Sliding Down the Banister of Life: Lessons from Shamrock Shuffle 2018

Today was the the most arduous race of my life thus far but the most fun.

Because of friends I’ve made in my run club in the past year. I asked to get a ride with someone I’ve been wanting to get to know and she was excited to include me with her gang. We met at 6 a.m. at a local park and ride area and were together until circa 2:30 p.m., if I’m calculating right. I was one of six she happily transported in “Black Beauty,” her SUV.

And I learned that I have more — genuine– friends in this group than I realized. As I shared anxiety about being too slow to qualify for a “finisher’s medal” and having the course shut down before I crossed the line, two people in the club took that to heart. They both offered support and to help me in different ways.,one even offering to give me his medal if I didn’t make it in time. I appreciated the offers but declined, wanting to make it without any help. I took a chance.

And I still did it on my own. I was very slow. I had major shin splints after the first two miles, out of an 8k (4.97 miles) race. Why? Because I hadn’t run over a 5k since late October, at the 2017 Hot Chocolate Run 15k. I had managed to run once each month from November to March, due to the exceptional chill this winter. Honestly, I did a LOT of walking today.

I’ve also avoided running because I can be a perfectionist. If it wasn’t at least a 5k, why bother? If I knew I would be slow, better to wait until I had more energy. Until the weather was better. But several warmer days passed, and I didn’t run. I didn’t want to deal with those awkward miles, the transition.

“Junk miles,” you might call them. Thing is, you can’t avoid them.

Junk miles happen in every aspect of our lives. Those days you just don’t WANNA but have to anyway. That’s the whole concept of “adulting”– soldiering on. If you wait for ideal conditions, you’ll never finish anything important.

I almost didn’t even register for this race. I knew I hadn’t trained and that my time would be terrible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the whole race, like I did last year. I wanted to preserve that glory. Last year, I CRUSHED my goal, ran the entire way, and didn’t even need a bathroom break the whole five miles. I had a runner’s high so invincible that I legit FORGOT about work the next morning until a co-worker texted me to check in.

But I’ll admit it, I wanted the swag for 2018. A black racing t-shirt, the medal. Even the socks, though I could tell they were kind of cheap. More than those, I wanted to come back and spend time with friends from the two running clubs I joined last year. I loved that they all gather at Palmer House before the race. I had so much fun hanging out after the race, too.

And those running friends were encouraging me all the way. Even though I felt like I didn’t really “belong” since some of them are elite runners who race every weekend, regularly place and medal, and have run Boston multiple times. But they all told me to just go for it, that they hoped to see me there.

So today, I’m proud of myself. I did this knowing full that it would be arduous. That it would be cold and windy. It was harder than I anticipated.

But when I crossed that finish line and was given my medal, I really felt I’d earned it. I heard them call my name out and smiled like a fool! And then I claimed my stuff from gear check and met up with them at Miller’s Pub.

When I walked in, they all cheered! And it was genuine.

I realized how hard I’ve been on myself. None of my running friends are judging my time or ability. They like seeing me at races, they’re happy for every little bit of progress I make, even if it’s quite humble.

When I got home today, I took a long hot bath. After I publish this, I’m going to sleep. And then back to the grind at work tomorrow!

But I cried a few tears at home today, overwhelmed by it all.

I may be inconsistent and awkward as a runner, but I’m still in it.

And the weather was BRUTAL today! A cruel chill that felt much lower than the 35 degrees I saw displayed on the route. At least we had some sunlight. I had on two pairs of running tights, two pair of gloves, a base layer, the race t, AND a windbreaker coat for running. My Shamrock Shuffle 2017 hat, plus a warm scarf bundled around my neck and mouth. I was dressed warm and it worked!

And the best example of how wonderful today turned out is a moment I had with my friend at Palmer House, where everyone congregated before the race. We were in different waves and corrals, but we all met up and got ready together. It was exciting to be part of a tradition in such a classy place, no less.

Last year, she and I played on the stairs, taking silly pictures. She was sliding down the banister and I took a picture. I think that’s how we met! And I suggested over a chat recently that this year we should try to re-create that moment this year. Last time I hadn’t been brave enough to try taking the same picture. The brass banister was taller than my hip and I just couldn’t let go and slide. But today, I did it! Just like this race, it was a bit awkward getting up there at first. But I maneuvered on and stop caring how I looked or if I would fall off. I raised my arms and went to the top and slid down that banister! My mouth was wide open in a laugh and I went for it. I have great pictures, too!

I LET GO. For that moment, and of my expectations for today.

One race and one awkward moment at a time, I’m becoming more confident.

I’m having more fun. And I’m surrounded my some amazing friends, too.

 

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Sharing My Short Story: A Reader’s Reaction

Tonight I read aloud a short story I wrote some years ago. It was two pages.

I loved watching the face of my audience: so intent. Afterward, she asked if she could read it over herself. There were several points she wanted to talk about– things that jumped out at her as symbolic of me. Connections she made about my personality that were illustrated in my characters. Questions she wanted to ask.

I was happy to indulge her, to be interviewed.

Watching someone else hold my work in their hands and study it was amazing.

Suddenly my short story felt elevated to literature.

I stopped writing creatively years ago. I barely blog these days. I didn’t consider myself intelligent, creative or brave enough. I also didn’t want to take on the vulnerability of being published, analyzed.

I had other reasons as well. The last time I wrote something creative and personal, in a “free” writing work shop, it was stolen and published without my permission. The betrayal caused me to shut down and stop writing.

But this experience made me feel validated. More confident. Safe.

This reader found my story inspiring. She was impressed with my creativity.

It made me feel smart, important. Powerful.

I want to share that story with others. Maybe even try and publish it.

And maybe let my pen run free once again.

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.

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.

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.

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.