Friday, January 9, 2015

The Pistol Ultra Relay

Peer pressure gets me every time.  Race peer pressure is especially hard for me to turn away from.  This is how I found myself on a relay team for The Pistol Ultra Run.  One morning after a run, I was minding my own business enjoying my banana granola pancake and next thing I know I've agreed to do this race.  You'd be astonished how often this happens to me.  Or maybe you wouldn't be.  At this point, I think Mark actually expects it.  

How often do you see a giant cow covered in lights?
The race was in Alcoa, TN.  It was a 50k relay, 50k, 100k and 100 miler. Yes, people actually run 100 miles for fun.  It sounds crazy to me.  But I actually know a couple people who have completed 100 milers.  I felt a little bit like a slacker at the race because I was doing the shortest leg of the relay - 9 miles.  Sure 9 miles is a respectable distance, but maybe not when you're standing by a lady who will run 100 miles in the next 30 hours!!  

Heather organized our team.  She was the lead Pretty Pistol.  Of course, it didn't really take much to convince me and Gail to participate.  There were two other teams we knew from our running group.  And we had one crazy friend running the 50k.  It was really a great group of people to run with.  They are supportive, funny and positive.  

The night before the race they had a mandatory pre-race meeting followed by a pasta dinner.  It was a great time for us to connect and chat about the race. More than half of our group have had recent injuries.  No one was planning to have their best run ever.  It really was just going to be a day of no pressure running.  

This was my first ultra experience.  I've heard that ultras are a lot different than half and full marathons.  Often in a half or full marathon people are focused on their time and trying to set a record. Everyone seemed to be more relaxed.  You would think that people who are about to run crazy long distances would be nervous and less friendly, but the exact is true.  Everyone I met was super friendly, relaxed and genuinely interested in just completing their race.  

Jeff Galloway was the speaker at the pre-race meeting.  He ran 11 miles of the 50k and then hung out for several hours after.  He was so kind and engaging.  I loved getting to chat with him. And as the last runner on our team, I had plenty of time to talk to him and have my picture taken with him.  I was thankful to have a couple less miles than my teammates, but it was hard to stand around all day and wait for my turn to run.  I had just had my gallbladder removed about 2 1/2 weeks before the race, so I planned to just take the run easy.  But I was anxious to get started. 

The course was absolutely beautiful.  I love races with water on them.  And this course runs beside Pistol Creek (hence the name).  Gail ran the first couple of miles with me.  I felt strong.  But about half way I started to get tired.  I could definitely feel the effects of only running twice in December.  It's amazing how quickly your body forgets how to breath effectively.  This is about the time that I caught up to Roy, who was running the entire 50k. 

Roy is someone who was born to run. He runs long distances and runs them fast.  At speed sessions he breezes past me on his cool down laps when I'm on my hard laps. But he had been off the better part of 2 - 3 months from a couple surgeries.  His only goal was to complete the 50k.  I was so happy to get to run the second half of my relay race with him.  What I learned from this is if Roy has been off due to an injury and he gets a 25 mile head start then I can keep up with him for 5 miles!  

When I ran my first 5k, I had already decided to run a half marathon.  It took me a few half marathons before I would commit to running a full.  After my first full, I knew I'd want to do at least one per year.  I've flirted with the idea of doing a 50k.  It is a bit of a challenge to find a road 50k.  While participating in the 50k relay, it became very clear that I want to run this 50k next year.  See you in 2016 Pistol 50k!  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wineglass Marathon Race Report

Two weeks ago I completed my 5th marathon.  When I first started running, I was sure a marathon was for gifted runners and crazy people...not ordinary people like me.  And then when I registered for my first marathon it was going to be a one and done.  However, I fell in love with the marathon.  But, unlike the half marathon, I can't crank out a marathon every week or couple of weeks.  I've limited myself to 2 a year last year and this year.  Because I don't do them as frequently, it's hard for me to choose a favorite.  They all have great things about them.

Here are a few of my favorite things about the Wineglass Marathon:
- Gorgeous race course
- A finisher medal made of glass
- A course that never merges with the half marathon
- Outstanding race swag - a wineglass, a shirt and a bottle of champagne

The race started in Bath, New York and finishes 26.2 miles later in Corning, New York.  I love a point to point race.  Sure the logistics are a little tougher, but you get to see more and there's no chance of the dreaded out and back.  I also really love marathons that are just a marathon.  It's a difficult thing to watch the half marathoners break away and go to the finish.  While this race had a half marathon, we never saw them.  They started before us and in the middle of the marathon course.  It felt like separate races!

We had to catch a shuttle from the finish line to the start of the race.  The shuttle got us to the start line about an hour before the race was to start.  We had trained all summer in the heat and humidity.  One of the great things about picking a race in New York in October was knowing the temperature wouldn't be too hot.  And it wasn't.  It was a toasty 32 degrees.  Which might not have been too bad to run in, but it was brutal to wait in for an hour at the start line.   It was at least mile three before my toes had defrosted.

I ran this race with my dear friend Holly.  She trained with me last summer to run her first half.  She's completed a few of those, and in the spring just hinted that she might like to run a full.  Of course, I ran with that.  We've been training together for this race all summer.  She is amazing - through all of our training runs and the entire race she never complained!!  Don't worry, I complained enough for both of us.  I loved getting to train with her every week and running the race together was definitely a reward for all of our hard training.  I loved getting to experience her first marathon with her.  I also loved that our friendship got even closer during the process!  Maybe it's the shared experience (and pain) or all the conversations that happen on long runs, but either way running glues people together.

Races have been hard for Mark since he's been injured and recovering and overcoming setbacks for so long.  I know it's hard for him to get excited to come out to a race and cheer.  I really expected him to only meet us at the finish line.  But he was the most outstanding spectator all day!!  He was able to find us on the course at least eight times.  Every time he was all smiles and cheers and had the music blaring in our rental car for everyone to enjoy.  We were thrilled to see him every single time.  You have no idea how much of a mental boost it gives you to see a familiar face during the race.  It really helps you keep going.  But Mark impacted many more people than just our group of runners.  I heard at least five different strangers tell him how much his cheering meant to them.  And I think he got a little bit of a boost from the experience too.

The race was an amazing experience.  There was never a point where I thought I couldn't do it or wouldn't be able to finish.  I'm thankful to Fleet Feet and Personal Best Fitness for that.  And thanks to Mark & Holly for the on course entertainment.  Holly and I got to run the last 2 1/2 miles with my great friend Kendra.  She was coming off an injury that cost her weeks of training and still significantly PR'd the race.  I loved getting to finish the race with her.

A big shout out to my amazing friend Gail, who trained her butt off and PR'd the race by more than 10 minutes.  She's amazing!  She works hard all the time.  I'm definitely the slacker in our training.  Danielle ran her first marathon and was the speediest runner in our group!  She rocked it and has already signed up for her next marathon!  It was also Erich's (Holly's husband) first marathon.  He is a personal trainer and super fit.  He had limited running training and still had an amazing race!  We kept expecting to pass him on the course (and we might have glanced in all the medical tents we ran by to make sure he didn't hurt himself) but he was a rockstar!  And he's planning his next marathon already too, or at least he's thinking about it.

Corning is quaint, super cute little town.  It reminds me a lot of downtown Franklin.  And because we crammed in a trip to Niagara Falls before the race we didn't have a chance to visit any of the local wineries or create something from glass (glass is what Corning is known for), so we clearly have to plan a return trip.  I haven't done a half marathon in New York yet.  It's my goal to do one in all 50 states.  I'm planning to come back to run this one next year. It's a well done, beautiful race.  Plus, if I put in the work, it could be a potential PR course.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wearing a Bikini

Husbands can be difficult to shop for.  Mine is the exception to that.  I feel like I could shop for him for days.  He may return half of it, but I never run out of gift ideas.  I also really like to give experience gifts.   His birthday was over the summer (June 30th).  We were in Seaside for his actual birthday.  About 6 weeks before his birthday, I decided to surprise him by ordering a bikini to wear while we were there.  

The significance of this gift is that I haven't worn a bikini (thank goodness for tankinis) in at least 14 years, but maybe longer.  Like most women, I'd rather have a root canal than shop for a bathing suit.  But I'm thinking a double root canal sounds like more fun than prancing around the beach in a bikini. However, I knew it would mean a lot to Mark.  And it did.  He told me over and over how great I looked and thanked me for stepping out of my comfort zone.  

I'd love to tell you that in the weeks before his birthday I really buckled down and lost 10, 15 or 20 pounds and that when I put on the bathing suit I felt amazing about myself.  However, that's sadly not the case.  It was just normal me in a bikini feeling very apprehensive and anxious.  I will say the only reason I was brave enough to do this is because Mark builds me up constantly.  

Since we met almost 9 years ago, there's not been a single day that he's seen me and not told me I was beautiful.  He says it in a sincere way and I know he means it.  He gets frustrated with me when I don't accept or believe him.  And somedays it's really hard to believe him.  I'm thankful for him and his encouragement every day.

Why am I sharing all of this?  Because as women we are much too hard on ourselves about our physical appearance.  We don't think we should wear bikinis or feel good about the way we look until we reach perfection.  Perfection, by the way, is a myth.  Even the people who I believe should have rock solid confidence, still have moments and days of insecurities.  So my challenge to myself and anyone who reads this - embrace the way you look and celebrate it.  Sure you can work on being fitter and more toned and lose weight, but don't forget to enjoy where you are now. 

Marathon Madness

In just 9 short days, I will have already completed the Wineglass Marathon.  It will be my 5th full marathon.  I'm running it with my dear friend Holly.  It will be her first marathon!  There is something special about your first marathon.  I'm so excited to get to run beside it and experience it with her.

So much goes into training for a marathon.   People look at you like you've lost your mind when you tell them you are going to run 26.2 miles.  Yeah, like that is the hard part. Training is hard.  Running up to 4 hours every Saturday morning for 16 weeks is hard.  Explaining to your friends and family that you can't do something because you have a long run the next morning is hard.  Balancing your diet, hydrating, cross training, work, life and running is hard.  Sure, even the marathon is hard.  But the hardest part of all for me?  The two weeks before the marathon.  AKA - the taper.

A taper is when you reduce your mileage before the race.  You spend your time resting, foam rolling, hydrating, running easy, etc.  It's not the reduced mileage that gets to me.  Let's face it, I'm totally fine slacking there.  Tapering is a mental game.  It's when those ugly emotions of doubt and anxiety creep in.   I question everything I've done for the last 16 weeks.  Will it be enough?  I should have run more.  I should have run faster.  Why did I eat those 57 cookies (not at once, but it's at least that many in 16 weeks, right)? Can I do this?  What is this nagging pain?  I wonder if I have a stress fracture.  Also, I'm an emotional basket case.  I'm already an easy crier.  But for the days leading up to the marathon, I have to hydrate extra for the random tears.  Seriously.


How do you combat the taper madness?  I have no idea.  But a little extra motivation seems to help.  Here are two of my favorite running motivators.

I know when race day gets here there will be plenty of nerves, but deep down I know I'm ready.  I love distance running.  It's a chance to show yourself what you're made of.  It's a test of wills.  As someone once told me, after you finish a marathon you feel like you could conquer the world.  That is a very accurate description.   But if you see me before the marathon, give me a hug and be prepared for me to randomly burst in to tears!  Ahhh, you've got to love the taper.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's Not About Me

Here's the deal, it's not fun asking all of your friends to give you money for your cause.  It's not easy training for a marathon (possibly a bigger understatement than the first sentence).  And when I'm exhausted from doing both I remind myself of this - it's not about me.  Not this race.  This race is about fighting a terrible disease and wiping out blood cancer.  For me blood cancer has a face, the face of a spunky, sassy blonde haired girl named Tanner.  I've asked her mom, Beth to tell you more of their story.  After you read it, be sure to visit my fundraising site here and make a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Hitting the Wall - By Beth Page, Tanner's mom

Here's Tanner at five years old.  She was a happy, healthy kindergartener riding bikes, playing soccer, taking dance lessons.  But, within a few days of this picture being taken, she started complaining about back and leg pain, which is pretty odd for a five-year-old.  Within the week, her school had a one-mile fitness test at Pinkerton Park and Tanner came in dead last, limping across the finish line.  Our pediatrician agreed that she had probably strained something at field day or her dance recital.  Several weeks after this picture, she woke in the night screaming inconsolably that her back hurt.  This started the two-day process of determining that our spunky, sassy girl had leukemia and would only live a few more weeks without chemo intervention.

Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, and Tanner’s low risk factors made her situation the best case scenario for treatment.  Even so, she would go on to endure two-and-a-half years of chemo, the standard protocol for a girl with ALL (boys do an extra year).  It is truly the marathon of cancer treatment.

The first six months of treatment were brutal.  She had weekly IV chemo, and other chemos delivered any which way you can imagine:  19 lumbar punctures with chemo delivered into her spinal column; chemo injected in her to thighs through simultaneous, painful shots; oral chemo; massive high-dose steroids; chemo we brought home and nervously administered through her port, and on and on.  Her body went through incredible changes.  She gained 15 pounds in the first month from steroids and was, literally, unrecognizable.  Then, over the next few months, the weight fell off of her, along with her hair, and she became emaciated, pale and frail. 

But, Tanner never gave up.  She never stopped dancing and singing, and playing with her brother.  Just like a runner hitting the wall, she kept going, even though her body begged her to stop and she, eventually, triumphed and came to a better place.

After six months, Tanner entered the maintenance phase of treatment for nearly two years.  She was able to go back to school during this time, although she still missed a lot of class and I found myself at school often, bringing painkillers or anti-nausea medicine.  Maintenance was easier, but still no picnic: daily oral chemo, monthly IV chemo and steroid pulses; and the dreaded lumbar punctures every three months.

About a year into chemo, when her school once again had their one-mile fitness run, Tanner asked on the way to school that morning, “Mom are you and Dad coming to my fitness run?”

“Of course, ” I replied, then added, “You know Tanner, you don’t have to run if you don’t feel like it.  We could bring pom poms and cheer on your friends. “

“I want to run,” she said.

“Okay, well just know that if you need to stop, that’s okay.  You just run as far as you can.”

 “Why wouldn’t I run?” she said, confused.

I paused for moment before answering, “No reason.  Go for it!”

And she did.  She ran and didn’t finish last despite a year’s worth of chemo in her small body.  That spirit and resilience continue to serve her well today.

Tanner today
Tanner is now a healthy, active ten-year-old.  August 6, 2013, marked two years off of chemo for her and she is playing soccer, loving 5th grade, acting in local children’s theatre, singing and being her spunky, silly lovable self.

We are so grateful to people like Emily, who choose to use their passion for running to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  They have been a vital force behind Tanner’s survival with the research they have sponsored in the past.   LLS continues to sponsor promising research to improve outcomes and find ways to treat leukemia with less side effects.  We hope that you will consider donating so more kids can ask, "Why wouldn't I run."

And just in case you need the fundraising site again, go here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Break Down Here

For the last couple weeks I've had a song stuck in my head.  It's from several years ago.  "Break Down Here" by Julie Roberts.  And why is this song stuck in my head?  I'm pretty sure it's because I feel like my body is breaking down.  Every run the last 2 weeks has been a struggle. A slow struggle. Now before you panic on my behalf, this feeling is part of the process.  And probably my body is breaking down, but it has to break down in order to get stronger.  Personally, I'd rather just skip over the breaking down and go straight to stronger.  Being strong physically, is only part of what is needed for a marathon.

Let's skip right over and talk about the other part of marathon training - mental toughness.  Here's the deal, the marathon is at least ten times more about mental toughness than it is about physical strength.  You can train your body to do almost anything.  I completely believe that.  The mind seems to be less easy to train.  This is going to be my third marathon.  But this is going to be my first marathon that has a half marathon option.  In my previous marathons, everyone ran 26.2 miles. In this one, lots of people will veer off around mile 12.5 and be receiving their pretty blue Tiffany box when I am only half way through the race.  Talk about mental toughness, it will take a lot of digging deep to keep going past that turn.

Today has been a crappy day.  And that is saying it nicely.  I have a lot of bad words I could use to swear at this day.  I felt this way about my long run 2 weeks ago.  It was terrible, awful, no good and very bad (yes, that's a children's book).  On terrible days and awful runs I try to look for the good.  I can't help it.  Sure, I like to gripe and complain a lot especially for effect, but deep down I'm optimist as pure as they come.  I came to the same conclusion today that I did at the end of that run a couple weeks ago. I am grateful.  

I'm grateful that I am strong and healthy enough to run.  When I first got involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society over 4 years ago, I had no personal connection to cause.  At that point I'd only met one person who had a blood cancer and that was when I was a kid.  And that's reason, I got involved. Because no doctor had ever had to look at me and tell me my child was sick.  I have no idea how it feels to have to take my child for cancer treatments every week for 3 years (standard treatment for a boy with Leukemia). And for that I'm extremely grateful.  When I want to give up on a crappy run or feel like this is the worst possible day (this one is particularly crappy), I remind myself that I'm lucky.  And I continue to beg and plead with my friends to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, so that when a mom gets the unthinkable news that her child has cancer or when a coworker's mom gets diagnosed with a blood cancer I know that there's an organization fighting for a cure. Please join me in fighting for a cure by making a donation on my team in training page.   

Friday, August 30, 2013

Coach, Mentor & Friend

I started running with Fleet Feet's No Boundaries Couch to 5k program 4 years ago this month.  At the time the program was still pretty new here.  It had 3 coaches, Matt & Christi Beth Adams (the owners of FF) and Tammy Sanders.  It was a special group - the people and the coaches.  I can easily say it was a life changing experience for me.  One of the really great things about it was that I felt like I really bonded with the coaches.  

At the end of the training, I knew 2 things - I wanted to keep running and there was no way I ever wanted to start over.  I'm sure Tammy doesn't remember it, but I remember being very afraid of training for a half marathon.  When I asked her if she thought I could do it, she was so convincing that I signed up for FF's training program the next January.  And I've been training with FF and Tammy every since.

Christmas lights run with Tammy & Nicole
One of my favorite Tammy quotes is that you will never regret the runs you go on, but you will always regret staying in bed.  I can't even list the number of times that thinking this in my head has gotten me out of bed, shoes on, and out the door.  Tammy has always encouraged me in all of my crazy running plans.  There have been many times that I've told her whatever my current insane plan is and she just shook her head, but then found encouraging words to share.  

When Mark and I decided to train for our first marathon in 2011, Tammy was one of the first people I shared this goal with.  We were running that race with Team in Training (TNT).  She had also done her first marathon with TNT.  She was amazingly supportive and more than helpful when we were coming up with fundraising ideas and plans.  She lost a grandparent to a blood cancer, so it's cause close to her heart.  This year she helped us create a team to train with FF and fundraise with TNT.  To check out that site click here.

More than a running coach, mentor and encourager Tammy has become a great friend.  We've had many long discussions on Monday nights about a variety of subjects.  It's easy to become friends with people you spend lots of time and many miles with.  I'm thankful for all the friends I've met through running.

This past weekend Tammy told me and Mark that she was leaving FF.  I'm being completely selfish when I tell you how sad this makes me.  Of course, I can't really blame her for wanting more flexibility and to have her Saturday mornings back. Without Tammy, I wouldn't be the runner I am today and possibly I wouldn't be a runner at all.  And, as she keeps reminding me, she's not going anywhere.  She's getting married in a couple weeks and they will continue to live here.  She's assured me that she'll still be at Tin Roof 2 on Monday nights.  She is leaving FF very amicably and going to work in a completely unrelated field.   And in her words, she'll be a great ambassador for FF.

Tammy, I can't thank you enough for the amazing influence you've been in my life.  Thank you for always having a smile and an encouraging word.  Thank you for all the times I've come to you nearly in a panic about a running problem or a race and you've always calmed me.  Thank you for believing in me before I believed in myself.  Most of all thank you for being a friend.