequent-short-walk-breaks pattern. It wasn't until I reached mile marker 3 that I looked at my watch, did a little math in my head, and realized that with as many walk breaks as I'd already taken, I HAD to be running much faster than usual to still be making good time. That knowledge helped me relax a little. Then as we headed into the rerouted portion of the course, my newly relaxed brain did a little deductive reasoning and figured out that with a shorter course but the same final cut-off time, we could actually run slightly slower than usual and still make it ahead of the sweep bus. Shortly after this epiphany, a spectator let us know that we were more than halfway through the race, and finally I started to feel confident that I just might finish the whole thing.

Next up was my favorite part of the race. Miles 6-9 were along Hains Point in East Potomac Park, and it was here that we really saw the benefits of running when the cherry blossoms were at peak bloom! The trees lined both sides of the street and formed a canopy to run under in many spots. The sight was breathtaking and many runners were stopping to take pictures along the way! I wish I had taken a few, but I was really focused on continuing to move forward. Now that I knew I probably COULD finish the race, I was becoming determined to do just that. I kept up with the run/walk intervals, setting mini-goals for myself like trying to make it to the next streep lamp or water stop. Many of the back-of-the-pack runners were also doing intervals, so we kept passing each other back and forth. There was a lot of positive energy among us and I was soaking in every bit of the experience.

My knee had held up well throughout the race, but in the last mile my feet were starting to ache and I was definitely feeling the strain of the distance. As we headed back towards the Mall, we had to go uphill a bit which felt particularly painful. Also, at this point in the morning, throngs of tourists had flocked to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms, so there were people everywhere along the sidewalks and crossing the street at random times. So for the entire last mile I pretty much just wanted to be DONE already. Still, once I got within sight of the finish line, I had just enough gas left in my tank to step it up and "sprint," finishing strong.

Given that I hadn't been confident I'd cross that finish line at all, completing the race was an amazing feeling. It doesn't even bother me that I got a little help from the shortened course. In our official results, they told us what our projected finish time was if we'd maintained the same pace for a full 10 miles, and mine was within the maximum allowed time. Of course, it's possible that the only reason I was able to relax and focus and perservere was that I knew I had extra time to work with, so it's not guaranteed that I would have finished the whole race under normal circumstances. At the very least, though, I know that I could have done it -- it was POSSIBLE, even with my slow pace, gimpy knee, and training struggles. That knowledge is enough to boost my confidence and pride in myself.

Now, I'm not sure how to score this race in terms of meeting my goals. I definitely went beyond my "reach" goal, but I technically did not achieve my "whatever I called it" goal because the race was not a full 10 miles. Maybe I'll call it "Reach Plus." Meanwhile, it's still my goal for 2015 to complete a 10-mile race, so there is work still to be done to accomplish that!

In case anyone is curious, I really tried to take better care of myself post-race this time, since I've screwed that up a lot in the past. When I couldn't locate the free food (I think it was mostly gone by the time I finished the race and picked up my medal), I ate a breakfast bar that I'd brought in my bag. I sat on the ground and rested while I ate, but got up and walked to the Metro before I got too stiff and sore. At home I was careful to eat and re-hydrate, but I was still pretty useless for the rest of the day like I normally am after a race. I wasn't quite as worn out as I was after Iron Girl, but definitely moreso than after any other previous long run or race. For the next few days, I was VERY sore (including my right bicep....huh??), but the aches just reminded me of my awesome race experience and made me smile. :)

[This is where I stopped writing so many months ago. I'm not sure why I didn't publish the post -- maybe I wanted to add a summary at the end, or to edit and improve some of the wording throughout. Whatever the reason, it never got published, and I abandoned the blog. I didn't write a pre-Iron Girl post OR a race report, so I really have some catching up to do. At least now I feel like I can close the door on my first 10-miler attempt before I make my second. Army 10-Miler preview post to come tomorrow or Saturday!]

EDIT: PHOTOS!!! I just remembered why I didn't publish this! I was waiting for a good time to sit down and add PHOTOS!!!! SORRY! I even bought some photos from the race. I will try to add them one day soon. Man, I am out of practice with this blogging stuff!!!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Unprepared and a Little Scared

I know, I know, I haven't written in a million years (i.e. two months). Life has been CRAZY. I really don't even have time to write now, but I'm racing tomorrow and I wanted to get my goals in writing beforehand.

Training for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler hasn't gone well. A long, bitter-cold, snowy winter led to many treadmill runs, most of which ended in failure. Either the room was too hot or my knee hurt too much or I just got too bored, and cut my distance short more often than not. It was rough.

When I finally started getting outside again, things improved, but then I was felled by a sinus infection. Though the doctor told me it was safe to run before the infection cleared up, I just wasn't tough enough to push through the pain. Then the antibiotic did a number on my stomach and I lost more running days. Even once I felt better, it was a struggle to resume training. My final attempt at a long run ended after 2 miles due to knee pain.

So here I sit, the night before the race, feeling unprepared and wondering whether I should switch to the 5K. I think I will leave that decision for morning though -- a warm-up jog might give me an idea of how my knee is feeling, and maybe race-day adrenaline will give me the courage I need just to go for it! If I do attempt the 10-mile run, I've made my peace with the fact that there is a pretty good chance I will end up too slow for the pace cut-off and not be permitted to finish the distance. This could very well be my first official DNF. Even if it is, I don't think it will be as traumatic as my first 5K, which technically I DID finish but which felt like a DNF in my mind because I had failed at the one rigid goal I set for myself.

I've gotten smarter with goals since then, and will continue my practice of setting 3 for the race:
Easy: Start and finish the 5K race.
Realistic: Complete 5 miles of the 10-miler ahead of the cut-off time.
Reach: Complete 8 miles of the 10-miler ahead of the cut-off time.
Impossible Dream: Complete all 10 miles.

Okay, I said 3, and normally I do 3, but I figured I'd throw that last one in there. Of course I'd love to finish the race, but I think it's beyond even a normal "reach" goal at this point. Still, I typed it out, because you never know.

Well, that's it for now. I need to get some rest if I'm going to achieve any of my goals tomorrow. No matter what happens, it's going to be a wonderful day, with beautiful weather, cherry blossoms in full bloom, and the chance to RUN in the midst of all that. Being able to run is a blessing, whether it goes according to plan or not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Game On!!

My running off-season is over already! Now that I'm a little over 8 weeks away from my first-ever 10-mile race, I'm officially in training again!

Unfortunately, I was a little too lazy in my off-season and thus have been struggling to get back into the groove of training. Mornings continue to kick my butt, and I've already fallen short of some parts of the training plan I'm trying to follow. My first long run was supposed to be at least 4 miles. I was aiming for 4.5. I only completed 3 and some change.

It's hard not to be discouraged by that failure. Until that happened, I was feeling pretty confident about this race. I knew I had some hard work to do to prepare adequately for it, but I believed I was capable of doing that work and driven enough not to give up.

I still believe this.

Right now I want to wallow in my disappointment in myself, beat myself up for my shortcomings, and think of this 10-miler with dread and self-doubt. Instead I am going to repeat my current training mantra: "Discipline. Tenacity. Success." I'm a strong-willed woman, and when my discipline is lacking, my tenacity kicks in and keeps me going.

I don't know how to banish negative self-talk entirely from my mind, so my new solution is to counter it, not necessarily with positivity of the sunshine-and-rainbows-and-unicorns variety, but rather of the gritty, determined, do-it-or-die-trying variety.

If my brain says, "I suck at mornings!" I'm not going to say, "No I don't, mornings are awesome and so am I!" Instead I will say, "So what? I'm getting up anyway, and working out anyway, no matter how grumpy I am or how much it hurts."

If my brain says, "I can't possibly complete a long run on the treadmill!" I'm not going to say, "Yes I can and I will kick its ass because I'm awesome!" Instead I will say, "It does not matter how much it sucks or how many times I have to walk, I will finish the distance, and I will finish strong even if I'm miserable."

If my brain says, "I'm too slow and I will never get fast enough in time and will probably be removed from the course when I fall below the slowest allowed pace," I will not say, "I AM fast enough, and I WILL get faster, and I'll complete the race no problem because I'm awesome!" Instead I will say, "Yes, I'm slow, and I might not improve my speed enough to maintain the right pace for the entire distance. It's entirely possible that I might get removed from the course before reaching the finish line. But I will fight with everything in me to keep that from happening, and it won't be the end of the world even if it does, because DNF is still better than DNS."

I'm running this race, come hell or high water. And so I will train, even if it hurts, even if I suck, even on my worst days and when my attitude is poor. On my best days, if I can be disciplined and positive, GREAT! I will embrace those days and make the most of them. On all those other days, I will be tenacious despite my negativity....and I will embrace those days and make the most of them too. It won't be pretty...but it still will lead to success.

Discipline. Tenacity. Success.

Game on.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Why Are You Still Here?

I never meant for this blog to last this long.

It was meant to record a journey to a specific goal. I had no plans beyond that.

Now the journey has been recorded and the goal has been achieved, but so much has changed in the process. Instead of wanting to do one triathlon, I want to be a triathlete all the time. Instead of running to lose weight, now I run to feel strong and happy.

Still, I set out to accomplish something and I did. So why am I still here, and why are you?

My story isn't too extraordinary, but I think maybe that's what makes it useful. I've overcome an injury, fought to become active again after (many) pregnancies, carry a little too much extra weight, and struggle every day to find the time and energy for working out amidst the many responsibilities in my busy life. In other words, I'm just like lots of other people.

I know my readership is small, but I hope my writing can make an impact. I long to inspire people the way so many others inspire me.

But do I have anything interesting left to say?

Yes. I believe I do still have interesting things to say, even if only to myself. There are a plethora of fitness-related blogs out there, many with more helpful information or better background stories than mine. But I think there is a place in cyberspace for my ordinary little life, my tiny contribution, my story that isn't finished being written. So the reason I am still here in this blog is that I'm still here in the real world too, still on this journey and hoping it doesn't end until my body literally cannot do it anymore. I once thought I "might as well tri" one time, and now I figure I "might as well tri" over and over again -- and I might as well write about it too!

That just leaves the question of why you are still here. I can't answer that question for you, but I'm a little curious about your reasons, if you know them and don't mind sharing. If you are one of my handful of faithful readers, and you plan to keep right on following me, why?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Power Restored

A year ago today, this random, stupid thing happened to me. And it sucked. And it screwed me up for a little while. But then it led to a year full of personal growth and self-discovery! Right after it happened, I texted to my best friend that I would never be the same again...and I think I was right, but not in the way I expected. In the moment I felt damaged and traumatized, but a year later I am better, wiser, stronger. The scars will always be there, but they serve as reminders of what I can overcome.

I've been through such a roller coaster of emotions and experiences in the past year, that I couldn't pick just one theme to reflect on and write about today. Instead, I'm going to share with you a list of various lessons learned.

In the past year, I have learned...

~~That courage is like a muscle: it grows stronger the more it is used.

~~That fear can be good, because it lets us know that we appreciate what is at stake. Someone who takes life's blessings for granted isn't afraid of losing them. A healthy amount of fear is a reminder that we love our people, chase our dreams, and take reasonable risks while living our lives because these things matter to us.

~~That another reason fear is good is that it's the only path to finding our courage. After all, there is no need for courage when there is no fear. And even if we think we are very brave, nothing compares to proving it to ourselves.

~~That it's okay to feel broken sometimes; we all do. But at some point you have to stop seeing yourself as just the egg and realize that you are in fact the whole omelet.

~~That my mental health is as important as my physical health, and deserves my care and attention.

~~That my blessings outweigh my burdens even when my burdens are at their heaviest.

~~That pursuing a huge crazy dream like triathlon is a great way to restore your self-esteem, but it doesn't actually solve any of your other problems -- those will be waiting patiently to punch you in the gut during the post-race slump!

~~That you can't keep putting off your dreams until you're thinner or have more money or a less busy schedule, or until the time is otherwise "right." Sometimes the wrong time IS the right time. The clock is ticking. Don't wait. Do it now.

~~That it's possible to wish something hadn't happened and be grateful that it did happen at the same time. I wish those kids hadn't targeted me that day, but if they hadn't, I might not be a triathlete right now. Life's funny that way.

~~That triathlon is crazy, but swimming, biking, and running keep me sane. Go figure.

~~That my husband is a saint (okay, I already knew that!) and that putting my marriage first benefits everyone in our family.

~~That I am very, very loved. And that I'm worthy of that love. And that I should participate in it as well.

In conclusion, I'd like to address the people whose actions kicked off my year of self-discovery, even though I doubt they'll ever see this:

To the kids who targeted me, tormented me, attacked me....I forgive you. Actually I forgave you months ago when I finally accepted what deep down I already knew -- that harboring anger and resentment toward you wasn't affecting you in any way, and was simply wasting energy that could be better spent on more positive endeavors. And so I forgave you, and let go of the anger.

If I feel anything toward you now, it is pity, for I gained something far more valuable from our little encounter than you possibly could have. What you got that day was a few laughs; what I experienced was an overwhelming outpouring of love and support. Family, friends, and people I didn't even know reached out to me with kind words of encouragement, real and virtual hugs, prayers, and even gifts.

When you push others down, you might be able to look down on them, but you are not actually lifted up. Cruelty never uplifts; only love can do that. Cruelty loses. Love wins.* Love always wins.

Therefore, instead of wishing you harm, or even wishing for justice, I now wish you nothing but love. I sincerely hope you find enough love in your lives -- from family, friends, mentors, whomever -- to fill you up and lift you up. You are so have plenty of time left ahead of you to change from people who hurt others to people who love, and are loved in return. Then everyone wins.

*TM Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery.