This Week’s Wins: Lots of Running and Some Yoga, Too

Another week has flown by, which means I have officially completed the seventh week of my base building plan. My weekly mileage is still low (18-22 MPW), but I’m running more days per week made up of shorter runs that focus more on speed and strength. My goal over the next 5 weeks is to build a solid foundation that will carry me through marathon training injury-free.

Looking back on this week’s workouts, I can easily pick my 3 Weekly Wins:

This Week’s 3 Wins

  1. When it works with both our schedules, I’ve been meeting Mary once a week to run after work. This week, we were both feeling pretty good and got to a point in our run when Mary asked if we could pick up the pace a little, to which I happily agreed. For about 3/4 of a mile, we were pushing our pace to the low 7s. We ran stride for stride, our arms pumping, breath flowing, and legs turning over in perfect tandem. At the end of the run, we realized we’d executed a perfect progression run, with each mile about 10-12 seconds faster than the previous one. We didn’t even mean to do that! Definitely a win, and a much-needed confidence boost.
  2. I had been planning to do my long run on Saturday to get used to waking up extremely early on the weekends now that I need to be out the door before 7 to beat the heat. But, when Tori asked if I wanted to join her for some of her 12 miler on Friday, I gladly accepted the invite. Running with friends on Friday mornings as the sun rises is the best way to start the weekend! Though it was hot and sweaty, I knocked out 7 miles before heading to work, which I love doing. It’s nice knowing all my key workouts are done and the weekend is open for more cross training and resting.
  3. I used my extra time this weekend to reunite with my yoga mat. Yoga is something I know I need in my life to remain healthy. The benefits of incorporating yoga into training are numerous: flexibility, strength, breath control, mental toughness, sanity. But, as I run more days and try to fit in strength exercises, yoga often gets put on the back burner. I’m going to try to be more diligent about my practice, hoping to go a couple times per month to keep my muscles limber and my mind calm. Today’s class was free through our local lululemon store. We had this amazing guest teacher named Ashley Halley who created her own workout called MOVE that uses many yoga poses as a starting point, but incorporates much more cardio, strength, and fun music than traditional yoga. She had us planking and jumping and squating and push-upping all over the place. After 60 minutes, I was dripping in sweat and knew I had worked every muscle in my body. It was a tough workout that I thoroughly enjoyed, and hope to do it again soon! I’m not so sure if my friends who I met for brunch afterward felt the same, given how far everyone chose to sit from me. :)
source: Ashley Halley MOVE Facebook Page

source: Ashley Halley MOVE Facebook Page

Needless to say, it’s been a good week of training including one day of Body Pump and one day of yoga. I had one tough running workout that didn’t go as I’d hoped it would, but I don’t want to focus on it too much. That’s the whole point of trying to stay more positive regarding my training. At the end of the day, I know one bad workout isn’t going to define me; it’s how I handle it that will dictate who shows up to the start line of my upcoming race.

How did your week go? What were your 3 top workout wins?

Monthly Training Recap: May

While I was injured and recovering, I broke up with my Garmin. It kept me from focusing too much on paces and distance while I was trying to heal. Now that my trusty Garmin has reclaimed its place upon my wrist, I’m slowly getting back into uploading my training data on a regular basis. And, by that, I mean after every run.

I’d forgotten how much I love going through the data. It’s the side of running that truly melts my geeky heart.

Since it had been a while since I’d logged into my Garmin Connect account, I had to dust off some cobwebs and get acquainted with a couple new features. Like, how my GPS can apparently pull in weather information for the locations of my runs?

Garmin Connect Weather

Um, that’s awesome. It’s going to be very helpful as I further develop my mental toughness when it comes to heat and humidity. I can’t wait to look back on all the sticky, sluggish runs I powered through during the upcoming Florida summer as race day gets closer. Seeing what I trained through should put an extra pep in my step as I approach the start line for my “A” race, which is happening in late November.

In addition to weather updates, I love taking a look at my monthly report to see what I accomplished over the last 30 days or so. May was the first month of my base-building plan and it looked like this:

Garmin Connect Monthly Data May

This output might not seem like much, especially considering the impossibly high number of inspirational friends I have training for full Ironman(s)/Iron[wo]men (seriously, WTF is the plural?!), but it means the world to me. And, here’s why:

  1. Over the course of May, I gradually increased the number of runs per week from 3 to 4… with no hip pain (knock on wood).
  2. My long runs have been at 6 miles for the last three weeks and I’m feeling stronger and more comfortable after each one… with no hip pain (knock on wood).
  3. Speed work (AKA The Baby Tempo Run) has made its way back into my life… with no hip pain (knock on wood).
  4. I’m smartly increasing my mileage week-over-week… with no hip pain (knock on wood).
  5. Cross training and social runs with good friends are still a regular part of my plan, and I was able to fit in at least one of each every week in May. It’s very important for me to maintain these two happiness-inducing workouts even as my training ramps up, so I’m focusing on maintaining them now in order to make them habit. Plus, I know that cross training will help with continuing the whole “no hip pain” thing.

Overall, I’m happy with my first full month following a training plan in over a year. I can’t wait to see what June brings!

How’s your training going? Are you using the early months of summer to build a strong foundation for fall racing? Who else loves analyzing training data? 

 

The Art (or Science?) of Positive Thinking: Introducing Three Wins

Before I launched into this latest training cycle, my first “official” one in more than a year, I decided a big focus for me would be improving positive thinking and mental toughness. As the cliche for our sport goes, running is 10% physical and 90% mental. While I think that ratio is just slightly skewed, it does show the importance of training your mental muscle as well as your physical ones. 

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My first couple weeks of training I spent a bit of time reading some articles about running and mental toughness, especially as it relates to the marathon (see the end of this post for links to some of my favorites). A few common themes arose that I’ve already put into practice:

  • Visualization: The concept of thinking about your runs before they happen is an interesting one – you’re basically tapping into your imagination to project the movie of a run or workout in your mind. Without realizing it, I did this a lot before my first two half marathons. The night before my long runs, I’d take some time before falling asleep where I’d play out how well my run the next day would go. I’d think about the route, imagine how my legs would feel, and focus on what I’d do to push through fatigue. Somehow, as I became more knowledgeable about training and running, I stopped practicing visualization, and I can say I had fewer amazing long runs than when I was using visualization techniques. This is something I’ve brought back into my training. 
  • Mantras: Every runner I know has some (or several) mantras that they recite when a run or race gets tough. To me, the repetitive nature of running makes mantras so successful in helping distract the mind from discomfort. I have a handful of little sayings that I turn to when I’m pushing through a less-than-perfect run, but I’ve also realized that there are other little tricks I can play on myself to keep me moving. Now, when I recite a mantra in my head, I tell myself I have to speed up my cadence slightly. This has been very helpful in keeping me from slowing down for no real reason other than I’m feeling slightly fatigued or hot.  

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  • Moving to Positive Thinking: One of the posts I read talked about envisioning a big STOP sign when negative thoughts creep in, and I’ve found this incredibly helpful. I used to find myself dreading tempo runs and would spend the whole day focusing on how hard they would be and how I didn’t want to do them. Now, I’ve shifted my thinking to be more along these lines: “This tempo run is going to be hard, and I am so excited to put in the work that will make me stronger for my race. I can’t wait to run fast tonight and see if I can beat my times from last week!” Anyone who knows me knows my running nemesis is humidity. For someone who grew up in Florida and lived in the swamp that is D.C., I have never gotten used to humidity or the negative impact it can have on performance. My first couple of summers back in Florida, I’d spend giving up on hard running once the humidity increased. Instead on fixating on weather I can’t control, I’m focusing on how it’s making me a stronger runner who can push herself in tough conditions. 

That last theme is the main reason why I’ve started recording what I’m calling my “Three Wins” every week: I pick the top three highlights from the past week of training and jot them down in my training log. My plan is to read through these when it comes time to taper so that I remember the joy I found through the process of getting to that starting line come November. It’s all about embracing positive thinking to build mental toughness! 

This Week’s Three Wins

  1. I had a great run with good friends (Hi, Tori!) this morning. We got in 6 waterfront miles as the sun rose and managed to negative split the whole run, despite the 89% humidity. 
  2. With quite a few plans on Memorial Day, I moved my tempo run to Wednesday. Due to a conflict, I had to take to the treadmill to get my workout in which is less-than-ideal since I hate treadmills. I sucked it up, and powered through my tempo run with perfectly even splits, making me really glad I didn’t blow off the run when it would have been pretty easy to do so. 
  3. My boyfriend is here visiting from LA, which makes it hard to stick with a routine. Though I shifted around some workouts throughout the week, I still managed to get in everything that was on my training plan including a 6 AM Body Pump class that kicked my butt (…and hamstrings… and shoulders).

My Favorite Posts on Mental Toughness:

 

What are your weekly wins or favorite mental toughness exercises? Share them with me in the comments! 

Dedicated to a Training Plan

Dedication is an important part of any endurance athlete’s character. To reach our goals, we have to stay dedicated to our training. Being extremely Type A and a total “J” on the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, working off a defined training plan is probably one of my favorite things after making to-do lists.

I am dedicated to this training plan – to tackling each day’s workout with vigor and purpose. Those little feelings of joy that I get from marking off daily goals have returned, and it’s good, because – let’s be real – it’s been a while. Going with the flow and not following a training plan just didn’t work great for me. Some people can rock it. Me? Not so much.

For the last year, with no training plan, I managed to I stay active with regular workouts, but my runs and cross training lacked purpose. Without a plan or goals, it became a bit harder for me to stay fully dedicated.

Rainy Run in Central Park

Rainy Run in Central Park

As I mentioned in the last post, the break was good for me. I learned that sometimes it’s good to take a break, to workout just for the sake of staying healthy. My best friend helped me realize that throughout our lives, our priorities will shift and change. Last year, my focus was definitely on my personal life – family, relationships, and work. This year, I’m feeling pretty great about where I am with all those areas so I have a little bit more emotional and mental bandwidth to commit to working toward a big running goal again.

So, the whole point of this rambling is that I’ve been officially following a training plan for two weeks now. I’ve hit my daily and weekly mileage goals, which makes me feel proud and all the more dedicated.

I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, as I can see laid out in my Google Spreadsheet, and I’m pumped about it. Cheers to being fully dedicated to this training.

This Week’s Running Highlights:

  • Easing back into tempo runs with an amazing 4 miler along Bayshore Boulevard (1 mile warm-up, 2 miles @ 8:10, 1 mile cool-down)
  • A hot, blah run that didn’t feel as bad as it could have because I had some awesome company
  • Running through the rain in beautiful Central Park and getting in the longest run I’ve done in several weeks
  • The return of Friday Friend Sunrise Runs with the newlyweds
  • Spending quality time with the evil foam roller because injury prevention is a big goal
  • Falling in love with the Brooks PureFlow 3 (alternating with the Saucony Guide 6)
  • Total Mileage: 18
Post-Run Sunset Views

Post-Run Sunset Views

Changing Motivations: Finding What Makes You Lace Up Your Running Shoes

{Insert paragraph about how long it’s been since my last post, so much has happened since then, where has the time gone, blah, blah, blah, here.}

There’s a lot to be said about motivation, especially for endurance athletes. I mean, something’s gotta keep us moving forward as we pound away at the pavement step after step, mile after mile, year after year.  Motivation comes in many forms, and can vary tremendously – mine certainly does, practically every hour. No matter what motivates us, it’s that instrumental aspect of our being that propels us toward our goals and keeps us working hard even when the finish line isn’t in sight.

Sometimes, though, motivation becomes elusive and harder to grasp. It slips out from under us, leaving us feeling a bit lost and unsure of how to progress. Last year, an injury took a toll on the motivational factors that drove me to train hard and run fast. As my times increased and my races become fewer and farther apart, I started beating myself up over losing my desire to run. I felt I’d lost any motivation to run at all.

But, I was wrong. I never lost my love for running. My motivations simply changed. Instead of forcing myself out the door every morning to chase PRs and new distances, I found the desire to keep running from new friends who have become amazing friends that I can’t believe I’ve known such a short time. I discovered the contentment that comes from running without an iPod or a Garmin, to simply feel my feet connecting with the ground and feeling a sense of accomplishment simply from being active and outdoors. I learned that not every race will be a PR.

And while I wouldn’t change the last year of my relationship with running for anything, my motivation is shifting once again. I feel the urge to train hard and run faster once again. I want to cross a finish line with a smile, knowing I’ve pushed myself to achieve a new goal. I’m ready for the next challenge, and I think I’ve got all the pieces in place to enjoy the journey that’ll get me there.

While training for my first marathon, this blog helped me stay on track and served as one of the many motivational tools I pulled from during that time in my life. I enjoyed writing about my experiences with training, and – with some big goals on the horizon – I think it’s time to bring this thing back to life.

 

Life Since the Marathon

I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since the marathon. Part of me feels like it just happened, the other part feels like it took place months ago.

After such a tough training cycle – between injury and illness – I knew I wanted to recharge after the race. I forced myself to take a full 6 days off of running, which was needed as my hip ached for a few days after the race.

My first run back after 26.2 was pitiful as every muscle in my body ached. I ended up only going 2 miles before calling it quits. The next day, I attended a hot yoga class that focused more on recovery and balance than intensity, which helped loosen up my hips. When I tried running the following day, I felt much better, although I did notice some minor pain in my left ankle and hip. I shrugged this off, figuring it was just leftover soreness from the marathon. I ran quite a few more times that week, including a 5 mile tempo run at sub-8:00 pace and an 11 mile long run with friends that included steep bridges. 

I honestly felt okay on these runs, and I loved the long run, especially the company. Sure, I had aches and pains while out running, but I kept telling myself it was nothing to be worried about, that as long as I took a couple more rest days during the week, I’d be okay. 

I don’t know why I felt the need to keep pushing myself so hard. Perhaps it was a bit of obsession – I am desperate to get back to the paces I was running last fall, and I think as soon as I finished the marathon, a part of me wanted to jump right back in. Another part is that I read about all these amazing bloggers who run multiple marathons a year, sometimes a month, and I guess I, naively, thought that if others could do it, I could do. 

Lesson learned: when it comes to marathons, it really is important to respect the distance AND your body, and that means taking the time you need to recover. 

Needless to say, after 1.5 weeks of pushing myself too much too soon after the marathon, I developed intense pain in my left hip flexor that resulted in an awful limp and the inability to run at all. I haven’t been able to run in a week, which is driving me crazy. 

But, there is some good coming out of this little injury: I am finally, finally learning how to properly swim. It’s been a goal of mine for a while now, and I am committed to getting more comfortable in the water so I can have an alternate form of cross training. 

Today, I headed to our local pool with two friends who helped give me tips and pointers on how to get familiar with freestyle swimming and breathing. I can’t lie – it’s very strange for me, and I feel like I look insanely ridiculous, but I’m excited about the new challenge. Plus, I know it’ll make me a stronger runner in the end… a runner who (hopefully) smartly cross trains to prevent future injuries. 

Because… one day… I will run another marathon, but that doesn’t mean it has to be any time soon. :)

 

 

 

Officially A Marathoner – Thoughts On My First Marathon

This morning, I slowly crawled out of bed, feeling the sting of soreness that had settled into my muscles overnight. Aside from the lingering physical exhaustion even after a full night’s sleep, nothing felt all that different from when I woke up yesterday. Except, that I could now call myself a marathon finisher. A marathon runner. An official marathoner.

Oh, hey, high fives for marathoners!

Oh, hey, high fives for marathoners!

There is so much that happened this weekend that I don’t want to forget, so this is going to be long. Read what you want, unless you’re my family, in which case you have to read every last word.

EXPO 

On Saturday, I did an easy two mile jog around my neighborhood to shake out my legs and ease my nerves. A little later that morning, my mom and grandmother accompanied me to the 26.2 with Donna Expo in downtown Jacksonville.  We explored all the booths, but I didn’t find too many that caught my eye. I ended up registering for next year’s Women’s Half Marathon to save $15 off the online price and purchasing a couple t-shirts from the Official Merchandise shop to commemorate my first marathon.

Right before we were leaving, I spotted Donna Deegan – the founder of 26.2 with Donna – and decided to introduce myself so I could thank her for all she’s done for breast cancer research and the Jacksonville community. If you don’t know Donna’s story, I recommend reading about it here.

Meeting 3x Breast Cancer Survivor & 26.2 With Donna Founder Donna Deegan, Expo Swag, and the Running Pink Ribbon

Meeting 3x Breast Cancer Survivor & 26.2 With Donna Founder Donna Deegan, Expo Swag, and the Running Pink Ribbon

One of the most iconic parts of the 26.2 with Donna course is “Memorial Mile,” where those who have struggled with breast cancer are remembered and honored with large banners that expo attendees sign, leaving behind motivational and poignant messages. Reading through the posts brought tears to me eyes, especially when my mom signed for a family friend who recently lost her battle with breast cancer. My mom and grandmother also signed for me, sending me well-wishes on the banner with the word “FINISH” displayed on it. I wrote, “I’m finishing 26.2 to help finish breast cancer.” 

After stepping away from the banners, I knew that I had picked an amazing marathon for my first. All race proceeds (including registration fees) & raised funds go to breast cancer research and care.

Signing the banners to be displayed during the "Memorial Mile."

Signing the banners to be displayed during the “Memorial Mile.”

RACE START

The next morning, I woke up an hour before my alarm and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I stayed in bed, visualizing my race and fretting over what to wear with start temperatures projected to be 34-degrees but warming up to about 50 with strong winds that would be even more noticeable along the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, I decided to give up worrying about everything and start getting ready.

I pulled on my race outfit, pinned my bib as straight as I could (I’m getting better with all my bib-pinning experience!), and scarfed down an English muffin with honey and a PowerCrunch protein bar. My mom and grandparents decided to drop me off at the race start so that I didn’t have to drive myself or worry about getting back to my car after running 26.2 miles. Honestly, this was such a good idea, especially with the shape I was in at the finish line (ooh, foreshadowing). We encountered a bit of traffic with about a mile to go to the start, but it only took us 20 minutes or so to navigate through it. Around this time, my two best friends called me from California to wish me luck – they had set an alarm to wake up at 3 AM their time to call me! I couldn’t believe it!

Shortly after I got off the phone with my friends, my family dropped me off and I only had to walk about a half mile to get to the Runners’ Village, which was AWESOME.

The Village had everything a runner could want: tons of porta-potties, heating lamps, an anti-blister & chafing tent, an area to apply free sunscreen, water, coffee, food, and – my personal favorite – a warm-up tent not too far from the start line. I huddled in the tent with hundreds of other runners, listening to tons of conversations about first races and people-watching. At about 7:10, I decided to head to the start line.

Somehow, I failed to notice that the race had corrals and a waved start. I ended up in the second wave, behind the elites and super speedsters, but still close enough to the front that I wasn’t worried about being overcrowded at the start.

By this point, I started getting really excited and nervous. At about 7:20, I decided to toss my throwaway layers so I wouldn’t have to deal with it once I started running. Unfortunately, immediately after I did that and moved away from my gear, the race organizers announced that the start had been delayed for 15 minutes due to severe traffic that had prevented many of the shuttles carrying runners to get to the start. I chatted with the woman next to me to pass the time, and she shared that she’d run either the full or half  every year since 26.2 with Donna’s inaugural year. In the middle of our conversation, the organizers made another announcement – the race would start at 8 AM, a full 30 minutes late.

Not exactly the best news for this Type A runner. My heart beat definitely increased after hearing this news. I sent a quick text to my family to let them know there had been a delay.

A girl about my age came up next to me and we discovered we were both running our first marathon. She asked if I had a goal time, and I told her no, but  I shared the paces of my long runs. Apparently, they were really close to hers so she asked if I wanted to start out together. I agreed, but told her that I’d be brutally honest if I needed to fall back, and for her to do the same. We introduced ourselves and got ready .

RUNNING THE NATIONAL MARATHON TO FINISH BREAST CANCER (a.k.a. 26.2 With Donna)

Miles 1-6

These miles flew by – I couldn’t believe how quickly the mile markers appeared. I knew I was feeling good due to my taper and the cool weather, but I kept replaying Mary’s advice about not going out too fast, so I made sure to hold back as much as possible. To make sure we were staying at a conversational pace, my new running buddy, Kailyn and I chatted about our training plans and what we did for a living. We kept this up for a couple more miles, and at mile 4 we settled into our own paces and separated.

This portion of the course takes runners through beautiful and upscale Ponte Vedre Beach, where many residents were out in their front yards cheering us on. This was my first taste of just how much crowd support we would have, and I couldn’t believe how many people were out in the cold showing their support for the runners and, of course, the cause.

Miles 6-9

Once we got to Jacksonville Beach, we took a turn and headed out on the beach to run on the hard-packed sand. While this stretch of the course is gorgeous with the sun rising over the ocean, it is tough. I don’t care how hard-packed sand is, it’s still extremely challenging to run on, especially for 3 miles early on in a marathon. Not only did we have the resistance of the sand, but the wind had picked up and was blowing straight at us the entire time we were on the beach. I knew this part of the race was taking a lot out of me, very early into my run. I tried to focus on all the positives around me: other runners, the crashing waves, the rising sun, the memories of many days spent on this very stretch of beach.

Suddenly, near the half marathon turn-off, I spotted someone who looked like my brother – this caught me off guard because I was not expecting to see my family until at least mile 10. Then, I realized it WAS my brother. In fact, it was both of my brothers and my boyfriend! I got so excited to see them. My boyfriend and younger brother jumped in and ran about a quarter mile with me, asking me how I was feeling and telling me I was doing a great job. They wished me well, told me they’d see me again soon, and let me continue along the beach on my own.

While seeing them gave me a slight boost, battling the wind continued to drain my energy. I found myself wondering when I could get off the beach, a thought I don’t think has EVER crossed this beach girl’s mind before.

At last, we took a left turn up and off the beach.

Miles 9-13

When I returned to pavement, I knew those three miles had taken a toll on my energy and my legs. I was struggling to regain my pace, something I did not expect to encounter so early. Not too long after I exited the beach, I saw the lead runners come flying through what was their mile 17. Incredible. Right after that, I spotted my whole family cheering for me and I got a little choked up. My uncle jumped on the course to run a little bit with me. He gave me some nuun and Honey Stinger chews, which went down much easier than the half-frozen ShotBloks I had been using to fuel. I shared that the wind on the beach had taken more out of me than I anticipated (in much fewer words), but he told me I was doing great and to keep my mind focused on happy thoughts. He stayed with me until Mile 10, telling me he’d meet back up with me at Mile 17.

My uncle running with me around mile 9.5.

My uncle running with me around mile 9.5.

The course wound through some cute beach neighborhoods where, again, the crowd support was just outstanding. So many people were cheering for me, yelling my name, thanks to the personalized bibs the race gives all runners.

Miles 13-17

When I got the half marathon marker, I felt pretty good despite my legs already aching from the sandy portion of the course. I crossed the halfway point just under 2 hours, which was fine with me, even a little faster than I was expecting. Honestly, after that portion on the beach, I began thinking how lucky I’d be if I finished the marathon under 4:30.

Once I hit Mile 14, I thought about Meghan writing in her recent first marathon recap that this was a big moment for her because she had never seen a mile 14 marker in a race before. That resonated with me, and a big smile crept across my face as I ran past the pink Mile 14 banner. After that, I kept thinking “only a couple more miles until I see my family again!” That’s really all I could focus on at that point in the run.

Around mile 15, I started to get really warm so I stripped off the throwaway gloves my mom had bought me at the Expo and pushed my ear warmers up into my hat. I began regretting the long sleeve shirt I was wearing, especially since my bib was pinned to it, removing any hope of being able to remove that layer. I rolled the sleeves up as much as I could.

This is when my stomach started to hurt, badly. I felt unsettled and slightly nauseous. I’ve never experienced anything like this during a race or long run, so I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. Was I going to get sick? Did I need to stop at one of the porta-potties? I couldn’t tell, all I knew was that I did not feel well.

I kept running, taking sips of water at every hydration station, but nothing calmed my stomach. That’s when I saw someone handing out Flavor Ice frozen pops and, oh-my-God, I never wanted anything more badly than I wanted one of those popsicles. I took a lime green one, grunted out a half-assed but sincere thank you, and took small bites as I ran along. After that, I felt slightly better – not amazing, but better. I kept thinking, “just let my family appear soon, please.” And, not too much further, appear they did.

Miles 17-23

When my family came into view, I broke out into a huge smile. My uncle joined me again, and so did his two sons (my adorable cousins) and my boyfriend. The four of them ran with me for a little while, until my boyfriend and cousins peeled off to let my uncle and me keep going.

My running buddies: my uncle, my boyfriend with my cousin on his back, and my other cousin running along side.

My running buddies: my uncle, me, my cousin, my boyfriend with my other cousin on his back.

After my uncle and I finished the half marathon in December, he came down with severe plantar fasciitis in both feet. Months ago, I asked him to run some of the marathon with me to help me through the tough parts, but with his injuries I wasn’t sure if he would. He adamantly insisted he wanted to help me through the “hard part,” and that’s exactly what he did from Mile 17-Mile 22. At this point, the course followed one of the main roads in Jacksonville Beach. While beautiful, it is extremely uneven. For this entire stretch, my right leg was slightly higher than my left, which led to a very painful imbalance that took a toll on my hips, especially the one I injured in the beginning of my training. The uneven ground also left my ankles aching, another thing I never felt during my long runs.

I knew I was struggling at this point. I hadn’t hit the wall, so to speak, but I was hurting. My uncle kept giving me nuun and Honey Stinger chews, telling me funny stories to keep my mind off the pain. He tried navigating me to more even parts of the street, but they were hard to find. This stretch of the race blurs together for me, but I remember hitting the Mile 20 marker and feeling an insane sense of achievement.

We saw a lot of people stopping to walk, and I knew more than anything I did not want that to be me. My big goal going into this race was to run the whole thing, no matter what. If my uncle hadn’t been there, I am not sure I would have achieved that goal when I got to mile 21 and realized I still had a good 45-55 minutes of running left.

The days leading up to the race, I had been texting my uncle about how nervous I was. He responded, “You’ll have fun, damn it!” That thought stuck with me, and when we hit Mile 22, he said, “Are you having fun?” and I said, “Yes, damn it!” This little joke kept my spirits up, especially since I knew that he’d have to stop running with me soon and I would be on my own for the last three miles.

Miles 23-26.2 

My uncle had to stop running with me right before we turned on to JTB Boulevard, the last three miles of the course that would take us up and over a big bridge at mile 25. For months, I’ve been worried about that bridge – it’s steep for Florida standards and, let’s be real, any incline change at the 25th mile of a marathon, especially your first, is not exactly welcomed.

One thing I must have overlooked, though, was the winding on-ramp we had to climb to get on to JTB. Now, my legs screamed out as I returned to uneven terrain. That ramp almost broke me, but I refused to let it. I had come so far, I had run further than I had in my life, and a measly three miles stood between my goal and me. I replayed these thoughts over and over as I climbed that seemingly endless on-ramp.

Unfortunately, this part of the course is where running marathoners catch up to the half marathon walkers, which can be extremely frustrating for both parties. I did not have the energy to be polite and ask walkers to move to the right or left, and I’m sure I spooked a good number of walkers as I closely passed them. Also, the fact that so many people run the marathon relay can also take a toll on your confidence – it’s a bit disconcerting to see people blowing past you at mile 24 on fresh legs.

My brother’s girlfriend was volunteering at the water station right before the incline of the bridge and she ran a little bit with me, handing me an extra cup of water that I desperately wanted. She promised I was only about 1.5 miles from the finish, and I told her, “Good, because this freaking hurts.”

I made my way up that dreaded bridge, but I took time to look around as I climbed up to the summit. The bright blue skies and pretty marshland helped take my mind off the pain in my legs, and the next thing I knew, I had reached Mile 25 and the extremely loud Bridge Brigade cheer station.

Not too much further now…

CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

I came off the ramp after the bridge and thought, “Where is Mile 26?! Where is it?!” I wanted to see that I had made it to the final mile. As so many first-time marathoners think, I was not sure I would actually finish this thing until I could see the final marker and the finish line. I just needed it to come into view before I could let myself believe that I would be a marathoner.

Slowly, finally, that final pink banner came into sight and I threw up my hands. YES! Anyone who runs with me knows that I joke about being the Princess and the Pea when it comes to running – if anything, no matter how small, is bothering me, I am not happy. For some reason, my poor hat and headband became a victim of this… I ripped them off my head. I don’t know why, but these two items that I run with all the time were annoying the hell out of me and I just needed them gone. Luckily, right after that, I spotted my family. I tossed my hat on the ground near them and then did a really ugly half-cry, half-smile in their direction. When I passed my mom, she threw confetti up in the air – I can’t even tell you how much more real that all made it seem. My boyfriend and cousins jumped in with me, and ran a few feet, cheering me on and telling me to “run faster, run faster!” They stopped to let me finish by myself, but I could still hear them cheering.

When I crossed the final timing mat, I stopped running and my body immediately tightened. Everything that was hurting during the race hit me 10x harder once I stopped moving. Struggling to walk, my mind was set on one thing: Where is my damn medal?! I wanted that bling around my neck immediately. A few steps later, a volunteer handed me a space blanket, and I haphazardly wrapped it around my shaking body as I kept my eyes peeled for the person who would drape that beloved medal around my neck. Finally, I neared the amazing volunteers handing out the medals – I could barely bend down to allow the young kid to place the medal around my neck, and I think I burst into tears as soon as I looked down to see the symbol of my accomplishment.

I took a few more steps, and before I knew what was happening, two medics were at my side helping me over to the medical tent. All I wanted to do was find my family, but the medics were intent on working on my hip. Apparently the way I was collapsing when trying to walk on my left leg had caught the main medic’s eye from across the way, and he was adamant about taking care of me so I “could keep running for a long time.”

Not exactly the post-marathon photos I envisioned, but they'll have to do.

Not exactly the post-marathon photos I envisioned, but they’ll have to do.

After about 10 minutes, the medics said I was okay to go meet my family. I hobbled over to them, hugged my mom, and collapsed on the ground. My mom helped me into sweats so that I would warm up and stop shaking, and I began freaking out about how I’d make it to a shuttle and then back to my mom’s car which was at least a 15-minute bus ride away. Apparently, my boyfriend and brothers had ignored everything I’d said about the spectator shuttles and had no problems driving along the course or finding parking anywhere, including across the street from the finish line.

AFTERMATH

The 26.2 with Donna is known for its post-race party complete with a pink champagne toast and soup from Panera. Due to the severe pain in my leg, I opted to skip out on the party in favor of my warm car and getting home. Next year, I think I’ll run the half marathon and take full advantage of that party to make up for missing it this year.

My boyfriend and brother basically carried me to the car, and I made them blast the heat while I checked all the amazing messages I received via texts, Twitter, and Facebook. I spent the rest of the day sleeping on the couch and stretching.

Saying goodbye to my family before heading back home to Tampa, my grandmother told me how proud of me she was. My grandfather said he was even prouder. My mom got teary-eyed, knowing how hard I had worked to achieve my goal. My little brothers congratulated me again. Texts continued to come in from my uncles and aunt. My boyfriend kissed my forehead and said, “You know what? You came in 15 minutes faster than I thought you would, and I thought that time was fast. You’re a badass.” As hard as I can be on myself, seeing the pride my family felt for me is something I will never forget. I only hope they all know how much strength I drew from them during the marathon.

I did it. I’m officially a marathoner. And, I could not have chosen a more incredible race to be my first.

26.2 with Donna Medal

26.2 with Donna Medal

Chip Time: 4:12:28 (I am so happy with this time, and not just because 4/12 is my birthday or 412 is my lucky number, although those facts don’t hurt).