My weekend was dominated completely by running in, and then recovering from my first marathon (for which I trained insufficiently, per my usual). A little over a month ago, I had worked up to running 16 consecutive miles, but after that my long runs were sidelined by an ankle injury, illness, snow, ice, no treadmill access, and other less valid excuses.
If you remember correctly. I signed up for this thing because B had, and I'm competitive. Well, wouldn't luck just have it that B wasn't able to run due to a last minute work trip? Go figure.
In October 2013, I wrote about my history with running. That post no longer exists, so I thought I'd summarize it below:
I started running "long distances" when I joined the cross country team as a freshman in high school. I ran cross country for a year or so, and hated nearly every single meet. There is a large possibility that I might have actually been crying in the first picture above. I felt so much pressure to compete against the teammates that I spent my week running with, I would get so nervous before a race began, and as soon as one of my teammates ran by me, the negative self-talk would begin. "This sucks, My body hurts, I want to quit, My hip hurts, I'm so slow. Everybody is beating me. Just fall. Just pretend to twist your ankle, and fall so that you have an excuse to quit."
After high school, I started running again. My mom was a bit of a track star back in the day, and it was something that she and I could do together. We signed up for 5k's, 10k's, sprint triathlons, and a few half marathons. The pressure to beat my teammates no longer loomed; however if things weren't going as I'd hoped. The negative self talk would start right back up again, and more often than not, once it started it wouldn't stop.
When I ran my last half-marathon (October 2013), I had noticed a major difference with my mental state. Instead of letting negative thoughts hijack my mind; when things got rough I was able to refocus my attention with some intentional effort. To break the chain, I utilized some mindfulness strategies. I first focused my attention on the sunrise and scenery which shifted my mind to something other than my throbbing hips, knees, and ankles. I then started in on some positive self-talk. I began repeating things to myself like, "You are doing so well. Your legs are strong. You've already ran 9 miles--that's huge, You're able to breath just fine, It's ok that you are slowing down while you go up this hill, you'll pick up the pace soon," Soon enough, my energy would be slightly restored, and I would feel lighter in my mind and body.
A BRIEF ASIDE:
A Word about Rain
When I was in college, I signed up to run a 10k with my mom, with the caveat that if it rained, I wasn't going to run. I absolutely loathe being in, let alone running in the rain. She woke me up with a cheery disposition announcing that it wasn't raining, so we got dressed and drove down to the course (she drove, I leaned my seat back and slept). Once we arrived we parked, and as I reached for the door's handle it began to pour. I gave her a quick glance, and removed my hand from the door's handle and returned it back to the lever to recline my seat and let her know that I'd keep the car warm for her and I refused to get out.
There was a 98% chance of rain for Saturday morning. I mentally held on to that 2% like Jim Carey in the "1 in a million" scene from the original Dumb and Dumber... "So you're telling me there's a chance!" (that it won't rain). No such luck. It did rain. It rained a lot. My fingers were frozen solid blocks, my shoes were water logged bricks, I couldn't use my phone because everything was wet and the screen wouldn't recognize my fingers as belonging to an actual warm-blooded human. My husband was voxing me sweet encouraging messages, but I couldn't access anything.
DC Marathon Edition
Keeping positive thoughts during my last half-marathon on a beautiful sunny day, was one thing... Doing it for a full-marathon in freezing rain was a far greater personal challenge. Fortunately, I wasn't alone. I had these two trash bag wearing beauties to run with throughout the majority of the race.
So how well did I fair?
a brief play-by-play of my mental state:
Mile 1-6 "I've got this. These miles are flying by! Look live music! National Monuments! Woo! This is fun!"
Mile 6-7: There was a huge steep hill. The hill was lined with images of fallen soldiers and volunteers held flags and were shouting positive words of encouragement, which made me tear up a bit. At this point I couldn't stop thinking about the scene near the end of American Sniper where he is chasing the escape vehicle trying to literally run for his life. These amazing volunteers kept shouting things like, "Attack that hill, blue! You can do it, blue!" I was wearing a blue poncho. I knew that these messages were not intended for me, but I allowed myself to believe that they were for a little while. I later learned that the organization is:
Mile 7.5: We spotted our amazing (and hilarious) friends who were standing in the rain with laminated signs. We stopped for a photo. How great are they? See below:
Mile 8-10: I experienced the worst cramp in my side, that brought me to tears and I very genuinely thought about quitting. One of my running buddies told me to attempt to breath out of my mouth as I stepped with the foot opposite of my side cramp. (left foot- heehee whoo...left foot-heehee whoo). This was a nice little Jedi Mind trick; it gave me something to focus on, so I huffed like I was in labor for the next two miles and it finally passed, but not without some serious doubt in my ability to continue on.
Mile 10-12: We maintained a really solid pace, and I began to finally feel like I wasn't going to keel over. A solid three-fourths of the runners went left, as we turned right. But it was ok, Bruno Mars was singing in my headphones, "Don't believe me just watch..." and I was feeling good.
Mile 13-15: I have no genuine recollection, other than attempting to keep up with the girls I was with, and then my poncho ripped in half, leaving my hands exposed completely to the elements. It was then that I glanced at my phone and saw 12% battery power. It was water logged and frozen in some way that had completely zapped it's battery life, and my stomach dropped.
Mile 15: My phone died. A feeling of complete despair washed over me. "Just me and my awful thoughts, wonderful."
Mile 16-17: We had to run over a huge retractable bridge that crossed a river and was made of steel grates.
This combined my fear of running over bridges with my fear of walking on sidewalk grates. I began to hyperventilate and could feel tears stinging my eyelids. I squealed and ran as fast as I could.
Mile 18-19: A sudden burst of energy hit, realizing we were in the single digits (with regard to what we had left to do).
Mile 20: Slight euphoria. I said, "I really think it's going to be all down hill from here (poor choice of metaphor). We've got this!! Only 6 more."
Mile 21: Euphoria gone. "This is (expletive) horrible." The path was covered with shin deep water so I clumsily tried to avoid it and instead stepped into an ankle deep mud puddle. "expletive awesome."
Mile 21-22: Complete uphill climb. I got really lightheaded and had to walk. An elderly man let me know that this was the worst marathon he'd ever ran... and then he passed me. (For thoughts, see above)
Mile 23: The 5-hour pacer passed me, and I had the most horrific thought that I wasn't going to be able to finish in time before the course closed down, and that I would have to do this again at some point in my life since I failed the first time. Energy restored.
I tried to focus all of my mental energy on conjuring up some scenery from some of my favorite short 3-mile runs and envisioned myself doing one of those runs instead. Yes, my mental imagery to escape running, was to imagine myself running, a different course.
Mile: 24: Simply too many liquids. I gave in and ran into a port-a-potty. As I finished, I looked into the mirror and said to myself, "You can do this." Like a cheesy sitcom character.
Mile 25-26: I finally had some really positive self-talk going. "You are strong. You are strong. You can do this. You are tough" I also focused on all of the nicest things that B has ever said to me. (It was also completely downhill, that helped).
Mile 26- Mile 26.2: I smiled as I ran past a camera, and then immediately began to cry as i crossed the finish line. So.Many.Emotions. When my friends crossed the finish I began to cry all over again saying repetitively, "that was really hard."
Post Race. We picked up our free finisher jackets (see below), and then wobbled to the metro. When home, I peeled off my mud caked shoes, and spent the next 45 minutes sitting in the shower, and then the remainder of my evening with an ice pack on each ankle, a pillow between my knees, and a heating pad on my back.
My husband is pretty great:
One of the first texts I sent to my husband after my phone had been restored was, "That was the hardest thing I've ever done." It really was. I likened it to childbirth. the difference being that instead of after enduring hours of horrendous pain, self-doubt, and mental anguish, I got a jacket and a cold ride home on a metro, rather than a baby and a mind flushed with oxytocin. (I have never given birth, and am clearly being dramatic). This was the first run I ever did where I genuinely did not care at all what my time was, or how many people in my age group I beat. I just wanted it to be over with.
I don't know if I'll ever do a full marathon again. I'm honestly not sure if it was my lack of sufficient training, or if my joints are just genuinely ill-suited for such continued stress. Regardless, I want to always continue to challenge myself physically, and mentally. The interplay between the two has always completely fascinated me. It amazes me how rapidly the mind can spiral from such opposite extremes once it has reached a certain breaking point. One moment I was literally fist pumping to, "All I do is win win win, no matter what.." Thinking such positive optimistic thoughts, and the next minute I could barely lift my feet and was flooded with such intense negativity that was broken up only briefly through intense effort to think of something (anything) other than how badly my hips/ankles/knees/feet/fingers hurt. It was really really difficult, but I'm glad that I did it, and I'm so happy that I didn't have to do it alone, because quite honestly I'm not sure if I would have made it. But I did make it, and now I will wear this jacket every single day for the rest of my life. Your wedding. Your baby shower. Your Birthday Dinner = me in this jacket. Happy Sunday!
Please share any inspiring or interesting 5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon, full marathon stories! What keeps you going when negative thoughts creep in? Do you think I should sign up to do another marathon at some point in my life? Would you?