Sometimes, Just Finishing is Enough (File this under things I never thought I’d say)

 

 

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Two weeks leading up to my fourth marathon, I started to believe I was cursed. My running partner, Robin, got suddenly sidelined and the doctor said she may never run again. Lindsay’s father-in-law went into the hospital—then her mother-in-law—and so she pulled out of the girls’ weekend she was going to share with us. My foot ached, my car broke down, my retainer fell out, I smashed my nose on the door (my husband says I need whiskers), my throat was starting to feel scratchy and the grocery was out of beets.

During my last 8-miler before the race I nearly face-planted while crossing the highway. Like, arms windmilling frantically, feet flailing behind me in big loping strides so as not to crash into the pavement with my recently un-retained teeth.

“I can’t catch a break,” I complained to my husband when I got home. “I’m having the worst luck.”

“Or,” my husband began, “maybe you have good luck.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, you didn’t fall, did you?”

Usually I’m totally a glass is half-full kind of girl, but when you’re about to do something as crazy as run 26.2 miles, you look for anything as a sign not to do it.

The day before the marathon—on Friday the 13th nonetheless—the stars aligned a bit.

Robin was treated and cleared by a super-awesome sports PT to run. I didn’t come down with the flu, didn’t break my leg, my foot miraculously healed, and I settled for a jar of pickled beets.

Robin and I checked into our hotel and it was surprisingly nice for the price. The expo was a breeze, we had a great dinner, got to bed early and I actually managed to sleep a few hours.

The next morning, I felt good. Like, really good. Like, Boston-qualifying good.

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Race morning!

I got to the start in plenty of time with my satellite secured and my intestines emptied. I pushed my way to the front so as to avoid getting caught in a crowd of runners. And then I was off.

By mile 8, I had already built a three-minute buffer into my qualifying time. It felt easy. Like I could hold an 8:20 pace forever.

Or at least until mile 11.

The drop was sudden. Without any warning, my body announced, “I think this is as far as we’re going to go today.”

I know all too well that mile 11 is much too early to encounter “the wall.” And yet, there it was, an impenetrable concrete metaphor standing firmly between me and my Boston qualifying time. Maybe even between me and completing the race altogether.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to stop running. I did both.

Then I thought about Robin, running her first marathon. And Lindsay, watching my pace from home, cheering me on. And the $100 I spent to run 26.2 miles, which really stung.

I pulled myself together best I could, gave myself permission to let go of the goal I’d work 5 months to reach, and just tried to put one foot in the front of the other for 15 miserably long, hot and humid miles.

Because when there’s nothing else to do, you might as well just finish.

Finishing that race as a biped was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. After crossing the finish at 4:19, I flopped down on the ground in complete exhaustion. The sun beat onto my worn body until I caught a glimpse of Robin heading toward the finish. I rose as awkward as a newborn colt, trying to gain my balance on cramping legs. And then I forgot everything—about my curse, my missed goal, and my crappy race. In short, I forgot about me and cheered Robin in to her very first marathon finish. She was beat. Broken. Humbled. Exhausted. She was absolutely amazing.

That, after all, was the real reason I had to finish.

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So proud of her!

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And…that’s a wrap.

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Apparel You Can’t Miss at the Savannah Publix Women’s Half and 5K Fashion Fitness Expo

Years before I was ever honored to be a race ambassador for the Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5K, I was a already a New Balance groupie. I’ve worn the NB 860s series for the duration of my running “career” (unpaid, but with hopes of grandeur). So when the race’s title apparel sponsor sent me their newest collection of bolds and brights to review, I couldn’t wait to log some long miles in them.

First, you should know that I don’t “do” color. As a Northwest native, black is the new bright and evergreen feels like neon. I come from the land of “don’t-notice-me-just-appreciate-my-intellect.” We grocery shop in fleece. We dine in fleece. We sometimes even get married in fleece. Fleece in a wide array of grays, browns and neutrals.

It took years of being in the South before I traded in my white and navy running shoe for—gasp—a barely-there turquoise. I thought everyone was staring at my feet as they called out for recognition. No one did. Except me. And yes, I fell face-first on the path around Forsyth Park.

Sixteen years later, I pray each year that the latest version of the NB 860s will be bolder and brighter. Not because I want to overcompensate for a waning intellect, but because my sense of running style has finally caught up with my (sometimes) sharp mind (except at mile 20—at which point I turn into the cerebral equivalent of an amoeba). Simply put, bright = fast. Show me a sprinter who wins in all-whites and I’ll show you the pig that just flew by.

This year I was delighted by the bright purple 806 V6 kicks I pulled from the box, their rubbery delicious new-shoe smell pouring over me. I actually inhaled, deeply, and got a wee little new running shoe high. And the clothes are equally as fantastic. The shirt is what I would call a 7-minute miler, complete with SPF, this adorable back-vent and supreme wickability (yep, I’m making that a word).

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Last year, the Impact 3-inch short was released in a somewhat conservative (my jam) line-art pattern and I bought two pair because I loved them so much. NB quickly followed up with a more organic tie-dye pattern, which I also bought, channeling my inner Woodstock. This year, they’ve gone balls-to-the wall with color and pattern but still offer a subtle Seattle-gray option. Whatever color I opt for, I’m going to run chafe free, because that’s the true magic of these shorts which I will continue to buy until my bones crumble and my plantar fasciitis compels me to crawl. But honestly, even then I’ll crawl along in some cute just-long-enough-to-be-appropriate-but-not-too-long-to-be-“mom shorts.”

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This Thursday, I’ll get to “model” (i.e. walk awkwardly and make duck-lips) some more of New Balance’s latest line of running gear at Fleet Feet Savannah’s Ladies Night Out event at 7 p.m.. And when I hit the Publix Savannah Fashion Fitness Expo on Friday,  April 1 (no joke) you can be sure I’ll have my debit card in hand. This year promises to be even better than last, offering an incredible inventory of race wear made for discerning women runners. Sure, I’d love for you to race, but you don’t need to be a registrant to attend the expo on Friday. Just stop in, say “hi” (I’m working the registration from 5-8) and get some great swag and catch the fever, and, the color.

The Right Stuff: What every runner needs in her stocking

No one wants to see you hobble across the finish line, barely holding up your head and barely holding down breakfast. Nope, you’ve got a quarter of a mile to the finish line–so it’s time to pick up the pace and finish strong.

I’m talking about Christmas, of course. It never fails that in the final three days, I’m scrambling to get those last-minute items that tell everyone just how much I love them: enough to shop at Walmart at 11:30 p.m.

That is love. It’s also a form of insanity.

So in the giving spirit of the season, let me see if I can’t at least help you out by sharing what I think are 12 of the best gifts for runners. And maybe you can pay it forward: help loved ones out by sharing this list with them. I’ve already pinned it to my husband’s forehead.

  1. Tickets to the Show. What better way to light a fire under your runner’s uninspired andrealogoass than to sign her up for a race? A great one for seasoned vetrans or those just starting to lace up is the Publix Women’s Half Marathon and 5K on April 2nd. Use the code ONTHEROAD10 from yours truly to score a discount at checkout. Just know that race entries are neither transferable nor refundable, unless you pay a small fee for race insurance.
  2. The Garmin Gods. I’m still shocked when I discover som11095581_10206455380369147_7970270689607647080_oeone is out there moving in a forward direction without the assistance of a GPS watch. I’ve heard people say, “But those are for serious runners.” That’s like saying toothbrushes are only for dentists. Everyone needs to know how long they’ve been going in any one direction whether walking, running or crawling. I’ve had my first-generation Garmin for years, never updated it and it still functions, though admittedly it looks a bit more VHS than Blu Ray these days.
  3. New Kicks. Runners love their running shoes. But not just any shoe will do. I used to ask my mom specifically for my New Balance 860s, size 9.5 and she’d complain that I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t want to be surprised by my running shoe; I want the “responsive cushioning and essential stability that my beloved gives me. Picking out someone else’s running shoe is like picking out someone else’s spouse. It can’t be done. Or, if it can, then you are some sort of freakish wizard and you should use your powers for something greater.
  4. A Shot of Energy. From gluten-free to caffeine-laced, there are so many running fuel options on the market, all of which make great stocking stuffers. Give Jelly Belly Sports Beans for the kid at heart, Chia Energy Gel for the hipster, honey sticks for the purist, and Salted Caramel GU for the toppings lover (and one of the few flavors I can vouch for). Variety goes a long way during a training run.n-RUNNING-FUEL-large570
  5. Rub it Out. The TP (trigger point) Massage Ball falls somewhere between a tennis and a lacrosse ball, and perhaps becaUnknownuse of the complex science behind cross-breeding, it’s also a ridiculous $20. But stick this ball into that knot just under your scapula and it’ll feel like a baby T-rex is hatching from your skull. Hurts so good.
  6. Actually Rub it Out. Because let’s be honest, a ball can only do so much. Unless you’re like my husband and would rather be set on fire than lubed up with oils and touched by human hands, this is a great gift. For the touch-free folks like my husband I give the an electric massage chair and wonder if they even have a soul.
  7. Sock it to ’em. The Italians were right about many things, including pasta, cheese, facial hair (is that just me?) and running socks.
    My adored Balega socks are not cheap, but cheap never kept blisters at bay.
  8. Slick as snot. No, chafing doesn’t mean you’re fat. It
    means you have skin. So lube it up with Body Glide and let things fall/rub/shake as they may.
  9. This Blows. Running gloves– AKA “the hankie”–are a must have. Give them in a variety of thicknesses but always in rs.phpblack.
  10. Air it Out. Think of arm sleeves as AC for your armpits. I like the Brooks  seamless version that is incredibly lightweight and, let’s be honest, adorable. If I get to hot, they transfrorm into wrist-warmers.
  11. Beat the Bump. The FlipBelt is the only running belt I’ve found that keeps my iPhone from thwacking my booty like an impatient jockey. More important, it looks more like a high waistband than a fanny pack. Still not “cool,” but a certainly passable in the name of function.Belt-Close-Up
  12. Magic Tape. I don’t know how KT Tape works, I just know it does. Everywhere.Unknown-1.jpeg

What have I forgotten? Share it here. Better yet, put it in my stocking.

Being Thankful Sometimes Takes a Little Convincing

 

United Way Turkey Trot

I love me a Turkey Trot!

I like to run on holidays, especially on my birthday and Thanksgiving—the two times of the year I’m acutely aware of the good things in my life. Today was no exception. I’m a pretty regular “turkey trotter,” running the 4-mile race every year I’m in town. Because the distance falls between a 5k and 10k, I don’t have too many expectations about my time; I just want to beat improve (or so I tell myself). This takes the race-pressure off as does the fact that everyone out there is in the holiday spirit. The atmosphere just feels a little “lighter” than usual—because if you don’t have a good race, it would be selfish not to be happy simply be thankful that you can race.

Right?

I wanted to race because after the Rock ‘n’ Roll debacle, I needed to know that the training had gone to something more than a missed opportunity. And I had a third-place age-group medal to defend, which is a bit like saying you graduated college with a 3.75 GPA. No one cares. No one remembers. But you do. I mean, I do…

Things went well from the moment I woke. I put my bib on straight at the first attempt. (If you have ever pinned a bib, you can appreciate this.) I had remembered to charge my watch the night before; I swiftly found my lucky hat, earrings, necklace. I had successful bathroom experiences (3) and I was on time as I headed out the door. Being entirely superstitious, I took all of these as signs pointing to a strong finish.

I decided right before the gun that I would attempt to hold a 7:30 pace. I went out too fast as always, but settled in at mile two. And by “settled in,” I mean I was so uncomfortable I wanted to walk. Or throw up. Or walk while throwing up. I pulled back at mile three and started to see the women I was pacing off of pull ahead.

Coming toward the finish line, I heard my husband and daughter yell, “Go, Mommy!” At which point I heaved. Loudly.

Pressing my fist to my lips, I kept it in. Just keep going, I thought. Heave. Go. Heave.

The people cheering on the sidelines suddenly paused and made that face when you know you’re about to see something really bad but can’t look away—somewhere between sympathy and horror.

But I was not going to throw up. Not in a 4-mile race that is supposed be lighthearted and fun. Not on Thanksgiving. Not on the nice guy, Chris Ramsey, who announced my name over the microphone as I crossed the line

“And here’s our New Balance Race Ambassador coming across the line!”

I lifted my hand ever so slightly in acknowledgement and managed what I thought was a smile but probably looked like someone whose face just endured a hard right-hook.

And then: HEAVE.

It was big. It was loud. But I somehow kept it together. Somehow I kept it in.

I finished at 29:23 and with my breakfast still in my stomach, which should have been reason enough to celebrate.

But when I looked at the posted race results, I didn’t see my name. Turns out I perfectly aligned the wrong bib; I had grabbed my dad’s bib instead. Before someone could call Runner’s World to report that an 82-year-old many just ran a sub-30, I cleared things up with the race officials.

I got 5th place in my age group. Boo.

I thought again of all the reasons I should be thankful—my health, the beautiful weather, the fact that I’m not yet 82—but I couldn’t shake the pangs of disappointment. On the way home, I called my running partner, Lindsay, who, like any good running partner, assured me that faster runners had been shipped in from out of town, and that no else but me could run a sub-30 after drinking a bottle of wine and some change the night before. And then she told me to look up my time from last year. I beat it by 2 minutes.

A PR outweighs a medal any day (I mean, not at that moment, but in the big picture). My daughter, however, sees it differently. When I got home she presented me with this:

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The best award around.

And there it is: Profound thankfulness.

What I Learned from My Worst Race Ever

I’ve never had a bad race.

Until I did.

The night before the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon, race organizers warned runners that the weather would be unseasonably warm. Drink lots of water, they said. Slow down, they said.

Slow down?! I’d been training 12 weeks to run a 1:38 PR in this race and a little bit of heat and humidity wasn’t going to slow me down.

Until it did.

Right before race start. So happy. So naive.

Me, Lindsay and Robin at the race start. So happy. So naive.

I was standing near the front, squeezed in with a serious crowd of runners, when the race-horn blew. The mass of runners lurched forward with intention, void of the nervous chatter or enthusiastic “woo-hooing” that peppers the runners further down the line. I know, because I’m usually back there. But here, at the front, there was just breathing, feet slapping pavement and the occasional watch alerting a runner to his overzealous pace.

“We’re going too fast,” I heard a guy to my right gasp to his running partner.

I looked down at my watch to see my pace. 7:10. I had to maintain a 7:30 pace to get my PR—but the fact that 7:10s could qualify me for the NYC Marathon was on my radar—tucked into the make-believe zone where unicorns are real, Sandra Bullock is my best friend and David Beckham wants me real bad. Some call it mental illness. I call it mental hopefulness.

By mile 2, acid began to collect in my stomach and I thought I might heave. My heart was pumping too hard and the negative thoughts starting unfurling from the dark corners of my head. At mile 2, I usually feel like a winged gazelle, not a quadriplegic manatee. Something was wrong.

I gave myself some quick tough love.

You’ve got this. Suck it up.

And then I looked down and saw my pace slip to 7:40.

I don’t got this. I’m gonna throw up.

Plan B: No PR—just hold 7:50s.

Two miles later, I wanted to stop.

Plan C: Just don’t walk.

Plan D: Just finish.

The next 9 miles felt like the longest I’ve ever run—some of which I walked. I felt like a failure.

My friend, Chad Brock, who was cheering us on, snapped this photo. Glad you can''t see my face filled with pain.

My friend, Chad Brock, who knows all too well the pain of running, snapped this photo. Glad you can’t see my face filled with pain.

Then, just one-mile from the finish line, I looked around me and noticed with half-closed eyes that I was still surrounded by runners—good runners—who were engaged in the same strange shuffle-scuff-run I was. My brain, depleted by effort, was trying hard to make sense of what I was seeing, when I heard a familiar voice yell out.

“Go, Andrea! You can do it!”

Huh? It took an enormous effort to turn my head in the direction of the voice, slowly, like a dim-witted Brontosaurus looking for some greens to munch on. And there on the sidewalk, running parallel to me, I saw my running partner, Lindsay.

“I threw up at mile 5! I pulled out! You have to do this for us!”

Nothing made sense. Certainly not Lindsay on the sidewalk at mile 12. But I was more grateful for her at that moment than I’d ever been (and I’m pretty grateful considering what she’s seen me—and my body—do while running together). I summoned up what little bit of race I had left in me and pushed to the finish. In that final stretch, I noticed runners cramping, vomiting and even someone who had collapsed and was receiving aid. It felt like it would never end.

Until it did.

Once I crossed the line and controlled my instinct to vomit on the nice lady trying to put a finisher’s medal around my neck, I realized that my poor race wasn’t about a lack of training or mental toughness. It was about unseasonable temperatures and a stubborn unwillingness to heed the warning from more seasoned runners who knew it was not only OK, but also necessary to back off. That just finishing could be enough.

A number of runners didn’t finish, either because they knew better or their bodies wouldn’t let them—whichever came first. Tragically, one runner took his last breath on that race course. Another would collapse at home a few hours later.

And there I was disappointed about running 8 minutes off my PR.

For people who log ridiculous miles each week, it’s easy to get wrapped up in finishing times, PRs and medals. And because we sweat, bleed, blister and cramp through most of our days, it’s easy to overestimate our toughness. It’s also easy to forget that what we do isn’t easy.

But this race reminded me that we are a fragile lot. Life rarely goes as planned; why would a 13.1-mile race be any different—any easier?

Yesterday, I ran for the first time since the race. I didn’t have any expectations; I just wanted to run. Somewhere around mile 4, Lindsay and I began discussing our plans for our next race and what our goals would be. And that’s when I realized what I was supposed to take away from Saturday’s botched race: You just keep going.

Until you can’t.

The End--of yet another new beginning.

The End–of yet another new beginning.

‘Twas the Night Before Race Day

Pre-race plans never go as planned. I can manage to (loosely) follow a 3-month training program for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah half marathon, but somehow the two days prior to the actual race—which are supposed to be filled with quiet reflection and preparation—roll out more like a Saturday afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese.

I’m sleep deprived, I’ve got students panicking as the end of the quarter nears, I’m trying to pull two articles together, and Ava has a fundraiser dinner for gymnastics and a meet first thing in the morning. She’s concerned that I’m missing her meet, but more than that, we’re all concerned about who is going to do her hair. Because, in gymnastics, hair is akin to sticking a landing. Intricate French braids with glitter spray say “my mom cares about me,” whereas a loose ponytail that looks like a rodent nested in it says “abandoned at birth”—or, in my case, “my mom cares more about her half-marathon.” But we all know what it really means: “Dad did my hair.”

In spite of this chaos, I’ve managed to squeeze in most of my pre-race rituals today. I’ve set out my running clothes, charged my Garmin, shaved my legs and painted my nails (this is proven to increase your speed). I’m already wearing my lucky necklace, earrings and my paper “free beer” wristband I got yesterday at the race expo. It’s not that I’m super-concerned about getting a Michelob Ultra at the end of 13.1 miles (or ever, for that matter), but I like how the band reminds me of what’s to come—how my stomach will reject said beer but I will force it down nonetheless because, dammit, it’s free.

Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

Prepped and ready to go!

I’ve learned to go to the race expo as early as possible to avoid long lines. This year, the bib pick-up was organized by corral numbers; in other words, how fast you intend to finish. When I saw that I was in corral 1, I panicked. Had I entered the correct time? Surely, I shouldn’t be at the front of any race, let alone one of this scale. I looked at the various lines for “people like me,” and discovered the people in every corral looked like me: running shoes, ponytail, extreme nervousness…

No one was in line at corral 1. I approached the table apprehensively.

“Andrea Goto?” I asked, as if I didn’t know my own identity.

I expected her to look me up and down and declare, “I think you have the wrong line,” but when she cheerily handed me my bib, it sunk in: I’m in corral 1. Not because I lied about my finishing time to avoid bulky start lines, but because I’ve been training hard for the past few years. And here I am—a place I never imagined I’d be, especially at 38.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no delusions that I’m going to place. Last year’s female runner came in 26 minutes faster than my PR. She could enjoy an entire sitcom before I come through. But at least I’m in the near vicinity—a mere shadow—of awesomeness.

Not two seconds later, a television reporter approached and asked for an interview. I want to believe it’s because he saw me in the corral 1 line, but I know it’s because he wanted to interview Lindsay, but she demurred and shoved me his way like a good friend. Again, I’ll take it.

When everyone else says

When everyone else says “no,” I say “yes.”

I’m 15 hours from race-start. I’m enjoying a glass of wine (don’t wanna get the shakes), I’ll eat my boiled beets and soak in the bath. I’m ready.

Ready for what? An enjoyable run? A PR? A NYC marathon qualifying time? I’m not sure—and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. No one will remember my performance, my suffering or my time (half the time I can’t either). But for a couple of hours on a Saturday I will do something that is personally challenging. I will push myself beyond what’s comfortable, and I’ll do it with a good number of friends along the way—either as runners or supporters.

My friend Christine Hattrich shared these signs she made.

My friend Christine Hattrich shared these signs she made.

And then I’ll look to the next race, the next goal, the next PR. Because that’s what I want to believe life is about: waking each day and, at the very least, trying to do better.

Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

Trust the plan: Just when you think it isn’t working…it is.

Rock 'n' Roll Savannah

Last year: A different time, a different plan. (Lindsay, Kelley and me)

“Maybe when we train for the next half-marathon, we should try a different training plan,” I suggested to Lindsay, two miles into our Sunday morning long run, already dragging my leg like something from “The Walking Dead.”

“I remember liking Hal Higdon’s plans–maybe we could try the advanced one,” I offered.

“Andrea, we are doing the Hal Higdon advanced plan,” Lindsay said, exasperated.

See, I don’t actually follow a plan–at least not in the normal, self-reliant way. Instead, I show up to each run and ask Lindsay, “So, what are we doing today?” She’s given me the plan–in the form of email, text, hardcopy taped to my forehead–but it’s so much more fun to be surprised.

Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight reacts to the officials as Stanford beat Texas Tech 62-61 Saturday, December 22, 2007 during The O'Reilly Red Raider Christmas Classic at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

“If my Garmin doesn’t record my miles, it’s like they never happened!!!!” — Lindsay

Lindsay doesn’t seem to mind that she’s the gatekeeper of my training–the one who wears the running pants in this partnership, telling me what to do when and how fast. She’s good at it, too. She syncs her Garmin after every run like it’s her job (I haven’t done this once since buying mine in 2009), and if she forgets to start it and a quarter-mile goes unrecorded, she gets mad. Like, Bobby Knight mad.

She’s also a natural statistician when it comes to running. She remembers PRs, medals, race pace–both hers and mine–while I can barely remember that I can’t eat wheat the night before a run.

“Did you eat gluten last night, Andrea?” Lindsay often inquires to the closed doors of porta-potties that sit on empty construction sites.

“Nooooo,” I call from inside, indignant.

And then: “Wait, yes. Crap.”

If you’ve been keeping up with my whining, you know that this usually stellar path to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half has been tarnished by injuries and illnesses. Then, Sunday morning I woke feeling like I swallowed thumbtacks–the same day Lindsay finally finished up her round of antibiotics. Naturally, I want to blame the plan–the first I’ve ever done that calls for a significant amount of speed work.

Lindsay also distrusts the plan, as demonstrated by the series of questions she rapid-fires around the midpoint of every run:

“Do you think we’re running too much?”

“Do you think we’re running enough?”

“Are we going to fast for a tempo?”

“Are we going to slow for speed work?”

“Are we going to peak too soon?”

“Should we run further than the plan says?”

And inevitably: “I don’t think this plan is working.”

It’s ironic that she poses these questions to me since I don’t even know the plan, and also because my approach to running is a little more … organic.

“It’ll all work out.”

And it has. Or at least it’s starting to. By the grace of Hal, the next 10 miles of that long run were swift and painless. We ran negative splits and came in hot; our last mile was an 8:50 (or so I kinda remember–Lindsay can edit).

“I think the plan is working!” we squealed, like only people who wear arm warmers and compression socks can.

We’re three weeks out from the race. Past experience should tell me that this is the time I start to see my running goals as attainable. Three months ago, not so much. It’s easy to forget. And it’s easy to doubt that all those days of training, slowly adding mileage and speed, add up to one (hopefully) spectacular moment. Even the setbacks–the ugly runs, the injuries and illnesses–are part of the equation.

Today we held an 8:07 pace for four-miles of speed work. When we stop, I say what we’re both thinking: “This plan is totally working.”

Let’s Run, Ladies: The Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5k

Coming to you on April 2, 2016!

Coming to you on April 2, 2016!

Last spring, I participated in my first all-women’s race. Though I run with girlfriends on a regular basis, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the inaugural Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5k. Would it be…girlie? Like a Lilith Fair concert minus the music, booze and underlying anger for the phallus? As it turned out, the race was one of the best running experiences of my life.

For starters, I was in the front. Like, the for-real front. Because when you eliminate half the population from a race, the mid-packers are suddenly leaders, which is where I found myself. I could count the women in front of me. And while they were busy counting who was behind them on the switchbacks, I couldn’t help but feel that we were all counting on one another as well.

See, I discovered there’s an almost inexplicable thing that happens when women get the rare opportunity to race together. We’re at once competitive and supportive–which is shockingly possible. Because even more than we want to beat one another, we want to simply race our best–to run among our sisters and see what our legs, lungs and heart can do.

Claudia and I raced together that year and held a steady 7:50 pace until the last half-mile when I hit a mental and physical wall. When she said, “Let’s pick it up,” I puffed, “You go ahead.” She hesitated for a minute, then saw in my empty I’ve-got-nothing-left-please-just-let-this-end-and-give-me-my-beer-face that I was, in fact, incapable of picking anything up including my pace, my feet or even my pride.

Claudia and I staying the course.

Claudia and me staying the course.

She blazed forward and I admired her “I’m still in my 20s” sprint to the finish from a good decade out. Another woman caught me shortly thereafter and said, “C’mon, you got this,” as she passed by.

At that point, I didn’t have much of anything left in me. But I did feel like I had the support of every runner out there–every woman who ever put one foot in front of the other not because she hoped to break a land-speed record or score a corporate sponsorship, but because one day she thought–for any one of a million reasons–I need to run. And then for some inexplicable reason, she kept doing it.

When I crossed the finish line, Claudia was there to congratulate me on what was still a mighty-fine PR. And then we cheered our friends in, from the girls we trained with to the women who were racing for the first time. Some jogged, some walked, but we all felt like we were in it together–and I don’t just mean the race. I mean the fact that we are all women. All daughters. All runners of various degrees for various reasons.

A happy ending.

A happy ending.

So I was clearly honored when I was asked to be an ambassador for this year’s race on April 2. For me, it’s a no-brainer. The race is in my city, sponsored by my grocery store, my running store, the magazine I write for, and my favorite shoe/apparel brand, New Balance, whose 860s I’ve been wearing for nearly as long as I’ve been running.

I have the privilege of encouraging women of all ages and abilities to join in–to run, walk, or Galloway themselves through a beautiful 3.2 or 13.1-mile course. I’ll be sharing tips, discount codes and product giveaways–the first being a $10 half-marathon registration discount when you use the Code: ONTHEROAD10.

Follow my blog and the On the Road Facebook page for more information–and feel free to ask any questions and share your experiences to encourage others to join us on this unique journey.

Begin Again: Why it’s Possible to Restart Running

I was coming off my fastest year yet. I PR’d or placed in every run I raced in the 2014/15 season. I beat my previous year’s marathon by 24 minutes, finishing at 3:48, and charged to a 1:40 half-marathon PR time. For me, these were not only victories, they were incentives to push harder. I set my sights on qualifying for Boston in 2015—the Mecca of marathons. I even told people about my goal, knowing that saying it out loud meant I would do it.

Publix Savannah Women's Half Marathon PR with Claudia

Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon PR with Claudia

But by spring we had moved into a new home and I let the first qualifying opportunity pass by, knowing November’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon here in Savannah—a course I’ve run many times—would give me another opportunity. Then my friend Robert, who played an enormous role in Savannah’s running community and was a personal inspiration to me, died tragically, and running stopped feeling like that thing I escaped to, could excel at and could count on to kill me but never quite. It felt…complicated.

Nonetheless, I half-heartedly approached the first week of my marathon training and immediately irritated my IT Band—my first injury in 20 years—sidelining me for four weeks. So I took it as an opportunity to re-evaluate my goals. I would put Boston on hold and instead train hard for the Rock ‘n’ Roll half with my running partner, Lindsay.

Then I got sidelined again, this time with a stomach virus that took 7 days and 7 pounds from me. And then…and then…and then…

I don’t lose friends. I don’t get injured. I don’t get sick.

We don’t. Until we do.

And yet I get up four to five days a week, lace up my shoes and run, imagining that it will get easier again, another PR will be reached and Boston will come. Eventually.

What is this craziness? Why am I running hill repeats and tempo runs that make me dry heave? Why am I running toward the next goal as life seems to push it just out of reach?

It’s simple really. It’s hope.

Every day I wake up and try to do and be better. I say I’ll eat better, drink less, write more, laugh harder, love deeper, run faster. Most times I don’t and then I’ll try again tomorrow. But, every now and then, I do.

Today I had my first good run in weeks. Rain forced Lindsay and me inside on a bone-jamming gym treadmill for speed work. My earbuds kept falling out of my ear. Without them I had the limited choice of Fox News and ESPN. I tossed the earbuds, ignored the TVs and just ran. I ran each 800 faster than the last, trying to see how much I could take. Turns out, I could take more than I expected.

We’re all distracted and affected by the endless challenges life throws at us. I’m behind on my grading. Our previous house has not sold and I know we can’t float two mortgages much longer. Tomorrow my dad undergoes a back surgery. My sister has discovered a lump in her leg.

But I also believe with all my heart that things will improve—that I will improve along with them. Because, really, what are the options? It’s the possibility of tomorrow that makes today’s challenges survivable.

A morning run.

A morning run.