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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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.

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.

A September Run, A Dog, and My Ego

The September breeze enticed me to run tonight– for the second consecutive day.

I was thrilled to put on leggings and a hoodie! I decided on just a simple “recovery” run- 2.5 miles; half of the 5 miles I did yesterday.

Right away, I felt strong. I tried running a different route than I have previously– the wind smelled like a bonfire. It was supposed to just be an “easy” run– but when I checked my pace I was doing so GOOD! Emboldened, I kept it up and kept going.

I encountered my first unleashed dog on a run, which startled me! I heard barking to my right and saw it running beside me. But as I turned to spy my possible attacker, I realized it was just a yippy little thing. Less than five pounds. It was dark so I couldn’t make out the breed, but I laughed to myself! Probably some kind of Terrier. It didn’t chase me– and I continued in safety.

I was having such a good time. I love running in the dark!

But yesterday, I pushed myself to five miles. After three, my left knee and left ankle were hurting a bit– but I stuck it out for the last two miles. I told myself that one day when I run a half, I’ll need the endurance to run on fatigued legs. I never walked.

It was exciting to THINK in those terms– to just assume that someday I’ll run a half-marathon. It’s the first time I’ve thought about it as a given, absolute.

But last night I had less than a quarter mile left when my right foot tripped. I was using it to compensate for my weakened left, clearly. Unconsciously. I think my shoe scuffed and then I tripped. I skinned my knee pretty good– it was bleeding freely.

But I pissed off to have such a great run interrupted, so I did something awesome. I NINJA-ROLLED to the right, then leapt off the sidewalk and continued running. My Nike app never even registered a pause! And I made my goal of 5 miles exactly when I got to my building.

I’ve never felt so hardcore in my life! I was proud. Once my run was over, I got some paper towels from my car trunk and cleaned up the blood before I went in. I poured Hydrogen peroxide on it, dabbed it dry, and put on a couple band-aids. It didn’t even hurt today where I scraped it, thought both knees did feel a little creaky.

I should have taken a Rest Day. But I had to be stubborn.

Tonight when I fell, it shredded the band-aid. I felt minor bleeding through my one pair of Lula Roe leggings. At least the leggings weren’t ruined!

More Hydrogen peroxide. A new, bigger, band-aid. Ice pack. Elevation.

I’m more annoyed that my goal was 2 miles and I went down at 1.89!! So. Close.

With each run, I learn. Tomorrow, a definite rest.

Welcome, September chill! This runner is thrilled to welcome you.

When Running is Your Coping Skill

A conversation with my Dad this weekend zapped me out of a no-running funk.

I told him I was volunteering for a second race. They were three days apart.

Dad: “Have you run this week?
Amee: “No.”
Dad: Pause. “Are you still running?”
Amee: “Yeah.”
Dad: “Better stop procrastinating. Gotta do what you gotta do.”

I had to laugh. Months ago he was asking me why I was running so much! It had been 14 days since my last run. A week ago, I had a major panic attack at 3 a.m. I’m back on track now, thanks to being pro-active and reaching out to people as well as using different coping skills.

But I notice that lately if I’m in a bad mood or struggling to accept something, my friends and family ask about my running:

“Would a run help?”
“Have you run today?”

It’s sweet and reassuring. It means they’re paying attention.

It’s an alert that maybe running is more important to me than I even noticed.

And I’m starting to get it. If you lace up and go consistently, especially when you don’t want to– running becomes a vital aspect of your routine. It’s another source of stability in your life; something you do regardless of your moods or even if you feel a little ill.

Dory told us, “Just keep swimming.”

I want to be like her. In my case however, the mantra is “Just keep running.”

I’m so hard on myself. I need to stop comparing myself to other runners.

And when I volunteered at these races, my running friends were thankful for my support on the course. But they also made a point to ask why I wasn’t running it.

“You gotta get back to running!” one person told me.
“It’s great to have you out there cheering,” said another, “but you need to get out there kicking some ass.”

That made me laugh. Me, kicking ass at a circa 14 minute a mile pace? But I realized, that’s just my own insecurity.

I’m racing on a regular basis. In the pictures, I’m clearly working hard. I’ve got a good stride, I’m IN IT. I LOOK like a runner.

Even if I don’t always feel like one.

Tonight I was well-rested and got a lot done at work! I came home excited to run. I broke it in half: I ran to and from someplace I was going. It wasn’t quite 3 miles– 2.92 when I added up both distances.

But I already feel more sane. And going home was easier, I was faster.

I’ve got a 5k this weekend, and there are several races from September to November I’m planning. GAME ON, I’m ready!!

Mud Factor 2017: Save Your Cash for Warrior Dash

I did my first (and maybe only) Mud Factor race today in Wilmington, Illinois. My first Warrior Dash was in 2016, last summer. I’d do it again if I can find someone to go. You might be wondering about the difference: I will tell you.

I actually had a great time! Got major sun on my shoulders. And it was totally last-minute. Wednesday afternoon I was craving a race for this weekend and found this online. I asked a few people in my running club, but no one was game for mud. I decided to chance it solo and then found a friend and her daughter had commented on the Facebook event page. They invited me to join them to run with her granddaughter.

So I was in! They weren’t running until the 1:30 PM kids’ wave, which was only a 3k– 1.86 miles. Of course my giant ego thought that wouldn’t be enough challenge– so I signed up for an earlier 12 PM adult wave to make sure I got the whole 5k experience. I had planned to run BOTH!

Yeah, that didn’t happen! That’s my beef with MF: this course isn’t a full 5k and requires that you run two laps to fully complete it. Warrior Dash gives you a solid continuous 5k course in one long lap.

But my shoes literally got sucked off in the mud about halfway (I’m estimating?) — I finished the rest of the lap in my socks! I stuck them out of the way on that mud hill and my plan was to go back for them and finish in my shoes, time be damned. But my socks were so caked in mud that I couldn’t get my momentum back. And for some reason, my toes were cramping?! It was damn hot and I told myself, “I’ll make up the difference in the 1:30 wave.” So I re-hydrated, had someone take a picture of me, all mudded up. Changed into clean pair of dry socks.

Then I realized I couldn’t wait that long, so I tried again. I think I made it about a quarter mile in (however long was left) before I knew I was done.

This was also my first DNF (did not finish) race: but I’m okay with it. The clock said it took me 36 minutes to get to the 3k mark. That’s respectable. I don’t in any way feel like I wimped out. There was A LOT of mud, it was damn hot, and I had gotten there at 11 a.m. so had already been in the sun 1.5 hours by then.

So I headed over to the wash-off station, which was a joke. The line was probably 45 minutes because they had a shoddy wooden structure with weak trickles of water, it seemed less than 10 people at a time could use it. Right when I got up there, it faltered. Warrior Dash had a more sophisticated system designed to get a big group through quickly– hoses which you can control yourself, with a steady, COLD water pressure.

I ran a mud race alone today. At 12 noon! That’s seriously bad ass. I almost didn’t sign up because I thought I’d feel like a loser running by myself. But it was the opposite: I felt brave. I felt proud. I felt strong.

Mud Factor has less obstacles than Warrior Dash– and my arms are weak. I really struggled getting up the walls with ropes at WD– but today, I kept moving. Even though I haven’t worked out my arms, it seems I’m overall stronger. I ran most of the course, whereas at WD last year I was mostly walking and gasping for breath.

I texted my friend and we met up at the taco truck. Things were getting packed up by then. We took pictures together and they were just as muddy as me! By the time we left it was about 3 p.m.

One thing that’s better about MF is the parking: attendants directed me and it wasn’t in a big mud field like WD had been. It was easy to get out, quick. But there are extra fees for everything: parking, bag check, food truck, bottles of water or Gatorade, merch. And the merch tent has less options, although the staff was great and didn’t hurry me along to make a choice.

I’d say this is a perfect race if you’re a family and really want to enjoy the course with your kids or just have fun with your friends. The savings could go along way if you’ve got 4 or more people to register.

But if it’s just you, the extra fees for Warrior Dash are worth it. The course is more challenging, there are better, vastly different obstacles. There are on-site photographers at several points and your race times are posted. I think pictures were up in a couple of weeks. Going down the big water slide at the end and then leaping over fire to finish WD just makes you feel invincible!! You can opt for a meal-included, and it’s easy to redeem your food ticket. You get a more ornate medal and a big fuzzy hat. There are multiple places to take photos before and after the race, and plenty of props as well to climb on and show off your guns.

Glad I tried a second brand of mud race today or OCR, obstacle course race.

My plans didn’t work out, but I improvised and had a blast! Bonuses were the cool head wrap included with the bib and safety pins. The finisher’s medal is cool and I like the race logo. I bought a neon yellow race tank as well but thus far, it’s not entirely clean after two washings. Hoping I can get it clean tomorrow with some Oxyclean!

And I got some great pictures!

It’s official: I’m addicted to racing!