Thursday, July 9, 2015

Boston Marathon

This blog has pretty much hit the grave, but I feel I owe myself at least a couple more posts (I'd love to fire it back up again, I miss it, but then again.....)

And, because BOSTON!  (yes, I am well aware the race was almost 3 months ago...shhhhhh). 

And, because I hate viewing that last pathetic post I wrote every time I pull up my blog.

So, let's start where I last left this thing.  That'd be January....

When the calendar flipped to 2015, Boston became my A-race, yet through all those winter and spring months, training for Boston didn't go exactly as I had hoped. Sometimes I feel as though we are all mice in a giant experimental maze, scurrying around frantically, trying to find our way through. I felt like that training for Boston.  Low energy; training paces that resembled something my grandmothers could run (and neither are alive); race results that left me frustrated, and at times, feeling pretty damn low.  Maybe I had came down with some newly discovered cancer. That'd be really cool, in a not-so-cool way. Maybe it was that I officially turned OLD this training cycle (that'd be 52 in case anyone wants to know where that magical line lies) and everything from here on out will be a giant spiral downward. Or, I've been having some extra stresses this year, so it could have been that.

All-in-all, I think I just felt overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed by the thought of an unsure future and a confusing present where I didn't really know what it is I'm supposed to be doing or where I belonged. You know that feeling when you walk into an incredibly messy room to clean it and you don't even know where to start?  So you end up staring at it for 20 minutes before going to make yourself a sandwich?  That's exactly how I felt (feel) about my life. Which bled into my training.
I allowed life to affect my training much more than it should have.  Because the thing is, I know things need to be done.  I know that plans must be made.  And in many cases, I know what those things and plans are.  But I don't always have the faith they're going to get me where I want to go.  So instead, I go and make that proverbial sandwich and thus life stood still and I ate a lot of sandwiches.  And bleh I couldn't run "well"; too many sandwiches will do that.

I chose to take my feet back to the road marathon for a while because I could not think of another race distance that truly humbles me from the inside out. The road marathon is that challenge I just never felt at peace with. Pounding out that many miles at a constant steady-state, I have almost always lost my mental grit during those last few miles. The road marathon is a dig-deep 10k with an aggressive 20-mile warm-up that demands an ability to run relentlessly at a pace that is right on the edge of unsustainable - a feeling I like to think of as "the wheels are ABOUT to come off."  Is this pace too fast?  Will I crash and burn and if so when?  Do I have more in me?  Where is that uncomfortable comfort zone I can sustain for 26.2 miles? By contrast, the varied terrain of a mountainy trail run means the pace fluctuates dramatically; constantly shifting gears to accommodate the always-changing terrain gives the mind and body a break.  I felt I got lazy running trails.  Trail running turned me in some of the best physical fitness of my entire life two years ago, but the head got careless.  I'd come to a hill and walk because it's perfectly acceptable to walk in steep traily races. I stopped at aid stations and feasted for 15 minutes until I felt "better" before I would take off.  I stopped to smell the flowers, view the scenery, take a gajillion pictures, reflect on ... anything.  Don't get me wrong, running 7900' of vertical at altitudes 10,000' and higher (Silver Rush) definitely poses some challenges - like pleading with your lungs not to explode right then and there, and least we forget how many banged up bloody knees and that infamous busted rib muscle I had.  But I missed that sensation and challenge I feel running faster and steadier in the marathon, and I wanted it back. So my focus for the year came back to the road (at least until trail running season :))

And since I somehow miraculously qualified for Boston at CIM in December of 2013, Boston it was.  

I am a habitual worrier, and to compensate for the undue stress I put upon myself, I plan.  And I plan well in advance so I can visualize that race in my head over and over.  And over.  AND OVER! I had already researched the Interwebs to death, reading and re-reading countless articles on how to run this race well (you know, because the other two times I've run it weren't so stellar) and I came up with my own game plan for race day in hopes of squeaking out another BQ there.  I compared my way-too-many detailed notes and came up with a master plan (note: Marathon Pace (MP) = 9:02):

Miles 1-4: MP -10 seconds 
Miles 5-11: MP 
Miles 11-16: MP -10 seconds
Miles 17-21: MP +15 (brutal hills)
Miles 21-24: MP (though truthfully, I just hoped not to be walking here!)
Miles 25-26.2: Hang on for dear life.... and to think of all the times I had some decent runs up a certain really tough local hill.

The weather wasn't particularly spectacular: drizzling rain and strong bouts of fierce headwinds.  The temperature wasn't exactly perfect either: about 40 degrees (which was cooler when the cold rain and winds were factored in).  I didn't really have adequate attire, but I'm not sure anyone had anything that was ideal for hours of running in these conditions. I stressed what to wear the entire day before and all the way until a few moments before the gun went off. In the end, I ended up wearing basically all I had: shorts, two long-sleeved shirts, arm warmers and two pairs of gloves.  For most of the race I felt chilled, and by the end of the race, I was soaked to the core. It wasn't ideal by any means, but in all honestly, I'd take this over anything above 70 degrees.
My daughter, Abbey, cheering and tracking me from the confines of a dry and warm hotel lobby
I wish I could write all the thoughts I had during the race...not only to share, but so I could also visit them later when time steals these precious memories and the details become hazy. I can close my eyes and recall many moments that stood out, but my thoughts during the race were fleeting and I couldn't concentrate on anything more than a few seconds. I was cold, for the most part. I had to pee for what felt like an eternity. I was well ahead of my proposed plan. My quads were trashed by mile 2, and that pain never ceased. I high-fived kids whenever I remembered to look up and 'take it all in'. This race definitely became internal where I continuously was aware of my time; my effort; my pace; how I felt; when to fuel; how much further I had left; am I pushing it too hard, or not quite enough. To me, these are the precise things you NEED to internalize when you put your heart and soul into a marathon, and I wanted to race this thing!

I was ahead of my plan by a couple minutes coming into the half.  Yes, the wheels had a high chance of coming off, but the Newton hills were soon approaching and I am not a strong climber (if you think living in Colorado where there are mountains aplenty to make me climb well, you'd be wrong).  I felt I needed these additional minutes at the halfway point if I had any remote chance of making it out alive past the upcoming hills, so I told John in my inner voice, don't panic quite yet.

Surprisingly, the miles were clicking by quickly for me the entire race and despite my screaming quads, I was enjoying every morsel of this race. When I remembered to look up, I'd recognized certain landmarks or places and smile at the memories from years ago. But then I saw it - the sharp 90-degree turn where the Newton Hills begin around mile 17. Anxiety started to brew. My pace had been riding consistently up to this point, and for that fact alone, my head was holding up remarkably well. But those hills! Those four ghastly hills. Knowing they were my nemesis and worrying about them for like weeks, if not months, played a significant role in my mental collapse; by the last hill, my quads were trashed; I had stomach issues, and my hamstrings were seizing up. My pace fell drastically to 10:12 when I reached the top of that last hill. That's a HELL OF A LOT more than pace +15, Jill. You're screwed!  In 4 long, agonizing miles, my mental state became a pile of dog food and I felt I had nothing left in me anymore - my object to re-qualify for Boston next year was pretty much out the window. It seemed pointless to try.  If I can't BQ again, then why even bother? I came up with a hundred excuses why I was content with failure. 

The scene became a familiar one I've encountered in countless marathons past at mile 22. It hurts too much. It doesn't matter. You aren't going to reach your goals. Goals are stupid. Why do you put so much pressure on yourself? No one cares but you and you'll eventually get over it. It will feel so much better to walk. Your quads are killing you. Just walk. You'll still finish. That's a pretty big accomplishment in of itself. 4:02 is a good finish. Why did you think you could run 3:57? You can't. It doesnnnnnn't matttterrrrr. Just finish, shed a few tears of disappointment, and it'll all be about 15 months.

2 minutes later..... it WASN'T okay. And it DID matter.

I didn't know how I was going to come home and face the firing arms with my handful of lame defenses. I knew I'd lose. Not just to the people who were there by my side, but I was going to lose the battle I sought out within me: that fight to the end that I have longed for in the marathon. 

I mean, isn't this exactly what I said I wanted?  To push through these last 3 miles. To fight the pain and fatigue.  To prove to myself that I can be strong. To prove I am worthy of all those proverbial cliches that make me gag every time I see them on Facebook but secretly keep tucked inside and pull out when I need them. Some of the hardest challenges make you stronger......

But ugh, I was in so much pain. My quads, which had been screaming from mile 2, were in agony; every step was pouring more misery into every leg fiber I had. My hamstrings were as tight as cello strings and seizing up. I just had three more miles....three. 

No, not this time. I told myself to just shut up and RUN!  Run as hard as you possibly can!  

Mile 21: that crap 10:12. Mile 22: 9:34. Mile 23: 9:23. Mile 24: 9:14. Mile 25: 9:07. I welcomed that Citgo sign in the distance where in prior races it never seemed to move; it would hover out there, dreadfully never seeming to inch closer. This time, I could actually FEEL it moving towards me.

I was passing people like it was my job - it felt empowering. My quads were killing me, but I was running....and I was smiling....Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston and you're there. I said this repeatedly... until I turned Right. Then Left. And suddenly, there I was on the infamous Boylston Street with thousands swarming the street cheering.

Mile 26: 9:13  

Tears were welling up as I ran towards the finish line - I had to turn them off because it became problematic to cry, breathe, AND run. I thought about how far I had come to get here; all the obstacles I faced training for this thing; all those sandwiches I ate. This is a stretch of the race I will treasure for the rest of my life - and I will forever remember every single second of how I felt. I was home  My secret goal was 3:57:something - which only my dearest friend Jen knew (who was the most supportive human being on the planet earth - emailing me and texting me daily that she believed in me, which meant the world). I crossed:  

Gun time....ignore that clock

People always say running is about the journey.  Embrace the journey. That's all fine and dandy for them.... but for me, in the end, it's about crossing that finish line! There is no greater high I have EVER felt than a well-run race. Right now I want to race until I feel satisfied I have completed all I can do. Satisfaction isn't necessarily PRs (though that would be really cool), but rather to continue to grow, to learn, and race with everything I have in me until I can't. I want to race with endurance that is strong and passionate, yet patient and wise. I want to chip away at that 3:57:02 because I know I have more in me.  I don't know when this desire will cease or when I won't feel the need to get out there and beat the crap out of myself anymore; I'm sure it's in my not-so-distant future. But right now I'm thankful for the fire within. And at age 52, that is a true gift, and I cannot put it away quite yet.

My life right now isn't particularly 'good' as I try to inspect where I need to go, what I need to do, struggles with this and that, and where I fit in this great big world. But it is getting a little better. Boston showed me that no matter how painful things are in my life, nor how particularly low things can get, and how lonely I can feel for much of it, if I can run faster than I ever have in the last 4 miles of a marathon on completely fried legs, surely I can persevere in this thing that is called life.

It may take longer than I wish and I may eat a few more sandwiches before I find that happy place I'm meant to be, but there is strength in pain....

I know I can do this.

Thank you, Boston!
Words can't begin to describe the emotions I felt when I saw these two at the end.
My unimpressed-with-running daughter said, "Why are you crying?"  One day she'll understand!
A friend from home, Othman, whom I literally bumped into outside the expo
This one flies with her own wings....
.....and isn't afraid to express how she feels about running expos :)  
But she makes awesome signs
And I love her to death....and in the end, she was very proud of me (along with her little brother, who saved my life with his coat post-race)

"A runner must run with dreams in his heart."
- Emil Zatopek

Run strong, my friends!