Category: Racing

Plattsburgh Half Marathon

Last week was downright gloomy; from the tragic events at the Boston Marathon to the strange weather all week. My son was on school vacation and that automatically changes the flow of our lives. I did not work out at all from Monday through Friday. Instead of tracking my food in Spark People like I usually do I resorted to pen and paper and did not bother to count calories. My weight was all over the place thanks to some water retention, lack of attention to my food intake and no exercise.  I had so many other things going on sometimes something has to give and unfortunately it was my diet and exercise. Needless to say by Friday I felt pretty badly about myself. I had a long drive to upstate New York where I was going to visit one of my best friends and also to run a half marathon on Sunday, April 21st. I spent much of the drive listening to podcasts from Heather at Half Size Me. Heather has a very inspiring story as do the people she interviews. It was just what I needed to bounce back and stop the negative self-talk.

I haven’t set too many running or fitness goals this year other than to run a race each month. So far I’m doing great with that goal. I ran one race in January, two in February, one in March and now one in April. I have nothing planned for May so I need to figure that out soon. I have a half marathon planned for the beginning of June. I am contemplating a full marathon sometime in the fall, but I’m not sure which one yet. I really want to do the Chicago Marathon, but darned if it doesn’t always fall on my weekend to work.

Anyway back to my most recent half marathon. I signed up for the Plattsburgh Half Marathon a few months ago. Plattsburgh is located near the Adirondack Mountains on the western shores of Lake Champlain and is not far from the Canadian border. My Peace Corps site mate lives there so I’m happy to find any reason to visit the area. Due to other obligations for my husband and son it was decided that I would go alone on this trip. Much as I would miss my guys I haven’t had much alone time in the last 6.5 years so I relished the thought of spending quality time with my friend.

Since I enjoyed a taper week of absolutely no structured exercise I decided to go for a short run on Saturday morning. It was a sunny day though quite breezy and cool. Midmorning I threw on my running shoes and hit the road. My friend lives in a rather rural area. I ran past quaint barns, a log house and lots of open fields. It was a beautiful run. The first half was a steady downhill with the wind at my back. I ran one of my fastest miles ever. Of course the return was not so easy, all uphill and against the wind! Still it felt great to get out there, stretch my legs and remember why I love running so much.

The weather in Plattsburgh was crazy on Saturday. It went from sunny and breezy to cloudy and really windy to snow by the night time. Yet my weather app was still showing temps in the 30s-40s and sun for Sunday.

The race was on Sunday at 8 a.m. so as I was getting ready that morning I popped on the race’s Facebook page and was thrilled to see the weather update was indeed calling for a sunny, wind free day. I got ready and headed over to the starting area. Normally I take a photo with my son, but since he wasn’t with me I asked someone to take one of me. I don’t save my bibs so this is my remembrance.

Before running the Plattsburgh Half Marathon
Before running the Plattsburgh Half Marathon

I did my best to represent Boston. There were lots of runners on the course with their Boston paraphernalia on as well as spectators. In the minutes before the race began there was a moment of silence dedicated to those that were injured or lost their lives at the Boston Marathon. It was a somber moment. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Truthfully I didn’t think anything would happen that day in Plattsburgh, but it seems like lately nowhere is safe. I was particularly concerned about my friend and her family coming to the finish line. I don’t ever want to feel responsible for putting others into danger. I tried to convince her to stay home.

As always with races I set goals. The ultimate goal is to finish and have fun doing the race. Then there are those personal goals that have to do with time and speed. I’ve been running strong in the last couple of months. My speed has improved and I’ve noticed my endurance growing stronger. I think this is in part due to strength training, stretching and yoga. However, given how I was feeling about myself throughout the week the only personal goal reasonable was to try to beat my last half marathon time even if only by a second.

My last half marathon was the Lake Placid North Elba Half Marathon back in September. I ran it in 2:10:12. I just reread my post on this race and remembered how proud I was of my accomplishment.

I did something a little different at the start of the Plattsburgh Half. Instead of relegating myself to the back of the pack I lined up in the back of the 9 minute mile pace group. The race started and off we went. The beginning of the course had us running on a bike trail along Lake Champlain. The views were gorgeous. We ran through the city and eventually through residential neighborhoods. There were spectators out cheering for us which is always wonderful. I especially loved the children at mile 6 who were handing out water on their front lawn. Running a half or full marathon is a fantastic way to see a new place. In the last few miles of the race we ran over a bridge and through an area with gorgeous old homes and then back down near the lake. The weather could not have been more perfect, sunny, cool, but no wind.

As much as I enjoyed the scenery throughout the race I had a lot going on in my head. Running is my time to sort through things, feelings, emotions, stress, etc. I have a friend who is going through an exceptionally trying battle with cancer. I want to show her that I’m fighting for her. I want to be there as a support. I want her to know that I love her and I know she will beat this. Already I’m in awe of how she is triumphing over this hurdle. She has an infectious positive attitude. Her strength and courage are unmatched by anyone I know. I thought about her the most as I ran this race. For so many years I told myself I couldn’t…couldn’t lose weight, couldn’t excel in any sort of sport, couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t. I was full of negativity and self-degradation. I loathed running for most of my life. The thought of doing it for enjoyment was ridiculous.

Running, ironically, has breathed new life into me. It has become my saving grace when I need to process “life” so to speak. It is my “me time.” It refreshes me, revives me and makes me feel strong. Though I have made peace with the treadmill I seek the freshness of running outdoors. I love the warmth of the sun on my arms and face. I even love the cool crisp air of a winter run. If I don’t run for a few days I actually miss it and crave it. Running has also made me somewhat competitive against myself. When I first started running I was weary of these PRs I heard other runners talk about. Oh great if I improve my time during this race then I have to keep improving it, I thought. That’s a lot of pressure. Yes and it’s also really exciting and motivating.

While running Plattsburgh I pushed myself. My breathing was not easy as it sometimes becomes during a run. It was always just a little bit labored, not uncomfortable, but I was aware that I was working hard. I don’t wear my Garmin to race and there were no time clocks along the route. I really had no idea how I was doing time wise.

I kept thinking about my friend. If she could fight this fight that her body is making her fight then I could push my body too. We are strong, stronger than we give ourselves credit for both in sickness and in health. I was running this race for my friend. Someday she will run with me. Every time I wanted to slow down or back off I thought about how my friend cannot slow down her fight so instead I picked up the pace.

I smiled every step of the way as I ran. I was so proud to be running out of support for Boston and silently out of support for my friend whether she knew it or not. This race supports Team Fox which donates all proceeds to Parkinson’s Research and I was especially proud to be a part of the race for that reason as well. The friend I was visiting has a close relative suffering from Parkinson’s.

As I entered the U.S. Oval of the old air force base  for the last lap of the race I felt a surge of energy fill me and I started running as fast as I could. Then I saw the friend I was visiting. Darn her for coming out despite my pleas not to, but at the same time I was really overjoyed to see her. Then I spotted the time clock which from a distance almost certainly read 2:08. Oh my goodness that was much better than I expected. I started sprinting and as I got closer I realized that the 8 was actually a 3. 2:03?! No way. NO WAY! No that must be wrong. Seriously!

Yes seriously 2:03:52 was my official finish time. I beat my last half marathon time by over 6 minutes. I teared up as the race volunteer placed the medal over my head.

Plattsburgh Half Marathon Finisher
Plattsburgh Half Marathon Finisher

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” -Oprah Winfrey 

The Calm Before the Storm

This photo was taken just minutes before Rita Jeptoo of Kenya crossed the nearby finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. It was a beautiful day today, cool and crisp, but sunny; a perfect day for a long run.

Carlos and I were standing just behind the metal barricades on Exeter Street, a mere stone’s throw from Boylston Street just ahead where you see the line of yellow jacketed people. That is the Lenox Hotel awning to the left. Although we could catch a glimpse of the elite runners as they neared the finish line, we mostly watched on the big screen in the distance. The mood, as always, was exciting. Boston is a buzz with energy on this day each year. Besides the marathon, the Red Sox play a mid-morning game on the same day.

By now you probably know how this day ended. If not visit this link. Thankfully Carlos and I left around 1:15 to return to my sister’s office in South Boston for lunch. We were on our way out of the city at 3 when my sister called to tell me about the explosions at the finish line of the marathon.

I’ve listened to and seen as much coverage as I can bear. My heart breaks for all those affected by this senseless tragedy. I’m so blessed to be home safe with my little boy. My thoughts and prayers go out to Boston.

Road Race

Affectionately know as “the road race,” the Holyoke St. Patrick’s 10K Road Race is a wildly popular race for runners and non-runners alike. Irish runner and Olympic gold medalist, John Treacy, was quoted as saying, “This race came at an ideal time. It’s a great course – a miniature Boston. There were a lot of people out there watching considering the weather. I guess this town goes crazy for St. Patrick’s Day.” Holyoke does indeed go crazy for St. Patrick’s Day. In fact the celebration begins days before with local bars hosting Irish music, restaurants offering corn beef and cabbage, people putting out their chairs early for the famed St. Patrick’s Day parade and four leaf clovers being freshly painted on the streets. 

I’m not Irish and I never really got into the spirit before. Last year I decided to run the road race for the first time and I will tell you it’s pretty hard not to get swept up in the excitement. Now I’m not a beer drinker and I don’t eat meat so wearing green to the road race is about as festive as it gets for me. I’ve run in a number of races at this point and not one comes close to the spectator support as this one. There are people cheering, holding up signs and banners throughout the entire 6.2 miles. People hand out water and Gatorade from their driveways. Some even offer up beer! Most runners wear something green. Some have wild get ups on including the person running in a full Gumby costume, the man in the tutu, a few with kilts, and the two men carrying flags one Irish and one American. The demographics of this race run the gamut from children, people pushing strollers, elderly, middle aged and everything in between, big, small, short and tall. I know people who run once a year and this is it.

I had to work this past weekend, but this race doesn’t begin until 1 p.m. so I was able to rest for a few hours before. Unfortunately I slept right through the kids fun run which Carlos was planning to do because I thought it started at noon instead of 11. He was disappointed for about 5 minutes. I was moving at a snail’s pace because the weather was chilly. I had no desire to stand out in the cold so we ended up making it to the race with 15 minutes to spare. You can read my post from last year detailing the parking situation. It’s insane! We actually parked in the same place which is almost as close as our house is to the race and high tailed it over to the starting area. Carlos and I took our pre-race photo.

Holyoke Road Race 2013
Holyoke Road Race 2013

Yes I’m wearing the same shirt as last year. I bought a new green shirt and when I put it on I didn’t like it. I only own one other green shirt and this is it. I also had green sparkly nail polish on just for fun.

I weaved my way through the crowd of spectators to get to the start. There were so many runners I never made it to the actual starting area. I was off to the side with everyone else who couldn’t make it. It was a bit claustrophobic as we awaited the starting gun. I never actually heard it, but eventually there was movement and we merged into the starting line. Minutes went by before we actually crossed the starting line at a slow walk. From there it was like we were a herd of cattle. You step on people’s feet, bump arms and start and stop constantly. It’s a bit frustrating if you’re there to run. Eventually I hopped onto the sidewalk with others and found a rhythm although it continued to be a lot of on and off the sidewalk.

The weather was perfect running weather, 30s-40s, no wind and overcast. Given the sheer size of this race, nearly 6,000 runners, I had no time goals other than to maybe do better than my time at last year’s race which was 1:01:35. My current 10K PR is 56:10. I ran my heart out like I always do. I felt great throughout the race. This course ends on an slight uphill which makes that final push a little challenging, but I ran as fast as my legs would take me down the last .2 miles toward the finish line. Much to my surprise my clock time was right around my time from last year which meant an even better chip time given the amount of time it took to get to the starting line.

My official finish time was 57:08!! Not a PR, but a totally awesome improvement from last year’s time.

Snowstorm Classic

We woke up to a winter wonderland this morning compliments of Nemo. It was beautiful to see the glistening snow sparkling in the sunlight. However, this is not the snowstorm I’m referring to. I loosely decided I would like to try to run at least one race every month. February’s calendar filled up quickly and I was having trouble finding a race to fit into my schedule. At the last minute I found that a local running group holds a series of races from December through March called the Snowstorm Classics. They alternate between 5Ks and 10Ks. Last Saturday happened to be a 5K which was perfect with my training schedule. I haven’t run a 5K in almost 2 years.

The races are really low key and take place in and around a local park. Registration takes place on race day and it’s only $5. There were 81 racers. A great turnout on a chilly Saturday morning.

I don’t love 5Ks. There I said it. When I go for a long run or run a distance race I have time to find a good pace, get my breathing even and fall into a comfortable rhythm. The 5K distance is short and I don’t pace myself well during a 5K race. I usually start out too fast and lose steam towards the end.

We got started and immediately ran up a hill! Talk about getting your heart pumping. I felt good and was really hoping for a 5K PR. The uphill start prevented me from going out too fast. At the top of the hill the course flattened out. We did a loop and a half around the athletic fields and then headed out of the park. As we turned onto the road in front of the park I neared the man in front of me. I soon passed him and pushed closer to the woman ahead. She was long and lean. It seemed as though she was running a speedier pace than I normally run. I stayed behind her and came close to catching up to her a couple of times.

My legs felt good during the race. I wasn’t sure of my pace, but I felt like I might be running my way to a PR. I had a feeling the finish line was near when we came towards another hill. Fortunately we didn’t have to go up that hill. There was a slight incline as we approached the finish line and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the man I had passed earlier closing in on me. I thought to myself “oh helllll nooo! He’s not going to pass me now!” I started running like I was being chased by a band of zombies. I pulled it out at the end and beat my imaginary competitor. He came up to me and congratulated me on a great race which I thought was very cool. There was no time clock at the finish so I actually had no idea of my race time.

I stayed for a bit, watched and cheered as others came through the finish. I listened as some of the runners discussed their upcoming races, training and for some preparations for the Boston Marathon. I’ve never been involved in a running group, but standing there amongst other runners I did feel as though I was part of a unique club. There is the running lingo – PR, BQ, chip time, splits, Garmin and the like. I smiled to myself as I headed to my car. I still get a charge out of my new life. I run races or go for long runs on Saturday mornings when years before I remember sitting on the sofa all morning watching reruns of 90210 (do not judge!).

Being a small, no frills race I knew it might be a while before my time was posted. My current 5K PR is 28:53 which I have declared is false for a few reasons. I had major stomach drama that morning and I felt sluggish through the entire race. At that time I was not consistently running a sub 10 minute mile for any length of time. This race was definitely a better test of my abilities. Though I knew I ran a strong I was still floored when I saw I ran it in 27:02!!

“Racing teaches us to challenge ourselves. It teaches us to push beyond where we thought we could go. It helps us to find out what we are made of. This is what we do. This is what it’s all about.” 
-PattiSue Plumer, U.S. Olympian

Sawmill River Run

Happy New Year! I decided to leap into 2013 head first by running a race on New Year’s Day. The Sawmill River Run 10K takes place in the small Western Massachusetts town of Montague. The race is sponsored by the Montague Parks & Recreation Department. Montage is a quaint town with a history that dates back to its original settlement in the early 1700s. It maintains its rural charm with many working farms and scenic country roads.

I already mentioned that I was working New Year’s Eve. I don’t usually race after working all night, but since I knew about the race weeks in advance I did prepare accordingly by getting sufficient sleep before work and eating really well the day before and at work. So despite working all night I honestly felt fresh and ready to run. My husband and son came along which always makes me smile. Of course there was the obligatory pre-race photo with Carlos.

Sawmill River Run Pre-Race Photo
Sawmill River Run Pre-Race Photo

One of my 2012 goals was to run a sub-1 hour 10K. I came close with a 10K PR of 1:01:35 last March at the Holyoke St. Patrick’s 10K. I later ran the Shelburne Falls 10K in August and finished in 1:01:53. Considering my 2011 Shelburne Falls 10K race time was 1:04:16 I was really proud of my progress. Although I didn’t quite reach my goal I knew it was only a matter of time. For the past 6 weeks I have been working on my speed. I’ve also incorporated yoga and more strength training into my workout schedule. I have run 6.2 miles on my own a number of times in less than an hour over the last month. I knew going into the race that I was capable of a sub-1 hour PR.

The conditions outside were perfect for a run. It was a balmy 28 degrees, but there was barely a wind. We walked over to the Montague Grange building to pick up my race bib then returned to the car to stay warm. I wore my coat until a few minutes before the race started when I handed it off to Orlando. The race is a small one with only 166 runners so we all lined up fairly quickly and a few minutes after 10 a.m. we began to run.

The course starts on a slight downhill so I managed to fall into a comfortable rhythm early on. I warmed up within the first mile and stuffed my gloves in my pocket.  The course gave way to beautiful stretches of snowy land with rustic barns in the background. The crowd thinned out around me as I secured my spot in the middle of the pack. I felt great. My legs felt light, my breathing was even so I decided to push my pace a bit. I don’t wear my Garmin when I race, but I suspected I was running at a competitive pace to reach my goal.

If you read Runner’s World you may have seen a short article about this race in last month’s issue, particularly mention of the hairpin turn at mile 4 followed by some hill climbing. I recognized the turn from the photo in the article so I was able to give myself a mental pep talk before heading up the first hill. I have Carina to thank for what happened from mile 4 to the finish line. She recently wrote a post about entitled Habits and talks about the tendency to pull back when things start to get uncomfortable. I’m so guilty of slowing my pace when my legs feel a little heavy or when the run becomes difficult. I’ve told myself to just go ahead and walk hills to make it easier.

Carina wrote something that I knew would carry me up the hills in this race. She said, “Running when it’s hard to breathe and my heart is beating like crazy for 5 minutes won’t kill me.” She’s right. I powered myself up those hills, each and every one of them and just when I thought we were done going up there would be another incline. I pushed, I took deep breaths, I kept my sights on the road ahead, and I told myself over and over that the hard work wasn’t going to kill me. I told myself that I worked so hard to reach this goal and I reminded myself of all the 6.2 runs I had done in the weeks prior in under an hour.

Around mile 5.5 the course began its descent to the finish line. Hallelujah! I picked up my pace and hauled butt down the road. I could feel the smile growing larger and larger on my face. I had absolutely no idea of my time. There had been no time clocks on the course. Soon my husband and son came into view. I could see the finish line and I got a surge of energy. Here I am as I near the finish line.

Power legs
Power legs

I felt awesome. It was definitely one of my best races yet, but was it a PR? I didn’t know because there wasn’t even a time clock at the finish line. I waited all day and I have to admit I checked the race website a few times in anticipation, but each time nothing. After dinner an email popped in my inbox announcing the race times were up. I called my husband over. He was confident I made my goal. He was right I did it. I finally ran a sub-1 hour 10K, in fact I did even better than I hoped. My official time was 56:10!

Motivations

I mentioned in this post I am determined to ring in the New Year without any extra weight. What is it about this time of year that allows us to put our health and weight loss goals on hold? Year after year I permit myself to overeat, eat things I don’t normally eat, skip workouts all the while convincing myself that come January 1st something magical will happen to make the sins of the previous month go away. Only the magic never happens, instead I’m left feeling flabby and guilty. Well something has clicked in me over the past couple of years. As I get closer to my weight loss goal I find it more difficult to justify making excuses as to why I should put my goals on hold. Writing this brings to mind all of the excuses I have made in the past. I wish so badly I could return to my teens, my 20s and even my early 30s with the knowledge I have now. I know that this is my journey and this is just how things needed to happen, but oh how I wish I could tell my younger self how wonderful it is to finally be free of the weight. I refuse to let this month or any other time of the year be cause for me to go backwards.

Here are few things that are inspiring me and motivating me this holiday season.

  • Marion, my friend over at Affection for Fitness has announced the January Jeans Club. I recently mentioned that I bought my first pair of size 8 jeans and darn it if I am going to let anything stop me from wearing them come January. I will proudly join Marion and Satu, another favorite blogger, from Body Capable in taking part in the January Jeans Club by eating healthy, committing to exercise and staying focused on my goals despite the abundance of treats this month. Satu designed the badge below for those interested in joining.

january jeans club

  • I set a goal to run a 10K in under 1 hour during 2012. I didn’t meet that goal during a 10K race this year, but I have been running the 10K distance, 6.2 miles, in under an hour consistently for the last two weeks. I even did  6.43 miles in exactly one hour. So to keep my motivation going strong I am now officially registered for the Sawmill River 10K on January 1, 2013!! From the elevation map I have some hills to contend with in the latter half of the race, but I will not let that stop me.
  • This story of Breanna Bond, a 9 year old girl who lost 66 pounds brought tears to my eyes. I wish it didn’t take the child being bullied for something to be done for this little girl, but I’m glad something prompted the change. What really caught my attention was the way her family rallied behind her once the decision was made to get serious about weight loss. In talking about a 4 mile walk the family did daily Breanna’s mom said,“We went at night, in the rain, in the hail, in the fog, nothing.  We had a zero-tolerance policy.  We’re doing the walk, no matter what.” YES!!! I get this now for myself. If I want to lose the weight and keep it off I have to do the work. There are days I really don’t want to work out, but I do it anyway and I have yet to regret one of those workouts.
  • Helen at Doing A 180 has written a series of posts chronicling the 6 hours of black belt testing she endured. There is still one post left, but whether Helen passes or not doesn’t matter because she is already an inspiration in my book. I am simply in awe of what Helen has accomplished thus far in her journey considering the painful injury she has been dealing with this year. If you haven’t already read Helen’s posts please do especially if you are struggling with motivation this time of year. Way to go Helen!!
  • I have mentioned before that having my son was the impetus to finally get healthy. Well he will be 6 next week (sniffle, sniffle) and he still continues to inspire me to try new things. On Saturday we both tried something new.
Carlos rocks!
Carlos rocks!

Look at my little guy rocking that rock climbing wall. He is honestly one of the coolest people I know and I’m so proud to call him my son. He is almost always game for a new activity. His willingness to try new things spurs on my willingness. Together we make a fun team. I don’t have any photos of myself, but I do have a month’s pass to the rock climbing gym starting January 2nd! I loved it. It is challenging, scary and unbelievably addicting all at the same time. The pass will allow me to take the belaying class for free so I can learn to hold the ropes while others climb. I will also have unlimited use of the gym as well as unlimited yoga and Pilates classes for the month. I am so excited!!

What’s motivating you?

Redefine Possible

If you read my last post  then you might be wondering what I decided to do the morning of the marathon. Having never visited Philadelphia and staying about 15 minutes outside of the city I was concerned about finding somewhere to park. The marathon website had some information about road closings and parking options. I found out that the train stop closest to the hotel didn’t begin operating until 8 a.m. – no good. The woman at the hotel desk suggested maybe calling a taxi which would have cost a small fortune. With about 30,000 runners set to descend on the city I didn’t know what to expect the morning of the race so I decided to err on the side of caution. I set my alarm for 3 a.m. and drifted off to sleep.

All too soon I was up, showered (yes I shower before races) and ready to go. I checked out of the hotel and hit the road Philly bound. I was armed with 3 sets of directions to various parking lots just in case. There were few cars on the road so I made it into the city in no time. After a couple of missed turns I finally found one of the parking lots. The woman at the gate welcomed me with her raspy good morning as she blew cigarette smoke in the cold air. She said I could park all day as long as I had exactly $8 because she had no change. For someone who never carries cash I had thought ahead and lo and behold I had $9 in cash in my wallet. I paid up and pulled into a parking spot.

Soon other cars began to follow suit. We all stayed in our cars to keep warm. I ate my pre-race bagel, banana and peanut butter while listening to comedy on Sirius radio. Around 5:20 I decided to walk over to the starting area to find a port-a-potty. A perk of getting to the race early is still unused port-a-potties. Thanks to the flashlight app on my iPhone I did not have to pee in the dark.

I walked to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where many runners were stretching and warming up. I climbed the famed “Rocky Steps” and took in the early morning view from the top. Sadly I have no photos as it was still too dusky to capture the scenery. I found a secluded spot to do some stretching and tried to channel my own inner Rocky. I told myself to just enjoy the day, do my best and smile along the way.

Around 6:30 I called home to say good morning to Orlando and Carlos. Wow I missed them so much. Carlos is a bit (understatement of the year) of a mama’s boy. He was happy and sad to talk to me. He told me to hurry up and get home because he missed me too much. Orlando wished me good luck. I hung up and walked around the starting area in search of my corral. I was in the orange corral, second to last corral to start. I found a spot and waited.   I listened to lots of stories around me. There were a few first time marathoners and two women who were supposed to run the NYC marathon a couple of weeks ago before the destruction of Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the marathon. Philadelphia opened up a lottery to welcome 3000 runners registered to run the NYC marathon. All throughout the race it was great to see the outpouring of support for those runners most of whom were wearing their orange ING race shirts making them easy to spot.

At 7 a.m. the race began…for some. It took nearly 30 minutes before I crossed the starting line. We moved in slow motion it seemed. The sheer volume of runners was massive. As we left the starting chute the road swelled from side to side with people trying to run. It was difficult to get any sort of momentum because of the crowd. Eventually I was able to get into my groove. As always the supporters along the course especially in the beginning and at the end make me smile from ear to ear. I get such a kick out of the signs along the way. Here are a few that I remember and enjoyed:

“WTF, Worst Parade Ever”

“You’re a better running mate than Sarah Palin.”

“If you were Paul Ryan you’d be done by now.” (somewhere not too far from the beginning)

The miles began ticking by and I was feeling great. The weather was perfect. I was comfortable in my pace. I knew I was holding around a 10 minute mile. Suddenly I saw the 4:30 pacer not too far in front of me. I know the pacers are out there, but I’d never actually seen them. I managed to catch up to the runner holding the balloons with the 4:30 sign which meant he would finish the marathon in exactly that time, 4 hours and 30 minutes. Hmmm I thought if I stay ahead of him I might actually beat Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 from her one and only marathon the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994. It’s all in good fun to try to beat celebrity times. I’ve already surpassed Katie Holmes, Al Gore and Kate Gosselin (of John & Kate Plus 8).

At mile 13 we bid the half marathoners adieu as they turned to the right to finish their race. The marathoners veered to the left and enjoyed a bit more open space on the road. Let’s do it all over again I thought as we headed into mile 14. I couldn’t believe how great I felt though. I think one of the best parts about doing a new race in a new place is that the course is a total surprise. I never get bored because I’m not sure what’s coming up. We passed Penn and Drexel universities. We ran past the Philadelphia Zoo and down Landsdowne Drive, through the Manayunk District and alongside the Schuylkill River. There were historical landmarks, a park, a bridge, shops, cafes and skyscrapers.

Somewhere around mile 17 my legs began to ache. I stopped for a Clif Shot and water. I walked through the hydration station and as I started up again I saw the 4:30 pacer ahead. Damn it! I stayed at a steady pace waiting for my legs to ease up in hopes that I could manage a fast spurt to catch up to the pacer once again. It never happened. He was gone, lost in the crowd and out of my view. OK I thought move on and keep moving.

From mile 18-26 the name of my game was just keep running no matter how fast or how slow. And just like that my marathon went from the best race of my life to a mental challenge. Oh how those last miles dragged on by, each one seemed longer than the last. Finally I was at mile 24. I kept telling myself to run and if a hill came I could walk it. I’m not sure why I thought there would be a hill ahead, but there wasn’t. No hill appeared so I kept running…slowly. My legs were sore and my feet hurt. Despite the pain never once did I contemplate quitting. Then in the distance waved the Mile 25 flag. I smiled knowing it would be over soon. As I passed the mile marker my pace kicked up a notch.

For the previous 6 miles or so fan support was thin but I could hear the crowds cheering as I got closer to mile 26. As I rounded the bend and the Museum of Art came into my view along with the last mile marker I felt a force surge through my body. My legs started to move like I was running my very first mile. The emotions welled up and I fought back the tears as I sprinted the last half of a mile to the finish line. I was by myself. People cheered for me by name reading it off my race bib as I passed by. I crossed the finish line and blinked back the tears as I wrapped the foil blanket around my shoulders. When the medal was placed over my head I could no longer hold back and I cried tears of joy, disbelief and awe.

As I walked through the crowd I was overwhelmed by the way I felt. I didn’t even know my time yet. It didn’t really matter because I knew I did exactly what I had set out to do…run MY best race.

In 2012 I have:

  • Run 2 full marathons
  • Run 2 half marathons
  • Run 2 – 10Ks
  • Successfully lost 12 pounds and counting (more on this soon I promise)
  • Spent 3 days roaming around Atlantis in the Bahamas in nothing but my bathing suit (a skirt tankini mind you but can I get a holla for improved body image!)
  • Applied and was accepted into Graduate School
  • Attended a Zumbathon
  • Took ice skating lessons
  • Hiked
  • Traveled to new places

The Philadelphia Marathon’s slogan Redefine Possible couldn’t be more fitting to describe my year and what this race meant to me. However, I almost think redefine impossible would be more applicable. In this year alone I have truly redefined what I always believed was impossible for me.

Philadelphia Marathon Finish

My official time for the Philadelphia Marathon was 4:38:52. This is almost 10 minutes better than my Disney Marathon time of 4:48:19.

I set running goals this year such as running a 10K in under and hour and for fun to beat Oprah’s marathon time. I haven’t accomplished either goal yet, but you better believe I will.

Thanks for reading this crazy long post. Now go redefine your possible!

Comfort Care

Thank you so much for the kind comments and emails about my grandmother. She is being cared for by both the nursing home and hospice nurses. The goal is to keep her comfortable and pain free. It’s never easy to see a loved one as they near the end of life. As a nurse I have gone through this process with a number of patients, but never a loved one. In my nearly 40 years I am so blessed to have so much of my family and friends still with me.

Question #2 on the Massachusetts ballot next Tuesday is the Death with Dignity Initiative which essentially would allow for a terminally ill patient to receive a prescription for a lethal medication. Of all 3 ballot questions this is the most difficult for me. On the surface I believe that everyone has the right to die with dignity, but in delving deeper into the proposal I came away with many questions and what if scenarios; namely what if the diagnosis was incorrect. Another grave concern is the potential misuse by someone other than the patient of such a prescription.

I think more important than offering lethal drugs to people medical education for both doctors and nurses should include more instruction on comfort care for patients nearing the end of life. One of the most frustrating things I have witnessed with my grandmother over recent days is the reluctance to give her more pain medication. She has been in a lot of pain. Even this morning when I went to visit, the first thing she told me was that she was hurting. She is on a morphine drip as of yesterday. Thankfully the hospice nurse was aware of her pain and was working on an order to increase the dose.  As a granddaughter I have sat dutifully by her side as much as possible holding her hand, rubbing her back and helping her change her position in bed. As a nurse I have sat quietly cringing at the lack of attention paid to my grandmother’s pain relief. Nurses comment that she just had something an hour ago or are nowhere to be found. About a week ago a doctor commented that “we don’t want her taking too much pain medication.” Why, I thought, if it makes her feel more comfortable then why not?

Noni is a tough cookie. She is still somewhat alert and aware of who we are when we are in her presence. I wish I could take her home and sit with her all day. It breaks my heart to be away from her, but we are all doing the absolute best we can to manage our lives minimally while we spend as much of the time we have left with Noni.

The one thing that has brought her more joy than anything else in the past 6 years has been her only great grandchild. Carlos and Noni were two peas in a pod. They sang together, colored, played and hugged. I’m beyond proud of my little guy. He has been incredible with Noni. Many children would be frightened or uncomfortable in a nursing home. Carlos has quickly won his way into the good graces of both residents and staff at the nursing home. He has pushed Noni in the wheelchair, covered her with blankets and even fed her. He holds her hand and hugs and kisses her. He understands as much as he should for his age. I am honest, but I keep it at his level.

I don’t want to close on a sad note. Noni is 86 years old and has lived a long and wonderful life. So I will end with some fun facts about my grandmother.

  • her parents were originally from Italy
  • when Noni’s father came through Ellis Island they changed his last name from Fusco to Fento
  • her father lived until the age of 92
  • she is the only surviving child of her parents 5 children
  • Noni supported herself and two daughters by working as a hairdresser in their home and then later got a job at a local hospital to provide for her retirement. It’s no secret where my work ethic comes from.
  • When I was a teen ager I told Noni I was going to see a concert with Ratt and Poison. She just shook her head and laughed. She then told her friends and coworkers that I was off to go see “Rat Poison.”
  • Noni always made homemade sauce, tortellini and ravioli, needless to say neither Ragu nor Chef Boyardee were welcome in our cabinets!
  • Noni never took time off from work except for the 2 weeks every September to make fried dough at the well known fall fair in our area, otherwise known as The Big E.
  • She drove until about 2 years ago. Her car was a huge white Chevy aka The White Shadow.
  • When she was in her 70s Noni took a part-time job at a nearby elementary school as a lunch room attendant. She worked at the job until she was 84. She adored the children and they loved her. They all called her Grandma.

To me she will always be Noni. Thanks for letting me share.

I do have a marathon training update in the works as well as post marathon fitness plans. I want to wish Jacky over at Jax House  lots of good luck as she gets ready to run the NY Marathon on Sunday. Word this morning was that it is definitely on despite the destruction from hurricane Sandy. I am super excited for her.

 

 

Summer Races: Lake Placid/North Elba Half Marathon

Maybe if someone had told me that I could combine travel and running I would have began running much sooner. I had mentioned back in the spring that I would be running a half marathon at the end of September in Lisbon, Portugal. I was so psyched to run an international race. We planned to combine the experience with a week of travel in Portugal. Unfortunately we discovered that my husband would need to go through a lengthy process to secure a visa. He is a permanent resident of the U.S. and we have never run into a situation where he required different travel documents. We also found the flights to be offered at extremely inconvenient times resulting in the loss of 1-2 full days due to travel. The flights were very expensive and seemed to increase in price every time we checked on them. For a couple of hundred dollars more we could fly to Mozambique to visit my in-laws.

After much deliberation we decided to forego the trip, rationalizing that it was not practical nor financially feasible for only a week away. We were both really disappointed, but the shorter trip we have planned in early October is undoubtedly going to be a huge hit with Carlos. We are pretty excited about it too, but more on that in a couple of weeks.

Since I wasn’t going to be running the half in Lisbon I began looking around for another September half marathon to include in my marathon training plan. I found one in a place I’ve never been and always wanted to visit. Another bonus was being able to coordinate a visit to see my friend and former Peace Corps site mate, her husband and their adorable baby boy. Without hesitation I registered for the 42nd Annual Lake Placid/North Elba Half Marathon on Saturday, September 8th.

We headed up to Lake Placid late in the afternoon the day before the race. By the time we got to the town it was dark. I arrived with just enough time to grab my race packet. We continued on to our hotel, the beautiful, rustic White Face Lodge. Upon arrival we were told we were being upgraded to a Deluxe One Bedroom Suite and it was gorgeous. The bedroom was on the second floor. There were two fire places, a balcony, full kitchen, and a bath and a half. We want to live there.

Yup I’m that person who takes pictures of bathrooms
The bed was so comfortable and the room very cozy
The Whiteface Lodge

The morning of the half marathon I was planning to have my usual banana and peanut butter toast. The breakfast buffet was included with our room. Everything looked and smelled amazing, but lo and behold no bananas, no peanut butter and no toast. Well there were bagels and I probably could have asked for peanut butter. Since I was already short on time I broke rule #1 of running a race. I abandoned my running rituals and did something different on race day. I ate a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and nuts (gasp!). Oh and I also wore a new shirt which I love by the way, but race day is not the time or place to be trying out new running apparel.

A little blurry, but we got the pre-race photo!

The race began at the Olympic Speed Skating Oval. Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Pre-race I had some time to walk around the oval and read about the olympians who skated there. If standing on the same ground Olympians once stood on isn’t inspiring I don’t know what is.

This was a small race with only 192 participants. We set off promptly and ran up Main Street through the center of Lake Placid before circling Mirror Lake. The weather was absolutely perfect for running, high 60s and overcast. The course was revised this year and followed a different route from past years. We ran past the Olympic Ski Jumps. Orlando and Carlos toured the ski jumps while I was running. From just before the ski jumps the course followed an out and back course. It was beautiful with the colorful autumn leaves, surrounding mountains and a rambling river.

As the ski jumps came into view on the turn around the wind picked up in our direction. It was forceful and felt as though an entire football team was trying to keep me back. It slowed me down some, but I kept pushing through. About a quarter of a mile before the end we had to climb a pretty big hill. I knew it was coming because we had already run down it miles before. I conquered the hill as quickly as possible but that basically amounted to a really fast walk.

The race ended at the North Elba Horseshow Grounds. As I rounded the corner into the parking area on the grounds I could see the people cheering. This race was not a spectator race, but not unlike the finish area of most races this one was lined with cheering spectators as well. Having people clap and cheer as you run by never gets old! I spotted the time clock ahead. Up until this point I had absolutely no idea of my time.

Recently Marion from Affection for Fitness wrote about fitness magic. Did you know that chickens could fly? I didn’t. Marion asks if you ever felt like a chicken who couldn’t fly. I think I have been feeling that way most of my life especially when it comes to fitness.  I was never inactive per say. I’ve always been a hard worker, but I wasn’t ACTIVE. I am the girl who almost failed gym because I wouldn’t participate. I remember going for walks with my college roommate with the intent of exercising, but we smoked the entire way. I have joined countless gyms in my life. I have tried various activities to incorporate exercise into my life and most have lasted oh about 3 days.

Running is what finally gave me my wings and during this particular race I felt my fitness magic. Perhaps it was the Olympic spirit present in the air, but when I crossed that finish line in 2:10:12, a full 4 minutes 35 seconds faster than my last half marathon, I felt like I was flying for the first time in my life.

So like Marion asked in her post have you found your fitness magic? If not would you like to?

Summer Races: Shelburne Falls

Most road races are like books to me. Just as I rarely re-read a book even if I love it I tend to only run a race once and then I’m done. This was my third running of the Bridge of Flowers 10K. It is a fairly local race for me held in the quaint northwestern town of Shelburne Falls, MA in the Deerfield River valley along the Mohawk Trail.

The Bridge of Flowers

The race began in 1979 and has been run each year since along the same route with a few adjustments here and there. The course offers scenic charm, a steep uphill challenge, a fast back half and lots of cheering support.

This is a rough sketch of the course. It’s more of a double loop course than a flat line. Trust me when I say that Crittenden Hill should be renamed Crittenden Small Mountain!

I first ran this race in August 2010. It was my first 10K and I completed the race in 1:07:36. With nothing to compare it to I was quite pleased. Last year I was training for the Disney Marathon and incorporated the Bridge of Flowers 10K into my training plan. My goal for the race was simply to finish a second or two under my 2010 time. In rereading my blog post (check out the photo of me near the finish) about the race I will say that I was very modest about my results. I ran the 2011 race in 1:04:16. That’s a fantastic improvement over the year before if I do say so myself.

Back in January after the Disney Marathon I set forth a new running goal in this post. Why the emphasis on speed and time you ask? Turns out I really thrive on having fitness goals. However, I do not wallow in defeat if I am unable to achieve my ideal goal. It’s fun and gives me something to work for. I try to make my goals realistic and attainable. It’s a personal challenge since the only one I’m competing against is myself. I also take into consideration that all race courses are not equal to my training runs. With all that said I have a few general guidelines when I run a race:

  1. Have fun!
  2. Run the best you can
  3. Smile and say thank you to volunteers at the water tables

I do not wear my Garmin when I race because as much I want to accomplish my goals it is more important to enjoy what I’m doing. If I finish with a good time even better.

This was the first year my husband would not be accompanying me. With very little arm twisting my college roommate, Colleen, graciously agreed to come up from Boston for the weekend to cheer me on while watching Carlos during the race. She has run the Boston Marathon twice once with a team during which she qualified to run the race on her own. She ran the second time in under 3:40. In recent years she has suffered with terrible knee injuries and has been unable to run long distances. She’s an inspiration to me and one of my dearest friends.

Me, Colleen & Carlos on the Bridge of Flowers

OK enough already you’re probably saying, get on with it. The day before the race it down poured nearly all day. I was a bit concerned when I woke up to grey overcast skies. Luckily the skies held back and the weather was perfect for racing. I lined up on the bridge without the slightest hint of nerves; made me feel like a real veteran of this race. Soon we set off across the bridge to the cheers of hundreds of supporters. Carlos and Colleen were there to see me off.

The obligatory pre-race photo

I know the course well. The hill was in front of me before I knew it and I tried to keep running, but it feels like you are running up a wall. I began to walk as fast as possible. There were supporters along the way up shouting words of encouragement. I picked markers every now and then and ran from one point to the next. By the time I reached the water station near the top I was certain the hill had grown over the past year. I quickly drank a cup of water and then sped downward as quickly and safely as I could.

The back half of the course begins on a tree lined shaded dirt road. It empties the runners out onto a main road which remains open to cars though there are cones to indicate the lane for runners. We wind our way back down toward the back side of the bridge which we cross yet again to enter the chute to the finish line.

My training for this race was incorporated into my marathon training plan. That was halted in early July thanks to a sore hamstring followed by a strained Achilles. I listened carefully to my body and held off on running until about a week and a half before this race. It was a very frustrating time. In place of running I did strength training, stretching and some swimming.

Despite the training setbacks I felt great during the race. I was comfortable with my pace and had no discomfort at all. I put no pressure on myself to set a PR and I certainly didn’t hold myself to my original goal of running this particular 10K in under an hour. I was just so thrilled to be running my favorite race pain free.

Someday I will run a 10K in under an hour, someday I will run this race in under and hour, but on this day I did not, but that was just fine. As the time clock came into sight I was overjoyed by what I saw and much to my delight I did set a PR with a finish time of 1:01:53. Hot damn!!

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 

–William Faulkner