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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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.

I lost my running partner today

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No, she didn’t die, thank God. But the loss and the grief is real nonetheless.

Robin first joined Lindsay and me less than two years ago when I coerced her into a run.

“I’m not really a runner,” she replied.

“But, you’re going for a run,” I said, looking down at her fully laced shoes.

“I’m more of a jogger.”

First, sorry Jim Fixx, but I don’t believe in jogging. If you’re going faster than a walk, you’re running. You’ll recognize it by the ache in your joints, the panting in your chest and the jostling of your breasts. In short, you’ll know it when you feel it.

Robin and I were already friends so it was only a matter of the time that my pestering would cause her to cave. And here’s the thing non-runners or self-proclaimed joggers should know: runners live to recruit other runners. It’s not because we want to watch you suffer or mock you for your inexperience—that would make me a bad runner (as well as a terrible person). It’s because we want you to love (and hate) it as much as we do, and we want to do this together. Misery likes company, or something like that…

Fast-forward 18 months and Robin, whom I discovered is mentally and physically pretty damn tough (a perfect running recipe!), went from running 3 miles at a 10-minute-plus pace to double-digit miles, speed work, running and placing in races, donning KT Tape and falling into a puddle of murky sadness if she missed a run.

Robin became a “real runner.”

As we trained for the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this past November, I started to scheme how I would convince Robin to run a marathon with me. I’d already failed with Lindsay, who, true to her stubborn Southern roots, can’t be convinced to do anything she doesn’t want to, but Robin—a congenial Midwesterner—was an easy target. Also, I totally knew she could do it.

 

I didn’t even have to get her drunk to get her to sign up for the January 14th Charleston Marathon while at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo. And after earning her half-marathon PR the next day, we began our 20-week training program.

Watching Robin hit milestone after milestone during our training runs (Her fastest mile! Longest run! First GU shot!) was oddly exciting for me. I’m hardly a seasoned veteran, but with three marathons under my belt, I totally get the exhilaration…and the struggle. And I not-so secretly congratulated myself for sucking her into the adventure.

Two weeks before the marathon and 9 miles into on our 20-mile run, Robin suddenly stopped.

“Ow.”

“What is it?”

“My knee.”

And for the next three miles we ran-walked while her knee locked up every quarter mile. She told me to go on without her and that she’d rest—probably just an overworked IT Band. So, I finished out the miles and later learned that she did too, because that’s what real runners do, as stupid as it may be.

For the next week, she tried unsuccessfully to resume running, her knee incapacitating her each time after just a few miles. She tried tape, massage, ice, rest—and then called in the ortho guns.

After her appointment, she called me with the news.

She said something about x-rays indicating that her body alignment was off and that she had to take 8 weeks off or risk a fracture.

“He said I can’t run the marathon and it’s likely I’ll never be able to run one,” she explained, her voice wavering. “And after 8 weeks, if it still hurts, I might just have to do something else.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” I replied, a friend unwilling to lose her running partner. Unwilling to accept that this next weekend’s marathon wasn’t going to happen for both of us.

Robin was taking in the diagnosis. I was refuting it.

“I don’t accept that. You need a second opinion. Is this ‘doctor’ even a runner?”

I’m sure the orthopedic doc is more than qualified, but in my anger, I doubted all of his credentials—plus, I’m 100% sure a runner would never tell another runner that she may have to “do something else.” Like what? Water aerobics? Step? Nothing wrong with that—unless you’re a runner. Then everything is wrong with it.

I remember years ago a doctor telling me that “women weren’t physiologically designed for running.” I get that we may be predisposed for certain injuries, but not designed for running?  There are a lot of things I’m not “designed” for: science, cooking, remembering to put out the garbage. Only cheetahs are designed for running, and even then, they can’t go very far.

Robin put on a brave face while I swiftly sunk into the 5 stages of grief—or at least the first three. Denial and anger came fast enough, followed quickly by bargaining, or what I would call “suggestion.” I polled my “experts”—Lindsay, and then her husband and my husband (neither run, but whatever) and concluded that the diagnosis was not only ridiculous, but also unacceptable.

Lindsay—always the friend—gave me permission to grieve even though Robin’s injury certainly isn’t “about me.” But it kind of is. What excited me most about the marathon was the thought of the shared pre-race nerves, the deliberating over what to eat and drink, the lack of sleep the night before and, most important, seeing Robin cross that line with all the emotions pouring over her. Seeing that look of complete exhaustion and accomplishment. And then later re-hashing each mile of the race together for the next 24-hours like only two people who experienced it together could.

Now it’s just me and 26.2 long miles. Which begs the existential question: if you run alone and no one does it with you, does it really even happen?

Pardon the drama, but I’m in a dark place.

Thankfully, Robin isn’t blindly accepting her fate. She’s made an appointment with a guy I consider to be our city’s running guru. He’s an Ironman competitor. A sports therapist. A real runner. Basically, a god to the injured runner.

I pray to the running gods—and really anyone else who will listen—that Robin will run another day, and preferably on January 14th.

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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.

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.

The Incredible Shrinking Running Shorts

For every year that I run, the hem of my shorts seems to rise about a quarter of an inch even though I stopped growing about two decades ago. In fact, you can date my racing pictures by the length—and cut—of my shorts. First it was the knee-length, drawstring mesh shorts, then the oversized Umbros rolled at the waist which paved the way to the more revealing Nike tempos—about as “revealing” as ankle socks.

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Oh, you remember.

Today, I opt for the barely there feel of silky, wicking fabrics—just enough to cover the tan lines. Because even a 4” inseam in 100% humidity can feel like a parachute in a rainstorm. It’s not because I’m trying to show off my goods. It’s because I’m trying not to drown in my shorts.

At this rate, I’ll be running in my underwear by the time I’m 45. At which point I will stop running altogether.

My friend Claudia, a Lululemon Ambassador and fan of the minimalist movement (doesn’t hurt she’s 30 and built like a stick bug), suggested I try the Lululemon Speed Short, which at 2 ½” is a touch shorter than the 3” I’m used to, but since we were sliding into 2016 it only made sense to raise the stakes—and hemline—once again.

I’m a pretty diehard New Balance fan, having just bought three pairs of the Impact Short after I ran a marathon entirely chafe-free, which is like saying you ran a marathon without getting tired. But I can’t turn down anything free. St. Jude’s hand sanitizer. Kroger lip balm. Publix colander (true story). I got ‘em all. So when she offered me a pair of $54 running shorts in return for an honest review, I snatched them up faster than a University of Phoenix koozie.

I slipped into the size 6s and stood before the mirror to evaluate. From the back, they were good. Roomy, and no low-hanging cheek to speak of. But from the front, I noticed some hip clingage, some fabric strain, and let’s just say it’s a good thing I shaved.

Not perfect. But passable? If you have to ask…

“Are these too tight?” I asked my husband, who immediately looked panicked. There is no good answer when we all know the answer in the first place. If he lies, I go out into the world and people say “Bless her heart,” behind my back. If he tells the truth, I go out into the world husbandless.

“They aren’t like the ones you normally wear,” he offered gingerly.

“But are they hideous?” A trick question because if he says “yes” it actually means I look hideous because we know there’s not a damn thing wrong with the cute $54 shorts.

He didn’t take the bait.

“No, but you might as well try the next size up just to see if you like them better. Then you won’t wonder.”

Ahhhh—the discerning consumer approach. Well played, Ray. Well played.

Claudia swiftly made the exchange and when I stepped into the size 8s, little running angels sang. A perfect fit—slightly more room at the hips and I could go a few days before a shave.

Lululemon Speed shorts

Lululemon Speed Shorts

It makes sense that the shorts fit well; they must fit everyone pretty well because I see Lulu-ites everywhere I go. “I like your shorts!” girls at the gym chirped with a knowing wink. They were all wearing the same shorts just in a different color and pattern. It’s like the shorts bought me membership into a club I didn’t know I wasn’t a part of—until I was.

With a wide, low waistband and soft as Charmin (the double-layered kind), they really don’t feel like I’m wearing anything, which is the best kind of short: it feels invisible but is decidedly NOT invisible. I just recommend that you suck it up and size up.

As far as the long-distance chaffing challenge, the shorts threw in the towel (or did they wave a white flag?) at mile 9, but if I’m being honest with you and myself, that probably had more to do with me than the shorts. Bless my hips.

 

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.

‘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

A Girl and Her Running Shoes: A Love Story

“You got another new pair of running shoes?” my husband inquired, not bothering to hide his disgust.

As I lifted my purplish-blue (this color has always confounded me) New Balance 860 v5 from the box, the smell of rubber washed over me like warm sunlight. So bright. So clean. So … new.

“My other pair was like 6 months old.” Okay, 3 months, but only runners understand that 3 months in shoe years is like 40 for humans.

“You wouldn’t let me spend $100 on a Halloween costume and you bought a pair of shoes?” he said, accusingly.

Clearly Ray doesn’t understand logical fallacy. A one-time Halloween costume and a pair of shoes that takes me to my next PR pain-free, are not like things. They aren’t even in the same universe, unless your universe is inhabited by red herrings and straw men.

No, I did not spend $100 on new shoes—I spent $120. But that really breaks down to only $60 per foot. Figure in the free shipping and that these shoes will protect my $12 running socks and $20 pedicure, and they’re basically free.

And, these are not mere “shoes.” They’re wings. Jet packs. Hover boards.

Friends.

That’s right, I love my running shoes.

I’ve been wearing the New Balance 860 since I first started running somewhere around the mid-90s. Before that, I was a shoe whore. I’d find the cheapest, most colorful shoe, try it out a couple of times and quickly discard after realizing it wasn’t a good fit. Too spongy. Too stiff. Too geriatric. Too moonboot-ish (that’s a real thing). I was always searching, without ever really knowing what I was looking for.

After a bout with shin splints, my husband suggested that I get fitted for a shoe by someone who actually understands the mechanics of running. It was awkward at first. Having a pretty man tell you to “run naturally” while he watches you is a little like telling someone to breathe without thinking about it. Everything gets weird and labored. I jogged down the sidewalk like a ostrich—upright with my arms close to my body, paddling through the air as if I was shooing flies from chest. It was even worse when he instructed me to run back because then I had to think about my face. What’s a natural face for a block-long jog? I settled on a bizarre catalogue-model smile mixed with perceived effort—best described as my “stanky face”—which caused the pretty man to avert his eyes, and understandably so.

Back in the store, pretty man told me I had a wide toe box and that I pronated—neither of which is sexy. He handed me a rather unattractive and oversized predominately white New Balance shoe with navy accents. Jackie Joyner-Kersee wouldn’t touch these things with her 10-foot vaulting pole—even in the ‘80s.

At the time, when I thought of New Balance, I thought of old men in long velour robes shuffling along in the gray 574, going to retrieve the Sunday paper from the front yard. But my very next run felt effortless. I was cloud-running. Unicorns were flying. Angels sang. It was a perfect fit.

You know the shoe I'm talking about...

You know the shoe I’m talking about…

I’ve stuck with the 860 ever since—besides my marriage, it’s the most committed I’ve ever been. Sure, there was a time or two I was tempted by a deal or a trendy color and I justified, “I won’t run in these, just look cute in them.” But even then, after a week or two, the adulteresses found themselves relegated to the dark corners of the closet amongst the other misfit shoes that caused me pain and regret.

Runners get it. My running partner Lindsay recently learned that New Balance updated her New Balance RC 1400 to a new version. My shoe has had 5 version upgrades, which I’m okay with, but Lindsay is a purist. She spent an evening scouring the internet for every pair in her size she could find and ended up buying six. It’s safe to say that the size-9 original RC 1400 is now obsolete.

Lindsay's loot arrives!

Lindsay’s loot arrives!

I’m fickle about a lot of things in my life, but not my running shoe. The 860 has seen me through three marathons and five half marathons. It’s run on trails in the Northwest and through vineyards in the South of France. It’s been in rain and snowstorms. PR’d and peed on. And 40 years from now, when I’m shuffling to my mailbox in my velour robe, you can bet I’ll be in my 860—v 48.

New Balance 860

Even our running shoes like each other! *smooch*