run a race.

If you are ever feeling insecure, run a race.

If you aren’t sure about the future, run a race.

If you want to feel invincible, run a race.

If you have a mind full of thoughts and no conclusions, run a race.

If you need answers to questions you aren’t willing to ask, run a race.

If you aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing, run a race.

If you believe in yourself, but only some of the time, run a race.

♣     ♣     ♣

freehold2

On March 15th, I ran the Freehold St. Paddy’s 10 Miler. I went into the race fairly confident and eager to see how I would do, more as a form of self-entertainment than anything else. The last of the  snow had just melted away after a long winter. I had trained well but was mentally fatigued until a beautiful 20 miler the Sunday before, which had started out in winter and ended in spring. The optimism and contentment I felt toward running on this particular morning was quite the mirror image of how I felt toward most other things in life, meaning I was definitely going to run with my heart to a PR (simple formula).

While warming up, a guy to whom I had apparently sold shoes once spotted me and we ran together for a few minutes. I saw him again at the starting line, and he pointed out a woman who I “should stay with.” He spit out some of her credentials from Ironman finishes, times, etc., but I didn’t hear the specifics. However, given that I showed up at the race without much of a clue as to who else was coming, I didn’t completely ignore his advice. I was surprised when we got to the line and he said to both of us, “you two will be gunning for the win together,” or something like that. We didn’t say too much in reply and laughed it off, she alluding to poor mileage through the winter and I offering a cliché line about a tune-up race to go out there and have fun. The gun went off, and I did end up running alongside her until we exited the park road.

It seems I always end up chasing women in pick compression socks during races.

It seems I always end up chasing women in pink compression socks during races.

The first two or three miles of a race are always my least favorite. You’re not exactly sure how you feel because you’re not in a great rhythm yet, and the other runners around you could change at any moment depending on when they get their realizations of how their bodies are feeling. As we descended a road in the first mile, I gathered my surroundings and noted that the “fast woman,” I’ll call her, was running a few seconds ahead of me now. I fell right into her path and thought maybe I should make it my goal to keep her in sight, but then retracted the idea because it was too early on to tell how fast she would be going later on. Then, she stopped. She turned. She ran the other way, stooped down, and picked up a gel she had dropped that I hadn’t even noticed. I kept going at my pace. Now she was behind me. Since she had been running ever so slightly faster than I before she dropped the gel, I was basically counting down the seconds until she passed by me. I was not about to look behind me; I just kept going at my pace. We turned into a residential neighborhood with young trees in the yards, and white fences to match big white houses. We ran a loop through that juncture and still, she never passed me. I also never looked back. We got back onto a main road and headed onto another wooded lane. People clapped for me at the few places there were spectators, telling me I was the first woman. Still she never came up behind me. I kept my eyes set up ahead on two guys in purple singlets (see photo above) who knew every tangent like they ran this course everyday, and followed their every move as long as I could see them. On one particularly twisty road, everything fell quiet and I couldn’t see any other runners beyond the next turn. It left me alone with my thoughts and the rhythm of my feet.

For the remainder of the race, running became an afterthought. My legs and their repetitive motion were no longer attached to my mind and my heart and the rest of me; they were down below doing their thing as if they were motorized, leaving me in a seldom-acquired state of zen being. For those miles, it was okay that I was angry. It was okay I was confused, and afraid of the unknown, and regretful of my decisions or lack thereof. It was okay if I didn’t know what that evening would bring, or if I felt things to be unfair, or if I hadn’t yet learned what I needed to know to find success and happiness and contentment outside of this moment, this race. I was here now, running a race now, and it was what I needed to do. Even if everything else might be feeling out of my control, it was a great feeling to be able to control this. To have the opportunity to actually, physically run, and to experience the confidence and glory of trying to win something. Not many people can do something like that, an act of physical exertion that also transcends into the most relaxing state of being. What a juxtaposition running can be.

The fast woman who had turned back for her fallen gel had a lot of hype, at least from the guy at the starting line. We had been sized up by a third party against our will, and there was no doubt that she was a much more accomplished athlete than I. I had almost let that hold me back. I had expected her to pass me for miles. Not because I was not good enough. Because she was simply there. That really made me think. How often do I do that? I can think I am confident I am putting my best self forward, yet someone else can show up and take something away from me just because I am me and she is she? What sense does that make? If I am putting forth my best effort for me, it should not matter who else is there. If I am being myself and doing my best, and that is not good enough for a victory in the end, that is not my fault. I am good enough. I may be better next month or next year than I am today, and I hope so. But for today, I am good enough. In that ten mile race, if the woman had snuck up on me and pulled out the win, but I ran my best, that would be okay with me. I should translate that to the rest of my life too. If I strive to be my best self for me and for others and the world around me, and that is not “good enough” for someone or something, it will be good enough for someone or something else. And that is someone or something I would want to run through life with for awhile.

♣     ♣     ♣

That is what I learned during ten miles on a cold Sunday morning in March. I’m still trying to learn whether or not the Freehold Area Running Club got a better deal on gnomes in bulk versus leprechauns, as I think the garden gnome might be British, not Irish.

stpaddyssplits

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Boston Marathon 2015: “no place I’d rather be”

NOTE: This has been sitting as an almost-complete draft since June…going to drop this one here and get on to the present! 

Race morning began much the same as it did last year: shuttle van from the hotel to Boston Common, shuttle school bus from Boston Common to Hopkinton. Unlike last year, I knew no one on either shuttle, so I ended up talking about running and the Boston Marathon in general with two middle-aged men who had each ran Boston at least ten times, which made for interesting conversation. I did most of the listening. It was quite nice to be inside a vehicle for as long as possible because…it was going to rain. It was all anyone could talk about at first, yet it was what no one wanted to talk about. The sky was overcast but not dark, and I still believed there to be hope in the rain holding out, or at least keeping to a minimum.

The rain got worse. I found a dry spot in a white tent in Athlete’s Village and huddled there…for two hours. It was a long two hours, let me tell you. I was desperately looking around for someone I knew, because I’d rather talk for two hours to shake away my own thoughts, but I knew it would be best to stay out and remain somewhat dry and warm. So, i sat/laid down for two hours, taking in some calories and water periodically. Finally it was time to leave, but we just walked down to the next area before the start, where we did more waiting. It was very different from last year. I somehow missed the announcement about my corral walking to the start despite all the waiting, so I had to run and jump into the back of the corral. I didn’t realize this until hours after the race, but my watch didn’t even have a satellite yet, so it was just estimating my first five miles based on cadence (I think). Oops. I knew starting at about 9:00 that I did not feel 100%. Aside from my feet being absolutely numb from being damp and cold, acid reflux had started growling in my chest. I may have mentioned it a few times before, but I have been having major issues with this off and on for the past seven years. I have suspected a hiatal hernia, but then I always equate it to stress and stop running at night and it goes away. Regardless, it was happening at the start. The start of the Boston Marathon. It has never affected me in a morning race from the very beginning, so I was terrified starting this race. I have turned back after two miles on normal training runs due to this problem. This was the Boston Marathon.

My pace hovered in the 7:30s and 7:40s for awhile. My legs didn’t really want to go faster and my chest was getting tighter and tighter. Not good. During mile six I decided I really needed to pee and it would change my life if I stopped to do so. Yes, mile six at Boston I went into a porta potty just to pee. Who does that? The good news: I have a new bathroom PR. I think I ran around 7:22. Eventually I recognized that my legs did in fact feel pretty good, so I tried desperately to focus on that fact and not the awful feeling in my chest I had felt so many times before. I tried two times to make small talk with runners around me and failed. Before Wellesley, there was a poster stuck to a telephone pole that read: “Congrats [name], you’re halfway there!” I said, “I don’t like that poster!” jokingly, since we were running the eleventh mile…hardly halfway in a marathon! The guy next to me just replied, “Well, don’t believe everything you read” not in a very amicable tone. What? Okay. I passed him and moved along.

3

This was somewhere mid-race; my soaked cotton gloves were still on. I did not dress (actually, pack) properly for this race, even by my standards.

Until I decided to go to the bathroom again in the next mile. Come on Meghan, I scolded myself. Really? Twice for non-emergencies? Despite feeling like I never wanted to ingest anything in the near future, I stuck with my plan. I was not about to feel like this and bonk. At least leave me a little hope, body. I had Gatorade at every water stop except for the ones I just didn’t feel like grabbing anything (just a couple) until mile 18 or so, and had gels about 60 minutes in and at mile 14. Let’s just say I did not look forward to them. During and after Heartbreak Hill, I ditched the half of the PowerGel I picked up and switched to water.

At some point near Heartbreak, some people were under a tent blasting the song “No Place I’d Rather Be” by Clean Bandit. When the song came out months before, I remembered liking the beat and all, but like so many other songs about love and relationships, not loving it because I couldn’t relate to the lyrics. Now that it was playing during the race, I made it context appropriate and just adapted it to being about running. I was certainly feeling “a thousand miles from comfort,” dry-heaving every five minutes, wondering if or when my quads would die, and getting totally pounded by the rain. Playing the chorus repeatedly in my head the rest of the race, I took consolation in reminding myself I loved running and I trained hard for this, therefore this will be fine. There is no place I’d rather be. It was a little comical, thinking back at the scene, how the lyrics contrasted the race. And also they might have simultaneously fit.

Desperately searching for my family to have something to look forward to...surprised I didn't have a sore neck, after looking at this picture!

Desperately searching for my family to have something to look forward to…surprised I didn’t have a sore neck, after looking at this picture!

From mile 20 to 22, I desperately searched for my family. The same crew was all back again: my mom, dad, two youngest brothers, and my grandmother, who was never a runner but is the biggest track and marathon fangirl you ever did see. I needed something else to focus on. They ended up getting to their spot just in time from the T, around mile 22.5. It worked out that they were farther up than I thought, because it got me through the hills on a mission. Something else happened right after Heartbreak…I started to feel better. I was no longer dry heaving out of necessity every five minutes (half Ironman deja-vu but I didn’t stop…oh wait I didn’t write about that…). The best part: my legs were fine. I was a little nervous my glutes were about to lock up like my quads did last year after Heartbreak on the downhill, but they stayed in check.

So, the game changed. No more acid reflux/dry-heaving awfulness + relatively fresh-feeling legs = go time. I waited twenty-one miles to start running the marathon I knew I could run. Not what I expected, but I’d take it over the whole thing falling apart. It still could, I thought.  But let’s run with this feeling and see what happens. Suddenly, everyone running in front of me was in my way. This was a stark contrast to the year before, when I felt like I wasn’t moving at all and was utterly jealous of how fast others could manage to move. I figured that if I could keep up the increased pace through the finish, I could still break 3:20. I saw Steve cheering with his friends at mile 24.5 for another boost, and kept rolling to Boylston St. It was a great feeling to finish feeling relatively strong at Boston, but the rain and the smaller crowds still made Boston 2014 a happier moment in my book. Not to mention the hypothermia after the race due to not getting warm clothes until over an hour after I stopped moving. I won’t write much about that. Shivering in damp, tight clothes after running 26.2 miles was truly awful. I promised myself to do bag check next time, regardless of the weather.

4

I ended up finishing in 3:19:28, which was a two minute, thirteen second PR from the previous year. But, I had trained harder and I was stronger, and I knew had I not felt so sick I would have run much faster. The main reason I wasn’t pleased with the race, though, was that I didn’t have fun. I wanted to have fun, and I tried, I really did! But I didn’t have fun. The acid reflux felt horrible – as in, if it was a normal run I would have had to lay down for hours to feel better, yet it was during a marathon. Even when I tried to focus on my legs and the atmosphere, people around me were negative. When I did in fact finish strong, I immediately went into survival mode from the cold rain and nearly forgot all about it. My family was slow to get to me, and then plans were complicated after and I didn’t even have a place to take a shower, all the while feeling nauseous. I really tried to have fun. Sometimes, it doesn’t work.

Faking it. Though I guess I was happy in between finishing and getting cold - short window!

Faking it. Though I guess I was happy in between finishing and getting cold – short window!

Boston results

So that was that, Boston 2015.

I’m publishing this now so I can write a race recap that is much the opposite. 🙂