Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Hey Everyone, I’m Back!! …….Hooray?

hellogif

Hi.

Yeah.

Well, that felt awkward. Writing on this blog again, after all this time letting the dust bunnies accumulate, feels pretty weird. It’s kinda like when you miss a class in college, and then you miss the next one too because you fell behind, and then you miss another because now you’re SUPER behind, and then when you finally show up again, you step through the door with a squinty face and that awkward smile that says “I know I’m an asshole for abandoning everyone, but yeah! I’m back!…..(pause)…Hooray?” and hope nobody throws a stapler at you.

It’s no secret I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus. And by that I mean a hiatus from writing on this blog, from ultrarunning, from racing, from reviewing stuff, even from my friends who still run a lot (sorry guys. But I’m back….hooray?). And the reason is simply that I’ve filled my days with other stuff. I still run sometimes, but I also surf a lot in the summer, go hiking, socialize, travel more, and take weight training classes. I’m just as active as before but I just haven’t written about it.

And then a good friend of mine, the author of socalrunnergal.com, nudged me during a recent dinner date: “I’m pretty disappointed in your blog lately, woman. Yours was one of the blogs I always loved reading, and you just abandoned it!” Well, this one’s for you, Kate: I’m finally training again.

I’m not sure what purpose this blog is going to serve me in the unforeseeable future, but I do know for certain that I like to write when I’m running. But the thing is that running, well – it serves a much different purpose for me now than it did in the past.

The last two years have brought some major changes to my life. My marriage ended in early 2014, which was both a huge surprise and an absolute inevitability. Since then I have experienced an insane-feeling mixture of deep sadness and intense happiness. I have learned so much about myself that at times, I am truly at a loss for how to apply what I’ve learned to my new life. I guess the easiest way to put it is that my reasons for doing the things I used to love doing…have changed. Or disappeared altogether. It’s been an eye-opening time.

For example, I used to run long distance because of loneliness and boredom. Back when I lived in New Hampshire and none of my friends were runners, a 3-4 hour long run was a nice thing to look forward to on the weekends. And it gave me a sense of community to write about it on my blog and know that other runners were reading it.

So what’s it like when your blog isn’t your only friend? Well, you just live your life instead of writing about it! You go on roadrtips and take snapshots for Instagram. You get a second dog. You take up a new sport you never tried before, like surfing, and realize you love it even more than running. You spend all your extra hours enjoying your significant other. But then again, you also miss out on getting to write that artful description of the time you chipped your tooth on a surfboard fin.

Truth is, I still love writing. Writing is like a favorite sweater that I never wear in the summer but relish the feeling of wearing it again when the cold months return. When I’m not writing I feel just a little bit lost. Or no, lost isn’t the right word really. More like…empty. Void. Wasted. Like, missing a train because you were too busy counting birds on the rail.

Also, I really do like to write about everything, not just about running, or barefoot running. I don’t even run barefoot anymore, although I probably still walk around enough without shoes on to qualify – just this summer a random dude at the gas station asked me why I could afford gas but not shoes. Ha! So I guess the other big reason this blog sat here for so long is because I didn’t know what to write in it if I wasn’t going to write about running. I felt like I needed to stay on topic here, yanno? Or at least keep it in the realm of physical activity. Perhaps I should have started another blog and forced myself to write short stories or something just to keep up on it, but the reality is I didn’t. I just let life take over.

So, speaking of staying on-topic: I’ve recently started to pick up running again. The winter waves are getting a bit big out here for an amateur like me to surf, so might as well do some other activity to pass the time until spring-suit weather is back. And running, well, it is just as meditative as surfing. So I’ve started training for the Carlsbad half marathon. It’s an easy race, it holds my time PR and I’ve run it twice already. This year, I want to PR again. This will be the first time I’ll ever train for a distance race using regular weight training classes as a supplement (2-3 times per week). Shit….it’s also going to be the first time I’ve ever trained for THIS particular race…period. So I’m thinking hey, I might have a chance.

I’m not exactly what you would call the “consistent” type (just ask my friends), but I like the idea of keeping a little journal with my thoughts and progress as I go through training. I think it’ll feel a lot different this time than it did in years past. I’m interested to compare.

This week was my first “official” training week, on my “training” program. Since I sold my running watch last year and started using the MapMyRun app on my phone to track runs, I thought I’d try their training program. My first “long run” was yesterday. It asked me to run for 45:00. That turned out to be 4.2 miles at a 10:47 pace. It’s not bad considering I haven’t been running consistently for nearly two years, but I do still run (mostly hash) and when I do, it’s usually between 4-6 miles so this didn’t feel like much of a long run. Still, I kept a spot-on pace the whole way and didn’t stop to walk at all, which has been a challenge for me lately. I’m looking forward to watching my pace improve over the course of training. Or more accurately, I pray it does.

Tomorrow my trainer calls for a “pace” run, which is the only kind of run I have never done, because I just don’t get how they work. I mean, running for intervals “at half marathon race pace, with ‘easy’ running in between” is quite a confusing feat when you only ever run one speed…..and that happens to be your half-marathon speed.

I’ve been sitting here asking myself: do I run extra slow that day and speed up to my regular pace during the one-minute “pace” intervals? Or do I go faster and just essentially do speed intervals? It’s a confusing mess of running semantics that even started a novelette-sized comment thread on my Facebook page today. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, but these are actually the kinds of things that keep me up at night when I’m running. And I realize that’s probably droll AF to everyone else, so….if you plan to keep reading this blog throughout my training, best of luck to you. You already deserve a medal for participation.

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A Place Called Home

carlsbadbeach

I am now approaching the eve of a full year spent living in San Diego, on the other side of the country from where my life began. I have been procrastinating this post for awhile now; partly because I’ve been keeping myself too busy to write (more on that later), but mostly because I wasn’t really sure what’s left to say on the subject without worrying that it’ll sounding braggy or trite. But I think I’ve finally come down from that surreal, vacation-like state of having first moved here, and I’ve had time to reflect on what this year has changed about me.

To be honest it doesn’t even feel like a whole year has passed. More like five or six months. A strange thing happens as we get older: the world just keeps spinning faster and the years fling by like boomerangs. Christmas, birthday, Summer, Autumn, Christmas. I remember being a kid and thinking how very long a year was. “Summer is right around the corner,” my Grammy would ponder, but to me it felt as if decades passed before swimsuit weather was upon us again.

Speaking of my Grammy, she lived here in San Diego once. She and my Grampa schlepped themselves west for promising work right after high school, along with my Grampa’s brother Pete and my aunt Pauline. They only stayed for a year, living for a time in the North Park area with my aunt Marion and her husband. It was tight living quarters for sure, but that was part of the family-centric culture back in the 50’s. Even though it was short lived, my grandmother definitely loved it. I know this because she told me so many stories about San Diego when I was a child that I think the soul of this place was permanently imprinted on me even back then.

Views of Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak, just ten minutes from my house.

Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak. My house may actually be in this photo.

This was apparent when I first vacationed here with Shawn in 2005 – and then kept finding excuses to come back. I knew it then as much as I know it now: this town, by the truest definition, is my home. For 33 years I existed in eastern New England, floundering a lot, finding friends and losing them again, moving from town to town. I looked hard between the forests and the cities for a place I could call mine. A town I would fall in love with. In 33 years I never found one. Finally I began to fancy myself a floater: I figured I must be just one of those people who prefers to be unbound to a particular place in favor of trying everywhere. I realize now I was just unsatisfied.

Unlike just about everyone I knew, I never retained a close-knit group of longtime friends who would drop by the house to borrow a cup of sugar or feed my cat while I was away. I had one or two very close friends whom I love like siblings, but because I moved all over the state we always seemed to be an hour’s drive away from each other. I’ve never been very close to family; both of my parents are deceased and my family of aunts, uncles and cousins are spread out all over New England. And frankly, our emotional distance is even wider than that. I’ve never felt I could count on anyone to be there for me the way I saw others could. I always thought it didn’t bother me, but I understand now that it really kind of did.

But you know, I think we all live our lives normalizing whatever is around us. Palm trees and year-round temperate weather is business as usual for a native Californian. But they were a far-off daydream to me, as I dug my car out of snowdrifts all winter long. A dream so big that I think part of me simply waited to begin living any actual life until I had a permanent tan and a back yard full of queen palms.

sunset

The SoCal Sunset.

And so here I am. Home, and finally living my actual life. This place suits me like a soul mate. I now get to look out the windows of the loft I’ve made into my home-office at a landscape rife with southern Californian beauty. Rocky hills and mountains in the distance that make way for sun-struck glimpses of the great Pacific, hawks flying above, coyotes howling at night, and skies so wide and so blue that I finally understand what it’s like to feel miles of open space and the roundness of the earth as it curves away before my eyes. The mercury hardly ever rises so high that I need air conditioning, nor falls so low that I need to put socks on my bare feet. That perfect happy temperature and humidity level, which tends to elude New England for all but ten days per annum, is the absolute norm here. And so is the sunshine. Sunshine, which has ever been the perpetuator of my deepest personal happiness, couldn’t be more plentiful: it has rained only 6 or 7 times since we arrived.

The beach-sandy, easy-living culture of SoCal plays to all the best parts of my personality. All 70 miles of San Diego coastline is public turf, which means you can park anywhere and walk, run, swim, surf, kayak, paddle or relax on the beach all year round, any time of day or night and never have to be elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of annoying overly-tanned strangers. There are stretches of beach, and even an entire island, dedicated to San Diego’s love of dogs, and a large number of restaurants welcome our canine friends with spacious outdoor seating and plenty of doggy water bowls.

neighborhood

A view of my neighborhood

San Diego is one of the largest hops-brewing cities in the world, housing over 100 breweries and microbreweries within the county lines. The city’s passion for beer has spurned some of the best hashing in the country as well, with something around 15 kennels of trail-running, beer-drinking Hash House Harriers, littering the earth with chalk symbols and baking flour dollops on just about every day of the week. People who become Hashers and Harriettes tend to be a lot like me: they are mostly educated, laid-back people with a love for good trails, fine beer and dirty jokes. Many of them with either no kids or grown kids, they are free to live the social lives they desire. They are athletic but not competitive, health-conscious but not militant. They tend to be quite comfortable within themselves, which makes for an exceptional (and exceptionally large, for me) network of friends and acquaintances who have kept me busy, entertained and running dozens of insanely awesome local trails for over eight months now (which explains my lack of time for blogging). Because of Hashing, I finally have the opportunity to gain that centralize social circle that has always eluded me in life.

Trails in Escondido

Trails in Escondido

And at least two-thirds of the people I have met here, hashers or not, are transplants like me. They have been equally drawn in by the magnetic pull of the SoCal life. It only figures that people who are bold enough to leave their original lives behind for something better tend to have a lot of other personality traits in common too. Because of this I find it much easier to be present in the friendships I have made, and I feel much more understood. Nobody here bugs me to have kids or to buy a home, or alienates me for my divergent choices. I no longer feel surrounded by complainers who hate their lives but are too lazy or cowardly to improve them. I sense more independence amongst these San Diegans: people play more active roles in their own lives and don’t seem as likely to expect from the world (or their parents) that morphine-drip of emotional and/or financial support that I saw so often back east.

I once heard the advice: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Southern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” I used to worry that losing my east coast roots would bring forth the departure of my soul, my grit. But now I see that’s a completely bullshit notion. The only thing I have lost since I’ve moved out here is my bitterness: bitterness about the weather, about the traffic, about friends lost, about the insane cost of living and the life-sucking obligation to always settle for less than what I wanted. I don’t feel that way out here. I don’t feel poor like I did in New England, even though I make roughly the same amount of money. I don’t live in a crappy neighborhood because that’s all I can afford. Instead I live in a nice house in a quiet community, close to the beach and a few minutes from the nearest mountain views.

No, I have not lost my soul: instead I have introduced this soul to the joys I never knew I could afford or deserve. I have not lost my grit: instead I’ve applied it to more positive endeavors, like running for miles up mountains and learning how to stand on a surfboard (it’s much harder than it looks, by the way). I have learned that people desire different things in life and that there is just no good reason – not family, not a job, not fear – to relegate myself to a place or a lifestyle that’s less than what I ultimately desire. I only get one body and one finite period of time to live in it, and I’ve done myself a disservice to have even for a moment wasted it at the hands of my lesser obligations.

surfboards

A photo taken after my first surf lesson

As a result of this realization, I have come to no longer care what my distant family members think of my free-wheeling lifestyle. I don’t care how new parents feel about my rejection of the parenting life. It means less than zero to me whether other married couples think Shawn and I act married enough or spend an adequate amount of time participating in each other’s chosen pastimes. I don’t care if fellow runners think I drink too much beer or if fellow hashers think I run too many races. It took me 33 years, but my choices finally feel like they’re completely mine. I finally feel beautiful. I finally feel whole. I finally feel happy. And I mean really, honestly happy. And I don’t even give a shit if you don’t believe that. This is what it means to “find yourself”.

This, my friends, is what it feels like to find your home.


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Guest Post: Runner? Jogger? Who the Hell Cares?

I am lucky enough to share one of my greatest passions with some of the most amazing people on the planet. People who can run really, really far with little to nothing on their feet, who can climb mountains and withstand immense heat, cold and all sorts of weather. Yes, that’s right, my friends are superheroes. And one of them is the most badass chick I know, Vanessa Runs. A while back I asked her if she could write for me what she thinks about being a runner. Anything – wax poetic or give it to me straight. Per her usual, she chose the latter. Thanks, Vanessa.

Runner? Jogger? Who the hell cares?
By Vanessa Runs

There is a big ugly sign on the side of the road that reads, “YOU ARE A DOG”.

A cat wanders by, looks up at it and thinks: “I wonder who that sign is for.” Then wanders away.

A dog comes along, sees the sign, and starts barking angrily. He reacts emotionally because—he knows it’s about him.

That’s how I feel about the runner vs. non-runner debate. Just replace the word “dog” for—heaven forbid—jogger. Runners shrug. Others get their panties in a knot.

But this is a tired topic. Runners don’t need to define themselves. If they did, it might look something like this:

1. I am a runner because I run anytime, anywhere.
I don’t need a training plan to follow. I don’t need a running schedule. If I have one, that’s cool. If I don’t, that’s ok too. I don’t need people or apps or a piece of paper hanging on my fridge to tell when me to run. I’ll run regardless.

2. I am a runner because I will run alone.
I don’t need to always follow a group, though sometimes I like to. I am equally happy running by myself. I don’t ever need fanfare or applause.

3. I am a runner because I don’t need to prove it.
I don’t need to log or record my “workouts” so that everyone knows I ran. If I log my runs, it’s for my own records—not to prove myself. I know what I am.

4. I am a runner because I don’t measure my performance against others.
I move to the best of my ability and I am not intimidated by “better” runners. I do not feel better about myself next to a slower runner. We are just runners. There is no better. There is no worse.

5. I am a runner because I do not apologize for a strong performance.
If I have a fast race, I will be damn proud of it. I don’t need to downplay my success so others won’t be offended or feel bad about themselves. If I can be a great runner, I’ll own it.

6. I am a runner because I do not make excuses for poor performance.
If I have a slow-ass race and come in dead last, I don’t need to explain why. It wasn’t an injury, and it wasn’t the weather. I’m just damn fucking slow. I’m slow sometimes. Deal with it. I’m still a runner.

7. I am a runner because my body is awesome.
I don’t care what others see or what society tells me. I know my body is awesome because of the way it moves me. I’m amazingly built. I refuse to criticize a body that allows me to do what I love.

8. I am a runner because I have fun.
I’m actually having an awesome time. This is not a workout. It’s not a chore. I didn’t go to bed at night, dreading my run. I don’t try to get my runs over with. I wish they lasted longer.
9. I am a runner because I don’t care what you call me.
Call me fast, slow, jogger, speedster, DFL’er; it won’t make me mad. Define me if it makes you feel better, but tired labels mean nothing. If I’m faster, that does not make you worse. If I’m slower, that does not make you better. So get over yourself and get out for a run.


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Repost: Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears

Last weekend I sprained my ankle on leaf-covered trails, like I do almost every year. It’s angering, but it may also be a badly-needed lesson that I absolutely CANNOT wear traditional running shoes (forget what my podiatrist says), and that I MUST stop blowing off those ankle-strengthening exercises.

Although I am out of commission (AGAIN), I remain optimistic. There isn’t a lot of swelling and I know I’ll be back on my feet soon enough, and hopefully doing my cool-season long runs again before I know it.

In the meantime I think I’ll repost one of my favorite blogs on here. I wrote it last winter after my first 10-mile half mary training run, and it still makes me smile. It’s fittingly called “Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears: What I’ve Learned on My Quest for the Double-Digit Run.”

Please click here to view.

As always, thanks for reading!


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Two Half Marys and a Spartan Sprint: Re-motivating.

This has been an eventful few days for me, as far as this whole running endeavor goes. On Sunday, I ran the Boston Athletic Association 10k race. It took place in Back Bay, went for a spin around all the gardens and traveled up and down Commonwealth Ave. It was quite novel to run red lights in the middle of the Boston streets, and awe-inspiring to see all the celebrity elite runners gazelle-ing it past us in the opposite direction toward the finish line. Pretty race, not so pretty performance on my part. It was humid, and I’m discovering that after all that winter training I’m not much for running in the humidity right now. It was also at 8 o’clock in the morning, a time of day that I almost never run. Oh, and at mile 3 I did something stupid: I ate 2 Gel Bloks – which I’d never tried before. About a mile later my stomach let me know she wasn’t having any of it.

All graphic details aside, I didn’t finish as fast as I wanted to. I finished about 15 seconds later than my last 10k, and both my running partners finished over a minute before I did (which, in my mind, means that I should have run at least that much faster). So I was somewhat disappointed in my performance, but it’s okay. I got my t-shirt (B.A.A races always have the BEST shirts!), my cool medal to add to the collection, and had a great time with a couple of awesome chicks who love running as much as me (the pumpkin pancakes and beer at the Pour House afterward weren’t so bad either).

Another thing that happened that day is my very close friend Kathy inadvertently reminded me that I have some half marathon training to do! We are both running the Smuttynose Rockfest Hampton Half on October 2nd, and her official first day of training was Sunday. Excellent. Except I’m also running the Rock ‘n Roll Providence Half Marathon way before that…on August 2nd.

Which means I have (drumroll)………………

SIX WEEKS to train for it. Yikes.

That would normally not give me the least bit of worry, my last long run before this weekend was 8 miles so I’m on track. But my performance on Sunday tells me that I need to majorly work on speed and endurance, especially in the humidity (of which there will be an abundance on August 7th). So, Monday morning I pulled up the “Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training Program – Intermediate” and figured out where I ought to be. Now, let me say that I don’t actually believe in following these plans to the letter. I like to use them as a sort of guideline, a way of knowing what might be expected of me to do well. Turns out I’m expected to have run a 10k last weekend (check) and 16-19 miles this week, with a 9 mile long run on Saturday. No big deal.

um.

It’s important to point out that I’m sort of training for TWO half marathons. Knowing that this first one in Providence will likely be satanically hot and therefore quite slow, I may just consider it an extra-fun training run for the second race (a flat ocean-side course in nice, COOL October), which I hope will be a PR-maker. So – I’m going to try and run three days midweek instead of my usual two, for interval training. I like intervals, fartleks, hills. They add total suckage to the current workout, but it’s amazing how much they help later on.

So last time my peak mileage per week was 20. This time it’ll be more like 23-25. Still not a crazy amount in relative terms, but I think it’ll do. My biggest worry is recovering mentally from the first race in order to prepare for the second one. It took me over a month to get back into gear after April’s half. It could have had a lot to do with the crushingly busy season at work and the subsequent week-long business trip, but also a bit injured so it was difficult to get back on track. Hopefully I’m stronger now and will have less injuries as I go through training (IT Band, don’t fail me now!)

And then there’s the third thing: Today I signed up for the Spartan Race, which will take place three weeks after the Providence half marathon. The Spartan Race is in the same vein as the Warrior Dash. My friend Kathy has dubbed it “the race for people who don’t run,” which is fitting since most of it actually consists of things like crawling, climbing, swallowing dirt and dodging tires, not even running. It sounds fun, kinda badass. It means I’ll need some upper body strength (of which I currently have none…I mean come on, I’m a runner!), so it will motivate me to take more lunch breaks in the weights section at the gym. So, hopefully I will avoid injury at the Providence half. But more importantly, I hope I don’t injure myself at this thing – because the Hampton Half is kind of critical now so I don’t want to screw it up with this goofball race. I’ll just have to be careful, I guess.

But I can’t pretend like it won’t be fun to smoke my guy friends who are running it with me. That’s right, smoke ’em like salmon.


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Conquering the Hills of Great Bay

The motley crew after the finish. Kathy's friend, Kathy, me (with my eyes closed, of course) and Killeen. Bunch of rock stars.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly make my intended time goal. Neither the first, nor the second. The hills of Great Bay are the spawn of Satan.

But.

I finished my first Half Marathon, and I finished it running. No…sprinting! Smiling, and near tears. More on that later.

I don’t think I could have had a more memorable first half marathon. First of all, I had two of my greatest long-time friends with me, Kathy and Killeen, who have been wonderful running companions through training and during the race. We had the sunshine, we had dirt roads, we had beautiful views, and we had over a thousand other people to share it with. Well…for the first mile or so, anyway.

Hills?! Nobody said anything about hills!

The day before the race, Killeen and I went up to Newmarket to view the course from the car. We got our bibs and t-shirts first at the expo, and we noticed the printing on the back of them said “These legs conquered the hills of the Great Bay Half Marathon.” First clue that your upcoming race is going to be tough is the hype printed on the back of the free tech shirt. The second clue is when your 2007 Civic has trouble getting over the hills on the course.

Hm.

So once I got home I spread the paranoia on to Kathy, and then the three of us spent the entire night worrying over it. Of course, I completely forgot that we LIVE in New Hampshire, and none of us has never done a long run without facing at least two or three very large hills.

Anyway, race day arrives and I have my gear on (my tank top with pockets for my iPod…so I can play “The Final Countdown,” of course, my long sleeve, my running skirt, my compression socks, my 6 layers of Body Glide, my two energy gels, and my trusty Bikilas), and I’m ready to go. Once I got there I noticed there were tons of people wearing Vibrams and even a couple of barefooters. I’d never seen so many at a race, and I was really excited about it. After standing in line for 20 minutes at the ladies’ room, finishing up and then heading straight to the porta-potties for another just-in-case relief stop, we see people heading to the starting line. The three of us jog over there just in time for the Anthem, and stood pretty much at the back of the line. I’m not even sure we heard the gun go off, but we knew the race had started once the people in front of us started to move.

There were so many people that we felt as though we were being herded for the first quarter mile. At 1/2 mile in, the first hill in town was ahead and there was a sea of yellow, orange, black, green and blue in front of us, all the runners filling up the road. It was really quite a sight to behold. It felt good being part of something awesome.

As usual I let the adrenaline take hold of me, and pushed a 10:45 first and second mile, with my friends keeping up tentatively. I’m sure they were trying to slow me down rather than keep up (they’re smarter than me and knew it wasn’t time for getting ahead of ourselves). Note to self: I have to learn how to pace my starts better.

The first 4 miles went by in a flash of joy. My friends and I laughed and chatted and couldn’t have felt more exhilarated. Someone asked about my compression calf sleeves and I was happy to be a Zensah commercial. One girl noticed my Garmin and asked me what our pace was at mile 2, and some dude in Vibram Classics almost blew a snot-rocket on me just as I was about to pass him (I have my doubts as to whether it was an accident). My friends and I decided that we were going to cheer every time we passed a mile marker. I’m positive that the people around us were growing hateful by mile 5, but that didn’t phase us…we were having a blast!

Second water stop at mile 4.5 was perfect timing for my first energy gel, I swallowed it down as soon as I saw the gathering, took a big cup of water, and then another. I had to walk while drinking, it was hard not to choke when my water was coming from a vessel other than a rubber straw. I didn’t litter once, either…dropped all my cups/Gu packets into the trash bags as I passed them. I think most everyone else did, too…there was almost no litter anywhere on the course. Not surprised, though, New Hampshire folk are pretty conscientious.

Anyway, at around mile 6.5 things started getting a bit hairy. My starting sprint started to take a bit of a toll on me and my 11:15 average pace started to waiver. It was time to turn off the dirt road (which started at appx. mile 2.5), and start head-long into the hilly territory. Killeen, my light-as-air friend, took off strong ahead of Kathy and I, at her own steady pace, as I’d hoped she would. It was time for Kathy and I to don the earphones (which were “strongly advised against,” but were so necessary for this stretch) and get our heads into the game. We ran roughly alongside each other up and down the first small rolling hills by the bay. I felt good, strong. My feet were gliding, and I was barely breathing hard. The hills were not nearly as bad as I’d worried. The view was astounding and the wind felt amazing. Kathy is a strong hill runner and she kept me going.

There were many small hills, but two very large ones on this stretch. For the first one we both just put our heads down and powered up it. But then came the downhill, which was steeper than anything I’d ever practiced on. I slowed a bit, tried to remember what Barefoot KenBob said about going downhill. I even ran on the double yellow line to avoid the pitch on the side of the road. But by halfway down, it was clear my IT band had no chance. One landing on my right leg sent that ugly shooting pain up to my hip, and my whole leg wavered. I had to hit the side of the road and stop for a moment. I stretched, I massaged. I got back on the road again, but this time I was slower (which is actually worse for my form). I reviewed my performance thus far. Maybe I had been overstriding too much, not paying close enough attention to my form. But now I couldn’t get my form back on track. I couldn’t loosen up, it was a really tough moment for me.

Now it was mile 8, so I turned the music up and just focused on getting through the rest of the race, and through the pain. I passed Kathy without a word, and didn’t look back because I knew I had lost my good mood and would be a bear to talk to for the rest of the way. I ran and walked and ran and walked during the 9.5 – 12.25 mile stretch, which was a torturous out-and-back with a lollipop through some richie-rich houses that looked like they were transplanted from Santa Barbara, California. On the way in I passed a ton of people coming back, some smiling, some barefoot (yay), and a few were walking and limping. It didn’t do a lot for my morale, heh. At mile 11 I took two cups of water and walked with them until they were gone. Then I stood at the trash for a moment, dumped them, took a deep breath, and started running again. By now my average pace was 12:03. I lamented my last long run a couple weeks before, my breakthrough 11:15 pace…but I couldn’t get it back now. There was really nothing left to do except finish.

A few minutes later I stopped again to rub and stretch my leg, and a middle-aged woman stopped to ask me if I was alright. It was sweet of her. I thanked her and told her I was okay, but I didn’t have the energy to make small talk once I passed her again a few minutes later. I was so done. I was at my lowest moment. With one mile left, I turned back out onto the main road. Both of my friends were completely out of sight. Every step hurt more than the last. I wanted to cry.

Then.

I wore my medal all day. (I thank my hubby for not including my face in this picture. It was windburned and my hair was all over the place.)

Chariots of Fire started playing on my iPod. I laughed. And then the tears came. I have no idea why I couldn’t hold it back. Thankfully there was nobody close enough to see me sniffling, because it was pretty embarrassing. But I pulled myself together eventually, and let the song guide me the rest of the way. Up one more hill, and back down. And then there was the 13 mile marker, and the finish line. I could see it. My legs took over, and I started practically sprinting. Nothing hurt anymore. I didn’t even see Kathy’s husband Steve standing at the chute…I just ran. I slapped the finish mat with my left foot and smiled big as a volunteer handed me a medal and a bottle of water. So glad it was over. The official results say that my finish time was just over 2:39.

Killeen met me at the end of the chute and I started crying again for a moment. “That was really hard” was all that came out of my mouth. Killeen laughed and hugged me. What are friends for, if not to withstand you while you blubber on like a baby? Heather might have been taken aback though, a forum friend who ran the half totally barefoot and finished fast as a lightning bolt (man am I happy for her!). She caught up to me right as I was mopping up my eyelids. I was happy to finally see her there, it was like almost everything had been accomplished for the day. Everything, in fact, except for seeing Kathy finish.

I walked back to the finish and waited only a minute or two before she came striding down the street, in her pink t-shirt and pink nail polish. I was as proud of her as I am of myself. I almost cried again, but held it back as I raced over to meet her. With that, we had all come back. We all made it to the end of our journey.

And I can’t wait to do it all again. 🙂

One of the highlights of the day: BEER. Cheers to Kathy, who couldn't make it out for nachos.


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The Final Countdown

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been too busy [running] to post. But the reality is that sometimes I’m so afraid to be uninteresting, that it keeps me from posting at all. I have two drafts started on other topics, but haven’t finished them. I’m going to have to work on that.

My half marathon is this Sunday. Which means I’m finished “training,” I’ve done all the prepping that I can, for better or for worse, and I’m tapering for the week. In case you’re reading this and you’re not a runner (assuming I even have readers) , tapering means significantly lowering the amount of miles you run over the course of a week or more (depending on the distance of the race), following the height of training. The whole point is for your body to be rested, primed and refreshed by the time race day hits.

My last long run in training was my longest, fastest, best performance thus far. Up until then I’d been pushing against a wall of 12:00 miles. I swear, every time I’d look down at my Garmin I would see an 11 on the pace meter…but would still turn up pretty much exactly a 12:00 pace by the end, every time. It was frustrating. I know, I know, a lot of folks will click their tongues and say that for a beginner distance runner, 12 minutes is a fine pace. But I felt like every long run had some setback that kept me from running as fast as I knew I could: either I hadn’t eaten enough, was running hard trails, too many hills, had a sore something-or-other, or got too winded from chattering with a running partner (more on that later). This last run did have one setback: I brought my Boxer, Oscar, and even though he’s been known to run pretty endlessly with me, he just didn’t seem to feel up to snuff that day. I’m not sure if he was tired, feeling yucky, sore, bored, or if his backpack was chafing. I was practically dragging him behind me for the last 4 miles. I felt bad, but I was 4 miles from home, it was too cold to walk, I was too prideful to call for a ride, and besides the dog wasn’t showing any outward signs of needing to stop (i.e. limping, panting, excessive water consumption, tail between legs). And I was averaging an 11:15 minute mile, so I wasn’t willing to give up my personal best for a pooch who was just being stubborn.

(For those of you who might be worried about Oscar’s well-being, don’t feel too bad…once we got home he happily ran figure-8’s around the yard for twenty minutes).

Don't let this sad face fool you; Oscar is an ultrarunner.

Anyway, even though 11 miles was the most I’d ever run, and even though the last mile was pretty mentally rough, I got through it in my best time: 2:04. I beat my 10-mile pace by 7 minutes and I was pretty darn satisfied with myself. I also didn’t take a walk break on the “colossal hill” that gets me every time. Not even for a second.

The upside (or perhaps, the down-side) to having done so well that day is that now I have a mental time goal for my first half. I know your only goal at your first half marathon should be just to finish it, but I can’t help myself. My current comfortable running pace is about 10:45-11:00. My best long run was at an 11:15 pace. If you factor in race-day adrenaline (the same adrenaline that let me finish 5 miles in 52:00 at last year’s Turkey Trot – a pace I have yet to ever match over that distance in training), then perhaps that can get me down to an 11:00 pace. And an 11:00 average pace will get me to the finish line in 2 hours 23 minutes.

Seriously, this stuff is way too easy to get all over your face.

I’m trying really hard not to hold on too tight to that time, but I do believe wholeheartedly that, barring any major catastrophes (injury, sudden unforeseen energy depletion, energy gel mishaps, runner’s trots, etc.), I should hope to be able to finish in less than two and a half hours. I am running with two friends of mine, one who is in much better shape than me and will likely spend the entire race pretty much just pacing me (that is, unless I can convince her to try for a better time, which I know she can do – she just isn’t as competitive as me, a.k.a. she is sane). The down side to that is since she’s in such wonderful shape, it won’t be a problem for her to converse heavily throughout the entire 13.1 miles. But if I’m trying to maintain an 11-minute pace, I don’t want to waste too much energy pushing hot air out of my lungs. I think I learned on my lone training runs that while it is much lonelier to run without a buddy, it’s much easier to put out my A-game. Unfortunately for me, she’s fun to talk to and it will be difficult to 1. tell her I don’t want to talk without feeling bad about it, and 2. actually not talk. Maybe I’d better bring my headphones just in case. Heh.

Race-day jitters aside, I feel pretty accomplished that I even finished training for a half marathon at all. I mean, isn’t that the hard part anyway? You can’t run a distance race unless you’ve put in the hours of training (or unless you’re a running demi-god, like my friend Meg Fox). I know – I hope – that one day I’ll look back on my peak running weeks during this training (20 miles) and think it’s not a lot of miles to run in a week at all, but at this junction it has been a big challenge. Just like last September when running a 5K race was a great challenge for me, and when 4 miles was my long run. The expectations get bigger as you move forward, but the mental challenge never diminishes.

I live for those moments in life when you realize you’ve just gone and done something you never thought you could do. Up until a couple of months ago I never thought I could run a half marathon, but on Sunday I will. I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for the race report!

In case you were wondering, yes, I did name this post after the song by Europe. And yes, the hook has been stuck in my head ever since. (video contributed by Larry Gibbons)