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A Race of One

Lining up in Boston with all those thin, sinewy gazelle-ish people, knowing that just about everyone there takes this marathon-running thing seriously and probably worked really hard just to get there, can make you feel like such an imposter.

I don’t belong here.

I can’t really run that well.

I’m still new at this.

I’m not as fast as I look.

It’s a little surreal and a lot intimidating. I hear people talking about their pre-race rituals, about that time they ran a marathon through a downpour with a sprained foot, about their plan to kick it into high gear at the halfway point. And although it is tempting to feel like I really don’t belong there because I really can’t compete with them, I try, instead, to remind myself that I’m actually not competing with them.

I’m running my own race. Against me and my inner coward, my inner sloth, my inner egotist. And the goal is not to win, not to beat anybody else, but instead to be brave, and true, and humble.

I can’t compete with anyone else not only because we run at different paces, but because we’re coming from different places. Some are coming off of injuries, others are having the best race of their lives. Some have really specific goals and others are there just to have fun and soak in the atmosphere. This is serious business for some and a 26-mile party for others.

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It’s hard enough to remember that on the race course, when you actually are running a race. But it’s even harder in real life. So hard to remember that I’m not competing with any other mom, or writer, or woman. I can’t be “the best wife ever” — I can only be Micah’s best wife ever. I don’t need to feel inadequate or unworthy or like I don’t belong. I just need to be me.

And even when there are people all around me doing the things I want to be doing, people who look like they are living the dream and crossing the finish line while I’m still slogging through, I can’t be discouraged by their success (and my implicit failure) because they aren’t running the same race I’m running. Maybe I’m coming off an injury, maybe I’m just getting through this while my mind and heart are somewhere else, maybe this is just the first step in a long journey.

Whatever the case, I need to keep my eyes on my own page, my feet in my own lane, my heart in my own race . . . and feel lucky to line up next to so many people who are courageously doing the same.

Micah’s Got Next

For weeks and weeks I’ve been looking forward to being DONE with the marathon. I was so tired of running every day, so tired of pushing the darn stroller with two kids in it, so tired of logging miles. I imagined that my post-marathon life would be full of playdates and free time, that I would have more time to write, more time to sleep, more time to cook, more time to . . . not make myself so tired.

But then the taper happened. I rested up. I was less stressed about logging miles. And running was fun again. I wanted to do it everyday. I wanted to run a marathon every year at least. I wanted to be as fit as I am now for always. I wanted to never. stop. running.

And of course, that is still the plan. To never stop running. But for now, it’s time to pass the baton. I’ve been telling Micah for months that he’s got next. It’s his turn. He’s been holding my horses for me for a couple of years and, now that his body is feeling better, it’s time for him to go get his. meandmicah

As much as I want to sign up for all the races while I’m still riding the post-race high, I need to catch my breath. So I’m going to stay true to my word and pull back a bit. I’ll still run, yes. I’ll still race, even. But Micah gets to do what he wants to do first, while I hold the horses along the sidelines.

And while I still (always) put my family first, I’m hoping to focus a little more on my writing. Maybe get a little more sleep. (I never realized how awesome 8-hour nights were until I tried it for a whole week!) Possibly be a better friend. But mostly, I want to be as supportive of Micah and his goals as he’s been to me and mine.

It’s only fair.

Boston 2014 Race Recap

My happy list seems to have worked. Seriously, if ever I started to think about the little twinges or aches I was starting to feel, if ever I began focusing on how many miles I still had to run, I just looked down at my arm and thought: “Puppies!” or “Micah!” or “Wait a second, I’m in the middle of a 26.2 mile dance party!” and then everything was all better. Or mostly better. It was an excellent exercise in re-direction, as well as an effective strategy for managing pain. Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Note to self: Do that again.

But even before I got to the part about running, marathon day was already going better than expected. Because all 5 of us were sharing a hotel room, Micah and I had to go to bed early and despite pre-race nerves and fears of sleeping through the alarm, I managed to get a decent night’s sleep and to feel rested when I woke up at 4:30. (And yes, I always give myself 2 hours to get ready before I have to leave for the race.) By the time I was about to head out the door at 6:30 to catch a train to catch a bus to get to the start line, the kids were just waking up and I got to give them hugs and kisses goodbye.preracepinning

A smooth ride to Boston Common and a surprisingly short wait in line to get on the bus (last year I think I stood in line for nearly an hour — this year I got on the first bus that came once I was in line), and I got to spend the next 30 or so minutes talking to Ellen, a nanny from Seattle who was running her first Boston. It turns out her nanny family has 3 kids who matched up in ages almost exactly with my kids, so that was fun. We got off the bus and went our separate ways. I still had about 2 hours before my 10:25 start, so I waited in the porta-potty line, then got a bagel and some water, then waited in a (longer) porta-potty line, then sat down (on some grass) to wait until my wave and corral were called to march the march to the start line. 

I’d only been sitting for a moment when who should appear but Christy! The chances of me finding her among the tens of thousands when she didn’t have her phone on her were slim at best, and yet there she was! What a blessing. We waited out the rest of the time together: chatted, wandered, stood in another (even longer) porta-potty line, said a little prayer together, and then discarded our extra clothing on our way to the start line, where we said our good lucks, gave hugs, and parted — she to her corral and me to mine.

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The gun for my wave had gone off more than 10 minutes before I started the race, and the actual beginning of the race was 25 minutes before that, so the race clocks were somewhat meaningless to me. I had my phone tracking my pace and progress, but I decided to turn the volume way down low so I couldn’t hear my splits. My hope was to run by feel as much as possible, and to not get so caught up in the splits that I started stressing if I was off or getting slower. I’d read something recently about running in “zones:” the first 14 miles or so of the race should be in the “yellow” zone — a comfortable pace where you can still talk in sentences. The next 10 are in the “orange” zone, in which you push the pace just a little bit more so you aren’t quite able to get a whole sentence out. And the last two miles are the “red” zone, where you give it all you’ve got left.

That sounded great in theory, but I did wonder if increasing the pace would coincide with decreasing energy/fuel levels and end up being a wash. Still, I kept it in mind.

Mostly, however, I tried to stay positive, smile, and soak in the atmosphere. This was pretty easy to do for the first 16 miles. I felt good, I felt strong, I had no complaints. I did miss seeing my family at the 10k and the 13 mile mark (I was looking on the wrong side of the street), but still. Everyone was yelling my name! I was the mostly popular girl on the race course. And knowing that people saw me and were cheering for me was really energizing. I tried to smile and acknowledge and give as many high-fives as I could.

And then, at mile 16, my name tag fell off. And suddenly, the race course was a very lonely, anonymous place.  (I remembered later that last year I pinned my name tag on, instead of relying on the athletic tape to hold the whole time. Lesson learned.)

After that I had to focus a little harder on smiling and staying positive. My happy list came in really handy during that time. It was right when I was about to go into the Newton Hills, and lots of people were slowing down. I kept anticipating hitting the wall, feeling tired, wanting to slow down, and I had to talk myself out of it by noticing that I actually felt pretty good and there was no reason not to keep at it.

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Micah texted me and let me know that he and the kids would be at mile 22, so I had that to look forward to as well. I pushed up Heartbreak Hill and felt good to have the hardest part behind me. I scanned the crowds along mile 22, but they were pretty thick by then and I didn’t know if I would see them. And then there they were! I didn’t stop to give hugs like I did last year (I was feeling strong and knew I was on PR pace), but it was a boost to see them and to know that I had less than 4 miles to go.

And those last miles flew by. So many people cheering, so many sights and sounds and emotions to absorb. One lady held a sign that said, “Meb won!” I asked her if that was true and when she confirmed that it was, it gave me more fuel to keep pushing the pace. I turned on to Hereford Street and saw one man trip and several other runners stop to help him up. Another man had collapsed in pain just before the final turn onto Boylston Street. I saw the signs marking the 26th mile, and the finish line off in the distance and though it seemed really far away, I knew then that I had made it. I started trying to do some quick math to figure out if I’d been able to break 3:20 and, in my runner’s haze, thought that I had. When I crossed the line and my sister called me, I asked her my time and she said 3:20:40. I was a little confused. And maybe a tad disappointed. But only because of that hazy math I’d done on the fly.happyarm

Really, I feel great about how I did. My pace was much more consistent than my other marathons, and, in fact, my last 2 miles were faster than my overall average. I ran my best, felt good the whole time, and came away with a new personal record — and greater determination and hope that I can get into the 3:1X range next time around, or the time after that. 

And that, perhaps, is an indication of a really great race: one that leaves you feeling good, but gives you something more to reach for as well.

 

Shout out to Christy and Madison as well, both of whom were undertrained and coming off injuries. Christy ran a solid 3:42 after spending much of her peak training nursing a cumulative ankle sprain. And Madison gutted out 19 more miles after cramping up at mile 7. Couldn’t be prouder of those ladies and their courage and determination.

My Mind Is All Over This Marathon: Final Thoughts Before Race Day

I bought a new pair of shoes last week. The saleslady told me she couldn’t really recommend getting new shoes so close to race day, but I’d come home from my latest long run with a bruise on the bottom of my left heel and I was somewhat desperate to feel like I was doing something to make things better. I thought a fresh pair of kicks might be just the thing.

It wasn’t until I’d left the store, still feeling good about my purchase, that I realized that it was fully and completely a mental game I was playing with those shoes. Anything to give myself a bit more confidence going into Monday’s race. IMG_7100

And that’s what it is right now: a mental game. Am I eating enough carbs? Does it matter? Do I think I’m eating enough carbs? Am I getting enough sleep? Only if I think I am. (Okay, that may not be entirely true, but I think it kind of is.)

I’ve been going over my training log and with tomorrow’s 2-mile shakeout, I’ll hit 600 miles since training started on New Years’ Eve. That’s a lot of miles. More, I’m sure, than I’ve done any other marathon-training cycle. But will more miles mean a faster finish? A more comfortable race? A stronger second half? I know I’ve done a lot of slow, hard miles pushing the stroller. Will that help or hurt my finish time? I’ve done better quality speed work than I have in the past, but not as many workouts as I had planned. Who knows how that is going to effect my race?

And, of course I didn’t get to finish the longest of my long runs. I’m telling myself it won’t matter on race day. Those five I missed that day — or the 25 other miles I missed that week of illness — aren’t going to make the difference between a good race and a bad race. Only my attitude and expectations can do that.

And with that in mind, I’ve started a list of happy thoughts to keep me smiling through every. I’m determined to savor the experience. I do have time goals, of course. I’d really like to PR, which means I’d need to run a 3:21 or faster. Better yet, I’d like to break 3:20. But what I really want is to feel, when I cross the finish line, that I’ve run my best, that the training was worth it, and that it’ll be fine if I take a break from marathons for a couple of years. I don’t want to finish feeling like I could’ve done better, or that I wanted more from that race, or that I need to redeem myself . . . at least not right away.

But I’m going to try to leave after-the-race for after the race. (Ha! As if I don’t already have a hundred thoughts and hopes and plans and wishes!) Until then, it’s all happy thoughts and, full night sleeps, and lots of carbs.

ps If you’d like to follow my progress as I run from Hopkinton to Boston you are welcome to. Sign up for athlete alert here. My bib number is 14258.

 

The photo is from my long run two weeks ago, when I ran from Lincoln Center, down the West Side Highway, around the southern end of Manhattan, and over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn. 

Anxiously Engaged

We’ve been looking for a new apartment for about 6 months now. We are being “gently nudged” out of our current place and are hoping to find something a little closer to the park, a little closer to our friends, with a little more space (and with not too big a price tag).

I know we’ll find something. I know we will. I am sure there is something out there that we will be happy with. But, we’re six months in and I can’t help but be a bit anxious about it.

We’ve had people tell us their (large) apartment was too small for the size of our family. We’ve had one slip through our fingers based on some miscommunications and bad timing. We thought we found a great one — and then they renovated the kitchen and replaced the full-size fridge and stove with mini ones. Not so good for a family.

So it’s not really surprising that I’ve developed some anxiety around the situation. And, in fact, I wonder if being anxious may not just be part of the process as we move forward with the faith that eventually we’ll find what we’re looking for. There is a scripture in my faith that says that we should be “anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

Anxious in this case means dedicated and diligent, of course, but I wonder if those feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are just as necessary as dedication and diligence in helping us get to where we need to go. Wrestling with the doubts, the questions, the failures and the deadends — rather than simply giving into them — show that we care about the outcome, that we are seeking to do what is right and best for ourselves and our families, that we want to learn to trust our free will to bring us to not just any place, but to the right place.

To bring us home.

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I wish that I could confidently and carelessly say, “Well find the right place,” and go about my business without worry or stress. But it doesn’t work that way. At least not for me. The anxiety is what keeps me “anxiously engaged” and diligently seeking . . . on Craigslist, PadMapper, Street Easy, and wherever else apartments are found.

And that’s fine. I’m willing to suffer through these months of low-level stress and (mostly) minor disappointment if it gets me a little closer to where I want to be.

p.s. Boston is next Monday! I’m running it! I’m anxious about that too! And I’ll post later this week with my bib number and final thoughts for those who are interested in following me from Hopkinton to Copley Square.

From the Backseat of a Bike

In case you were under the impression that because we don’t have a car, we don’t have backseat squabbles, let me disabuse you of that notion. We may not have a car, but, you know, life finds a way. And the backseat of a long tail bike is just as good as the back seat of any minivan.

Which means that our children, just like anyone else’s, are growing up saying things like, “But I wanted to sit in the front! You always get to sit in the front! Okay, fine, but I get to sit in the front next time!” or “Stop! You’re crowding into my space!” and playing games like the ABC game. Our version includes such rules as: a letter counts if you find a word that starts with that letter, you find a thing that starts with that letter, or you see the letter on a license plate. We’re really lucky that somebody is always wearing a zipper. Also, for an extra challenge, if we make it all the way through the alphabet before we reach our destination, not only do we start again, we have to find each letter twice before we move on to the next. Super tricky, I know.

And just as our children are prone to saying things like, “Are we there yet?” we are just as prone to say things like, “We get there when we get there!” or “No wrestling back there. No, I’m serious. Stop! Don’t make me pull over!”

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But, of course, they have made me pull over. We spent a lovely 10 minutes on the Manhattan bridge the other day, waiting for someone to get over the fact that we weren’t on the Williamsburg bridge. Life is hard sometimes, you know, when you don’t get to ride over the bridge you wanted. (And yet they both go to the same place. There’s a metaphor there, but I’m going to let you find it yourselves.)

When we got the bike we imagined life would be a montage of singing happy songs and waving at friendly/amused strangers as we rode joyfully, smoothly on our way. And while there is a fair amount of waving at amused strangers and even song-singing, there’s also a fair amount of dodging potholes, breaking up arguments, and restraining myself from yelling at motorists I feel are trying to get a little too close to me. Not quite so glamorous.

Still, it’s nice to know that just because we don’t have a car, doesn’t mean we’re missing out on all that family time fun. I’m just so glad that life really does find a way.

I’m Not Sure I Remember How To Do This

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Well, 22 miles turned out to be 17. It was cold and rainy. I had eaten only a couple of real meals since Monday. My digestive tract was still wonky. But Christy — who is coming off a sprained ankle to run Boston — and I pounded out 17 miles. At about mile 14 I started getting a little woozy, so I decided to run home, which, of course, was still 3 miles away. And, of course, the whole way home I was thinking, “Maybe I could gut it out for another lap around the park.” Between those thoughts was the more rational side of me saying that I’d be lucky to make it to the end of the block and to not be stupid by trying to get all those miles just for the sake of getting the miles.

I try not to be stupid most of the time, so home I went. And once I was there, I felt much better.

So I’m back up and running (<– I did that on purpose) just like old times. Only I still feel slow. And with the race less than 3 weeks away, I’m starting to be nervous. Do I really know how to do this? Does my body even remember how to run fast? I’ve put in lots and lots of miles these past 3 months — but not as many fast ones as I’d like. Nearly every run has been an “easy” slog pushing the stroller. What’s going to happen when I take that away?

I guess we’ll have to wait until April 21st to find out.

 

(The photo is from the last run I did before I got sick. I took Manchild to school and ran home over the Manhattan Bridge. I love this city.)

It Wouldn’t Be Peak Week If Everything Went Well

sickweek

This week:

We have watched “Frozen” a couple of times.

We have watched “The Incredibles” a couple of times.

Little Miss has made herself very comfortable around the refrigerator.

Squish has been very comfortable playing Zombie Tsunami on the iPad.

And I have gotten . . . not so comfortable lying on the couch and taking naps at 8:30 in the morning. (When I’m not hanging out in the bathroom, of course.)

It wouldn’t be peak marathon training if there weren’t some sort of physical distress to prevent me from getting those peak miles in. Which is fine, I suppose. I’ve been surprised (and pleased) at how well training has gone so far. And a few days of a stomach bug is better than a few weeks/months nursing an injury. But I was really hoping and looking forward to getting those 57 miles in this week — and breaking 200 for the month.

Bummer.

Here’s hoping I’m up for my last 20+ miler tomorrow morning.

What are you up to this weekend? Any big plans? Or little plans? Or plans to just kick it at home?

 

Boys Can Be Pretty, Too

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“What about these ones?” Manchild held up a box of running shoes. They were bright blue with hot pink accents. There may have been hearts on them. Clearly a pair of shoes made for a girl. Except, he didn’t know that and I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Or maybe I didn’t have the guts? Maybe I just didn’t know how.

After all, a color is just a color, right? He already has hot pink swimming trunks. He uses a pink plate or bowl and cup at nearly every meal. He likes pink. And that’s fine. Pink is just a color. I try to be neutral about such things, but I was grateful to have a reason to say no: “Those are cool. But they’re running shoes and you already have a pair of those. We’re looking for warm shoes for winter.”

He put them back on the shelf and we found a pair of brown boots with red laces instead.

That was back in November and I still think about it frequently. Not the event itself, but the question and answer that it brings to mind:

Why can’t you have the shoes with the pink hearts?

Because you’re a boy.

Boys can’t wear pink because it’s girly. Boys don’t play princesses. Boys don’t cry.

This seems unfair and hypocritical to me. Especially now that I have a girl. A girl who can do anything. Wear pink or blue. Be a doctor or a nurse. Play ball or be a ballerina.

Is it just me or does it feel like boys’ worlds get smaller as girls’ get bigger? How can I explain that to my boys? My boys who have no problem prancing around in princess dresses at their friend’s house? Who would rather be “bunnies” for Halloween than muscled superheroes? Who name their cars and airplanes things like Lilly, Amy, and Ella? How can I break it to them that, you know, they might get beat up, made fun of, teased to tears if they wear shoes with hot pink hearts of them?

I’ve been trying to figure it out for months. Do I tell them what could happen? Do I just draw a line at “cultural norms” and simply say, “Boys on this side, girls on that?” Do I let them feel it out for themselves?

And then, a week or so ago, this happened: Manchild was home sick from school. In an attempt to do something “fun” with our day, I pulled a bottle of nail polish from the bathroom cabinet. Within 5 minutes, both Little Miss and Squish had magenta toenails, and Squish was on his way to see if Manchild was interested as well.

I knew, of course, that he would be. And I knew that this was going to be a “teaching moment,” though I didn’t know who or what was going to be taught. Or how. But when Manchild walked in looking for the nail polish party, I opened my mouth, “Now, I don’t have any problem painting your toenails, but before I do, I want you to know that some people think that it is girly to have your nails painted, and if one of those people saw your nails when you are at swimming lessons, they might make fun of you or say mean things. So now I need to know: if someone said something to you about your toenails, what would you say to them?”

He hardly needed to think at all: “Well, I don’t want that to happen.”

End of discussion.

And beginning of an awakening. For me and my boys. And it kind of stinks. The world is closing in on us — on them, mostly. No pink nails. No shoes with hearts. Pretty soon there will be no more princess dress-ups, no hot pink swim shorts. Part of me wishes I’d just painted his nails, gotten the shoes, let him live it up while he can — until he comes home in tears wondering why I didn’t tell him, warn him, protect him from what he didn’t know.

I shudder at the thought.

And then I hope that as they “grow out” of their child-like and innocent games and interests and loves and into more traditionally “boyish” pursuits, they don’t also grow out of their sensitivity and sweetness — that being cut off from “cute” and “pink” and “pretty” doesn’t leave an angry scar.

A Peek at Peak Weeks

What are we at? Week 11 of 16? I think that’s right. Peak marathon training. If I thought I ran a lot in February, well, if all goes according to the training schedule, I’ll have covered a lot more ground by the end of March. We’re 10 days in and I’m up to 75 miles, if that gives you an idea.

Last Saturday was the first of 3 20+ mile runs I’ll do to prep for Boston. A few weeks ago I “accidentally” ran 19.5 (I thought I was around 18) and felt unaccountably good afterward. Like I could have done another couple of miles. No aches or pains or sorenesses (not until an hour or so later, anyway). But last week’s 20 felt like the 20-milers I used to know. The ones where my muscles feel tight and start cramping, where I wonder if I really am going to make it home, and once I do, I spend the next several hours wondering if I’m going pass out or throw up. (In a good way . . . ?)

But thankfully I have a stellar running buddy to chat with as we run around Prospect Park again, and again, and again (and again!), so the running itself is not a problem. We keep a good pace to go along with our sometimes-coherent chatter, and I’m optimistic that Boston itself will be a good run. So hooray for that.
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Other notable training-related occurrences:

I ran 12 miles with the jogger last week. I don’t think I’ve ever run that far pushing the jogger by myself. Both Squish and Little Miss were dreamy through the nearly 2-hour ride and were appropriately rewarded with hot chocolate at the end of it.

My training buddy, Madison, and I have been doing speedwork together as well. Hill workouts and 800-meter intervals, mostly. While Madison is faster than me and kills me by the final hill or interval, we’re both improving, and that’s pretty great to see. I am so grateful to have someone to push me when it would be easy to say, “Ah, that’s good enough for today.”

I’ve been using lemongrass oil on my knees which has done amazing things for me in staving off knee pain. Well, did amazing things for me. Until yesterday, when I woke up with contact dermatitis on both knees. So long, lemongrass oil! I seem to be allergic to you.

While lemongrass oil is out, ice cups for muscle massage are in. I have one tight spot on one calf (so weird how these things happen!) that is giving me issues. Knock on wood that it’ll be the only ache I have to get through before race day . . . .

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Finally, I just have to say that while things are going well, I miss checking in here more often. I miss sharing the beautiful, funny, exasperating everyday occurrences, and musing on the imponderables of parenthood . . . and whatever else I used to do.

I’ll be back soon . . . promise!

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