Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Why do I love this?

I know that people probably don't understand me, and why I'm passionate about certain things, why certain things are really important to me.

And that's fine.

The beauty in our world lies in our uniqueness. If we were all alike, it would be pretty boring and we'd never learn anything new. So it's okay to not understand me, or not share my passions, or even care about my passions.

But I still like to talk about them. I still like to share them. As a matter of fact, I LOVE talking about what's important to me and why.

Finding out that I truly loved the journey of training for and running marathons was a huge surprise to me. If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be doing this as a hobby and a form of staying healthy and fit, I'd have laughed at you. I hated running, or so I thought.

Funny how when you give something weird or different a chance, you find out so much about yourself that you never even knew or understood.

First, it's always been important to me to be healthy. I have had fits and starts but for the most part, I've always taken very good care of myself. I want to be that 75 year old grandma who doesn't slow down or need assistance to do anything. I don't want my age or health to take control of me, ever. So it's really no surprise that I found a routine that works for me and keeps me healthy. It's not just running....I also make sure my nutrition is 95% good. What you put in your body is vitally important to health, just as exercise, as we all know. If it wasn't running, it certainly could've been something else equally good for me.

So why running? Well, it was easy to get started, it was easy to find running partners, and there were races all over the place to keep me motivated. It didn't cost a lot of money or require any fancy equipment or gym memberships. It was natural. We were meant to run and move our bodies.

Over the past 12 years, running has certainly evolved for me. After my sister passed away from obesity-related complications of flu and lupus in 2009, it spurred me on even more to remain healthy and inspire others to be healthy. It hurts deeply to see so many people in this world be flippant with their health. That would never be me, and I wanted to show others that it didn't have to be them either.

I learned as much as I could about running and proper training. I started running marathons in 2009 but it was more as a hobby and I didn't really push myself much to get better at it. I was much more successful at shorter distances, winning age group awards here and there, but I was very fearful of racing a marathon. "Jogging" one was much less daunting and for the majority of my 12 marathons up to 2017, that's what I did. I "jogged" them. Oh but trust me, they hurt regardless, however.

Well, I frankly got sick and tired of allowing my fear to take over and keep me from taking the marathon distance seriously. I also had allowed some other medical issues to wreak havoc on my wellbeing and in 2017 I was done with that crap. Things were changing.

Enter this crazy plan I hatched to qualify for the Boston Marathon. What a perfect way to face my fear head on. A perfect way to find out just how tough I was, how I could cultivate discipline and confidence and commitment that would hopefully spill out into other parts of my life.

Trying to get better....scratch that....trying to get GOOD at the marathon distance became my passion.

Now, "good" is relative. Boston qualifying standards are relative to your age and gender, so as a soon-to-be 45 year old woman, I had the benefit (I like to think of it as benefit) of having a reasonable qualifying standard of 3:55 (at the time, but has since changed to 3:50 for 2020). That's 8:58 pace. Not a scary pace for me normally, but scary as hell for 26.2 miles straight.

There were so many stressors in other areas of my life that often threatened to take me down. My daughter has gone through years of mental health hell, my son is a genius who lacks discipline, the country is full of people acting out in childish ways against each other, and I was getting burned out by all of it. Finding something that I could put my laser focus on, that would make me feel fantastic about myself, of which I could be in control, seemed ideal. Finding a newfound confidence in something I was fearful of was bound to help me in all other areas of my life.

This passion was sure making a whole lot of sense to me!

So therefore, the Boston Marathon, and being able to run it in 2019, became so important to me. But like with most things in life, it didn't exactly go as planned. I qualified in my 13th marathon....sort of. If the course hadn't been mismarked, it would've been an official qualification. But since it was not, I had to do everything in my power to put that aside and try again. Talk about FEAR. But I did and by a whole lot of luck, I was on the winning side of the nasty 4:52-under-BQ cut off.

I got to run the Boston Marathon and it was everything I ever dreamed it could be.

Boston is not a big deal at all for so many people. Pretty much every time they toe the line at a marathon, they qualify and it's relatively easy for them. There are a lot of people out there who don't know anything BUT a BQ, it's that "easy" for them. So getting into Boston is an annual thing for them. Year after year. Those people are beasts. Some understand how lucky they are, some blow it off as no big deal and don't get why people put so much energy into it.

That is not me at all. Just because I've made it there once does not guarantee I'll do it again. I certainly didn't come close to a qualifying time at Boston this year. I was what you would call a "squeaker." A BQ is the exception, not the rule, for me.

And that's why it's so important to me, why it was such a big deal to me that I got to run that race, why I will use that standard every time I run a marathon. It's HARD for me to run a 3:50. It's not a given. It's something I have to work hard for and fight for with every step, making it that much sweeter and more rewarding when it happens.

So when you think I'm out of my mind for making this one race so important, understand that it's not just about running a marathon. It's about facing my fears, cultivating discipline, becoming a better version of me, never taking health for granted, overcoming obstacles, and developing mental and physical strength that transcends the marathon.

That is why I love this distance. It's simply perfect for me.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Boston Experience: Race Day

It's weird to start a race at 10:50am.

I didn't have to get up on race morning until 7am. We needed to catch the shuttle to Hopkinton from Boston Common by around 8:30am, so we had plenty of time.

We awoke to a nasty thunderstorm and a message from B.A.A. that they had to have all participants at Athlete's Village and Boston Common seek shelter because of its severity. Well, that wasn't exactly a relaxing thing to wake up to.

I was a really nervous runner, not so much because I was fearful of running 26.2, but because I just really wanted a good experience, to enjoy myself, and not piss off Greg too much!

Thankfully, the storm passed fairly quickly and we were able to walk the mile to Boston Common in light rain. We were kept nice and dry by our ponchos and we had our race shoes safely tucked under the poncho, with throwaway shoes on our feet. Athlete's Village was bound to be very muddy, just like the previous year, and we were prepared.

That was such a long bus ride! I think it took at least an hour to get to Hopkinton and Athlete's Village, and I was getting more and more anxious about the race start. At one point I told Greg I couldn't talk anymore! But we finally arrived and it was just as much of a mud pit as I had expected, but the rain had stopped. It was muggy, that's for sure. We were both pretty thankful we had worn an old pair of shoes.

so much mud

We didn't spend much time in Athlete's Village. By the time we hit the potty and navigated through the mud and changed into our clean and dry shoes and socks, it was time to walk to the start. I decided to leave behind the shoes I wore when I qualified for Boston in Baton Rouge. They were the shoes that got me to Hopkinton, so I left them in Hopkinton.

The start line is about 3/4 of a mile from Athlete's Village. By the time we made it there, we realized we'd already walked nearly 4 miles that day, before the marathon had even started! I swear this race isn't for the weak!

The sign behind us says "There's only one Boston, and it all starts here!"

Clearly this was before we started running

This race is so crazy awesome organized. To be able to get 30,000 runners into the tiny town of Hopkinton, then get them to walk to the start and get into the proper corrals at the right time, and then send them off in waves, without any issues, is truly incredible. We always knew exactly where to go and when and it was flawless. 

WE WERE ABOUT TO START THE BOSTON MARATHON! I had a really difficult time holding back my emotions, and I think Greg felt the same. We've seen the images of the race countless times, but here we were IN HOPKINTON, at the start, seeing it all firsthand! And THEY WERE LETTING US!! This girl who had once run a 5:09 marathon was going to run a marathon that she had to QUALIFY for with a 3:55 marathon. AND SHE DID! And on top of that, this was only Greg's second marathon because the badass qualified on his very first!

But damn, did I mention it was muggy? There was a lot of cloud cover and I hoped to God that it stayed that way. I could handle the temps with cloud cover, or at least it wouldn't hurt quite as badly. My plan was still to start the race with the thought of breaking 4 hours, even if barely. 

I had to hold back even more tears when we crossed the start line and I started my Garmin AND OH MY GOSH WE WERE RUNNING THE BOSTON MARATHON!!

We've been warned countless times that the start of the race is downhill, and that if you get ahead of yourself and go out too fast in those first 5 miles, it will bite you in the ass when you get to the Newton Hills in the last third of the race. 

Well, they weren't lying. It was downhill all right. 

I settled into an 8:50-9:15 pace in that first 10K and I felt pretty decent. I didn't feel great, or light on my feet, or fearless, but I felt okay. I thought I could maintain this for the race, provided my quads held up in those hills and then in the downhill finish. 

It seemed like the town signs were coming so quickly..."entering Ashland," "entering Framingham," and it was so cool to see them! All in all, we would go through seven towns on our way to Boston. 

First 5K was in 28:10
Second 5K was in 28:24

We saw Greg's parents right where we thought we would by the train station in Framingham after the 10k point and that was really awesome! They were so excited and had signs made for us and everything. 

I'm not quite sure exactly where it happened, but before we had even hit 15K, the sun came out and there was a collective groan from everyone running. NOT THE SUN, PLEASE NO. 

I didn't totally panic, but I wasn't happy about it. I didn't feel good enough in that first 15k to feel comfortable with adding sun to the mix. It already felt like the temp had risen a few degrees and I estimated we were into the upper 60s at this point. 

Third 5K was in 28:38

In Natick

Before we hit the 20K point, I made the decision to slow down for a few miles. My heart rate was climbing to an uncomfortable level and my breathing was not as controlled as I had hoped it would be. My thought was that if I slowed down for a few miles, I could get a second wind, perhaps the clouds would return, and I would feel strong entering Newton and the four Newton hills. 

Fourth 5K was in 29:25

Unfortunately, my heartrate continued to climb and I was uncomfortable and frankly, pissed. I had to make another decision. Slow it down, take the pressure off myself, and have a good time. We were in Wellesley at this point and the famous Scream Tunnel was coming up. I was still running under 9:30 pace, and that made me pretty pleased. 


All I can say is that it lived up to its hype! You could hear the roar about a half mile out and it was an exhilarating feeling. When you could finally see the girls with their signs and their screams, it was a huge boost! You couldn't help but smile the whole time you're running by them. We both got to kiss the girls and high five them and we had the best time! I don't think you can run through the scream tunnel and ever forget it!

I hit the halfway timing mat in 2:01:04. Not the sub-2 I had hoped for, but not embarrassing at all. 

I wish the good feelings from Wellesley could have lasted, but that wasn't the case. In the 15th mile, after running a 9:53 for mile 14, I gave in momentarily to my defeated feeling and I walked. 

I didn't walk at all in my last two marathons, and this pissed me off to no end that I would allow myself to do that in Boston. But walk I did. I ran the 15th mile in 10:40. It sucked.

Fifth 5K was in 31:25. That was rough. 

BUT we were coming up on the Newton Hills, a series of four hills from miles 16 to 21, with the final hill being the infamous Heartbreak Hill. After this, the majority of the race would be downhill into Boston and the finish. 

In order to get through these hills, I took them one at a time. They were not fast by any means, but I was getting through them. I walked through the water stops, rehydrated, threw water on my head, and kept going. Greg told me at one point I said to him "don't talk to me" but I have assured him that what I actually meant was "I can't talk." 

Sixth 5K was in 32:19 and I suppose it could be worse.

When I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill I felt pretty triumphant! I turned to Greg and asked him it that was it and he said yes. 

But WAIT. 

As I hit the next water stop and walked a bit to recharge, I realized we were on another hill. I looked at my watch and saw that we weren't at Mile 21 yet. 

OH SHIT. We had miscounted the number of hills we had already run up. We weren't done.


Dammit all to Hell. 


We call this my "Petulant Child" face

Shoot me now.

So I guess you could say this was my low point. But it was also what spurred me to start running again and not look back. There was a dude at the top of the hill holding a sign that said "Heartbreak is behind you now." YES IT WAS!!

Now the race was going to be epic. I had 5 miles left of the Boston Marathon and no way in hell was I going to let it be anything other than incredible. It was time to run my ass off.

Seventh 5K was in 33:00...with an 11 minute mile up Heartbreak. 

Did I mention that the last 5 miles are pretty much downhill? And that I had just climbed a bunch of hills?

So my quads were freaking trashed. But thank you baby Jesus, my lungs felt awesome! And I felt exhilarated! It's really too bad my legs could only muster up 10 minutes miles, but holy crap I felt so much better and I didn't even care. The one thing that I didn't want to happen was that I had overdone it so much leading up to the last 10K that I would hate it and want it to be over. Being so cautious had paid off and even though I was running slowly, I was feeling good and was so happy to be there. 

With about 5K to go, THE CLOUDS CAME BACK! We had just ran through 14-15 miles of sun and nearly 70 degrees and gross humidity, but the clouds were finally back! It was exactly what I needed to get some spark back. I was having the time of my life now, with the last miles flying by. Each one was faster than the last.

In Brookline

I had been told that you could see the Citgo sign for a long time before you actually passed it, and that's definitely not a lie. At about 24 miles, there it was ahead of us, and it was way bigger than I thought it would be. And it definitely felt like it wasn't getting any closer.

Eighth 5k was in 31:07. Not a lot faster, but faster miles nonetheless.

It was surreal to be running the last couple miles of the Boston Marathon and to finally see 9:30s on my watch again. The crowds were insane going through Brookline and Kenmore Square. Everywhere we stepped there were people screaming that we were awesome, that we were almost done, to keep on running, to not give up AND IT WAS GLORIOUS. I just can't say enough about the spectators. I have never seen anything like it! When we finally passed the Citgo sign, I knew we only had one more mile to go. 

Sure enough, painted right across the road was something to the effect of "one more mile." And by now, IT WAS POURING RAIN!! 

I didn't think it was possible, but the crowds were even louder now. The rain was falling harder and I was feeling incredible. 

Before we even got to Hereford Street, I started getting emotional again. There had been a few times during the race that I had to catch myself as my eyes were welling up with tears. So many moments had struck me as just being totally surreal, that I really was running these streets. It was hard NOT to cry. Knowing that I was about to make the famous "Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston" was overwhelming.

And then we did. 

Right on Hereford

I didn't even know there was a photographer there, and he captured perfectly every emotion I was feeling.

I can't describe the feeling of turning left onto Boylston Street. It's really something that has to be experienced firsthand to really understand it. We saw the finish, we passed the site of the second bombing, I said a prayer, we kept running, passed the site of the first bombing, Greg grabbed my hand, and we ran through the finish line.

Left on Boylston 


I think I was so stunned, I couldn't even cry. 


I had run my 15th marathon on 4/15, 15 months after I qualified and made the cut off by 15 seconds. 


It was my third fastest marathon, and although 25 minutes off a (a new and tougher 3:50) Boston Qualifying time, it was a perfect finishing time in my book. 

I can't finish this post without mentioning that one of my best friends was also running this marathon. My Bahston girl, Karen, ran her heart out, with two Starbucks stops, and a beer up Heartbreak Hill, after raising an insane amount of money for a local charity near and dear to her heart. It couldn't have been more perfect.

You would think that after running a difficult marathon, I would enjoy a nice long break. And while I am taking some time off from running, I am also eager to get back out there and chart my next adventure. I want to run Boston again. It's by far my favorite marathon so far. My next attempt to qualify will be on December 8 in Sacramento at California International Marathon.

I can't wait.

The Boston Experience: Part 1

By Saturday night, I could safely say that so far, the experience of being at the Boston Marathon was like no other race, and I hadn't even raced yet! We arrived after 1am Friday night/Saturday morning and were immediately fully immersed in all things Boston.

Unfortunately, because our flight was over 2 hours delayed, we got very little sleep Friday night before getting up early on Saturday for breakfast and the Expo. I wanted to get to the Expo not long after they opened in order to spend as much time as I wanted there before heading to the Red Sox game at Noon. 

THE EXPO! Oh my gosh, it's huge and busy and crowded and totally crazy. I've been to plenty of big race expos, but this was on another level. First, let me say that it was very well organized. These people are experts at putting on a race and moving people through as efficiently as possible. 

Why yes, I was the runner who ACTUALLY STARTED CRYING when the volunteer handed me my bib. I had a Boston Marathon bib in my hand and it was MINE. And I earned it. Just crazy!

I pretty much had the absolute best time going through the merchandise area and grabbing one of everything. Hey, I figured I may only get to this race once so I was BUYING ALL THE THINGS. Poor credit card. But I now have all the mugs and glasses and shirts and shorts and sweatshirts and everything in between and I was a happy girl checking out.

And then we got to go to Fenway Park! Greg has been to a game before since he travels to Boston often for work, but this would be my first time and the first for Greg's parents, too. They generously bought us tickets to the Saturday afternoon game and I was totally stoked. Since our hotel was about a mile from the ball park, we just walked over. It was a beautiful day in Boston and a really nice walk. I was figuring I'd rest on Sunday!

The game was so fun! The ball park is something else, that's for sure. To be in the oldest ball park in the country before running the oldest marathon seemed pretty fitting to me. Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi, the 2018 winners, threw out the first pitch. The Red Sox pretty much sucked, but that didn't stop us from having a blast.

After the game, we drove to Hopkinton to meet up with Barry, a coworker of Greg's who was running his fifth Boston Marathon and who, along with Greg, was also raising money for the Michael Lisnow Respite Center as part of the Dell/EMC team. Dinner at a great restaurant and a visit to the start line completed our first full day in Boston. What a DREAM this day had been!

At the Michael Lisnow Respite Center

The energy is Boston on marathon weekend is nothing I've ever experienced and while I knew it would be pretty incredible, I really was not prepared for just how much. So many people walking around in their jackets, with huge smiles on their faces, having the times of their lives! And we got to be a part of that this year! It was hard to not feel excited and jittery and anxious.

We spent way too much time on our feet Saturday (13K steps and 6.2 miles of walking), so Sunday was a down day of eating, checking out the finish line again, resting, and coming up with our race strategy.

The blue line starts the race and finishes the race

Less than 1 day!

Ah, the race strategy.

So, New England weather is just as weird and ever changing as Texas weather. A few days before we left, the forecast called for showers and a high of 48 degrees, which actually would have been just fine for me. I am a cold weather runner and the rain does not bother me much. I knew that I could run fast in that type of weather. As we got closer and closer to race day, the forecast continued to take a big crappy turn. It was now forecasted to be 70 degrees and possibly sunny for a lot of the day, with minimal rain, after a shower in the morning that would make the air very humid. I absolutely loathe this type of weather on race day. I can suck it up for a 5k or 10k in that, but for a marathon, on a difficult course, could be troubling for me. As a matter of fact, the last time I even tried to go out at my original race plan in crap weather I ended up running 4:38.

So I made a decision that would take the pressure off myself. I was no longer going to go for a 3:45 or a BQ (3:50). I was going to start out at a 4 hour marathon pace and see how I felt holding onto that, in the hopes of running an even race. If the clouds remained, I would be fine. If the sun came out, it could hurt. It remained to be seen. But above all else, I wanted to have fun and if that meant slowing down during the race, I needed to be okay with that. And thankfully, I was totally okay with that. I had no intention of running Boston in 2020 whether I qualified or not, so it wouldn't be disappointing to not meet that goal.

We visited the finish line one more time after dinner that night and I made it a point to stand in the spot of the first bombing in 2013. It was a surreal moment. So much devastation in that moment in time and to be standing in that spot made it feel all the more incredible that I got to be here running on the 6th anniversary of that day.

13 hours left before we were in Hopkinton and Athlete's Village and we would experience a race like nothing else.