St. Paddy’s Day 10K Race

st. paddy's day run 2014

Today, I ran my first race in 17 months.  My last race was the 2012 Portland Marathon.  Yeah.  It’s been awhile.

Closed-off streets and on-ramps made getting to the race start line difficult.  However, we made it in time.  Jonathon pinned on my bib, and with a kiss for luck, I was on my way.

I ran a St. Paddy’s Day 10K in Tacoma.  Me and a bunch of other crazy folks dressed in green, tutus, wigs and sparkles gathered at the start line. Some folks rocked shamrock socks.  Some had jaunty, glittery green tams.  Babies in strollers and dogs on leashes joined us, too.  The overcast day started out dry and in the 40s.

This Irish-themed race encompassed three different runs – a 5k, 10k and a half marathon.  I knew I wanted to do more than a 5k but less than a half marathon.  I opted for the 10k.  I’ve never raced this distance before today, so whatever I would get would be a PR.

I took time to get in line to use the portapotties.  I saw no one I knew.  I chatted up the couple in line behind me, an older guy with a full grizzly white beard and his spouse, a shorter gal with long brown hair sporting glasses and a cane.

“Boy, there are a lot more people here than last year, ” he said.  “This race has really grown.”

Locals.  They knew the scoop.  The man addressed me.

“There’s Super Sonics guy,” he said.  He nodded at a tall guy with a sign saying “Bring ’em back!”.  The Super Sonics used to be Seattle’s professional basketball team.  They relocated to Oklahoma in 2008.  Good luck, buddy. That ship sailed.

“I wonder where Gumby is?” he asked.  I guess there’s a guy who wears a full Gumby costume each year.  Gumby didn’t show today.  Perhaps Pokey fell ill.

The course started out flat, then quickly turned steeply downhill.  I remembered this was an out-and-back race.  That “back” would hurt in the last mile.  We ran along Tacoma’s scenic industrial waterfront.  Big ships and gray water.

I really ran my own race.  I didn’t compete with anyone else.  I didn’t let anyone else’s competitive nature get to me.  I guess it helped that there were no mile markers until the 5k turnaround.  Then after that…nothing until the 10k turnaround.  Long before I reached the turnaround, I spotted a 10k runner going past me on the right.  He flew. His feet had wings. Cheers erupted from the lumbering horde.  Then another, and another came into view.  They looked like they were built for speed.  Their legs churned the damp air and they cruised along.  I thought to myself, Great!  I’m almost to the turnaround, too.

But I wasn’t.  It took me another 15 minutes at least to get there.  I couldn’t see anything past the runners in front of me.  When I finally reached the turnaround, it seemed anticlimactic:  just a few orange cones to run around to get to the opposite side of the street.

Then, a little head of me, I saw my start line friend.  He labored along, a little hunched, ahead of me.  I sped up a little to catch him.  Deep in his music, he didn’t notice me. I gently tapped his arm.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Ain’t dead yet!” he replied.  I had to grin.  Isn’t that the truth?

“How about you?” His voice held genuine concern.  I’d told him I hurt my back and this was my first race since then.

“I’m fine, ” I said.  And it was true.  I felt good.

We figured we should see the 4 mile marker soon.  It loomed up suddenly.  Great!  Just over 2 miles to go.  This race actually came to 6.2 miles, as a 5k is 3.1 miles.  But who’s counting?  I passed my friend and kept going.

Another hill, back up the overpass we floated down.  Then another smaller one.  I had to walk a few of those hills.  But not the whole time.  I paced myself. Then, the last steep hill to the finish.  Brutal!

I could see the finish line.  Hurrah!  I sprinted to it, smiling for the cameras.  Why not?  I didn’t get queasy.  I didn’t trip or bonk.  I made it. I felt good.

Once back home, I stalked the results page until my time posted:  1:03:12, averaging 10:12 minute miles.  I’m happy with that. I came in 22/51 in my age division, 298 out of 547 overall.  So, smack in the middle of my (very large) division  and a little past the middle of the overall 10k racers.  At least I didn’t come in last.  Not that I would have minded.

I found what I hoped to find, a reservoir of confidence in myself.  I thought it had all dried up over the last year. I figured the frustration and pain of a long-standing, persistent injury and not finishing my one and only marathon sapped it.  But it turns out a remnant remained. And I found it.  Thanks be to God.

IMAG1547(1)

Let Faith Arise

Photo from etsy.com

Photo from etsy.com

I ran 3 miles outside in the drenching rain.  I couldn’t stomach the thought of treadmill time.

As I ran along, I watched the mist hang in the trees, a mysterious silvery cloak.  Falling rain and tree branches dripped large drops that hit me on the face and arms, as well as everywhere else.  And I thought about faith.  It rises. When we start to see God doing things in our lives we’d ruled out as impossible, the faith level in our heart increases.  Ever dropped pebbles into a bucket of water or put a kid in a filled bathtub?  The object(s) displace the water.  The contained water pushes against the constraint of the vessel.  Take that, physicists!  Or not.  That’s the pinnacle of my knowledge of physics.

Faith seems a mysterious thing, methinks.  We can’t see faith.  We can’t smell, taste, touch or hear it. It’s there, though.  It hangs in our spirits and hearts and mouths.  What we think about and do either causes it to multiply or to shrink.  Sometimes we have negative faith:  “I just know she’s talking smack about me!” “He has a great future as a prison inmate.”

I want to focus on positive faith.  We have a choice with our faith.  When life’s circumstances heat up, do we surrender to God and trust Him to set things right?  Or do we fall into despair, letting our faith sink so low we can barely get up in the morning?

My running regime hasn’t been as tight as I’d like it.  I figured out (finally) I’m probably doing too much sitting.  I took a walk yesterday – again in the rain – and it seemed to help.  I felt less stiff and sore.  What is my part in making faith come alive?

Besides, I registered for a March race this past weekend.  I haven’t raced in more than a year.  If I don’t train outside in inclement weather, how will I handle it on race day? I’m putting legs to my faith. Cause you know odds are it’ll be raining.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. – Hebrews 11:1

Runner’s High

The moon hung in the sky, a frosted coin.  A hazy halo of fog diffused its light.  I gazed into its beauty and considered running outside by the moonlight and intermittent streetlights, but kept to my date with the treadmill.  I needed some time alone on a stable surface to think and to sweat.  These early morning runs feel like prayer.  I craved the stillness.

I drove up the hill, twisting and turning with each curve in the road.  Somehow, even at this early hour, I ended up behind a slow-moving van.  White and ancient, it moved with glacierlike speed, chugging upwards way below the speed limit.

“Come on, come on,” I muttered.

It has been 4 days since I gave up sugar.  Again.  This is the best I’ve felt in a very long time.  I wanted to get on the moving sidewalk and conquer my miles.

Arriving at the gym, I found only a couple of people there.  A guy in glasses and  a buzzcut next to my favorite treadmill and an older lady with steely colored, tightly permed hair on another one.  They each walked at their own pace, absorbing the news coming from the TVs mounted above the windows.

The sun still slumbered.

I got myself situated on the machine, decreasing the incredible incline some person had left it at what, 8?  I rode the ramp down, down, down, thankful I didn’t get a nosebleed.  I think the most I’ve ever inclined a treadmill is 2.  I want to simulate pavement/asphalt outdoors, not Mt. Everest.  I untangled the Gordian knot of my mp3 player headphones, shoved them into my ears, and took off.

I will state, here and now, that I’ve lost a bit of speed over the last 9 months of being on the injured list.  My per mile pace is slower than I’d like.  But I’m working back up to my race pace.

I did the first 2 miles slow, the third and fourth a little faster.  The fifth mile, which I almost didn’t do at all, I did at my original pace.  My right hip gave me a little trouble.  I stretched after the third and fourth mile, lunging and trunk twists.  I picked it up again.

One thing I’ve learned from all of this is I have to keep moving forward.  If I’m still hurting, I need to keep seeking solutions.  My body is not bad or wrong, but something is “off”.  So far, what’s worked is prayer, massage, chiropractic appointments and stretching.  Lots and lots of stretching.  I’m learning to be open to new methods.  I’m learning just how little I know about my body and how much respect it truly deserves.

I contemplated all these things as I oozed along, the “glow” dripping into my eyes.  Another guy, one I’ve seen around, got on a treadmill a few machines down from me.  I think we got into a friendly debate once about whether the fan should be on or off.  No matter now, since the fan is MIA; hence the ooze.  He ran a little and walked a little, breathing hard.  It seemed as if he was trying to compete with me.  I ignored him.  I’m not there to race, only to run.  My stiffest competition is, and always has been, myself.

I finished with a smile on my face.  The sun was up, the air pinkish with low-lying fog. The runner’s high is real, folks.  I’m living proof.

Up and Running

Today, for the first time in 7 weeks, I ran!

Not Iran, like the country in the Middle East.  No.  I ran on the treadmill today for the first time in 7 weeks.

I didn’t run far and I didn’t run fast.  I alternated running with walking, trying to see where my limits were.  I could’ve done more but I wanted to get home and stretch out so I could do more another day. I don’t want to overdo. Been there, done that. I lasted about a half hour and covered 2 miles.  I couldn’t stop smiling. I must’ve looked like a dork.  Sure, it’s a bit humbling to be back in the gym where I used to rack up the miles on that infamous machine going nowhere.  I don’t care.  We get hurt and we get back up again.  Maybe I can be encouraging to someone else on this journey.  Nobody’s perfect.  Our bodies will heal, given time and the correct care.

I am on my way back.  Yay!

Last night, I dug out my old journals from 2006 on.  I won’t bore you with the details, (drama bomb!) but I discovered something.  I’m definitely not the person I used to be.  One thing stayed the same:  my handwriting is still atrocious. Thank God for His faithfulness.  I also see that things really started to clear up and make more sense once I started running.  Funny.  My thinking was messed up.  I thought about negative things a majority of the time and so my attitude was poor.  I battled depression and discouragement a lot. I still do, but not nearly as much or as badly as in the past.  Running has helped to create new ways of thinking.

What did I learn from this time off?  Glad you asked.  I pretty much laid it all down, whether I’d ever run again or not.  I had to or I’d get a little crazy.  Not that I didn’t…but it passed.  I don’t  know if I want to race anymore.  I want to run because I like it. It makes me feel alive.  I want to work out because it makes me feel better and get stronger.  I have nothing to prove anymore, nobody to compete against except  myself.

Running to Win

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person get the prize?  So run to win!  All athletes are disciplined in their training.  They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.  So I run with purpose in every step.  I am not just shadowboxing.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NLT)

Yesterday morning’s pre-service prayer time focused on this verse.  The man leading the time talked about running the race to win.  He said people who race are in it to win it.  They compete for a prize.  They struggle and strain to beat the other participants.

Hmm.  Has he ever raced?  I mean no disrespect, yet…I never race to win.  I know, toeing the starting line, that I am not the fastest.  I am not the strongest (usually).  I am a short person with short legs.  I do not have a 44″ inseam.

But winning is not the reason I race. Placing is nice; done that a couple of times.  I race for the joy of it.  Being outside, among the trees and with other runners, is such a life analogy.  We’re going the same way.  We’re pushing ourselves to do our best. Trying to avoid puddles, potholes, blisters, stray dogs and any flying bird poop.  There’ s a camaraderie you won’t find in any other solo activity.

If you’re in a long race like a half marathon or a marathon, people crowd the sidelines.  They’re awed at what you can do.  Some have done it themselves and some only dream about running a long distance.  Or maybe they have nightmares about it.  Whatever, they’re there.  They cheer for strangers and have goofy signs that say “Run like you stole it” and “Donuts at the finish”.  Most have family or friends in the race.  They stand there in the cold and rain yelling encouragement.

I also race to improve my own time, to get a PR.  I won’t catch the wiry gal who looks like a long-limbed Russian transplant.  She’s poetry in motion, legs churning purposefully, strides measuring the course easily.  I might even get beaten by the old guy in an ankle brace.  Hey, it’s happened!  I must press on at my pace.  I need to take my thoughts captive and believe it can be done.  I need to drink water when the aid stations turn up!  But just say no to gummy bears.

What I come back to is…did I run well?  Did I do my best?  Did I finish the race?  This Scripture feels more to my liking:  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful (2 Timothy 4:7).

Isn’t that what life is all about?  Life for most of is no 100-yard dash.  We’re in it for the long haul and we can’t see where it ends.  Like running a 5k or longer, we can’t see the finish.  Maybe the finish line is right back where we started and our life will be a series of out-and-backs.  Maybe it will be a gigantic loop.  Maybe it’s a point-to-point race. We simply don’t know where or when our human life-race ends. No matter.  Have we done well?  Did we keep the faith?

Marathon Aftermath

I heard from someone today who has run several marathons and couldn’t finish his first one either. He had to quit at mile 18.  Huzzah!  I am not alone. His goal is to run a  marathon in every state.  Amazing.

Feeling physically a bit icky today with a low fever and low energy to match.  The nice weather and my mom’s visit really cheered me, however.  My mom told me I must be an anomaly; nobody else in the family does what I do, exercise-wise. She tried not to imply that I was some sort of freak.

The kids missed us while we were gone.  Ruby drew a darling card with notes for each of us.  She apologized to me for every bad thing she’d ever done on one side of the card.  The other side, to her daddy, she simply said she didn’t  get to see him very much. And so no apologies necessary for him.

Zac brought our luggage in and submitted to hugs from me.  He answered my questions with single-word answers, after which he slouched back to the computer.

Everyone  is doing fine as I slowly start to feel like myself again.  Really wanted to do something physical today but the ol’ bod wasn’t into it.  I feel young on the inside even if my body doesn’t agree. I’m not good at resting, but I’m learning the necessity of it.

Hope my running shoes don’t get lonely.

Portland Marathon 2012

Yesterday, I ran the Portland Marathon.  Over 16,000 of my closest friends and I ran around outside in the  fall sunshine, sweating and smiling.  Okay, mostly sweating.

The day dawned warm – almost 60 degrees.  That didn’t sit well with me, but what can you do?  We headed downtown, found a free parking spot on the street and joined the hordes of people heading down to the starting corrals.  Jonathon pinned my bib on my front, then my back.  I hate bibs.  A passerby helped us figure out the chip timer that forms a loop I attached to my shoe.  Okay. All set.We passed at least 2 Starbucks and they were mobbed.  Sunday morning before sunrise?  Probably atypical, except on marathon day.

I had given up all my nerves the day before and decided to run my race, slowly and relaxed – thanks, thedancingrunner!  Good tips in the last blog she put out.

We found my corral, weaving through hundreds of people.  I am not fast, so I was looking for E corral.  I found it, then moved to F.  I wanted to run with the 5-hour pacer.  I didn’t find him until much later.  Corral F was filled with mostly normal people like me.  And older folks.  Nobody looked terribly fast, except for the Middle-Eastern guy, all long legs.

I waited in a line with 50 other people for the 20+ portapotties.  I looked around at the beautiful architecture, the hum of everyone’s voices ricocheting off the faces of the buildings, the sky lightening to the east.  It felt like the city was alive. I was excited and ready to roll.

Finally, at around 7:20, our corral moved to the starting line.  An unseen announcer counted us down.  And we were off!  Moving at a snail’s pace down 2nd Street, trying not to run into anyone else.  I’d never been in a race with so many people before. It felt kinda like a minefield.

We headed onto Naito Parkway to do the small loop.  Everything was going swimmingly.  Bands appeared like a continually unfolding present, playing songs to encourage us.  The sun poured down on a gorgeous fall day.  Portland is a great city for natural beauty as well as people-watching.  You never know what you might see.  And sister, I saw a lot!

The half marathon followed the same course until after the turnaround at mile 8.7.  Down that industrial corridor lined with factories and parking lots, our only out-and-back, was a horrible praise band (they played one song I knew), the Gay Freedom band, playing (what else?) Lady Gaga tunes.  Down a bit further was a pirate band, complete with cannon.  A man with flowing white hair and beard, holding a Jolly Roger flag, offered free high fives.  How could I resist?

I should mention water and sports drink stations were regularly along the course.  I stopped at just about every one.  It was warm, I was not used to running in the heat, and I didn’t want to lose strength.  They also had gummy bears and pretzels.  The hard thing for me to get used to is all the paper cups strewn on the street.  And the gummy bears tossed on the ground were like multicolored casualties of the race.

I didn’t see any mile markers until mile 3, but from then on they were pretty regular.  Passed cheerleaders from a couple of different high schools.  Passed a high school pep band.  Took some Vaseline off a plastic knife around mile 10.  Kids:  don’t take lubricants from strangers!  I rubbed some into my already-chapped lips.

We made another turn to take us into the shady NW neighborhoods leading to the St. Johns Bridge.  Slight hills here, but great signs from spectators:  “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”  “Sweaty women are sexy”.  Had to cheer for that one!  And my all-time favorite:  “You’ve got stamina.  Call me” (in much smaller letters).

Somewhere around mile 12, I knew my legs were done.  It was an awful feeling.  I walked a bit.  I ran some more.  I started to feel like maybe I drank too much water.  I took on gummy bears around mile 15.  I walked some more and ran.  The gummy bears hit my system pretty quickly and I felt better.  We rounded the corner just past mile 16 and I saw the bridge.  Finally! I ran to the steep hill leading up to the picturesque St Johns Bridge and marched up it.

I started to feel yucky.  I thought maybe if I kept walking I could feel better.  Nope.  There was a steel drum band at the top of the hill but no water.  The view from the bridge was spectacular.  Some of the other racers took photos.  I kept moving, willing my legs to cross the bridge.  I knew Jonathon was on the other side.  He could encourage me or maybe take me home. Yes, it was that bad.

There were two photographers n the bridge.  I knew they would be there. I tried to look happy without throwing up.  Not an easy task.  I crossed the bridge and started looking around for Jonathon.  Still no water.  And more slight hills.  Ugh!

About this time, I started to feel green.  I knew I must’ve looked like the walking dead, grim-faced and determined.  Spectators called to me, “The aid station is just 3 blocks up!” I kept walking, looking for the next water station and aid station.  The sun-dappled streets of St. Johns and the steady breeze from the Gorge couldn’t lift my funk.  It sucked and I wanted out.

Finally, at around mile 18.5, I found the aid station.  I asked the guy in a reflective vest, holding a walkie-talkie where the medic was.  He pointed to a gal helping another runner swathed in space blankets. He looked into my eyes.

“Are you okay?”

I shook my head. He could see I was spent.

He directed me to sit down and offered to call the Sag Wagon for me. I sat down.  One of the other gals came over and offered me some water and a banana.  The guy, who I later learned was named Brian, kindly offered me his fleece coat, later covered by 2 layers of space blankets.  They took good care of me and I felt like an idiot.  One gal, R., I learned was a nursing student at Linfield College.  She encouraged me by reminding me of how far I’d come and that she could never do it. She also made sure I knew who I was and where I was. My small consolation came in the form of not being a belly dancer, like the troupe just across the street.  No end of entertainment there.  Women in their 60s in sparkly, revealing costumes, gyrating for all they were worth, music blasting.  Good times. They kept the runners pumped.

Then I called Jonathon, who had a difficult time finding me due to all the barricades and an error on the race map.  He found me, finally, and was going to push me to continue.  He took one look at my white face and white lips and said, “Let’s go”.  I was done.

I’m still processing my disappointment and wasted months of training.  I know; everybody bonks sometime.  Desi Davila, Olympian, had to drop out of the 2012 London Games because of a hip flexor injury.  And I know that in the past she had a DNF because she ingested a sports gel that made her ill.  So I’m in good company.

What did I learn?

1.  Do your long runs outside, not on the treadmill.

2.  Eat better.  Less pizza pre-race!

3. Get in at least a 20-mile run before you do a marathon.

4. I can run slowly and still do well.

5. Things go wrong, despite our best-laid plans.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me and believed in me.  I appreciate the prayers and good vibrations.  You helped make it possible.