My First 15k: Calm and Capable

Two weeks ago now, I smashed my first 15k AKA 9.3 miles!

October 29, I completed my first true distance race past a 10k in Chicago– The Hot Chocolate Run. And God bless my Dad, he went to support me. At 4:45 we drove up together. And I learned so much about myself that made me feel confident. I even got myself and my Dad signed up for updates on my progress en route: me on facebook and him via text messages.

Prior, I didn’t have anxiety about the race. I knew I could cover the distance because my last training run was 8.33 miles– with the last four in driving cold rain and headwinds.

But I did have anxiety about other aspects: finding parking for the expo: at the Shamrock Shuffle 8k last April I went to three flippin’ spaces before I found a spot. I worried about the parking garage I chose for the race, and then helping my 75-year-old father find the finish line and meeting up with him afterwards. What if I picked the wrong garage and it was full? What if we were late finding the start? What if one our phones died and I couldn’t find him afterward?

This was my first Chicago race where I wouldn’t be riding with a friend who knew where to park, who I could just follow to the start line. My Dad drove, but I made all the decisions. Instead of using SpotHero, which has proved unreliable, I chose one of the five garages suggested on the race website. I used the discount they offered instead. And everything worked out. I even used gear check, something I used to be too anxious to do.

I had a blast at the expo the day before, and things were easy from the beginning. I even found my car after without a problem! I stayed from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. because why not? I had no other plans, nothing else pressing to do. I tried on shoes, got fitted for a bra (none of which I bought)– sampled different flavors of nunn. Ambled around and passed by most of what I saw. Tried a rolling stick on my calves and feet. Tried on my racing shirt to make sure it fit. And I bought a few things I needed– including The Tube, a soft belt with three pouches, two zippered, that you can wear on your hips on race day. It’s snug and secure and actually comfortable.

I also bought my first medal rack. There were several for sale in different colors: silver, black, hot pink. I ended up going with a black one that says,

“Courage to start
Strength to endure
Resolve to finish.”

It has 10 hooks on it, and I got a hot pink magnet to go with it that says 15k.

I’m excited to put it up in my apartment! I have enough medals now.

On the way out, I stopped at a table and made myself a race poster. Why not? I was going to ask my Dad to hold it, but figured it best to keep it simple and left it at home. But he did hold it up for a picture for me after.

The race was amazing. So many people were complaining about the cold, but I was fine. I didn’t need a gaitor. I finally know how to adapt my clothes to races: in layers. I had on a t-shirt, the racing half-zip, and a waterproof thin jacket over it, plus gloves. I had on two pairs of tights and wool socks. My New Balances.

I also ran the full 9.3 miles WITHOUT music or my running app, since my battery was depleted so fast before the race even started. I had no idea bout my pace, and lost the 14:00 minute pacer around the 5 mile mark. I started out with a nun’s veil as a costume, but ditched it after mile four: it was too heavy and hot. And I ain’t no nun anyway!

At the 8th mile I called my Dad to alert him to watch for me.

And as I crossed that finish line, I didn’t cry like I had expected. I wasn’t even emotional. Instead, I was just very calm. Happy with myself. Even without my pacer, I still hit my goal of staying under 14:00 minutes per mile! My final time was 2:08:39 seconds at a 13:49 pace!

I had stayed moving for an entire 9.3 miles! It brought me back to the Cinco de Miler in 2016, my first five mile race, where I had to walk the last three miles and had terrible knee pain. I almost quit three times.

Now I can cover 9.3 miles moving continuously, NO PAIN!

And my Dad was right where I asked him to be: on the left. And truthfully, I didn’t need him to hold up a sign or even to yell my name as I crossed the finish line. Just seeing him there, my reliable wonderful father, was enough. Strong and silent. Then he took pictures of me through the fence, and we met up and he gave me a hug. I got someone to take a picture of us.

All the race photos were wonderful as well.

The way we took care of each other at this race was very special. Before the race started, he wouldn’t leave me until I got to my assigned corral. He was still concerned about me. At the gear check, I led him by the hand because there were so many people and it was dark pre-dawn, I didn’t want to lose him. Afterward we went to gear check and picked up my stuff, then to redeem my hot chocolate bowl! We shared my chocolate snacks and then went to breakfast after.

Just spending so much time with him was wonderful. Normally I can only see him at my parents’ house, or if he comes over to fix something or we go to dinner or a movie. He’s a man of routine! But being with with him in the big city, I felt so grateful and safe, too. I worry about him getting older, but he got around just fine to the finish line without my help.

Although now I walk faster than him, which makes me a bit sad. I used to always have to walk so fast to keep up with him as a little girl. I’d hold his thumb in my fist, his hands are so big. I slowed down and we walked together. He did this for me because he knew it was important, and that’s what I’d asked for as my 37th birthday present, that he come to one of my races.

And he picked the most important one.

I did one more race the following week: The Carrera de los Muertos in Pilsen. But it was rained out due to thunder, lightening, and some flooding on the course. We were still given our medals. It was actually November 4, the morning of my 37th birthday. But I had so much fun just dressing up, driving with my friend Heather, and taking pictures that it didn’t even matter. I met up with Diana, a friend from my run club, plus another girl I’d met in line for packet pick-up. The day was amazing!

Now my next goals will be a 10 mile and a half-marathon. I know I can do it. At work the next day a co-worker was impressed that I was walking without a limp. He said when he did the same race and distance last year, he had been in pain!

It seems my body is slowly acclimating to running and I recover quickly.

But I’m taking a little break from racing. Not because of winter. But because races are expensive and I was very social in September and October. I really got into Halloween. I want to save some money and catch up on some other things, too. I’ve been so focused on running the past few months and over the summer that I’ve fallen behind in some other areas. Plus, I need to recharge a bit.

I also have had a small cold for the past two weeks. Still a bit sniffly. Want to get that gone before I start running in the cold and risk another one.

There’s a race in December I may do, but no Turkey Trots yet this year.

I’m feeling amazing. It’s like a a new relationship where you feel secure in the connection and can take a little space knowing it won’t compromise what you share together already.

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My First True Long Run: 8.33 Miles!

Today I proved to myself that I really am improving as a distance runner.

Next weekend is my first 15k, and I have admittedly slacked off in my training. I went out the first two Friday nights and missed my Saturday runs, which is very unlike me. Usually I’m very responsible. Honestly, I think it was passive-aggressiveness because I was afraid to try. I want this so much. Deep down, I didn’t think I could do it. Why find out the truth?

But swag saved me! I got an e-mail telling me that since this is my 3rd consecutive year doing the Hot Chocolate Run in Chicago, I qualify as a “legacy.” I will get an extra medal with a pink “bronze” level diamond shape, plus a pin and a black beanie with the same design and “3” on it. SOLD! That was when I officially signed up– the money had been paid. No backing out!

So this weekend I told myself this 8 mile training run needed to be DONE, because I can’t fail in Chicago October 29. I need to be ready and confident.

Why? Because my Dad is going to support me. It’s my birthday present. I asked that he come to one of my races, and thought he’d pick a local one. But he instead committed to the one where I need him most: my first TRUE distance race! (I define that as a race beyond a 10k.)

And my Dad does not like going into the city. I think it’s been years– he’s 75.

But he’s going to do it, for me. We’re going to ride together. And while he’s not going to hold a sign, it’s enough for me knowing he’ll be out there at the finish line. I plan to text him when I’m coming close so that he can keep an eye and yell loud for me! And of course, take pictures. 🙂 Then we’ll go eat!!

This especially means a lot because he cancelled the original delivery date of his new fridge– the 29th– specifically to keep his promise to me. When he first brought it up, I thought it was his excuse to cancel. I hadn’t wanted to get my hopes up.

My Dad used to go to all my volleyball games in grade school, even though I rarely played the first two of four years. I was 4’7″ and uncoordinated. In college, he once drove 2+ hours to my college to see opening night of a play on a Thursday night! And brought flowers. I was just an ensemble character.

But I’ve been racing since 2015, nearly three years, and he hasn’t been to any of my races. I felt sad and resentful about it. But I told myself that he’s older, he’s set in his routine, and I shouldn’t take it personal.

Maybe he’s going now because I’ve proven that I’m serious about running? Or because this year I finally expressed to him how much I *wanted his support.

A 15k is 9.3 miles. And I’m running this alone, without a friend. For that reason, I almost backed out — a couple times. I didn’t want to face such a monumental moment in my running career without SOME kind of support. But I ultimately wanted to advance my training more than I wanted company. I could have easily signed up for the 5k, since that distance is on the circuit for my running club.

Instead, I chose to push myself. I even corresponded with my running mentor and she drew up a plan for me. I didn’t follow it, but I knew I was still capable. I was still touched she made the time to draw it up and is still encouraging me.

The race is next Sunday. But I’m smart enough to know that I can’t get in a long training run the day before; my legs will need rest.

So today when I went out, I set my distance for 8 miles. And I had heard of possible rain, so prepared by wearing a rain jacket specifically for running. And am I glad! I faced headwinds nearly 15 mph on an incline and the last four miles it was raining! My arches were hurting inside my shoes, too. I ran on.

I have never exerted myself so much running. The inclement weather half-way only motivated me to keep running, rather than slow down. When I got home, I was legit exhausted in a way I’ve never been prior!! I ended up surpassing my goal and making it 8.33 miles instead! I thought about 9, but my feet hurt too much.

I was laughing to myself, flushed. Ecstatic. Talk about a runner’s high! I took a post-run selfie and posted it via Nike Running Club on facebook!

Eight hours later, my legs hurt. But it’s a gleeful pain. It’s a runner’s rite of passage.

And of course, my music helped tremendously.

Lord, THANK YOU for this glorious burst of athleticism and confidence today.

I need it. And I earned it!!

Mile by mile, I’m proving to MYSELF that I’m strong and disciplined.

Run Like a Child: A Training Epiphany

I changed my mind tonight about running at the gym. I used to think it was a cop-out to run on a track or in the gym. I like trails, twists, hills, variety.

But I saw a video today in a running support group I belong to on Facebook that inspired me:

This man lines up on the sidewalks of NYC behind a blue chalk starting line to see if passers by will engage him in a spontaneous race. They do, and he clearly holds himself back so they can win. Then they all receive medals at the end. They were all so ecstatic!! I liked that it was diverse: children to older adults who maybe were athletes once. There was a whole line for the challenge!

But my favorite was watching the children. They were squirming to start, and several races were with multiple children and then groups of teens as well. It was pure PLAY for them!! They ran as FAST as their bodies were able, arms pumping hard, bolting ahead of the dude instigating this video. They ran with ragged breath and a giant smile on their faces.

And I was so happy!! I realized that they were teaching me something. I NEED to run like that. I need to remember that running is STILL PLAY– that it’s fun.

So tonight I switched up my run. It’s now dark earlier. Instead of running outside, I went to my health club and ran the track. I set a time instead of distance and told myself I would run as hard as I could for that amount of time.

And I LOVED IT! I was breathing hard, sweating. Because the track was smooth I didn’t have to worry about tripping on anything in my path. It’s on a carpet. I never run like that because I’m always in my head. What’s my pace? How far have I got left? Do I like the song playing?

I realized this a great way to do speed work and interval training.

Tonight I realized that running indoors at a health club isn’t weak at all. In fact, it’s inspiring. It was packed! Seeing so many others working out gave *me ideas on workouts I could try myself, especially on the machines I am clueless about using.

I resolve to do this type of speed training once a week– without worrying about maintaining a pace. I can run safely in a well-lit, smooth area without tripping. And seeing others pass me up also motivated me to keep it moving when I got tired.

I’m learning to design my training the way I like it.

I’m proud of me.

And hopefully I’ll learn eventually to run like I’m playing Red Rover, straining to break through the chain of my friends joined hands.

Scorpion in the Water

The humidity, the smell of chlorine, the hive of activity around me with people of all ages and levels of fitness. I’ve taken up swimming for cross-training.

Why did it take me so long? I love everything about it!

I take a bath every day. At least once. I read a book and lay back and relax.

Such a water creature! This makes sense. I’m a Scorpio, absolutely a water sign.

My new training schedule is running three times a week, swimming twice.

That’s reasonable to maintain and the chlorine won’t kill my hair and skin.

Next up: goggles!!

The Truth About Running

It’s more than hard.

I’m realizing that it’s a constant series of injuries and disappointments. They’re small, so you can do deal with it. But for me, anyway, it’s regular. And that constant– it breaks your heart a little.

And then fleeting moments of unexpected success where you surpass your own humble expectations. Those moments, those ENDORPHINS, make you feel more than human.

They make you feel better than you knew it was possible for you. Flabbergasted.

In those moments, you’re so confident and positive.

That’s when you dare to dream your new goals : to increase your distance, to PR.

That’s when you sign up for races.

This year since February has been extremely humbling to me.

I know now that I’m cleared by a respectable orthopaedist specializing in knees to keep training. My knees are healthy, I felt no pain when they rotated them. Four x-rays showed no bone spurs and plenty of open spaces– a wonderful thing.

He answered my question on the difference between normal discomfort and real pain that requires stopping a run or calling it a rest day, or a longer break from running.

He told me to start cross-training. Because what had caused my fall was what I expected: my right knee over-compensated for my left, and the knee gave out. He said if I start strengthening the muscles, it’ll be less likely to happen again. That I’ll be able to run longer distances.

So I renewed my health club membership, and I began cross-training last night.

I swam. And I felt free. I felt strong.

I felt proud, walking in my bikini. I could feel people looking at me. I felt voluptuous and strong simultaneously. Like Wendy Peffercorn, dammit! Amazing.

I swam forty minutes.

I’m doing what I can. I plan to invest in some goggles and a better suit.

I plan to start going to classes at my health club– maybe power lifting.

I want to to do this the right way. I want to be well-rounded in my exercise.

But today I got a blister on my second toe, underneath. Because of flip-flops. And it hurts to walk and I’m not tough enough to run on it yet. I did an Out of the Darkness walk on behalf of my friend Andi. That was my exercise today.

But later on I did put my running shoes through the washer and dryer.

Despite all these “surprises” and the recovery times and setbacks…

I still want this.

I can only pray that with time, my injuries will be less. My recovery time faster. My mileage higher and my pace quicker.

Because maybe what hooks us to running is the magical ability we gain to learn about about our bodies and their limits.

Running teaches us to be aware and to heal ourselves. To persevere.

I was supposed to go to a friend’s celebration of graduation from her doctoral program tonight. I brought my dress to change into after the walking event.

But instead, I came home. I washed the dirt off my blister. I cleaned it up, disinfected it, but Neosporin and a bandage on it.

I took care of my foot, because my feet are important to me. And then I texted my friend and told her I wouldn’t make it tonight– she understood. And it was just too HOT. I wasn’t up to driving 80 miles round-trip and meeting new people tonight. I just wanted to stay home and rest.

My body told me to pay attention today and I did.

So I’m getting smarter. I knew better than to ignore the pain and continue on.

Pain is a signal to stop and rest, to evaluate where it’s coming from and why.

So today I chose to pay attention to my body and that makes me feel responsible.

And now I can sleep deeply, knowing that I still have dreams to run.

One Tough Pumpkin: Race Bling!

You know you’re a runner when you’ll do a race alone.

Originally I planned to run The Great Pumpkin Run 5k in Oswego with a friend, but she had to back out. We’re still cool. Then I realized that this race looked like too much fun to pass up! It was at Keller’s Farm Stand– how fun is that?! It also included a black half-zip hoodie- black with an orange jack-o-lantern face. I LOVED IT!

So today I hoisted a pumpkin and went for it. There was a “Tough Pumpkin,” option– completing the challenge entitled you to a second medal. Paying a small fee allowed you to select a pumpkin from two large pins, weigh it, and carry it during the race. I saw it in the promo pictures and it looked really fun! Plus, you get COLD apple cider at the finish line.

I loathe everything pumpkin spice, but I’m a sucker for apple cider!

So yesterday at packet pick-up I tried out a few pumpkins and walked with them a short distance. I guessed one would be six pounds, and the scale confirmed it. Perfectly round with a long stem to carry it with, I felt ambitious! Two other people selected theirs first: both wanted the smallest one possible. Even the man!

The weight range was 2 to 10 pounds. So I was satisfied to be in the middle. I wanted to EARN that race bling. So I made some rules for myself:

1. Keep it on my shoulder or above my waist at all times.

2. Only hold it with one arm. Switch off when necessary.

The parking situation was crazy! A much bigger race than I estimated. But I got to the start line 5 minutes early, and it was exciting!

There were a lot of people in matching team costumes– one was for a birthday. I felt a little jealous at first, I always do. It’s awesome to do races with friends, but the races I want to do don’t usually line up with what’s on the circuit for my running club, or they may conflict with my friend’s schedules. So the majority I run solo.

But running alone also makes me feel that much more like a serious runner.

I also told myself I wouldn’t wear any headphones this time.

So I started with my left arm, and held that pumpkin high on my shoulder.

And ran– sloooowly. And yeah, also walked.

But it was so beautiful!! We started weaving through an orchard, it looked like. Going between the rows as marked by signs and the occasional volunteer. I almost signed up to volunteer, but was glad I didn’t. They had to wear orange long-sleeved shirts and looked miserable! All their sleeves hiked up to the elbow.

Last night it had been a HOT September day, and I anticipated it would be again today. Checking the weather online confirmed it.

Usually I wear the race shirt provided. This marks the first time I went and bought something specifically for a race!! Last night I went shopping and chose a black tank top with a white skull on it in a lacy design. Sexy and feminine! And my black Nike shorts, which are pretty high. But hey, I wanted to be comfortable in the heat.

And I was. So many people wore the race-included hoodies. I’ve been that person: I usually do. You want to be festive and especially when the swag is comfortable and cute. But sometimes it’s just not compatible with the weather! I’ve had plenty races where I was sweltering or shivering, due to wrong assumptions about the weather and layering.

This time I got it right. Just those little details make me feel like a veteran.

There appeared to be a young couple in front of me: both wearing orange and blacks striped knee socks, black shorts, orange t-shirts, and backward baseball caps. They didn’t hold hands, so I wasn’t sure if maybe they were just friends or even siblings. The male’s hat cracked me up. It was black and white and declared, simple: “Titties.”

That gave me a good snicker.

The course progressed from a dirt trail, to gravel. At the halfway mark, water!

I stopped and asked someone to take a picture of me against a golden field. Not sure what it was: soybeans? Definitely not wheat or corn. They were short shrubs.

I was so happy.

Then at the 2 mile mark, we headed on for the final stretch! A few volunteers pointed us toward the finish line.

One of them was remarked to me: “You got the big pumpkin!”

Hell yeah, I did. It was almost the size of my head, looking at pictures.

Another runner exclaimed, “SHADE!!” The shadows indeed gave us a break.

My only beef with this race is that I never saw a photographer. I was really looking forward to race pictures! Good thing I stopped and took some of my own.

I finished strong!

Received my finisher’s medal, then the second– The TOUGH PUMPKIN!! Posed at the finish line with my pumpkin and my bling. Enjoyed every sip of that COLD cider.

Getting my photo the finish line was such a reward. There were so many times I wanted to just drag my pumpkin or ditch my pumpkin all together. Put I persevered. I got a great arm work-out! They’re not as weak as I thought.

This was honestly one of my slowest races: but I exceeded my own expectations!

I noticed that most people didn’t have pumpkins.

The ones I noticed on the course mostly had chosen ones small enough to still run with without hindering their normal arm swing. I saw one woman carrying hers with both hands. Most people let their arms dangle with it.

I even saw two women with backpacks toting something large: the cheaters! Maybe they had a 10-pounder in there but in my eyes, that’s the easy way out.

I carried my damn pumpkin the whole time, mostly on my shoulder, and I’m proud.

Then Tammie called and we met up. Her car was parked close and she offered to let me put my pumpkin in there so I didn’t have to carry it anymore. I accepted! Then we walked around the farm: the petting zoo, the hay “maze” inside for kids. My feet were too tired for a whole corn maze! We sat in this giant pumpkin carriage type thing and took a picture. She had some stuff to do first that morning, but we had arranged last night to meet up and hang out post-race today.

And I tried something: I did a pull-up gripping the arch to enter it. Wow! I REALLY felt that in my core– no wonder you see all the ripped people doing pull-ups in their work-outs. That feeling made me want to actually work out, in addition to running. Goals!

It was great to have a few hours to just hang out with Tammie. She’s been a friend and a mentor to me since high school. We caught up about our lives and we’re both doing great. Happy. We took selfies and leisurely strolled around.

Thursday night we’re going to see a band she told me about years ago– Here Come the Mummies! She plaid a few songs for me in her car as she drove me to mine.

I’m stoked for FALL RACES! This is just the first.

Owning My Story

That’s exactly what I did — to a local class of nursing students two days ago.

Because I was invited! They’re studying the liver right now and I’m a liver transplant survivor since 1984. Initially, my friend Michael was in that class and asked me last February if I wanted to be his “show and tell” for that unit. I was game!

First, I congratulated them on a wonderful, important, career choice as nurses.

I did ask that no one record or take any pictures. I shared details about my diagnosis, lab results, the financial impact of buying health insurance, prescription refills, and hospital bills. I wanted those nursing students to leave with more empathy for their future patients and an appreciation to how managing liver disease is a part of so many aspects of your identity and daily decisions. With some humor sprinkled in on the fun aspects for comic relief!

But I didn’t want it to be public. This was something I normally keep private, as my Dad had advised me early-on not to talk too much about my illness. Mainly because he didn’t want me to lose any opportunities– especially business-related– based on my diagnosis. Most companies see any “health issues” as a liability and discriminate because of it. It’s not legal– but that’s why we have protections against having to reveal that in a job interview. Because all of have the right to work, even if one of those health issues includes a serious illness or disability.

I grew up to share his stoic views, but for a different reason. I didn’t want to be stereotyped as weak– as a “sick” person. It can also scare people off when it comes to dating. It’s the kind of information I don’t typically share until it looks like it’s headed toward a relationship, rather than the initial dates.

But in this context, I have an opportunity to empower and inspire hope.

In this context, being open about something I normally withhold would be helpful to others. I wanted to be an example of a person managing a serious diagnosis who has a normal life — and I wanted to embody for them a name to go with the diagnosis. To maybe help them become a little more understanding the next time a patient is difficult, angry, anxious or hurting.

The first time I spoke about it, I was more facts-oriented. I made sure to use technical terminology and the teacher sent me her power point so I tried to make connections to their material. It was more about feeling validated intellectually for me– I didn’t want the class to think I was uneducated about my condition and my body. I wanted to impress them with terminology, procedures I’ve had– facts like comparing lab values from when my liver almost rejected and present day, when it’s stable and healthy. Things they may study.

The students were attentive but also quiet. I wasn’t sure how I did, but Michael said I was great and the teacher invited me back.

This second time I spoke, I was confident. I validated myself, I didn’t need their approval. I relaxed. I did include some facts and terms, but decided instead to focus on telling them about me. What I like to do, what makes me happy, accomplishments!

I brought my own “show and tell”– running medals!

Two. From Warrior Dash 2016 (my first!) and the Titan 10k, just in July 2017. Two races which really challenged me. I JOKED about the Derby Firecracker 2017, when I was *dead last and was passed up by a 77-year-old woman and a snotty speedwalker. And I could laugh about it– especially since my Aunt Judy had been there taking pictures. And that was more important than my time and ranking!

And I never undermined myself by saying I was a “slow runner”– it never occurred to me. I got to stand in front of that class and reminisce about defining moments in my life when I did something with passion. I told them how happy running makes me, and that it gives me hope when I feel overwhelmed by the doctors’ appointments, price of medication refills, and those mornings when getting blood drawn hurts.

At the end, I got a bit emotional. I didn’t cry, but my voice broke a little.

The way *I see myself has changed since my first talk last February, and it was reflected in how I spoke.

Now I see myself as more than a liver transplant patient.
Now, I’m also a runner with serious training plans for long-distance races.

This opportunity was something I didn’t know I needed; it was a gift for me. Reminded me how far I’ve come– how resilient my immune system. Most importantly, my faith. My legs!

I told them my training goals for races this fall. I felt not just articulate, but healthy. You can’t run five miles without a certain level of fitness!

And I can run seven. I will run nine after training for this upcoming race.

Those students were all watching me. I had their full attention. And best of all, they really laughed and were more interactive. The teacher asked a few questions, and then I was done. And within the time limit!!

Last time I just left quietly, and then the teacher went on with her lecture.

But this time, two students approached me. They were on a small break. One brought me a postcard for an upcoming local Halloween 5k hosted by the college. She told me her name and that she’d be there. On her way out, she turned and stopped, made eye contact. Smile.

“Thanks so much for sharing your story.”

I’m invited back again. And I feel proud, happy, and healthy.