Staying Motivated

In my previous post, if made the analogy that running a big race, such as a half marathon, is much like Christmas. Runners spend months planning, purchasing gear, and anticipating their big day. The day comes, and with any luck, lives up to the hype, and then in a couple hours, it’s all over. It can be somewhat of a letdown. The anticipation is half the fun. I am now ten days post-race, and wondering what’s next. I might do a couple of shorter races in the coming months, but my next big goal is the Women Rock Chicago Half Marathon in September. I still need lots of work on my endurance and speed, so this summer I have my work cut out. Hills. Lots of hills. Knowing my next big race is along Lake Michigan will be an awesome motivator. That, my friends, is one of my very favorite places.

I am part of a women’s running group on Facebook; there are about 12,000 members, so there are always posts. Some are motivational; some are questions; and some are from women who need to vent and can’t do it on their personal pages. I have been surprised by the number of women who have begun running or just trying to get in shape, and feel no support from their friends. Many have had friends post negative comments about their running or fitness endeavors. While I am sure there are those who get tired of running and fitness posts, I have never had anyone post negative comments, and have actually had the opposite: I feel very motivated by the encouragement I have received. It has made me so grateful for my family and friends. I feel that we should all be supportive of one another, no matter what our pursuits. I really don’t understand why anyone would be critical of a friend – Facebook friend or otherwise – who wants to get healthier. Shouldn’t we celebrate that?

Which leads me to my job as a fitness instructor. I started as a Zumba instructor, but now teach Tabata Bootcamp and HIIT. If anyone had told me a few years ago that I’d get my lazy butt out of bed at 4:30 AM and drive to the gym to teach classes, I would have busted a gut laughing. I am not a morning person. But here I am, teaching five early-morning classes a week. So, why do I do it? Several reasons come to mind. I get a great workout in to start my day. Every person who is there wants to be in my class (unlike the 8th grade language arts students I teach all day! Believe it or not, some teens don’t like language arts). But the most important reasons is the joy – and I mean pure joy- I get seeing people struggle and drip with sweat. Just kidding! I love seeing people do things they never thought they’d be able to do. I love seeing the pride on their faces when they’ve held a plank for just a little longer, or when they’ve done one more push-up. I hate when they are discouraged, but love how they still come back. I love having a small part in their getting healthier and stronger. I love challenging participants, and having them tackle that challenge. Being a fitness instructor, in my opinion, doesn’t mean I am perfectly fit and strong (far from it), or that the workouts are easy for me. I often struggle right along with my classes, and I let them know I think it’s difficult, too. I am no better than they are; some are much stronger than I. But I will do my very best to keep class challenging, interesting, and fun. Yes, fun. We might have to adjust our connotation of fun, but working out can be fun!

What do you want to do to improve your life? Do you need to work on fitness? Do you need to spend more time with family? Do you want to learn a new craft? Write a blog? Meditate? Pray? Study the Bible? Do it. Don’t let life pass you by; live it now. And support your friends and family in their dreams. If you know someone is trying something new or working to lose weight, encourage him or her. Your words are powerful. Choose them wisely.

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The Day the Stars Aligned

The Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Mini Marathon have come and gone. It’s a little like Christmas when I wait and wait in anticipation, and suddenly it’s over. What do I have to look forward to now? A lot of things, actually. As you might have expected, what follows is a recap of the weekend – what a great weekend it turned out to be!

Gary and I left for Louisville shortly after noon on Friday. As much as I was looking forward to the race and all of the events surrounding it, I was looking forward to time with my husband even more. With two seventeen year old girls to keep up with, four jobs between us, and a home to care for, time just for us can be pretty limited. I had decided that I wanted this Derby experience to be completely different than previous years, so I wasn’t going to hang out with the Perry County crowd. I love my running friends more than they’ll ever know, but I needed to focus on myself and getting through this race. I wasn’t there to socialize; I couldn’t because I was so stinkin’ nervous that I wouldn’t have been much fun to be around. I could have burst out in tears at any given moment.

After checking into our apartment-sized room at the Galt House (seriously, we could have taken the entire family, including the babies!), it was time to head to the expo, which is one of my favorite parts of Derby Weekend. There are all sorts of vendors peddling everything running from headbands to Asics clothing to Nikes to compression gear. I went in determined to not make stupid purchases. I tend to get caught up in the moment and buy things I later realize I didn’t really need. I made two purchases: a pair of super-cute purple and white checked Adidas shorts that were half price, and some Nike running leggings that were less than half price. I will definitely use both, so they were smart purchases. I could spend a fortune at the expo, but didn’t need to. After we finished, we had a couple of hours before our friends were set to arrive, and I was hungry. In the Fourth Street Live area, there is a restaurant called the Louisville Sport and Social Club that we have eaten at the night before the race for the past three years. I wasn’t going to eat there this year because, you know, I was changing it up. However, they have fabulous dessert, so we (well, I) decided to go share a dessert to hold us over until dinner.

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Yup, that is a gigantic brownie with chocolate sauce and ice cream. When they brought it out, I thought well, we’ll have to take part of that back to the hotel! 

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We didn’t. Gary and I devoured the whole thing! And gosh, it was scrumptious! We waddled back to the hotel, and plopped down for a nap while we waited for Brian and Debbie to be ready for dinner. She texted and said they’d hurry; I told her to take her time. I needed some time to digest my dessert. It counts as carbs, doesn’t it? We met our friends at O’Shea’s Pub for dinner, and it turned out to be a perfect evening. Debbie and I had spaghetti in an effort to carb load; the food was fabulous and the company even better.

On the way back to the hotel I received a text saying that the Perry Country crew would be meeting for a group picture early the next morning. Again, I was determined to avoid the whole group thing. I was so nervous about this race that I was near tears many times on Friday, and again Saturday morning. I just couldn’t face all my friends who were so excited about the race. I had a certain degree of excitement, but an abundance of anxiety. Thankfully, my husband is a patient man, and when I suggested (demanded?) we go out another door to avoid everyone, he was very understanding (on the outside. I am pretty sure he was finally convinced I am nuts.). We made our way out of the hotel and down toward the start early Saturday morning. Gary knows that I don’t talk before a race, and he leaves me to my thoughts, which that day included a lot of self-doubt. We found my corral and I made my way through the waves of runners trying to remain on the outside of the crowd. Yes, I also have anxiety about crowds, and being in the middle causes heart palpitations and major sweat. I was supposed to meet my friend Danielle so that we could at least start the race together. When I didn’t spot her, I kind of began to panic. She is a very high-energy positive person, and I needed to draw from her energy that morning. I finally saw her and convinced her to climb through the fence and into our corral. Danielle, Kris, and Amber were all smiles and eagerness. I was all nerves, upset stomach, pounding head, and tightening chest.

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I know what you’re thinking…Damn, those knee braces are sexy! I took every precaution: lots of water, carbs all week, Aleve, rest days, compression socks, and knee braces. I wanted to finish this race. Once the crew of ladies arrived, I began to soak up their enthusiasm and relax (just a little). FYI…My daughter asked me what the purpose of the arm warmers was. When the race begins, it is usually early, and therefore, chilly. After one has run a few miles, she begins to warm up, and arm warmers are perfect to just slip off and stick in the waistband. I am not coordinated enough to take off a long-sleeved shirt while running. That would end badly. There are some who wear trashbags on them to keep warm before the race. Really? If I am going to be slow, I am going to look good, and a trashbag is just not very stylish.

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And then they got a little silly…

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I realize it’s difficult to tell, but there were 16,000 runners. 16,000. That’s more than twice the population of our small town! From our starting point, it took us about seven minutes just to get to the starting line once the race began. The minute we crossed that line, I stopped obsessing and just ran. Danielle and I stuck together. I told her that she could go ahead, and I wouldn’t mind, but she stayed back with me. We had only run together once before, but we seemed to have this rhythm that worked for us, and we passed people with ease. We just knew where the other was going as we weaved among the runners. We both had our own music playing, and didn’t talk a lot, but it was nice that there was someone there if I had something to say. Danielle also air-drums to certain songs, just as I do, so we made a great team. When I would start to slow or want to stop and walk, she’d fist-bump and smile, and we’d keep going.

Last year my knee blew in Churchill Downs. It was a devastating moment in my running career (I use that term lightly), and the closer we got, the more my heart began to pound. I had spent a great deal of time on my playlist, and tried to place songs where I thought I would need them. Before we entered Churchill, Addison’s song, I Got Nerve, came on. It couldn’t have been at a better time. It was about not backing down and facing one’s fears. I was so very grateful that Addison chose that song, and that it came on when it did. I was near tears as we entered the track area, but once again, Danielle’s joy got me through. She knew that was a hard place for me, and she kept me going. I was so happy when we came out on the other side. We had about five more miles to go, and we were headed back downtown. The crowds along the route were amazing. I love reading all the signs as I run. My personal favorites: ‘If you think running is hard, you should teach middle school’, and ‘Smile if you’ve peed a little bit’.

The last three miles were brutal. Danielle and I ran a 9:04 pace the first mile, and slowed a little with each mile. That was because of me. She could have kept up a faster pace if she wanted. I so wanted to walk during those last few miles. I was tired, and I kind of felt as if I could puke. How embarrassing would that be? I pushed on with Danielle about ten feet ahead of me. I kept her lime green shirt in my sight and felt like I was on auto-pilot. And then we turned the corner onto Main Street, and I knew we only had a half mile left. I knew that I would see my husband along that street. I knew we were almost there…I was going to make it! I get emotional just thinking about it. I caught back up with Danielle, and we headed to the finish. Then I saw Gary, camera in hand and a smile on his face. We rounded the last corner and sprinted (just a little) toward the finish. Danielle finished a few feet in front of me, and was there with a hug when I crossed. Amazing. I have never been so glad to cross a finish line in my life. I had done it, and my knees didn’t fail me. Actually, they didn’t feel bad at all. I was truly overjoyed.

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If you’re not a runner, you might not understand how important those medals are, but that’s what we work our asses off for. We are just as proud as a first grader winning a medal on field day, or an Olympic athlete winning gold. We have sacrificed time with loved ones, sweated, worked through countless injuries and aches, cross-trained, and run in really crappy weather, all to cross that line and get that medal – and a pretty cool shirt. See those smiles? Those are as genuine as it gets. I am so thankful to Danielle for sticking by my side and encouraging me along the way. I am thankful to all of my friends who were understanding of my need to stay to myself and focus on my run. And I am incredibly proud that I finished a half marathon after thinking I would never be able to run 13.1 again just a few months ago. I am also thankful for all of the texts and Facebook messages wishing me good luck and letting me know that my friends believed in me…even when I didn’t believe in myself.

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After we watched several of our friends finish, we had planned to meet Brian and Debbie for a celebratory lunch (we deserved to pig out at that point), but my stomach was upset, and Gary and I just headed home. I ended up in bed most of the afternoon with stomach cramps. One of my experienced running friends suggested dehydration, and that makes sense. When I weighed, I had lost 3.5 pounds just that day. Once I got up and showered, and started to try to eat, I began to feel better, but was still tired and sore. Today I feel fine other than sore calf muscles.

I have to congratulate my running friends (and I just know I will forget someone – sorry!!!). First of all, Congrats to Danielle for your PR! I’ll run faster next time – promise! To my friends who were virgin mini-marathoners, you are awesome! Missy, Stephanie, and Debbie, I am so very proud of you! Some of you (maybe all of you) thought you’d never run that far, but you worked hard, griped a little (that was Missy), and you earned that stinkin’ medal! Breanne, Blair, Emily, Tomi Jo, Kris, Amber, Paula, Chasity, Melinda, Tony, Scott, and Debbie K: Congrats to each of you! You all inspire the rest of us to keep going, even when it’s difficult. Kathy Pyle…wow. YOU RAN A MARATHON! I am in awe! You have accomplished more in the past few years than most of us will accomplish in a lifetime. Congratulations!

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And to these two little boys, I hope this Nana can always keep up with you! I want you to see that you are never too old to set goals and achieve those goals.

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And my lovely daughters…I hope I make you proud and inspire you to be the best you can be! I hope you always go after your dreams, and know that you have all the support and love you need.

And to my incredibly patient husband, thank you for your support, encouragement, and understanding when I’ve been slightly psycho! I love you to the moon and back!

Peace, love, and running…

Let the obsessing begin…

The Derby Mini is now 11 days away. The mix of emotions I am feeling ranges from excitement to fear to acceptance. Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross coined the five stages of grieving. Perhaps I can coin the five stages of pre-race jitters. I did my 11 mile training run Friday. That’s the furthest I will run in preparation for the race; this weekend I will run about seven miles. I love taper time – I’ve put in the time, and now it’s time to rest my body and stick to easy runs.

My 11-miler was a mix of positive and negative. One of my students had been asking about running with me. I didn’t think he’d follow through just because he’s a 14 year old, and typically 14 year olds don’t want to hang out after school with a grandma/teacher. I saw one of the boys at Walmart after school yesterday, and he was completely awkward. This boy was serious, so I told him I would be running slowly because I wasn’t concerned about speed; I just needed to run 11 miles. He agreed to run with me until he had to be at track practice. The kid ran six miles! He had never run more than two miles at one time, so he really didn’t know what he could do. I know him well enough to know that he would probably push through, and would not back out during a run. I really enjoyed the run. He did so well, asked a lot of questions about racing, and listened when I gave him advice. The first half of my run went quickly. I dropped my student off at the track, ran to the bathroom, drank some water, and took off for the next leg of my journey.

The second half? It didn’t go so well. My left knee, which is NOT the knee I had surgery on, began to hurt. It felt exactly like my surgery knee did when those problems started. I had to stop and stretch, and then I’d run a little more, and then I’d stop and stretch, and so on. The really frustrating part was that my endurance was awesome. Honestly, I felt like I could have kept running had my knee not hurt. My last two miles were well under a 10:00 pace, the fastest of the 11. I just need everything to work at once.

I am really not sure what will happen come race day. I have run twice since, but only three miles, so my knee was fine. I ordered new compression socks (in a lovely gray, pink, and black argyle print); I have a knee brace; and I have Ibuprofen and Celebrex. I need one good day. You should hear the conversations I have with God when I begin to have pain. I am sure we will have lots of conversations on April 19.

Now is the time I also begin planning my race attire. When I just run here in town, I might or might not match. At a race, I will match. I bought a super cute Nike running hat in a lovely pattern of pink and black, and I have a Nike light pink tank that is really soft, and I know would feel great in a race. I usually wear a skirt just because I like them (once a cheerleader?). I have some compression socks, but they don’t match the pink of my shirt, which would literally stress me out that day (hey, it’s the little things!). Who would wear hot pink socks with a soft pink tank? Not me. Do you see why this sport can get expensive? I told my [very understanding] husband that if I have to walk part of this race, I am at least going to look decent! I also ordered arm warmers. For those of you who are wondering what the hell arm warmers are and why I need them, here’s the scoop. It is usually cool when the race begins, but then it warms up, and I warm up, after a few miles. I want to wear my pink tank, but it will be chilly, so I put on arm warmers, which I can slip off when I warm up. They will (I hope) tuck nicely in my skirt, and will be much easier to take off than an extra shirt or jacket.

Music. When I first started running races, I didn’t use music because I enjoyed listening to the crowds, and then I tried music, and I ran super fast [middle-aged-runner-nana-not-so-fast-fast]. Since then, I have continued to sport earbuds. And so I am also working on my playlist. This isn’t just a matter of playing songs I like; it’s also a matter of strategically placing songs. My first song is ‘Here Comes the Sun’ because we begin at 6:30 am. I have fun songs for the first half. For the second, and hardest, half, I have songs that inspire me. I asked each of my girls to choose a song for my list that would remind me of her. I have a song for my husband, ‘I’ll Stand by You’ because he is my biggest supporter. I have a song for God, ‘How Beautiful’ to remind me that without my God and my faith, I wouldn’t be out there running. I am going to add a song for my dad, ‘Jesu’, which isn’t really a running song, but it one song I remember hearing him play on the piano and organ. Running is such a mental activity; you’d be surprised how music can inspire the legs to keep moving. I hope I get through my playlist! I made sure it’s extra-long in case I end up walking some. Or a lot.

Time to grade papers..or look up race times…I’d better grade!

17 More Days!

In my mind, that sounds ominous. I have 17 days until the Kentucky Derby Mini Marathon. Only 17. I have one more long run, which if the weather cooperates, will happen this Friday after school. I would prefer to do my 11-miler Saturday morning rather than after a long day at work, but the girls have their first tennis match out of town Saturday, so Friday it is. This week I have taught four bootcamp classes in three days, and my legs are sore and tired. They  are so sore, in fact, that last night after I showered, I immediately crawled into bed. I  then texted my husband, who was still downstairs: I want to come kiss you goodnight, but my legs are too tired! They refuse to carry me. I love you to the moon and back! How pathetic is that? Seriously, I was that tired, yet, I couldn’t sleep! My body didn’t budge, but my eyes refused sleep. This was especially frustrating because I had to teach HIIT at 5:30 am.

I had planned to run four miles this evening, but – at the strong encouragement of my husband – stayed home instead. Rest is good, right? I teach bootcamp again in the morning, and we will be focusing on arms and abs, purposely avoiding power squats (that’s for my benefit, not the participants’). I might try to run a couple of miles on the treadmill before hitting the shower, but my legs might just have a different plan.

Then I will rest up for Friday. Hopefully my friend Jennifer will be running part of my long run with me. It goes so much quicker when someone is with me. I enjoy solo runs, but have done far too many in the past couple months. Because I still lack confidence in my knee and my endurance, I have hesitated to run with others much. And for some reason, this race is really personal to me, and I just want to do it on my own. Weird, huh? I am really excited for my friends who are running, especially those who will complete their first half marathon, but this race is for me – and for my friend Katie, as I previously posted. After bailing at the 8-mile mark last year, not running a single race since, and going through knee surgery, this is, perhaps, my most important race to date. Just a couple months ago, I was convinced I would never run 13.1 again; I just couldn’t do it. Then running seemed to get a little better, and I was able to run a little farther, and I decided that I have to run 13.1 again. I cannot give up what I love, until my legs refuse to move. Last year, I spent a lot of time focusing on several of my ‘newbie’ friends, and I loved it. This year it is going to take all of my focus and energy to get myself across that finish line. Once I cross, and I will even if I have to crawl or ride piggy back on someone, I will celebrate with everyone else. Lord, I hope I make it.

I said that running has gotten a little easier, but it is still so flippin’ difficult. Every single run takes so much effort right now. I am not running nearly as fast as I was a year ago, but I feel like I am putting in even more effort. We all have tough runs, but I would like to have just a few easy ones. Monday was a beautiful day, and I had looked forward to my run all day as I looked out the windows of my classroom. I was finally going to be able to run in shorts and a tank, and work up a great sweat. My legs felt like bricks. Most of the time, my first mile is tough, but then I fall into a rhythm, and it gets easier. That never happened. I had run five miles Sunday, so once I hit the three-mile mark, I stopped. I could run no further. I walked the mile back to my car, and chalked it up to a bad day…another bad day.

I have thought about goals for the race. Common sense tells me that my only goals should be to enjoy running the race (which is an incredible race with a huge crowd on a beautiful course), and to cross the finish line with my knee healthy. My husband would tell you I don’t often use common sense. The last time I finished Derby, my time was 2:04, and my last complete half marathon time was 1:59. While I know it impossible to get close to those times, I would still like to have a respectable time. And, I have been online looking at last year’s times. I always say I am not going to do that, but I always do. Always. I really have no idea what to expect. When Jackie and I ran our 10-miler, we ran about a 10:26 pace, and usually one runs faster in a race just because of the adrenaline (and because I get caught up in the crowd). If I could run a 10:00 pace, I would finish in 2:11. First, I don’t know if that is possible; second, I surely wish I could run faster. I should just finish this to prove I can run that far, and then concentrate on running faster for a fall half marathon. Will I? Do you see how there is a constant battle going on in my head? No wonder I couldn’t sleep.

My mind will be in turmoil for the next 17 days. My stomach will likely follow suit at some point, hopefully not race morning! That would be awkward. I am not a fan of porta-potties! My next few blogs will probably provide more information about the race than you care to know, but as you know, I write whatever is on my mind (not everything – you’d be shocked if you knew what all goes on in my head; it’s very cluttered in there).

Run on, Friends!