Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Maybe it’s just me?

Last night, while I was half-heartedly enjoying my green tea, I finished Bart Yasso’s book “My Life on the Run”.  It was late and I was exhausted so it took a little while to push through the last few pages, but I was successful in closing the book for the last time. 

It was a cool thing to read recounts of past events from someone who grew up in the Lehigh Valley.  Bart mentioned places that I’ve been and races I’ve participated in.  I felt like we had a connection.  He often mentioned the camaraderie among runners…we’re like a breed of people.  We stick together.  Really? 

I started running regularly back in September of 2008.  So many reasons pushed me to buy my first ‘real’ pair of running sneakers.  Maybe it was because I had already registered for the Emmaus Halloween Parade 5K.  I was overwhelmed with nervousness and excitement that day.  In one breath I couldn’t wait to start and in another I was wishing that it was already over. 

I didn’t have a running partner or even a friend that had signed up for the race.  Gus dropped me off at the starting line and he’d meet me at the finish.  I didn’t know what to expect from the people and the race itself.  To add insult to injury I was dressed as a bumble bee…well, it was a Halloween parade race! 

I wasn’t really forced to make eye contact with too many people and since it was dark out I couldn’t really see anyone anyway.  I happened to bump into a woman who had taken a few of my yoga classes.  We chatted for a few and that was it.  No one else said hello or tried to strike up a conversation with me.  Everyone appeared to be in their own little worlds. 

Now, I had heard of this running social circle or supposed ‘camaraderie’ that I mentioned above.  Perhaps I wasn’t seeing it because I was a bundle of nerves. 

Perhaps it was something else.

Not too many people would hit the road in late fall through winter around my regular routes, so I didn’t have the opportunity to throw up a friendly wave or nod, but I was almost craving the moment.  The next big race I would run was the Super Bowl 10K.  I was again nervous because I had never run that far before AND again, I still didn’t have a running partner and I didn’t know of any people who signed up to race. 

At the starting line people were in their own little worlds; some drinking coffee, others stretching by themselves; some were hanging around with their families, others with their friends.  A few of us were loaners…just walking back and forth waiting for the start of the race.  No one said hello or even tried to strike up a conversation. 

At a few points during the race I actually tried to lighten up the mood by breaking the ice with some people keeping pace with me (or me with them).  “Whew, this hill sucks!”  Yeah, no response.  Nada, nothing.  Hell, I thought it was funny. 

So I finish that race.  No new friends.

Insert a few more races with the same experiences.  Nothing.

The weather, as always, started to turn in mid-April and I ran the Lehigh Parkway a few times.  This was an entirely different experience.  For the most part I exchanged a greeting or some friendly gesture with every person that I encountered.  There were even a few people who would make a little small talk and then go on their merry way.  It was a refreshing change to what I had experienced; however, I wasn’t satisfied.  A lot of seasoned runners hit the Parkway and I’m convinced that the people I saw there were some of the same people I saw at the starting lines of those mentioned races.  WHY CAN’T THE ATTITUDE CARRY ON TO THE RACE?  Maybe they’re as nervous as I?  Maybe not talking, or being stoned faced is their way of focusing?  Who knows?

May 3rd was the LV 1/2 Marathon.  For the most part I wasn’t paying attention to anyone around me because I was focused on myself.  I was worried about everything…was I dressed appropriately?  did I have enough to eat?  did I eat too much?  what if I have to pee?  will I finish?  To boot, there were thousands of people. 

I made small talk with someone in the port-a-potty line and actually found an old friend on the other side of that line.  We chatted for a few minutes and then parted ways.  I took my place at the start and just hung out waiting for the race to start.  So many people surrounded me, but other rude people were still trying to squeeze in.  It got very tight that I bumped into the guy next to me.  I apologized and he accepted with a nervous smile.  I came to find out, through conversation (!), that this was his first 1/2 and he was anxious to get going. 

Bart Yasso’s stories were/are inspiring.  He’s done so much in his life and has met so many interesting people.  He owes it all to running; it’s a common bond among that group and it’s a strong bond.  So, if runners are a strong group and there’s this camaraderie I keep mentioning why…why was there a runner sidelined in the Parkway, during the 1/2 marathon, with a knee injury?v Why were people running past her, not even looking in her direction?  Why was I, a ‘newbie’ to this group, the only one who stopped to see if she was okay?  Why?

People afraid to stop?  Focusing on that PR?  Disgusting.

So, today, during my 5 mile run in the Outer Banks I asked myself these questions. 

Maybe there are a lot of nervous people out there…maybe I have been surrounded by newbies at each race and they’re wondering why I’m so stuck up.  Maybe people did ask that woman if she was okay, but those people weren’t any where in my little pack of 15.  Maybe I just need to be a little more positive.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fajita Indigestion

On vacation in the Outer Banks this week…we arrived Saturday afternoon after about a nine hour drive.  Ava was just wonderful.  Gus, being the always prepared Eagle Scout, packed a variety of toys to keep her occupied and I, being the prepared mom, packed a few different types of snacks to keep her stomach occupied. 

We left at about 6:30 am and by 8-ish I started to feed Ava some vanilla yogurt while she shoveled puffed cereal into her mouth between spoonfuls.  I over packed that particular snack bag with cereal, ya know, just to be on the safe side.  I rolled down the edges of the bag and left it with Ava as I hopped back over to my seat in the front. 

Every so often I heard a crunch.  I would turn around each time to see that little girl munching on cereal with a smile on her face as she gazed out the window.  It appeared as if that bag was never ending.  There was a constant supply of cereal!

Not too long after we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel we made a stop at Wendy’s.  Now, we’ve eaten at this Wendy’s before…it’s dirty, the service sucks and there’s always something messed up with my order.  Guess what?  It’s still the same.  Come to think of it…EVERY Wendy’s I’ve eaten at has been the same…dirty, crappy service and wrong orders.  I guess they’re consistent, right?

I opened Ava’s car door and noticed a small pile of cereal in between her legs.  As I picked her up, Gus was laughing from the other side of the car; there was a considerable amount of cereal stuck to the back of her pants.  I brushed her off and brought her around to the other side of the car so I could change her diaper.  I took off her pants and found another handful or so of cereal up one of the legs.  Amazing…AND there was still cereal left in the bag!

We’ve been having a good time since our arrival.  It’s challenging to keep Ava occupied and amused in foreign territory.  Putting her down for naps and bed time is tough.  I know that I’m not completely comfortable sleeping in a strange place. 

So, as I sit in an empty dining room, smelling the dishwasher detergent and burping up the fajitas we had for dinner I think about everything that we’ve done already and what we have planned for tomorrow. 

I take a breath and decide I’m just going to make some tea and enjoy that.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In the Moment

We all, at multiple times in our lives, marvel at the speed with which time flies.  We also remark to others about this speed:

“Enjoy every moment.”

“It sure goes fast.”

“I remember that as if it was yesterday.”

So, we look back at those situations and take the advice of others and try to enjoy each moment.  But, we’re distracted and always looking towards something in the future.  Now, as that ‘something’ is happening perhaps we’re enjoying that moment, but we could also be looking towards something else. 

A large group of friends and my immediate family (Gus and Ava) are heading to the Outer Banks this Saturday.  We all need a vacation and some time away from the every day.  For the most part we are all looking forward to this vacation.  It wasn’t until early this morning that I focused on the present and put aside my thoughts on this Saturday. 

Around 3:30 am I got out of bed and hit the bathroom; haven’t done that since I was pregnant, but as the saying goes, shit happens.  Just as I snuggled back into bed Ava started screaming out of the silence and I rushed to her room.  Perhaps her teeth were bothering her, or something startled her…regardless of what it was I couldn’t calm her down with the usual back rub.  Against all the recommendations of any baby book I picked her up and sat in the rocking chair.  Ava was nestled close on my chest and I gently rocked the chair back and forth. 

I became a little frustrated that it was now close to 4 am, I should have been sleeping and waking at 5:30 am to hit the road running.  Within minutes I was disappointed in my thinking.  I instantly fell in love with that moment.  I won’t always be able to comfort my child, snug in my arms.  She won’t always want me to comfort her.  And most certainly I won’t always know when she’s crying for help.  Instead of feeling sad about what the future would or would not bring I was so happy that I had this personal moment with Ava.  I wanted time to stop…or just go a little slower. 

I actually felt liberated to be in the moment.  

Eventually Ava returned to her crib and I to my bed.  I did wake up early to go running and went about my day.  I picked up Ava after work and headed home.  While on I-78 I was again overcome with ‘the moment’.  I glanced back at my little girl and saw her smile as the breeze blew threw her hair and over her bare, wiggling toes.  She was living in the moment and so was I. 

Maybe I have a greater awareness, maybe I drink too much green tea.  Regardless of my change in focus it’s a good thing and I hope it can be maintained.

Monday, May 18, 2009

In a fog

Over the weekend a friend named John came over to till my garden.  Gus and I decided on doubling the size based on all the plants that I started from seed.  His view point was that the larger the garden the less grass he’d be responsible to cut.  I was grateful for John’s help and so excited to get started on the season.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and while Ava was napping I got in the dirt and planted everything I could.  Any time I walked past a window I couldn’t help but sneak a peek at my garden.

Before I knew it Monday slapped me in the face.  I slept in, no running today, and make a pretty kick ass pot of coffee.  Seriously, folks…it’s some type of European blend.  It was blacker than potting soil!  I thought that this cup of joe would kick-start my day, but I was sorely mistaken.  My attempt to get the little girl out the door proved to be a taxing task…I ran out and back into the house three times.  I forgot her bed sheet, then I realized that I didn’t have ‘work appropriate’ shoes on.  Then something else forced me back inside.  Ugh.  It took me about 10 minutes to leave the garage. 

Not too long after getting to work I was inundated with phone calls from various peers sharing the news, as it happened, of the people who were leaving the department against their preferences.  From that point forward, if I hadn’t already lost focus on the day, my focus was completely gone.  I trudged through the rest of the morning, motivated only by the fact that I am going away next week and I have a lot of tasks to get in order.  I decided to hit the gym over lunch to relieve some nervous energy and refocus my mind.

The objective sounded easily attainable, but it proved to be out of reach.  I don’t remember walking over to the gym, nor do I  even remember getting changed.  I wasn’t prepared to run, so I hopped on an elliptical.  My MP3 player blasted tunes in my ears, but I don’t remember hearing anything; there were large screen tv’s in front of my line of sight, but I can’t tell you what I watched.  I was in a complete fog; absolutely affected by the events of the morning. 

I think that I broke a sweat and I think that I did enough stretching, but it didn’t rejuvenate me as I had hoped.  I shuffled to the local pizza shop to pick up my salad and headed back to my cube.

The rest of the day was a blur.  Before I knew it the clock said 4 and I was wrapping up for the day.  I was craving a drink, but I don’t have the stomach for alcohol anymore, so that was out of the question.   I blasted some music on my way to pick up Ava, but I didn’t even hear the words.

Maybe tomorrow will be a different day…perhaps I’ll regain my focus.  I’ll hit the road in the morning for a few miles of a run.  Hopefully that will clear my head.

It’s going to be cold tomorrow morning…I’ll have to break out the gloves and hat.  Did I mention that there’s a frost advisory for tonight?  I had to cover all my newly planted fruits and vegetables; I hope they survive the night.  They’re probably confused, too…in a fog.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Conquering the Half

I woke up early Sunday morning anticipating the upcoming 1/2 marathon start time of 8:10 am. I was up probably around 5:30 am...wanted to choke down some food and get myself in order.

The night before I had gathered most of my race essentials and laid them out on the kitchen table. I was planning to run with my MP3 player and I wanted to create a 'special' play list, so I didn't have to fuss with it during the actual race. I have a new MP3 player and it uses Rhapsody, so I installed the software on my crazy slow and old laptop...for the love of Nancy I couldn't get all the songs I wanted in the play list, so I went to bed pretty pissed off at everything.

Back to Sunday morning...I was up and full of nervous energy. I barely ate anything, but finished my huge mug of white tea w/ tangerine. DELICIOUS! I had to refrain from drinking too much...didn't want to literally run to every bathroom stop!

I packed my Target reusable bag with the 'essentials' and left the house 15 minutes earlier that I had planned...nervous energy. I put in a Motley Crue CD and blasted it all the way to the high school. It was so loud that at one point in my drive I was in 2nd gear going 40 mph...didn't even hear the engine screaming.

Being by myself was a bit of a stresser. I hate looking lost and clueless, so I pretended I knew exactly where I was going and started walking from my parking spot to the mob of people at the high school. Thankfully, I ran into one of the clinical administrators at the hospital and we both walked to the school talking the entire way. I was slowly expending that nervous energy.

We parted ways and I again felt helpless. PEOPLE WERE EVERYWHERE...spilling out of the high school, lined up the street waiting for a port-a-potty, and others just wandering aimlessly through the streets. I finally got some information about the bag check, but that was located in the stadium (where the finish line was), past my car. So, instead, I walked back down the hill to my car and finished preparing myself there. At the time it was in the mid-50's and overcast. I was okay in my short sleeved shirt and running skort. I put my hat on to shield me from the anticipated rain and headed back up the hill to the starting line. With 30 minutes to go I decided to join the port-a-potty wait line. It was a little gross that there was NO hand sanitizer in the john or anywhere around the john. Crap, something I didn't prepare for!

The half marathoners were separated into three groups, designated by colors, based on their estimated finish time. In addition to these corrals, there were also pace groups. I had signed up for the 2:30 pace group. Yes, that's 2 hours and 30 minutes. I found my blue corral and just waited...and waited...and waited with the 2:10 pace group. Finally, at 8:10 am sharp we were told to take our marks and not long after that the mass of thousands of people started to move forward down Linden Street...just like cattle running down the ranch. When I hit the top of the hill in front of the high school I could see all the people moving like a giant wave. What an amazing sight!

I was pumped up listening to the runners pound their soles on the pavement, while the surrounding spectators shouted and rang their cowbells ("gotta have more cowbell)! I focused on pacing myself down Linden Street towards Ott. I didn't want to race out of the gate and bonk too early in the game; I needed to focus on a steady, consistent pace that would carry me to the finish line.

At mile 1 we were just heading through Cedar Beach when a few sprinkles bounced off the brim of my hat. No worries, though, I had the hat and I had experience running in the rain. We crossed over Hamilton Street and headed up Yocco's Drive onto St. Elmo Street. There are some beautiful houses on St. Elmo so I was able to check 'em out better on foot than from my car. The sprinkles had graduated to a steady shower and I was suddenly feeling constricted by my hat. Not too soon after, the hat came off and it felt as if my head could breathe.

About 1/4 of the way into mile 2 we hit Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. It's practically a straight shoot so I was able to get into a steady rhythm. Somewhere at the end of the road was a turn around because not too long after I hit mile 3 I saw the 'headliners' running back. Before I knew it, there were masses of people running on both sides of the street...some heading east and some heading west. My attention immediately shifted to finding people that I knew heading west. I yelled at some people and they yelled back at me. It definitely pumped me up and it took my mind off of running.

After the water station was the turn around and then I hit mile 5. My left knee suddenly felt like it was going to explode. After mentally assessing the situation for about five minutes, I discovered that it wasn't my joint, but the muscle behind my knee. It was SO tight, but I kept on moving. I was excited to hit the parkway and run on some gravel to give my legs a bit of a break.

About 1/4 left of mile 6 and we hit the parkway. It was just beautiful. I turned off my MP3 player (which rocked me) and let the headphones rest around my neck. I listed to the sound of the runners hitting the trail, the steady shower of rain in the creek, coupled with the bubbling of the creek. The birds were chirping all around us and the rain was just pouring off my face. It was a picturesque moment...a time of reflection and meditation. Aside from all the sounds around me, it was oddly quiet. Because there were no spectators on the trail the 'hype' of the race died down, a lot, and it was as if I was on a solo run...with a lot of other people. After a while I felt like quitting; the parkway was such a mental obstacle...it was steeper than the highest hill, the biggest mountain. At that point I reigned my thoughts back in and reflected upon the reasons behind my running the race. I had something to prove to myself, but that something is still unknown.
There were other factors that pushed me to this day:
Family who have since left this Earth
Friends and family who have survived cancer and other terminal diseases/conditions
Jahna Foland, a young, beautiful and strong 26 year old woman, who lost her battle with cancer just last month
My Gus
My Ava

Well, no matter...I made it. About 1/4 left of mile 8 and I rounded a corner (still in the parkway) filled with spectators and I proceeded to run through the covered bridge. I've run through that bridge before and expected the uneven wooden boards, but I have no doubt that some poor unsuspecting runner tripped.  Just before the end of the covered bridge there were three string players playing the most beautiful music. It reverberated through the bridge and filled my heart; my entire body relaxed and I was able to continue on. Aside from the drummers who kicked us off at the start of the race, the strings were the best musical act along the route.

Mile 10 was monumental for me. It was double-digits and the race was almost over. I HAD to get out of the parkway and about 3/4 of a mile I was outta there. As I was nearing the end of the parkway I noticed that the 2:30 pace group was just coming up on my heels and eventually, they passed me. I needed to get a little more pumped up, so I put the headphones back on and cranked up the music. How interesting that a Motley Crue song was the next selection. Just wonderful. It gave me an extra kick and I picked up my pace a little...just a little. :) Once again people were on the streets cheering us on...I got a little insane and started yelling at the volunteers stationed at one of the road blocks. I wanted more noise, more yelling, more encouragement. On volunteer, caught off guard by my peppy nature this late in the race, got excited, started jumping up and down and cheering me on.  "You're almost there!"

Just before hitting mile 12 I came down the hill off of St. Elmo Street and could see the stadium...I could HEAR the drummers and I could HEAR the cowbells, air horns and crowd screaming...cheering. I started to get a little emotional. I wanted to see my family at the finish line. I just wanted to hug Gus and kiss Ava. I wanted to see their faces shining with pride as I crossed that finish line. That's all I wanted. But, I had to get through this last bit of road. I ran down Yocco Drive, which was a challenge. Not because of the terrain or my screaming knee, but because I could smell the french fry fryers and the hot dogs coming from Yocco's. I was HUNGRY. What a tease. I then crossed over Hamilton and hit mile 12 as I headed back into Cedar Beach.

God bless those spectators standing in the rain...shouting at people they didn't even know. Showing support and getting me to move my legs. Since I could no longer see into the stadium the sounds were a little muffled so it sounded farther away.  It was a little discouraging, but I knew the end was close. As I rounded the corner between the tennis and the basketball courts there was a woman holding up a "PEDICURES" sign with an arrow pointing to the finish. It put a smile on my face and encouraged me to keep going. It also reminded me that I had three stones in each shoe from running the the parkway and that I was going to be nursing a huge blister on the inside of my right foot.

Right before hitting mile 13 there was this crappy little hill that I had to run up to get back to Linden Street. It was uneven, cracked pavement which narrowed at the top and curved a little to the right. It was a potential bottleneck and a definite pitfall, but I made it. The spectators were lined up on the left side of Linden all the way to the stadium. The drummers that sent us on our way at the start were awaiting our arrival to the stadium with rhythmic beats. And again, another crappy little hill to run up and I would be on the stadium track. At this point I was scanning the crowd for my family. I hit the track and start running the loop. It was so neat to run in the stadium with all these people cheering. There was loud music playing...I believe that I heard 'Celebrate' by Kool and the Gang. I HATE that song, but I didn't care. I was celebrating!

I rounded the corner on the track and about 10 seconds later I saw Karen, Marcus and Ava. I started to cry...it was a wonderful moment. They were proud and so was I. I crossed that finish line at 2:31:06, with my pace group. I grabbed my medal, the foil wrap (to stay warm) and immediately sought out my cheering section.
Gus and Ava were walking towards me and I towards them. I immediately embraced them both and started sobbing. I was in so much pain, but felt like a million bucks. As I pulled away, Gus looked down at his shirt and said, "You run a 1/2 marathon in the rain and you wear mascara?!" There was a huge mascara smudge on his shirt. :) Of course I'm not going to leave home without a little mascara! Karen and I hugged...she said that she was so proud of me. And that I was nuts!
We took a few photos and headed to the car.

Walking, breathing, sitting...pretty much anything has been a bit of a challenge since yesterday, but it was worth it. I think of the people who aren't fortunate enough to move like I do or breathe like I do and it all seems so much easier. I'm nursing my left knee and trying to be gentle with the inside of my right foot. .
No matter what I'm faced with, I wouldn't change anything for the world.
And I'm definitely going to do it again.

This week I'll rest and allow my body to recover.
Next week...it's up at dawn to hit the pavement again.