Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When The Troops Come Racing In: Part 2

Building Castles in the Sky... 


“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” ~Henry David Thoreau
...Waiting...waiting...waiting. Look at my watch, calculate time...distance...where are they now. I visualize where each of them are right now. I know this course well. I can see in my mind's eye where each one should be right now. My brain is churning.

Ambitious and important goals are chased today - some may call them 'castles in the sky' - because they are somewhat audacious - they are big and bold and fierce. They require a certain courage just to allow oneself to go after them - to speak - to others, to oneself - in one's head. They are scary, anxiety producing, and exciting. They make the blood hot and the stomach unsettled.

And if they are not reached today they will be soon. Each of these runners comes to this race with their own histories: This is Cecilia's 7th marathon and she has, time and again, been plagued with injuries and pacing problems in previous marathons. Esther is still pretty new at the running and marathoning thing. Jeni ran when she was younger then gave it up for a long time, but has returned with fierce determination. All three are after big PRs and hopefully BQs, at some point soon, though they all really want them today. All three are right "there" based on their training - it is within reach, but it is still a reach. Each has given it her all during a tough winter of training - and whether they reach the goals they've set for themselves, today or at some time in the future, depends so much on factors that remain out their control. Our will and our preparation - that we have some say in. And on that we must rely, and put all we have into the effort.

But this is one of the most mentally challenging aspects of marathoning: Anything can happen in a marathon - Anything. There are things we can control and there are things we can not control...and we must pray for the wisdom to know the difference...

A post from Amy pops up on Facebook: "Cecilia just passed 21 miles. On a 3:45 pace". OMG. OMG. My brain is just about to jump out of my skull. I still have so long to wait. Sandra tries to keep me calm. I now begin pacing up and down, up and down, up and down the hill leading to the finish. My eyes are peeled for the green shorts and shirt. Oh, come on green shorts and shirt...come around that turn...now. And so time passes...crawls the next 40 or so minutes...

And then they appear, green shorts and shirt, like a prayer answered, they appear out of nowhere and I'm startled by the realness of them. Cecilia looks at me and waves me away with a couple passes of her left hand and an almost imperceptible shake of her head. I look at my watch again frantically calculating. I don't know what time she actually crossed the starting mat - I can't yet see the finishing clock, but I start running alongside her, my own tired legs now completely alive...and we run for the finish.

Those last .2 tenths, those 385 yards, I'm screaming and I see nothing but her, and the finish, and finally the clock, 'Go. You've got this! OMG, you've got this..." and on and on I scream. I'm sure she is hating me. But she gives it everything she has. I look at the clock...3:46:xx...the goal is sub 3:45 for the BQ, but I don't let up on her for a second and she does not let up on herself. She crosses the mat, I put my arm around her to steady her, she looks me square in the eye and then collapses like a sack of potatoes to the ground taking me down. I turn off her Garmin (yes, I can't believe I did that) and yell for some help. Some Medics come and take her to the medical tent. She is in good hands, so I run back to my watching post and wait for Jeni who should be coming in next.

I don't know if Cecilia has BQed, but she did manage a huge PR. That much I know. Now the wait continues...Somehow Amy misses Jeni, so we have no news where she is. Oh, what's happening out there. Where is she??? We get an update that Esther has passed 21 miles. She's off pace, but at least we know where she is.  And I know this is so out of my hands...and I am so not okay with that.

Then Jeni appears around the turn. She is walking. Sandra runs to her and I join and we three run to the 26 mile mark where Sandra jumps out and I continue. She is looking at a 35+ minute PR and I really can't repress both my relief in seeing her and my excitement in what she's about to do. She is hurting, bad, I can see that, but she's running again, and again I run toward the finish.

And she crosses the mat with a huge new PR. And she gave it everything. There was nothing left to give. And that is a good race. And she is ecstatic (well, as ecstatic as a totally exhausted marathoner can be).

I jog back to find Cecilia and Sandra. Cecilia sees me and says "My time is 3:44:49"...my mind spins for a moment not grabbing on to what that means, and then I look at her and scream and jump on her. I hug her tight, forcing back the tears welling up.

And then I turn and see Esther running up that last rise. Danica (another wonderful friend who I ran Fox Valley with last year) is running next to her. She is struggling, but she is running strong at this point.

And for the forth time I am pulled toward that finish. She pushes to the finish with such strength and determination in spite of what I know must have been a real test for her. I don't know what she's been through, but I can assume that things did not go well. And after all that, this is what she looks like crossing the mat! (and notice the person who was ahead of her 100 meters earlier, is now behind her - she PUSHED it!!). She finished strong. She finished with a glowing smile on her face.

And THAT is what it's all about.

The push when you just want to say 'enough' - the smile when the effort is finally over and you didn't give in to the 'enough' voice in your head, - the sigh of satisfaction at being weary to the bone - the inner battle when things don't go well - how do you make sense of it all?  - This is what we ask for, and the marathon never fails to make it's mark on our soul.

And the foundation is higher and more solid than before. And each effort adds to the foundation and each goal reached and each goal that slips through our fingers changes us forever. And each lesson learned and built upon determines whether our life will be one of big dreams that enliven and excite us, that make us giddy by the mere thought of them, or whether we will take the safe and timid route. These women all went big today.

And I had a very satisfying case of Laryngitis for the next 5 days.
“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

And there will be a Part 3...because that's what dreams are all about...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

When The Troops Come Marching In: Part I

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is for them...

After a winter of hard training, challenging weather, nipping burgeoning injuries and illnesses in the bud, succumbing to other injuries - We all converge on Colorado: Me, Cecilia, Sandra, Esther, Jeni. All of us have trained through a hard winter cycle, all preparing for the Colorado Marathon or Half Marathon.

And now the time is here.

My original plan was to run the Marathon, but as many already know, I did a butthead, and hurt myself. After missing Boston, my goal race, I am unwilling to mess myself up for any of my other planned races. Over the past few weeks, weeks where I have been (conspicuously?) silent here, I've been trying to allowing things to sink in, gel, ferment, sort out - because I try to learn from the bad and the good - I have become aware of a fair amount of judgement thrown my way - either to my face, passive-aggressively, or behind my back - "How can she be a good coach when she injured herself?" It's a natural, and ummmm, stupid question for anyone who knows that there are ALWAYS risks when one pushes their limits. I'm no more immune to this human frailty than anyone else - and so I got hurt because I wanted to see where I could go. This was not a case of hubris, but simply seeking my best...and I'll be back, and I'll probably (most certainly) hurt myself again. Them's the risks. Learn, move on...learn some more... I hope I'm smarter now or that really would be a stupid shame. But it's easy to just ignore the lessons and foist abuse and blame on one's self and others.

I mention all of this because, due to my injury, my role this past weekend shifted from being primarily a fellow runner in the race to, first and foremost, a coach and friend supporting the other runners.

This is gonna be interesting.

And so they arrive - from Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey...And the fun begins.

We've all been training together, all winter long, virtually - following each others ups and downs, successes, fits of angst, PRs, weather challenges, schedule upsets, injury and illness scares - and now we are all here - Friends bound together through running first, and now through much, much more. We all 'met' each other on Facebook through  Women Who Run The World, a group I started back in January 2012 (Cecilia and I actually met the old-fashioned way).  And While I've had the chance to run and hangout with most of these women, this is the first time we are all together in one place. 

And it works. We work - like beer and pizza :) We all just go well together. It's almost magic...

So, after a relaxing first afternoon/evening of good food (thanks to Cecilia's Culinary brilliance!) and a little beer, and a nice easy jaunt on the trails behind my house Saturday morning, we pack ourselves up and head to Fort Collins. The car is bubbling with pre-race anticipation - and a healthy touch of nervous energy.  

It's at this point that I first realize that this is a very different sort of experience for me. I'm nervous - very nervous - not in a bad way, but in an "energy jumping under the surface of my skin" way - and it isn't about ME this time. It's all about THEM.  The control freak in me is having issues...

We walk into the expo and the place is just vibrating with energy. And now I'm feeling envious, jealous, out of sorts...I just want to run (and I am running, it's just not what I had originally planned)! God, I just want to run. But my purpose here is different. I'm not okay with that yet. I'm trying to get comfortable with it all, but I'm not there yet.

We then have a fabulous dinner at the Rainbow Restaurant (Thank you, Lisa Roehm-Gensel, for setting that all up!). And, bonus, I get to have a beer because I'm not actually racing in the morning. Okay, that is a plus. Of course everyone else has a beer too, but I'm usually too uptight the night before a marathon to actually allow myself one. Oh, and then I have another. What the hell anyway.

Then back to the hotel, splits are written on arms, teeth brushed...and...Zzzzzzz. And I did actually sleep a little, another bonus since I never do much of that before a marathon.

3 a.m. and Sandra's alarm starts singing "Wake up, wake up, wake up, it's a brand new day..." loud and clear along with Jeni's 'nuclear accident warning siren' sound alarm! Ahhheeee. And, I'm trying to keep it on the down-low, but I'm hacking, just a bit...Shhhhhhh. Don't tell anyone.

We eat a bit, drink copious amounts of coffee and pile into the car. I drop Cecilia, Esther and Jeni off outside the parking garage so they can catch one of the last marathon buses. I wish them strong legs and lungs and say for the umpteenth time, "Please, do not go out too fast". Then hugs and they shut the doors, disappearing into the anonymous darkness. I take a deep breath, look at Sandra, "I feel like I just dropped my kids off at college. It's out of my hands now."  It's about 4:30 a.m. We park the car and catch our bus to the half marathon start.

It is freaking cold and dark at the starting area - and we have an hour to kill - and some dill-weed stole all the toilet paper from the port-o-potties! Seriously bad GI karma raining down on those poor souls for some time I pray.

As the sun begins to come up we start getting ready to run. My toes are completely numb but I know that won't last, so I strip down to as little as possible, teeth frantically chattering. I add on one toss-away t-shirt. And then we're off and all is well with the world again because I'm running at last, checking in with Sandra...in my element. This is not my race, this is Sandra's race, and I actually really enjoy that thought.

Supporting someone else is difficult business - My usual approach in this situation is to sit back and let the other person do the directing. I usually spend that first miles saying "Slow down a bit" or "Do you know you're going x:xx?" etc. Then it's really the last miles that get testy. And these do. Sandra is feeling nauseous probably from dehydration (these mid-west folks do not understand that when I say drink I mean DRINK!! Colorado is VERY dry) and so I covertly keep a sharp eye on my Garmin. We are a bit ahead of pace and I don't want to lose that, but I also don't want to precipitate a meltdown, so I back off for a mile. Then we pick it up again. Two miles and change to go. "You're pushing it" is all Sandra says. "uh huh" is all I say, and she stays with me. At the last water stop, less than a mile from the finish I ask, "Do you want anything?". "No" she responds. "Good", as we continue to press on. 

And as we turn onto the road to the finish, the last .3 mile of the race, I know she feels sick, she says she thinks she's gonna pass out, I say, "You're almost there." and she pushes it toward the finish. I look at my watch as we cross the mats...she grabs onto my arm for a moment of stability. And she has a new PR, at altitude no less. 

Medals...hugs...congratulations. A silent sigh of relief and satisfaction from me. A smile of deep satisfaction shows through her fatigue. THIS is it for me. THIS is why I do what I do and it matters as much to me as my own hard fought for successes.

Now comes the waiting game. We have an hour and a half before anyone else will be rounding that corner heading toward the finish - and I feel more anxious than I ever could have imagined. I am not the praying sort, but I'm praying now. Just in case...
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ~ Anais Nin

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...