Not “just another half marathon”

The week of the Crites Tybee Race Fest, a 2-day, 5-race festival with a cumulative distance of 26.2 miles, I came down with a cold. Because, well, of course I did.

No one else was faring much better. Lindsay had been fighting all sorts of sickness and Robin wisely decided to give her knee a rest after our Charleston Marathon. So I’d have to run by my lonesome. And if you know me at all, you know I don’t like to be alone. Like, ever.

So I decided to race “just” the half-marathon, which compared to the marathon a couple weeks ago, should be no problem.

At the 11th hour, my friend Jodie decided to join me for the race.  Jodie claims she’s “not a runner” but she’s pretty much whatever she wants to be. A salsa dancer? Sure! A Gladiator? No problem! A human fork-lift? I mean, have you seen her arms?!

And she can decide at a moment’s that she’s going to run 13.1 miles.

But Jodie won’t run with me. See, Jodie doesn’t like to talk and run. And I pretty much run to talk.

Jodie also doesn’t like the cold, and by cold I mean anything sub-78. In the middle of summer, when it’s 100 degrees and 100% humidity, you’ll see her running at 2 p.m. By choice.

This morning, it’s barely 40 with wind gusts up to 20 mph. And Jodie is not happy.

“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” she grumbles, pulling her jacket tight around her body in spite of the fact that we’re inside a heated car.

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Not happy.

We both know I didn’t talk her into this. A few months ago, Jodie decided to run the Key West Marathon in support of her dad, who’s fighting cancer. A few days before the race she came down with the flu and decided to run the half, fueled by fever, chills and a promise she made to her dad.

She finished the half, but the fact that she was still 13.1 miles short of her promise haunted her. Which brings us to the Tybee Half.

“This is just God’s way of punishing me for not running the marathon,” Jodie continues to lament at the race start line, her entire body trembling with the cold.

Neither of us have any expectations for this race; we’re going for the finish where we have VIP passes to the Savannah magazine tent and the promise of bottomless mimosas.

At the gun, we disappear into our individual playlists and race. It takes about two miles for my feet to thaw and I’m holding a pretty steady 8:15 pace. If I can keep it up, I’ll have a good finish.

Of course, I can’t. Not only because the wind pushes me backwards, but also because I’m mentally weak.

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Running (fake) happy.

Why do I do this? I ask myself, the beginning of a series of self-defeating rhetorical questions.

Why am I so slow?

Why am I so old?

Burp.

Why did I eat Mexican last night?

Then I turn the corner and run with the wind and all is right again.

Why does this feel so easy?

Another switchback.

Why does this suck so much?

Like all things, the race eventually ends. I somehow muster what I think is a sprint to the finish, but probably looks more like an angry orangutan scaring off a would-be predator.  I know this because spectators avert their eyes as I bear my teeth and emit very un-humanlike sounds.

I finish in 1:48, a respectable time but not a PR, gather myself and cheer Jodie in, who bounds along like she could run another 10 miles. Because she could.

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Jodie immediately wraps herself in “Grandma’s coat”—her affectionate name for the warmest, if not the most hideous, jacket—and we bee-line to the mimosas.

“Go easy on the orange juice,” I instruct the bartender. He pours maybe a half-teaspoon into my complimentary travel cup before I stop him. “Whoa—leave a little room for the champagne, buddy.”

We want to hang around to test the bottomless-ness of our cups, but the wind and cold is unbearable, so unbearable that even the free drinks aren’t worth the discomfort (a sentence I never thought I’d write).

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Actually happy.

As we flee to our cars, we congratulate one another on our accomplishment: finishing. Only it was a little sweeter for Jodie because finishing also meant honoring her dad by engaging in an activity they use to enjoy together.

For me it was “just another half marathon,” but at the same time there’s no such thing as “just another half marathon.” It’s always a struggle, always an accomplishment, and never should it be something we take for granted. To be healthy, to be active, to be able to run, to have friends to cheer us on, these are gifts we work for, but they are not forever.

I’m grateful I had them today.

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Another (rough) race is in the books

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Just Sluggin’ Along

So this has not been my best racing year. But instead of letting that discourage me (as it did after the Rock ‘n’ Roll debacle in November), I’m looking to the bright side, asking myself, “What can I take from this experience?” And hopefully, next year, the high-price I’m paying for this data collection will turn into a Boston qualifying time as a 40-year-old even though I will not be 40. I repeat, I will not be 40. Yet.

I knew going into the Publix Women’s Half-Marathon that I wasn’t prepared. Not to top last year’s PR, anyway. I have been running regularly, but hadn’t gone further than 7 ½ miles. And yet, when I stood at the start line, the plan to start slow, run by feel and finish strong, disappeared along with all my best judgment. You know, that thing that tells you not to eat Mexican food the night before a race? (Which I also did.)

As always, the first mile was great, except that I was alone. That morning my running partner, Lindsay, called to say she wasn’t going to race because the forecast promised a downpour. Lindsay doesn’t run in the rain, in the wind, in temperatures below 48 or above 78, or on Fridays. Some would call her a finicky runner, but I prefer “particular.” She also told me that she’s also never going to race again.

“What?!” I’m pinning my big for the 10th time, trying to get it “just right.”

“I just don’t think it’s for me,” she said. “I get too anxious.”

I had already retied my shoes twice, visited the bathroom three times and re-checked my Garmin’s charge at least a dozen times. Racing makes us all anxious.

It’s true that there’s a lot of pressure—pressure we put on ourselves. I know I’m probably not going to win a race unless it’s made up entirely of 3-legged Chihuahuas, but I do want to get faster, beat my best time, maybe even snag an age-group medal. I don’t pay upwards of $25 to race for fun; I’ve come to accept this about myself. Many people can and do, and a part of me admires that—that 1% of me who says things like, “Just do your best.” But the other 99% of me might be a little competitive (and my sister just rolled her eyes at my use of “might”). And in age-group racing, our biggest competitor is always our self.

My self was fast last year.

This year, my less conditioned self went out too fast. I managed to hold pace for nearly 3 miles, somehow forgetting that there would still be 10 to go. I slowed considerably, and then, around mile 6, I retched. The retching continued for the next three miles, fist to mouth, trying to keep what I imagined to be a flaming, devil-faced fajita from coming up. I was thirsty. My head ached. I considered the medical tent, but knew as soon as I stopped I’d feel fine and the medics would be all, “Oooh, are you tired? It’s a race, you’re supposed to be tired.” (OK, a medic wouldn’t say that, but I would.)

On the switchbacks, I could see I was losing distance. When the 1:45 pacer passed me, it would take everything I had to stay under 2:00. About 2 miles from the finish, I saw one of my daughter’s 4th-grade classmates working the water station.

“Mrs. Goto!” she yelled out enthusiastically, waving her arms. I pulled myself together, because while it’s cool to be a mom who can run a half-marathon, it’s totally not cool to throw-up on your daughter’s friend. In fact, it’s social suicide.

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14th Age-group, 1:54:11

Faking that you feel good always helps. I smiled big, took a swig of water and headed toward the finish. Shortly thereafter, I heard the sweet twang of Lindsay’s voice cheering me on. She ran alongside me for about a tenth of a mile, and those were the best steps I’d taken all day.

I didn’t fling my fajitas. I finished strong. I also finished 14 minutes off last year’s time, but still under 2 hours. See, that’s what you have to do to reconcile a bad race. You have to consider the worst-case scenarios and appreciate how they didn’t happen: At least it stopped raining. At least I didn’t fall down. At least a 3-legged Chihuahua didn’t beat me.

 

 

But here’s the real takeaway: train for the distance you want to run.

Today, Lindsay and I began training for the Azalea 10K with a clearer purpose. And yes, we’re going to race together again…weather permitting.

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My other running partner, Robin, got a PR–without training. But I don’t like to talk about that.

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.

A Perfect Pre- and Post-run Recipe for Runners—and a Publix Gift Card Giveaway!

I’ve never met a fish taco I didn’t like. But I’ve also never met one I could make. Until now.

There are two reasons why I love everything my friend and trainer, Jodie Kofod, cooks. One, I didn’t make it. Two, Jodie’s meals are healthy without tasting healthy. Dress tofu up any way you want, but it’s still a protein sponge. See, my rule is if you have to marinate, deep fry, bread or baste something just to make it edible, it’s most certainly not good (I’m talking to you, fried alligator bites).

So when Publix asked me to share a quick, healthy meal for runners, I knew I had to call on Jodie–who holds certification from AFAA NETA ACE, Johnny G Spin, TRX and kickboxing, as well as nutrition certifications–and my other girlfriend and workout buddy, Alli. In addition to being more fun than a bottle of tequila on a bus with the Rolling Stones (Jodie knows from actual experience), Alli owns a beautiful home that, unlike mine,  has “things to cook with.” Things like pans, bowls and salt.

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The motley cooking crew: Alli, Jodie and me.

My parameters for the recipe were simple:

  • It has to be easy (for obvious reasons)
  • It has to be quick
  • It has to taste good
  • Everything has to be readily available at my Publix
  • It has to be gluten-free, not because I have celiac disease, but because gluten sends me dashing into the woods about every two miles, but that’s another post for another time.

“How do fish tacos sound?” Jodie offered.

I love fish tacos. Perfect.

“So, corn tortillas, fish and salsa?” Cool, I can do that.

“Not exactly,” she replied, looking at me like I just blew my nose in her gym towel.

She texted me the grocery list (I’ve added the price points):

  • Fresh fish, do not attempt alone—ask woman behind the counter ($18.32, I’ll explain)
  • 2 Publix canned black beans ($1.70)
  • Sriracha ($2.99)
  • Margarita mix ($4.09)
  • Publix fresh salsa ($3.49)
  • Romaine lettuce ($1.99)
  • 2 Limes ($1.00)
  • Avocado ($1.00)
  • Cilantro ($0.99)
  • Corn tortillas ($2.15)
  • Plain Greek yogurt, large ($3.00)
  • Sauvignon blanc, obviously ($11.99, don’t judge)

Total damage: $52.71, plus whatever the government wants.

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The helpful woman behind the Publix fish counter suggested tilapia for fish tacos, but I recently had a bad run-in with the species when I attempted to make it at home without supervision. So I asked what else would work. She recommended “any sturdy white fish,” and pointed to a large fillet of something called “corvina” from Argentina. It was about $10 pricier, but hey, it wasn’t tilapia.

When I got to Alli’s, the cooking lesson commenced. But first thing’s first. Pour the wine.

From there, Jodie instructed us to poach the fish. Since I thought poaching meant killing a protected animal, I just stared at her.

“Put the fish in a microwave-safe bowl and pour in a bunch of the margarita mix,” she explained. Then we salted it, snipped some cilantro on top, covered the dish with plastic wrap and popped it in the microwave. No measuring and, yes, the microwave. Totally my jam.

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The cooking time depends on the size of the fillet, so we put it in for a few minutes, checked it and kept blasting it with radiation until it flaked apart—all in all, less than 15 minutes. During that time, we made this crazy-delicious sauce, mixing equal parts plain Greek yogurt and Sriracha and squeezed the juice of two limes. Sounds disgusting, looks like flesh, tastes like Heaven.

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Thing got wild when the knives starting flying–into Alli’s new floor.

We flaked the fish into doubled-up corn tortillas, topped with rinsed black beans, slices of avocado, more cilantro, Sriracha, romaine, the pre-made salsa and a dollop of the not-so-secret-now sauce. I think I ate five. But this recipe could easily feed four to six normal human beings.

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Then Jodie started to riff on the recipe. “You can actually make them three ways,” she said. “You can wrap them in tortillas, like we did here, or you can put them in lettuce wraps or little baked corn-tortilla cups.”

We pulled long leaves from the romaine and assembled the tacos sans tortilla. Then Jodie showed us how to make the “bowls” by flipping over a muffin tin, coating it with cooking spray and tearing and stuffing the tortillas into the negative space between the muffin forms to create bowls. She baked them on low for a few minutes until they were just starting to lightly brown on the edges. I preferred the soft-corn tortillas for no other reason that it was the easiest; but variety is cool, too, if you’re an overachiever.

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I am not. But Mom, now I can make a pretty bad-ass fish taco, three ways.

Oh, and there’s video, too. So check back in two days and prepare to be…something. Amazed? Appalled? Embarrassed for us? Probably all of the above.

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Speaking of embarrassing…we each have only-children–can you tell?

And here’s the 2-step bonus: (1) Follow “On the Road” on Facebook and (2) find and share this post, and you’ll be entered to win a $25 gift certificate to Publix (and if you buy the tilapia and even cheaper wine, you’re covered). Drawing will be Monday, March 28, just in time for you to whip up this pre- or post-race meal for the Publix Savannah Women’s Half & 5K on April 2nd! See you there!

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Your moment of Zen: “Is there something in my teeth?”

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Jodie’s Taco Bar

What I Gained from the First Race I Didn’t Race: Another Perspective

I set myself up for success by setting myself up for failure. No really, hear me out. By not training for the Critz Tybee Run Fest—all 5 legs which equal 26.2 miles—I couldn’t even worry about racing. I told myself my only goal was to finish. And I was only halfway committed to that goal. If it was raining, I wouldn’t show up. If it was below 30, I wouldn’t show up. If I had a bad dream about snakes, if my floss broke, if I sneezed…

I kept an eye out for every omen to tell me not to do it, but nothing revealed itself but a big ol’ green light welcoming me to the start line of the 5K on Friday night. I hate 5Ks. The distance, while short, is just over 22 minutes of absolute hell. I’d rather run 20 miles at a comfortable pace than “just” 3.1 miles at breakneck speed. I’m not one of those people who say, “Just pull the Band-Aid off quick; it’ll hurt less.” No, it won’t, and you’ll spend another week trying to grow back a 3” strip of dermis. Pull it slowly and you lose a few hairs you should’ve shaved off anyway.

But I knew I had to take it easy because at 7 the next morning I’d have to run a 10K and if I still didn’t dream about snakes or sneeze, I’d chase it with a half-marathon, a 2.8 beach run and a 1-miler.

No big deal—I wasn’t racing.

But dammit if I didn’t race.

About a quarter of a mile in, my body felt good. My feet were turning over to one of Taylor Swift’s songs with 96 BPMs (don’t judge) streaming from my new Plantronics BackBeat Bluetooth headphones (I’m only including this detail because tech tends to fails me, but these are an exception–they’re awesome and you must get them). I glanced at my Garmin, which revealed a 7:15 pace. Much too fast.

I dropped to about 7:30 which made me feel even better. At that point, I decided to see what would happen.

Here’s what happened: I almost ran a PR. I got third place in my age group. If I felt uncomfortable, I’d pull back just a bit because if you recall, I’m wasn’t racing. The last 500 yards I sprinted, which I never do. And I didn’t retch at the finish. Which I always do.

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Third Place in the 5K!

 

About 5 seconds after crossing the line, I texted my running partner who signed up for the next morning’s 10K—and was waiting for me at dinner.

Who you text immediately after a race says a lot. It’s the person who won’t reply to your “I just ran a 22:28” with “Is that a good time?” or “Cool. When will you be home?” Lindsay gets it like only a running partner can—she knows my splits, my PRs and my bad hip from my good one.

I got my medal, hustled to dinner, drank too much wine (again, because I wasn’t racing) and crashed with Lindsay and our other friend, Robin, at a beach house just a mile from the next morning’s start line.

I woke up energized. My floss didn’t break. My toast didn’t burn. I was ready to race—er, I mean, run.

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Lindsay and me having just survived the 10K

I paced Lindsay on the 10K even though I said I would rest up for the half. As we crossed the finish, I had 30 minutes to change my socks, use the bathroom and eat before the next race. The point is, I didn’t have time to give myself a reason not to run again. In fact, I kept encountering reasons to press on. Robin, who just ran the 10K, decided she would join me for the first six miles of half, for which I was eternally grateful (she ended up running all 13.1 miles). By mile 3 I felt like hell and couldn’t stop thinking of hamburgers. But I popped some Stinger chews—a far cry from the quarter-pounder I craved—and got a surge of energy.

There were other inspirations along the way—sharing a couple of miles with some running friends I hadn’t seen for awhile, seeing Lindsay, showered and rested with a glass of wine sitting in a folding chair at mile 10, and being cheered in by my Savannah Striders friends and the finish. I was about 12 minutes off my half PR, but I had just run 19 consecutive miles. And I wasn’t racing.

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Staying warm post-half, pre-beach run.

I was on autopilot for the final two legs. Luckily, another friend, Christine, was willing to keep me company, even after she had already accomplished her goal of running a 10K PR.

I survived. I sat in the car for about 15 minutes texting Lindsay, Robin and Christine all the results (19th woman overall!) and gushing about how I couldn’t have done it without them as if I was on my third glass of wine rather than my third pack of energy chews.

As I drove the 10 minutes from the island back to my house, I felt incredibly accomplished (and wildly hungry). But more than that, I felt really, really loved.

In the couple of weeks that have passed, I don’t remember much about those few solo miles of the race, but I can vividly recall every mile I ran with one of my girlfriends. Because it was fun.

Let’s face it, racing isn’t fun. It’s what I image it feels like right before you die, except you stay that way for hour and you never die.

I pushed myself during the races, but I didn’t push myself over the edge because I wasn’t sure what I could do. I found out I could do a lot more than I imagined. But I don’t think I could’ve done it without my running partners.

Either way, I wouldn’t have wanted to.

My New Year’s running resolution, in all its simplicity

I’ve been percolating over this New Year’s resolution thing for a couple of days, seeing what might stick 72 hours before I announce a 365-day commitment. My record isn’t so good. Like, I’m 0 and 30 since making my first failed resolution around the tender age of 8 when I announced I would start a stamp collection.

But this year I might be onto something sustainable—and something more meaningful than stamps.

If I were to characterize 2015 in one word, it would be “overwhelming.” I felt like I was running in 10 different directions but never getting past my own front door. I was overwhelmed by my commitments to my work, writing, running, friends, family and myself. Commitments that I kept making.

“Why don’t you stop saying ‘yes’ to things if you’re feeling overwhelmed?” asked my husband.

As if that made any sense.

Truth is, I wanted to say yes to every single opportunity last year posed. I like new challenges and projects. I suffer from the fear of missing out. I live in this paradox where I crave time to just “do nothing,” but as soon as there’s “nothing to do,” I’m bored.

So if that wasn’t going to change, then maybe it was simply my outlook that needed a revision. Instead of grumbling and being anxious about everything I “had to get done,” what if I approached each project/goal/opportunity with joy? The same joy with which I accepted it in the first place?

I began by evaluating my running.

I came out of 2014 hitting PR after PR and with the hopes of qualifying for Boston. I finished every race exhilarated about what I had just accomplished and thought 2015 would be even better. But somewhere along the way I got fixated on racing and getting faster. Consequently, I endured a series of small physical setback and large disappointments. The races I did PR, I finished hyperventilating and heaving, beating myself up because I ran negative splits, walked at the water station, or didn’t place—things I knew were lame for an age-grouper running local tracks to care about, but still…I cared.

I don’t want to stop caring about becoming a better runner any more than I want to stop caring about being a better friend, mother, wife or writer. I don’t want to throw my hands in the air and say “I’m just too old/tired/busy for this.” Because I’m not.

But what if I let go of the useless anxiety that clouds my otherwise optimistic outlook? What if I instead focused on the one thing I could change: Me.

I didn’t think it would work because it goes against everything I’ve come to think I know about being driven. For instance, as a writer, I stress about deadlines, inspirational crashes, and whether or not I’m good enough, thinking that these things ultimately fuel my craft. In fact, they stand in the way of it. But the few times I’ve convinced myself it’ll all work out (and by the way, it does), or walked away from a piece only to have fresh insight the next day (because it always comes), or forget what people think and just write what I love (the best writing I’ve ever done), I’ve been surprised at how joyful the experience can be. The anxiety didn’t make me work harder, it just made me feel like I was working harder.

I wasn’t sure the principle would apply to running until today. After four hours of writing, I felt like running—I needed to run. But instead of looking at the half-marathon training program to tell me how to run, I ran just for the hell of it. I put on my headphones and picked a course that would allow me to log anywhere from 1 – 7.5 miles. I could turn back whenever I felt like it. I would run “comfortably” without worrying about the pace—something I hadn’t done for so long I wasn’t even sure what my comfortable pace was. I feared it would be slower than I could handle, but told myself it didn’t matter; my only goal was to adhere to the Brooks slogan I love so much: run happy.

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If my breathing became labored, I slowed. If I felt energetic, I picked up. I rocked out to the worst Tween beats Pandora has to offer because that’s my jam. At mile 4, I stopped to chomp on some energy chews, and enjoyed the warm sunlight on my face. I never took the shorter route, not because I had to log the miles, but because I wanted to run them.

Every now and then I would peek at my watch, just to see how much damage running happy would do. Funny this is, it didn’t. I was cruising at an 8:30-8:45 pace, much faster than my easy pace I do while training.

I didn’t finish with my body aching and my lungs heaving. I finished exhilarated at what I accomplished and called my husband and texted Lindsay to share in the joy of just another day of running.

This wasn’t new. This was how I used to run. Happy.

I think 2016 is going to be an overwhelmingly good year.

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Running very happy

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:

photo 3

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.”