Tuesday, December 9, 2014

That Time I PRed: My Comeback Race Recap

Well it's official. I made it out alive.
 And I set a new PR.


Hot dang! Thank you to everyone who sent encouragements my way before, during and after the race. I was, and still am, in awe at the outpouring of love you gave me on my Comeback Race. I celebrated with lots of coffee and a huge breakfast at a 24-hour breakfast diner at two in the afternoon. Perfect.

I had to wait a couple days to write the recap because it still seems unreal to me that it's all over.

But I know you are dying to know what happened on race day. So I'll put you out of your misery.

I went to the expo. Walked around. Looked at each booth. Now that I work at a running store, expos don't have as much magic as they use to. Perks of getting to know about the "new, hot running gear" before everyone else. But I did get to go to the Fleet Feet Memphis booth, and that was fun since I got to chat with one of our reps for a while.

After a nice, yet miniature sized, supper at a downtown Memphis restaurant, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for race day.
Yes, I laid my clothes out the night before. It's tradition. Since it was going to be a balmy 55 degrees at the starting line, I opted for my favorite pair of Brooks shorts, a short sleeved tech shirt and a very lightweight jacket.
We got to the start line a little before 7:30 a.m. and made our way to corral 10. Kerri and I decided to start out with the pace group for that corral and see how that went. But more on that later. After a heartfelt rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which I think was sung by a St. Jude kid, the race started.

And I had to wait 18 agonizing minutes until my corral reached the start line.

There is nothing more real than walking toward a race start line with 20,000 other people. That feeling is unlike anything I've ever felt. It's hard to describe. There is an air of seriousness mixed with excitement. This feeling that can only mean we are about to start something important and meaningful and slightly terrifying. And then the fact that you aren't alone just make it that much cooler. I love that about running. It's so "to-each-their-own" but then "all-for-one" at the same time.

I make it to the start line. My corral is screaming with excitement and nervous energy. Music is blaring. And the announcer is counting down the seconds til we start. The music changes. And we're off.

Mile 1: Can you say crowded? 20,000 people crammed on one city street is tight. I say goodbye to my mom and Lisa, and Kerri and I tried to set our pace. Did I mention it was crowded?

Mile 2: Nothing major to report. Ran up the first big hill. And down the bricked road called Beall Street.

Mile 3: First time for nutrition. Kerri runs ahead of me. I run like crazy to catch up to her. Very big hill made worse by very large gust of wind.

Mile 4: Through the St. Jude campus we go. I try not to make direct eye contact with any crying parent. Make it out tear free.

Mile 5: Nothing major to report. Start the long drive out to toward the Memphis Zoo. Try not to think about how I'm running away from the finish line.

Mile 6: Second nutrition. Kerri runs ahead of me. This time I know I can't catch up to her. My pace is set. At some point during this mile I feel a sharp pain shoot up my inner quad. Think about the searing pain and contemplate walking and/or throwing up. Decide to keep running and to slow down if it happens again. Said quad basically goes into a state I call "numb."

Mile 7: Final turn off the death straight-a-way I'd been on for 2 miles. Look for zoo animals. See none. Fight the now crowded street since the road narrowed.

Mile 8: Start relying on the people I dedicated miles to. What would Monica say right now? Worry about the "numb" quad. Can't figure out when I will get out of the zoo. Figure out I'm now in a public park that connects to the zoo.

Mile 9: The Doubts Mile. Another round of nutrition. Evaluate my body. Feeling the fatigue. Calves are tight. Right quad is "numb." Denise would be saying something positive now if she were here. I start to doubt my training and the fact that I set such a lofty goal for a new PR. Why did I say I'd run a sub 2:30? That was stupid. And it's never going to happen. Why is my quad "numb?"

Mile 10: Finally get out of the park and on to the road back to downtown and the finish line. Feel a surge of energy from turning said corner. Can see the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in the distance. Relieved to see the hospital because I know it's close to the end. Where did all these hills come from? Don't remember these hills from last time. How many are there? Where's Kerri? Pick random orange shirt in a sea of people and pretend it's Kerri. Feel slightly better knowing she's up there.

Mile 11: WHY IS THE LE BONHEUR CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL SO FREAKING FAR AWAY? Am I going backwards? It's only a 5K. You do 5Ks all the time. If Daniel were here right now, he'd be prancing beside me with fresh legs. Stupid fresh legs. Must ask him about my "numb" quad. That can't be a good thing. Don't think about it. How are there more hills? Only one more hill left. Seems like a small one. Start up said small hill and realize it's a death trap and then the coldest wind blows at 100 miles per hour while I trudge up it. I tell myself it's character building. Then I laugh at myself because that's stupid. Finally pass the Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, and realize I have 20-ish minutes to run another mile. HOPE SURGES.

Mile 12: Last batch of nutrition. Random guy tells me not to walk because I'm so close to the finish line. Give random guy the death stare. Decide to give it all I've got. Bust out a 10-minute mile pace AND maintain it. Pass tons of walkers. Wonder why they are walking when I'm still running with a "numb" quad, sore foot, tight calves, tight hamstrings and a sore left hip. Contemplate how broken my legs will be once the race is over. Decide it doesn't matter because I will make my new PR goal.

Mile 13.1: Decide to pass someone to feel like I'm winning. Choose blue tye-dye tank top girl who danced around me for 12.5 miles. Pass her. Think about how she's totally eating my soon-to-be PR dust. Enter a state of sheer euphoria. Can't feel my legs. Nothing hurts. I can see the finish line. People are yelling encouragements. Turn the corner. Hear the race announcers. Cross the finish line. Stop my Garmin. And bask in the glory of my new accomplishment. Then immediately wish I hadn't stopped moving because my legs hurt so bad. But I don't care because I ran the half marathon in 2:24:54.

Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Comeback Race

The St. Jude Half Marathon is only 3 sleeps away. To say I am a nervous wreck would be an understatement.

I've been calling this half my "comeback half" since I started training back in September. I've battled nagging little injuries, ran some of my fastest longer distance times ever and managed to kick all my previous GI distress to the curb.

I've learned how to better listen to my body. And I honor what it can do on each run.

But with the race so close and all of my taper runs being not as good as normal, I've been having some doubts about my sub-2:30 finishing time.

I've been doing this thing that I call goal manifesting. I tell people exactly what I want to do, some people I know and others are strangers. The idea is to make it happen by verbal affirmation. Saying it out loud makes it more real.

Two years ago when I finished my first half marathon at St. Jude, my time was 2:45:37.

Three months later I ran the Little Rock Half Marathon in 2:39:46 and got a six minute PR.

Then I took a little over a year off from running because I was injured from not cross training properly, and it took forever (or what felt like it) to figure out what was wrong.

My training this go-around has been much better. I am faster than I've ever been, and I owe that to being the fast group mentor for No Boundaries at work.

But like I said before, the taper has been messing with my mind. So to stop these mental shenanigans, I've decided to dedicate each mile of my Comeback Race to someone or a group of someones who have impacted my running life as of late.

The St. Jude Half Marathon Miles Dedication

  • Mile 1: Asher Brooklyn Ray
    My 6-year-old cousin who is fighting bone cancer for the second time. She was my original inspiration to run my first half two years ago, and she continues to be my inspiration in running and in life today.
  • Mile 2: My NoBo Group - Mike, Steve, Jon, Daniel and Elaine - You have made me do things I didn't even know I could do. Every Tuesday night and Saturday morning for the past 12 weeks you have let me push you to your max, and by doing that I had to push myself. Thank you for the motivation you gave me.
  • Mile 3: Arkansas Children's Hospital Hemoc/Oncology Unit - All the bald babies, families, doctors and nurses who keep each other going when times are happy and sad. Those babies fight each day, and they deserve to be celebrated and remembered.
  • Mile 4: St. Jude bald babies - This is the mile marker that runs through the St. Jude campus. They, too, deserve to be celebrated and remembered.
  • Mile 5: Candace Walker
     My cousin who bravely fought cancer at St. Jude. She is in remission, and she will be running the St. Jude 5K on Friday as part of Danny's Dream Team. She's the spunky little red head in the middle. Yay for us running together! 
  • Mile 6: Sarah Marks
    I met Sarah at No Boundaries back in the summer. She had been running for a while, and she joined our 5k training program to get faster. She wanted me to be her mentor, and I immediately was drawn to her spirit. It was like we were meant to be friends. She recently moved to Northwest Arkansas, and a lot of life changes happened for her and her family very quickly. New job. New town. New house. New running community. I saw her last weekend, and she told me about her struggle with the move, about how much she missed running with us and how she got into a running rut for a while. So Mile 6 is for you, Sarah. It's my favorite distance, and I want to run it with you. 
  • Mile 7: Abby Hanway
    She was a friend of Asher's, and she lost her battle to cancer earlier this year. I chose mile 7 to dedicate to Abby because seven miles is always a blissful distance for me. And 7 is a Godly number, and I know she is in heaven, healed and watching over all of us. She was brave and fearless, and she deserves my lucky mile 7.
  • Mile 8: Monica Zaremba
    She is my favorite athlete. I've known her for a little over a year, and I've been working with her for about six month. She is super fast. And that's awesome. But what's even more awesome is how humble she is about it. She qualified for the Boston Marathon this year, and I'm so proud to call her my friend. She has be a constant ear throughout my training, and she always encourages me, even when I know she can finish a half marathon before I am halfway through it. Monica once told me her least favorite mile was mile 8. It's like a mental road block for her. So I will run mile 8 for her. To celebrate her overcoming the mental 8th mile and her upcoming trip to Boston.
  • Mile 9: Denise Waltrip
    Where do I begin? She was my first recruit to our No Boundaries 5K training program when I started working at Fleet Feet a year ago. She is fast. She is motivated. She is a positive force in my life. And she has been injured for the last three months. She ran my 5 mile long run with me, and only made it to mile 9 in her half marathon training before she figured out what was wrong with her. This mile is for her. Because one day soon we will run 9 miles together, and then I will run with her when she makes her way into double digits. 
  • Mile 10: Kerri Nutt
    I ran my 10 mile training run with her, and I had a PR for that distance. It was under 2 hours, which has never happened before. I will always cherish sharing that moment with her, and it turned out she had a 6 mile PR that same day. She is running St. Jude, too. But I feel like by mile 10 she will be way ahead of  me since she is naturally quick and has been training like a machine. Thanks for being awesome and letting me tag along behind you.
  • Mile 11: Daniel Black
    My favorite full-time co-worker who has put up with my aches and pains for the past year. If I ever "break" anything, he is the person I go to with my questions. He is full of knowledge when it comes to biomechanics, and he's a natural coach. Almost a year ago, he had stomach surgery that deterred his running game. He is currently shopping for a half marathon to celebrate overcoming four years of doctors, tests and a major surgery. I can't wait to celebrate his Comeback Race. I definitely wanted to dedicate a higher mile to him because he always reminds me that my legs aren't broken. Thanks for listening to me whine for the last year about my knee, hip and foot. Your pep talks are always on point. Mile 11 is for you.
  • Mile 12: My Mom
    The lady who got me started on this running journey. My original running buddy. She is my constant cheerleader and the best person I know. She will also be running St. Jude, and it will be our second half to finish together. It's just makes the moment more special when you can share it with your most favorite person on earth. 
  • Mile 13.1: Myself - This is my comeback run. The one that says I can still do this. I have overcome the injuries. I have trained for this. I am ready. I owe it to myself to give it all I've got. So that's what I'm going to do. I will leave it all on the road. The last year of not running like I use to. The figuring out how to not judge myself for not being the runner I use to be. The figuring out what shoes I like since the manufacturer jacked up my most favorite shoe. The months of PT. The speedwork. The long runs. All of it. It comes down to this. This moment. When I cross the start line, I will be on. I will be a machine. It doesn't matter if it hurts. I will finish. I will finish with a sub-2:30 time.
You can follow my race day journey if you want to. Just click here and put in my bib number 5076 to get my splits. They won't be official, but they should be pretty dang close. 

I'll see you at the finish line.