Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Not Finishing Will Make Me a Better Runner

When to call it quits? This is a question most type A’s probably never ponder. And neither do runners. So just imagine how type A runners are reacting to this question!!* Quitting just isn’t an option!

But sometimes quitting is the smartest option. And sometimes it’s out of our hands. I learned this the hard way around mile 12ish this past weekend at the Women’s Half Marathon in Tampa. After dropping to the ground (as I am told), I was far beyond the ability to make a reasonable decision – and my body took over.

I knew I was feeling crappy somewhere around mile 6 or 7. But I struggled with that whole “mind over matter” issue. I was running along the pier and loved the feeling of the breeze hitting my face. But that still wasn’t enough to get me out of a funk. And I have to say that is unusual! A happy thought, a pretty view – these things usually set my mind back on track, even if my legs and feet are screaming. I started thinking - perhaps I took off too fast? maybe it was too hot? maybe the lack of sleep is kicking in? I recall setting a goal – if I can get to mile 7 (more than half way there!) I can play a song off my iPod. Well that was a lousy reward!! Music never irritated me so much!! Nothing was working! And my poor running partner and coach!!. I am surprised she didn’t just trip me and put me out of the race at that point! I wasn’t exactly the most pleasant person to run along side! (To her credit, she remained cheerful and supportive!!)

I would love to write about the remaining miles and what thoughts went through my head - but truthfully, it’s all pretty blurry. I can only recall flashes of moments. I was so thirsty, but all the fluid was swishing away inside me. At one point I believe I took a cup of Gatorade and poured it on my head. And I recall needing the assistance of both my coach and a good friend to help me walk/run straight. And I recall a few odd looks and offers to help. It sounds oddly reminiscent of some Thursday nights in college, but this was a Sunday morning amongst runners!

The thing is, somewhere around mile 10 or 11 – despite being a complete mess, stupidity took over. I refused to stop. I kept worrying about how bad it would look to DNF (Did Not Finish) during a half marathon! I was expecting to reach a PR (Personal Record)! So while my judgment was left somewhere on the course, ego stuck with me. So here I am – apparently looking completely delirious, and I am worried people will think I am weak if I don’t get to the finish. I wonder what the runners thought when they saw me on the ground puking with a couple of IVs in my arm. My arm and ego took a bit of a bruising there.

Lying in the emergency room with more bags of fluid being pumped into me, I started remembering all the people that stopped to help me. My goodness – Kay was massaging my cramping calves; Lea held my head and I promised not to throw up in her direction; Kath and Rebecca waited around till I got into the ambulance; I remember seeing and hearing Paula and countless others. All of these women had times they wanted to beat. They had their own races to run. But they stopped and helped me. I still have trouble accepting this – the outpouring of help and concern goes beyond anything I’ve experienced. I oscillate between feeling the overwhelming love – and feeling overwhelming guilt for impacting their races.

And so this is why I write this…. If I am going to impact anyone else’s race – I want it to be positive. Here are some things I’ve learned:

1. If you feel dizzy – stop. Sounds obvious, but I bet more than one of you have continued racing even though you felt a bit off.

2. Hydrate. Not just the night before or the morning of the race. I am actually told that you should begin on Wednesday!!

2A. Eat. I actually forgot that a lot of our hydration comes from the food we eat! And many of us overlook this simple act. With everything going on, I will often look at the clock around 2 PM and think, oh – I haven’t had breakfast! But then get on a conference call for another hour!

3. Fill out the back of your race bib! Seriously. I couldn’t remember anything when the EMTs were asking for my address, phone number, etc. Thankfully my sweaty bib had some info on it! (An ID bracelet is even better)

4. Run with a friend. In fact – run with several friends!! There is nothing better than having someone watch your back.

5. Recover. I am writing this one as I reminder to myself! As Jane, a true life coach explained, “Your organs were seriously compromised. You were on the verge of renal failure and possible coma. This isn’t a typical race recovery.” So if you suffer anything outside the typical race soreness – take it seriously. In fact – take all recovery seriously. You’ve got many more races to run!

6. Oh one more – run with a cell phone! I usually don’t, but will try to now. Several of us wish we had ours on hand Sunday. They didn’t do much good sitting in the car or hotel room.

So – as a type A runner, it’s my duty to find the lesson in this. Why did this happen to me? And why this race? (Did I mention this was the first race I ran completely – and I was on pace to finish nearly 30 mins ahead of my PR???) Well – I think this was nature’s reminder that I need to have a little more balance in my life. I probably can’t go full throttle in every direction. So I will listen to my body – and not ignore the warning signs. Stopping is not the same as quitting. This was also a reminder that I know some of the most supportive, loving women in the world! (As if I needed a reminder for this!)

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year – and I am sure you do too!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

*And for the record, runner is defined by anyone who has put on running shoes and set a goal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Head, gut and heart align on the trail

A year ago this time life was very different. I had completed the Chicago Marathon and was fired up to do two more in the next six months. Ha! Despite a carefully planned running schedule – known as the Swedish Fish Plan – none of it came to fruition. My running scaled back and I ended up not even training for the Disney Half. It seemed life just got in the way.

Jump ahead one year – and today I feel like I have enough going on to fill two lives! And that is exactly why I can’t let my running take a back seat!

For the past few months I have been training for the Women’s Half Marathon in St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s next Sunday. But factor in children, work and travel and I haven’t created the perfect recipe for training. But I’ve noticed on the days that I run, I can cope with life so much better. So last week in Ireland – I made a point to pack my running gear and make a modest run around Monaghan. The hills were hillier, the air was definitely chillier, the scenery was breathtaking – and by the end, my frozen cheeks were sore from smiling! It’s hard not to be happy after an experience like that.

No doubt - running is free therapy. (Some days it’s even like free drugs! You walk away like you’ve taken a happy pill!) In fact, I am learning the harder I run, the better the therapy. And a pleasant side effect is I actually become a better runner.

Today’s therapy bill might have been quite high – had it not been for running. Around mile 10 – after literally moaning or groaning in pain – clarity took over. Things that worried me seemed to slip away. It’s like I dropped them on the trail somewhere – and I surely was not going back to look for them! Running doesn’t solve my problems; it just gives me the clear head to handle them. And in some cases, like today, a good hard run helps my head, gut and heart align. And once again, my cheeks were sore from smiling. And that’s something I couldn’t imagine happening in a therapist’s office!