Tuesday, November 22, 2016

6 Months Later

Not my typical post. But this is my blog, so I decide what "typical" is.

It has been 6 months since my sister died. 6 months since I sat in the early morning hours trying to make sense of what had just happened. And here I sit, again in the early morning hours, drinking way too much coffee, still turning the pieces around in my mind, looking for a way to make it all fit together. And it just doesn't fit. And it never will.

So I ran this morning. Like I did that morning. Except today I ran strong, not in crying fits and starts. Because sometimes that's all you can do. You keep putting one foot in front of the other. Despite the hurt. Because of the hurt. And it feels better. And it doesn't feel better. But you keep moving forward anyway because she can't. Peace comes and then it goes. So I run again.

It occurred to me this morning, on this morning 6 months to the day that I took that first run without her, that I will never stop running.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

2016 Marine Corps Marathon

I hardly know where to start. Way back in March I added my name to the list to be among the people hoping that our name would be selected to be able to register for the Marine Corps Marathon. I didn't have to wait long...

I was shocked and excited. Thrilled at the prospect of traveling to our nation's capital for what would be my biggest birthday race ever. There's so much to say... I'll give a more formal review and then gush at the end about my personal experience.
Travel to: Without a doubt, the majority of us are traveling into DC for this race. I flew into Reagan and it was a little eerie at first... not many people at all and very fast in and out of the airport. So easy, in fact, that I was convinced that I was in the wrong place.

The Expo: This was one of the best organized expos that I've been to. Everyone walked fight into the bib pick-up area, then right around to the shirt (a sweet long-sleeved, fleece-lined one) and packet pick-up. Staff was helpful and friendly. And Marines were everywhere, politely wishing everyone luck and posing for pictures. The expo has tons of vendors selling everything from nutrition and hydration to clothing to fancy gadgets and products that make life on the run a little more enjoyable.

Given the amount of people traveling to and from the area, parking and navigating in and out of the expo (shuttles were recommended, but we drove in and parked in a garage) wasn't too bad. The expo was quite crowded, which made me increasingly anxious and claustrophobic, so my friend and I didn't stay too long.

The Start: I made use of the "Kiss and Run" drop off area. The area was easily accessible, but I was dropped off about 2 hours before the race start. I had plenty of time for the long walk to security, stopping to use the port-a-potty. Security was good and pretty quick. And suddenly, I was there. Runners seemed to be everywhere. There was the VIP tent, an informational tent, and a tent where prayer services were held. Plenty of port-a-potties were available.

I sat in one of the prayer services where a chaplain gave some inspiring words. He told us the hard work was done-- all those hours of early morning miles. He told us it was time to experience the joy of the race. And so I headed to the Starting Line inspired.

The Course: Simply amazing. From the National Anthem and the fly over to the run by Arlington National Cemetery, it was clear from the beginning that this was not just any marathon. This would be a time of reflection and celebration of all the people who have given their lives in service to our country.

We ran through Georgetown, along a beautiful river and across a bridge. We ran along the Potomac, where we experienced the Blue Mile-- a mile full of photos of soldiers who lost their lives in active duty. We continued past the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington Monument, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the US Capitol and the Pentagon.

There was so much history, so many people lining the course and cheering us on. And so many clever, encouraging signs ("If Trump can run, so can you!"). The course concludes at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial with Marines at the end offering high fives and a race medal.

The Conclusion: Coming from super flat South Florida, the beginning of the race felt hilly to me. I made the decision to run without MapMyRun to conserve my iPhone battery. And I hadn't packed my watch. Throughout the entire race, I had no idea how fast or slow I might be going. Marines were on the course at major mile points, calling out times. But the with marathon brain fog clouding my already math-challenged mind, they might as well have been speaking Pig Latin.

I ran by feel and it worked. Instead of focusing on splits and pace per miles, I took it all in. My fellow runners, the beauty of the changing leaves, the monuments... every moment. I looked for my friend, Barbara, who inspired me to begin this running career in the first place. She promised to find me, while on sidelines cheering for her husband. I found her, or rather, she found me, and I stopped long enough for a tight hug, which boosted my spirits and kept me moving ahead towards two other friends who were along the course as well.

Around mile 18, my biggest cheerleader, Cindy, sent me a text of encouragement:

And I did continue to run strong. By the time I reached the finish line, I had set a new PR of nearly 7 minutes: 4:23:29.

The Secrets: I had logged more miles for this marathons than the others. I missed only 2 short runs, subbing in a bike ride instead. I didn't really do any hill work, opting instead for overall distance. During the race I held tight to my fueling plan-- I didn't fall for the free orange slices, gels, sport beans or animal crackers. I fueled only how I had trained, and it kept my blood sugar steady and predictable. At around the half marathon point, I drank water and walked quickly through every other aid station. I stopped for 2 hugs from my friends and 2 selfies in front of monuments. I really took time to feel the joy of this race.

I'm not sure if I'll ever do the Marine Corps Marathon again, not because I didn't have an amazing time, but because it was so very special. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

World's Toughest Mudder Revisited

It was just a year ago that I was boarding a plane, on my way to World's Toughest Mudder 2015 in Las Vegas. Although I knew what to expect (24 hours of a Tough Mudder couse-- outrageous obstacles, including a 30-ish foot cliff jump and cold dessert temperatures), I was completely stepping into the unknown. 

I absolutely love pushing my own limits, but I'm not that person who's earned triple Trifectas or races every weekend. This was the most extreme race I've done... this would be the first time I left the comforts of my home to travel to an event. Nervous? No. I was pretty terrified. 

You can read the saga of the event here. Today I'm going to tell you what I learned and what I'd do differently:
1. Pit Crew. Choose them wisely and work with them on a plan that you all agree to before the race. Last year I was on a team of 4. We each had one spouse to be in our pit crew. I love my husband dearly, but he and I both knew it was in the best interest of our marriage for him NOT to be there the entire 24 hours. He stayed for the first lap and returned for the final lap or two. He was there to help set up and breakdown. And he was there via text to update me on my sons' football conference championship game and the Rhonda Rousey fight. 

As for the Pit Crew Wives (I was on a team with 3 men), they were phenomenal! We had only met prior to WTM weekend via FaceTime and shared plans via Google docs. They were attentive to my needs and told me what to do when I got cold and my brain failed.

2. THE Plan. "If you fail to plan, then you're planning to fail"-- no words are more applicable to WTM than these. Except maybe, "Oh, CRAP" (or some similar phrase). You have to have a plan going in. And more importantly, you have to stick to that plan. Especially when you have some brilliant thought that means changing your strategy in the middle of the night during WTM. I had planned to put on my wetsuit after the first non-obstacle lap. Our team was divided on this idea. Then I did the first lap, felt warm and was confident in my change in strategy-- I could definitely do one obstacle lap before putting on the wetsuit. Then halfway through the second lap, the sun went down and with it, the temperatures. My teeth began chattering, hands began shaking, fingers going numb. By the time I finished the lap, I didn't recognize my Pit Crew waiting with hot broth at the pit entrance. I regretted not putting on the wetsuit. We were all shaking and shaken up. The second lap wasn't supposed to end like this. We thought our only choice to stay in the race was to actually sit out of the race through the night and begin again in the morning. Another plan deviation. Another regret.

The original plan that I believe would have been successful:
-Put the wetsuit on before the sun goes down.
-Do not sit down in the Pit.
-Do not stay more than 15 minutes in the Pit.
-Follow the scheduled nutrition plan.

3. Nutrition and Hydration. Know what your body likes to eat and drink during long bouts of training. Do not blindly follow the advice of others, no matter how great the product they're using is. A 24 hour Tough Mudder is definitely NOT the time to try anything new. Having said not to try anything new or the recommendations of others, I'll tell you what worked for me: "real" food. Not loads of simple sugars or carbs. Not fancy electrolyte sports drinks. Not the Pop-Tarts, cookies, Twizzlers or M&M's that my team brought.

My choice of fuel:
-Cocoa almonds
-Campbell's Thick 'n Chunky sirloin burger soup
-chicken noodle soup (in the microwavable container for ease of heating)
-Justin's honey almond butter packets

My drink of choice:

4. Gear. (Maybe in order of importance):
-Vaseline (Worked just fine for me-- I've never had a problem with blisters).
-Neoprene gloves, booties, and a hood (All of these things were new to me.
-They proved to be invaluable and absolutely necessary.)
-Wind breaker (Mine has a hood. Do not wear one with a hood or you will be forever awkwardly reaching behind your head to try to empty out the water.)
-Multiple pairs of socks (compression, non-compression, knee-high and mid-calf).
-Extra pair of trail shoes and a pair of running shoes (Again, I went with my typical shoes-- Saucony, opting not to try the recommended Hoka's or other brands).
-Extra clothes (tights-- compression and not, compression shorts, long and short sleeve compression shirts)-- basically, I brought anything I thought I could possibly want or need.
-First Aid stuff-- Bandaids, KT tape, Neosporin, etc.

5. Mental Game. Enjoy the experience. You've spent hours and hours of training for this. Talk to people around you. If you fail an obstacle, do the penalty and move on. Failing once doesn't mean you'll fail it twice, or five times. I failed the Gut Buster every time except for the last, and as tired as I was, I celebrated like I'd just won the million bucks. Keep moving. Focus only on the the moment you're in. Don't do the mental math of how many more hours. Don't wonder IF. Just keep moving. Smile often. Help your fellow competitors. And be sure to treat yourself well when you're finished.

P.S. Run YOUR race. I had friends telling me I HAD to do the cliff jump. That I'd regret it if I went all the way out there and didn't do the cliff jump. Blah, blah, blah. You know what? I DID NOT do the cliff jump. And I DO NOT regret it for one second. I did the stupid King of Swingers. I was terrified of that height. And I did it. And I'm proud of it.