Saturday, July 7, 2012

Milwaukee Half Marathon

12:07 am. Is it time? No.
12:18 am. Is it time yet? Still no.
3:08 am. Now? Nope.
4:48 am. Alarm goes off, and I'm up with no snooze (a sure sign of a big day).

I was a bundle of nerves, but not really about the least consciously. More about the details leading up to the race. The English muffin with peanut butter didn't sit too well. It took me a little longer than I hoped to get out of the house. Do I have everything I need? I'm not exactly sure how to get to the right parking lot. From the lot, how do I get to the starting line? So many questions...that I have no time to really figure out if something goes awry.

As I came over a hill on the highway very near the starting line, all I could see was a line of red taillights disappearing into a cloud of...fog? smoke? What in the world? Oh, and flashing police or ambulance lights up ahead. I exited immediately to avoid the rapture that appeared to be looming up ahead. Turns out it was just fog off of Lake Michigan, and I just drove in a circle to the same place I would have ended up. No sweat yet.
When I got to the lot (with no problems) I followed the tentacles of people toward the mass of people (oh yeah, just follow the moving crowds, cuz who else would be dressed in running clothes at 6 am besides people looking for a starting line?).

First job, find a bathroom or the line of porta-potties. I could hear a man on a loudspeaker welcoming people and mentioning a bathroom inside the gates of the Summerfest park. I went through some gates, immediately found the bathroom, did not wait in any line, and then made my way back out of the gates to find a starting line. While you may not care about how easy it was to find a bathroom, it is a big deal on race day, and can cause some people to miss the starting gun. In my book, this was a huge success on Milwaukee's part, especially later as I began the race across the street from a line of porta-potties with at least 20 people left waiting in line as we started the race. Guess they missed the announcement about the other bathrooms.

Again, in order to find the starting line, I checked the map, couldn't really figure anything out from it, and then just followed the lines of people with race bibs all going one direction. Yep, sure enough, I found the first corral and kept walking to my own. It took me a minute to figure out which corral I was supposed to be in. It's printed on the bib, based on my registration. Again, Milwaukee, way to plan ahead for my forgetfulness!

As I waited in the corrall, which was just a section of road blocked off, the fog was doing amazing things to the downtown area. It looked like we were in an impressionist painting. The fog pulled the corners of the tall buildings, stretched the windows, hid or revealed massive looming skyscrapers. My nerves were distracted for awhile as I watched the porta-potty line, the fog show, and talked to some people in the corral.

We sang The Star Spangled Banner around 6:45 am, I choked up on and off watching people cheering on their loved ones, and then the gun went off.

We didn't move.

That's what happens in Corral H. It takes awhile for the front corrals to cross the start line. Finally we started walking, then jogging, then walking, then jogging. It's hard not to shoot out of there, but the masses of people help hold your adrenaline back.

I began the race with a pacing team holding a bright "2:10" sign ahead of me. That was my goal. I hadn't really put too much thought into it. I thought about my goal when I was signing up for the race, so that the race directors could assign me a starting corral. I thought about it again as I walked toward the corral this morning. I had no idea what my previous 2 half marathon times were, but I was pretty sure both were around 2:10, at least one was faster, maybe 2:07...? I had purposefully not looked it up, because I am a different runner now than I was back in 2005 at my last half marathon, and I am DEFINITELY a different runner than in 2003 for my first half marathon. This is a different race, and I just wanted to focus on today, not compare myself to a number from 7 or 9 years ago. Even with the lack of planning on pace, I thought that 10 minute miles would be pushing it. Early in my training for this race, I was running faster than I ever had before, consistently running miles within 9 minutes, even on longer runs. It was like I couldn't slow myself down. Then May happened. I was tired from the training, which was getting more intense, I had a thousand things to do to wrap up the school year, I was working almost nonstop, the summer heat was getting pretty intense, and my numbers slowed way down. My long runs saw a lot of 11 minute miles. So I didn't really know what to expect from today.

I remember well the feeling of invincibility from the first half of my marathon last year. I couldn't slow myself down, I was running on pure adrenaline until about mile 12 when three-fourths of the runners pulled off to complete a half marathon, and I had another 14 miles to go with the scant pockets of runners left for the full marathon. It was a mental disaster, and my early adrenaline led to a huge change in pace the second half. I couldn't make choices about pace, I just had to painfully and slowly put one foot in front of the other. I didn't want the same thing to happen today.

This meant that in the first few miles I had to force my pace to 9:30 minute miles. A few times I noticed I was going 8:50 or so. Slow down, Bethany. Take in the sights. Only the fog still hadn't lifted, so the only sights were the signs on the highway bridge that we were running on, and the other runners. Beyond that, where Lake Michigan usually lay, was a wall of white. I did notice a fog rainbow, as I called it. It was an arc of thick white fog, visible through the more gray, hazy fog. I wonder what caused that?

Around mile 2-3 I experienced some technical difficulties. I had just bought an ipod armband, and either I wasn't using it quite right, or my ipod was just too old and decrepit, or a mixture of both, but it stopped working. This is a somewhat frequent occurrence for this ipod, and one of the reasons I bought the armband, hoping to stop the ipod from freezing. However, it didn't seem to be helping, and now I couldn't reach the ipod to reset it with both hands pushing the two buttons at the same time. I took it off my arm and got it going again. Also, my Garmin watch, which I absolutely adore and can't imagine running without, was on the wrong screen and I could not get it to go back to the right one. This happens occasionally, and I am still trying to figure out what causes that. Wet fingers? Not sure, but eventually it did go back to the screen showing my pace so that I could once again remind myself to slow down.

My ipod stopped working again around mile 4 or 5. This time I couldn't get it to start up again. Because of the heat, I had started pouring water on my head, so I was figuring that I probably got the ipod wet. Yet another reason not to do something new in a race-who knows when you are going to douse your head with water without thinking about the electronics now attached 3 inches below your head? Once upon a time I was adamantly against running with music . I loved hearing the sound of my breathing, the nature sounds around me...I have also had some friends get hit by cars while running or biking, so I was trying to be safer as well. Then about 2 years ago, I became addicted to having music or podcasts to distract/entertain me, and so the thought of finishing 8 or 9 miles without music totally scared me. However, there were some bands along the course, and some people talking (love those loud runners who try to talk over their music-they are usually hilarious to listen to!). I ended up not minding the lack of music, but I was bummed that I couldn't listen to a new and special playlist I had created just for the race.

The course went up and down a huge bridge/highway, then it turned around and did the same bridge again. Then we went back past the starting area, and through some residential streets, some downtown touristy areas, and some waterfront parks. There was one big hill around mile 6-8...?, but it wasn't a huge deal, not like some other race courses' hills. After mile 8 or so, we turned around and pretty much ran along Lake Michigan back to the Summerfest grounds. It was really pretty, but by this time the sun had come up and cleared away all the fog. It was hot, though it was a pretty nice day for being summer. However, some of the runners were not doing too well with the heat, and it was scary to see runners off on the side being treated for heat-related stuff.

I found out that I am a weaver. I was weaving in and out, from one side of the road to the other, back and forth, in and out. I noticed this, but couldn't stop it. Well, I guess I could have, but I didn't really want to. There were obstacles like cones covering potholes, sidewalks widened or narrowed, runners slowed or quickened. It is much more fun to swerve in and out of people, although I hope it wasn't too annoying to the other runners! I figure if they don't want to run near me, they can slow down and let me pass them.

Each mile had a race clock, a mile sign, and a colored flag just in case they had to warn runners of dangerous weather. At Mile 12 I realized that I could probably get a PR (personal record), even though I wasn't quite sure what my previous times had been. I picked up the pace and passed a lot of people. I was very pleased with my time, over 4 minutes faster than goal, and I thought it was a PR. (I confirmed later that it wasn't, but not by much.)

Overall, the race was pretty easy for me. I guess compared to the marathon, most shorter distances at a pace where I keep telling myself to slow down would be easy. The fact that I thought it was easy tells me some things.
1. I could have gone farther at the same pace.
2. I could have gone the same distance faster.
3. I am pleased with my training (thanks Hal Higdon!).
4. I don't know how much the 3 gu packets helped, but it was a treat to use them, and I was thankful.
4. I want to do this more...a lot more.

My new goal is to break 2 hours, which is possible, although it may take more than one race to cut down my time, and I may want to do another marathon soon so that could affect how and when I accomplish this next goal. I don't know when my next half marathon will be, or my next race for that matter, because I am currently applying for jobs across the country. I don't know if or when I will move, but upcoming races are all right around when school starts. Since I am a teacher, that doesn't fit well into my life right now. So I started training anyway for an August 18 Madison (Wisconsin) Mini Marathon coming up 8 weeks from today's race. My body is ready for more, I think. My injuries after the marathon didn't show up for almost a month, but I am hoping that doesn't happen again. This coming weekend I am scheduled to run 8 miles again. Here we go. I love this sport.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Goal #2 48 states, biggest to smallest

I had two goals to accomplish before my 30th birthday in October, and randomly, I found that they could both be completed in May. While not usually one to get things done so far ahead of time, I have accomplished my goals over 4 months ahead of schedule!

Goal #1: Run a marathon. I won't write any more about that. Mission accomplished.

Goal #2: Visit all 48 contiguous United States.

This second goal was not something I have been trying to do on purpose. It wasn't planned in any way, and it didn't really become a goal until I realized that it was actually possible to accomplish it with a little bit of fanangling.

Thanks to my two years with Youth Encounter and two years with Feed My Starving Children, both of which have allowed me to travel throughout the United States, I was up to 42 states for quite some time. What I lacked was the 6 New England states and Hawaii and Alaska. When I got my May schedule and saw that I was scheduled to work in New Hampshire, I knew that I needed to extend my stay and find a way to get to those New England states. I ended up spending two days driving around, seeing the beauty of my country's northeastern states.

Another interesting fact I realized was that my first state was the biggest in the 48 (I was born in Texas, and although Alaska is bigger it doesn't count as part of the 48) and my last state was the smallest (Rhode Island marked the last of the 48).

At this time, although I do hope to keep running marathons, I do not have plans to extend these goals to doing the Boston Marathon or to get to Hawaii or Alaska any time soon. :-)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Final Count

I wanted to take a minute to update everyone on the generous donations. My ChipIn meter says that $403.20 (80% of the goal) was raised. However, I need to add that I received some donations directly as well, and the total raised was $533.68, which is enough to donate 2223 meals to Feed My Starving Children.

I was so thankful for the donations, the support as I trained, and the opportunity to write again and share my experiences.

I have no set plans for the future in regards to my running or fundraising, but I do hope to run another marathon again soon.

Again, thanks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

3 days SINCE the race...

I'm almost back to normal! OK, I can walk mostly normal at least. I feel a lot better after a painfully sore weekend. The only obvious thing is the grimace I make when I stand up or sit down and I can't really do stairs yet... but I am feeling better enough to start dreaming and scheming about my next marathon! I do want to do it again, even though it was really hard and not very fun (i.e. brutally painful) for a couple of miles towards the end.

Looking back I can see how cool it was that I was able to finish, that I was able to keep running or walking even when I COULD NOT see how in the world I would be able to finish. I think the lessons that I had learned through my training helped me push through, and during the last 6 miles I saw a newer and fiercer determination in myself that I can appreciate a few days later.

I met some cool people as I ran, and in that sense I appreciate that I ran it alone instead of with a partner. I wouldn't have had the conversations that I did if I had been running with a friend. A woman in front of me had a friend join her around mile 20. She was really struggling, as we basically all were at that point, but he helped her to continue. I guess that is a common thing to do, to have someone join you and run a bit to help your mentality. While I think I would have benefitted from that, I am also glad to know that I CAN do it alone, that I did have it in me even though at that point I didn't think I did.

So for the few of you that might care, while I DO want to do another marathon, I don't know when my next race will be yet, or if the next one I do will be a marathon. The whole reason I did this marathon rather than one of the bigger and more known ones in the fall was that I will be student teaching in the fall, and I don't yet know how that will affect my schedule. So while I would like to do another one in the fall, I am not sure yet if I want to do 12 weeks or more of training only to start student teaching and find that there isn't time for a 10 mile run on a school day since teaching will involve so much prep and time at first (and always...). However, I am investigating the upcoming marathons in my area, and there is another small one that is on one of my running routes's on the list of possibilities.

I was looking at marathons online and found this quote on the Girls on the Run charity page. I think it is a great summary of some of the things I have felt during this experience.

Running makes you.

Running makes you happy, healthy, and strong. Running makes the girl inside you come out and play. Running makes you better. Sure, running makes you tired, sore and sweaty, but that’s because running makes you give it all. And when you do, running makes you unstoppable. Let’s face it: running makes you the super-duper ninja
bomb-tastic superhero you were meant to be. Running makes you all that.
Running makes you so much more!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mission Accomplished

Well, this morning was the marathon. I was excited, just ready to get started. The forecast included rain every hour, but those forecasters were wrong. The weather was absolutely perfect to run in, although the spectators were freezing. I saw the sunrise over a gorgeous Lake Michigan, and about an hour into the race, as the sun was high enough to start really heating things up, it went behind clouds and kept things cool. I even put a long sleeve shirt back on near the end of the race, something I pretty much never do. You probably don't care about that boring stuff though.

The actual race started really well for me. It felt good to be running again after tapering for awhile. I knew I was going at a faster pace than I thought I could keep up, but I just couldn't make myself slow down by more than 10 or 20 seconds per mile. The first half of the race went really well. If I had just been running a half marathon, it would have been a great one, probably a PR (personal record). At mile 12 the half marathoners turned around and finished their last 1.1 miles. That left the course very empty, which killed me because all the energy left with those guys. I found a group of runners, though, and started chatting with people, and things turned back around. The last 5 miles were really hard, but with some soul searching and a little hating all things that have to do with running, I somehow finished.

My favorite uplifters were the chants and cheers and music from the spectators and volunteers. It is amazing how hearing some cheers and cow bells could make my legs move faster. There was a guy playing a djembe (hand drum), he gets the award for best male spectator. Three sisters tie for best female spectators. They were in elementary school, and kept popping up at various points to cheer on their mom. They may be hoarse tomorrow, but they were the most supportive and always wanted high fives as I passed. If you know of a race coming up near you, please go and bring a cow bell or a drum or color a poster (best poster: "Smile if you aren't wearing underwear." Who could not smile when you read that, regardless of what you are or are not wearing?) Runners will really appreciate your enthusiasm, even if you don't know anyone who is running.

In my experience, your race time is really important to people. It's usually the first question people ask. Kind of like when you finish a soccer game, football game, etc. and people just want to know if you won. It's also often the first information that runners offer. Two of my friends decided not to tell what times they got on their marathon last fall, because they decided it wasn't about that for them. I have been thinking the same thing. I was very pleased with my time. I did much better than I expected to, and I am proud of my time. But I am not going to talk about it for now. If it is anything like my half marathons, I may forget the time within a few weeks or months anyway. If you really want to know, I am sure you will find a way to figure it out. But that's up to you, and I'd appreciate it if you don't post it on facebook :-)

As I've written before, I started this journey for the purpose of running a marathon. That was what it was all about. The end product. I wanted to do it before I turn 30. I didn't believe I could do it, but I wanted to try. I had some unexpected results. There's a cliche about things being about the journey instead of the end product. I really found the journey to be the most important thing. Parts of the race itself were a blur, and it kind of all runs together in my head already, only a few hours afterwards. But I haven't forgotten the lessons I learned about myself both today and through the training, and I hope I don't forget them. You can read more about that here and here.

Lessons today included finding more strength when I went way beyond whatever abilities I thought I had. My friend Dan told me that it isn't supposed to easy, and I had some time to think about that today. I found that comforting during the last half of the race, remembering that I have trained for this, and I can do it, but it won't be easy. I also found myself looking at people who were walking and looking kind of awful, and I saw that they were stronger than they thought they were. So I told them that. "You're stronger than you think you are right now. You can do this. You have it in you..." I said it a few times, but then I had to tell myself that same thing in the last few miles (numerous times). And it did help me to keep putting one foot in front of the other because of the lessons I had learned during training.

I am sore. I was sore before I even finished running. I look like an arthritic grandma when I walk, use stairs, or try to sit down or stand up. That will go away. But if you see me around, you can make fun of the way I walk this week. I will smile and be proud of myself for forcing those legs to keep moving so that I could finish my first marathon.

Thanks for reading these blog posts. Thanks for donating to Feed My Starving Children (for more info on that, read here.) Thanks for your support and facebook messages and text messages and emails, etc. I really appreciate it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

13 hours until the race!

The course has been driven, bib/time chip picked up. My electronic stuff is charging and I have taped my name on my shirts. My sweet mom knows right where to stand so that she can see me the most times without having to repark the car. It looks like a fun course with a lot of opportunity to see Lake Michigan, which was an incredible aqua blue today. What have I forgotten? I'm not sure yet. (Duh.)

I'm super excited and ready to start running! Thanks so much to those who have donated! (You can still donate for another week if anyone is interested.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

3.5 days until the race

The marathon is almost here, and I feel at peace about it. There are many things that could go wrong, some of them actually might happen. I know it sounds a little weird, but I have been trying to think of some of these possibilities, not to worry over them, but to reassure myself that even if ______ happened, I would still be ok. Even if it rains, even if my knees bother me, even if I trip on the clothing or cups that end up all over the ground during the race, even if I catch a cold, even if my ipod breaks, even if I can't finish the race or even if I can't start the race for some reason, I will be ok.

This hasn't been the journey I thought it would be. I thought it was all about the marathon itself. I thought it was about accomplishing this thing I thought I couldn't do. It turns out that the journey has been a game changer. I want to finish strong, I want to enjoy the race, I want to do my best, but even if I don't, I can't be sad. This has changed my mentality. I went from being a person who "could never run a marathon" to being a person who can run a marathon, a person who can stretch the limits, a person who can do more than I had originally thought.

This past weekend I spoke with a man who had recently run his first two marathons. His first marathon qualified him for the Boston Marathon, and his second was the Boston Marathon itself. As he talked about his experiences, his pacing, his times, I began to feel inadequate. I won't complete my first marathon anywhere near as fast as he did. I doubt I will ever qualify to run the Boston Marathon, and that isn't even a goal of mine. Should it be? Should I be concerned about speed? About pace? Will I be the last one out on this course, since it is a small marathon that I am running? I let these thoughts marinate in my head for about an hour.

Then I realized, I need to be true to myself and the things I have learned along the way. I am not running this marathon for speed. I don't run to compete against other people or to qualify for other races. I run for health, for sanity, to learn about myself, and to push beyond barriers that I place upon myself. I run because I like to run. I won't play the comparison game, and I will not wait until I can run faster before I sign up for a race. It would not be pushing my own limitations for me to wait until it is safe to run this, to wait until I am sure I can do it, or to wait until I think my time will be comparable with more people. That is not who I am or why I am doing this.

The marathon course has a number of points where people coming "back" will be passing the people still going "out". I don't know how to say that more clearly, but I will be almost constantly aware of the people who are going faster than me. I am glad that I got this chance to remember why I am running and who I am running for before the faster runners zoom by me. They are an inspiration. But they do not make me less of a runner.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Back in it

My relationship with running has been a little weird this past week. The tapering (backing off on mileage) has been an interesting mental game. I am only running 8 miles where I once did 20, only 6 where I once did 10, only 3 where I once did 5. It's not that I'm obsessed with distance, but it is a weird mental game to have increasing mileage be the goal for 16 weeks and then all of a sudden, when the strong mentality really counts, to start feeling like 8 miles is long, like 3 is enough. I have to do 26.2 miles in a week and my brain is not in that mode right now. I think the 12 miles that seemed super long at the farm might have been part of the problem. After all, 12 is less than half, but it was one of the hardest runs that I've had mentally when I had expected it to be almost easy.

Well, I did my final long run of this training yesterday, 8 miles. I found a new path in my town a few weeks ago, so after a little investigation, I mapped a new run in a neighborhood I have never had access to before, because the roads were too busy and not sidewalked (except the one path I just found). It was fun to explore something so close to home, yet so new. About 5 miles in, I decided that I felt really good, so I was going to pick up the pace a bit. It ended up being my fastest 8 mile run by a few minutes with my fastest mile times since I got my watch that keeps track of pace. It was fun to feel like I was in the zone again after a funky week. It felt awesome to be able to go faster and not need to slow back down. And I think I do have to credit the tapering for the ability to feel so fresh. I'm hoping that the next 8 days of very little running continue to refresh these legs so that I feel that good during the marathon, too.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Convoy of Hope in Japan

Here is a video from Convoy of Hope, one of Feed My Starving Children's partners who is working in Japan. The video shows some interesting and sad pictures from Japan, and shows some of our food arriving.

Pictures Remind Me of My Motivation

These are some of my favorite pictures from the Feed My Starving Children website.

Sometimes my job at FMSC is tiring or starts to feel like just another job. It's pictures like these that remind me that what I do is just a step somewhere in the middle of a large process, and the process ends with children who ordinarily wouldn't have any food being able to eat today...and tomorrow...and the next day...

The last picture always reminds me of a child I worked with in Bolivia. The two little girls look so similar, and it is a good reminder that the kids we feed come from all walks of life, but it is not their fault that they don't get the proper nutrition.

These kids are the reason I do what I do, and they are the reason for all this blogging. If you have .24 you would like to donate so that a child like these can eat for a day (or you can donate more, of course), click on my ChipIn on the right or go back to my first post in this series.