A Different Kind of Marathon: Leah’s Birth Story

When I found out I was pregnant with Leah, I hadn’t even thought about what kind of birth I wanted to have. To be honest, we had barely adjusted to the idea of trying to GET pregnant. Of course, Joshua and I had always talked about wanting to have children someday. And when we were finished with school, settled into our new home, and both had stable jobs, the time seemed right to start trying. But I don’t think either of us expected a positive pregnancy test less than a month after we made that decision!

In those early weeks, I was afraid to get too excited. So many people I’m close to have lost their babies early in their pregnancies. Making too many plans for a birth nine months in the future felt like tempting fate. It was hard not to worry, but eventually I came to terms with the fact that I truly had no control over the outcome of this pregnancy. All I could do was make the healthiest decisions I could to nurture this new life growing inside me, and leave the rest in God’s hands. I thanked Him every morning for the blessing of getting to carry my baby that day, regardless of what might happen tomorrow.

But around halfway through the pregnancy, with a newly bulging belly and ever stronger kicks reminding me that I was never alone, I could no longer ignore the fact that soon, this little lady would need to make her entrance to the world. I began reading some books about natural childbirth. And the more I learned, the more I felt that this was the right decision for my baby and myself. When I met her for the first time, I didn’t want my mind dulled with any pain medication. I wanted to be fully present for the whole experience. I didn’t want any medications in her tiny body that might make the birth process harder on her, or affect her ability to be fully alert to nurse and bond with her Daddy and me when she arrived. So I began making plans for a natural birth.

Many people who make this decision hire a midwife instead of an obstetrician. Midwives have lots of experience with normal births, which can often happen in the comfort of home, while obstetricians are trained to handle high risk deliveries where life-saving medical interventions are necessary. These interventions are wonderful in births where they are actually needed, but they are sometimes overused in normal births, leading to unnecessary surgeries and drugs for the mother and the child. If I had another baby, I thought I might like to try the midwife route. But I did not want to switch care providers so late in this pregnancy. So I stayed with Dr. Sick, the obstetrician I’d been seeing since I got pregnant with Leah, and decided to hire a doula, Nicolle, to help support me in achieving as natural a birth as I could in the hospital.

My plan was to labor as long as I could at home. In a typical labor, contractions start mild and short with lots of time to rest in between. I had read birth stories of couples going out to a restaurant for one last meal together while the wife was in early labor! I thought that sounded great. Stay at home as long as I could cope, and when contractions began getting longer and closer together, we would go to the hospital and hopefully have a baby very quickly.

But Leah had other ideas about how she wanted to make her arrival. I was so excited when I reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, when a baby is considered at term and can safely arrive at any time. I had many friends who had their babies this early, or shortly thereafter. So I waited expectantly, wondering each night if this would be the night I went into labor. I did everything the books recommended to naturally prepare my body for labor – eating six dates a day, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, continuing to run, eating spicy foods, getting massages, you name it. And I woke up each morning to find that I was still very pregnant… through week 38… and week 39… and week 40.

run.jpg
Running with some good friends at 38 weeks pregnant!
IMG-4372.jpg
I kept hoping that one of these runs would encourage her to come!

It turns out that this is the time obstetricians like to talk about induction. In a healthy pregnancy, it can be normal and safe for babies to be delivered at 42 weeks and beyond. However, there is a small but significant increase in the percentage of stillborn babies after 42 weeks. So the current medical recommmendation in the United States is not to allow pregnancies to go beyond this point.

An induction involves administering medications to soften the cervix, if necessary, and then giving synthetic oxytocin which forces the uterus to have very strong, close contractions, which are often much more painful and put the baby under more stress than regular contractions. Most women need an epidural to cope with the pain of a pitocin-induced labor. Sometimes, despite all of this, inductions can fail and result in the need for a C-section.

I really, really did not want to have to induce. But I also didn’t want to put my baby at risk by keeping her inside too long, even though I knew the risk was very small. So I consented to an induction on the Thursday that I would reach 41 weeks 5 days, if she did not make her appearance before then.

Week 41 came and went, and I became more and more anxious as the induction day approached. If you’ve heard of any natural methods of inducing labor, chances are, I tried it. But there was one thing I hadn’t tried. Its use is a little controversial because it doesn’t always work to induce labor, but chances are good it will cause the mother to become nauseated, dehydrated, and exhausted. For the baby, though, there are far fewer documented risks than those of medical inductions. So on the Sunday of my induction week, I decided it would be worth it to plan to stay home all day and give it a try.

I got up Sunday morning, had a good breakfast, and drank a big bottle of electrolyte drink. Then I went for my usual mile walk that I tried to get in on non-running days. Finally, at 8:00am, I made a castor oil smoothie… which was about as delicious as it sounds. I got it all down though, and then waited to see if anything would happen.

A couple hours later, the diarrhea started. I pretty much had to camp out in the bathroom. But in addition to the expected diarrhea cramps, I was beginning to experience some cramping in my abdomen and lower back that was more rhythmic. In fact, it was happening every 2-3 minutes. Surely this wasn’t early labor? From everything I had read, early labor contractions happened much further apart and were fairly mild – these HURT! I sat on a heating pad to help ease the pain.

Then, during one of my bathroom trips, I found something that looked suspiciously like part of my mucus plug. It was bloody, and up until this point, I’d had no bleeding for the entire pregnancy. I continued to find more of this bloody discharge… and then, some fluid that had a greenish tinge. Was this just more mucus plug, or something else? I was worried that my water may have broken – it doesn’t always come out in a huge gush like in the movies, but sometimes is just a slow trickle. And a green color can mean that the baby has passed meconium, which can be a sign of fetal distress. I called Nicolle, my doula, and we decided that the safest thing would be to head to the hospital to get the fluid checked and make sure the baby was okay.

As Joshua drove me to the hospital, the cramping continued to happen every 2-3 minutes. The car ride was extremely uncomfortable – bumpy roads just made the pain more intense. Finally, we arrived in triage, where they had me lie down in a bed and get hooked up to a monitor that asssessed the baby’s heart rate and the strength of my contractions. And yes, that is definitely what the cramps were. These weren’t little cramps that I could ignore – I had to focus on breathing deeply through each contraction. And thanks to the castor oil, I was still having to get up and make frequent trips to the triage bathroom. This certainly wasn’t the happy, carefree beginning to labor that I had imagined. But as hard as it was, I was thankful that I was here getting ready to have my baby instead of waiting to be induced on Thursday. And maybe since my contractions are so close together, I reasoned hopefully, that means I’ll end up having a short labor!

They tested the fluid and found that it was not amniotic fluid, but actually was part of my mucus plug. They checked my cervix, which was extremely uncomfortable and set off more contractions. (I will mention here that I requested in my birth plan not to be informed of my dilation or effacement, because these numbers only represent a snapshot in time that can change quickly, and I didn’t want to be discouraged in my laboring if the numbers were lower than expected. But I will include the numbers as I found them out later from discussions with Joshua and Nicolle.) I was only 1-cm dilated and 50% effaced, which indicated very early labor – these numbers actually weren’t any different than they were at my last routine visit with Dr. Sick. But because my contractions were so frequent, they decided to keep me in the hospital.

I was wheeled to a large, quiet hospital room which was immensely more comfortable than triage. It even had a whirlpool tub in the bathroom! I was allowed to have intermittent monitoring – 30 minutes with the fetal monitor on, and 30 minutes off when I was free to move around the room and even walk the hospital halls. Nicolle arrived shortly and encouraged me to do just that – stay as active as possible to help encourage my cervix to dilate and the baby to descend. We enjoyed walking and conversing, stopping every few minutes so I could lean against the wall and sway through a contraction.

IMG-4963.jpg
At one point, Nicolle even had me doing walking lunges down the hospital hallways. Obviously still in early labor judging by the fact that I was still able to smile between contractions!

Back in the room, when I was attached to the monitor, we continued to try different positions such as sitting on my birth ball, lying on my side with the peanut ball, or even standing and swaying while leaning against Joshua, which made for some especially precious and intimate moments even with the pain. I was so thankful that I was free to labor in different positions instead of having to lie on my back, which is how you always see people laboring in movies, but for me was the most uncomfortable position of all to deal with a contraction.

I knew my dreams of a quick birth were not going to happen when Nicolle announced after a cervical check that she would be going home to sleep that night and returning in the morning to help me through the rest of my labor. Joshua and I stayed up awhile longer. During one of my breaks from the monitors, he filled up the whirlpool tub for me. The heat and massage felt great during contractions. But all too soon, it was time to get out and put the monitors back on.

Finally we decided to lie down in bed and try to get what little sleep we could. The contractions continued to get more intense, and never spread more than 5 minutes apart. At this point, in addition to my breathing techniques, I needed pressure on my lower back to help me get through them. I would doze off, then a contraction would rudely wake me up, and I would elbow Joshua awake to give me the pressure I needed. I began quietly moaning to help me manage the intensity of the contractions. I felt they were harder to deal with when I was asleep, because I was never able to get ahead of them when they first started – by the time they woke me up, they were already reaching their highest intensity. This strange state of half-consciousness continued through the night.

DSC_7343
Every time a contraction hit, I focused inward, trying to  relax my face and jaw as much as possible as I breathed deep and let my cervix open. Photo by W.D. Photography

I did not like the overnight nurse. She kept coming in and telling me “The baby doesn’t like that side” and I needed to roll over onto my other side. I think the monitors were just having issues. At one point, she was concerned about Leah’s heart rate getting too low, and she started me on IV fluids and had me wear an oxygen mask. Thankfully I didn’t need these for long – they determined her umbilical cord had been in a strange position where it was getting compressed every time I had a contraction, and her heart rate issues resolved once she changed positions. I got sick a couple times, which apparently is pretty common during labor. The nurse asked me if I wanted something for the nausea, and I sleepily accepted. She didn’t tell me until after she’d given me an IV dose of phenergan that it would make me very dizzy, and I shouldn’t get out of bed until the effects wore off. And not long after the medication was given, I got sick again anyway!

Finally morning came, the phenergan wore off, and Nicolle returned. I immediately felt more comfortable with her there. She was able to relieve Joshua of his duty of putting pressure on my back, which I really needed right now to get through each progressively more intense contraction. At some point, our amazing birth photographer Whitney arrived and began capturing moments that would otherwise have just been a labor blur to me.

e13(2)
Nicolle encouraged me to stay active and vary positions throughout my whole labor. At one point, we even got up and did a little dancing! Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7233
The birth ball ended up being one of my favorite places to labor. Photo by W.D. Photography

I allowed myself to become more vocal, moaning more loudly in concert with the intensity of the contraction. I was careful not to allow these sounds to become shrill or fearful, which can actually inhibit the progression of labor. I imagined myself as a lion roaring powerfully, although in reality I probably sounded more like a cow! For a few contractions, I squirmed into different positions to try to find one that would lessen the pain. This didn’t work, and trying to escape the pain just made me more anxious. The mental strategy that ended up helping me the most was reminding myself that the only way out of the pain was to work through it. And work through it I did – roaring/mooing as loudly as I needed to at the peak of each contraction, then enjoying the short breaks that allowed me to recover for the next one.

Nicolle continued encouraging me to try different positions. Some worked better than others. My favorites were the ones where I could be close to Joshua, Having him hold me through the most difficult moments I’d ever been through is one of my favorite memories of this birth. He handled it like a champ, showing his support and love through this whole ultramarathon of labor, even when I was yelling at the top of my lungs in his ear!

DSC_7249
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7303
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7317
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7290
Photo by W.D. Photography

At some point in the morning, Dr. Sick decided it would be a good idea to break my water to encourage labor to progress a little more quickly. A few hours later, she still wasn’t happy with the speed at which I was progressing. (I found out later that my labor had stalled at 9-cm, and there was a small cervical lip preventing my cervix from dilating all the way.) We tried using a breast pump to stimulate my nipples, which releases oxytocin and can help increase the strength of contractions. But that wasn’t enough to get me dilated all the way.

Finally we decided that the best thing to help my labor progress would be to give me a low dose of Pitocin. Throughout my labor so far, I had not been scared. The process was very intense, but it was an intensity generated by my own body that, though challenging, I knew I could deal with. I’d heard so many scary things about Pitocin, and everyone said that contractions hurt a lot more when it was on board. Many people couldn’t handle the pain without an epidural. When they started the Pitocin drip, that was the closest I ever got to experiencing fear… not for myself or for Leah, but that I wouldn’t be able to do this without drugs. I expressed my fears to Joshua and Nicolle, and they both reassured me that I could do this. I focused on getting through one contraction at a time, yelling even louder than I’d been yelling before, and wondering how much more of this I could take. This was definitely the most intense part of labor, but it was thankfully very short. The Pitocin had done the trick, and before I knew it, they said that I was fully dilated and could start pushing!

Many people say that pushing is the best part of labor, because finally you get to do something instead of just managing your pain through each contraction. Personally, I did not enjoy it. I kept thinking about the fact that I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast yesterday, and it was almost dinnertime. I wouldn’t run a marathon without fueling, and here I was expected to push a baby out of my body. I hoped I would be able to do it.

At first they tried having me push on my side. But the doctor kept inserting her finger to feel the baby’s head while I was pushing, and it felt very unnatural to me to push while I was being examined in this way. I did not make much progress in the side-lying position – whether because of the position or because of the constant examinations, I don’t know. But they finally had me try the lithotomy position – the typical lying-back-in-the-bed that you see in movies. This is actually supposed to be one of the least effective positions for pushing, and one of the most likely positions to tear. I knew all this, but I was too tired to argue. I finally did request that the doctor remove her finger and let me try pushing without it. Nicolle held a scarf that I pulled against while I pushed – waiting for the peak of a contraction… then holding my breath and pushing as hard as I could for the count of ten… then taking a quick breath and repeating the process two more times before recovering my breath and waiting for another contraction. And after a couple pushes in the new position, Dr. Sick said that the baby was moving down the birth canal.

After some more pushing, they announced that they could see her head, and I got to reach down and feel her! It was such a surreal moment, touching my baby who was so close to emerging into the world. Someone got me a mirror which allowed me to watch her crowning. Pushing was a little more tolerable now that I could see my progress. At one point, Dr. Sick commented on how much hair she had, and stroked her little head. The head responded by popping quickly back inside. Joshua and I both adamantly requested that there be no more head stroking!

Some people describe crowning as one of the most painful parts of labor, giving it such descriptive names as the “ring of fire.” For me, it wasn’t that bad… it just felt like a tingling, stretching sensation. This allowed me to push her out slowly enough to keep tearing to a minimum. Each time I pushed, the crown of her head that was visible grew a little larger. And finally, after about 2 hours of pushing, the big moment came – I gave the biggest push I could muster, and out popped her head, with the rest of her body sliding easily behind!

DSC_7406
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7409
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7419
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7417
Photo by W.D. Photography

No words can describe the relief I felt at this moment, after what ended up being 30 hours of labor without a drop of pain medication. No words can describe the emotions that flooded me when someone said, “Look at your baby!” and I looked up and saw her face for the first time. She came out pink and screaming at the top of her lungs, and I thought those screams were the most beautiful sound I ever heard. There did end up being some meconium in her amniotic fluid, so they needed to spend some extra time suctioning all the fluid out to make sure it didn’t get into her lungs. But they didn’t take her away before letting me hold her a moment. Who would have thought that I could have such love for this wet, pruney little being that they laid on my chest? I was bawling happy tears.

DSC_7431
Photo by W.D. Photography
e5
Photo by W.D. Photography

They were able to do all her necessary care in the room by my bed, and soon she was back on my chest. I had sustained a first degree tear and was getting stitches, but I didn’t care. The pain was nothing compared to what I had just endured, and I was joyously distracted by the sweet little person in my arms.

There would be a lot of challenging moments over the next few weeks as Joshua and I figured out how to be parents. But for that moment, everything was perfect. Snuggling with our daughter, looking into her eyes, wondering at every perfect little part of her.

DSC_7438
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7443
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7479
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7494
Photo by W.D. Photography
DSC_7519
Photo by W.D. Photography

I’ve run a lot of races and crossed a lot of finish lines. But no ultramarathon will ever match the intensity of the race I had just run. And no finish line prize could ever compare with the beautiful child I now held in my arms. My birth plan didn’t happen exactly the way I wanted it to, but thanks to Nicolle, Joshua, and a very supportive obstetritician, it was pretty close.

The experience made me realize anew how blessed I am to have such a wonderful husband, and now I had a wonderful daughter too. We were a family! And as I held little Leah close, I decided that of all my life accomplishments – marathons, academic achievements, college degrees, my veterinary career – this was the one I was the most proud of.

bw-16-16.jpg
Photo by Bella Baby Photography

Running Pregnant – The Tough Parts!

The weeks keep ticking by. Our baby girl keeps getting bigger and bigger. And running… well, it keeps getting harder and harder. I try to keep my posts on this blog as positive and uplifting as I can. And I’m still SO thankful to be carrying this precious little girl – I truly am. But you’ll have to forgive me if I need to vent a little bit today and be real about some of the struggles I’ve faced with my running during this pregnancy. It isn’t all “glowing” and sweet little baby kicks (the latter of which I am loving, by the way! Her movements are unmistakable now, and even her Daddy can feel them from the outside!) I won’t be recapping a race like I usually do, just talking about the challenges of pregnant running in general. So if you’d rather wait for one of my more “normal” posts, I won’t be offended if you want to skip this one. 🙂

29066464_10155115106575723_8128059203467083776_n
My most recent “bump progression” picture. I’m actually 23 weeks at the time of this writing, so it’s probably time for a new one!

It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been pregnant how different running is for a pregnant athlete. All you can see from the outside is that her belly is getting bigger. But people with big bellies run all the time, sometimes very fast! Surely with the time her body will have to adjust to the weight gain, it won’t affect her performance that much. At least, that is what I naively hoped when I first found out I was pregnant. It would be like training with a weight vest that gradually got heavier. Maybe I could even be stronger at the end of the pregnancy than I was at the beginning!

But on the inside, there are SO many things changing besides the big belly. Even before I had a positive pregnancy test, I noticed that my Garmin was consistently reading out a higher average resting heart rate. I used to love conquering a big hill – but now, hills unexplicably left me huffing and puffing, slowing my pace down far more than they used to. I guess when your cardiovascular system is busy shuttling oxygen and nutrients to another little life, there isn’t too much left over for helping you glide effortlessly up hills.

Pregnancy exhaustion is real. It’s so much harder not to hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off for you to get your pre-work run in. What about running over a lunch break? Most of the time, I am so exhausted that I fall fast asleep during that hour each day – and I’ve never been one to take naps.

And then there are things you would never think about being a problem during pregnancy, like brand new places you find chafed at the end of a long run. The sad truth is, you don’t just gain weight in your belly – you gain it EVERYWHERE. And that brings fun new problems like thigh chafing. And my latest favorite: chafing right under my bra line, where my growing bump is now apparently rubbing against my decidedly larger bust!

Then there are things that I really don’t have a good explanation for. For example, I really don’t know why my legs never feel recovered despite decreasing my weekly mileage and adding in an extra rest day. Every single run these days starts with tired, heavy legs that feel like I’ve already been out running for 5 or 6 miles. It’s just something I’m learning to adjust to as my new normal.

Oh – and then there’s the brand new clumsiness and lack of balance. I have fallen HARD on my knees not once, but 3 times during this pregnancy so far. Prior to this, I can’t remember when I last fell on the pavement (trails are a different story.) This has made me a lot more nervous every time I go out for a run. I’m constantly watching the ground in front of me for potential obstacles instead of happily losing myself in the scenery like I used to. I’m scared to run alone. I miss the feeling of freedom, confidence, and fearlessness that I used to bring with me when I went for a run, and I really hope I can capture that feeling again after the baby is born.

29512144_10155140195855723_3351717255741177856_n
My shadow made me smile at the end of a sunny run, so I had to snap a picture. No mistaking that baby bump now!

Pregnancy has humbled me and changed me as an athlete in so many ways. Probably the hardest part for me has been steadily watching my pace get slower, while the effort required to go for a run is getting higher and higher. When I run by myself or with my husband, I try not to look at the watch and just run by effort. This has helped me stay pretty positive despite all these changes.

But recently, I had a really low point in my running when I tried to go for a group run with some ladies I have never previously had any problems keeping up with. They were all faster than me that day, and try as I might, my tired legs could not keep up with theirs. I ended up running the vast majority of those miles alone, maybe with an occasional glimpse of my friends far in the distance ahead of me. Eventually I lost them, and since I didn’t know the route very well, I had to find my own way back to familiar territory where I could finish my miles on my own. I cried all the way home after that run. (I’m sure pregnancy hormones weren’t helping much with my emotional state.) I just felt so alone, like there is nowhere in the running community where I really fit in at this point in my journey.

That’s just the way things are right now in this crazy physical and emotional roller coaster of pregnancy. And while a good cry is okay, and sometimes very needed, I knew that eventually I had to pull myself together and start focusing on some positive aspects of where I am at RIGHT NOW on my running journey, or else the next few months are going to be some very long ones.

I guess my point of sharing all this is to try to give other runners thinking about becoming a Mommy a realistic idea of the kinds of challenges they might be able to expect on this journey. Maybe you can handle them a little better than I have! 🙂 Or if you are currently pregnant and struggling with all these new challenges, maybe you won’t feel quite so alone after hearing about someone else’s struggles.

And if you’re not pregnant, but you know a runner who is… please go give her a big high five and let her know how proud you are of her. The further I get in this journey, the more meaningful little words of encouragement from my running friends are. (Don’t be surprised if that pregnant runner cries when you give her a high five, though… these hormones are seriously no joke!)

On the outside, it looks like us pregnant runners are getting slower and more out of shape. We’re probably running fewer days and less miles. But on the inside, we are working harder than we’ve ever worked in a training cycle before. We’re still getting out there and putting in the work even though our paces are getting progressively slower instead of faster. Even though each run is feeling harder instead of easier. As we watch our friends achieve new PR’s, we wonder how long it will be before we can even think about being in that kind of shape again. We wonder when our bodies will be ready to really train for a big race again.

But this training, as difficult as it is for me physically and mentally, will be so worth it in about 4 months. I have to remember that the goal race I’m training for is VERY different from any I have run in the past, so it makes sense that my training would look very different too. The race I’m talking about is, of course, the marathon of labor. It’s a funny race – I don’t know what day or what time it will start, how many hours it will take, or how painful I can expect it to be… although I know for certain it will be the hardest race of my life. All I can do is keep training for it the best I can, staying active to keep me and my little girl healthy so we will be ready for that most special of race days! And that will be worth every bite of humble pie that I have to eat between now and then. 🙂

28828259_1672518539494004_138118737932159321_o
One of my favorite pictures captured of me and my little running buddy so far.  22 weeks along, and giving our best effort at a warm, humid 5k! 

Coming up soon… a recap of some recent races since Run The Line. Most have not been super fast, but they HAVE been super fun and memorable in other ways! 🙂

Run the Line Half Marathon (17 weeks pregnant)

When you first start running (or when you first implement a nutrition system that better supports your running), you improve quickly. For awhile, it seems that every race is a new PR. And it feels really good, racing against that previous version of yourself and beating her.

But there will come a time when your body physically cannot match those past performances, even when you’re putting your whole heart into the race. Maybe you’re coming back from an injury, and your body has not yet had time to build back up to its previous fitness. Maybe you’re getting older. Or maybe, as in my case, you’re pregnant, and carrying 20+ extra pounds compared to when you were at your leanest racing weight. At times like these, you have to find other things to celebrate about racing besides new PR’s… or age group awards… or other competitive, performance-based accomplishments that may have motivated you in the past.

Have you ever seen one of those motivational images that say something along the lines of, “It’s not about beating the other runners in the race… it’s about beating the person you were yesterday?” That’s the attitude I’ve taken with my own running for a long time. But only recently have I learned that sometimes, comparing myself to who I used to be can be just as harmful as comparing myself to another runner. You see, I’m NOT the person I was a year ago. I’m a person who has sustained overtraining injuries, recovered from them, and hopefully come out from the experience a little wiser. I’m a person whose legs are now carrying not one human being, but two. When this baby comes out, I’ll have a brand new postpartum body to get used to. It’s silly to expect this brand new version of Sara to do things exactly the same way as the old version of Sara did. And if I don’t change my habit of celebrating only when I beat a previous version of me, I’m going to miss out on the joy of a lot of really good performances with the body I have right now.

As I said, it’s taken me awhile to learn to appreciate my current body and its abilities. I mentioned in my last blog post that I’ve run a few half marathons since coming back from my injury, but they weren’t PR’s. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I set out in those races at a quick, hopeful pace. Maybe I would be able to pick it up at the end and celebrate a new personal best. But those races fell apart in the later miles. I was making the rookie mistake of starting faster than my current fitness could sustain, and I crossed those finish lines feeling tired and defeated instead of victorious.

Run The Line half marathon was different. It had been a couple months (and quite a few pounds of baby weight) since I’d run a half marathon, so I was finally able to let go of any expectations on how I should perform. My amazing coach, Tia, sent me a pace plan custom made for where I currently was at in my pregnancy. And my only goal was to follow THAT pace plan as closely as I could. Was it anywhere close to the paces I was capable of running this time last year, or even a few months ago? No. But was I still planning to celebrate if I stayed within those targets and finished strong? You bet I was!

The morning of the race was chilly and overcast, with temperatures in the 40’s and a chance of rain. Perfect running weather. Josh and I arrived at the start line about 30 minutes before the race start, which gave me time to jog a couple miles and warm up, weaving up and down the sidewalks and little side streets of downtown Texarkana. I saw Tia warming up too, and we smiled and waved at each other. I also got to say hello to lots of friends from the Conway Running Club – there were lots of us here since the race is part of the Arkansas Grand Prix series.

Soon the race was about to start. I made sure to pause my warm up long enough to take a spot in the porta potty lines, because, well, you really don’t want to miss that opportunity when you’re pregnant AND about to run a half marathon!

I took my place at the starting line. Runners around me were shivering, but I felt pretty comfortable thanks to my warm up. We stood and listened to an instrumental version of the National Anthem. And then came the shotgun start! Off we went. I felt like I was running a conservative pace, but I checked my watch just to be sure, and was surprised to see that I was going significantly faster than my goal pace for the first 2 miles. So I forced myself to slow it down. I had nothing to prove today; I just wanted to find a good race rhythm for me and my baby girl and cross that finish line strong.

2607_VG6486874C00-0
Setting off from the start line!

After a couple miles, I found that I felt really good on the slower end of my target pace range. The course had some challenging hills and lots of tight twists and turns, but I felt strong. I focused on keeping a challenging but sustainable rhythm, relaxing my upper body and letting my core and legs do the work.

2607_VG6486874C00-2
Part of the race was on roads, and part was on some pretty bike trails. 
2607_VG6486874C00-3
There were some rough bits of pavement where I had to watch my step, and some deep puddles I had to splash through thanks to last night’s rain. They just added to the fun and challenge of the course! 

It was a fun course, weaving back and forth on the border between Texas and Arkansas.  The rain held off, and the weather stayed perfect for racing – I never felt too hot or too cold. I stopped and walked at the aid stations every couple miles to sip on some fluids. My favorite part of this race was feeling little baby kicks along the way, reminding me that I wasn’t the only one running! It’s cool thinking that running is something special my little one and I have shared together ever since she was conceived. I think she enjoyed this race too!

2607_VG6486874C00-4
Enjoying a more open stretch of road on the course!

The ideal way to finish a half marathon race is to pick up the pace a little bit for the final 3 miles, finishing with a strong negative split. I haven’t managed to do this since coming back from my injury. In fact, in my last couple half marathons the opposite happened — I started really struggling after mile 8 or so, and despite giving those final miles the hardest effort I felt capable of, they ended up being my slowest miles of the races instead of my fastest.

But this time, I got all the way to the mile 10 marker and still felt strong. I couldn’t quite push myself to go any faster, but I was able to sustain the steady pace I’d managed for the first 10 miles of the race. It was hard; I always have to dig deep for the last little stretch of a race. But it felt good. I focused on giving each mile my best effort, not worrying about the miles behind me or the miles to come. The volunteers and spectators cheering me on were a great distraction. My favorite was a little boy who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, standing on the edge of the street with his mama and giving all the runners high fives.

Soon that finish line was in sight, and I gave as strong a finishing kick as I could manage. My time was nothing special. I’ve run many half marathons faster (and some slower back in my early running days before I had my nutrition figured out.) I placed solidly in the middle of my age group.

And you know what? I was happy! I had the biggest smile on my face when I crossed that finish line. I was proud of myself for accomplishing the goal I’d set out to accomplish. I was proud of this body for doing something it had never done before – racing a solid half marathon while carrying more pounds than it ever has before, including a very precious 5.9 ounces representing my daughter tucked cozily inside her growing baby hotel.

2607_VG6486874C00-1
Finishing with a smile that says it all! 

One day I hope to run another PR in the half marathon… maybe place first in my age group… maybe even win! One day I still hope to run a Boston qualifying time in the marathon. But will any of those finish lines be MORE special than the one I crossed today? I have a hard time imagining that they will. Because through my injuries, and through this pregnancy, I’ve learned that racing is about so much more than the numbers on the clock when you cross the finish line. It’s about all the memories you make and challenges that you overcome in the miles leading up to that moment. And getting to carry MY DAUGHTER (it still feels unreal saying that!) every step of a half marathon is a very special experience indeed!

Wherever you are in your running journey, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for. And finding those reasons to celebrate and be proud of yourself is a whole lot more fun than playing the comparison game and going home depressed when a race turned out differently than you hoped. I don’t know exactly what to expect with my running over the next several months. Honestly, it makes me laugh to think of waddling through a race course late this spring with the equivalent of a bowling ball under my shirt! But I’m looking forward to the adventure, and to finding lots more things to celebrate and be joyful about along the way.

Oh, Baby… Another Plot Twist!

I have some exciting news to share in this entry! A few months ago, I had to put my Boston qualifying goals on the back burner due to a tibial stress fracture. I took six weeks completely off running and have been gradually building my fitness back up since that time. After my comeback triathlon which I blogged about at the end of the summer, I trained consistently and raced three 5k’s, a 10k, two half marathons, and a one hour track race (a unique experience where you run as many laps as you can in one hour around a standard quarter mile track.)

You’ll notice that even though it has been over seven months since my injury, there still aren’t any marathons on that list of races. And though I gave all these shorter races a strong effort, none of them were PR’s. You see, in November, I had another little plot twist that completely changed my running plans for the upcoming year. This time, it wasn’t an injury… but a much happier surprise of a positive pregnancy test!

whiterivermarathon.jpg
White River Half Marathon with Charlie and Jessica – 4 weeks pregnant! They were two of the very first people to hear my big news!

I decided when I found out that I was pregnant that I would continue to run for as long as I could. But marathon training would again have to take its place on the back burner. Could I physically build back up to a marathon distance while pregnant? Sure, people have done it. But for me personally, I couldn’t see the benefit of pushing my body so hard when it is already devoting so many resources towards growing a human life. There will be time for more marathons after this baby comes. Until then, my primary goal will be to keep me and my little running partner healthy.

turkeytrot
Turkey Trot 5k – almost 5 weeks pregnant! It was really fun winning this small race with my tiny little secret turkey in the oven!

I have dreamed of having a baby of my own for as long as I can remember. And my husband and I are absolutely thrilled to be welcoming this little one into our family. But being pregnant has not been without its challenges.

The first challenge came in the form of first trimester morning sickness. I was fortunate to never actually lose my breakfast. But I suffered constant nausea. I tried all the remedies in the book… ginger, special morning sickness candies, acupressure bands, you name it. But the only thing that really gave me relief was to constantly munch on carbs. I couldn’t stand the thought of my usual protein shakes and balanced meals that have helped me stay lean and healthy for so long. More often than not, dinner was several slices of cheese pizza.

636544136824545227
CASA Half Marathon at 7 weeks pregnant! The fatigue and nausea were really starting to hit me by this point, and it wasn’t my best race. But I’m still so thankful that baby and I had the health and strength to complete it!

So the pounds started packing on, earlier than they’re really supposed to in a pregnancy. Many mornings, it was really hard to get out the door for a run. But I kept doing the best I could, working in a healthy meal here and there when I could stomach it, still logging around 30 miles a week, even powering through my speed workouts and long runs. Strangely enough, even though they were hard, my daily runs were the times that I felt the most normal. I loved the feeling of strength and health that running gave me, a short time of relief from the nausea and exhaustion that were my constant companions the rest of the day.

By the time I reached this second trimester, the nausea started to ease, and I gratefully began to make healthier eating choices again. But now, I barely recognized myself in pictures. There was the beginning of a cute little baby bump that I expected to see… but there was also a lot of extra weight in other places: boobs, butt, thighs. I can’t remember the last time I saw myself looking so out of shape.

onehourtrackrun
One Hour Track run at 13 weeks pregnant! By this point, I was really starting to notice the weight gain throwing off my balance a bit and making my legs much more tired and heavy than usual. But baby and I found the right pace and rhythm for us, and we still had a very good race!

And it made me a lot more upset than I’d like to admit. I have a long history of struggling with body image issues. In high school, I developed an eating disorder and lost my menstrual cycle for over a year. (I actually wondered back then if this would affect my ability to get pregnant in the future… and I’m so grateful that it didn’t.) I’ve come a long way since then in learning how to appreciate and care for my body instead of deprive it, but it’s still hard sometimes not to measure my self worth by what I look like. The media doesn’t help. Even when you’re pregnant, you’re bombarded with unrealistic images of what an ultra-fit, “bump only” pregnancy is supposed to look like… and let me tell you, those images don’t look anything like me! I knew I hadn’t had the greatest diet over the past couple months, but I HAD worked really hard to stay on top of my running. And it didn’t seem fair that the physical evidence of all my hard-earned training was slowly disappearing behind new layers of fat.

IMG_2005
Valentine’s Day 5k at 16 weeks pregnant – no hiding that baby bump now!

But here’s the thing. Getting to carry a child is a BLESSING. A blessing so much bigger than setting PR’s or having a “perfect” body. I have so many close friends and family members who have longed to have a baby and can’t… or who have gotten pregnant, only to experience the heartbreak of miscarriage. So many people would give anything for the privilege which I now have, extra layers of fluff and all.

 

Learning to love and be proud of this body that is doing so many amazing things!

 

The upcoming months will be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. And I’ll never have this exact experience again. It’s a special time of making once-in-a-lifetime memories with our unborn child. And I don’t want to waste another moment of this amazing time of pregnancy worrying about trivial things such as how much weight I’m gaining, how fast I’m running, and what other people may be thinking about my appearance during these fleeting few months of my life.

Pregnancy is hard… harder than I thought it would be. My emotions are at an all time high with these raging hormones. When my identity has become so closely tied with my athleticism, it’s hard not to worry about the future. Will I be able to trim back down after the baby? Will I ever be as fast as I was before? Will Boston always be a distant dream?

But worrying about the future accomplishes nothing; it simply robs you of the joy of today. So my goal for the upcoming months is to choose to live in joy and gratitude for what I have right now. It’s actually a relief when you realize that you truly have very little control over the changes your body is undergoing to support this little baby growing inside you. You simply have to relax, make the best decisions you can TODAY to keep the two of you healthy, and trust God with all the worries of tomorrow.

So here’s to a healthy and joyful pregnancy for me and my precious little running buddy, whatever that happens to look like on the outside! I plan to continue to share my experience as a pregnant runner as the months go on. And I hope that by being real about my own pregnancy, maybe I can be an encouragement to some other amazing mamas-to-be out there.

It really is incredible what our bodies can do… the brand new challenges they can rise to, unlike anything they’ve ever done before. Sometimes that challenge is a marathon, and sometimes it’s growing a human life. I didn’t think anything could be as hard as running a marathon, but I stand corrected! I have so much admiration for all the amazing women who have run this race of motherhood before me. It’s a tough course with lots of ups and downs, and sometimes it scares me to death thinking about all the challenges I have yet to face before reaching the finish line (or is it really just the starting line?) in July. But the two of us are going to make it… one mile at a time!

A Summer of Recovery… and my first Tri!

9/2/17

Ever since I was a teenager, when I used to run and bike to school with my dad, and swim laps in the pool in between classes, I always thought it would be really cool to run a triathlon someday. But it just never happened… until today!

My friends Lindsey and Emily talked me into it. I met Lindsey when she adopted one of our foster kittens who we’d been spreading the word about on Facebook. I was in vet school at the time, and struggling to maintain any kind of consistent exercise regimen.

10499496_807759092589199_7913672064442556033_o
Kira, the cute little rescue kitten who helped me make a great new friend!

I came to find out that Lindsey is an avid cyclist, who inspired me to take up cycling again myself! Soon, I had done several bike rides with her and her friends. And this year, she told me about this wonderful triathlon she and her friends were training for. They had done it last year, and since I was biking and running anyway, I should do it!

11078156_10206886099340485_7367704502827553521_n
My first ride with Lindsey and friends!

Well, over the summer, I ended up doing a lot of cross training anyway. I’ve been recovering from a tibial stress fracture sustained during the Revel Rockies marathon. I knew I was injured going into that race, and choosing to race made it even worse. I’m used to bouncing back after a marathon and getting back into my normal routine a couple weeks later… but this time, when I tried to run, my legs physically would not let me do it. It wasn’t just the normal running pain that you can push through. When I tried to run, my muscles and bones literally failed me, and all I could manage was a slow, awkward shuffle that didn’t even resemble running. It was a very humbling experience after all the fast PR’s that I’d set earlier in the year.

Before this experience, I remember hearing fellow runners talk about their injuries and how depressed they were over them, and I thought to myself, “It’s really not that bad! Our bodies heal. Just a few weeks of rest, and you’ll be back stronger than ever.” But it’s not that simple. When you sustain an injury like this that keeps you from doing what you love, you really go through a grieving process. I looked up the 5 stages of grief, and I went through all of them:

  • Denial that I was injured. “This is just normal muscle tightness and soreness… I’m sure it will go away during the taper!”
  • Anger that I couldn’t do what knew I should be capable of doing. “This training cycle was going so well. I nailed every workout leading up to this injury. I should have been able to get this BQ, and everything has fallen apart.”
  • Bargaining. “Maybe if I keep my running really light for the last couple of weeks leading up to the marathon, I can still push through and have a good race.”
  • Depression as I realized that this activity that brings me so much joy, that I’d put so much work into over the past few years, had been abruptly taken away from me, and there was nothing I could do about it.
  • Acceptance. “Wait… there IS something I can do about it. I can’t run right now, but what CAN I do? It doesn’t hurt to walk… or bike… or swim… maybe I can give yoga a try…”

And so the summer went by. “You can’t run for at least 6 weeks,” is what my doctor told me. It felt like much longer than that. But the time went by, and I did what I could on the bike and in the pool.

Finally the 6 weeks was up, and I began using a walk/run plan recommended by my coach to gradually start easing back into running again. It was very humbling. My speed and endurance that I’d spent so long building up were greatly decreased. I didn’t just “bounce back” like I assumed would happen with my injured running friends who were once telling me about their woes. Nope, despite the cross training, getting back into running has been hard work. 2-mile runs left me with muscle soreness as if I’d never been a runner before. At the time of this writing, my longest run since the injury has been 5 miles, a distance I once breezed through on my easy days of running, but that I’ve now had to slowly build back up to. There is nothing easy about being injured, or about the slow process of building back up to where you were even after your injury is healed and you’re cleared to run.

Around the time I was starting to run again, I received a message from Emily reminding me about this triathlon, and asking if I was planning to do it. Well… I mean, I HAD been doing some swimming and biking over the summer. And the running part was only a 5k. I wasn’t kidding myself that I would be able to do it fast, but surely I could at least complete it. And it might be a fun way to celebrate my recovery and make something positive out of all the non-running activities I’d been doing over the summer to keep from going crazy.

So I signed up. And last night, after Joshua got off work, he and I made the trek up to Bentonville. I love going to races with him. It means so much having him there cheering me on, and it’s always fun having a little date night at the local restaurants and hotels!

This was definitely the least prepared I’ve ever felt for a race. Yes, I’d done a little biking and swimming… but I had certainly not done any formal training for a triathlon. And what were all these numbers in my bag?! I was used to having one bib pinned to my tank top… where was I supposed to put all these stickers? And I had to go find someone to write numbers on my body too? And where was I supposed to put my bike and all the stuff I would need for transitions? How do I put on this swim cap? Where was the start line even…? I hope I didn’t look as overwhelmed and discombobulated as I felt with so many seasoned triathletes around me. I was very relieved to see a familiar face – Cassie, who also rides with Lindsey and Emily. She helped me figure out what all those numbers in my race packet were for, and patiently answered a bunch of other silly questions that I had.

The race start was VERY different than the usual anthem and “ready, set, go!” that I’m used to at running races. We started with the swim segment which was in a pool. We lined up according to our expected paces. (I had no clue what my expected pace was, so I stayed close to my friends.) Each athlete got in the pool one at a time, with 10 seconds between them.. We were supposed to swim to the end of the pool, go under the rope separating the lanes, and swim back in the next lane, repeating this zig-zag pattern all the way across the pool. We stood in line a long time waiting for our turn, and I was starting to shiver in the chilly morning. Finally it was my turn, and I jumped into the pool.  

Sprint - Megan0188.jpg
The race begins!

I’ve always enjoyed swimming laps, finding it relaxing to fall into a rhythm, breathing easily on every third stroke. But today was different. I don’t know if it was adrenaline or what. But I felt like I was hyperventilating, and trying to breathe on every third stroke just wasn’t working for my oxygen needs. I started to panic and swallow water. I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs. A few times, I had to roll over on my back and just breathe, regathering myself before I flipped back over to try again. I expected to be slow, but I never expected this. I am not a person who is prone to panic attacks, and this caught me completely off guard. Even Joshua told me afterwards that he was worried about me, watching me resort to a backstroke when he knows that I am usually a strong swimmer.

I was very relieved when the swim was finally over and I could get started on the bike ride. This was something I’d done before in a race setting… something I was comfortable with. It was hard getting my wet feet into my shoes. But I finally wiggled them on, jogged my bike out of the transition area, and hopped on.

The bike ride consisted of 4 laps around a loop course that added up to a little over 15 miles. I enjoyed it. There was a big hill or two, but after the first time around the loop, I knew when to expect them. The temperature was perfect for riding and the breeze quickly dried me off.

Sprint - Sergio0394-X3
The bike course was pretty fast, except for this hill that we had to climb four times!
Sprint - Sergio0322-X3
Riding felt so good after that terrible swim!

Then it was back to transition. Cassie and I came in at the same time. She was off running before me, as I had issues getting my wet feet into my running shoes. I knew running right off the bike would be hard, but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in my performance. I had run a 7:10/mi average pace at the Glo Run 5k in April, and today I couldn’t even get under an 8:00/mi pace. Yes, I’d been injured and hadn’t done any speed work in a long time… yes, I just got off a bike… yes, a pace in the low 8:00’s is still pretty good for me. But it was still humbling realizing that this was my limit today. Oh well… I signed up for this triathlon with a plan to have fun and go with the flow, so I would do just that. I relaxed a little and enjoyed the pretty course through a park.

Sprint - Megan0589.jpg
The run! There was something comforting making it to the part of the race that felt the most familiar.

When I got to the finish line, Joshua was there cheering for me. He’d always been waiting for me at the transition area too. It was so wonderful seeing him and feeling his support during every stage of this race. Cassie was already there, too. She had flown through the last 5k, getting first place in the master’s category! Lindsey and Emily were right behind us, and we enjoyed celebrating together afterwards with yummy post-race food. (My favorite were the Yasso bars… frozen greek yogurt that tastes just like ice cream!)

Trifest 4x6 Sprint948
Finish line smile! I don’t remember even noticing the photographer.

Were there things I could have done better in this race? Yes. I could have made the commitment to sign up earlier, and design a training plan specifically to prepare me for this race instead of doing a bike ride here and a swim there whenever I felt like it. I could definitely have focused on better nutrition in the days leading up to the race… I overindulged substantially on Thursday at the party my coworkers threw me for my last day of work at that clinic. In the pool, I feel like I would have done much better if I’d eased into my stroke instead of trying to go fast from the beginning. I’ll have to experiment with that.

But overall, it was a great first triathlon. Any day that you finish a race is a good one. And it’s especially wonderful when you have friends there to cheer on and visit with. I even saw Ben, who I ran with in the Joplin Marathon over a year ago. (Ironically, that was his first marathon… just as this was my first triathlon!)

So I’m not going to dwell on the things that went wrong. Today, I’m choosing to focus on all the things I have to celebrate. This amazing body that God has blessed me with, capable of so much more than I give it credit for. The healing and recovery He is providing, allowing me to build slowly back up to where I was. The valuable lessons I’ve learned through this process of injury and recovery. He works through everything that happens in our lives, and today I’m thankful for His gift of letting me complete this race. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Revel Rockies Marathon 2017

The journey leading up to this marathon was a roller coaster. There were PR’s in shorter distances that made me wonder if I might be able to qualify for Boston during this race. And there were struggles with injury, and some absolutely awful runs that made me wonder if I would be able to complete the race at all.

I signed up for Revel Rockies in January, before I’d even run my PR at Mississippi River. The race website promised beautiful scenery and a smooth downhill grade throughout the course, making it a great opportunity for runners to PR or BQ. And I had family in Denver who I hadn’t seen in years, so it would be a great opportunity to have a fun little vacation and visit them.

In the coming months, I continued training according to the plans Tia sent me each week. There were challenging speed workouts every Tuesday, long runs on the weekends, and easy days to bring my total weekly distance into the 35-45 mile range.

With a busy work schedule, it was sometimes very challenging to get these workouts in. I couldn’t have done it without Joshua’s support. He put up with many early bedtimes and early mornings. Once, he drove me to a hill at 4:00am so I could get in a set of hill repeats before work. Another morning, he came and picked me up when I lost track of my distance during an out-and-back tempo workout, leaving me two miles away from home when I finished! One Friday evening, he drove me to the trail for an evening 16-miler since I couldn’t fit it in any other time that week, and he waited for me in the parking lot the whole time, sending me encouraging texts when it got tough. Serious marathon training requires just as much sacrifice from family members as it does from runners, and I am so blessed to have a husband who gladly makes those sacrifices to support me in my goals.

Training went really well for most of the cycle. The workouts continued to challenge me, but I got through them. I even ran a few races, setting new PR’s in my 2-mile, 5k, and half marathon distances. I was especially excited about the half, which I ran on a hilly course in Jonesboro at an 8:07/mile average pace – faster than the pace I would need to maintain in a marathon to qualify for Boston! If I could do it for a half marathon distance, maybe with a little more time and training, I could do it for a marathon distance as well.

But then, about a month before the marathon, my workouts began to fall flat. My legs were not recovering as well as usual, and I began to have a persistent tightness and pain in my right calf. I kept hoping it would go away after a couple easy days, but it didn’t. Every time I ran long or did speed work, it felt worse.

After an awful week of training in which all of my runs started as a slow, painful shuffle, and I didn’t hit anywhere close to target pace on my speed workout or long run, I finally had to accept that maybe I had injured myself. Even walking was painful, and stairs were absolutely miserable. I emailed Tia to tell her what was going on, and we cut way back on my training, hoping my body would be able to recover in time for the marathon.

This was a very low point for me emotionally and physically. I had put my whole heart into training all year, my hopes high for the upcoming race. Now, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to finish it at all, much less set a new PR or BQ.

But eventually I realized that no good would come from me worrying about things outside my control. I would focus on the things I could do to support my recovery – rest, nutrition, stretching, foam rolling, a massage, KT tape – and we would just see what happened on race day. I was thankful to have a week in Colorado with my aunt and uncle to adjust to the altitude. Joshua arrived in the middle of the week, and exploring Denver and the surrounding mountains together was a pleasant distraction from worrying about my injuries.

IMG_2329.JPG
At the top of Mount Evans with Joshua the day before the race!

Ready or not, race day came. My legs still were not working as well as they had pre-injury, but they were better. My plan was to take one mile at a time and do my best.

The night before the race, I stayed with Stacy, a fellow Marathon Maniac. She was hosting several other Maniacs as well. I was thankful for the chance to carpool in the morning, sparing my family the 3:00am drive to catch the bus to the top of the mountain! When I arrived at 8:00pm, most of the other runners had already gone to bed. I soon followed their example, although it was difficult to fall asleep with my pre-race nervousness.

In the wee hours of the morning when we came downstairs for breakfast, I was delighted to see a familiar face – Angie, who had paced me during my second marathon, was staying at Stacy’s house as well! After a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, we piled into our cars to head to the bus area. It was early, but we were all too excited to be sleepy. We chatted and exchanged running stories throughout the drive.

When we got to the bus stop, we found Jessica, and got a seat together at the back of the bus. Jessica and I have very similar goals of qualifying for Boston, and we’d been looking forward to this doing this race together all year. Jessica had even driven up to Arkansas three weeks earlier so we could get in a long downhill training run at Mount Magazine. It was great getting to catch up on the bus ride! A bright full moon lit our way as we rode up the mountain, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon when we arrived at the mountaintop.

1-bus
Laura, Angie, Jessica and me in the bus on the way up the mountain!

At over 10,000 feet elevation, it was COLD. There were still piles of snow along the edges of the road. I had forgotten to bring my emergency blanket that we’d been provided in our race bags, and was very thankful when another runner offered me his. We still had an hour before the race started, so Jessica and I found a comfy spot to sit down and wrap ourselves tightly in our crinkly mylar blankets, laughing about how we all looked like cold pieces of trash on the side of the road.

2-trash
It was so cold! I have no idea who the runner was who gave me his blanket, but I don’t know what I would have done without him!

Soon enough, it was time to gather at the start line. We stopped for a quick Marathon Maniacs picture on the way. It was hard leaving our blankets behind!

3-maniacs
Maniacs at the top of the mountain!

And then, we were off! Usually when I start a marathon, I have to be careful that I don’t go out too fast. Today, my stiff legs didn’t give me any choice but to start slow, other runners speeding past me.

This wouldn’t be the perfect race that I’d dreamed about when I signed up six months ago. I could have allowed myself to become discouraged, but I decided that I would rather face the upcoming miles with gratitude. Gratitude that I had made it to the start line at all. Gratitude for each mile that God allowed me to complete without severe pain or injury. Gratitude for the beautiful scenery surrounding me. Gratitude for all the support from family and friends who were cheering me on no matter what.

I gradually eased into the quickest rhythm that I thought I would be able to sustain over the upcoming miles. For the past several weeks, I had struggled to maintain even a 10:00 pace on my training runs. I was pleasantly surprised to look down at my watch and see that I was pacing around 8:40… the same pace I’d run the Mississippi River Marathon! There were still many miles to go, and I knew there was no guarantee that I would be able to sustain this pace if my injuries started flaring up. But I was thankful for that one good mile. I decided that for this race, as the miles ticked by, I would whisper a little prayer of gratitude for each mile that I completed. “Thank you for letting me get through that first mile with so little pain. Thank you for that strong second mile. Thank you for that beautiful sunrise during the third mile…”

5852bd328b3293cccaafcd05590519b38d378ac5359b823c3721de089c7686d3.jpg
Smiling for the photographer early in the race!
04137618f7c23a98064b9f358e101fbd7f3a2c8c44ca89ccc745dec1f276780e.jpg
The overcast skies and cool temperatures early in the race made for perfect running weather!

It was not pain free. Downhill races pound your legs in ways you can’t understand if you’ve never run one, and I started this one with legs that were already bothering me. But the pain was manageable, and I kept on moving.

This was the first time I’d run a marathon without a hydration pack, so making sure I stayed hydrated at the water stops was a pleasant distraction. The first couple times, I tried to run and drink at the same time. But I ended up wearing more Powerade and water than I drank, so at the rest of the stops, I walked just long enough to gulp down my fluids and then took off running again. I didn’t lose as much time in those miles as I thought I would, and it was great being able to run without a bulky pack. I think I’ll continue to use this as my hydrating strategy.

I kept my splits fairly even until around mile 12. At this point in the race, there were several hills that we had to run up. Normally, a few hills in a race wouldn’t be an issue. But with the altitude, and the pounding on our legs from the previous downhill miles, these hills felt extra challenging. The sun was also coming out at this point, and it was starting to get hot. My pace was slowing down a little, but I kept a positive mindset and did my best. “Thank you for letting me get up that hill in mile 12. Thank you for helping me run strong through mile 13…”

078acee32c77dadeaeb56c823c58ebdd41d72c2484b544d7d1b0b3d95ed72be9
Things got more challenging when the sun came out and the weather started heating up!
5b96ba78769f89c3aeac20623c10c1e0eb20a4594eb87257fbbab9efbe36e5b0
Time for an Amped Fuel gel! I spaced these about an hour apart, and they really helped keep me going when I started to fatigue!

Around mile 14 was one of the best moments of this marathon. Cheering at the top of their lungs on the sidelines were my aunt, uncle, cousin, husband, and my MOM who had flown in late last night! This was the first time I’d seen her in months… and the first time I’d ever had one of my parents come to see me race. This special moment lifted my spirits through the coming miles. I couldn’t wait to see everyone again at the finish line!

At mile 20, things got challenging again. My stomach started acting up, forcing me to make a porta potty stop. I hate having to stop and use the bathroom during a race, but it couldn’t be helped. I made it as quick as possible, and then took off running again. During other races, I’ve allowed myself to get discouraged by moments like this. “This race is ruined. I’m out of my groove now, and I’ll never be able to get back on pace. Might as well enjoy walking some more before I start running again.”  This time, I made a conscious effort to stay positive, and decided to make this into a game. “Ok… I lost some time during that stop, but let’s see how quick I can make this mile in spite of it! My legs are still feeling pretty good, so let’s see what they can do!”

1eee410273d2c9db8fc397a67b0d6a8781954d049413881f46c41e03d279de28
Digging deep in the final miles of the race!

Our minds are powerful. And even though my last miles were slower than my first ones, they weren’t as slow as I thought they might be. My legs got a little tired and heavy towards the end, but I never hit the wall. Pain was there, but it was never more than I could endure. Honestly, I felt better right now than I’d felt during some of my training runs in the past few weeks. I knew that I could keep going.

A smile crossed my face around mile 22. That was when I realized that I was going to finish this race. Even if something awful happened, I could limp the rest of the way to the finish line if I needed to. But by the grace of God, I was still running! I wasn’t running fast enough to get a PR. But I was still running faster than I’d dared to hope after some of my discouraging training runs lately, and for that, I was thankful.

Another of my favorite moments of this race happened around mile 25.5. I was approaching a runner I thought I recognized… yes… that was Jessica! She had been far ahead of me for most of the race, but like me, she was struggling with the heat in these final miles. I forced my tired legs to catch up with her. In the months leading up to this race, we had encouraged each other, trained together, and now we would get to finish together! I couldn’t think of any way I would rather end this race.

e6873c8d4071266e9b87d74d546a8cf7fd6bf9f792eb61ce7c463436db22dde2
Loved getting to run the last little bit of the race with Jessica!

And before we knew it, the finish line was there in front of us. We were so happy and grateful to cross it! It was a PR for Jessica! And despite my injuries and porta-potty stop, I still managed to run it only four minutes slower than my PR!

0a157f4c8f5be0daf0f22de6afa95dfac41a7959ac99977aa2b04037d80331c7
The only thing better than crossing the finish line of a marathon is getting to share the experience with a friend!

I could barely walk, and the coming week would be the toughest recovery week that I’ve ever faced. But I was so grateful for this finish, and for the priceless memories that I got to make along the way.

Other races will always be waiting. And it will be really cool when I get that next PR, and when I finally qualify for Boston! But even if this race didn’t go exactly the way I hoped, it was still full of precious moments that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

19029180_10213443759196162_4863446480463598925_n
Hugging Joshua across the railings of the finisher’s chute. Couldn’t have done this without him!
18952963_10213443587951881_4576858651726140300_n
Jessica and me with our hard earned medals!
19059586_10213443715155061_3503078709239901365_n
Such a special experience getting to have my Mama here for a race!

Mississippi River Marathon (a.k.a. Lucky #13!)

My 13th marathon was different from all previous marathons I’ve run to date. It was very different in how I prepared for it, and I approached it with a different mindset than I have other marathons in the past.

I had lots of really great running adventures in 2016. Racing was my hobby, something I went out and did as many weekends as possible because it was fun! It was a great way to make friends and make memories. And I even improved some in my marathon time, just from racing frequently and maintaining a decent level of mileage between races.

Then the New Year came along. And New Years have a way of making you reflect on things you want to do a little differently. I started to wonder if I was really running to my full potential. My training lacked structure. Recently, between races, I was only doing a few short runs during the week. Every now and then I might throw in a few strides and call it “speed work.” I tried to do a little strength training now and then as well. But I had stopped seeing any really significant improvements in my marathon time since Oshkosh in April.

In my mind, I played around with different running goals for the New Year. Someday, I would really love to work on training for longer ultra-marathons. I have deeply enjoyed my recent trail running experiences, and have been so inspired by my friends who have completed ultra distances all the way up to 100-milers.

But another thing I would really love to do is qualify for Boston. And in order to do that, I would need to get a lot more  organized and intentional about my training. I would need to start doing things I’d never done before, like true speed workouts to improve my pace, and consistent strength and mobility training to keep my body balanced and help prevent injury.

I finally decided to postpone my goal of training for ultras, and pursue improvement in my road marathon time instead. With no background in track or cross country, I really didn’t know very much about the technical aspects of training to get faster. I needed a coach.

I started researching various coaches in the area. And then the thought occurred to me… why not send a message to Tia Stone and see if she had any recommendations? Tia is a very inspiring runner I’d been following on Strava for awhile. She is extremely fast, and has won overall female at many central Arkansas marathons, including 3 Bridges which I ran in December. And a fun little coincidence, she also happens to be a fellow Harding graduate! If anyone could give me a good recommendation on a coach who could help me my marathon performance, surely she could.

Tia responded with some very helpful information sharing her experiences with various coaches over the years. And I was thrilled to find out that she herself offered online coaching services! With my busy and often unpredictable schedule as a veterinarian, online coaching seemed like a good solution to give me some guidance to train properly, while still allowing some flexibility regarding when I squeezed those runs in.

So we got started the second week of January. Tia sent me a schedule with my workouts for the week, including target mileage and paces for various segments of those workouts, and I programmed them into my Garmin and did them. I’ll be honest, when I first saw some of my speed work assignments, I was terrified. Could I really maintain that fast of a pace over the prescribed distance?

But I decided to approach those workouts with a positive attitude and an open mind, embracing the challenges as opportunities to become a stronger runner and bring me closer to my goals, regardless of whether I executed the workout perfectly. And I was surprised to find that my body was actually capable of much more than I gave it credit for! Not every workout was perfect, but more often than not, I came much closer to accomplishing the goal of the run than I thought I would.

Four weeks of this training went by before it was time to start tapering for the Mississippi River Marathon, a point-to-point race that starts in Lake Village, Arkansas, and ends in Greenville, Mississippi. I really didn’t expect four weeks of coaching to make much of a difference in my performance. Surely it would take at least a few months for my body to adapt and realize the benefits of the speed workouts I’d been doing. But maybe with this flat course in the Mississippi Delta, I could at least run a little faster than my PR of 3:57:56 on the hilly course of the Tyler Rose Marathon.

A few days before the race, Tia sent me an e-mail with a detailed pacing strategy for the race, customized for the expected warm weather. She thought I could run between a 3:49 – 3:53. This seemed a little fast to me, but I planned to approach this race just like I’d approached all the previous workouts she’d sent me: I would focus only on one mile at a time. I would celebrate each beep of my Garmin that announced I ran that single mile at target pace. I would not waste any time worrying about the previous miles or what might happen in the miles that lay ahead. I would give each mile my best effort, and if I slowed down in the later miles, well… this race would still be a valuable learning experience!

Staying busy at work helped keep me from getting too nervous the Friday before the race. I finally managed to get out of the clinic around 6pm, and immediately left for the 2.5 hour drive to Greenville. The race expo would close at 8pm, but thankfully Cate and Heather (who were running the half tomorrow and actually had been the ones who suggested this race to me!) had already arrived in Greenville and offered to pick up my packet for me. So I relaxed and enjoyed the drive, listening to audiobooks and enjoying some breathtaking views of a full snow moon reflecting on Lake Chicot. My heart raced a little faster as I neared Greenville and started seeing mile markers and porta potties on the side of the road all ready for the race tomorrow!

I met Cate and Heather at a little Italian restaurant called Lillo’s, which has been there for over 60 years! The spaghetti, eggplant parmesan, and salad were delicious after the long drive. After we finished dinner, we headed to the hotel for an early bedtime. Tomorrow morning, we would get up early to meet the buses which would be leaving promptly at 6:30 to bring us to our respective start lines. I spent the last few minutes of the evening reading over Tia’s e-mail again, committing the pacing strategy to memory. It felt strange actually having a strategy for my race. So many times in the past, I’d gone to bed the night before a marathon with nothing more than a vague plan to give it my best effort and enjoy myself!

I slept surprisingly well despite my pre-race jitters, and started the morning with some coffee, a small bowl of oatmeal from the continental breakfast that the hotel had set out early for the runners, and my usual IsaLean shake and pre-workout supplements. Soon it was time to head out. I carpooled with Cate and Heather, and we got a quick picture together before parting ways and loading our respective buses.

16708448_1744665685559121_1836685359019122991_n
Quick group picture before loading our buses!

The bus ride reminded me a lot of a very similar ride to the start line of the Hotter than Hades half marathon that I ran a couple years ago. This race had taken place in Leland, MS, just a few miles from where we were now. The scenery was very similar – perfectly flat fields as far as the eye could see. I enjoyed watching the sunrise out the window and chatting some some fellow runners.

1bus
The bus ride to the start line! 
2sun
Beautiful Mississippi sunrise. My phone camera didn’t do it justice. 

Finally the bus dropped us off at the start area. The morning air was chilly, and I was happy to see the fires that had been set up for us runners to warm ourselves. I was less happy to see the long line in front of the porta-potties, which was not moving nearly fast enough for us all to get a chance to use them before it was time for the race to start. I finally gave up and found some bushes which served my pre-race needs well enough.

4fire
This start area reminded me so much of the one at Hotter than Hades. Except that it was actually kind of chilly this morning, so we had little campfires to keep us warm! 
3line
My only complaint about this race was that they needed more porta potties at the start line. (But at least now I can say that I got to stand in a porta potty line with the famous Larry Macon in the yellow jacket, a Marathon Maniac legend who has run over 1600 marathons and counting!)

Soon it was time to assemble at the start line. I was excited to see Amanda and Jackie, two fellow runners from Conway! Their pace goals were very similar to my own. Maybe we would end up running together for some of the race.

Right before the race start, I found a tree to hold onto and did some leg swings, partly to loosen up my muscles and partly just to get rid of some nervous energy. I really wasn’t sure if I could succeed in my goals for the miles that lay ahead. But I would certainly give it my best effort.

dsc_5204
Ready to go at the start line.

Finally, the clock hit 8:00, and we were off. The first two miles are a warmup, I kept repeating to myself, remembering the advice in Tia’s e-mail. Let those other runners go ahead, and don’t go faster than target pace. I checked my watch often to make sure I wasn’t going out too fast, a mistake that I have payed for more than once in previous races.

Those first two miles breezed by, and it was time to pick up the pace a bit and settle into marathon rhythm for miles 3-21. It was warm and humid, and there was a strong headwind. I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to maintain this pace. But I was pretty sure I could keep it up for one mile. I focused hard on keeping my upper body as relaxed as possible, channeling my energy to my legs. Whenever I could, I tried to stay close to other runners to help block the wind. That one mile passed by… and another… and another. I celebrated each beep of my Garmin which told me that I had stayed on target pace.

dsc_5362
Settling into my pace in the early miles. I enjoyed the views of Lake Chicot off to our left. 

The course was extremely flat, with no trees to provide shade or break the wind. I was thankful for the cloud cover in the early miles of the race. I might have found the scenery boring if I was running this race purely for recreation. But the long, straight stretches of road actually lent themselves well to settling into my goal rhythm. The miles kept ticking by, and so far, I was still on target.

Around mile 10, the course curved, and the headwind began to turn into a tailwind. I was very thankful for this little blessing, especially since the one climb of the race – the bridge over the Mississippi River – was coming up in a couple more miles.

The climb up the bridge wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. The tailwind definitely helped. I ran near the edge so I could enjoy the view.

asr_6997
Made it up the bridge!

Coming down the other side of the bridge, I started to feel a blister developing on the ball of my foot. It was annoying, but nothing I couldn’t deal with. I was happy that the rest of me was still feeling pretty good.

The miles kept ticking by. And the sun also kept getting higher, and the weather hotter. I forced myself to keep my mindset positive, focusing only on one mile at a time. I’d run good races in warm weather before. I could do this for at least one more mile.

Mile 21 was when things really started to get hard. This was the point at which Tia had told me to give it everything I had left. And I did. It took every bit of my effort and focus to get through those last 5 miles. The end of a marathon is never a walk in the park, but the escalating heat made this especially difficult.

unnamed
Working hard to stay focused in the late miles. 

I was pouring sweat at this point, and was very thankful for the aid stations placed only a mile apart. I still haven’t perfected the art of drinking those little cups of water on the run without making a huge mess, but honestly I was just as glad to splash the water on my hot face as I was to drink it.

This was seriously hard, and the miles seemed to stretch on forever. All I wanted to do was stop and walk, as many runners around me were doing. But I was supposed to be leaving everything I had on the course… and maybe I could do that for just one more mile… and one more mile… and one more mile. God, please give these legs strength for just one more mile…

Finally I could see the finish line… at the end of a very long, straight stretch of road which felt like it was taking absolutely forever to run! I knew I’d given it all I had by how difficult it was to work up my finish line sprint the last couple tenths of a mile.

unnamed-1
I’ve never been more ready to cross a finish line! 

Oh, it felt so good to finally cross that finish line! And I couldn’t believe what the clock said. 3:48:46! This was over nine minutes faster than my previous PR at Tyler Rose, and 14 seconds faster than the low end of that 3:49-3:53 that I thought looked “too fast” when I was reading Tia’s e-mail last night!

unnamed-2
New PR!!!

I was so exhausted that I could barely walk to the finisher’s tent. I had chafed badly despite putting on copious amounts of Body Glide that morning, and the blister on my foot was huge. But I was ecstatic.

Several of my running friends from Conway were there to congratulate me. It was wonderful seeing some familiar faces in a sea of strangers here in Mississippi. I hobbled over to the results tent for my official time. And I literally did a happy dance when I saw that not only had I PR’ed, but I’d also placed first in my age group! I had never done this before!! And almost as exciting was the discovery that I had run negative splits between the first and second halves of the race. Fighting through those last 5 miles had paid off. I couldn’t wait to text my results to Tia!

5results
Official results!
6trophy
My beautiful age group award! 
9pred
I packed this tank top optimistically hoping I would get a chance to wear it. And I did! 🙂 
16708622_10210890080143080_2136487392892998764_n
It was so good seeing some friends at the finish line! 

Soon Cate and Heather arrived to pick me up – they finished the half a couple hours earlier, and had already been back to the hotel to clean up. We enjoyed a delicious lunch together before getting back on the road home to Arkansas, with a small detour to a very cool little home decorating store!

16708600_1745283342164022_5099349182862811032_n
Cate, Heather, and I enjoying some well earned relaxation after the race! 

The drive home gave me plenty of time to reflect on the race. I was happily surprised at what a success it had been on so many levels. I’d PR’ed. I’d won my age group for the first time in my life. I’d run negative splits… without having to rely on a pace group. I’d simply followed the plan laid out for me by my coach, taking one mile at a time, trusting her strategy and greater running experience. And it honestly couldn’t have gone better.

I still have some time to shave off before I’m really close to a Boston qualification. But this race was a big step in the right direction. This race, and the 4 weeks of training leading up to it, has taught me to never underestimate the challenges your body can rise to when you have the commitment and determination to give it your best shot.

I experienced a big breakthrough in my running when I changed my nutrition, and now I’m experiencing another one as I’ve started working with an amazing coach. I’m so excited to see what the months ahead will bring! Maybe… just maybe… with a lot of hard work and a little faith… my dream of running Boston will become a reality sooner rather than later.

3 Bridges Marathon 2016

3 Bridges was my first marathon in December 2015. I wasn’t blogging about my marathons then, but it was a wonderful experience. The race was founded by Jacob Wells in 2013. He was a well loved member of the tight knit Arkansas runners’ community which I now enjoy being a part of. He was known for his joy and enthusiasm for the sport, and for the way that he was constantly lifting others up, encouraging and cheering them on in their goals. He tragically lost his life 10 months after the inaugural race due to cardiac arrest, but the race has continued on in his memory. The legacy he has left makes me really wish I could have met him. You would be hard pressed to find a marathon with more positivity, encouragement, high fives, and enthusiasm among runners and volunteers than you will find at 3 Bridges. I loved getting to be a part of this experience last year, and I loved it even more this year.

Being in the middle of December, this race is usually very chilly. About a week before the race, the forecast was calling for rainy weather in the 40’s – very similar to the conditions in which I recently ran LOViT. Wanting to be more prepared than I was for LOViT, I researched and ordered a good quality rain jacket that had good reviews from other runners. But every time I checked the weather in the following days, the forecast changed to something different. Cold and cloudy. Cold and sunny. But I couldn’t believe it when, nearing race day, they started calling for weather in the mid 60’s and 70’s with 80-100% humidity. This sounded more like a mid-summer Arkansas race than a winter one. The forecast didn’t change, even the night before the race when I left work in freezing cold weather. Well, there was nothing for it. I left my new rain jacket hanging in the closet, and dug out one of my summer racing outfits. I really didn’t know how tomorrow would go, but I would get out there and give it my best.

I got up extra early on race morning since I would need to arrive at a church parking lot early enough to take the shuttle to the start line – no parking is allowed at the start/finish area at Two Rivers Park except for official race crew. I went through my usual race morning routine of a breakfast shake and some coffee, and popped an Allegra to try and offset some stubborn sinus congestion that I’d been dealing with all week. This might be TMI, but since I’ve had more than my share of digestive issues and porta-potty stops at recent marathons, I decided to stash a few Imodium tablets into my waistband pocket to take before the race and see if that would help with  my issues. I made sure everything else I would need for the race was packed – fuel, water bottle, change of clothes for afterwards – and headed out into the dark, damp, extremely humid morning.

Driving to the church in Little Rock brought back a flood of memories from when I made this same trip with Karla a year ago. I was a little sad that I didn’t have any family here with me now, but life gets busy, and when I run as many marathons as I’ve been running lately I can’t expect them to be at every one. I chatted with some other runners as we waited for the shuttle. Two of them had come from up north and were visiting Arkansas for the first time in their quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. They asked me if this was typical weather for the area. I laughed and said no… no, it’s not. This muggy humidity is more typical of a morning in July!

The shuttle finally arrived – a bus packed with runners that was decorated on the inside with plentiful Christmas decorations while Christmas music filled the air around us. By the time the bus picked our little group up, there was standing room only, making for an interesting ride over the hills of Little Rock. But we arrived safely at the start line with plenty of time to spare. I hit the porta-potties and then popped a couple Imodium, hoping for the best. It would be great to get through a race without the inconvenience of a porta-potty stop! I was a little bit chilly in the damp, pre-dawn breeze, but I knew I would warm up quickly as soon as we started running. This was such a contrast from last year when I was shivering in sub-freezing weather with Karla despite the long running pants and jacket that I was wearing for the occasion. Back then, there was a much appreciated heater in the tent at the start area along with several big pots of hot coffee, but there was no need for those amenities this year.

001
Runners visiting at the start area

Soon it was time to make our way to the start line. There was a pre-race prayer and singing of the anthem, and then off we went. What a different experience from when I ran this race the first time, never having run on the Arkansas River Trail before. Back then, my numb feet carried me down a road they had never trodden before, heart pounding with excitement at starting my very first marathon, nervously wondering if my inexperienced legs would carry me all the way to the finish line.

002
Starting the race!
IMG_0651.JPG
The smile on my face says it all! It was so wonderful to be running this marathon again! 

Today, this was my familiar stomping ground. I’d come back to visit this course many times since that first running of 3 Bridges. I ran this very road just last weekend on a 12-mile run with my Pomeranian, Jasper. The familiarity was comforting and gave me confidence as I opened my stride to just under a 9:00 pace. The humidity and rising heat would likely prevent me from holding this pace for the whole race, but it couldn’t hurt to start strong.

It seemed like no time at all before that first mile was behind us and we were climbing over the Big Dam Bridge. Down the other side, and we were at the first aid station. I remember the aid stations being wonderful last year, with many people who didn’t know me seeing my “First Marathon” bib and cheering me on by name. But this year was extra special as I actually recognized some faces of the wonderful volunteers who were going above and beyond to take care of us, many of them distance runners themselves. This time I wasn’t wearing a bib with my name on it, but they still cheered me on by name. The Arkansas runners’ community is so tight knit, and I am so thankful to have become a part of it. The cheers and high fives lifted my spirits, and despite the high humidity, those first miles were pure joy to run.

005
First of two trips over the Big Dam Bridge. The morning was very damp, and the pavement was slippery! 
005a
Relaxing and enjoying the scenic, now-familiar Arkansas River Trail

I chose to focus on the positive in the weather… at least my feet weren’t numb, and my muscles didn’t feel like they were frozen solid like they did at LOViT a couple weeks ago. And it was freeing being in a tank top and shorts for the first time in weeks! I saw a runner ahead of me wearing a participant tank from Full mOOn, the overnight 25k/50k in July that is known for its difficult hills and swelteringly hot and humid weather. I sped up a little bit to catch him and comment on how much fun I had at that race. “Yeah, it was a fun race,” he agreed. We ran together a little while longer before I commented, “You know… the weather today really isn’t all that different than it was then.” He laughed and replied, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!”

006
One of several climbs. Overall it is a fairly flat course, but there are a few challenging little sections that remind you you’re in Little Rock! 

The natural beauty of the Arkansas River Trail gave way to the urban scenery of North Little Rock as we neared the Clinton Presidential Bridge, the second of the 3 Bridges for which the race was named. The lead runners were already coming back from the turnaround. I was excited to see Tia Stone in the lead, an incredible runner who also happens to be a fellow Harding graduate. I cheered her on as we passed each other. I didn’t know this at the time, but she’d been sick earlier this week as well, and almost decided not to run this race when the forecast started calling for such unseasonably hot weather. It is a testament to her strong character that she got out there and completed the race anyway, and seeing her perseverance inspired me to keep giving this race my best effort as well.

img_0661
One of the many awesome aid stations! We runners were very well taken care of! 

Over the Clinton bridge I went. Last year, they had a guy dressed in a Santa costume waiting for us at the turnaround on the other side, and I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t here this year. Oh well. Around the roundabout, back up over the bridge, and I was off for the return journey.

008
Bridge 2 out of 3! 
008a
View from the Clinton Presidential Bridge
010
Still feeling pretty good at the first turnaround!

I love out-and-back sections of race courses, because you get to see all the other runners – the faster ones and the slower ones. And this race was especially fun because I recognized so many faces. High fives and encouraging words were plentiful.

I passed the half marathon mark in under 2 hours, but at this point I could feel the rising heat starting to get to me and my legs starting to slow. At the start line, I remembered seeing several shirtless men and sports-bra clad women and thinking how ridiculous it was to be wearing so little for a December race. But as the temperature climbed, I started to worry about getting overheated, and around mile 15 I gave up on modesty and wriggled out of my tank top. I could carry it until we crossed the start/finish area at mile 20, leave it there, and pick it up when the race was done. My friend Wanda who I’d met at the Conway Running Club passed me around this point, looking a lot stronger than I felt. I was proud of her. She had trained so hard for this race, and it was paying off.

Going about the same pace as me at this point in the race was a blind runner and his guide. Running a marathon is challenging enough for anyone, but I can’t imagine taking on such a challenge without my sight. Seeing the two of them was humbling and inspiring, and took my mind off of my own complaints about the hot weather.

As we neared the aid station, I was a little surprised when the blind runner’s guide started talking to me. He was saying something about how this aid station had lots of Vaseline, and I’d better use some because we still had a lot of miles to go. O…kay, I was thinking. I must really look like I’ve never run a marathon or something. We’re over halfway there, and I’d just as soon get this thing over with. Why does he think I need to stop and use Vaseline? I thanked him politely, but blazed through the aid station without stopping, still having some Tailwind in my Orange Mud pack.

Soon we were back at the bottom of the Big Dam Bridge, and I did stop at that aid station – partly because I needed to refill my Tailwind bottle, and partly because that bridge looked a whole lot more challenging on the return journey with so many miles on my legs, and I didn’t mind the idea of taking a little breather first. My bottle was filled by the kind aid station volunteers all too soon, and up and over I went again, this time a good bit slower than when I crossed the same bridge earlier that morning. Besides the heat and humidity, there was now a stiff wind blowing, which was especially noticable out over the river.

picmonkey-collage
It was tough climbing back over the Big Dam Bridge, but I still managed a smile for the photographer! (Had to include a photo from last year’s race as well, because it’s too funny how similar they turned out!)

 

Although my pace had slowed, I was still maintaining a positive attitude and finding plenty to enjoy about the race. It seemed to be going by a lot faster than it did when I ran it last year. I remembered having to stop and take a walking break at this point last year, but not today. I might not be running fast anymore, but I was still running, and feeling pretty good. Almost to the start/finish area, and then it would just be a short 10k loop to go before I crossed that finish line. I had just run that loop a couple weeks before with Jasper. Easy peasy. (At least, that’s what I told myself… in reality, the last 10k of a marathon is anything but easy, especially on a day like today!)

016
About to cross the start/finish area at mile 20. Can anyone see why that other runner was trying to offer me Vaseline? Yikes! 

I was happy to get rid of my tank top that I’d stuffed in the waistband of my shorts right before crossing the last of the 3 Bridges at Two Rivers Park. This was really familiar territory now – I’d run this section of the marathon course even more times than the stretch after Big Dam Bridge. Shortly after crossing the bridge, I saw the lead runners again on their return journey to the finish line. Tia was still in the lead, looking so strong and determined! I was so excited for her as she ran that home stretch to a well deserved win.

018
Striking a pose on Two Rivers Bridge! Maybe if I LOOK strong, it will make me run stronger! 😉
019b
View from the bridge of Pinnacle Mountain.

Another aid station was coming up, and I wasn’t planning to stop. But then, another runner came up to me and said that I was bleeding and really needed some Vaseline, and asked the aid station volunteers if they had any. What? Bleeding? I guess I must have a high pain tolerance, because until this moment I had no idea of the severe chafing that was going on between my thighs, that had apparently been noticeable to the kind blind runner’s guide who tried to get me to take advantage of the Vaseline at the aid station before the Big Dam Bridge. They didn’t have any Vaseline at this aid station, so I just kept going. Nothing I could do about it at this point, and thankfully, it wasn’t bothering me yet. But Arkansas runners really take care of each other, especially at this race, and the runner who noticed my chafing caught back up to me about a half mile later just so he could give me a mini container of Vaseline that he’d managed to procure, and I accepted it gratefully. Maybe it would make my shower later that day a little more tolerable!

That last 10k loop is nowhere near as interesting and scenic as the rest of the Arkansas River Trail, and it is tough mentally and physically. I was so happy to get back to the out-and-back area where I once again started seeing familiar faces of other runners, and the monotony was broken by more cheers and high fives. Only 1.5 miles to go now. Those last couple of miles always seem to take so long. I distracted myself by thinking about where Josh and I would be on our easy 2 mile route that we’ve been running in the mornings lately before work.

When the Two Rivers Park bridge once again came into sight, I gave it all I had. Last year, I’d pretty much given up on running by this point on the course, choosing instead to walk/jog with another first time marathoner who was struggling. This year I didn’t want to leave anything out on the course. It might not be my best marathon time ever, but I could still give it my best and finish strong! Up and over the bridge I climbed, working up as much of a sprint as I could for the downhill finish.

021
Digging deep with the finish line in sight! 

The best moment of the whole marathon was seeing one particular familiar face waiting for me on the sideline – Joshua had made it to see me finish! I was all smiles as I made a slight detour to give him a high five before heading on to cross the finish line. I must have looked pretty spent, because the finish line volunteers kept asking me if I was okay and offering me water. It had been a very hard marathon. I don’t think I realized how hard it had been on my body until I stopped running and tried to walk like a normal person. I’m always stiff after a marathon, but I was really hobbling today, and was thankful to have Joshua to lean on for support. Physically, I was exhausted. But yeah, I was okay. It had been hard. But it had been a very good kind of hard, and I was so thankful for every mile of this very special race.

023
Finally crossing that finish line! 
15590600_10153978791910723_8418100311732464720_n
My favorite part of the whole race was seeing Joshua at the finish line! 
15542269_10153978791930723_183489870703485821_n
Getting to bring home one of these beautiful age group awards was a nice surprise! 
mw5_4430
Some more of the amazing volunteers that made this race such a great experience.

img_6596
The finishers’ medals were beautiful!
img_6592
Delicious replenishment in the finishers’ tent! 
img_6588
So thankful for these guys who were out there making sure we stayed safe!

 

Do I wish I’d finished the second half faster? Yeah, it would have been nice to get a PR. But I really can’t beat myself up too much with the weather the way that it was, and overall, I was happy with my 4:07:11 – still much faster than my 4:58 from last year. And even though the second half was hard, a lot went right to make this a very good and memorable race. I might have chafed (my own fault for forgetting to put on Body Glide that morning) but I didn’t sustain any serious injuries or struggle with muscle cramping. The Imodium worked like a charm, and I loved that I got to spend my time out on the course enjoying the race instead of wasting time in a stinky porta-potty (it truly is the little things!) I was thankful for another safe, fun, and injury free marathon. My 12th in 12 months, which just so happened to earn me my 3rd star as a Marathon Maniac. I even managed to place third in my age group, earning me a beautiful award to hang on my wall. Really, under the conditions, I couldn’t ask for a better race to conclude my first year as a marathoner.

And at the end of the day, this race wasn’t about me or my performance. It was about celebrating the effort and accomplishment of every single runner who had the courage to toe the start line on that muggy morning, and their grit and perseverance in making it to the finish line no matter what the time on the clock. It was about celebrating the life of another runner who I’m looking forward to meeting in heaven someday, honoring his memory by encouraging each other and lifting each other up the way that he did. I didn’t know him, but from everything I’ve heard about him, I think he would be proud to see this legacy that he has left.

I’ve run a handful of races since running this one as my first marathon a year ago. But this one will always be special. And if God continues to grant me the strength and health, I look forward to running it again and again for many years to come!

LOViT Trail Marathon 2016

The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail Marathon (a.k.a. LOViT marathon) ended up being my slowest marathon to date. Which isn’t all that surprising since it was on a technical single track trail with a lot of elevation gain. But it was definitely one of my favorite marathons so far!

After a couple of discouraging road marathons in which I wasn’t feeling my best and didn’t perform very well, I was ready to hit the trail for a stress-free run in which I didn’t even plan to look down at my watch to check my pace. I had done a couple of training runs on LOViT over the summer, and it promised to be a beautiful, scenic run. No frills, no entry fee… just a good time on the trail with friends.

As race day drew closer, however, I began to get a little worried about the weather forecast: rain all day, and temperature in the low 40’s that would only grow colder as the day went on. I have never run a race as long as a marathon in these conditions. But I knew that if I skipped out on this race, I would just be sad later when I heard stories about it from my trail running friends. So I went out and bought a rain jacket and the warmest running pants that I could find, and hoped for the best.

It was a busy week at work leading up to the marathon, and I was already sleep deprived before I set my alarm for 4:00am Saturday so I could get up, eat breakfast, and meet Charlie to carpool to the race start. I was questioning my life choices as I struggled to keep my eyes open on the drive to Mount Ida, and I was thankful that Charlie was driving. Another friend of Charlie’s, Renee, was riding with us too. She would be running the half marathon that morning as her very first trail run! The three of us have not been distance runners for very long, and during the parts of the drive that I was awake, it was fun chatting and exchanging running stories.

Finally we arrived at the race start. It was a cold, overcast, drizzly morning, and I was thankful that race registration was under a picnic pavilion which we could huddle under and stay dry for as long as possible. I started seeing familiar faces from my other Arkansas trail runs. Stacey, one of my trail running role models who always turns in incredible times even on the most difficult of runs, asked me how I was doing. “Questioning my sanity a little bit,” I replied, glancing at the bleak, rainy sky, “but otherwise good!”

05
I really appreciated the volunteers for this race! If there’s anything harder than running in the cold rain, it’s standing in it for hours to make sure those runners are taken care of.

Soon it was time to leave the shelter of the pavilion and make our way to the start line. Like most trail runs, the start line was a low key affair. We visited for awhile until the official race start was announced, and then off we went!

00
Several of us were all wearing the same Orange Mud hydration pack, so we had to take a picture! 
001
Embarking on our journey! 

We ran on the pavement for a little while before turning onto the single track, all of the runners merging into single file. This was a section of the LOViT trail that I had never run before. There were some rolling hills and a few roots to dodge, but for the most part, the early part of the trail was very runnable with smooth, well maintained terrain underfoot. There were some spectacular views of Lake Ouachita, which I’m sure would be even more beautiful in clear, sunny weather. The trail was never boring with plenty of twists and turns, little bridges that shook under our feet as we ran across them, and shallow creek crossings we had to splash through, making our feet even more soaked than they were from the rain.

08
A glimpse of the trail. You can see Lake Ouachita off to the left. 
07
One of many shallow creek crossings.
11
Some of the deeper creeks had wooden bridges that we ran across.

 

It was still cold, even after a few miles of running, and I was thankful for every layer of clothing that I had put on that morning. I was a little disappointed in the Columbia rain jacket I bought from Academy. Although it was labeled as “water resistant,” it still eventually soaked through. But even a wet jacket provides an extra barrier of insulation, similar to the wetsuits I used to wear for scuba diving, and it was definitely better than no jacket at all.

Despite the cold and the rain, it felt so good to be back out on the trail. I hadn’t been trail running since pacing Melanie at the Traveller back in October, and I had forgotten how good it is for the soul. Trail running is hard, much harder than road running in many ways. You constantly have to watch where your feet are going, with no opportunity to tune out and focus on other things like you can on a long, straight stretch of a road race. It’s so easy to trip on a root or land your foot on a rock the wrong way, especially with a slippery, wet layer of leaf litter like the one that covered the trail today. Progress on the trail is much, much slower than progress on the road.

15384390_10209813948239956_5089479239866952938_oMore of the trail.

13
The covering of fall leaves sometimes made it difficult to avoid obstacles on the trail, but they sure were pretty! 
06
More trail. There was all kinds of gorgeous scenery! 

But the challenge is a good one. During a trail race, the competition is not against the other runners, but against the challenges of nature itself. The rugged terrain, the harsh weather conditions. We are all out there overcoming the same challenges, and it is hard to find more encouragement and good sportsmanship between runners than you’ll find at a trail race.

I decided early on that I would do my best to keep up with Charlie, as the trail was in a very remote area and I didn’t want to be alone if I did end up falling and hurting myself. He is a much faster runner than I am, but he had just run a very fast half marathon the previous day, so I was able to more or less keep up with his recovery pace. We took our time at each of the aid stations, placed about 4 miles apart on the trail. We deeply appreciated the volunteers standing out in the cold rain to make sure we had our hydration, Gu, and a variety of other sweet and salty snacks.

15326057_10209813938079702_6603533789873596327_o
I was so thankful to have Charlie as a running buddy! It was great having some company on the trail, and I felt much safer having someone else around in case of any injuries.
15337452_10209813938679717_6826553441428748018_n
I may not have been moving very fast, but I was loving being back out on the trail! 

The trail grew much steeper and more rocky as we began to summit Hickory Nut Mountain, and we alternated between running the more level areas and hiking the steeper ones. There were several times that I tripped and nearly fell or twisted an ankle, but somehow I managed to stay on my feet. Finally, we reached the turnaround aid station at the top of the mountain. There was a spread of delicious snacks and sports beverages, as well as a campfire that runners could huddle around to warm up. The fire was especially nice for the half marathoners, who had to wait at the top of the mountain awhile for the shuttle to bring them back down to the start area. I was delighted to see another familiar face at the top of the mountain, Lisa, who had started the race about an hour early that morning.

002
Finally at the top of Hickory Nut Mountain! 
03
Loved getting to see Lisa at the mountaintop! 
9
The mountaintop aid station.

Charlie and I enjoyed visiting with other runners at the aid station for awhile, and took advantage of the campground restrooms a short way up the road. But eventually, it was time to leave this warm little oasis and make our way back down the mountain. A couple miles back down the trail, we saw our friend Renee. She wasn’t feeling very good due to the weather, but was still pushing onward to finish the half. We exchanged words of encouragement and then parted ways. I hated that she was all alone without a running buddy, but took comfort in knowing she had that warm aid station waiting for her at the top of the mountain.

The weather was not getting any warmer as the hours went on. If anything, it was a couple degrees colder than it was when we started. It’s very difficult to make chilled muscles run fast, and my pace was slowing significantly from the beginning of the race. But I continued moving forward in as efficient a trot as I could manage. My main goal was to at least move fast enough to keep my body warm and avoid becoming hypothermic. With the cold seeping into my bones, and no dry piece of clothing on my body any more, those last few miles were very challenging. Thoughts of warm, dry clothes and a hot bath when I got home motivated me to keep going.

04
We took the return journey at an even more relaxed pace and even took a break or two for some pictures.

There was a detour towards the end to shorten our return journey, since the trip to the top of the mountain was more than a half marathon distance. It lifted my spirits to see some unfamiliar scenery which meant we were getting close to the end. In the last mile or so, the single track trail gave way to a scenic paved bike path.

12
The paved bike path near the end let me know that we were finally getting close to the finish line! 

Then, finally, we turned a corner and could see the finish area in the distance. Charlie was a good distance ahead of me at this point, but he slowed down and waited for me to catch up so we could cross the finish line together. My legs were too cold to work up anything close to a finish line sprint, but I did manage to pick up my pace a little bit, and I was all smiles as Charlie and I crossed the finish line together with a time of 6:01.

Very few runners had decided to wait at the finish area, and who could blame them with this miserable weather? But even so, we had some friends there cheering for us as we finished. It was great to see Shelley, who I’d run another section of LOViT with over the summer. She is an incredible trail runner, and is always so full of positivity and encouragement towards those around her. Tee was also there – she had run the half with her husband Wes, and then taken the shuttle down while he completed the full. I gladly accepted the snacks she offered to share with us – some boiled eggs and delicious homemade brownies.

The scariest moment of the race was when Tee told us that a half marathon runner had been forgotten at the top of the mountain – it was Renee! Somehow, there had been a miscommunication, and the shuttle drivers thought she had dropped at one of the aid stations lower on the mountain before the turnaround. When poor Renee finally made it to the top of the mountain, the aid station was packed up and everyone was gone, leaving her cold, wet, and alone in a very remote location. Fortunately she had her cell phone and was able to contact some members of the Conway Running Club, who in turn were able to get in touch with the race director and get her help and a ride back. We were so glad she was ok. I can’t imagine how scary it would be to have something like that happen as my first trail running experience.

After standing in the cold for a little while, I began shivering uncontrollably, and knew it was time to get into some dry clothes. It was miserable stripping down in the little outdoor campground restroom, my numb fingers barely able to manipulate buttons, zippers, and shoelaces. I couldn’t remember being this cold since a similar experience changing into dry clothes after a December scuba dive in Florida. But it was worth it when I finally had dry clothes on my body again.

Soon after that, Renee arrived in her own personal shuttle, and it was time for the trip home. Never had I been so thankful for a car with a good heater. We stopped for lunch on the way back, and we truly must have been a sight as we walked in – three wet, bedraggled runners all sporting a stiff, post-marathon zombie walk. But we had a great time eating our warm meals and reliving our race day experiences.

17
A warm meal never tasted so good! 

Finally we hobbled back out to the van. Renee and I promptly fell asleep while Charlie toughed it out and drove us through the overcast, drizzly interstate miles back to Conway. It had been a tough race for all of us, but a very good one all the same, and I would run it again in a heartbeat!

Route 66 Marathon 2016

I remember reading blog posts from other runners about Route 66 before I even ran my first marathon. This was the Marathon Maniacs race, where the red carpet was rolled out for that amazing group of people who had not only run ONE marathon, but had run at least 3 marathons within 90 days, most of them many more marathons and ultras at even closer intervals than that. If you were a Marathon Maniac, you got a special custom bib, medal, and access to the Maniac Corner, a special VIP area with its own personal bag check, photo opportunities, and food and drinks after the race. At the point in my running when I was reading about Route 66, I was not sure if I would be able to complete one marathon, let alone the three marathons in 90 days required to qualify for Marathon Maniacs. But I told myself that if I ever did qualify, this was a race I definitely wanted to run.

Fast forward to right after I qualified to become a Maniac at the Zydeco Marathon in April, 2016. I couldn’t get online fast enough to register for Route 66, and I looked forward to it all year! When the day was finally drawing near, conditions were not as perfect as I had imagined they would be. I ended up being scheduled to work that Saturday, which meant a long drive the night before the race, and that I would miss out on the expo and the shorter races on Friday. (Thankfully, Angie offered to pick up my packet for me so I wouldn’t have to worry about missing that!) Also, my husband was unable to come with me to the race due to work obligations that weekend, so I was a little sad about that. On the bright side, I was very excited to get to see Erin, a vet school buddy currently doing an internship in Stillwater who had graciously offered to let me stay with her and her pups for the night!

So I packed everything I would need for the marathon on Friday night, loaded it into my car Saturday morning, and headed to work ready to leave straight for Tulsa when I wrapped up for the day. Work was as busy as it usually is as a Saturday, and the last couple of cases were sad ones that got me down. But finally, we got through the day, I hurriedly finished updating all my medical charts, and was ready to head out for a long 5 hours on the interstate. Before I left Little Rock, I stopped at an Academy to buy a long sleeved Under Armour shirt – the weather was forecast to be windy and below freezing at the start of the race, and the running gear I had packed was not really designed for such cold weather.

The drive to Tulsa was uneventful. I was tired from the long week of work, and made some bad food choices at gas stations along the way in an effort to stay alert while driving. It was after dark by the time I arrived in downtown Tulsa to meet Angie and pick up my race packet. Some of the roads were already closed for the race, and it took me forever to figure out how to get to her hotel. But I finally managed to find her, and it was so wonderful seeing a familiar face at the end of such a long day! I hadn’t seen Angie since she paced me at the Louisiana Marathon for my first 4:30. We’ve kept up with each other on Facebook ever since, and she is truly one of my running role models. It was so wonderful getting to hug her in person again!

After picking up my packet and saying good bye to Angie, it was time for another hour of driving to get to Stillwater. I stopped for gas and texted Erin, and we decided to meet for dinner at a Noodles & Company (a restaurant chain that I had never heard of, but is apparently very popular in Oklahoma!) The drive took me through some little towns and across some rivers that I imagine would have been very scenic in the daylight, but I would only get to experience them in the dark tonight and in the wee hours of the dawn tomorrow.

I met Erin at the Noodles & Company, and again, it was so wonderful seeing a familiar face far from home. Erin and I hadn’t seen each other since graduation, and it was so much fun catching up over a delicious bowl of pesto cavatappi, sharing stories about our experiences over the past few months as brand new veterinary graduates. After dinner, we drove to the OSU Veterinary School where Erin is doing her food animal internship. She introduced me to some of the resident teaching animals in the barn, including an adorable sheep and goat who get very excited about vanilla wafers, and a fistulated cow who loves to snuggle! It was so much fun meeting the animals and getting to have a tour of the facilities.

Then we headed back to Erin’s apartment, where we visited some more and I got to snuggle with her sweet puppies! Well, at least I snuggled with Khloe… Nola was a little bit more shy. All too soon it was time for bed, as I would need to get up very early to drive to Tulsa in time to find parking and be ready for the Maniac Corner picture at 7:15. I laid out my outfit, making sure I had everything ready to go for the morning.

16
Me and Khloe! She is such a sweetheart!
17
Erin and me right before going to bed. It’s a testament to our crazy lives as new veterinarians that we are both still in our work clothes!
13
Flat Sara ready for the marathon tomorrow. I hoped that my new long sleeve shirt would keep me warm enough!

It’s always hard for me to sleep the night before a marathon, and I woke up several times during the night checking the clock. I got up before my alarm gathered up my things, and headed back out into the cold, dark, early morning. Erin and her pups were so sweet and got up just so they could see me off. Then came the hour drive from Stillwater back to Tulsa, aided by some gas station coffee and an eggnog protein shake.

Finally I made it back to downtown Tulsa, and found a parking garage I could use a credit card in since I hadn’t brought any cash for meters. It was only a few blocks away from the start line. I stayed in my warm car for as long as I could until it was almost time for the Maniac Corner picture, and I gathered up everything I would need for the race, and headed out into the sub-freezing cold. I was very thankful for the decision to buy that Under Armour shirt yesterday!

I made my way to Maniac corner, and immediately started seeing more familiar faces. Some were friends I’d met at previous marathons, others were people I’d met through Facebook and hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting in person until today. I’d never seen such a big ocean of Marathon Maniac and Half Fanatic shirts! In most social circles, people think I’m weird for running almost a marathon per month in 2016. But here, I felt like I fit right in! Soon it was time to organize for the group picture, and the voice calling us to order was none other than the Runner’s World legend Bart Yasso! Before we took the picture, we made a video for Chris Lieberman, the Race Director, telling him that we loved and missed him. He sustained a serious head injury falling off a ladder while working on preparations for this marathon.

18.jpg
Maniac group picture! Apparently, this is a SMALLER crowd than it was last year for the 10th anniversary of Route 66. Still more Maniacs and Half Fanatics than I have ever seen in one place! You can spot me in the back right with the black and yellow beanie. 🙂

After the group picture , I took advantage of some other photo ops, including a quick impromptu picture with Steven Yee and Christopher Warren, two of the Main Maniacs who started this crazy club!

01
Me and some friends posing with two of the Main Maniacs!
05
Loved getting to see Angie who paced me for my second marathon back in January!
04
It was great seeing Randy and Chris again! We had all run the Joplin marathon together. Both of these guys are incredible runners who run even more races than I do!
06
Loved getting to see Ed who I’d met on a trail run in Arkansas earlier in the summer! (Apparently I was talking and missed looking at the camera, haha!)
02
It was amazing finally getting to meet Jamila! We’ve been friends on Facebook for awhile, and she is an incredible runner. Love her positive attitude and the way she constantly encourages those around her!
09
So much fun celebrating being a part of this crazy group of people! 🙂

All too soon, it was time to line up in our start corrals. This was a new concept to me since I’ve run mostly smaller marathons in the past. With over 12,000 runners participating in various race distances over the weekend, Route 66 was definitely a bigger race than I was used to. I followed the crowds until I saw signs for Corral B and made my way in. Before our corral was released to start, we had to wait for the wheelchair racers and Corral A to be released. It was COLD, and I was shivering uncontrollably standing and waiting. But finally it was our turn, and we crossed that start line, a giant cloud of confetti raining down on us.

07
Taking selfies at the start line is a good distraction from the cold!
08
Getting ready to take off!

I was so cold that I couldn’t even feel my feet for the first few miles, and I was thankful that I didn’t trip and fall. Despite the cold, I managed to keep up a pretty good pace in those early miles, finishing the first half in under an hour.

15
Very cool bridge along the race course!

But after that point, things started to fall apart. I had to make a porta potty stop, and it was a little disheartening coming out and seeing the 4:00 pace group, who I had been ahead of for 13.1 miles, fading off into the distance ahead of me. I couldn’t seem to work my way back up to a decent pace. The hills were getting steeper and more frequent. The cold was seeping all the way into my bones, and the wind seemed to go straight through my Under Armour shirt that had felt so warm when I tried it on in Academy yesterday. My legs were getting heavier, and I was also starting to struggle with abdominal cramps. My normally positive mindset was failing me. Yeah, I never expect the last half of a marathon to be easy, but today was different. I was not enjoying this any more, at all. I was physically hurting, and every negative thought that could enter my brain, did. Despite being surrounded by other runners, I felt very alone. None of my friends who I had reunited with that morning were in sight. I had no family waiting for me at the finish line. I was extremely frustrated with my strong start, only to completely lose my stride now. I hadn’t had run such terrible splits between my first and second half since my first marathon when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Seriously, my performance should be better than this now. I was literally fighting back tears of loneliness and frustration as I was running, which is not characteristic of me during a race at all.

I was not in control of my race any more. But one thing I could still control was whether or not I quit. So I kept pressing forward, trying not to worry about my splits. My chance at a “good” race time was gone, so I started taking it a little easier walking through the water stations and taking stretching breaks when I needed them. And I decided, you know what, as long as I’m doing this race, I might as well do the Center of the Universe detour – an optional extra 0.3 miles which allowed you to see a historic Tulsa landmark and be awarded with a coin for completing “the world’s shortest ultra.” I was with the 4:15 pace group when I finally split off for the detour. Since I was past caring about my race time any more, I stopped and enjoyed a drink and posed for a picture before setting out for the last few tenths of a mile of the race.

14
Made it to the Center of the Universe!
11
My award for completing the World’s Shortest Ultra. 😉

Finally the finish line was in sight. I didn’t think I had a sprint in me. But then a relay runner sprinted past me. I’m really not competitive during marathons, but when I can see the finish line, I make an exception. Oh no, my brain said. You and your team have been behind me for 26.2 miles, lady, and you are not passing me now! I gave it all I had and sprinted ahead of her. And she sprinted ahead of me. And I sprinted back ahead of her. In the end, I’m pretty sure the two of us tied, and as soon as we’d crossed the finish line, we cordially thanked each other for the extra push of competition for a strong finish.

12
Posing at the finish line. It felt amazing to finally be done!
10
Not my greatest splits of all time, but at least I finished and didn’t give up when it got hard.

After the race, I enjoyed some replenishment at the Maniac Corner for a little while and visited with Randy, who had finished the half earlier. Part of me wanted to stay and wait for other friends to arrive, but the other part of me kept thinking about how cold I was and about the 5 hour drive that lay ahead of me before home and work in the morning. The practical side of me won, and I decided I would catch up with my friends and congratulate them on Facebook. Now the fun part… hobbling back to that parking garage on my stiff, tired legs. Wait… where WAS that parking garage? The finish line was several blocks from where we had started, and I was completely disoriented as to where I was. I plugged in the address to the Holiday Inn right next to the start line, hoping I could find my way back to the parking garage from there. Fortunately I found some other people to walk with, as I didn’t feel all that comfortable wandering downtown Tulsa by myself. It took awhile, and way more walking than I anticipated right after completing a marathon, but I finally found the parking garage and my car and headed out for the long trip back.

Why did the second half of my race go so badly? Well, I have a few ideas. First, my nutrition the previous day was not anywhere near what it should have been… I indulged in too much gas station junk food on the trip up, which certainly could have contributed to my stomach cramps and the necessity for a porta potty stop. But the next day brought further explanation, as I was extremely tired at work and was having muscle aches beyond the normal soreness I expect after running a marathon. Tuesday, I had a full blown stomach bug which lasted until Thursday morning and even made me miss some work. Was I already coming down with the stomach bug when I ran my race, or was I just more susceptible catching it post-race due to the added stress on my body? Guess I’ll never know for sure, but it sure would explain why I felt so terrible during that second half.

For me personally, this running of Route 66 wasn’t exactly all that I hoped and dreamed it would be. It was a very well organized race, and under other circumstances, I would have enjoyed it very much. But the cold, windy weather and the fact that I was getting sick sapped a lot of the fun out of it. I am trying to remind myself that it is just one race, and when you run lots of marathons, they can’t all be great ones. To become really good at something, you have to fail a few times, so I’ll just write this race off as one of the “failures” that will help me to grow and become a stronger runner in the… “long run.” 🙂 I have some ideas for things I can do better next race, and as for the things that I can’t control, well… I can’t waste my time worrying about that.

At the end of the day, I’m thankful for another safe, injury-free finish and getting to experience the unique parts of Route 66 that make it such a special race. And it was WONDERFUL getting to see Erin, Angie, and so many other friends over the weekend. There are so many things that contribute to a race experience besides your own personal performance on the course, and getting to hang out with so many awesome friends definitely helped make up for some of the less fun moments. Yes… it may have been a tough race, but it was still good. And I still have so very much to be grateful for!