Monday, March 7, 2011

Just Keep Swimming

6.                  Participate in a 5K/10K… and a 1/2 marathon.

I can't even believe I'm writing this - I FINISHED THE BERRY HALF MARATHON!

Two days later, it is so surreal.  I'd think that perhaps I hadn't actually done it, but every muscle in my body hurts in a pleasant reminder that I REALLY DID IT! 

Now that I've reached this milestone, I'd like to share a little bit of my journey to this point.  I have never been a runner.  When I was a student at Berry, it would never have even crossed my mind to run anywhere.  It is a goregous campus, but I can say I never full appreciated it by foot.  I dreaded lugging my backpack around campus, and schedules weren't always accomodating to take a leisurely walk during those days.  I once went through a program at Berry called Fitness for Life.  It was an optional opportunity to help students stay in shape.  I was SUPER skinny but not in the least drop athletic, nor did I desire to be.  I'd never been challenged with issues with weight or eating at that time.  I signed up for Fitness for Life just for fun.  When I went through the results, I will never forget what the guy said that interpreted them for me:  "You have the body of an endurance athlete, but the insides of a slug."  I didn't take it too hard at the time.  Being an endurance athlete wasn't my goal.

But years later, things have been different for me.  I have gotten older.  I have been pregnant four times - two precious children to show for it - and also a miscarriage, and a later term loss in utero that nearly shattered my world (not in that order).  I have dealt with life difficulties and some ongoing professional stress as I've sought a position in  ministry.  I've suffered from some depression.  I've been a busy stay at home mom to my kiddos and trying to keep up with all the demands and gifts of life.  I've had to take hormones.  I had abdominal surgery. 

And somewhere along the way, I gained a lot of weight and it has been a STRUGGLE.  Some has been out of bad habits, some has been from hormones, life, depression - there are a lot of boring stories.  I have dieted and walked and joined the Y and tried more things than I can count.  I could run this post for days and tell you why I have three different sizes of pants I like to keep in my closet.  As a guy friend of mine once said, "I'm really a 34 but a 36 feels so good I wear a 38."  One year on New Year's Day I told my friends Dede and David that my resolution was for my weight to fluctuate that year.  It was tongue in cheek, but that is the pattern I had been seeing.  Up and down.  Up and down.

One day I was on Facebook when I found my friend Scott.  We knew each other from college days through a mutual organization, but I went to Berry and he went to UGA.  The last time I had seen Scott had been years before, and I wasn't sure if he'd want to be my "Facebook Friend."  But we did reconnect, and started to share some stories.  Turns out Scott had become motivated to start running.  He inspired me to start a program called Couch to 5K  I have to say, when I started it, I just felt "even this" as a beginner's program was too much for me.  I had to supplement "off days" on the program with doing other things.  When I started, I literally carried a kitchen timer in my hand.  I'd walk for a  minute and jog for a minute and I couldn't WAIT for the minute to end.  It was not fun.  But I just decided, I'm not going to do this to lose weight - I'm going to gain endurance.  I'm going to stick with it.  I'm going to do a 5K.  And the day I started Couch to 5K, I made another decision - I signed up for a 5K THAT DAY.  It was several months away, but I wanted to commit myself to the decision. 

I worked very hard from May to August to meet my goal.  On July 3, my friend Margot hooked me up with a number for the Peachtree Road Race - a 10K - on July 4, the next morning.  I NEVER IN MY LIFE thought I'd participate in the PTRR.  I wasn't even training for a 10K.  I walked most of it, but it was just thrilling.  In August, I went for my first 5K, the Dog Days Run in Marietta.  It was a challenging course of steep hills and hot, muggy weather.  But I did it. 

I was also watching carefully what I ate.  I lost 25 lbs, and hard earned every tenth of a pound I lost.  A friend saw me at the end of the summer and asked how I'd done it.  I said, "It was EVERY choice I made."  She asked me if that was the name of a book.  I couldn't help but laugh. 

Just a few weeks after this, I found out that I had a fibroid tumor the size of a cantalope in my uterus.  I was scheduled for a hysterectomy via c-section in November.  I was really depressed, dreading surgery, and bummed that "just when I had gotten it together" - I was going to be on a long recovery.

I had already signed up, so I went ahead and ran in the Berry 5K on Alumni Weekend in October, and had my best time ever, a PR (personal record) as they say.  Then I ran the Oakland Cemetery Run Like Hell on Halloween morning, in the driving rain.  I listed to "Fighter" by Christina Aguilera and rain poured off my face and I knew I had to complete this run.  I just didn't know when I'd be able to run again.

November came and so did my surgery.  I had a very long recovery.  In January I signed up for Women on the Move/Sisters in Stride at West Stride through the Atlanta Track Club  I was intimidated to go out with "real runners" - especially being so weak physically still at that point.  I was moving very gingerly.  But I felt it would make me feel obligated to return to running, and that I would also benefit from the advice of people who really do understand running.  Kudos galore to Genie and Jennie at West Stride - they make EVERYONE feel like they are runners, kind and encouraging every step.  I can't rave about them enough.

Since then, I will say things have been slow.  I've participated in several more 5Ks and 10Ks.  I'm not by any means fast, but I've not been training for fast.  I've stuck to training for endurance.  I want to keep up with my kids.  I want to not get winded easily.

I've had other setbacks.  In May after my surgery, I made an incredibly difficult decision to withdraw from a professional process that had gone on for eight years.  It had become such a negative experience that I knew something had to change.  I started to gain back some weight from post surgery issues and from anxiety and depression on the professional end.  Although I knew this particular decision was for the best, I have had issues to deal with and unpack.  There has been some grief and some things I needed to say good bye too. 

Over the past year I have been fortunate to also have the encouragement of Ginny and Molly at Chick-fil-A Wellness  My husband works at Chick-fil-A and I am grateful that they also extend these type of great benefits to us as spouses too.  Ginny and Molly  have helped me stay on track as I decided to focus on the goal of participating in a Half Marathon.  I just got to meet them in person in February for a "check up."  I had gained back about 10 pounds since I started last year.  Depressing!  But I had also strengthened in some other areas.  So, I keep focusing on keeping on.  As Dorie says in "Finding Nemo" - "Just keeping swimming, swimming, swimming..."  I have to think that sooner or later my good, or better, choices will catch up with me.

I had also injured my knee a few weeks before this trip with Chick-fil-A - and I spent most of February not training like I had been.  I ran a 5K there on the trip with Chick-fil-A Wellness - it was my PR all right - but on the wrong end.  It was the longest time it has ever taken me to run a 5K.  My knee wasn't happy.  I felt like seeing all those people I "knew" at the end was like running the Run of Shame.  They were finished, had had breakfast, heading back to hotels - and I'm still running!  BUT - once again, I finished.  And that made me faster than anyone still in bed.  :)

So - time came for the Berry Half. I had signed up months ago in order to hold myself to it.  After several weeks of great weather here in Atlanta, a miserable rain and lower temps were predicted for the race.  I wanted to talk myself out of going.  I went in to West Stride and said to Genie and Jennie - "I need help!"  They helped me make sure I was prepared with my clothing choices for temperature and rain.  I came home and packed my bag and my husband and kids and I headed up to Rome.  We picked up my number, stayed at my parent's house checking in on the weather - but things just looked nasty.  John took me over to Berry in the rain and 40 degree temps on Saturday  morning.  I have to admit some chattering teeth - both from cold and anxiety.  What am I doing here?  I thought.  All I have to do is stop.  I can go home anytime.  I couldn't help but feel a little like I did the morning of my surgery!  (What a horrible thought!) 

But - I got out of the car.  I waited for the shuttle.  I talked to people on the bus.  I found the restroom.  I realized suddenly that I had internally made the commitment long ago.  I was going in this race after all, despite what my head was telling me to the contrary.  Something deep and internal kept me breathing and got me focused.  I zipped up my jacket and headed for the start line.

I ran intervals (running for a time, then walking for a time - this has been my best method of training, something I learned from West Stride) and felt really great for the first 7 miles.  I kept up with a group of familiar backs - I'd pass them, they'd pass me - for a long time.  Then at about mile 7, I realized that I was really toward the back of the pack (I try to never look behind me, but we had a double back place where it was pretty obvious).  That was okay.  I also knew this was the mark where I'd never gone farther in a race.  There was actually a great sign that said, "Last is just the slowest winner."  Loved that!  I was expecting that I might run down around this point, even though I'd trained at longer distances, but I was still feeling good.

About mile 8, I suddenly thought, with no internal conflict, that I might be done.  It wasn't mentally arguing - just an little light went on where I thought, I might want a ride now.  Gratefully, at just about that point, we had another double back part in the race - ahead of me on the other side of the road was my friend Margaret, who had seen me at the other double back but I hadn't seen her.  She made a point to reach out and give me a five.  The timing was perfect and helped me keep going.

Just before mile 9, The Climb by Miley Cyrus came on my headphones  Now, I mostly listen to upbeat songs, but I had put some slower songs on my playlist to make sure I was doing the intervals and not overdoing.  "Ain't about how fast I get there, ain't about what's waiting on the other side.  It's the climb."   I looked around me and saw gorgeous purple hills wrapped in fog, and honestly brought tears to my eyes.  I feel cheesy even saying I was this moved by Miley Cyrus - but I was.  :)

I made sure to get a gel pack at mile 9, and some Powerade.  I also realized as I started the last leg back, about a three mile trail before hitting the last half at main campus, that I wasn't going to be able to run.  I was starting to have some leg cramps and I did not want to injure my knee again.  I slowed down and walked 9.5-12.5.  I stopped a few times to stretch.  I can honestly say I considered calling John and asked him to drive up and get me.  I was hurting.  Then I saw another great little sign that said, "You have two choices.  You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your forehead."  I decided I'd try to jog in the last .6 or so at a slow steady pace and finish strong.  I was too close to quit.  And, I also decided that mentally I could cross that line in tears and agony, with a spirit of defeat - or I could come through celebrating a great acheivement.  The attitude was up to me.

Just as I started to jog again, so close to finishing, my injured knee buckled with a terrible charlie horse cramp.  I felt tears come to my eyes and started walking again to get through it.  Not far up ahead, I spotted my friend Scott, who had come to the race with a friend, signing up just a few days prior.  They had waited over an hour for me after his finish.  They encouraged me around the corner and Scott asked if I wanted to race.  Total negative on that, but made me laugh.  Then I could see my two precious precious kids - cheering for me.  They started running on the sidewalk with me.  Then I could see my amazing husband snapping photos and waving.  One last set of photographers called out to me to look their way - I laughed and said to them, "There's no one behind me to block the picture, so you have to get a good one!"  At that moment, John captured the photo I posted above. 

I crossed the finish line with shouts from my friends Margaret and Mike, who had also waited for me.  Margaret hugged me and I broke into tears.  Such an emotional journey!  But soon I was delighting with these special friends and family who had cheered me in. 

I was late enough in the race that they were out of bananas.  But I felt bananas after accomplishing something like this.  I was tempted to wear my medal to bed.  I am still reveling today.  How long do you think you can wear a half marathon medal without people thinking you are odd?

And after all, I knew I wasn't going to win THIS race.  What is important is that I won MY race. 

I still have obstacles ahead.  I just think I'll look back on March 5, 2011 every time with a smile on my face.

Slow and steady.  Just keep swimming.   Every step counts.