Sunday, June 18, 2017

Why are you running? Grandma's Half Marathon

Why are you running?  It's an open ended question I've been asked many times over the past few months.  For some reason it still catches me off guard.  My response has generally been.."because I can."  Although that answer is true....the reality is a lot more complex than that. But here is something...

Back in 2008 at age 25 I made an impulse decision to run Grandma's Marathon.  It was really the first time that I registered for an endurance event that legitimately scared me. I hadn't ran even close 26.2 miles at that point, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if I was even capable. The journey to the start line was both invigorating and exciting.  Come race day I had set what I thought was an attainable goal of breaking 4 hours. I now know that I wasn't fit enough nor confident enough for that result and as such I was out over my skis early on in the race.  My goal was not realistic and at mile 9 I was already struggling to maintain my goal pace..

As I saw my goal slowly slipping away I had what I would liken to a panic attack - a mini freak out as I digested the reality that I wasn't going to rise up to my own expectations and heaven for bid the expectations of others. I could barely breathe and I walked A LOT and drank and ate very little.  I felt embarrassed as the racers ran by me.  By mile 17 I was wrecked and begged a stranger for a cell phone to call Tom (who was also racing and I assumed probably already finished).  My hope was that he could come and pick me up.  I thank God to this day that he didn't answer....because had he answered...I would have quit.  Instead I sat on the curb, devastated....alone.... and broken. I stared down at my shoes pondering my future, and how the hell I was going to navigate the next 9 miles.... and I was dreading how I was going to explain my disaster of a race to everyone else.

And then suddenly an Angel appeared.  A random man who was nearly 3 times my age.  He reached out his hand and said "come with me, you are going to finish this race."  He shared his TicTac container full of salt crystals with me and convinced me to "run to that sign" and to "run to that mile marker" for 100 yards, 200 yards, and 300 yards at a time.  He encouraged me to eat and to drink and eventually I ran across the finish line in a time of 5:48:01, uff dah!! I grabbed my well deserved finisher shirt and medal and then cried my eyes out into Tom's arms. 

Getting to that finish line was one of the hardest things I'd ever done in my  life. I was disappointed, but in the end I managed to laugh it off.  I quickly realized that this race would not define me, and nor would any other race.  Instead they would teach me things about myself that I never knew before. Truthfully, I hated some things that I saw in myself that day.  I hated the fear, the negativity, and the disbelief.  But...there were also a lot of things I saw that I loved. I loved the grit, the fight, and the perseverance that eventually followed my struggle.  I learned the importance of racing within my means and more importantly, I learned the true beauty of racing for myself and no one else. It was clear after the the race that that no one cared about my result as much as I did and that I had put so much pressure on myself that I missed the opportunity to truly enjoy the event.

Truly enjoying Grandma's Half Marathon!

Running Grandma's Marathon was the gateway drug. The suffering, the perseverance, and the joy that followed the's the explanation for a lifetime of endurance racing. It's the reason that I know that no matter what...the finish line will always be worth it.

Grandma's is why I'll always be an athlete. I knew it was time to return to Duluth and cross that same finish line feeling something different.


Saturday morning I felt no nerves.  Rather, I felt razzed with excitement and joy. I was shocked by the massive crowd of runners at the start line and somehow snuck my way up to a good starting spot.
I had no friends near me on the bus nor at the start line...this was about as personal as it gets.

Back to school!!! Dorm life!

I had set a realistic goal early on in training to break 1:50, but I struggled to get the speed up in my interval runs due to an early glute injury. The past couple weeks of heat also had me feeling like an elephant. :) So, in the days leading up to the race I wondered  if my goal was now unrealistic but quickly decided that my best was simply good enough.  My coach Matt had encouraged me to "just run by feel" and to let go of the pressures and limitations that my Garmin watch provides.  We had a beautiful cool day ahead of us.

Finally the National Anthem and then boom! we were off.  In the early miles I had no idea how fast I was running and I didn't know a single person running next to me. I was all smiles and racing completely within my means.  It wasn't until mile 6 that I first looked down at my watch to realize that I had just clocked a split of 8:02!! say what?!?!

It was a pace that was faster than almost every mile I had ran in training.  I felt really I had no reason to think that was "too fast." The confidence and optimism that followed that realization was magical as it carried me all the way to mile 9 where I saw Tom, Christina, and Brendan screaming for me. They gave me a huge boost that fueled me the last 4 miles to the finish line...this time with a face full of smiles instead of tears.

Saturday was a beautiful day!  just like all the others.  I live for these moments, and am so grateful for all those that share in this joy with me. Your encouragement and support is overwhelming at times.
Tom is not only the best adventure companion there ever was, but he was also my UMD college roommate for a night!! (no we didn't push the beds together...haha!) Huge thanks to Matt for agreeing to balance being a cyclist and an occasional runner - this variety is essential to my mental balance as an athlete. Thank you Lisa, Jeff, Rob and Missy for letting me be your running partner again - I enjoyed every mile. Lasty, big thanks to Travis for keeping my body tuned up - so that I can enjoy incredible finish lines like this!  

My cup is seriously overflowing!

Now it's time to cram in the Fatty miles....we've got a Leadville training camp on tap!

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