Out of the Darkness

I’ve been quiet for months and to my two readers, I apologize. Let’s just say it’s been a rough winter and spring didn’t quite bring the quick relief I was hoping for.

December was a rough month for me. I got injured during my goal race at the start of the month and about a week later some events occurred in my professional life which brought a great deal of stress into my personal life. I am still dealing with the impact of those events today. Without my usual coping mechanism of running I felt the effects of those incidents even more. And then there are the holidays which bring the shopping stress, parties and family drama. I was looking forward to all of it being over and having a chance to decompress.

For most of us January 1st brings hope. It is the start of a new year, a clean slate and a change to start over. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

I woke up on January 1st in a fog of depression. Instead of feeling a sense of renewed hope, I felt a sense of dread. Instead of feeling peace and quiet, I felt anxiety and panic. I felt the old demons rising up. To compound issues, we experienced an unusual amount of snow this winter. Typically, I would make the most of it by getting out and skiing, but skiing was out due to my femoral stress reaction. I increased my medication. I tried to stay active in other ways. I tried to reach out to people in my support network. None of this was easy, however. I felt exhausted all of the time. I snapped at my family, the people who l love and who love me the most.

As the snow melted and the flowers began to peek up through the earth, I felt moments where the fog would start to lift. Simultaneously, my femur had healed and I was able to return to running, albeit slowly and very gradually per my coach’s instructions. I shared the story of my winter depression with some of those around me and learned that I was not alone. Often when we struggle we do so in silence, fearful of the judgment from those around us. But when we share our struggles with others we learn that we are not unique in our suffering and we are not alone. Sharing helps to normalize our struggles. If you are feeling lonely and depressed, please talk to someone. It is more common than you think. If you tell someone who does not understand, try someone else. There are so many people out there who do understand and who want to help. If you are on the receiving end of someone who is talking about depression, please listen. Just listen without judgment. You could be the light in that person’s darkness. I’ve learned through my struggles that I don’t always have to try harder, but sometimes I have to try differently. The same is true for running. Maybe I don’t need to try harder in my training, maybe I just need to try differently.

A runner who I admire and follow on social media (@paceofme) posted a photo of a Spiral of Healing recently with the following explanation:

The spiral of healing. 🌀

This image and concept resonates so deeply with me, on so many levels, and has for all my life though I didn’t really recognize it in this way until very recently.

I drew this in my journal the other day and keep coming back to it, feeling thankful for the symbolism and for what it represents to me.

When we embark on our healing journey (whether this is from a physical injury, or a broken relationship with someone you love, or patterns of thinking or behavior that are causing you pain and truly don’t serve you well, etc), we begin with awareness (often painful) at our low and as we do the work to heal, we SPIRAL UP. It’s not a straight line and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t really have an endpoint really. And as we go and we grow, and learn and build strength and create a better way for ourselves, with certainty we will have moments where we stumble or fall or simply just feel like we have plummeted into complete despair.

But look, we hold on, and we spiral back up and we keep going! We aren’t where we began. We are better than before. I think it’s important to recognize that it’s a process, and to give ourselves space for the down-dips and trust that there is a purpose to them – they can almost act as a spring to catapult us up even farther I believe.

So I want to share this with you, because maybe it will resonate with you, too. We are all in this together, this beautiful messy thing called life. 💗🌀

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Her words and this image resonated so much with me that I wanted to post them here as well. Progress is not linear and just because I am not moving in a forward line (with running, with my mental health, with my career etc.) doesn’t mean that I am not making overall positive gains. No matter how many times I fall down, I know that I have the tools to continue getting up and moving forward.

 

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Rest, Recover, Repeat!

California International Marathon was almost four weeks ago and I still cannot walk properly. I am finally off crutches, but it is still painful to do anything weight bearing on my left leg. My doctor was not sure if it was a minor bone injury or a muscle injury, but my physical therapist thinks I may have a femoral stress reaction. The jury is still out. If it is a stress reaction, this will be my second one in less than a year (my 40th year no less!) so I find myself wondering WTF is up with that.

It is easy for me to fall into the 2016 was the worst year ever line of thinking, turn that on myself personally, and focus primarily on my injuries. Yes, if there is a bone issue I need to get that figured out. I did have my blood checked and learned that my Vitamin D levels are low (not shocking because it’s winter and I exercise in the dark) so that could be a big piece of it. But my injuries are not my story. They could be my story if I wanted them to be, but I don’t.

As it turns out, I have a lot to celebrate in 2016. I started the year off by running Rock and Roll Arizona, my first post-baby marathon. I worked throughout the summer on conquering some of my fears on the bike (I’ve got more work to do in that arena, so heads up 2017) and placed in my age group in a couple of short triathlons this summer. This fall I completed a 10k (PR!) and a half-marathon while working towards my goal race, the California International Marathon. I had many beautiful runs and rides and so much fun running with and training with my friends. I learned about enjoying the journey and appreciating each run. I also learned that I am not patient and really bad at resting and recovering!

As I look towards 2017, I have a few goals in mind but with my current, undetermined physical condition I do not yet know what is realistic. My goal, first and foremost, is to be patient with my body. There are things I can do right now and things I cannot. My goal is to accept the things I can do, appreciate where I am, and work towards becoming the athlete that I want to be in 2017 and beyond. Cheers to 2017, to good health, to happiness, and to enjoying the ride!

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When Almost is Good Enough: My California International Marathon Race Report

I completed my fall goal race today, the California International Marathon from Folsom to Sacramento. I trained for this race with the hope of breaking four hours. Until the past couple of weeks when a new leg issue started plaguing me, I believed it was possible. But these things happen and I arrived in Sacramento just thankful for the opportunity to be there and participate. Last night I sent my coach the following revised race goals:

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I started this morning nice and easy. My legs felt good! I lined up well behind the 3:58 pace group and told myself no matter how good I felt, I would not pass them until after the halfway point. When I started to think about my leg, I employed one of many distraction techniques.  I put my hand over my heart and thought about my running friends back home who cheered me on during so many of my workouts and were cheering me on then. I thought of my family. I looked at the beautiful scenery. I absorbed positive energy from other runners and spectators. I reminded myself of all of the strength training I did and told myself that my muscles were strong, that I was strong. I kept smiling, and I kept going.

One by one the miles ticked off. Effortlessly. I found myself inching closer and closer to the 3:58 sign and wanting to pass them, but reminded myself of my promise to hold back. I relaxed, stayed consistent, and enjoyed the view and each mile.

After the halfway mark I allowed myself to pass the 3:58 pacers and run my own race. I put my music in and looked forward to meeting my coach Gretchen at mile 15. She wouldn’t actually be at mile 15, but I had a mental plan to meet my coach and many of my running friends for one mile each during the race, and the first was Gretchen at mile 15. This strategy proved to be very effective. It not only gave me something to look forward to, but it kept me mentally present, running only the the mile I was in. I met Gretchen at the start of mile 15, listened to her words of encouragement, and followed her to the next mile where I met my next friend.

I have no idea how far ahead I pulled from the 3:58 pacing group but at some point just before mile 20 they caught back up to me. Also, around mile 18 or 19 the race started to get mentally tough. At mile 17 I was still smiling, having fun and running to the sidelines to Tap For Power on signs, but that stopped around 18 or 19 and then when the 3:58 pacers caught back up to me I started to worry. I felt like I had hit that inevitable late marathon slow down. I felt myself mentally starting to slide with thoughts of defeat trying to creep in.

At that point (and this happened a couple of times between 18-22), I remembered my commitment to myself, my coach, and my family. I remembered all of the hard work I had put in and what I came here to do. And at that point I thought “I commit. I will not give in, I will not give up. This is like my tempo runs. Hang on.” I focused on my breath, I focused on my form. I remembered Meb saying that he repeated the word “technique” in the later miles of Boston when he got tired, so I tried that. I thought of my coach Gretchen and her hard and beautiful effort at California International in the later miles when she qualified for the Olympic Trials. I focused on the next tree, the next street light, anything to keep me in the moment and to keep me from giving in. It was hard, I was hurting, but I was determined. I had a sub-4 marathon in my sights!

I used these techniques with success, as each mile (painful as it was) I found myself pacing close to a 9 min/mile and on my way to a sub-4 marathon. I passed the 22 mile marker and knew if I could do just four more of those, I would meet my goal. My leg was speaking to me, but I passed it off as late marathon muscle fatigue. “Hang in there, stick with the pacers and GO!” The pacers were women wearing pink, our running team’s signature color, so I pretended they were Boise Betties, which made it that much easier. I was hanging on for dear life.

At mile 23.5 I felt a sharp pain in my groin that radiated down my left leg all the way to my knee. I stopped to stretch it out and when I tried to start again, my body would not allow me to run. I hobbled to the finish, crossing the line in 4:22 something. I had to be assisted to the icing tent and am having a hell of a time walking.

With the way I feel now, I am so proud just to have finished. The race did not end how I ideally would have hoped, but I am so proud of my effort, I learned a ton, and I met so many wonderful people along the way. I ran a solid, consistent 23 miles, I finished the race, I had joy in my heart, met my revised race goals, and I am so thankful for the experience. I walk (well, hobble) away a wiser and stronger runner today. Thank you, California International Marathon. I’ll be back!

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Overcoming Fear of Failure

“The reality is that if your dream is to accomplish something awesome, it’s not going to be easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. People who go for greatness are going to get knocked down a lot. They’ll have difficult times. They’ll struggle with doubt and uncertainty. People around them will question the wisdom of their quest. The issue is not whether you’ll fail, because you will. It’s whether you’ll get back up and keep going. It’s whether you can sustain your self-confidence and your belief in yourself and keep bouncing back. Failure is only final when you stop striving.” – Bob Rotella

My taper has not gone according to plan. I noticed some leg pain in my last big tempo run, and although I took it easy after that, it has continued to pester me. I went to the doctor to get it checked out this week to ensure I would be okay to run my goal race this weekend. He sent me for an MRI, found some minor swelling (but not in a high risk area) and cleared me to run as tolerated. I have rested all week (light cross training, no running) so I have no idea what will happen when I hit the course on Sunday. I am excited that I have a chance to run the race and put it all out there, but I am scared s#$%less of failure.

The irony of course is that this fear of failure is restrictive. This fear of failure made me want to stay home and not even try, even when my doctor and coach both told me it was okay to try, that I should try. The fear of failure makes me tense and keeps me focused on the negative. The fear of failure makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed. It keeps me from being able to enjoy the moment. And the fear of failure makes it more likely that I will actually fail.

What exactly is failure in this situation? Is failure not meeting a goal time? Not having a “perfect run” (whatever that may mean)? Not enjoying the run? I met my goal time in a recent race but still felt like a failure because I beat myself up mentally in the tough miles. I would propose that true failure in this situation would be not trying. Not showing up and giving my absolute best effort.

Failure can actually be a gift, a wonderful teacher. When we fail at things, we learn. We learn from mistakes. We learn from bad runs, bad relationships, bad decisions. We learn, we grow, and then we do better. When we are afraid to fail we deny ourselves these learning experiences, these life lessons and opportunities for growth.

So given the opportunity to toe the line on Sunday, I will not be afraid. Or at least I will try my very best to not be afraid. I will embrace the experience with an open mind and an open, positive and thankful heart. I will try my very best to not be afraid to fail big. To learn big. And if I fall down, I will get right back up with more wisdom in my pocket than I have today.

 

Ten Mile Tempo – The Struggle is Real!

This morning I did my last big workout before my goal race, California International Marathon, which is coming up in just over two weeks. It was a ten mile tempo run and I have been dreading it all week. A ten mile tempo with warmup and cool down is over 12 miles, which is a lot of mileage to get in on a weekday morning before the regular morning routine of getting ready for school and work. Then there is the fact that I am still feeling tired from my high mileage week last week. Needless to say, I was looking forward to being on the other side of this workout. So much so that I scheduled a massage for this evening over a week ago!

Last night I checked the weather before going to bed. It was going to be below freezing in the morning. Now let me just say that I have totally lucked out on this training cycle. We have had beautiful weather this fall and most of my runs have been in the perfect 40-60 degree range. But this morning it was in the 20s. Brrrr! I put out ALL of the running clothes, hand warmers, and wool socks last night, and then I set my alarm for 4:30am. I tossed and turned, dreamt I slept through my alarm, and was relieved when it went off and I saw that it was still dark and I had plenty of time to do my workout.

I bundled up, headed out, and the cold air hit my face like a ton of bricks. This was my first run of the season in sub-freezing temperatures. As I started moving, my legs felt extremely unhappy. My left quad hurt, my hamstring hurt, and I felt a pinching sensation in my groin. I told myself it was mental and stopped several times during my warmup mile for some extra stretching. Nevertheless, my warmup mile was still slower than normal. After my warmup mile, I attempted to run 600 meters close to tempo pace and struggled to get near it. My coach suggested 8:20-8:30 minutes per mile, but I thought I might aim for 8:35-8:45 minutes per mile instead. Like in yoga class, I thought about bringing and accepting the body that I had today. And today’s body was feeling a little cranky and sluggish.

As I started my ten mile tempo, I struggled with the 8:35-8:45 range. A couple of miles into the run I wondered what time it was and thought about my running group. They meet not too far from where I was running at 6am so I wondered if I could bail on my tempo run and meet them for a different workout. I really needed some companionship and encouragement! But then I told myself that my coach and running friends would not be with me in a couple of weeks when I am running California International Marathon, so I needed to soldier on.

I noticed that when I focused and pushed hard that I could hold the 8:35-8:45 pace that I had suggested for myself. However, when I relaxed or when my mind wandered, my pace slowed to the 9:05-9:20 range. I became frustrated with myself and thought “How will I run a marathon at my sub-four hour goal when this ten mile workout is so hard?” I felt defeated. My chest tightened. I wanted to quit and cry. I worried that I would have a full blown panic attack.

But then I envisioned myself pushing through all of that. And I did. I told myself that the workout was hard because I was tired and that during the marathon my legs would be more rested. I told myself that this hard workout was good mental training. I envisioned myself feeling that tired during the last several miles of the marathon and pushing through. I told myself this was the last time I would get to do this workout during this training cycle so I was going to make the most of it. I struggled with the workout and it felt hard, but I was proud of myself at the end because I did it and I was consistent with the pacing. I stayed very close to the adjusted 8:35-8:45 range with my mile splits being: 8:37, 8:41, 8:42, 8:34, 8:46, 8:40, 8:31, 8:42, 8:42, 8:38. Now I am looking forward to that massage this evening!

Running with the Locals, Running with the Legends: My Onward Shay! Race Report

Today marked the running of the inaugural Onward Shay! Half Marathon and Marathon in Boise, Idaho to honor of Shay Hirsch. Shay was a Boise native and runner who lost her courageous battle with cancer in 2014. She would often encourage others with the phrase Onward! and she loved the Wizard of Oz, so the race adopted a fun Wizard of Oz theme and the name Onward Shay! For its inaugural weekend, the race hosted several running legends many of whom helped organize the race.

At the start line I saw my coach chatting with Nick Symmonds (hopefully they were planning a beer mile) and Joan Benoit Samuelson grabbing Frank Shorter to go take a photo with local celebrity writer Tony Doerr. The runners had to wait an extra 30 minutes at the start, but watching these running legends and chatting with friends kept me entertained. Parts of me started to get antsy (also wet and cold), but I reminded myself that in a racing I need to practice on focusing on what I can control. I cannot control things like the weather and the delayed starts, but I can control things like my attitude and my breathing, so I focused on those.

Finally the starting gun went off and we were running through the streets of Boise. About a mile into the race I found myself running right next to Frank Shorter. Often called the father of the modern running boom and the only American to medal twice in the Olympic Marathon, Frank Shorter is one of the most respected distance runners in the world. I could not believe that I was running right next to him down the streets of Boise, Idaho, the place I currently call home. Amazing! This will certainly go down as one of the best moments of my running career.

As I continued, I started to see familiar face after familiar face carrying me through the course with their smiles, cheers, funny signs, and positive energy. Even though it was a cold, wet, rainy day, Boise showed up for this event. My mom and husband brought our three small kids out to cheer. I saw countless friends and strangers who felt like friends street after street, house after house. Much of the course, particularly the parts in the North End, felt like a huge party. Because of the way parts of the course looped out and back, my running friends and I were even able to cheer each other on at multiple points. I typically run with music unless I am running with another person and trying to talk, but I did not want music during this race. I wanted to fully experience the spectators, other runners, and the course surroundings. I thoroughly enjoyed saying hello to all of the family and friends I saw along the way and feel so grateful to each and every one of them for coming out today.

Those of us who run, race or do some type of endurance exercise understand that we could not do what we do without a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. To have those friends and family not only support us throughout our training, but show up on a wet, rainy race day, means the world!

Around mile eight, the wet and cold started to set in. My quads felt heavy from the cold and my shoes were squishy from the weight of the extra water they were carrying. Everything was soaking wet and I could hardly see through the water in my eyes. My plan to speed up the past few miles did not happen due to the wet and cold conditions, but I held my pace and felt strong through the finish. Most importantly, I ran and finished with joy in my heart and with gratitude for a healthy body and fun race. I hope this race continues for years to come and grows in popularity, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves. It was so much fun to be a part of the inaugural event!

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Pre-race with my running team, the Boise Betties

Photo Credit: Gretchen Hurlbutt (Thanks, G!)

 

The Power of a Word

Marathon training at times can start to feel like a grind. As your body learns to adapt to the increased mileage, perhaps not every run or workout will feel good. But the training plans are designed that way, and it is how you become stronger and more prepared for your goal race.

This week started to feel a bit like one of those grind weeks for me. Rather than looking forward to my workouts, I found myself approaching them with a slight sense of dread.  Yesterday my friend Sam texted me, “How many miles do you get to run tomorrow?” and a light bulb went off. She said get to not have toI was so thankful that she had corrected the fatal flaw in my thinking and from that point forward I approached my long run with a grateful and happy heart.

Running is something that I get to do, not have to do. It keeps me healthy, happy, and connected with some of my favorite people. Just a short six months ago I could not run due to injury and would have given a great deal to be able to go for a short run. I have sat on the sidelines watching others train hard and longed to feel the burning in my lungs and the soreness in my legs. When it is my turn to do the training, I will be thankful for my healthy body. The workouts are not always easy, but they are always worth it.

So the next time you are dreading a hard workout, think about a time that you could not run. Think about someone you know who wants to run, but cannot. Run with a happy heart, smile at those around you, and enjoy the beauty of nature and discovering new trails and paths. My long run today ended up being an absolute joy. I got to run with a friend in beautiful fall weather through our lovely city, and I am thankful for every minute of it. How many miles do you get to run tomorrow?