Saturday, October 20, 2012

Running Among Angels

In my last post, my race report for my recent marathon, I didn't mention the fact that I ran for Dad. I mentioned it before a few times, but in my race report, I kept my mouth shut about the fact. There's something very emotional about completing a marathon. With or without a person you love on your heart to run for, crossing the finish line brings extreme emotion to the forefront. It's the culmination of months of training, sacrifice, discomfort, and pain followed by hours of enduring whatever circumstances are thrown at you. And I didn't want to make the experience of writing about that race even more difficult by mentioning this was all for Dad, again. Seems silly, doesn't it?

But really, this was a very important part of my experience. And I should have made mention. Now it's on my heart to write, so here I am.

I opted not to wear a photo of Dad on my shirt on race day like I originally wanted to. Decided to keep it quiet and private. I think it was a good decision. In fact, when we register for the race, we're asked to write what we want the announcer to say when you cross the finish line. I requested a line about Dad, but somehow the announcer got my lines mixed up with someone else's lines and said something about me that wasn't true. Guess it wasn't meant to be.

I chose to place Dad on the course. I asked him to station himself on the course right where I needed it most - at the turnaround point at the 23km mark where I'd need to turn around and go back the same way. That would be a mentally tough spot, and 23km is where everything went wrong at my first marathon. And then he could go wherever he felt I needed him. When I was struggling, I asked him to place his angel wings on my back to move me along. I spoke to him as I ran, asked him to offer a smile to keep me strong. He was there cheering me on.

There was a beautiful woman running near me about the same pace as me. She was running for her Mom, and unlike me, she did put a photo on the back of her shirt. She lost her Mom in April of this year. A new loss, and a marathon to run as a tribute to her. I loved it when she'd move ahead of me, so I could look at her shirt. The photo of mother and daughter could have easily been a photo of two sisters. Her own carbon copy, like how I am the carbon copy of my Dad, or so he often told me. I enjoyed running alongside this woman's angel as well as my own.

At the 33km mark when my quads started to cramp, I stopped to stretch and walk. I was ahead of the woman by this time and she caught up to me mid-stretch to say, "you can't stop now. You've been pacing me for 33km. How can I go on without you?" Little did she know that she and her mom had been pacing me for the same 33km. I needed her just as badly. 

I apologized and explained I had to walk off the cramping, that I couldn't go on at the same pace. "I promise I'll catch up. I'll need to see the photo of your Mom again. I'm running for my Dad." I'm not sure I said the last bit out loud, or just in my heart. But regardless, she smiled, and ran ahead of me. This moment made me so determined to get over the pain so I could move again. It was one of the motivating factors at the 38km mark that allowed me to swallow my pain and push hard. I was determined to catch up. I didn't see her again, but the photo of her Mom, her angel, hasn't left my memory. I doubt it ever will.

This past weekend, I had the honour of being part of the Nike Women's Marathon, A Race to Benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, as part of my role working with Team In Training. Of course many of our teammates too had their own angels to run for. There's one young woman who like me, lost her father recently. I will never forget the moment she spotted me on the course and ran over to give me a hug. Her eyes were full of tears, and her heart full of love. I found out later that she had just finished seeing our poster placed on the "mission mile" that I put together with photos of our team's honourees. I showed the poster to her beforehand, letting her know that her "Pops" had a special spot at the top of the board. Apparently seeing the board came at the time in the race she needed it most. She told me she felt her Dad there with her that race. And she finished it faster than she's ever finished a race before, because he was there.

I don't know exactly what it is that makes running and honouring a loved one so intuitive. How does running and loving someone have so much synergy? Why does it just make so much sense when they are two completely different things? I think it's that endurance running requires dedication, sacrifice, commitment, strength, and the ability to endure extreme discomfort. That there sounds like love - love too requires dedication, sacrifice, and commitment. And loss of a loved one requires strength and the ability to endure and somehow move forward positively despite the pain. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. But perhaps it relates to the very reason I love running. Running reminds me that I'm truly alive, that I'm a living being with a beating heart, and strong muscles to move me. Being in touch with myself physically allows me to be truly in touch with myself emotionally. Running reminds me not to take for granted the life I have, knowing that life sometimes ends earlier than fair and forever impacts the lives of loved ones who suffered loss. And running allows me to make sense of my world, my experiences, and my feelings. There's no question why I'd find metaphor in the most difficult running distance I've ever done, the marathon, to the hardest emotional experience I've ever had. And so, I run. I run to honour him. I run to make him proud. I run to feel alive, strong, and heart-healthy for him. I run for me. I run because I don't want to forget.

I run because of angels.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Race Report: GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon - October 7, 2012

I've completed my second marathon, the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. The pride I feel is absolutely huge. I'm going to do my best to describe that here, but I have a feeling that words will not do justice to how I feel in my heart. Somehow I feel like calling myself a marathoner is a more legitimate claim now, now that I have run more than one of them. I really truly am a marathoner as it's not something I've just done once and will never do again. It's something I have done twice now and am eager to do over and over again, to continue to learn, grown, and achieve.

This time around, experience really played a huge role. There was no doubt in my mind about my ability to finish. I knew exactly what I was in for and how I needed to perform to finish. I gave myself a pep talk about starting my race slow, about taking the first half like a training run, and then pushing myself in the last 10km. And I reacted well to the circumstances I had in front of me. Despite the hardships I fought through on race day, I knew that nothing was going to prevent a strong finish this time around. 

I could visualize my finish the entire race. I could see myself running hard, pumping my fists in the air, and the overwhelming emotion I'd experience the moment I realized I did it. Again. I think this helped me fight through. It also helped me come to my senses whenever I'd get tempted to give in, or give up. I'd see the finish in my mind and say to myself, "no, you're not missing out on this. You've worked hard for this. You've endured worse than this. Suck it up. Get there!"

The only question on my mind was my finish time.  I had to let go of the idea of a faster finish time early on and I'm incredibly proud of how I ran this Sunday because of that. I gave it my all, knowing I wasn't feeling my best. I didn't let finish time discourage me, even when I realized that I was going to finish in over 5 hours. I ran hard, leaving all of me on the course, and most importantly, I maintained a great attitude the entire race. I told myself this, "Don't settle for anything less than the best you can give today. No matter what, this will be another accomplishment. Run this in a way you'll be proud of. You'll still beat your previous race time. You'll have many more marathons to get the time you want."

Despite resting up fairly well in the days leading up to the race, timing was not on my side. I felt a cold coming on Saturday evening, turned in early for the night, but woke up on Sunday, race day morning feeling very rough. My sinuses were completely congested and my energy was absolutely zapped. I reminded myself that while many would use how I felt as an excuse to stay home on the couch, this wasn't me. I am not an excuse maker. Being sick was just an obstacle I was going to need to endure through. I realized early on that my pace was going to have to be a little slower than what I would have wanted. I didn't want to elevate my heart rate and run it too hard. I needed to pace myself in a way that would be sustainable for 42.2km. 

I paced myself well, and was on pace for a 4:45 finish. Then at about the 33km mark, cramps started to develop in my quad muscles like they did in my first marathon. I had another 9km to go, and maintained my poise. I told myself, "that's 10km less of pain than last time, you CAN and WILL do this". I needed to stop to stretch a few times, had to walk a few short downhill portions, but otherwise I kept running, at a slow jog of about 7:30min/km, ignoring the pain as best I could until it got so unbearable, I had no choice but to stop to stretch again. I did not let disappointment or emotion get to me. I just did what I needed to do. I knew it was going to be an over 5 hour finish. I took a deep breath at this realization, pushed aside negativity and decided I was ok with this. Why? Finishing a marathon is always a huge accomplishment. And finishing this marathon would be something to be proud of for the rest of my life.

By the time I got to the 38km mark, calculating how close to the finish I was, I managed to push the pain away, react on adrenaline, pick my pace up to about 5:30min/km and push hard to the finish. I was groaning out loud and likely making some very expressive faces, but I was running and going as fast as I could in that moment. I was on fire, sparking those on the sidelines to jump up, yell, and give me uplifting cheers to further ignite my engines. I was passing several runners in my path and there was no stopping me now. And I did it. I crossed the finish. Then the tears came. Tears of joy! Tears of pride! And admittedly, tears from the last hour of pain too...

I finished strong at 5:08:15.

This is such a great race, and one I hope to run again next year. The course is beautiful and scenic, everything is so well organized, the finisher jacket and medal are gorgeous. I have many reasons to love this race. But one of the things that really stood out about this race was the thought put into the course design. There are plenty of places and opportunities for spectators to stand on the sidelines to cheer us on. Cam was easily able to strategize to be on the course in 3 different spots before meeting me at the finish. Seeing him, getting a kiss, and his encouragement helped me hugely, as it was in 3 spots where I was in discomfort that I saw him and was uplifted again. And all the cheer squads, music, dancing, every step of the way, was incredible, especially in those last grueling 10km of the race. That was my major complaint with the BMO Vancouver Marathon, that those last grueling miles are around Stanley Park and thus very lonely. But here, there was plenty of encouragement, high fives, music, cheering, right where you need it. 

Thank you to the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon for another great event! I'll see you again next year!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Marathon Day Is Tomorrow

Well, here I am. One day before the big race. I feel good. Yes, a bit freaked out. I think no matter how many marathons I do, I'll remain a bit freaked out before each one. It's a long distance to run. It's going to be hard. But I'm the best prepared that I could be. And I have experience under my belt to know what this distance is all about. But this time, I don't have the doubts about crossing the finish that I did last time. I know I will do it, and I know I can get there much faster than last time. I've been smart, and I'm going to start my race smart. The hardest part of getting here is already over.

I've also been incredibly busy leading up to this race. So when I started my taper, rather than regretting how training went and wanting to do more, I welcomed the rest. And this last week or two with training mileage really low, I've had even more on my plate so I've had little time to (over)think the upcoming race. I'm therefore genuinely excited. Just ready to go. Ready to lace up, run my race, knowing that worrying myself won't accomplish anything. I believe in myself, and I know I'll succeed tomorrow.

I think the other thing is the fact that today is my Dad's birthday. He would have been 70 today, if he were still with us. It's been 5 years since the last time we celebrated a birthday with him. I'm not making a hugely public declaration of this, but all along, I decided that this race would be for Dad. He'd love that I'm doing something so positive, and he always told me how proud he was of me. If he could only see me now, and see the athlete and woman I have become over the last 5 years. I thought about pinning a photo of him to my shirt, but decided that instead, I'll simply wear his memory and his smile on my heart. And his words will be part of the mantra I repeat to myself during the race. Now if I only I would have inherited his long legs too!

I'm also so pleased with being back here in Victoria again for the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. I hope to run this race annually, because there are so many reasons for this race to be special to me. Plus, the course is amazing, and the souvenir apparel and finisher medals are the most beautiful I've seen at any race. Victoria is Cam's hometown, so we have family here to see after the race (perhaps even during!). And last year's event was my intro back into endurance running - my first half marathon after a 7-year hiatus, and the reason why I started up this blog. It will always be special to me. It was the race that proved to me that I could be an athlete again, and a better one than ever. I can hardly believe that race was only a year ago. Since then, I've raced in 3 other half marathons and 1 full marathon. Tomorrow will be my 2nd marathon and 5th race of the year. This has been one very eventful year! I'm staying at the same hotel near the start line, cooked my same pre-race pasta meal, and am here with my favourite cheerleader. Great memories from last year's race are coming back.

I expect that this year's experience will add to the reasons why this race is so special, and more great memories will be made. You only run your 2nd marathon once! And it's a beautiful, sunny weekend here in Victoria, BC, and spirits are high! I was also very lucky to have had the chance to spend some quality time at the race expo, exhibiting for Team In Training. It really gets you in the mindset to race when you see so many runners coming in, excited to do the very same thing I'm excited to do! 

Can't wait to lace up! Stay tuned for my race report...