The Slow Road from Monterey to San Francisco

It was so nice to run a marathon and have time to relax after before heading home. We planned to spend the week in San Francisco. The day after the race we took our time driving up the coast from Monterey. We stopped along the way to explore the beautiful beaches. Carlos braved the cold ocean at every stop. The weather was gorgeous. It was sunny, a little breezy and very warm. Below are some photos from our pit stops.

Natural Bridges State Beach
Natural Bridges State Beach


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The colors were amazing in person. We pulled over and just stopped to watch.

 


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My photos do not do the landscape justice. Northern California has a special place in my heart now. I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to explore it. I may not return anytime soon, but I know it is a place I would love to see again. There is so much more to do and see. There is a half marathon through wine country from Napa to Sonoma that is definitely calling my name.

Loving Lately – May 2017

Reading 

I often read something and wish I could discuss it with someone. Here are some of the recent articles that have provoked some interesting thoughts in my own mind.

If you look in my closet you might think I attend funerals for a living. The color scheme is dark, mostly black, some navy and grey. The only pops of color come from the tank tops I will wear for a run. My friend bought me a pretty pink Lululemon tank top and I have this bright blue tank that makes my eyes sparkle, but I feel like I stand out like a sore thumb when I wear anything but an earthy dark color. If I do wear color it’s on top never ever on the bottom. Yet I love seeing women in cool patterned running pants. I envy them a little bit. This article, by Dianne Bondy, speaks to the idea that life is too short to obsess about the rules we’ve been taught about what we should and shouldn’t wear.

Anyone who really knows me knows that I have a strong desire to live to be 108. It’s an arbitrary number, but the point is that I want to live well over 100. Obviously I want to be mentally intact and physically well. This article really excited me. Becoming an active person after my son was born is no longer an effort. I love being active. It’s equally as important for my physical well being as it is for my emotional well being. I strive to be active daily and this summer my goal is to engage my son in daily movement as well. He’s an active child when he’s with his friends or playing soccer, but I am seeing that as he gets older there is less motivation to go out and play alone. He has graciously offered to help me with speed intervals at the local track by allowing me to chase him and in return I have agreed to help him with some soccer drills!

Along the lines of the previous topic is this article by Gretchen Reynolds about the importance of child’s play for everyone. We have to encourage children to be active. The increasing rate of obesity in this country has elevated it to an epidemic. Obese children become obese adults. The article looks at research which estimates the economic impact of childhood obesity on our healthcare system once these children are adults. With obesity comes a multitude of health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes to name a few. The idea that exercise has to be structure is what inhibits many from getting out there and just playing for fun. Swinging at the playground, going for a bike ride or a nature walk at a local park, playing catch, and simply taking a walk around the neighborhood are all forms of activity. One of the reasons we moved Carlos to a Montessori school was for the increased emphasis on outdoor time. His school promotes activity not only through longer outdoor recess time, but by allowing children to move freely throughout the classroom.

I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast this week which was fascinating in and of itself. The interview was about relationships with Esther Perel, a renowned psychotherapist and expert on relationships and sexuality. In the podcast, Tim references an article by A.J. Jacobs entitled, “I Think You’re Fat.” Is it ever reasonable to tell a lie? This has been a theme in our home this week. I am guilty of telling white lies to avoid hurting people’s feelings. Sometimes I encourage my son to do the same, but I am conflicted about the message I am sending to him. The author discusses the movement of Radical Honesty and explores the process of being brutally honest all the time. Despite the position of Brad Blanton, the Radical Honesty movement’s founder, I am not comfortable with the strong confrontation required to tell the truth all the time.

Watching

Carlos and I watched a wonderful film the other night. It’s called the Queen of Katwe and can be found on Netflix. It takes place in Uganda and tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi and her rise from poverty to becoming a national chess champion. It is a beautiful story.

Listening

This morning I listened to Dr. Stephen Gundry on Jessica Murnane’s podcast, One Part Plant. Dr. Gundry is the author of “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain,” and the leading expert on lectin. Through his work as a heart surgeon and researcher, Dr. Gundry claims to have uncovered compelling evidence for the role of lectin in heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and other diseases. It’s an interesting theory and I have no doubt that he backs up his ideas with studies. I think it’s important to understand how the food we eat affects our bodies, but I also think it’s crucial to know yourself and do what feels right. There is so much information out there. It is often confusing and contradictory to what we think we understand. I will not be eliminating all lectin from my diet today. However, I am always inclined to learn more.

Loving

I just received my first supply of Care/of personalized daily vitamins. I am not affiliated with any companies so rest assured this is my personal opinion only and I will not gain anything if you decide to check it out. Is it me or is everything becoming a subscription service? Well this is also a subscription service which initially turned me off, but I decided to check it out. The first thing you do is take a quiz about your health and diet. Through the quiz you are given a personalized list of recommended supplements and vitamins. I was expecting at least 10-15 suggestions, but instead I received only 4, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Bacopa, and a Probiotic Blend. There is a thorough explanation of each vitamin or supplement. I had never heard of Bacopa. The description provided indicates that it is an Ayuverdic herb that has been shown to improve memory and mental focus. I don’t know if it’s my age or the influx of information coming at me all the time between work, email, phone, etc., but I have been feeling a little foggy lately. I had a 50% off coupon code from a podcast I had recently listened to so I decided to place an order. I left off the Vitamin C because I have a big bottle from Vitacost. You receive a dispenser with individually packaged tablets for each day of the month. They are personalized with my name, completely unnecessary, but fun. I’m not sure if I will continue on a monthly basis, but I do enjoy trying out new products. If for nothing else take the quiz and buy the suggested vitamins and supplements on your own if you think they might help improve your health and wellness.

Music

Just a few of my latest faves on my running playlist include:

Medley: Bamboleo, Volare, etc by the Gypsy Kings

Wish I Knew You by The Revivalists

Andas En Mi Cabeza by Chino y Nacho ft. Dady Yankee

Rockabye by Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

 

What are you into these days?

Monterey and Carmel

We were up and out early on Saturday. We took the scenic route to Monterey along the coast. Monterey is as lovely as I had imagined. We went straight to the marathon expo at the Portola Hotel. It was not difficult to find, just follow the Boston Marathon jackets and race tech tees. There was a line of people waiting to get their photo taken in front of a Big Sur International Marathon sign. I thought, what’s the big deal? Well I didn’t realize at first that the sign had the names of all the runners. Of course I jumped in line. Thankfully the names were in alphabetical order. Carlos gets his photography skills from me!

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We wandered down to the wharf in Monterey. We took some photos and saw a few sea lions.

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We had time to kill before we could check into our hotel so we decided to drive to Carmel to scope out the finish line area. We found the finish area easily and then went straight to the beach. It was beautiful out, but a bit chilly. Carlos and Orlando played soccer. Carlos made friends with JD the black lab.

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I lounged and watched people perfect their selfies and social media posts. You cannot believe how long it takes a group of four women to coordinate a simultaneous jump for joy and have it captured on camera. It actually takes less time to do that than it does for boyfriend to photograph girlfriend throwing her scarf in the air, over and over and over again. How cute??!

We discovered we were very close to one of the entrances to the 17 Mile Drive around Pebble Beach. If you are into gorgeous scenery, slow drives, and imagining what it would be like to live in stunning homes then this is well worth the $10. Orlando and I loved it. We dream of one day building our own seaside home on our land in a small beach town in Mozambique. Of course it will be nowhere near as grand as the homes we saw. We stopped at many of the landmarks on the ocean and that gave Carlos the opportunity to climb on the rocks so he was happy too.img_2532-1

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Back in Monterey we checked into the Munras Inn. The room was lovely, but we would have preferred a vacation rental that offers a little more space. Lodging is expensive in the Monterey/Carmel area. For anyone planning their trip to the area specifically for the marathon, plan early and check out VRBO, Home Away, etc. in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and Carmel. Had I started planning a little earlier we might have found a property at a more reasonable price, although these areas are pricey in general. Our hotel was a little less than a mile to the Marriot where I would catch the bus for Big Sur on marathon morning. It was an easy walk and with so many runners out I wasn’t worried about being alone. My family was very appreciative that I didn’t wake them at 3:45AM to drive me.

I thought about attending the pasta dinner, but the only seatings were at 4:30 and 5:30PM, but we were still out in Carmel. We found a local Italian place. I had a sub-par dish of spaghetti. It was a bit disappointing because running a marathon is really my only excuse to enjoy a big bowl of pasta.

There is a ritualistic process that takes place the night before a marathon. First I lay out my clothing for the race. I always put the safety pins in the bib unfastened. I set up all of my necessities. Most importantly I set as many alarms as I can especially when a race requires a 2:40AM wake up call. I was terrified I wouldn’t wake up on time for the race.

Then I was asleep in a matter of minutes once I got into bed. It was a beautiful, relaxing day, but I was excited and anxious about the marathon.

 

From the Redwood Forest to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

I adore traveling and exploring new places. When I travel I want to experience as much as I possibly can no matter how much time I have. Running marathons has provided me with an excellent excuse to travel. When I got word I had been accepted into the Big Sur International Marathon I figured we could work in a visit to San Francisco.

I do my best to get to know what might be of interest in the area we are traveling to, but I rarely go so far as to plan an itinerary. Traveling with a young child and two adults with very different interests does not lend itself comfortably to a nice neat travel itinerary. I have learned to embrace spontaneity especially after having Carlos. We might not do every museum, aquarium, or attraction, but we try to do something that makes each one of happy along the trip.

We landed in San Francisco around 10AM, collected our rental car, and hit the road. Our first few nights would be spent near the marathon. We stopped in Palo Alto for lunch. The weather was gorgeous. YELP guided us to Tender Greens at an outdoor mall. It’s a chain restaurant, but it had something for all of us and we were able to sit outside. I had the Happy Vegan salad. It was excellent.

With no plan in place, I looked at the map and decided since it was a beautiful day and we had spent hours on a plane we should go walk around somewhere outside. We found the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and saw our first redwoods.  But before we got to the park we stopped for a coffee at the White Raven Coffee & Tea House in Felton, CA not too far from the park. I’m from Massachusetts, but nowhere near Boston. There are people in Mass that have no clue there is west of Worcester. Yet here in this café in a small town in Northern California we met two women who had lived in even more remote areas in Western Mass and they didn’t know each other. One had spent a summer interning at a farm in Shutesbury, MA which is home to my favorite little lake, Lake Wyola. The other was from Heath, MA, a very small town even further west. It was a fun irony. We enjoyed chatting before moving on to the park.

We parked on the street and hiked into the park. Once we found the loop of redwoods we walked around the park in awe. The redwoods are so much more unbelievable in person. They seem to go on forever.

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Next stop…the beach, Carlos’ happy place. We walked along the kitschy Santa Cruz boardwalk and within minutes Carlos was in the water.  The water was freezing, but he didn’t care.

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Dinner was another YELP find, Earthbelly Restaurant in Santa Cruz. Orlando and I enjoyed the black bean bowl.

We spent our first night in Salinas, CA because I accidentally forgot to reserve our hotel in Monterey for that night. The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was fine because we really just needed to sleep. It was a great first day in California.

Big Sur International Marathon recap is already up here.

Big Sur International Marathon 

I can’t remember if my alarm actually went off or if I woke up on my own at 2:40AM. I slept like a rock, but then I was wide awake. Marathon mornings don’t usually start quite this early, but nothing about this marathon was typical. First let’s back track to last summer.

A friend, fellow runner, and Pacific coast native wrote to me about the Big Sur International Marathon lottery for first timers. I threw my name in and figured it was a long shot. It took me three years to get into Chicago. I don’t play money lotteries, but perhaps I should because I got into Big Sur too. Of course I had heard of this notorious marathon and it was on my running bucket list. I knew a little bit about it namely that it offered spectacular views of the Pacific coast line. My family and I had never visited this part of the country so the race provided us with a wonderful travel opportunity. I am more than happy to run a marathon if it means visiting and experiencing a new place.

Back to the crack of dawn on April 30th. I buzzed about the hotel room quietly disturbing no one. I showered, dressed, and ate half of my pre-marathon bagel with banana and peanut butter. Fueling for this race was interesting. I always try to simulate race day on my long runs, but I often left the house between 5-6AM for a long run and that would have required a 1-2AM wake up. I had a plan in my head and fortunately it worked out.

Then there was the question of what to wear. I was expecting a much cooler temperature in the early morning, but it wasn’t bad at all. I left the hotel at 3:45 and walked a little less than a mile to the Marriot to catch a bus to the starting area in Big Sur. I was wearing a long sleeve over my T-shirt and I had another shirt in my bag along with a pair of gloves. I never needed the second shirt. I tossed the old long sleeve I was wearing at the finish line. I was extremely grateful for the gloves prior to the start because my hands were cold.

Around 3:45AM I joined throngs of runners on the street in the dark all headed to various bus pick up areas around downtown Monterey. Starbucks was open. The Marriot lobby was a buzz of brightly colored running gear as people gathered to wait for the buses. I was expecting a bumpy ride on a school bus, but was instead pleasantly surprised by a very comfortable motor coach bus. I boarded and before I knew it we were on the road.

I chatted easily with the guy seated next to me. We discovered we were the same age and running Big Sur for the first time. He was from San Francisco and ran with a large running club there. He has run the SF marathon more than once. He has also run Grandfather Mountain Marathon, touted as America’s toughest marathon. He will be one of only 40 participants in this year’s Inca Trail Marathon in August. He directed me to Weather.com’s list of the World’s 15 Toughest Marathons. San Francisco is number 15 and Big Sur is number 13. So many races, so little time and money!

We arrived about a half mile from the starting area and we were guided through the dark by the flashlights of kind volunteers who graciously gave their time to help in the early morning hours. I moved along listening to the hum of conversations around me. It is really hard to describe how bizarre this all would have been to me about 10 years ago. I am not sure where I imagined life would take me, but this certainly was not it. Yet here I was just hours away from beginning my 8th marathon, trekking along in the dark with hundreds of fellow runners in a quiet forest on the coast of California with half a bagel, chia water, and a stick of body glide in my bag. As foreign as this all would have been to me 10 years ago it now makes perfect sense.

The starting area was busy. People everywhere. Lines forming for port-a-potties and bag check. Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, bananas, etc. offered to all of the runners. I found a spot a bit away from the crowd and settled down with a small cup of coffee for the nearly 2 hour wait. The coffee helped warm my hands and it actually tasted great. I finished my bagel. Soon I was chatting with a couple of women next to me. One had done 24 marathons and was training for her second Iron Man triathlon. The other was running her 3rd marathon. The conversation flowed effortlessly until it was time to consider entering the long queue for the toilets. It’s all about timing! I chatted with another woman in line. Whenever I mentioned I was from Massachusetts, the first question was “did you run Boston.” I can’t wait to someday answer yes. Big Sur hosts the Boston to Big Sur challenge for runners who want to do both races. This year the races were about two weeks apart, but in previous years runners had only 5 days rest between Boston and Big Sur.

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By the time I lined up at the start there were less than 10 minutes to go. The sky was clearing and I was treated to my first glimpse of the tranquil surroundings.

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The gun went off and I watched as the first wave started. My group was next. I fell into a comfortable pace heeding all the advice I had read. Don’t go out too fast. Save your energy for the hills. Enjoy the peacefulness of the forest. Soak it all up.

The one thing I was most nervous about was running without music. For many runners this probably sounds absurd, but it is how I have always run. I did do parts of my long training runs without music. I admit that I often don’t even really hear what’s playing, but it helps keep me motivated and the beat keeps my feet moving. Big Sur race instructions state:

Because the safety of all of our participants and volunteers is our first priority, we ask that you leave your headsets at home and instead let the incredible scenery, music we provide on the course, and your fellow runners serve as your motivation and inspiration. 

I read one previous race participant’s blog post who had similar concerns and he wrote that he only put on the music for the long climb to Hurricane Point. I figured I would bring my headphones and do the same. I was instantly entertained by the excited  runners around me. I picked up bits and pieces of conversations in many languages. Then as the crowd thinned out I enjoyed the soothing sounds of nature, bubbling brooks, birds, a distant waterfall maybe. It was beautiful. I just ran. No pressure, no time goal, no urge to do anything more than what I was doing in the moment.

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Around the 10K mark the forest gave way to coast line. My photos do not do the views justice.

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The expansive ocean vistas that sprawled out to my left were stunning. To my right were vast green caverns and cliffs. It was breathtaking and when you didn’t think it could be more beautiful you would crest a hill and be treated to an even more incredible view.

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Don’t forget to look behind was another common piece of advice from previous participants. It is not something you typically do during a race, but it really is a must in the Big Sur marathon. Appreciating the views from behind gives you a unique perspective of the course.

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There was a light playfulness to this race as well. The mile markers were all sponsored and featured funny commentary and photos. They were all different and became one more thing to look forward to as I ran.

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I knew about the long roughly two mile climb to Hurricane Point that begins after mile 10. I saw it laid out ahead long before I reached it.

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The music of the Taiko drummers at the foot of Hurricane Point energized me as I started up the ascent, but once the music was out of earshot I put my headphones on to keep me pumped up for the climb. The weather was ideal on race day. There was a little headwind as I pushed myself up to Hurricane Point. It was a long climb, but when you are looking out at the most beautiful scenery it doesn’t seem quite as difficult.

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I knew that before I even reached the halfway point I would begin to hear the melodic tune of the infamous Bixby Bridge piano player.

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I took off my headphones in preparation. When the bridge came into sight and the sweet strains of the music touched my ears it was magical. I couldn’t see the grand piano or Michael Martinez, the man playing it, but the music and the view moved me to tears. I wasn’t prepared for such a rush of emotions. I felt like I was on top of the world, literally.  In that moment I knew it was a privilege to be a part of this marathon.

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The second half of the course is a true test of strength and endurance as you tackle hill after hill.

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My shins seemed to cry each time I started on a downhill. I stayed at a slow, but steady pace and power walked the steep hills. I paused here and there to snap photos. I stopped at nearly every aid station to refill my handheld and to slather on pain relief cream on my left calf. It seized up during my final long run the week prior and despite tending to it with massage, foam rolling, bio freeze, rest, etc. all week, I felt a twinge of tightening early on in the marathon. The cream helped a lot.

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At the mile 23 aid station a woman asked about the famed strawberries and was told there were none this year. What?!! A collective frustrated sigh could be heard from all the runners who overheard. Fortunately the aid volunteer was mistaken and about a 1/4 mile ahead we were treated to the most delicious, juicy local strawberries. I was in heaven. The strawberries redirected my mind off of the discomfort in my legs and onto the happy party in my mouth. Everyone including myself seemed to perk up.

The hills never seemed to let up and as I stared ahead at the hill jutting from the mile 25 marker I reminded myself that it all I had to do was put one foot in front of another. I was almost there. I could do this. I turned around briefly to remind myself of how far I had come to get to this point, and then I powered up that hill.

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This is not a spectator race. Because of the road closure there is no way for friends and family to cheer the runners along the course so I knew I was very close to the finish when I finally heard the spectators. I saw Orlando and Carlos and the finish line. My eyes teared up again. I remember crossing the finish line of my very first marathon 5 years ago and it has been the same feeling each time…awe, disbelief, pride, and gratefulness. I did it! I completed the Big Sur International Marathon. It was a truly amazing experience and a life changing journey from training to finish.

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Marathon Monday

The third Monday in April is Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts and Maine. The holiday commemorates the April 19, 1775  battle of Lexington and Concord.  Since its inception in 1897, the Boston Marathon has always been held on Patriots’ Day, but it wasn’t until 1969 that Patriots’ Day was moved from April 19th, the actual day of the battle, to the third Monday in April. Now the holiday is now more commonly known as Marathon Monday.

I didn’t grow up amongst runners yet I knew about the Boston Marathon from a young age. I am a Massachusetts native after all. In college I had the opportunity to work setting up barriers along some of the roads towards the end of the marathon. My friend’s aunt and uncle own the company that organizes the finish line and many other components of the race.  I spent race day at the finish line. Despite being the furthest thing from a runner at that time, I found the experience quite incredible. However, at no time during that day did I even once contemplate crossing that or any other marathon finish line. It would be another 11 years or so before I was bit by the running bug and then another 4 years before I would run my first marathon at Disney.

I have never run the Boston Marathon. Since 1970, entrance into Boston has required runners to meet a qualifying time also known as a BQ. For some simply achieving the BQ is a feat in and of itself, and does not necessarily guarantee entry into the race.

Boston Marathon Qualifying Standards
Age Men Women
18–34 3hrs 5min 3 hrs 35min
35–39 3hrs 10min 3 hrs 40min
40–44 3hrs 15min 3 hrs 45min
45–49 3hrs 25min 3 hrs 55min
50–54 3hrs 30min 4 hrs 0min
55–59 3hrs 40min 4 hrs 10min
60–64 3hrs 55min 4 hrs 25min
65–69 4hrs 10min 4 hrs 40min
70–74 4hrs 25min 4 hrs 55min
75–79 4hrs 40min 5 hrs 10min
80+ 4hrs 55min 5 hrs 25min

There are two other points of entry for interested non-qualified runners. The Boston Marathon charity program allows entry to approximately 6,000 runners who have raised a minimum of $5,000. A small percentage of runners are invited to run by sponsors, running clubs, media, or other promoters.

The Boston Marathon inspires me as a runner and a human being. To witness the determination and strength of the varied runners on the course is as notable in the elites as it is in each and every participant in the race. To see the power in the arms of the wheelchair athletes as they literally blow by you is awe inspiring. To watch the determination and resolve of the mobility impaired runners including blind runners and runners with prosthetic limbs reminds me that my challenges are not insurmountable if they can overcome theirs.

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Staff Sgt. Jose Luis Sanchez lost a limb in Afghanistan, runs the Boston Marathon carrying the American flag the entire way

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For me the marathon itself has become the antithesis of the word can’t. I was a self-described non-runner for much of my life. I would proudly declare “I can’t run” as though saying it somehow exempted me from doing it. I said I can’t in relation to many things in my life for a long time. When I am running a marathon and my body starts to say it can’t go any further something else takes over and keeps it going. A long distance run is much more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge. When you shift your thinking it’s amazing what you can tolerate and overcome. Somewhere in the last 10 years I stopped saying I can’t.

I will run Boston one day. Qualifying would be a momentous achievement for me. Right now I am running an average pace far slower than what I would need to qualify in my age bracket, however, running has certainly taught me that I am capable of going far beyond my comfort zone so I am not ruling out a BQ in my lifetime. I will at least shoot for the moon and if I don’t reach it by a certain age then I will do the next best thing and raise money for a very deserving charity.

For now I am honored to cheer for all of the Boston Marathon runners. If their name is written somewhere on them I shout it. I clap and holler. Many bring tears to my eyes. Each one of those runners has a story of how they got to the starting line. Oh how I would love to know them all. This year Carlos and I went with my friend and her daughter. She is originally from Framingham and knew exactly where to go. We set up a few hundred feet before the 10K marker. It was a great spot. We saw each wave from the wheelchairs to the mobility impaired and on to the elite groups, but perhaps the most exciting waves are those that come after the elites, the everyday runners, like myself who dared to dream big. What it must feel like to realize such a dream. I soak it all up as I try to find answers in their faces and expressions. I will be there one day too!

 

It is a sea of runners for nearly two hours.

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They are still full of pep as they near mile 6.2 although this year the temperature was quickly rising towards 80 degrees and some looked affected by the heat already.

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We watched until the fourth and final wave began to thin out. Then we headed home feeling nothing but inspired.

Never again

I listened to a woman on the Half Size Me podcast on my drive to the work meeting on Monday who echoed many of my own thoughts. I thought about her words as I tried to shake off the feeling of failure. My thoughts during the drive were, “I feel fat, I didn’t workout, I ate too much this morning, I sabotaged myself…” This woman weighed over 300 pounds and got down to 160. Over the last few months she gained back 20 pounds and instead of beating herself up she reminds herself that when she was at 300 pounds she would have given anything to weigh 180. I was over 225 pounds when I had my son, 185-195 pounds prior to pregnancy. Despite gaining about 20 pounds myself over the last 3 years, I have never given up trying. I had some success and lots of failure over the last few years, but I continued running and stayed active. I made healthy choices amidst intense, frustrating periods of binge eating and equally poor choices. I sought help, I journaled, I talked to a few trusted people in my life, and I cried…a lot.

As my weight crept up, I was unable to ignore the reality that I would very soon have to buy new clothing if I didn’t do something. I no longer believe in quick fixes or drastic changes. They aren’t sustainable and they are generally not healthy. There is no magic pill and you shouldn’t have to pay exorbitant amounts to lose weight. Five weeks ago everything shifted. It was as if all of the pieces came together at once igniting a spark of change.

The first thing was an app I discovered called Hormone Horoscope. I am not sure if it’s my age and proximity to menopause, but I have become fascinated with how my hormones affect my emotions, food cravings, and weight. I have suspected for a very long time that I am sensitive to hormonal shifts throughout my monthly cycle. This app is helping me to understand more about where my hormone levels are each day and things I might expect to feel on a given day.

The second thing is that my clothing had reached a point of feeling constantly, uncomfortably snug. I refused to buy new clothing. I wasn’t weighing myself regularly, but I didn’t have to. I knew the truth. I was at my highest weight in many years and it simply did not feel right.

The third thing was an invitation to participate in a project my running coach was beginning. She is also a professor of Nutrition. For the last five weeks I have been completing a spread sheet with my workout, pre and post workout fuel, number of hours of sleep, weight, daily calories, grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates as recorded on My Fitness Pal, and notes about the day. My coach then replies. A short while ago daily weigh ins would have thrown my mental state into a tail spin, but I decided to view the number on the scale as data in an attempt to try to understand how my food intake, hormones, and physical activity all work together to change the number for better or worse.

For the first time in three years I began to see a very slow, but steady weight loss. I have no goal weight. I have no end date. This is a journey that will last a lifetime for me. I want to feel amazing, have a healthy body and mind, stay active, and be comfortable in my own skin. In the last 5 weeks I have not had one binge eating episode. I have eaten a healthy amount of calories daily with a variety of real food.

This past week was a test of patience and strength. Last Sunday after an incredibly great 22 mile run I began feeling that old familiar tug in my Achilles. I backed off of running for the week. My hormone levels were plunging. I had bouts of crying for absolutely no reason alone in my office. I wanted to eat salt by the bucket resulting in painfully swollen calves. I gained 9 pounds between Sunday and Thursday! I took a deep breath. Having documented all of this on the spreadsheet, my running coach reached out to me and recommended hot yoga, lots of water, and a hiatus on running until the fluid retention subsided. I immediately took her advice. I did hot yoga for the first time yesterday and today. It was awesome. I have reeled in the salt intake. I am drinking more water. My ankle feels better and my calves are normal size again. I am also down the 9 pounds.

This week taught me so much about myself. I am actually looking forward to next month when I can use the knowledge I learned this week to possibly stave off the fluid retention and dramatic shifts in emotions. I will be keeping a close eye on the calendar so I can be proactive as my estrogen and progesterone begin to fall. I will begin hydrating more. I will use salt free alternatives to satisfy salt cravings. I will include hot yoga in my schedule. I will also rest more, and drink more tea. I believe that awareness is the key for me.

I’m not naive and I know that I will stumble and fall every now and then, but I am so grateful that after 3 years of seriously struggling to get my weight back down and binge eating under control I am finally headed in the right direction. Psychologically that spreadsheet has done more for me than anything. It’s important for me to have someone to be accountable to besides myself. That’s why Weight Watchers worked for me in the past. Knowing that my coach is looking at my data and providing feedback gives me the encouragement to make better choices and stay strong right now. The ultimate goal is to be able to do this on my own consistently. I will get there. Until then I will accept the help and support being offered.

The last piece of the puzzle are four photos that had a tremendous impact on my thought process. For as long as I can remember, back to at least age 10, I have considered myself to be fat. I avoided being in photos and still do to some degree. I cringe almost every time I see a photo of myself. To say that I have poor self-esteem is an understatement.

Recently my mom went through all of the old family photos and she presented me with an envelope of my photos. I was a rather adorable child, but as I got older the photos became more sparse. Of the few from my late teens to early 20s, these two in particular made me feel a range of emotions from very sad to angry.

I believe I am somewhere between 22-24 in both of these photos. Aside from the way I look, heavy and unhealthy, I also felt horrible both physically and emotionally. I was a heavy smoker. I ate whatever I wanted, I did not eat any vegetables, and I was not concerned about portion sizes. Exercise was rare to nonexistent. If you had told me then that I would be in the midst of training for my 8th marathon at age 43 I would have laughed. As much as I hated myself in these photos that sentiment wasn’t lost on the world around me. I was negative and snarky. I was insanely jealous of thin people. I wanted nothing else in the world than to be thin. I was no joy to be around and that made me dislike myself even more.

Twenty years later I would like to think I am a much different person. Becoming a mom changed me in wonderful ways. I no longer hate myself though I am still struggling to love myself. I don’t feel envy towards thin people because my driving force to achieve a healthy weight has much less to do with aesthetics as it does with living a very long and healthy life. I hope the people in my life would say that I am a positive person now. I believe that I try to approach each day with a positive outlook. I’m not exactly snarky anymore, but I may always be a bit sarcastic!

I lost 85 pounds very slowly in the few years after Carlos was born. I changed my body through healthy eating and a new found love of fitness, particularly running.  As I gained back the 20 pounds over the last few years, I saw myself as I always have, FAT. Until recently at the gym when I was doing some weighted squats in front of the mirror, I did something I never do, I snapped a picture of myself.

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A tear rolled down my face as I realized something. I am not fat. That is a picture of a healthy woman working towards fit. Then I happened upon this photo from two years ago at my sister’s wedding. I was maybe a few pounds lighter than I am in this photo, but I remember feeling at the time that I let my sister down by not losing weight before her special day. I was so stressed out about my weight gain at that time. This is what I looked like.

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Right now when I look at this photo I have tears in my eyes because I am reminded that the handsome little boy next to me looked at me that day and said, “you look beautiful mommy.” My son doesn’t know me as anyone other than the person I am now. He does not know the 185 pound Aimee who smoked, ate out of control, and didn’t run. Carlos only knows a mom who loves this life and who is committed to a healthy lifestyle.

I will never again be the person in the first two photos, but I have to acknowledge her today and thank her. She taught me that everyone deserves a second chance. She taught me that it’s never ever too late. She taught me that everyone has the power to change, but it has to come from within.

And now I am ready to run! My ankle feels better, the sun is shining, and I need to get out there for a few miles. I miss it so much and I am ready to end this training on a high note. Last week was not a setback. It was a learning experience and an opportunity for growth.