Thursday, July 8, 2010

There is NO Wall

Dan and I continued past the Fish Hatchery back on Keystone with Jeff leading the way. The hype we encountered through the Parkway died down and we were alone, without any fans. I finally reached a point where I had never been before: Mile 14. Instead of celebrating this small victory I was cursing the side of Keystone that’s a gradual incline to Country Club Road. I continued to talk to myself while everyone moved on in silence. Was I hitting this so called wall already? I just had to slow down and walk up a small stretch of road. Immediately, I apologized to my team mates; I felt defeated. After receiving some positive words from the guys I picked up my feet and jogged up the remainder of the hill until it leveled out at a stop sign.

Before heading onto Country Club towards Riverbend we took the long way through two developments, one with some extravagant homes. Coming up on the right was a gorgeous stone home surrounded by sky high trees. I recalled the time when this house was being built. Mom and I wished of living there; we spoke of it every time we drove to the South Mall. Ahhh, Mom…it would be a few miles until I made it to her house. If I actually make it.

Navigating Country Club became a challenge. Multiple cars, traveling in both directions, needed to maneuver the road to accommodate the three of us. This was then complicated by two bikers and an eventual caddy crossing the street to get to the other side of the golf course (insert joke here) We hit Riverbend, made a right and traveled on the windy road towards Cedar Crest. Yes! A light. This could mean a brief stop. Thank God for traffic!

“Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red.” I, aloud, said this about ten times. I needed to take a short break to bend over and try to touch my toes. I needed a quick hamstring stretch. In so many respects God was watching and the light turned green…then red. We stopped. Jeff, who maintained the role of traffic blocker, looked both ways and waved me on. After all, there were no cars on Cedar Crest.

“No, Jeff. We need to wait until the light turns Green,” I said with a smirk on my face. Without asking any questions, Jeff complied and we waited. The light changed soon enough and we crossed over Cedar Crest towards my parents’ development. About half way down the road, I noticed my brother’s ruby red Subaru barreling towards me. He was coming back from the gym, I guessed. I’d see him at the house. If I actually make it.

My feet shuffled through the bend in the road and I saw my hydration team jumping up and down, waving their arms, holding signs and ringing that cowbell. I finally reached another station. My empties were already pulled from my belt. I handed them to someone, not sure who anymore, and requested nothing but water. I was sick of that sweet Gatorade taste; I needed water. Dan stayed with the group while Gus didn’t mess a step. We jogged uphill (ugh) towards the first stop sign.

I make it a point to not look down when I’m running. I try to maintain good form, which includes an elongated, relaxed upper body, although, the writing on the street was a distraction. I had to look down. The path to the stop sign was marked up with some motivational sayings including, ‘2 Legit 2 Quit.’ Thinking of MC Hammer pants almost made me smile, but I was too serious on the outside to even crack my stoned face. We rounded the corner and pressed on for my parents’ house.

Marcus. Gus. GG. Whatever you call him, he’s my love. And he’s always felt this way…from the beginning. This day was a reaffirmation of our love. He again asked how I was really doing and if I needed anything. I just needed him next to me. I needed him to tell me that I could do this. I needed him to carry me, emotionally. He did all those things. The rest of the roads to hydration station #7, my childhood home, gave my legs a bit of a rest with their gentle decline. I felt a sense of relief as I made a left onto Brookhaven Drive East. From the top of the hill I could see my brother’s car parked in the driveway. With each trot the house became more visible. I noticed Gus’ car further up the driveway; Ava was running in the yard and Mom stood on the front patio. My vibrant purple shirt caught their eye and in a flash I saw my mom place her hand proudly on her new hip, anchor her arm straight into the sky and, with authority, sound the air horn.

“HHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNNNNKKKKKKKK,” went the air horn around 10:00 am. There’s something about the sound of an air horn that pumps me up while making me giggle. Mom must have sounded the horn five times before I reached the driveway. She stood here proudly, with a smile on her face, and offered me a cup of water. I politely declined, gave her a high five and a kiss on the cheek before I galloped through the sprinkler to the road. I kept my feet moving and crouched down to high five Ava. She cried after realizing that I didn’t stop. “Mommy,” she screamed. I placed my hand over my heart as I felt a faint ache. One day she’ll understand. Dad ran backwards up the road with a camera in hand, trying to capture the perfect picture of me and Gus. Oh, hell, I said, I’ll just stop for the photo. Yes, rest. Dad snapped the picture and off we went again. Unlike most developments, my parents live in a no outlet ‘hood; the way in is the way out. My route took a minor detour loop towards my parents’ house and back out again. While mapping out the 26.2 mile madness I purposely added this loop for two reasons: 1). I had to squeeze in as much road as I possibly could to total my final distance, 2). Mom’s recent hip surgery would leave her unable to participate in any of the hydration stations. If she couldn’t come to me, we’d bring the race to her.

Gus sprinted back to the entrance to ensure the filling of my bottles and grab me another gel pack. After picking up Dan, again, and Dawn, yes, again, Jeff led the team to the right, back onto Riverbend. I was close to approaching mile 20 where I planned to hook up with a fellow co-worker, Jim. I’ve known Jim on a work level for about five years. I always figured Jim younger than me, but it took a long, hard look at his license for me to be convinced that he was about ten years my senior. Just recently, our relationship has grown to include discussions about running. He was the first person to tell me I could run a marathon, so it was fitting to ask him to join me for the last six miles. THE LAST SIX MILES. Sure, it’s only a 10K, but as research proves, most people hit ‘the wall’ at mile 20. Jim would be my anchor; if I actually make it.

I couldn’t have planned it more perfectly; We bumped into Jim around mile 20. He had rounded a corner and appeared almost angelic with his white tank top as his long stride floated him across the street. We all exchanged pleasantries as I introduced Jim to the crew. He immediately fell into step with me and asked how I was doing. I knew I asked for the right person to be by my side. Aside from the blisters developing on my feet, the aching in my ankles and the tightness in my hamstrings I felt pretty good. Jim remarked on how good I looked for being at mile 20. He could have been full of shit, but it worked. For a little while. I needed to walk soon after that, but to save my pride, I picked up my feet and shuffled on.

We were approaching the light at Brookside road. “Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red. Please turn green then red.” I, aloud, said this about ten times…AGAIN. After a quick quadriceps stretch the light turned green and we took off towards the next hydration station, East Texas Park. Gus and I stumbled upon this park a few weeks prior and I wrote it into the route for Ava. I let the group know that the park was coming up on our right. Jim asked if there would be people here and I just smiled. Once again, we were met by a group of encouraging friends. I gathered my empties, passed them off for refills and ran a loop in the parking lot.

I lost my form again, by focusing on the art work on the pavement. “The day will come when I can no longer do this…Today is NOT that day.” Seeing these words, in color, brought a little tear to my eye. Two days prior I emailed Jim his route and expressed my anxiety over this race. He responded with faith in my ability and left me with two mantras. This was one of them. I looked back at Jim to see his face as he read those words. Pure joy; he was touched. Back to reality. I grabbed my bottles and stopped moving to regroup mentally (my feet thanked me). You’re almost there, everyone said. I turned to Jim and let him know that I would be crying some where along the way. He focused on me, with a stern look in his eye and said, ‘There is no crying.’

With that, we pushed off out of the parking lot towards the next intersection, just me and Jim. Thankfully, the next stretch of road was all downhill. We talked about plans for future races, ultra marathons (50+ miles) and training plans. He told me that this solo marathon, with this route, was comparable to Boston in his mind. Again, he could have been full of shit, but it worked. He reminded me that I would be part of an elite group when I finished, if I actually made it. Jim inquired about my marathon training. I smirked, let out a sigh and proceeded to tell him that I hadn’t really trained. My last long run was a half marathon at the end of April. At that moment, Jim realized that I exemplified the Madness of Muffin. He kept talking to keep me in the game until we made it to the Stoned Crab parking lot. After a quick stop we picked up Dawn and Dan, God Bless them, without skipping a step.

The rest of the route faded from my memory. I remember the actual roads and the turns, but the details are gone. They weren’t important anymore; they weren’t worth saving. My mental and physical drive focused on running home. Gus joined us for the last leg down Minesite, a road I run often. The steady decline is a fast shoot to Riverbend, my street. I ran in the middle of the lane to save my ankles from the sloping sides. The caravan of cars carrying my hydration team flew by from the last stop with their horns blaring. I ripped off my fuel belt and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ as I handed it to Jim. I unhooked my personal item belt and threw it at Gus while we rounded the corner onto Riverbend. Goddamn. Another hill. As if I had fresh legs, I started to kick and leave my team behind. Jim shouted, “finish strong,” while I focused on the finish line. I heard the cowbell and distant screams traveling down the street from my driveway. Cars passed me (including a Swanson Ice Cream Truck) while slowing down to see what was going on. People had parked on my lawn to clear the path for me, balloons were tied to the mailbox and there were little muffins attached to stakes in the ground lining the driveway. I ran up to the driveway, over the ‘Almost There’ writing, pointed to my daughter and ran through the paper finish line. I reflexively stopped my watch and began to rip off my shoes. A foot cramp left me paralyzed, but Gus helped me over to the grass. The socks came off just as I collapsed onto the ground. Ava ran over to me, laid on my chest and gave me a kiss. “I love you, Mommy.”

At the end of the day:

  • I actually made it in 5:03:24.
  • I loved seeing everyone along the way.
  • Dan and Dawn ran way more than I ever imagined.
  • I motivated people to get their asses in gear. I have the responsibility to be a role model for my family & friends.
  • We ran through a total of four sprinklers and got hosed down by a large woman in a stretched out tube top.
  • Jeff drank apple juice. :)
  • Dan and I finally held hands.
  • I spouted off approximately 300 expletives just during the last 6 miles.
  • During the race I ate 3 gel packets, 1 packet of electrolyte/carb jelly beans, 1 serving of shot blocks and 1 piece of gum; I drank 32 oz. of Lemon Lime Gatorade and 48 oz. of water.
  • After the race I ate 3 hot dogs, 1 cheese burger, 2 large handfuls of ruffled potato chips, 1 cup of macaroni salad, 1/2 cup of potato salad, 1 piece of cake and a lot of Doritos.
  • My pre-race weight was 125; my post-race weight was 125 (this proves my science of hydration worked).
  • I burned over 2200 calories.
  • I gained 11 blisters on my feet, semi-permanent sport bra marks and a whole lot of respect for myself.
  • It took me three days to get my legs back.
  • I have one hell of a group of friends that support me…no matter how crazy the idea.
  • I will do this again…and I plan to shave an hour off my time.
  • I plan on hitting the pavement this weekend.kissing ava

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Today Is NOT That Day

July 3, 2010

I was awake before the alarm. The birds woke me up. Or maybe it was nerves.

I sprung out of bed to initiate my pre-race ritual of a warm shower, green tea with honey, some carbs and yoga. For once during the past two weeks time seemed to slow down. I focused on my breathing while sipping my too sweet tea and reviewing my check list for the day. Some team members were planning on arriving around 6:30, so I rolled out my yoga mat at 6 and continued to unwind with some Sun Salutations. This helped center me and also stretch my hamstrings. My poor hamstrings.

With the blink of an eye I was putting on my sneakers as people started pouring into my driveway. Gus tried to manage the parking situation while I wrapped the fuel belt around my waist. Already three people I didn’t expect to participate happened to be standing in my driveway: 1). Steve, my crazy neighbor, handed me $10 towards the Lance Armstrong Foundation and asked when we’d be hitting the road. 2). Chris, a former co-worker a few years back, walked up to me and hugged me so tight. He had dropped about 80 lbs. with the help of some regular running. I knew he would help me on my way. 3). Finally, Bruce…oh, crazy Bruce. He shows up with a GPS device that will be used to track my every move. Ahhh, Bruce.

Dan was also present. He wasn’t a surprise, but his determination later in the morning was surprising.

Jeff strapped on his back pack and helmet as I walked to the edge of the driveway. After some short good-byes and a hug from my supportive husband I started my watch and took off up the road. I wouldn’t be seeing my team until the Fish Hatchery about 7 miles into the race. Boy, did the miles fly.

We were engaged in conversation for the majority of the leg. Tour de France, movies, cars, houses, work, chi running, losing weight, past races and this marathon. Maybe I should have saved my energy and kept my mouth shut, but the group naturally lent itself to verbal communication. Since Steve had a previous engagement we left him behind at mile 5 and pressed on towards the Fish Hatchery. We descended down Devonshire and made a left onto Keystone. Keystone is a gorgeous, narrow road that hugs the Little Lehigh. My body temperature dropped as soon as I hit the shaded section of road and heard the rolling water. I reflexively grabbed one of four water bottles and took a swig. We rounded another corner and encountered two groups of teen-agers, clearly members of a cross country team. I giggled as they sprinted past me.

The final curve in the road put me in a direct shot of the Fish Hatchery Parking lot. I saw a group of people holding signs and screaming for me; someone was ringing a cowbell. This crowd directed all their attention to me while I chugged on toward them. As I got closer I could read the ‘Go Mommy’ and ‘Go Muffin’ signs being held by my Ava and team. I greeted everyone without stopping, passed my phone off to Bruce (thankful to ditch the extra weight) and handed some empty bottles off for refill. I continued through the Fish Hatchery and planned to loop around. Just before hitting the loop I noticed a gentleman sitting on a bench. He was slightly slouched with his legs crossed and appeared to be waiting for someone. Turns out that I was that someone. Rick was waiting for me. I exclaimed, “Holy Shit'”, but please note that I didn’t stop running. We jogged back to the parking lot, both with smiles on our faces. I left him behind and picked up two runners.

Gus, Dan and I left the lot and hit the trail towards the Indian Museum. The next stop was the covered bridge in the Parkway. Gus checked in with me to make sure I had everything I needed to make it to the following stop. We ran together with pride. We crossed the bridge to avoid one of the most ridiculous hills and maintained a steady pace towards the covered bridge. Gus stopped to get ready for the next station while Dawn took his place next to me and Dan.

That Saturday morning proved to be a beautiful day in the Parkway. This was evident by the volume of walkers, runners, bikers and fishermen. At certain spots through that leg we had to navigate groups of people. I noticed some familiar faces like Molly, a former network employee who I’ve become friendly with thanks to local races. I yelled “Hola Senora” as I passed my high school Spanish teacher. We, too, have become friendly at local races. Like the first leg, this stretch flew by. There’s a short, but steep hill just before the public restrooms going towards Martin Luther that I coached the team through. We joked about that hill being a literal ass burner. As we approached the third hydration station I gathered my empties and requested another gel packet. Gus, as always, delivered, Dawn stopped and Dan, expected to stop at that point, felt the urge to continue.

With Jeff leading the way on bike we headed back towards the covered bridge via the trail on the opposite side of the Little Lehigh. Although it was getting warmer, the volume of people seemed to double. Oddly enough there were quite a few young ladies jogging on the course which seemed to be strategically placed by some force looking to knock Dan off his stride. Dan immediately refocused and continued on.

I ran this route numerous times; I knew what to expect. I knew there were a few gradual inclines coming up, but I was prepared for them. Dan took the lead on the first hill, but I took it easy; I didn’t want to burn out before reaching the second. In true Chivalry fashion, Dan let me go first and glided through the second elevation. What a relief to get to the top. Just as we were coming down the hill I noticed a handsome gentleman leaning against a tree looking for trouble. A smile came across my face as I recognized that man for my husband. He was ready to run with me again. I gathered up my empties before seeing the group again equipped with signs and noise makers. Another stop full of surprises: my brother and Gus’ sister and brother-in-law.

I was half way there…well, almost.

Jeff moved on and I picked up Dawn again, lost Gus and maintained Dan. Another gradual incline took us to the opposite side of the avoided ridiculous hill. After about 13 miles of running this sharp decline was torture on my legs. I believe that I came close to a trot down that path. I hit the ground hard and moved forward towards the Indian Museum. Just like that I was done with the Parkway and onto the second half of my journey.

The Day Will Come When I Can No Longer Do This…

Some of you know this story; some of you do not. Let me take a few to get everyone up to speed.

I have spent most of my living years driving people mad:
Parents, siblings, teachers, students, boyfriends (who soon became ex-boyfriends), strangers, enemies, neighbors, the list goes on and on...
I extend a special mention to my husband and to my friends/family, who have embraced the madness they have come to know as Muffin.
Please don't think that I am unscathed in this whirlwind of Muffin. I have driven myself mad. I like to believe that this madness has formed me to be the near-perfect individual I am. (insert laugh track here) Those close to me know my extreme passion for just about anything: I'm passionate about teaching, my job (no matter how much it's killing me), cooking, maintaining a messy car, blotting the oil off my pizza, my family...this list continues, as well.
About two years ago I started running for the sake of getting the near 60 lbs of baby fat off my body. This was as much of a motivator as the $110 I spent on shoes! Since this time I've lost the weight, and then some, ran numerous 5K's, 10K's, three half marathons, gone through three pairs of shoes and raised close to $1,000 for a charity dear to my heart. I've run two races in costume, got beat by a pair of bananas in one race and passed a lone banana in another. I love the adrenaline rush at the starting line; love the satisfaction of crossing the finish line. A few people ask if I'll ever run a marathon - a question that makes me cringe.
For two Biggest Loser seasons I have watched contestants run a marathon. Some of the losers go home vowing to run a half marathon...or a marathon...some of them actually accomplish this vow. Well, I've just about had it. It burns me up that I have been fairly regular with my running...through snow, rain, hills, whatever...and I haven't run a marathon. And anyway, if I was going to run a marathon it would be something prestigious like Boston or NYC. One small problem with that: I need a qualifying time or an invitation, or a blah, blah, blah...
Gus, being the silent genius that he is, told me to run a marathon. Really? In the summer? There aren't any good marathon's in the summer. With a glimmer in his eye he said, "who says you have to sign up to run a marathon. Just run 26.2 miles." This is exactly what I set out to do.
On June 14, 2010 I notified my friends and family that I would be creating a 26.2 mile route laid out with hydration stops. I solicited some friends to become a member of the hydration team – after all, I needed all the help I could get. I thought it would be a nice idea to order some shirts, ya know, make it look somewhat official. I planned the run for July 3, 2010 which didn’t leave me much time to plan.

My little event quickly spiraled into a huge deal. I spent a full hour trying to map the course to the best of my advantage and also cater to my hydration team. I wanted the stops to have adequate parking, room for kids to play and be somewhat strategically placed based on my refueling needs. It became a challenge to avoid hills, but this was my destiny; I had no option unless I wanted to run around the block for a few hours. Trying to be smart about my hydration I took a look at how the stations were set up for the Boston Marathon. So, um, for a 26.2 mile race, Boston has 25 stops…TWENTY-FIVE!!! I didn’t think I needed that many, so I felt confident with fourteen, including the finish. My friends Karen and Jeff felt that the tee-shirts deserved a good logo, so I was presented with a sprinting, cranberry-orange muffin wearing sneakers and a LiveStrong bracelet. I dubbed the event the ‘Muffin Madness Marathon 2010’. A prototype of the shirt was emailed out to my peeps with additional information on the marathon.

I tried to recruit some runners and even secured a marathoner to escort me during the last six miles. Jeff offered to bike most of the route with me; he would become my traffic blocker. I had a few runners respond with interest in joining me for a few miles. Based on all this information I would be running solo for about 8 miles, or so. Not a bad response.

I needed to take a breather from the event planning and focus on myself. I was unable to properly train for 26.2 miles given the timeline I developed for myself, so I needed to be smart about pre-race nutrition, hydration/refueling and my yoga. I did some research on marathons, for example: proper training, carbohydrate loading and what to expect during the race. Well, proper training was thrown out the window. My last long run was actually the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon at the end of April. I suck.

On to the next point, carb loading – an awesome feature to marathon prep. I didn’t want to fill up on empty carbs, so I perused the Runners World web site for recipes and planned my meals for the entire week leading up to race day. Based on my readings it sounded like most people hit the wall around mile 20. What was so significant about mile 20? Science states that in most people, glycogen reserves are depleted by mile 20. Simply stated, glycogen makes us go. There’s no more ‘going’ when the reserves are empty. Carb loading will add to the tank and consistent hydration/refueling during the activity will assist in keeping the tank from going empty. For race day I purchased gels, shot blocks, energy bars and the ever popular Lemon-Lime Gatorade. Normally, I don’t eat or drink anything during a run, but with the distance and heat I had to be smart.

I started to get nervous due to my lack of training/distance experience, so I shifted my focus back to event planning. Ahhh, denial.

I collected quite a few tee-shirt orders and some extra money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The owner of Digital Trust, LLC offered to purchase all the shirts for my hydration team. So, I guess you could say that I was sponsored by a company. My inbox was filled with supportive emails and questions about race day. Karen, my race-day coordinator, started receiving phone calls from other friends to secure details of my route. Things got hectic very quickly. I just tried to breathe.

Oh yeah, the yoga instructor had to remind herself to breathe…again. Coupled with my carb plan I focused on maintaining my flexibility and mental focus with daily yoga. Maybe I got a little overzealous with the poses; I’m not sure how necessary advanced arm balances are in the running game, but it was all in good fun.

Before I had a chance to get a grip on reality I was making my pre-race dinner, Whole Wheat Fettuccini Alfredo with garlic bread. I didn’t feel guilty about the pasta sauce, made with Greek yogurt, and the garlic bread was just too delicious to resist. After all, I’d be burning a lot of calories the following morning, so three pieces wouldn’t kill me. Right?

Following dinner I made sure that all materials for the hydration stations were in Gus’ hands. All documentation about the route was printed for the team, the race paraphernalia I planned to carry was laid out on the kitchen counter, the box of tee-shirts placed in the car and my alarm clock set for 4:30 am.

Time to hit the hay.