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Scorching sun, a phantom river and an old guy

28 Apr

Yesterday’s 5K was not as much fun as I’d hoped.

Let me explain why. First, I had to learn the hard way that running in 90-degree weather is not fun. In fact, I have to say that it would accurately be described as horrible. Yes, I know that the triathlon is in July and therefore I need to get used to the heat, but this was my first experience running in a temperature above 60 degrees and it was not pretty. There was no shade on this course at all and the race started at 1pm, so the full force of the sun was beating down on us. I spent a minute or two pondering the possibilities of spontaneous combustion, which oddly enough was a nice distraction. Thank goodness that nearly a dozen kind souls had set up sprinklers at the edge of their lawns for us runners to run through. One woman was even standing outside with a hose, and it felt like heaven. I said thank you to every single one of those people and might have even professed my undying love to a few of them.

Second, this is a run with the word “River” in its name, and a course description that says it is “run completely along the Connecticut River”. So I don’t think I was insane to have been envisioning myself sprinting along a path right next to the river. Right next to the river meaning a few yards away, where the view would be oh-so-pretty and perhaps a cool breeze might even lighten the burden of the race. But I just have a good imagination. This course could be considered “along” the river only if you were drunk, had no concept of distance, and are the type of person who constantly says “the other day” when you are referring to something that happened 20 years ago. For most of this course you cannot even see the river, and when you do it is easily seven football fields away and seems more like the mirage of a desperate crazy person than it does an actual body of water.

Third, besides finishing with a totally not impressive time of 37:48, I got my ass whooped by a 95-year-old man. I’d seen him before the race started and he was somewhere behind me the entire way, until the end. You see, this wonderful course ended in a steep hill, and this hill totally chewed me up and spit me out. Meanwhile, my elderly friend was gaining on me, and passed me towards the top. At this point I could barely breathe and felt like I was running sideways through quicksand while wearing footwear made of concrete, but still the thought in my head changed from “Just finish the race” to “You cannot let this old man beat you.” I tried to light a fire under my own ass but all I had left in me was a small flame, and he crossed the finish line an entire 9 seconds before me. I’m awed and super impressed by this guy, but….I ran a time a solid three minutes above what I was shooting for and got beat by a man nearly four times my age, so I have to say I spent the first few seconds after the race feeling a little lame. Then I realized the torture was over and finishing is always something to celebrate. My fourth 5k. Not too shabby. I don’t like to compare myself to anyone anyway!

But, as always happens post-race, the high wears off by the time I get home and I inevitably end up crashing like a limp ragdoll onto the couch/floor/bed. See, I’m always really good about making sure that I have some good pre-race food around to fuel me. Somehow, though, I always seem to forget about after the race, and end up lying around going, “Ehhhhhhh……I’m hungryyyyy…..and thirrrrrrrrsty……why don’t I have any fooooooodddd…. why doesn’t somebody bring me somethinggggg?!?!” until I realize that I live alone and no one is around to hear my calls of despair.

So on Sunday, after dragging myself off the couch and making myself a functional and productive human being again, I allowed myself back on the couch to relax later in the evening. After lying still for way too long, I turned onto my back and stretched out my cramped legs, only to hear a gross cracking noise in my left knee. Unfortunately this noise was accompanied by a minor but annoying amount of pain. My knee is still sore today, and if it’s not better by Wednesday I might be forced to head to the doctor for peace of mind. For now, besides the practical remedies of a little bit of rest, ice and Advil, I’m doing my best to will the pain away. Mind over matter. Because, seriously, how is it that I can run four 5Ks in a month and a half, be at the gym nearly every day, and then get injured lying on the couch?!

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"Rolling hills" actually means "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

24 Apr

I finished another 5k on Saturday! Audrey, Lola and I ran this one–it was a gorgeous day: blue sky, sunny, warm.

The course, however, was not so fabulous. There were at least 3 HUGE hills (described as “rolling hills” in the course description, which was a big, fat, evil lie)- every time we turned a corner there was another one looming ahead. The second time we came to one I said “You’ve got to be kidding me.” out loud. The third time I just laughed. They weren’t just hills, they were small mountains, and they just kept on coming. Besides the fact that we had to deal with the mountainous hills, this was an open course. Completely open course. Meaning, as concerned as I was about making it up the hill, I was more concerned about not getting hit by one of the many cars driving towards me. At one point we were on a main route of the town, and my poor running skills were causing some poor soul in a Prius a delay in getting into the Dunkin Donuts parking lot. I felt very badly that my slow pace as I trudged across the DD driveway was keeping someone from their coffee a few seconds longer. You never know what might happen when you come between a coffee freak and their morning cup; I know I might be tempted to hit a runner if one was keeping me from my coffee on a Saturday morning.

But at the same time as I felt bad for the residents of this poor town, I also thought it was totally crummy that I had to come between a stranger and their coffee in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, races should be run on a closed or at least partially-closed course. There’s enough to think about when running a race, I really don’t appreciate having to add “being struck by an automobile” to the list. Also as far as I’m concerned, races should not involve significant hills; even running downhill isn’t as easy as it seems, so let’s just keep them out of races altogether, shall we?

I blame the hills for my 34:38 time, but I know that without them I would have done even better, which is encouraging. Audrey came in right ahead of me and Lola right behind me. We totally kicked those hills’ asses while dodging traffic and keeping a good pace, but none of us will ever run this particular race again!

Keeps Getting Better

24 Mar

When I wrote that I wanted to be crossing more finish lines, I didn’t realize that I would cross another one on Saturday. But I did! Instead of going for a Saturday morning run, Lola & I signed up for a local 2-mile race. With the pressure of completing our first race off, and still feeling pretty darn good about our time, neither of us took this one as seriously. Well, we took it seriously, but we weren’t a jittery mass of nerves about it. In my mind, we can only get better. It can only get easier (never easy, but easier).

For example, one lesson I learned from my first race is that I ought to be wearing a turtleneck whilst running. I learned this by reviewing my official finish line photos, in which you might not notice that I crossed the finish line, but you certainly would notice that my cleavage crossed the finish line. There are about a dozen completely horrifying photos, and in nearly all of them I look more like a stripper than a runner. The only good thing is that the amount of skin I’m baring makes you notice less the bizarro facial expressions that I’m making. Now, when I was running I did feel my tank top slipping down, and I kept tugging it up, but I had no idea that the situation was as bad as it appeared on camera. The only 3 people who I allowed to see the photos literally howled with laughter. And no, I will not be posting any of those photos here; they really are that embarrassing. Lesson learned: no more tank tops for running. For Saturday’s race I wore a Nike running shirt that went right up to my neck and a Danskin zip up that zipped up to my chin. Not a chance of exposure at all. Which was a good thing, because it was freezing cold on Saturday morning and my cleavage would have ended up with frostbite.

It was so cold, in fact, that I felt like I had swallowed a fireball, which after searing my throat decided to land in my chest and smolder for a while. I literally could not take a full breath the entire time I was running. I have asthma, but just barely, and it makes me feel worse to take my inhaler than not, because it makes me shaky and I hate it. Half that time I forget I even have asthma, because it really doesn’t affect me. Except when I’m running in the cold. At first I couldn’t figure out why I felt so awful. I really didn’t think I was going to be able to run anywhere near as well as I had the weekend prior. Halfway in to the first mile, I was nearly gasping. Prior to starting the race, my confidence had led me to boast to Lola that we would finish in 24 minutes: a 12-minute mile, meaning a 34 second improvement over last weekend. Lola said 25 minutes: a 12:30 mile. We went back and forth but I stuck to my 12-minute mile prediction. Now I felt like I was eating my words. The run was through a neighborhood this time, and there were lots of hills. I wanted to run into someone’s warm cozy house and take a nap on their couch. As always happens in the first few minutes of running, I could only think of how much I hate it, and could not think of a single reason why it ever seemed like a good idea to be doing such a thing.

Then we came upon the 1 mile marker. The time was 11 minutes 10 seconds. Despite feeling completely awful, we were doing better than we anticipated. I knew I could at least keep up the “I-swallowed-a-flaming-fireball-that-is-stealing-my-oxygen” pace that I had been running at, and that if we did that, we’d finish even better than we’d hoped- again!

And we did. In the last few seconds, Lola and I turned and looked at each other and without saying a word, we each kicked it up a few notches, racing each other to the finish line. We crossed the finish line at the same time- 22:18 (actually, I think Lola was a half-second ahead of me, but let’s just say we finished at the same time, shall we?). An 11:09 mile. That may not be so great to some, but for us, it’s fabulous.

Victory!

17 Mar

I don’t know the last time I was as nervous as I was before the 5k. I woke up at least 10 times the night before, once so soaked in sweat that I had to change my shirt. The race was Sunday afternoon, and let me tell you it was the longest morning in the history of time. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the air was crisp and fresh, and I honestly thought I was going to puke at the starting line. I know sometimes runners puke at the end of the race, but leave it to me to do it backwards. From the second I woke up to the second we started running, all I could focus on was trying not to freak out.

But I didn’t freak out, and I didn’t puke. I was nervous as hell; that didn’t go away until a minute or two into the run. I underestimated how hard it would be to dodge the people slower than me while also trying not to get knocked over by the faster people (yup, that’s right, there were people slower than me!). The crowd at the start of a race isn’t very fun. Lola and I had agreed that it was ok if we didn’t stick together during the race; neither one of us wanted to hold the other back. But within the first few seconds of starting, I had already lost her. I didn’t know if she was ahead of me or behind me or even next to me. I started to get nervous but decided not to think about it- I couldn’t handle any more things to be anxious about.

Then as the crowd thinned out a bit, she was next to me. Hooray! Propelled by the excitement, the adrenaline, and the rush of the crowd we ran farther without stopping or slowing down than we ever have before. In those few moments, I think we were runners- you know, the ones who make it look easy.

Then reality set in as I realized I could barely breathe, and that we were only maybe a half mile into our 3.1 mile race. But Lola and I naturally run at pretty much the same pace overall. She has more speed where I have more endurance. Her quick pace made me move faster; the duration of my sprints made her keep running. We ran by my parents, who were proudly waving their bumble bee balloons (how cute is that!?). It was the first moment in which I felt the magnitude of what I was doing and how much it meant to me, and I started to get a little emotional (my mom would later tell me she got choked up at this point, too). But I had the rest of the race to run and hadn’t earned the right to bask in the glow of accomplishment yet.I felt pretty darn good until we rounded a corner and came upon one of the race volunteers who was yelling “If this is your second lap, go left. If this is your first lap, go right.” Those two sentences knocked the confidence right out of me. We were coming around for the FIRST time and people were already on their SECOND LAP? What?! Is that even possible? Are they wearing jet-propelled footwear? Are they human? Am I the most horrible runner ever? I was shaken. All those people I thought were behind us might be behind us only because they are about to lap us?
“We’re doing a lot worse than I thought!!!” I said to Lola in a slightly hysterical pant. “No. No way. I don’t think so.” Lola replied. I am usually the one saying how awesome we will be, but in that moment I had visions of the entire crowd of spectators being home by the time we crossed the finish line, my parents the only ones standing there to see us shuffle across the line. “Ok!”, I said, not entirely sure but just wanting to believe her. Besides, what could I do? I already knew that my best was not going to be as good as other people’s best. I was just shocked to see how much better their best was.

We just kept on going, pushing each other along without really saying much. I don’t even really remember hearing the music playing on my iPod. I was just in it, in the moment, in the race so much that I almost wasn’t aware of what was happening, only of what I had to do next. Which was keep….on…..running. And then run some more.

Finally, we turned a corner and there it was. There is no feeling like seeing the Finish banner high in the air ahead of you. I turned to Lola and said “Is that it?!”. All this looping around and people passing us and I wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to get too excited for nothing. “That’s it!” she said. And we took off, faster than lightning. Ok, maybe not exactly faster than lightning. That would mean lightning was slower than us, and if lightning was slower than we are few people would ever get struck by it. Because they could outrun it. But I did feel full of electricity–I have never felt adrenaline like I felt it in that moment. We ran fast. My body couldn’t move fast enough for all the sudden energy I had. I crossed that finish line at full speed and it was nothing short of glorious.

Adding to the beauty of the moment was the fact that we finished exactly how we trained: together. Oh, and we weren’t last. We finished in 39 minutes 3 seconds. That’s a 12 minute 34 second mile, which completely surpassed what we thought was a lofty goal of a 15 minute mile. I am immensely proud of us. I always knew we could do it, I just didn’t know we could be as good as we were.

When I got to work Monday morning I had an email from my mom:
“when i woke up this morning and sat at the kitchen table there were your 4 safety pins…i felt like I shouldn’t move them..that they should stay there forever marking your special accomplishment..I wondered if you wanted these safety pins even though you now have over 200..i think these pins are special …..

I think they’re special too. I’m framing those suckers. They represent the sweat, the pain, the drive, the determination, the stubborn craziness it took for me to do this. The represent my first major step towards the triathlon. They represent that maybe, at least for that day, I could actually consider myself an athlete, and a runner. I will never again cross my first finish line. But now I know for sure that I hope to be crossing many more in the future.

On pins and needles

15 Mar

Watching Run Fatboy Run with Lola did not make either one of us less nervous. She said she is so determined not to finish last that she will push me to the ground if she has to (she’s joking…a little bit). I assured her we won’t be last, and even though I never thought we would be, now I know we really won’t cause there’s no way in hell I’m going to get into a shoving match with Lola during our last steps to the finish line. We spent too much time discussing our “finish line photo” expressions to ruin it. My finish line face will be serious, with a hint of joy and accomplishment. Ah, who am I kidding? My finish line face will not be pretty, and my finish line photo the bane of my existence as it lives on in infamy on the race website.

We went over all the details of tomorrow like the incredibly organized and apprehensive people we are. I told Lola something that has been bothering me since Friday when I picked up my race packet- I only grabbed 2 safety pins. Obviously, to securely pin on your race number you should have 4 pins- one for each corner. But when the guy said “Need some pins?”, I got all flustered and almost said “No” when I really meant “Maybe, what for?” Then I realized what for so I said “Yes” but only took 2.

Two! What was I thinking? Lola assures me that we’ll get there early enough to stop by the registration booth and grab some more pins. “You don’t understand”, I say, “If I don’t have the pins tonight I will stay up all night thinking about how I need pins. I’ll run to CVS later.” “That’s crazy!”, says Lola. “Go tomorrow- don’t worry about it tonight, it’ll be late, you need to go to bed early. Maybe you even have some lying around.” But, nope, none with my sewing kit (it’s a small, travel sewing kit- I’m not that domestic), none in my desk drawers…I’m out of places to look. I don’t own any safety pins. I try not to think about it as we watch the movie and I do manage to put it out of my mind. Then, towards the end of the movie, when Fatboy is running his race, there’s a shot of the race crowd. “Look at all those people with their numbers properly pinned on”, I sigh. “Don’t worry!”, says Lola. “I have 4 safety pins! We can always do 3 and 3- it’ll be fine!”

A short time later, I am standing in the aisles of CVS wondering where the safety pins are. Not the office supply aisle. Not the hardware/home aisle, although they do have about 82 kinds of lightbulbs, screws, and the thing you put in your sink drain. But no safety pins. So I head down the road to Walgreens. As I walk down the brightly light aisles I start to curse the 17 types of Crazy Glue and begin envisioning a sleepless night of safety-pin hunting. Then I spot them.

I am now the proud owner of 225 brass and nickel-plated safety pins in assorted sizes. And, hopefully, I’m about to become the recipient of a great night’s sleep and maybe even a fabulous finish line photo.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, It’s only a day away

14 Mar

Today is March 14th. That means tomorrow is my first 5k! I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t get nervous. Or, actually, more anxious than nervous. The anticipation is always what gets me, with anything. And this is no exception. Lola’s coming over tonight to have a nutritious night-before-the-big-race dinner and watch Run Fatboy Run. Knowing that we both share the same nervous excitement makes me feel less nervous and more excited.

Am I ready? Heck yeah! Oh wait, except I’m kinda not. But a secret trick of mine is to pretend that I’m confident about things and then I trick myself into actually being confident. Sound silly? Maybe, but try it- it works! Anyway, I think I’m as ready as I could be at this point. I’ve definitely been working hard. A few short months ago I wouldn’t have dreamed that I would be doing this, so regardless of how or when I finish tomorrow’s race, I’ll be happy to have finished it. And I’ll also be happy it’s over!

But for now, it’s still looming on the horizon. Yikes!

Step by Step

9 Mar

My first 5k is one week from today. One week! I can’t believe it’s so soon- I feel like I’ve only just started running, and now I’m putting myself to a major test. It feels equivalent to signing a toddler up for the high school track team.

While a 5k might be a breeze to the guy who finished first last year (with a time of 15:33) it is for sure a huge deal to me. Just to put it in perspective, I would be happy if 15:33 was my time to finish ONE MILE. It’s almost beyond my comprehension that anyone can run that fast when I think about how slow I run! That guy probably finds running “fun”, whereas I’m more apt to describe it as “evil torture that steals my ability to breathe.” So, I guess that’s one of the differences between myself and someone who can run a 5-minute mile.

Now, I am not comparing myself to this guy, by any means. Nor am I trying to place first, or even 20th or 50th for that matter. The 50th person last year finished in 20:14, at which point I could only hope to be on mile 2, with lots of people behind me (so I’m not dead last). To be honest, I just want to finish and get my free t-shirt. I also hope that I meet my 15-minute mile goal, but truly that is secondary to just crossing the finish line eventually- a lofty enough goal in and of itself. I think that, for me, finishing is something to be proud of regardless of how long it takes. I don’t know if I will ever feel like I can say that I am a runner, I just know I sure don’t feel like one at this point.

Yet I hope to spend next Sunday being one. A week from my first race, I still have a love/hate relationship with running. I still stand in awe of the people who can run on the treadmill for 45 minutes straight. But I am starting to feel a strange camaraderie with other runners I see out there- not so much the ones who make it look easy; not the fancy pants runners. The ones who, like me, make every step look like the struggle that it is. They make me think that maybe all you have to do to be a runner is just continue to put one foot in front of the other.