put yourself in HER shoes

In the past few years, I’ve written a bit about my evolving relationship with running. Running is a lot like writing for me: an outlet for energy and emotion, a challenging pursuit that inspires me to improve, an activity that stimulates creativity, and a fun diversion, and something I crave when I go too long without it. Also, “runner” and “writer” are two titles that I have been reluctant to claim, even though I avidly engage in and enjoy both things. But recognizing that I am, indeed, both a writer and runner, has been a significant part of my personal growth and my story.

Girls on the Run® is helping girls find this important perspective while in still in elementary school, inspiring 3rd-5th graders to be joyful, healthy, and confident. The positive youth development program creatively integrates running into a fun, experience-based curriculum that emphasizes competence, strength of character, compassion, and meaningful contribution to community. Girls discover their potential to be remarkable and learn that they can take charge of their own lives, develop the ability to think critically, and use their voice confidently.

Girls on the Run of Southern Oklahoma served 70 girls in Carter and Love Country last season, and is continuing to add teams each semester. The team meetings and lessons show pre-adolescent girls how to embrace their individual strengths, develop healthy relationships, successfully navigate life experiences, and positively connect with and shape the world.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article for their blog about what running means to me and how it has affected my life. Sharing my running story with pre-teen girls in my community made me realize what a powerful tool this simple sport can be to motivate, educate, inspire, and empower. I have experienced personally the effect on my physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being, and know that this influence could be even more beneficial for a young girl.

Right now the local chapter is participating in the “put yourself in HER shoes” campaign to generate support for the GOTR team activities and supplies. Your contribution could provide a program tee-shirt or 5k race entry for a participant, meeting snacks or finisher medals for a team, or scholarships for underprivileged girls. All of these things fuel a program that is guiding girls in developing skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.

Teach her she can fill any shoe she chooses.

Girls on the Run® of Southern Oklahoma is a 501(c)3

the finish line: the third time is charmed

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when i shared my personal half-marathon anti-training program last week, i was truly uncertain of how sunday’s event would turn out for me. i’m sure i wasn’t alone in my skepticism, although i knew maintaining a positive mental state was crucial to my success. my goal was to at least match my previous two finish times of around 2:05. knowing that many have achieved a personal best on this course, i set a stretch goal of shaving a minute or two off this year. here’s the blow-by-blow.

i absolutely could not sleep the night before. i headed to bed at 10pm, planning to get up at 5am to eat breakfast so i’d have plenty of time to digest, and then maybe lay back down for awhile before getting up and dressed. in the end i was so nervous and excited that i laid there awake until 2am then dozed for a couple of hours, waking on my own a few minutes before my alarm. lee sweetly pep-talked and check-listed me, then went back to bed to wait for graham to wake. i left with a good luck kiss and the promise of seeing my favorite boys at the finish line.

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grateful for the 7 minute drive to the stadium rather than the 47 minute drive across the metro i had for my previous races, i arrived in plenty of time, but the parking lot was already packed. i boarded the race buses (the only way to the starting line) at 6:30 and waited while the other runners trickled on. i killed the time eavesdropping on others’ loud and giddy conversations while making sure my running app was set up to the right distance goal, the right music, and connected to my bluetooth headphones. we pulled out at 7:00 and were at the top of the course by 7:15. the full marathon was well under way, but the half didn’t start for another 45 minutes, so after a visit to the water station and the porta-john, i still had half an hour to kill. (a far cry from last year’s hectic start!)

the chilly wind chased everyone back onto the shelter of the buses until the last minute, so i chatted with the other runners and played around with the nike app. i decided to use the facebook linking feature to get “cheers” from my friends. i didn’t know what to expect from this function, but this seemed like a good time to try it out. i also made the mistake of browsing my running log while i waited. i was astonished to see that i had overestimated my training runs by more than 50% (both in number of runs and in distance)! not a good time to realize that i was less conditioned than i thought! i shook it off, turned on some motivating music, and headed outside to warm up.

nike+ running app

i still had not seen any familiar faces by the time the gun went off, but i positioned myself in the middle of the pack and tried to get into a groove. the cheers from facebook started coming in almost immediately, and it was the most delightful surprise. every so often the music would fade slightly and give way to applause and whistles and hoorays. what a great idea for real-time support! the social aspect of the nike app is the reason i chose it over the myriad of other fitness apps or a separate gps device, so i was happy to find another fun feature executed well.

the first four miles flew by, my pace half a minute faster than my norm. i cautioned myself to take it easy, but i didn’t feel as if i was running any faster than usual. around mile 5 i came up on two girls from church, and ran with them for a bit before one outpaced me and the other dropped behind me. it can certainly be motivating to have a running partner, but i actually prefer the solitude and my music when racing. it’s enough to be surrounded by fellow runners without feeling tied to any one person.

the reported 531 ft elevation drop in the first three quarters of the course had me studying up on downhill running and worrying about my quads, but the grade was not nearly as steep as i imagined. in fact, it seemed more like rolling terrain with a few easy uphill sections as well. i carried on, glad i had injected some great new songs into my trusty playlist, and diligently sucking down energy gels at my predetermined intervals whether i felt like i was slumping or not.

course map

seven miles were gone before i knew it. i was still maintaining an 8:40 mile, and was amazed that neither my lungs nor legs felt overtaxed. they don’t call it the “fast half” for nothing! if i continued at this pace, i would finish in under two hours!! i tried not to get sucked into chasing the sparkly goal of a sub 2:00 time, but my secret ambition had been stirred up. i wanted it.

at mile 8 i got a surprise hug as an old family friend fell into step beside me. i had been hoping to see mike, and so i was thrilled to run a mile or so with him before he steadily moved ahead of me (the big hill at mile 9 got me). i was running a nine-minute mile by then, and every mile after that was 10-15 seconds slower than the previous one. but tenacity was on my side, and i knew i could still make my secret goal as long as i didn’t “bonk” horribly.

by the time i reached mile 11, i was tired enough that two more miles may as well have been twenty in my mind. i felt my phone buzz and looked down to see an encouraging text from my friend candice, who had estimated that i would be in the home stretch by now. it was just what i needed to rally. i fortified my mental resolve, chanted “mind over body” to myself a few times, and mustered all my remaining determination and grit.

mid racethis is the point in each race that i find my thoughts focused on my mom. she was the one with the most optimism, the most confidence, the most belief in the final mile. we were all in the race together, from the minute she was diagnosed, but it’s a lot easier to be positive and hopeful and energetic and ready to fight at the start of a battle. it’s when you’ve been beaten down repeatedly and your body and soul are weary that your bravery and perseverance are tested. she led the way with faith and a clear sense of purpose even when her troops were feeling worn out and discouraged.

i carried this motivation with me for the last two miles, even though i ran them at a pitiful pace compared to the first eleven. as i ran into the stadium i heard “triiiish!” and my childhood friend (and now neighbor), amy, ran up and gave me a quick hug as i passed. perfect. i picked it up for the final lap around the track, not about to let my far-fetched wish slip through my fingers. as i crossed the finish line at 119 minutes, i saw mike standing on the other side, arms outstretched toward me in a victorious whoop! i did it!

i found my boys, who had a series of mishaps on the way to the race, but made it just in time to see me run in the last quarter mile. (lee recounted his adventures with, “i nearly pulled a hamstring trying to hurry into the stadium with graham. it would be pretty bad if i injured myself walking from the parking lot.”)

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on facebook i reported that i came in at 1:58 because i thought my chip time might match my app time of 1:58:55, but my official time was 1:59:05. either way, i cut six minutes off my previous times and beat the two-hour mark! we celebrated by driving directly to our church down the street, just in time for the service, and going out to eat afterward with my dad and micky. i recouped with a long shower and good nap that afternoon, and felt fantastic the next day. (although the first few trips up the stairs took longer than usual. ;) )

i’m not sure if my triumphant race results can be attributed to good luck, willpower, genetics, prayer, or just a healthy lifestyle and daily cross-training with an energetic toddler in a two-story house, but i’ll take it! i’d like to say that i’ll actually train next year and try to see if i can attain another PR, but ya know, it’s not really my style.

a half-marathon anti-training program

on sunday, i’ll run my third half-marathon to celebrate my mom’s birthday (st. patti’s day ;) ). for the past two years, i have participated in the strides of march around lake stanley draper in okc, and this year i finally get to do the >A2A race in my childhood hometown. my dad and i have twice run the A2A 5k in honor of my mom, but i’ve always wanted to try the longer distance that winds down through the arbuckle foothills. withour relocation to ardmore, the timing seemed perfect. i’m ready for another installment in this particular thread of my story.

my first half-marathon went splendidly. in fact, it went so well in spite of my minimal preparation, early pregnancy, and little rest the day/night before, that i fear it made me a bit dismissive of my physical limitations. my second half-marathon fell five months after my son’s birth, and even though i knew i had not properly trained, i made the mistake of blindly trusting my body’s resilience without considering the science behind athletic performance. let’s just say that i didn’t finish strong.

i have been blessed with consistent health and energy for most of my life, and i naively underestimated aging and hormones in my expectations. i’ve also had a hard time considering myself a “real runner,” and so it didn’t occur to me to to learn about fueling strategy or sport-specific gear. i was so uninformed as a runner that i didn’t even know there is a term for what happened to me at the end of last year’s race. what i described as my body giving up is what seasoned runners call “bonking.” even most rookie racers know about the dreaded bonk.

it is quite uncharacteristic of me to neglect extensive research on anything i do, so i decided to remedy that by preparing for this year’s physical event with a very trisha-istic training plan: READ! i looked at articles on everything from when to eat before and during a race and what it really means to carbo-load, to why a woman’s hormones affect energy expenditure and how breastfeeding impacts glycogen stores. i listened to podcasts from experts and watched videos by professionals. i ordered anti-blister socks and a high-tech running top after reading tons of amazon reviews.

what i haven’t done is run a lot.

now, before you scold me for continuing to foolishly register for races without conditioning with an intentional running schedule, let me defend myself with the lamest excuse ever — i hate long runs. i know, it seems silly. but i can hardly tolerate the prolonged jog when all i can think about is my growing to-do list and how i’m bored and burning up time. race-day atmosphere is completely different with the excitement and adrenaline and companionship of other runners to keep me interested. i also hate running several days a week. my personality craves variety, and i rarely want to run more than once per week. (i have more excuses that involve baby and busyness and barometric pressure, but i’ll spare you those.)

so, no judging. i’m the one that’s putting my burning lungs and legs on the line ;). and for those who’d like to reassure me that it’s okay to walk for a bit if needed, let me introduce you to my competitive side. my brain will undoubtedly equate walking with quitting. (for me, for ME! all you half-marathon walk-run warriors are champs, seriously–13.1 is no joke.)

but the challenge of this new march tradition is something that is an essential component for me. yes, i appreciate the motivation to be active and the sense of accomplishment and the camaraderie of other racers, but the real reason i stretch myself is to pay tribute to the heroic courage and perseverance of my mother throughout her battle with cancer. maybe that is partially why i commit to long-distance running even though i know it will be a bit of a struggle. an event that inspires me to push through the discomfort and dig deep for more strength and endurance is the most fitting way i can think of to honor my mother’s enormous stamina and fortitude through her own exhausting challenge.

so that brings us to this year’s half-marathon. i wanted to preface 2014′s race with some relevant context and reflect on how my approach toward half-marathoning has evolved, because my one word for this year is all about revealing the story that connects the pieces of my life.

the finish line – a sequel

over the last year or two i’ve surprised myself with an enjoyment of running, even continuing to run up through the final days of pregnancy. after giving birth, waiting six weeks to return to vigorous physical activity was hard. then, when i got the green light, finding time to fit it in was harder. i needed a goal to make sure i didn’t let myself neglect the movement that makes me feel alive and energized.

so last sunday i repeated a feat that was a proud first for me last year, and ran 13.1 miles without stopping. it wasn’t the fairy-tale trip around the lake that i experienced the first time, but i finished!

it seems to be my m.o. to impair my race efforts with poor preparation. last year i set myself up by training too little, working on my feet the entire day before, sleeping only a few hours, and carrying an energy-zapping fetus inside me. since that race went so well (really), i suppose my confidence was a bit inflated, and i shrugged off my lack of conditioning this year. not that i felt invincible, but my body had recently impressed me with its stamina, and i trusted it to get me across the finish line again.

so, having run a total of eight times since giving birth (only one of which was longer than half the distance of the race), and carrying a sleep deficit that had been accruing over five months, i signed up to run the Strides of March Half Marathon a second time. the race was scheduled on my mom‘s birthday again this year (saint patti’s day), and so i set out to honor her with my commitment to finish strong.

getting out the door at 6:30 am was a bit more challenging with a wee one in tow, and we arrived at the race site with only 25 minutes to race time. which is not really much leeway when you have to feed a baby and go to the bathroom before you hit the starting line. poor graham was so sleepy and bewildered that he took longer to nurse than usual, but he needed to tank up to last a couple of hours without me, and i needed to downsize to comfortably wear my sports bra. (ha!)

the line for the bathroom is always crazy-long before a race, but it’s a must. so we all stood in the queue and lee pinned the number on my shirt while my dad secured the beacon to my shoe and i hopped around squealing about how cold it was. i was wearing a jacket and leggings, but decided against the hat and gloves, assuming i would warm up once i started running, as usual. (the previous day had been shorts weather, after all.)

i finally made it to the front of the port-a-potty line with about twenty seconds to the gun. i took care of business as quickly as possible, burst out the door and ran straight across the starting line. i waved to my three boys as i joined the last stragglers at the back of the crowd of racers. (so much for warming up/stretching.)

it only took two miles of facing the icy forty-degree wind to realize that leaving the hat and gloves was a baaaaad idea. my sleeves weren’t long enough to cover my hands, and my fingers were already painfully numb. i noticed a woman in front of me take her gloves off and clip them to her hip, and lusted after them for a full mile before working up the courage (desperation) to catch up to her and ask if she would like me to carry her gloves for her. ;) thankfully, she generously allowed me to borrow them for the remainder of the race. i’m not sure how i would’ve fared without them.

the first six and a half miles were great. my nose was frozen and my hands were still a little cold, but i felt energetic. dad and lee had driven to the turnaround to cheer me on, and i flashed a smile and thumbs-up as i passed by. i rounded the halfway point at the exact time of my split last year, and headed into the second half thinking i could kick it up a notch and possibly beat my previous finish time.

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around mile 9, i lost all hope of setting a personal best. i was getting tired, and putting one foot in front of the other took more effort with each step. for the first time in my (short) running career, it felt like my legs would fail me before my lungs. it didn’t help that everyone in this race was so fast. last year i passed at least a handful of people; this year it seemed everyone was passing me! (even though i was running around a 9:00 pace!)

by the time i hit mile 11, i reallyreally wanted to quit. my muscles were thoroughly fatigued and moving forward had become like dragging lead through molasses. i was forcing my legs onward by sheer will, praying they would not collapse under me. i tried to motivate myself with thoughts of my mother’s strength and visions of my family waiting for me at the finish line.

i had planned to sprint the last quarter-mile downhill to the end, but even as i saw the flags drawing closer and my cheering section jumping up and down, i wasn’t sure i could make it. i tried to turn on the afterburners, but the result was just me throwing myself toward the finish in the most awkward and laborious “run” that you’ve ever seen.

as soon as i cleared the finishing area, i allowed my legs to buckle and sprawled my weary body flat on the grass. through the stars spinning around my head i could see my family’s feet surround me and heard my sister squeal, “you did it!” yes, i did. and by some miracle i clocked in at 2:06–only two minutes over my previous time!

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my one word for 2013 is grace, and i’ve certainly had to extend it toward myself over and over in the past few months. as the balance of my life continually shifts to accommodate the blessings and challenges that come my way, i know i’ll need an extra measure of grace to navigate the adjustments with aplomb. i hope i can continue to push toward my goals even when i want to quit, while having the grace to accept a less-than-perfect finish.

still running at 37 weeks

running-pregnant-why-and-howAfter I finished my first half marathon at 9½ weeks pregnant, I announced to my husband as we left the race, “Now i can just sit on my a** and get fat for 7 months!” And I kinda meant it. Not having any idea what pregnancy would be like for me, I had moved my half-marathon goal up to the soonest race possible  to squeeze it in before running would surely not be an option…right?

But 27 weeks later, I’m still lacing up my Newtons to hit the pavement (or treadmill) once or twice a week—quite the pleasant surprise for me.

When others hear that I’m still running well into the third trimester, I usually get two questions: “Why?” and “How?

Why I continue to run:

  • It feels good. I feel better when I’m active, pregnant or not, and I wouldn’t do it if it were uncomfortable or painful. I don’t let myself get out of breath or overheated. I try to stay very in tune with my body and what I’m feeling, and so I run when it says, “run!” (And stop when it says, “stop.”)
  • I run better than I walk. When I walk for longer distances (I.E. for exercise), I can feel myself settling back on my heels, jutting my hips forward, and assuming the pregnant “waddle.” when I run, I can move my center of gravity forward and align my hips and spine, which keeps my back from getting sore.
  • It keeps me regular. This may be T.M.I., but my non-pregnant self is a well-oiled machine when it comes to moving the goods through the system. My pregnant self…a little less so. A quick run now and then keeps me from getting bogged down. All other exercise is much less effective.

How I continue to run:

  • I don’t run as far or as often. With the exception of my 13.1 mile race, before I was pregnant I was running around six miles a 2-3 times a week. now I only run about three miles 1-2 times a week, and that is often with a bathroom break ;). The last time I ran five miles was at 34 weeks.
  • I wear a support belt. Around 30 weeks I found I could go farther without the bathroom urge if I pulled the baby off my bladder a bit with a supportive maternity belt. I also felt that he had grown big enough that wearing a belt would give him a smoother ride, no matter how improved my running form is.
  • I only run when I feel like it. I thankfully have not struggled with fatigue or sickness throughout this pregnancy, but some days—or weeks—I just don’t feel like it. so I don’t run. I’m not doing this to accomplish a goal or prove something to myself. it’s simply what my body wants to do.

I’m not the first or last pregnant woman to continue running throughout pregnancy. In fact, those ladies are my inspiration. I did my research on necessary precautions, cleared it with my midwife, and decided I’d take it day by day. I’ll concede that I have the advantage of a flexible work schedule that allows me to run whenever I feel the most energetic, but I honestly didn’t think I’d still want to run at this point.

When so many of my familiar postures have been inevitably altered (sleep positions, pulling my knees up to my chest, bending over to tie my shoes…), it’s nice to feel like I’m carrying myself completely “normal” for half an hour. We’ll see how many more miles baby Graham and I will log together…

*Disclaimer: the photo above was taken 3 weeks ago. my belly is considerably bigger now.