Tuesday, March 29, 2011

National Half Marathon

National half marathon is a tale of two stories.  Story #1 is my time.  After my first Disney world race, I though I would never hit that time again and it would be my eternal half marathon PR (personal record for the non-runners out there).  Then in the princess half, I beat that time by just over two minutes.  I was shocked and thrilled (especially after being sick).  But certainly that would be my PR!  Then national half marathon came around.  I beat my Disney Princess time by about 3 1/2 minutes, finishing in 1:45:31.  I am still in total disbelief about this and SO happy.
It was cold!! And all clothes left on the course get donated to homeless shelters, so it's nice to stay warm at the start (and look ridiculous).

But now for Story #2.  I was placed in corral 4 (or pink, or D, or something like that) which I found out was 8:10 to 8:40 min/mile expected time.  Perfect for me.  The race was crowded at the beginning, but compared to trying to get out to a good start in Disney World, it was a piece of cake.  So I did what I was used to and started passing as many people as I could.  Only this time, the people in my corral were actually running the time they were signed up for.  So I quickly found myself running much faster than expected - except I had no idea.  How is that possible, you ask?
-The people that set up the race decided not to post any sort of mile marker until mile 10.  You could guess when you were around mile 5 because the relay teams switched off (half marathon relays are made up of three legs of 5 miles, 5 miles, and 3.1 miles), but by that point I had already gone way too fast.  I haven't run a lot of races to know what is normal, but from the number of people complaining, I'm pretty sure that most races post signs at each mile, so this led to a lot of people running too fast or too slow. 
-But I have a Garmin watch, so I should have seen my pace, right?  Well, my Garmin watch couldn't correctly connect to satellites in time for the start of the race, so I never knew for sure if it was working correctly and just assumed it was wrong when it showed my pace.  Though it turns out, it was mostly correct.  It's a great piece of technology and I highly recommend it to someone racing a lot, but it's almost so cool that I'm still learning to trust it.  And somehow, being surrounded by all these fast people, my body didn't realize it was going so fast.

You can probably see where this is going.  First half of the race I was booking it!  Second half, not so much.  For the first time, I walked during a race.  Mainly just 10-15 seconds when I was really struggling, but that tells you how I was feeling during the second half.  It was by far my least impressive performance in that sense, but no need to dwell on that because it still turned out well.  And even if it hadn't, bad races are bound to happen when you run 12 in a year.

Once again though, something great happened.  At one point as I was walking on the right side of the course so I didn't interfere with the people running by, some kind woman gave me a little pat on the back as she passed and said something to the tune of "you can do it, come on and go!"  And I did.  Not that it was the last time I took a quick walk break, but I got my head back in the game thanks to the kindness of some stranger.  As for the woman, I only wish she had an idea how much her quick comment helped me out, and now I'll try to do the same for others in a later race who look like they need a little encouragement.  Runners may be an intense bunch, but it's like you're part of some club and everyone is instantly friends, and I have found that most of them are some of the nicest people you will meet. 

I felt the need to explain all that though, because the point is that you can have a great time without necessarily running your smartest or "best" race.  I still managed to finish in 1:45:31, putting me right around 8:03 minutes/mile.  That's a half marathon time I NEVER dreamed I could complete, and I'm very excited.  The 11, 12, 13 Challenge is not about time, but of course I still want to celebrate the victories when the training pays off. 
This picture does not include me, because they couldn't find me.  But you can see why we might have missed each other!

The only slightly sad part: Adam and Kristen (my sister) and my friend Amanda (who ran Princess with me) had come out to cheer me on.  I was expecting to see them somewhere around mile 5 - they try to decide ahead of time where they will be so I know to keep an eye out, because it's easy to get in the zone during a race.  Kristen was going to wear a bright pink sweatshirt so they were easy to recognize.  But somehow, I never saw them!  Maybe because I went out quickly they hadn't gotten over there yet, or maybe we somehow just all missed, but it was disappointing.

Anyway, I couldn't be more happy that they all came out to cheer and I still got the boost just from knowing they were out there in ~30-35 degree weather to cheer me on.  My friends and family are the core of this challenge and what keeps me going.  Kristen and Adam were up at 4 AM to get ready for the race and take me over, and Amanda woke up to come cheer us on around 7:30 AM on a Saturday.  That's just amazing.
And speaking of great friends, Matt ran this race too!  What's even crazier is that he ran the NYC half marathon last weekend, so this was his second race in less than a week!  That is real toughness right there.  Afterward, we relaxed for the afternoon and went out to a nice celebratory dinner and drinks.
 And the woman who told me to keep going?  It gave me hope and inspiration, which is what I want to do for others who are struggling with a long-term disability, or have a family member who is.  The 11, 12, 13 Challenge is now a quarter of the way complete for me - and I'm only feeling more and more enthusiastic about it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Everybody needs a Vacation

Last week, I went to Atlantis in the Bahamas.  If you’ve ever been, you know it’s a wonderful place – it’s not only a beautiful hotel, but it includes gorgeous land, water parks, tons of pools, and more delicious food than you can imagine.  We had an amazing 5 day vacation and never left Atlantis once (except during a run). 

My family has been going there for years.  Since my mom could never ski or do adventurous trips because of her back and joint issues, vacations were generally in warm weather places and involved lots of laying by the pool.  Believe me, I’m not complaining.  And with her more recent psoriatic arthritis diagnosis, they’ve been even more key.  For her, the psoriasis part is very minor and is mainly concentrated on her scalp.  But she also gets sores on her arms and legs that benefit from being in the sun, and some doctors even recommend certain UV treatments for patients.  Plus, everyone just feels better when they get some time in the sun.

I felt a little bit guilty about booking a vacation the week before a race when I knew it would involved lots of eating…
 And hanging out by the pool and beach...
 And, let’s be honest, a few drinks in there too. 
Oh, and did I mention lots of food?
Then I realized that to complete this challenge I have to run a race a month.  That means that I can’t do everything perfectly leading up to a race.  So I relaxed and we all had some fun, and I spent some time that I'll remember forever with the most important people in my life.
But I wanted to let all of you know that I did go running…twice!  Adam, Kristen, my dad and I went out one day, and then Kristen and Adam joined me for another run later on in the trip.  Neither were very long runs, but I always taper before a race anyway so that was fine.  It was great to have company and people to keep me on track before my race.

As you can see, it's no secret that I live a very blessed life.  My parents worked very hard to make sure they could provide my sister and I with everything we needed to lead successful, happy lives.  For that, I couldn't be more grateful.  But I have no doubt that any member of my family would give it all up in a heartbeat to see my mom feel better and to be herself once again.  And that is why we are doing this challenge.  My dad has volunteered to donate $13,100 to psoriatic arthritis research in hopes of finding better treatments and helping those who suffer from the disease (if we can get the donation match, so let's get going!).  I put a ton of my time and energy outside of work to this challenge, and my sister is doing the same.  And Adam and Matt have put in more effort that I could have ever dreamed of, as well as tons of family and friends who have supported me and run races and kept me motivated. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Princess for a day!

What could be better than getting the chance to be a princess for the day?  Race #2 was again in Disney World - there aren't a lot of races offered nearby in January or February so traveling was in order.  Not that going to Florida in February when DC is freezing is punishment.

Before I talk about the weekend, I should update you a bit.  After my half marathon in January, I started to get some really bad pains in my left calf that kept getting worse.  I was having some really challenging runs but continued to train despite some recommendations that I should take some time off.  If you know me, you're probably not terribly surprised by this. 

On top of that, in early February, I did a typical run of about 8-9 miles on Sunday and was fine.  But when I woke up on Monday, I was feeling pretty bad.  By Monday afternoon I decided to leave work a little bit early because I was getting worse.  I ended up missing the rest of the week from work (well, I tried to go back on Thursday but was immediately told to go home) and just felt terrible.  I went to the doctor and they said I had an ear infection and possibly something else on top of that.  I spent the week essentially coughing like crazy, feverish, and unable to get off the couch for more than 20 minutes.  I had planned to run a 14k that Saturday (for Valentine's Day), but it was clear that wasn't happening so I just changed my focus to the half at the end of the month. 

So a week and a half sick, then a week and a half where I got in three terrible runs, and then it was time for the half marathon.  We had a great weekend planned for Disney with Jeff and Amanda, so it wouldn't be a big deal if I walked and jogged - I just wanted to finish.

OK, now back to the weekend.  This Disney trip was a little bit different because the race was on Sunday instead of Saturday.  I took a half day from work on Friday, then sat at Reagan for an hour or two while they tried to get planes off the ground despite gusts of 60 mph.  We ended up getting to Florida a little late but all in all it could have been a lot worse.  We had a quick dinner since we got in late and rested up to enjoy Saturday. 

Saturday started by going to the Expo to pick up our race numbers and tshirts.  I had done this for the previous race, but this time there was a long wait.  Though it was annoying to wait so long for your number, I got to talk to two other women in line who had some great running advice and shared some race experience, so I actually ended up enjoying it and might adjust my race schedule for some of the races they suggested.  After that, we explored Downtown Disney, had a nice pasta dinner at the restaurant at Old Key West, and got to bed early.

Race day rolled around and we were in surprisingly good spirits for waking up at 2:40.  Amanda and I headed to the starting line and left our princes to cheer us on.

Remember how I expected this to be a terrible race?  I'll never quite understand it, but I felt great.  Sure, there were the ups and downs like any race.  But I felt SO much better than the race before.  Maybe taking the time off was actually just what I needed after months of training.  It's now been a little while since the race, and though my pain is back, it seems a LOT better and I'm hoping to fight it off this time around.  Who would have guessed that being sick might be a blessing in disguise?

And in a way, that's exactly why I'm running this challenge.  I'm learning to see the good in every bad thing that happens, because there's always a reason.  I'm not there yet, but I'm trying - and I've never felt better. 

So Amanda and I finished and it was time to celebrate and enjoy.  Amanda and Jeff are Adam's friends from college, so I've known them for a few years now.  I've always known they are fun to hang out with, but this weekend I learned that they also make great travel buddies!

We had such a great time just laying out by the pool, talking, exploring Hollywood Studios, eating Mickey Mouse waffles and ice cream, and overall just enjoying the weekend.  And Amanda is a great runner, so I'll see if I can't convince her to run more with me in the future. 

Another wonderful weekend, a great race, and one step closer to completing the 11,12,13 Challenge.  This challenge continues to be a huge positive influence in my life.  As I said before, I did this for my mom at the start, but I'm learning a lot about myself in this journey.  And I couldn't do it without such great support from my friends and family.