Friday, April 30, 2010

Looking for the light

The light at the end of the tunnel of this hot mess that is congestion and misery of course!

The first day off from running when I am sick almost comes as a relief. It is a real reason to take it easy, catch up on my daytime TV and just give my body a break. I guess getting sick is my body's way of saying "Hey, remember me? This vessel you've been beating up on with all your long runs lately? Give me a B-R-E-A-K!" And I totally get it body, I love and appreciate you so I will give you a days rest. And you know what I would even love to give you two, because you mean that much to me. But three days, and I am really starting to loose my patience.

With each passing day that my sinuses stayed blocked, I added a sad face and "sick" to my training calendar, knowing all too well I shouldn't push myself. I could almost feel the fitness draining out of my legs and my belly bloating up from no exercise. With out breathing right I wasn't even able to do yoga. Boo Hiss.

SICK. SICK. SICK. When will it end?

Thankfully yesterday I was able to breathe through my nose for a significant amount of the day and managed to hack up only half a lung, and that was in the morning. Feeling well enough for some exercise I decided a two-ish mile run/jog along the tow bath with Boyfriend would be just enough to make me feel like I wasn't turning into a sloth. I couldn't have asked for anything better, even the weather wanted to cooperate and get warmer for me. By the end of the whole thing I had even broken a (very tiny) sweat. Promptly upon returning home I took advantage of my current energy and positive attitude, rolled out the pink yoga mat, and did a nice 10 minute core workout.

What is that glimmer up ahead. . . could it be. . . light?

Things I can enjoy now that I can enjoy breathing: Running and Flowers!
xx Sara

Thursday, April 29, 2010

lemon love

My love affair with Lululemon began where any great love affair should begin, in San Francisco, while training for my first half marathon. Confession: I was kind of a clueless college kid at the time and kept calling them "Lulumoon". I hope they will forgive me.

Fast forward a few years, a lot more miles on my sneakers and some time at at real life big girl job in the fashion industry. I started to hear ladies around the office talking about the amazing butt enhancing capabilities of this pant made by some company called Lululemon. What? Who are these people and why are they so amazing? So I Google them like any curious twenty something person does the second they come across something they do not know about. Much to my surprise and also to my embarrassment they were none other than the Lulumoon of my past. Also I discovered they were full of fabulous and wonderful workout clothes of all kinds.

Sometime later my job opened me up to the wide world of Twitter and in turn it opened me back up to Lululemon. I loved browsing their website, falling in love with item after item, creating a perfect imaginary wardrobe for the life where all I do all day is work out. Of course, my budget is pretty small for the non-essential (even though I would like to consider anything athletic as an essential), so for a long time all I could do was dream.

It would be a lazy Sunday afternoon in the city, after picking up the latest copy of Runner's world at Barnes and Noble, that I would come across an actual Lululemon store. My eyes widened with glee and I stopped in my tracks just looking at the mannequins in the window. I knew a store like this was the last place Boyfriend wanted to be, but thankfully there were some chairs for him to rest on, and quite honestly I was instantly distracted by nylon and spandex in all the vibrant colors of the rainbow. The sales staff was cheerful and helpful, I know way too much about clothing construction and fit for my own good but they had plenty of helpful advice. And then I saw them, the Boogie On Short. I decided right then and there I NEEDED to own this short. It was a perfect mix of soft, tight, short, and awesome. Plus it had a bright colored waistband, and who doesn't love a bright colored waistband? I showed Boyfriend, he was not pleased that I wanted to walk out of the house in shorts so tight or so short. But I wanted them. I had to literally (but gently) be pulled out of the store by my arm with the painful reminder that I just could not afford these shorts right now. It was a sad time.

I had to find a way to justify buying myself a little something. And so last Saturday, after a nice 8 mile long run I decided I deserved a treat. At first this treat was a bottle of teal nail polish and a trip to the farmers market but when I couldn't find the polish I wanted I found myself (how convenient!) right in front of non other than Lululemon once again. And this time I was on my own, just a woman in a store with her wallet and no one to tell her no! I entered, almost too exited to contain myself. I was leaving with a new pair of shorts, I just didn't know which ones yet. I decided to be open minded, because if there is anything my life in fashion has taught me it is something just aren't meant to fit every body. So I picked up three different styles.

Boogie On Shorts; Run:Groovy Run Shorts; and Run:Speed Shorts.

While I was browsing the massive collection of Remix Lulu Hoodies the ever cheerful sales girls came over to take my things to a fitting room. This prompted a brief discussion of my name (Sara) and it's various different spellings, and how it's ridiculously common. Tell me something I don't know. But the girls were great and I began trying on shorts.

The Run:Groovy Run Shorts were up first, and although they were comfortable they were longer than what I was looking for.

Boogie On Shorts were up next, I had a feeling these were going to be the one. After all I had already loved them for so long. But for as comfortable as they were, not too tight, weightless and soft, they just couldn't contain my booty. This is no ones fault of course, and I for one am glad I had the sense to jog in place in the fitting room even if people could see my feet and thought I was crazy. At first I thought maybe I could just get them and pretend it wasn't that bad. But the three way mirror behind me said otherwise.

So now it was on to my last and final choice the Run:Speed short. Magical. Except too tight. Size up please? One was promptly brought to my room and as I slipped it on I quietly squealed with excitement. It was like thinking you had met the love of your life, been dumped, cried, and them met someone knew only to realize they were way better. Except with shorts and not boys. It was like wearing the most comfortable lounging around short, but with all the functionality of a running short. SUPER big plus, someone finally figured out a workable short rise to liner length ratio for my body shape! Side note most run shorts fit me in the liner but there is far too much length in the rise. I tend to roll the waistband down and the front crotch gets all baggy and bunchy and let's just say the look is not the most flattering. This short has the look of a split side but with a smart little bar tack at the sides so at least a little leg still remains covered. The Nylon/Lycra waistband, has an amazingly smooth feel with just the right amount of stretch to stay put on my hips with out *shudder* creating the dreaded muffin top. Oh and can we just for one second talk about the pocket? The wonderful ZIPPERED pocket in the back waistband so that my car key is no longer stabbing me in the hip when I put it into those little envelope waistband pockets? Genius.

I wanted to celebrate my excitement with the sales girls but I was sure they would not know what to make of such enthusiasm for a pair of shorts as I was currently experiencing. She did however suggest I check out the display for all the different colors available. I decided on black body, with white trim and a white waistband printed with random bursts of neon color. Things got even better when I received a discount for showing my registration for the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon.

I left the store that day with a little extra spring in my step. Do you think I'm a little bit of a crazy lady after reading how much I could love one company? Well that's ok if you do, I'll admit I can be a bit of a nut sometimes.

xx Sara

Monday, April 26, 2010

When being sick takes over

Laying in bed on a monday morning listening to the rain splatter against the window, I am only half glad that I am not at work. Half because, well believe it or not I actually like work. But I am sick. Not the occasional cough or runny nose sick, but the kind where I just feel like a ball of miserable. Where going out for a run is the farthest thing on my mind. But then again it's also the closest.

It's been about a week and a half since i've really given my body a good hard speed workout, and my legs are craving speed. They crave pain. I want to feel better first of all so I can breathe, but second so I can RUN. I want to just hop out of bed and do yoga. I want to stretch my muscles and have them feel alive. I want to do crunches, and plank exercises and have my abs scream out for mercy, and then do five more reps before I let them rest.

I often used to overlook small sicknesses, in favor of that one last workout for the week. So what that my nose is just a little stuffy, I feel fine! I need to run! But now I cannot necessarily say that is the smartest approach. I don't want to sound like I am being lazy, I hate all things lazy. But I do think there is some merit to the idea that when you get sick, you should give your body the rest it deserves so it can heal and get better. And when you are back to your best, you go out for a run and see where you stand. Did you loose a few days of fitness, well maybe. But is it the end of the world? No.

So today I will stay in bed. I will do nothing but aimlessly wander the internet while drinking orange juice and eating soup and occasionally taking a nap. I fill myself up with over the counter cough syrups and cross my fingers and hop and pray that I feel better soon. Who knows, maybe I'll feel better when all this rain goes away. And I can celebrate with a nice easy run along the river in the late evening sun.

xx Sara

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The best goal is one that can be achieved

Now that I am officially registered for the Philadelphia Marathon, thoughts about what I want to accomplish from this race have begun bouncing around inside my head. The first thing that comes to mind is finishing. Finishing with out dying. Finish with out dying and not be burnt out when it's over so I can stay in shape over the winter again.

I table these thoughts for the most part though, the race is so far away and I have two other races planned in between that will also need goals. After all every race should be for a reason, no matter what that reason is. I'll admit I put a lot on my plate for the year but twelve months is a long time and there is a reason for every race a picked.

The topic came up once again in the middle of my Saturday morning 8 mile run through Valley Forge Park with Team Challenge. As Coach Jack joined up with our group around mile 4.5 he began to ask about my thoughts and goals for Philly. Giving him a brief overview of my running history he stopped me when he asked where I had come up with my goal of 4 hours for Hartford. I stopped, at least in my head my thoughts did a double take. Because I wanted it? Because It was a nice neat and clean round number? Because I KNEW I couldn't train my body to be ready to qualify for Boston with 3:40 at my second marathon? But where had we come up with that number, had we just wanted to set some crazy scary goal? And how did I feel when I failed to meet it (don't forget Hartford was a PR in the marathon for me, but at the finish it didn't matter).

And then Coach said something to me that made so much sense and made me wonder if my goal for Hartford had been so off base it was setting me up for disappointed from the very beginning. He said your goals should match your abilities, and in the months before the race I should run a test race to see where my speed is at before determining what my finish time should be. Wait a minute, you mean I should make my goal logical and achievable? It all made sense so why had I not done anything like this before? Except I had. The UNITE half marathon at rutgers had been my most realistic goal setting experience of my racing life. I had put a lot of consideration into the kind of shape I was in at the time, and what pace I could actually keep up for the entire race. By being realistic about my achievements, I not only met my goal but I beat it. And even though it was eight minutes slower than my PR it didn't matter.

So let's review. In one race I set my goal too high and even though I PR'd I didn't meet my goal so I was disappointed. In another race I set my goal at a realistic point, beat it, and even though I PR'd I was very happy. Hmmm. At least on thing I can conclude from this research is that meeting your goal equals happy, and I like being happy, so maybe I really do need to set smarter goals.

Something else that Coach pointed out to me was that I could think about goals that had nothing to do with time. I know there are definitely things I need to work on. I need to learn how to deal with my asthma. There is a lot of trial and error involved in that. Knowing how far to push myself, how far I can go, when I need to take my meds etc. I need to learn to train for a marathon with out being so burnt out at the end that I want to quit running all together. I need to learn to pace myself better over long distances, which I am steadily getting better at.

I am a much smarter runner now, I don't need to let other people set goals for me, to tell me what I can achieve. Although I welcome the help of other more experienced runners, and this is not to say that I did not learn a lot from my time training with Larry. I learned to be a really tough person, and to push myself, and to believe I could achieve great things. But just as much as I need to learn to accept my body for the shape and size it is, I need to accept my level of running for what it is. This year so far has been the best year of running so far. I have achieved a lot, I have had fun, learned to be flexible, and am steadily getting into better and better shape. I am not expecting things to change overnight.

At the end of Hartford I honestly wondered I remember being so miserable and disappointed that I wondered if maybe I was just not the type of person who was able to do marathons. When I said these words to Coach his answer was, well if you have done two marathons, I would say you are more than capable. This made sense in a way that had never occurred to me before. So maybe my goals in the past have been a little high. I guess it is the same way as in my life, I just aim at the very top, and even though where I land is pretty high that little note of failure nags the back of my mind more than my achievements. From now on I vow to focus on the achievable. I predict good things in my future.

xx Sara

Friday, April 23, 2010

A little help from your friends

Recently, a friend of mine from high school wrote a facebook note about the things that motivate him to run. I was extremely touched to be included as one of the people that motivated/mentored his path as a runner. The funny thing is we were never friends IN high school, although I can't remember why. His older sister was a cheerleader on my squad. Our little sisters were best friends as toddlers. We lived in the same neighborhood, although at different points in our lives. I dated one of his good friends, M, at the end of our senior year. Even our mothers were at one time friends, chatting on the phone all the time and arranging play dates between the little girls. Let's chalk it up to me just being weird and awkward for most of my life. I moved to Philly for college, my relationship with M ended and I dove head first into my new life as a city girl.

This could have been the end of the story except one summer after college this friend ended up living in my city as part of a summer internship and we actually ended up hanging out in the time I could find between all my training. This was of course the summer I was training for Hartford, and I was taking it so seriously. I thought this would be the year I would come close to 4 hours. My mantra that summer was "If you want something bad enough it's worth everything you give up to get there". To most people I know I give off the vibe of "crazy runner", and I don't mind much. But when people ask me for help or advice, I am so excited to share my world to anyone who would listen. So this friend starts asking for advice on running and of course I am more than happy to help. I talk about baby steps, increasing distance a little bit each time, or each week, etc. As summer comes to an end and fall approaches he tells me he is signing up for his first 5k. It warms my heart when I can share my love for running with someone else, and even more so when they have the self motivation to keep going. It is incredibly hard to push someone every step of the way and when that happens you almost wonder if they even want it at all. But when someone comes along who really wants it, and is really interested in what you have to say, that is amazing. After all, I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for all the people in my life who gave me advice and encouragement to keep on going. This friend is now on his way to his second half marathon.

Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to get to other people's level that I forget there are people who look up to me. Sometimes I even forget that I am probably conveying the wrong message to them by being so stubborn. Not everyone has to be a crazy dedicated runner. Not everyone should push themselves through pain and discomfort. But I am glad that I can be an inspiration to anyone, at any level.

xx Sara

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's for real now

The post it note has been in my planner for weeks now. "Register for Philadelphia Marathon by April 30th. $80-" It stares me in the face hundreds of times a day as I plan through sample dates from factories. I have every intention of signing up, I just like to wait for the very last minute for things. But there is something about the 'after race high' that makes a girl do crazy things. After blogging like crazy about my not always wonderful experience, feeling great about meeting my goals and pushing myself a little farther, and some encouragement from the always wonderful coaches and mentors from Team Challenge Philly, I went for it.

I am officially registered for the Philadelphia Marathon. 26.2 Miles. You hear that asthma? I am not scared of you. You are not going to keep me from kicking this races butt.

xx Sara

Have a little understanding.

Sometimes I get so caught up in my complete love for running, that I forget not everyone has been there before. There was even a time when I didn't know if Boyfriend would ever truly know what I went through for running. The thing that still baffles me is why some people, those who very clearly do not understand, still feel the need to comment on my lifestyle, hobby, or whatever you want to call it. I like to think mature adults can respect each others desires and opinions even if you don't agree with them. And even if you don't know how much work it takes to train for a marathon, or half marathon, or 10k or 5k or just get up every day and decide to go running, if you know you are too lazy to do it yourself can't you just respect those who do?

I can't tell you how many times someone has said to me "how long is that marathon", "oh well it's only a half, that must be nothing to you", or "oh ten miles is easy for you right?". And when seeing me in my shorts, T-shirt and sneakers they say "Oh are you running tonight?" While sometimes it is said with genuine interest most of the time it comes with a tiny smirk and a hint of laughter. I don't have much patience for people who say "Oh well you're just going to run it off anyways so why don't you just eat another cupcake/donut/piece of pizza etc." I hate to break it to you, but I'm in good shape because I take care of my body and I don't eat too much junk food. And I don't "just run it off". Running doesn't equal the burning of all the calories of extra sweets you ate all day long.

Just a weeks ago, at a cookout with one of Boyfriend's co-workers, someone brought up the fact that I had run 12 miles the day before. Now not a single one of the people there was the least bit athletic, so I didn't expect them to understand and that was ok. But I was not prepared for what came next. Someone asked about the New York Marathon, and I mentioned it's difficult to get into because of the lottery and strict qualifying times. But then someone had the nerve to say "Why don't you run Boston, maybe they I'd be impressed". As the words fell out of his mouth it was like slow motion, and I almost had a witty comeback to shoot back into his face but I was too shocked to even speak. While I will agree, yes it is very impressive to qualify for Boston, and one day I hope to be able to do so, just because I have not gotten there yet, does not mean I don't work hard. Don't worry, I later got an apology for this somewhat rude comment

Perhaps I am a little too high strung, maybe I'm just a little to sensitive, but I don't go around my office making joking comments about anyone else's hobbies. I don't care if your thrill in life is dressing up and re-enacting civil war battles. It must make you feel some kind of amazing if you love it, so who am I to judge what makes you happy. I am not always this bitter sounding. And it helps that I have joined Team Challenge and every week I get to train with coaches and mentors who understand me one hundred percent and understand why I want to push myself to be better and faster.

I just want to say to all those out there, if you don't understand me, it's ok. I am not asking you to. All I ask is that you keep your comments to yourself. I don't need to hear them. I don't think they are funny. I work really hard. I make my share of sacrifices. But I am happy with every single little bit of it. I think it is worth it.

xx Sara

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon

It's race morning, six minutes to the start and I realize I urgently need to use the port-a-pot. I jog to the line of towering blue huts, only to find the ground surrounding them muddy from rain the night before. Rain water pours from their crisp white tops, blocking the doorway with drips and drops. I try to be quick and get inside but the door is too short and I cannot make it. There is enough brush coverage right behind them, I decide to just take a squat right there, after all everyone is already at the starting line and I am running out of time. But when I can't get into the right position, and I can't hold it any longer, the race is starting and pee is everywhere. Already I feel this is going to be a nightmare of a race but I pull myself together and off to the start line. I have taken so long that everyone is already off and running. Sensors beep as they register the chip in my shoe and I am off. Thankfully the course starts off with a easy downhill, but what goes down must go up and before I know it I am climbing a very unforgiving uphill. Or at least it started as a hill, it turned into a wall and I am literally climbing. My breath is fast, my lungs tight and I realize in all the rush to pee before the start I never took my inhaler. There is nothing I can do now but keep going or give up. I cannot give up, I worked so hard to get here. I must keep going. The wall ends and I am on a platform lined with tables wobbling back and forth. Must I really have to cross this obstacle that is ever reminiscent of Legends of the Hidden Temple. My brain was concentrating so hard on moving forward that it never stopped to wonder how my half marathon had turned into a Nickelodeon game show.

The hotel room is filled with the darkness of early morning, I check my phone and see I have two more hours of glorious sleep. It was all a dream, but it does not ease my mind at all. I get up to use the bathroom and then ease back in to the warmth of my bed. Across the room Boyfriend is sound asleep in his own bed. This was at my request. If you hadn't figured it out by now, I am extremely weird when it comes to pre-race rituals. Once such oddity is I don't like to get too comfortable the night before a race. Getting ready starts from the night before, I spend a lot of time inside my own head and I knew that if I had my own bed for the night I would be in a better place in the morning. Boyfriend does not understand this at all, and it's ok, I don't ever expect anyone to understand, but he lets me do what I need to do and I love him so much for that.

My alarm wakes me and I open my eyes, this time to daylight. I still cannot shake the bizarre feeling from my dreams. My body begs to be stretched so I oblige, munching on bites of peanut butter bagel that I had brought from home. I pop in my ear buds and turn my IPod on to my workout playlist to get me in the right mid-set. It works. I can start to feel myself getting pumped up. Although I have given myself a full hour to eat, dress, and be ready to leave, because everything is so organized from the night before I know it will only take me half that time. Bag packed with sweatpants, a banana, Chap-stick, my inhaler, and Shot Blocks I lay down on my bed and open up "Once a Runner". Even though I start from a random page in the center, I have been over these pages so many times the story always make sense no matter where I start. The words fill me with determination, and the story although fiction inspires me for the day ahead.

Proof of my OCD tendencies. Laying out my clothes the night before (note I did not end up wearing the hat as it did not rain.

I am more than obviously on edge on this morning, my mind can't get itself to a state of relaxation. The unknown of the city and course combined with the unknown of my ability combines in a lethal combination that results in snide remarks. Boyfriend does not enjoy this and tells me straight I need to calm down. He is right. The car is warm and perfect for people watching so we stay for a few minutes before heading out on the mile walk from the parking lot to the start. To my surprise when we get out of the car the sunshine on my back keeps me warm enough. Boyfriend and I are pretty much the only ones on the path, although every now and then we are passed by a runner doing a warm up lap to the start line.

It would only figure that as we approach the start line, I really DO have to use the port-a-pot. We have 30 minutes to the start so I jump in line, with dozens of other runners. One of my favorite things to do at a race is watch runners before the start. Some go old school and wear trash bags, others clad in old sweats and still others grin and bare it in shorts and short sleeves just waiting until the first few miles warm them up. 15 minutes to start, and I am still ten people away from the front of the line. My nightmare is coming true! I start having a mini panic attack. Do I stay in line and chance being late to the start? The line moves, I check my watch, and then I am at the front. I watch for the door to open and then make a mad dash, feeling so rushed that my jacket gets caught on the door latch. Ugh! I go through the motions as if someone outside the door is holding a stopwatch, and my life depends on peeing in a pre-determined amount of time!

Ah! Out at last and on to the finish line. Off with my jacket, two puffs of my inhaler and I was hopping in line with the rest of the runners. It was a sea of red as everyone was dressed in Rutgers colors. Passing the 12 and 11 minute mile pacers I stopped just ahead of the 10 minute mile sign and then I heard my name being called from the side lines. Glancing to my left I was just in time to see Boyfriend bringing his camera up to his face. Click Click Click. I made a few faces at him and in mere seconds the gun went off and we were on our way. This race was so much smaller than any half marathon I have run yet, it look no more than one minute to cross the start line where as in past races it could take up to ten! I made sure to hit the start button on my watch as we ran over the sensors.
Waiting for the race to start, just observing the crowd around me.

Here was my plan. I knew that the last half marathon I did I went out with ten minute miles and was out of breath by mile 5 and slowing down. The one thing I didn't want to do was go out to fast and not have enough energy for a push at the end. The other thing I didn't want to do was have my asthma act up and slow me down at any point during the race. So I planned to start out with 10 minute miles until halfway through, and then if I felt good push a little harder. If I finished at or under 2:10:00 I would be happy. If I finished feeling good I would be happy. And If I could learn to run steady splits through the whole race and not just the first few miles, I would be happy. People all around me yelped and hollered. Groups of friends talked about how great this would be and I wondered if this was their first time or if they were experienced runners. The first mile is always crowded and exciting. There is nothing but optimism in the air as everyone is fresh and filled with energy. We wound around the skinny campus roads, and my attention was in every which direction. On people's outfits, their conversations, the scenery, my breathing, I just wanted to soak in everything I could.

Mile one. I saw the bright red diamond up ahead and checked my watch as we made our approach. I heard someone off to my right call out "Only 12 more to go!" My time was somewhere around 9:30. What? I felt great, like I was doing a nice easy pace but obviously I was faster than I wanted to. I tried to slow myself down and people passed me in waves. It was as if I was standing still and people were just running by me. But the course was not flat and on the uphill I forced by body to push, on the downhill I took advantage of the momentum of gravity.

Mile two. My watch showed I was approximately 9:18. Seriously? I thought I was slowing down and I was speeding up? Now some people would be excited about this, it was a decent speed, but I was not happy. I did not want to be running this fast. But I still felt good. My breathing was good, my body felt good, the sun was shinning keeping me warm and the occasional burst of wind kept me cool.

Mile three and my splits were starting to be closer to where I wanted. About 9:45. We pass our first water stop and I run through with out stopping. I have a plan, and that is water only around mile 6, two shot blocks and that is all. That is all I take in during my long runs and I know that drinking water in the last few miles may feel better short term but will not help me run any faster, in fact it will only slow me down. I stick to the side of the road I feel like it makes it easier to not get caught up in the crowd.

Mile four and five blend together as my splits start evening out between 9:30 and 9:45. I can't help but think that I have not followed my own advice on starting out slow but my body is telling me it is comfortable so I listen to it. When we hit mile five I am excited because Boyfriend should be somewhere on the sidelines at this point. And then I see him! This brightens my mood lot, it's incredible what seeing a loved one on the side of the road can do for your moral.

Mile six the only thing I remember is eating my shot blocks and drinking some water as planned, and then heading into a mile stretch of out and back where we pass the faster runners going in the opposite direction. The only thing I can think about is the philadelphia marathon where the second half is one giant out and back to Manayunk. The whole way out you pass everyone who is faster than you, and the whole way back you pass those who are slower. This stretch lasts for less than a mile but it feels just as torturous.

Mile seven is when I start to feel drained. I ask myself stupid questions like why I thought this would be a good idea in the first place. Oddly enough I am still keeping pretty even splits though so I am happy. I wonder how I am ever going to get through two more of these and a whole marathon later in the year. But at some point during this time I remember the post I wrote about my medals, and I picture that finishing moment getting my medal. That medal isn't earned easily I remind myself, it hurts to get there. It's worth it, but you have to push yourself. Somewhere along the course I must have missed mile eight. Although I swear I looked for it when my watch was around 9:30 and it just plain wasn't there. I thought maybe I was just running a slow mile, but the 8 mile marker never came.

Just after mile 7 I can still manage to flash a thumbs up to the camera. Still going strong!

Mile nine, ten, and eleven were pure torture and all I remember is convincing myself to keep going, you have to keep going, you have to keep pushing, push as hard as you can until you can't breathe and then you can back off. I have no idea what kept me going during that time, I have no idea how I didn't slow down during that time, because I sure as hell felt like I have been beaten up and spit back out. But I kept thinking about my hard workout from Wednesday and how hard I had pushed myself for three miles I pushed through burning lungs and gasping for breath.

When we hit the marker at the end of 11 I could not put into perspective the two miles we had left, and then we headed into an uphill. It was awful but short, I guess everything is short after running up Schoolhouse Lane so many times and we banked off to the right and into a park.
"Looking strong on the hill, good job runners, the park is all flat from here" Called out one of the volunteers. No hills? A flat loop? I now recognized where we were because we had parked our car near the finish earlier in the morning. I knew how close we were to that finish so the bulk of the remainder of the race would be in this park. Only this volunteer lied, or was maybe just misinformed because the park was not flat. Music blared from speakers at the side of the road and a water stop came into view. I was so tempted to stop and let the cool refreshing taste of gatorade quench my dry mouth but I stayed strong. I knew I could finish with out it. Up another tiny hill, down another tiny hill, and a large loop through the park revealed the second most glorious sight of the day. "MILE 12"

This was it. One mile to go. I had done it. The last mile was just a formality in my mind. All I had to do was not change a thing and I was home free. Before I knew it we were out of the park and onto College Ave, heading back uphill and then coasting downwards to the finish. I could hear the blaring music of the finish line and spectators lined both sides of the street. I could see it! Oh my goodness I could see the finish. This was the best I had felt since mile 5! School age children held out their hands for high fives and I bounced from side to side of the street to bend down and tap my hand to theirs. Did that slow me down by a few seconds? Yes it probably did but I didn't care. I was having the time of my life. "MILE 13" is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I turned left and into the final stretch almost not noticing when Boyfriend called out my name. I threw my arms up in triumph and pushed with all I had to the finish line. That is until I felt the all too familiar stomach tightening nauseating feeling that came right at the finish of Hartford. I held back my pace and let the sensation lessen, noticing the clock said 2:05 and some change I was happy enough, I didn't need to push myself to the point of vomiting anymore.

Seeing the finish line made me the happiest girl in the world at that very moment

I had done it. I had really truly finished the race. So caught up in the excitement and the emotion I almost forgot to hit 'stop' on my watch and so my last mile split is somewhat off. I get my finisher medal, and am handed two bottles of water as I try and hold it together. I am almost in tears that is how happy I am to be finished. I part ways with Boyfriend momentarily to wait in line for the typical grab bag of food. Water, bagel, soft pretzel, orange, granola bar. I don't care what is in the bag, I just want to grab it and get out of this crowd. Once I am back with Boyfriend I crouch in the grass eager to break into my orange. He says how proud he is of me and I say thank you.

And I truly am thankful, that he came out to spend the whole weekend with me in all my weirdness and with all my strange habits, and stood out in the cold and ran from spectator point to point trying to see me as many times as he could before the finish. We stop and buy coffee and breakfast for him at a nearby coffee shop before heading back to the car. All I can think about is, now that this is over there is so much ahead. This was only the beginning, only a start on a long path to staying in good running shape for as long as I possibly can. No more winters off, no more excuses, and hopefully no more injuries for a while. Finishing this race, I proved to myself I can do anything I set my mind to. I am stronger than I give myself credit for, I always have been I just have to learn to tap into it.

Never felt so good to be finished with a race - and another medal to hang on the wall!

xx Sara

Monday, April 19, 2010

My first memories of Boston

True story: My mom has run the Boston Marathon. She has run several others in addition to at least a dozen 10k's, 5k's, and triathlons. Some are more vivid than others, but the story of watching my mom (or as you will later find out, NOT watching my mom) run Boston has always stuck out in my mind. Of course the memory faded a bit when I was in high school but as I got older and started running more the images came back a bit clearer. It was the first time I had ever gotten to see serious runners in their glory. It was also the first time I got to experience the horror of nipple chafing, and other such bodily dysfunctions that occurred with long distance running.

April 17, 2000. It cold, and still dark out as we dropped mom off at the start line in Hopkinton. I was a naive high school freshman who knew nothing about the world of running. Although it was something my mom had done my entire life, I wanted no part in it. I was unaware of the prestige and history surrounding the Boston Marathon. In fact I probably was not too happy to have to wake up so early for the two hour drive to the start line. I didn't understand why we were dropping her off so far away, and why it would take so long before we would finally see her crossing the finish line.

The day was cold, I remember wearing my red "State Champs" swim team sweatshirt under my winter coat. I may have been a member of the swim team but it was not because of me that we were so good and freshman year would be my last on the team. But I digress. The day was cold and Dad and I spend it shopping up and down the streets of Boston. He had strict instructions from Mom to entertain himself for the day and then be at the finish when she was anticipated to cross. All we had to do was be at the finish. Easy right? Well Dad had other plans. Now that I have been through my fair share of races I understand the spectator desire to see your loved one at more than one point. It gives them hope and cheer, pushes them to keep going, and right at the end is where Mom would need this from us. So we found the finish line about an hour early, and we would walk in the opposite directions of the runners in hopes of seeing Mom out somewhere on the course.

I said the day was cold but this didn't stop the runners from turning out in shorts and T-shirts, another thing I now understand. As we watched the sea of people go by we tried to remember what Mom would be wearing. We had no signs to get her attention, no plan, just the hope that we could get a glimpse of her and yell out something encouraging as she flew past. I don't remember how far out we walked, maybe only two or three miles, but at that point most runners were in a state It will take my own marathon to understand. At that time I just watched them all go by in awe, observing every different colored piece of clothing, outlandish costume, and writing on their shirts, legs and faces. Try to pick out a middle age, average height and weight, medium length brown haired woman out of that crowd and I wish you luck. Try picking a needle out of a stack of needles, but they are all moving! We stayed out there on the side of the road until the stragglers started coming through. The point at which we realized we probably missed her was when we were passed by a man with one leg running on crutches (Not kidding). I kid you not. This is not to say what he was doing was not an amazing feat, because let's face it, it was incredible, but we knew Mom was probably somewhere ahead of him so we decided to head back.

Since we were right along the T-line, and too far away from the finish to get back in a decent time we decided to catch a ride on the train. Fail. The train got stuck underground at some point, and we had no way of getting out and walking. We couldn't even make a phone call, this was before the days of everyone having cell phones with exceptional underground service. We crossed our fingers that Mom would just be waiting patiently for us at the end.

As it turns out she was waiting but not patiently. By the time we surfaced out of the train mylar blankets were blowing by like tumble weed and the finish line was vacated. We had missed her shining moment of glory as she crossed over 26.2 mark at the end of a physically exhausting and emotionally taxing journey. We found her in the medical tent wrapped in mylar, she was ok just distraught wondering where we had been. Tears were in her eyes when she saw us, I can only imagine how scared she had felt. As a teenage I often felt terrible for doing this to her, how could we let her down at this important moment of triumph? After running my own races I realized that we hadn't let her down. We may not have been there to see the incredible moment at the finish, but she was there. She was the one who had put in all the work, all the miles, all the training, and she was there to finish her race. That was all that mattered. When I cross a finish line, what matters most to me is that I did it. I made it this far. I forget about all the people around me watching and I soak up the glory of the moment. Most times I almost, or actually do, cry. I also look back on this day when friends or family come to watch me race and make sure I plan out specific locations for them to watch that are easy for me to look out for. I tell them not to wander from their spots or I will never find them!

To this day my mom and I still differ in opinion on the validity of running for charity to enter the Boston Marathon. I cannot say she is wrong, for she would not have gotten the chance of a lifetime to run had she not been offered a number. And while I will not judge those who decide to run for a charity, or somehow obtain a legit bib number for the race with out properly qualifying, it is not the path I want to take. When I run Boston, I want to have earned the right to be there. If I am going to run with the best, I want to truly feel as though I deserve to be there. It may take me longer than planned to get there, but the way I see it there are plenty of other races to run in the mean time.

xx Sara

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Getting there

Saturday April 17th, day before the race.

Boyfriend and I are in no hurry to leave for New Jersey so I had planned to let my body sleep as long as it wanted. Unfortunately my stomach did not want to sleep as long as the rest of me and after much resistance I finally gave in and woke up for some breakfast. A bowl of cereal, a bagel, coffee, water, and some yoga later, Boyfriend is awake and we are soon ready to begin our trip. Bags packed, I run through my checklist one more time before we head out the door. I am excited to get going, I love running expos, bib numbers, T-shirts, and being surrounded by other runners. Conversation during the drive up blurs in my mind, focused only on getting to our destination.

It is mid afternoon as we arrive on Rutgers Campus. Everything looks so clean, organized, and green. Sure my college had a campus but it wasn't exactly sprawling green lawns and trees. We followed the GPS to a parking lot, unsure of our surroundings and feeling more than a little out of place on a campus. Luckily there was a map close by, but we must have looked out of place because I didn't even get close enough to see the map before someone stopped to ask if we were lost. "Oh I'm just looking for the expo" I said, not wanting to use the actual name of the building knowing it would make me stick out even more. Boyfriend and I try to navigate the vast layout of winding sidewalks, buildings and parking lots, obviously fish out of water on a "real" campus. We have become such city people and are used to being able to easily navigate our way around the symmetrical grid of downtown.

After much wandering we finally found the gym! Actually after much wandering we found the gym, went back to the car and drove it to the right lot. I could feel the excitement build but I was skeptical about the size of the expo, the website said it would be indoors and out. When we arrived at the front entrance to the gym there was only a lone, vacant white top tent. So much for indoors and out. The smell of chlorine hit you like a wall as you entered the gym, and we followed signs to the expo area. My heart sunk a little bit the second we entered the gym and I could tell the expo was only a tiny space in the center.

Approaching the back table to collect my bib and T-shirt I confidently recite my number "1766" I tell the yellow shirted volunteers, much to their excitement. I decided it better not to mention I was disappointed in my number as it was not 1776. As it turns out 1766 was the year Rutgers was founded, and if I had gone to Rutgers I probably would have known that. But I did not. I was handed my bag and Boyfriend and I began to browse the merchandise at very tiny expo as I dug into my bag to check out my T-shirt. The expo was not the only thing that was incredibly tiny, my size small T-shirt could have fit a 10 year old. The volunteers who just moments earlier had yelped with excitement at my bib number were less than thrilled I wanted to exchange it. No dice. Apparently all shirts came in to small and they can't exactly size up everyones shirts. Fail #1 for CGI racing.

With the expo over, and the rest of the afternoon ahead of us we decided to find some lunch. Coincidently we were ten minutes away from where Boyfriend often meets friends of his for a yearly get together and we knew there would be lots of stores and restaurants to entertain us. Just my luck we happened upon a Friendly's (my favorite). A lunch of crispy chicken wrap, fries, and a small sundae had me in a very good (and full) mood as we made our way to the hotel.

It wasn't until we were in the hotel that I realized just how much time stretched before me and this race. I don't know what I expected but I didn't like having so much free time. I am no very patient, and not a good waiter, although I am working on strengthening both those skills. Boyfriend and I flipped through channels on TV while deciding what to do for dinner. He kept asking "don't you need to carbo load?" but when I asked him if he even knew what that was he admitted "no". He is too cute. We decided on Olive Garden, which is a big step for my all italian boyfriend and the only time I will make him go there is before a big race in a strange city where I need something familiar. Aka now. But on a Saturday night we aren't the only one's with a hankering for some spaghetti the place was packed! I agree to the 50 minute wait until I look at my watch and realize it's 8pm. I am paranoid about getting enough sleep so I come up with the brilliant idea of getting take out and eating in the hotel. 25 minutes later we are zipping back to the Hilton with a bag full of hot pasta, fresh salad and garlic-y breadsticks. I can hardly contain my excitement.

Part of me feels like we are just on vacation. But part of me knows why we are here and that part is really nervous. I lay out my clothes for the next day, running tights, sports bra, socks, and decide which of the three tops I have brought will be best for the weather. My white Nike Dri Fit long sleeve ends up being the winner and I pin by bib neatly on the front. I fold my D-tag on my sneaker and lay it all out on the floor. I am as ready as I'll ever be. It feels so strange to be getting ready for a race. Something I haven't done in so long. I know I am ready but a part of me is still disappointed to know I will not be able to beat my PR. My goal is to finish, to stay strong, watch my breathing and not burn myself out. Most races I go out with a bang and suffer at the end. I wanted to finish this race strong. I wanted to prove to myself I can do it.

I prepare a nightcap of watered down gatorade on the rocks and planned to crawl into bed and read a few chapters of "Once a Runner", but the second I am under the covers all I want to do is sleep. I close my eyes and try not to think about tomorrow.

All I want to do now is sleep.

xx Sara

Friday, April 16, 2010

More than a checklist

I love traveling, and I love running, so I should love traveling to run right? Well not so much. Most of the races I do are right in my own backyard - the city of Philadelphia. And I like it this way.

Being the creature of habit that I am, I don't like the unfamiliar, especially during such a crucial time like race day. I like to cook my own dinner, sleep in my own bed, have all available outfit options at my disposal the night before a race, and to not need directions to the race start or around the area.

But this year, because I want to run so many races, staying home is just not an option. I haven't traveled for a race since Hartford and that was to my parents house, let's be serious here that's just a home away from home.

I am OCD. So I must make a list. This list includes everything I could possibly need on race day be it hot, cold, rain, or shine. Hat, sunscreen, shorts, running tights, two pairs of socks (can never be too safe), watch, Body Glide, (as I write this I realize I forgot underwear *runs to go back some* Yikes!), headbands, sunscreen, and so forth. After I write everything on my list, I collect my items and check them off as if I was secretly hoping to win some kind of scavenger hunt. Once collected everything is neatly organized inside my red Adidas gym bag - which I have had since my cheer leading days in high school - which makes me feel more serious than a regular suitcase. Because elite athletes always pack in brightly colored Adidas gym bags? Well in my world they would. I am not confident I have remembered everything until I have double checked my bag, and then verbally run through the checklist with Boyfriend so he can confirm I didn't leave anything out. I told you I was OCD.

I spend the night with Boyfriend, enjoying for once a nice relaxing Friday night. We make salmon and mac and cheese, an odd combo I agree but this is what was available and it was delicious and filling regardless. I treat myself to a glass of red wine, as most other Friday's I force myself to go to bed with only water. Cozied into the couch, I prop up my feet (they are being spoiled for two days in exchange for nothing but hard work during the race) and flip through the latest issue of runners world. I will spend the next two days mentally in the "zone" of preparing for a race. It's the only way I know how to make it work. I think running, talk running, eat sleep and breath running. I take it all a little too seriously.

I still cannot believe that I am running a half marathon in less than two days. Ok I believe it. I cannot belove that I feel ready for it. Ready to kick it's butt. And to come home, rest a few days and then get right back to training.

Can't wait!

xx Sara

The hardest thing I have ever done.

When I signed up to run with Team Challenge, I was beyond excited to be able to raise money and awareness for a chronic illness while doing something that I am so passionate about. I was incredibly optimistic, ready for the road that lay ahead, confident that my friends and family would want to support me. After-all it has been about five years since I have jumped on the fundraising bandwagon. And this time I wasn't doing it so I could have people to train me, and tell me what to do. I would be running a race in June regardless, but this one meant more, it was special, I was personally tied to the cause.

I had a feeling that just begging and pleading with people to donate would not go over that well. I was in a great city, I had a great network of friends, and I knew they all liked to go out and have a good time. I wanted to plan a bar crawl to get everyone together, raise a bunch of money and have a ton of fun. I thought it would be easy. But typical me, I jumped in way over my head, bit off way more than I could chew and picked the hardest thing on the list with out realizing it. The phone calls alone could have been a second job for me. Let me tell you, trying to make everyone happy is no picnic and even Boyfriend could tell I was getting stressed (and maybe a tad bit bossy...) After two days of non-stop planning and a few minor freak-outs, I had a plan underway. All I had to do now was get people to agree to attend! Piece of cake.

Only it wasn't. It was hard. people were busy, or couldn't commit in the time I needed them to. I slowly grew disappointed, and burnt out from pestering people for answers. I stopped for a few days and although I felt better, I was no closer to a successful event. It was like the second I stopped pushing I stopped seeing results. Sounds a lot like a diet doesn't it? Get lazy and things start to slide? I sent a few follow up emails and messages, and was met with a tiny bit more response but every time I thought I could take a break and rest I needed to keep going. There were many days where I looked forward to a hard tempo run where I could be left alone to just my thoughts. I could set my own terms and worry about pleasing no one except myself. I didn't mind the pain because I knew I was in control.

The more I thought about it I realized fundraising is like running. The lessons you learn are the same, and when you really stop to think about it, both are like life. Sometimes it sucks, and it's really hard, you don't want to keep going but you have to. You have to push and never give up and just keep trying until you reach where it is you want to be. Because when you are standing there, in that moment, when you reach your goal all the hard work is 100% worth it. I am loving every second of being a part of this, enjoying it for all the good it brings to such an important cause. For all the wonderful, friendly, and encouraging people it has brought into my life. It's just another reminder that nothing in life comes easy, and if you're willing to do the work you will get amazing results.

If you or anyone you know would like to donate to the CCFA to help find a cure for Crohn's and colitis, please feel free to visit my fundraising site.

xx Sara