Friday, October 28, 2016

FANTASTIC FIVE

Last night during dinner, my daughter Grace asked me how I choose the races I participate in.  Do you do them all for a charity? she asked.  I tried to explain my selection process, for which I have very little rhyme or reason.  Well, yes, I do some of them because they support a charity or cause I believe in.  I do others because they're big and well known and tend to be a lot of fun.  And I even do races that I know aren't that exciting but that work with my training plan and are logistically easy to get to.  That answer seemed to work for her as she quickly moved on to our next subject which was how she can't believe that one of the boys in her class does gymnastics because he just doesn't seem like a gymnast. This topic was significantly more interesting to her.  I, however, continued to think about her question a bit, recalling some of the amazing races, and more specifically, marathons, that I've been lucky enough to do.  They've all had their pros and cons.  But some of them really stand out for me.  For whatever reason, they moved me in a way that the others didn't.  And, ultimately, it is these races that keep me motivated and coming back for more.  In order by date (past to present), here are five marathons that come to mind as the most rewarding....so far.

First Boston Marathon, post-injury

BOSTON MARATHON 2009
This was my second marathon and my first Boston.  I had run Baystate in 2007 and qualified by a hair.  I'd originally planned to just turn around and run Boston the following spring because I was already in marathon shape and, more so, because I couldn't wait to get on the line in Hopkinton.  I trained through the winter all the way up to about 3 weeks before the race.  And then I got injured.  And it wasn't something I could work through in time to line up on race day.  I was dealing with two stress fractures in my sacrum and sitz bones (back and butt) which put me on crutches and took me off the road for a solid 6 months.  For my final appointment with my doctor, I mentioned that I had deferred my Boston entry and asked if he thought I could do it in 2009.  He chuckled and told me that my marathon days were over and suggested I take up golf.  No joke.  In the fall of 2008 I eased back into running, slowly and very, very carefully.  And in April 2009, I was on the starting line as I had always planned to be.  I wasn't in the shape I had hoped, but I didn't care.  I was going to prove to my doctor and to myself that anything is possible if you're willing to do the work.  I still remember how I felt when I saw the finish line that day.  Tears were streaming down my face as I came down Boylston street and, at the same time, I was wearing an ear to ear grin, waving, high-fiving the crowd, literally dancing my way to the finish.  It was a beautiful thing and it serves as a constant reminder for me that I am capable of anything if I put my mind to it.  Plus, I don't have time for golf.

At the finish w/ John Wayne Lui

PROVIDENCE MARATHON 2012
This was my fifth marathon.  After Baystate, I'd run Boston for three consecutive years and was ready for a change.  My running partner, Kirsten, and I picked this one because it's around the same time in the spring as Boston, so the training cycle would be similar, and because it was close by and easy to get to.  I used an actual training plan for this one which I'd purchased from Runner's World.  I quickly realized how much work was involved if you wanted to improve as a marathoner....very eye opening.  I worked harder than I ever had and was fired up to see how it would play out for me on race day.  The logistics of this race were so ridiculously easy compared to Boston.  It was a welcome change.  We rolled out of bed on race day, walked down the street to the start, drank a little coffee and then lined up to go.  About halfway through the race I fell into step with another runner and we joined forces for the rest of the race.  His name, which I learned when we finished, was John Lui and he was in the process of running a marathon in every state.  I also learned that he'd run one the weekend before Providence and would be running another one the weekend after, so this was another jog in the park for him.  I was beginning to struggle as we got to the final 10k and was starting to doubt my ability to keep up.  John, however, refused to let me go.  We were now in this together.  It was because of him that I was able to hold on and we eventually crossed the line side by side, with a sparkly new PR for me, to boot.  He was my running angel that day.  I'll never forget it and will be forever grateful.

At the finish of the Miles Standish Marathon w/ friends

MILES STANDISH MARATHON 2013
This was my eighth marathon and it was totally unplanned.  At this point, I'd started to take racing more seriously and was now working with a coach.  I'd run Hartford just five weeks before this one.  I'd gone out too fast and crashed and burned at mile eighteen.  Classic blunder.  I walked/jogged my way to the finish and went home with a bad taste in my mouth about marathoning in general.  All the typical post-bad race questions entered my head....Why do I put myself through this physical and mental torture?  Why is it always so damn painful?  What is the point, dammit?!  I called my coach and told him that I needed a do-over.  And that I needed it right away.  I wanted to run another one with no time goal, just for the joy of running.  So, five weeks later I lined up for the Miles Standish Marathon in Pymouth, MA.  This was the smallest marathon I'd done to date, no bells or whistles.  It was exactly what I needed.  I did have a "holy shit, what was I thinking" moment about fifteen minutes before we took off.  But, after that, I just let go and enjoyed myself.  It was a gorgeous day.  I took it nice and easy, purposely going slower than my normal pace so I had some fuel in the tank for the finish.  I was able to sit back (sort of) and take in the scenery, which was beautiful.  I also talked to other runners, zoned out to my music, or just ran in silence.  Unlike all my other marathons, it was a serene and peaceful experience.  As planned, I had plenty of energy for the final miles and was able to pick up the pace around mile seventeen to finish strong.  Racing aside, I love to "just run".  This race reminded me of that.  I'd found the joy again.  Hallelujah.  Amen.

Joyfully running at Mohawk Hudson

MOHAWK HUDSON MARATHON 2015
This was my twelfth marathon.  My times had been improving and my goals were getting pretty lofty. In August, about a month and a half before this one, I'd gone out to Washington to attend a running camp with my Oiselle teammates.  On the first day we broke up into small groups and went around the circle telling each other our goals.  I had two main ones.  I wanted to guide my high school XC team to a top five finish at States.  And I wanted to PR in the marathon, which meant running faster than a 3:14:05.  I'd been keeping this goal quiet up to this point so by saying it out loud I was making it so.  By October I was fully trained and ready to go for it and on race day I was more excited than nervous, which is not always the case.  I took off with the 3:15 pace group and hung with them until the half.  After that, something clicked and my body shifted gears on it's own.  I was able to pick it up and increase my pace slowly with each mile.  Everything felt right which is rarely, if ever, the case.  I finished, yet again, with a huge smile on my face in three hours and four minutes, a time that I never dreamed I could pull off.  But, as thrilled as I was with the time, it was the race itself and how I executed it that stands out for me.  In running, we are constantly taking risks and trying new things.  Sometimes they work.  Most times they don't.  In this race, everything came together for me.  I knew something special had happened the second I crossed that line.  And I took a lot of time to let this soak in as I also knew it might not happen again.  Not that I wouldn't keep trying.

The home stretch with Joyce at Boston

BOSTON MARATHON 2016
I ran my fifth Boston back in 2014, the year after the bombings.  It was an incredibly emotional experience for obvious reasons.  But, beyond that, there was one moment during the race that changed everything for me in terms of my racing.  I ran behind a blind runner with his guide for the final mile.  As we turned onto Boylston, I listened as the guide let his runner know that they'd done it; that they were on the home stretch and that the finish line was in site.  Both the runner and the guide were elated.  I was crying as I ran behind them.  That next week I reached out to the MABVI to see if I could be a guide for TeamWithAVision in 2016.  To my good fortune, I was paired up with the fabulous Joyce Cron in January and after one run together we were ready to rock.  For the first time I would be running for someone else.  Time, pace, none of it mattered for me.  I had one objective and it was to get Joyce successfully across the finish line.  Race day was the same and totally different.  I was nervous, excited, and scared, but not for the reasons I usually was.  The race itself was like no other.  The cheers from the crowd for our team were crazy loud and thrown at us non-stop for the entire 26.2 miles.  Our fellow runners were amazing, moving out of the way when we needed space and going out of their way to provide words of encouragement.  We were on the road for four hours and thirty minutes and every second was filled with love and support from all directions.  When we crossed the line together we were both moved beyond words.  We hugged each other multiple times before we could finally speak.  It was by far the most rewarding race experience I've had in my life.  Joyce and I will be lining up together again in 2017.  How lucky am I?

Listen to this:
The Balance - Royal Tongues

2 comments:

  1. Love this - love you. You are a source of inspiration in SO many ways, friend.

    ReplyDelete