Sunday, August 10, 2014

Run 9, 20, and 12: Perspective.

"What is a 'bad' run? What makes it so bad?"
- me, two-ish years ago.

In the Team In Training half-marathon training world, your 10 miler is the first "big deal" long distance run.  It's typically the longest run the majority of the teammates have ever done in their lives, and its your first double-digit mileage before your event.  It's a little bit pomp-and-circumstance, which is understandable, because it kind of is a big deal if you're not a runner.  Post-10 miler, I started to write a long post about the experience, and realized that it was, well, underwhelming.

But the view was really pretty!

It was underwhelming in the sense that it was a pretty easy, normal run, minus the crazy long hill at the beginning (which I walked most of).  The weather cooperated, the temp was cool, and we were running around Griffith Park, which provided a nice change of scenery.  When I finished, mentally and emotionally, I felt like I had not actually run 10 miles.  I will admit I was a little disappointed that it didn't seem like a bigger deal to me, but I chalked it up to the fact that my training season, all together, had been pretty easy.

My 11 miler was the complete and utter opposite.

Here are the things that were going against me going into my 11 miler day:

  • 4 hours of sleep
  • Air quality deemed "unhealthy" by local news stations
  • Crazy humidity and heat the week leading up to it (100+ degree days)
  • Forgetting to go to the store and being out of bananas and bread, therefore eating a protein bar as "breakfast"
  • A forecasted temperature of 94 degrees
Because of all of these things, I was a little nervous but not overly concerned.  I had run in the heat before, I had run on little sleep before, I'd eaten a protein bar for breakfast before, and my 10 miler was easy.  An extra mile wouldn't be a big deal, right?

My first 6 miles around were… okay.  The humidity was making it hard for me to breathe well and it was very, very warm, despite the 6:30 start time, but it wasn't the worst.  I was sluggish from the lack of sleep but the anxiety over the distance caught up to me and woke me up.  I had given the Mission Moment that morning, so I spent most of the that time reflecting on my time as staff with Team In Training.  (My first two miles are always my hardest - my legs take for-ev-er to wake up - and I often spend that time thinking about my TNT family to push through it.)  I was annoyed, but I was otherwise fine.

At the 6 mile mark, I swapped running partners.  Katie had been running in dead shoes and was suffering from crazy shin splints and needed to stop, so Josh (my mentor) and Natalie (one of the assistant coaches) offered to run with me for the last 5.  We never run together as they are much faster than I am, so I looked at this as an opportunity to get to know them better.

It felt like in the 5-10 minutes we had stopped to swap running partners, the temperature had gone up 10 degrees.  The sun was blazing, and the first two miles have no shade.  I felt nauseous every time I tried to run longer than a minute and a half and then had to walk longer than usual to get rid of the feeling.  My clothes were totally soaked through from sweat and I was huffing and puffing constantly, running or not.  My whole body started to tingle, like pins and needles, from head to toe, and I was getting a sharp, stabby pain in my right foot every half a mile or so.

Needless to say, it was rough.  But… I finished.

I finished even though, afterwards, I found out the tingly feeling is dehydration.  I finished even though I accidentally took way too much salt and probably should've sat out for a while to rehydrate properly.  I finished even though it was in the high 90's with a crazy high humidity level and I couldn't breathe because my allergies were going haywire.  I finished because all I could think about was how I spent the morning talking to my teammates about why I'm going down this crazy road, and I absolutely, could not let my friends down.

I also finished so I could finally earn this:

A delirious but happy BAMF.

To say my 11 miler was hard is a severe understatement.  It was discouraging and worrisome and made me very, very nervous about the upcoming 12 miler, the longest distance I would cover before taking on the Disneyland Half.  We tapered back the following week, running 7 miles with the rest of the California Southland chapters through the hills of Pasadena and (literally) into Angeles National Forest.

It was a little more of a hike than a run.  Kelsey's excited!
At the finish of this run, we had an Honored Teammate Potluck, where we were surrounded by photos of friends and loved ones.  We had celebratory mimosas and were surrounded by photos of friends and loved ones who have been affected by this awful disease.  We heard from the Be the Match Registry on how important it is to get tested and be added to the registry, as you could save someone's life.  It was beautiful and fun and a great way to finished a Saturday run, but it didn't eliminate my worry for my 12 miler.

I spent the week leading up to the 12 miler thinking about how far I've come; how just a few short months ago, I couldn't even run a mile; how I'm now signing up for another half marathon and planning my first full; and how, when I ran my first 10k, I came in absolute dead last.

Googling yourself is fun when THIS comes up!

My first ever race bib, which I totally thought would be my last.. until now.

I asked friends on Facebook to send me names of loved ones that had been affected by cancer so I could think of them while I ran, and so many people responded.  After our quick walk clinic by the awesome Chuck Fowler, I spent the first two miles thinking through each person - mom's, dad's, sisters, best friends mother's, friends of friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  For our last 6 mile loop, Katie and I were joined by Jen, a woman who had run LA Marathon and Tinkerbell.  She asked about how I got involved with TNT, and I told her about how my friend Dana had run the Rome Marathon and I was so impressed, I looked into jobs at LLS, and:

  • Applied for the admin position at LLS only to have Dana (who was interning there) recommend me for the TNT position instead
  • Went to my first TNT cycle practice only to have a participant go over her handle bars and need an ambulance
  • Watched that cycle team finished a century ride in Lake George in torrential downpours, despite the fact that the race was officially called off due to weather
  • Spent 3 hours in Walt Disney World texting with my race coaches, hoping one of our participants would finish the Goofy Challenge and not get swept, and finally got to see her round the corner at the finish in Epcot, completing a half and full marathon in just two days
  • Met a participant, Merle, a survivor, who raises thousands of dollars every year for LLS and is one of the greatest email cheerleaders on earth
  • Signed a team of 20 people up to run a half marathon in Providence who wanted to raise $20,000, just to watch them go on to raise $61,000 in just a little over two months
  • Witnessed a coach give his bike and his shoes to a participant so she could finish her century ride after her chain broke halfway through.
By the time I stopped talking, we were 2 miles away from being done with the 12 miler.  I had the sudden (and really emotional) realization that if I could run 12 miles, I could absolutely, 100% run a half marathon.  All those mornings I worried and fretted about not being able to run 4, 5, 8 miles seemed ridiculous.  That awful, terrible 11 miler seemed like it had happened years ago.  Coming in dead last at the Lone Gull 10k became sort of a comical, now "this funny thing happened way back when, and now look where I am!" story to tell my grandkids someday.  Most importantly, 12 miles seems like nothing compared to the heartbreaking and incredibly difficult challenge of battling cancer, when you spend your days never knowing when it'll be over.  I know my run is done when I've finished the mileage, but patients fighting this awful disease don't know an end until they've heard it from their doctor.

All I need to do is completely focus on why I started on this journey and nothing else matters - and that, if nothing else, will get me through 13.1 miles on what will most likely be the hottest day in August.

Okay, AND my amazing, Sparkle Athletic skirt, too.

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