Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

They were all for you, Mom.
Happy New Year to all!  What an incredible year it has been.  Admittedly, I have seen some of the best moments of my life and some of the most challenging, all in one year.  I am forever grateful for the lessons I've learned, the great friends I've shared it with, and most of all, the support and love of my family.  Ending the year with a concussion that has basically halted my life has been frustrating.  I've cried and complained and gotten upset more times than I care to admit.  But I've got a great doctor who is helping me to get through it, and hope to be back to a normal life in the next few months (which I hope will include a return to running, though at the moment walking a mile or two is a big enough challenge).  I look forward to 2012.

But beyond that, this has been one of the best years of my life.  I've learned how lucky I am to have supportive friends and family.  We raised over $18,800 this year for NPF.  I am just in awe and I don't even know what to say.  Never ever did I expect to raise that much.  To everyone who made it possible, THANK YOU.   You gave me hope and inspired me, but more importantly, you gave my mom hope, and you gave everyone suffering with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis hope.  That is a lot of money that can make a tangible difference in research. 

To my friends who ran races with me or asked about them or donated, thank you.  This idea of running twelve half marathons in a year was a bit crazy, and yet it worked.  I learned that if you want others to care about something, you have to show them how much you care first.  All in all, our dedicated team completed 26 half marathons, one marathon, and a variety of other small races as a team (some 10k, 5ks, four milers, etc along the way).  Personally, I completed 11 half marathons and a full marathon.  Though disappointing I missed the grand finale in Las Vegas, I still finished the Challenge (plus some!) and couldn't be happier about it. To the key players - Kristen, Adam, and Matt, I am so appreciative for your dedication and tenacity.  I could have never done it without you guys and I hope you had half as much fun as I did this year.  I also need to thank my dad for agreeing to match every donation that we received.  His dedication to helping my mom through this and his desire to fight this disease is inspiring.

I can tell you that I will never be the same after this year.  Though I'm not going to go into all the details on the blog, 2012 is going to bring some big changes in my life (all in a great way), and some of them will be directly shaped by what I learned and realized this year.  Though I was leading a good life before the Challenge, I didn't feel fulfilled.  I now know that helping others and working to make a difference is an essential part of my life and something I want to spend more time doing in the future, whether it be through my career, personal work, or some combination.  

I have learned that you only get stronger by pushing yourself mentally and physically.  This time a year ago, I didn't know if I could finish a half marathon.  Now, I can proudly say I am a marathoner and have never felt so honored as the moment a marine congratulated me and told me I was strong, as if they aren't the greatest heroes in our country. 

I've faced injuries and sicknesses, but every one has made me realize how lucky I am for my health and my strength, and helped me to empathize with the struggles that my mom faces on a daily basis.  The confidence I have gained from running these races will translate into countless other aspects of my life because I now know that limits are only there if you allow them to be there.  And I've seen it in others too; Kristen did incredible in her half marathon (though unfortunately faced knee surgery shortly thereafter that halted her running), Adam went from being challenged by a 4 miler in June to running a great half marathon in September, and Matt went from running very little last year to running 12 half marathons this year.  Everyone has said how much stronger they feel and what a great accomplishment it was and I am so happy for our team.

In all of this, I have tried to adopt an attitude that everything happens for a reason.  My mom's sickness is one of the hardest things my family has faced, but I was determined to make something good happen from it.  Darius Rucker has a song called "This" that I absolutely love.  The lyrics go:

"I don't really know how I got here but I'm so glad that I did,
And its crazy to think that one little thing can change all of it,
Maybe it didn't turn out like I planned,
Maybe that's why I'm such, such a lucky man,

For every stoplight I didn't make,
Every chance I did or I didn't take,
All the nights I went too far,
All the girls that broke my heart,
All the doors that I had to close,
All the things I know but I didn't know,
Thank God for all I missed
Because it led me here to this"

That song is the epitome of how I feel.  When things turn bad, you have to believe it's for a reason and it's all to lead you to something better.  If you can really believe this (which admittedly can be hard sometimes), you can get through anything.  When I look back on some of the toughest moments in my life, they often ended up leading me to the best because of the strength I gained or the changes I made as a result.  Though I sound like I'm slightly digressing from the Challenge, I'm really not.  I sat a little over a year ago pondering how my mom was facing so many challenges and saying "Why her?"  I thought, I cried, I got angry, and then I decided to fight back and create the Challenge.  Though I still wonder why she has to fight such a tough battle, I now know that something good came out of it, and I hope to make even more happen in the future.  Face every day as a way to improve the future. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I am so lucky.  Here's to 2012!

I'm a marathoner!

 Love the medal.  I'm probably biased, but I think it might be my favorite.  I am a marathoner!  I've wanted to run a full marathon for SO long, and as I said earlier, I got a Marine Corps registration back in February since it sold out in 28 hours.  But I had so much going on and life got in the way, and 2 of my 3 longest training runs never happened.  I don't regret it - I chose to drop them - because I just couldn’t handle all of the half marathons and my other commitments while making time for the training runs, and that was the right choice for me.  Yet, I still had put a lot of time into training and I couldn't help but want to run MCM.
 Parachuting to the start with an American flag.  Really great way to start a race.
 The flyover at the start

And I did it!  I crossed running a full marathon off my bucket list!  It wasn't easy.  In fact, it was one of the more painful experiences of my life.  The race started out great for me.  It was a very cold day and waiting at the start made me nervous.  In fact, the day before it had snowed a tiny bit, which is basically unheard of in DC in October.  I ultimately decided to run in pants and a long sleeve shirt, which I think was too much by the end of the race but it wasn't unbearable.
 It was SOOO cold.  And I was SOOO nervous.
As we got going, I started with the 4 hour group with the plan to drop back around the half way mark. I somehow got ahead of the 4 hour pacegroup (the race was crowded and staying with them was honestly taking more effort than it was helping me), and I'm not sure when they passed me but at some point I fell behind them.  I met some nice people, held a few brief conversations, ran up a bridge covered in ice (eesh!), and was feeing solid.  Since I’m used to running much faster for 13 miles, everything felt good and in control.  I got to see Adam a few times, and he even jumped into to run with me for a few seconds and made me feel great.
 Near the start
Here we go!
Then mile 20 happened.  Probably not coincidentally, 20 miles was my longest training run to date, and that training run had ended with me walking into my apartment and bursting into tears.  Not a confidence instilling event. 
It didn't disappoint in this race either, as somewhere in that mile my Gatorade and GU did not stay down.  I'll keep details to a minimum, but things started to go downhill after that.  Then my calf muscles started to spasm and I had to walk really frequently to be able to keep moving at all.  I would tell myself to just run 100 steps and then I could walk 20, but I don’t think I ever even made it to 100 because my calves would spasm so bad.  It was painful, and it was difficult.  But in a lot of ways, that's why I'm even prouder - because I did not give up.  Sure, there's no shame in dropping out, but I wanted and in some ways I needed to do this.  So I did.
I'm so spoiled from being used to the DC views, but this reminds me how great the area is.
The day before the race I picked up my registration (since I'd paid I figured I'd get the tshirt anyway), and it wasn't until we were walking out, a full 15 hours before the race, that I officially decided to run it.  I chose not to tell anyone other than my family or Adam that it was definitely happening.  It sounds silly, but I was afraid that everyone knowing would put too much pressure on me to finish and I wouldn’t drop out if I felt that it was the right choice. My ultimate goal was 4:20, and despite slowing down a TON for the last six miles, I finished in 4:14:30.  Nothing too great, but for me, a huge victory. 
I wasn't giving up!
The marines did a great job with this race, and I’d highly recommend it for anyone looking for a first marathon.  Plus, the crowd support was tremendous.  The pride of having a marine place a medal around my neck and congratulate me, when of course they are incredible heroes, is a moment I will never forget.  Whenever I thought I couldn’t take another step, I thought about how they defend our freedom daily and the struggles they go through that make a marathon seem easy, and suddenly I felt the strength to go on.   
 Calling mom after the race. 
I honestly thought I would cry at the end of the race, but I was too tired to do even that.  I am so proud to have been part of this race and to push my limits.  And of course, I’m now one of those annoying people with the 26.2 sticker on their car!  This was probably one of the greatest moments of my life and I will never ever forget it.  I'm so glad I pushed through and so appreciative of all the support I received.  As always, this one’s for you, Mom.
I wore a sign on my back for the race that said "This one's for you, Mom."
 Celebrating at the finish!

Baltimore Running Festival

I was pretty close to the start
I need to take a page out Adam's raceplan book and ...well, actually stick with my raceplan.  Baltimore half marathon was supposed to be an easy one.  The course has a fair amount of hills, plus I hadn't decided if I was doing Marine Corps Marathon which was only two weeks away or not (basically, training didn't go as planned, but it didn't totally stop I was thinking of either running with my slightly abridged training or waiting until I felt more prepared).  For Baltimore, I was shooting for 1:50 or 1:52, but suspected I'd run a little bit faster than that.
The race was in, you guessed it, Baltimore.  I was planning to just drive there the day of the race, so my friend Kyle was kind enough to get my packet for me the day before.  Adam and I left Arlington with plenty of time to spare in case we hit traffic from the race or had trouble parking, which we were told might be likely.  Sure enough, we got near Baltimore and the exits were at a stop.  We noticed that our directions listed a different way to go as well, so we took a chance and got off at a different exit, somehow managing to avoid a really long line of traffic.  We went to one of the lots that was suggested but was farther away, and easily found a spot.  Things were looking good!

He was there to cheer me on at the start.  Isn't he great?
We met Kyle and his friends to pick up my number.  The race start was pretty spread out, since the start and the finish were different places and the bag drop-off area was near the finish.  Though we were there with a ton of time, we had a lot of wandering to do to drop off my stuff, get to the start, watch the marathoners cross the course, etc.  I made it to the starting area and I was in the first corral.  A bit surprising, but I usually feel that the closer you can be to the start, the better.  I think a lot of people intentionally list a faster starting time than they plan to run, so it can be difficult to navigate around them.
I'm ready!
The race start rolled around and I was ready to go!  The weather was really pretty mild and a pleasant temperature, but it was SO windy.  The start was shielded (or the wind picked up during the race, I'm not quite sure) and the first few miles were fine.  Even though the hills should have been tough since I don't train on a lot of hills, I just wasn't struggling.  We ran around a lake area, and it was very scenic and pleasant, though the wind was really bad on the return trip around the lake.  The upside was that it made running with the wind even faster!  

Overall, a very pleasant race.  We merged with the marathoners, who were about half done, near the start of the race.  I'm sure it was difficult for them to merge into a ton of fresh half marathoners, but it was a very easy transition for me.  We ran through some interesting parts of Baltimore (and quite frankly some I wouldn't have minded skipping).  The fans were great though!  Energetic and helped me to push through when I started to drag.

It was a pretty big race
It must be because I was used to running 15-20 mile long runs on the weekend, but the race felt so easy and I just felt very solid.  I didn't stop to walk at all, and the hills never bothered me.  I planned to start fast, then slow down when I hit the hills and cruise to the finish.  I did follow this plan slightly, except that I started faster than planned, and slowed down less than planned.  I finished strong, loving the crowds of spectators cheering us through the area right next to Camden Yards.  
 I was SO close at this point
My official time was 1:44:19, making this my PR race for the year despite the plan for it to be an easy race.  So great!  I was a little worried it would tire me out for Marine Corps if I chose to run it in two weeks, but I had felt so good during the race I decided to just go for it.  Those are the kind of races you love as a runner, where you feel like your training has prepared you well and all of the stars align for a good day.  I got to celebrate at the end with Adam, where we also picked up my second medal since I had run Frederick, part of the Baltimore series, which qualified me for a "Maryland double" medal.  I didn't get to hang around Baltimore too long after the race, but this was one for the books!
 Race medal and Maryland Double medal