Post-Marathon Blues.

Everyone has a period of time post-marathon that serves as both mental and physical recovery from the race. I spoke a bit about my own experiences during the marathon and how I have mentally dealt with recovering from a terrorist attack… but this is different. This post-marathon blue is strictly running related.

When you set out to run your first marathon it’s because you have mentally challenged yourself (and accepted) to run farther than you have ever run before. You have accepted the initiative to push yourself farther than you have ever gone before. You are, in a sense, committing to a state of immortality where you achieve the real respects of a demi-god status.

Since the marathon I have found myself in a state of coming down, if you will, from that post-achievement high. When I find myself at work, dreaming about going running after work, I find that my day dreams are increasingly less fulfilling when I suggest Maybe I should run a few miles… you know 5 or 6, something light… It feels so lackluster. It’s like, psychologically, I got excited about the reality that every week was something new. Every distance was an achievement in itself.

I know physiologically that I wasn’t made for running 26.2 miles at one given time a million and one instances in my life. I’m much more of a half-marathoner. And with that, I have to accept that there will be days when I will speak of “my personal best distance” and can only speak of the past. To the perpetual achiever, it’s a bit of an unsettling reality.

What I have decided is that the post-marathon blues are best cured by dreaming up new ways to physiologically challenge myself. I will work at getting faster and getting stronger. I will explore new outlets and ways to connect with my body. I will discover the farthest limits and will push myself beyond them.

Live through the movement. That is my pursuit.

25.8: The Almost Marathon.

I have struggled to find the perfect words to encapsulate what has occurred in the last 26 hours. When I woke up yesterday, I anticipated crying at the finish line. I anticipated being overcome with emotion. I never anticipated this.

After running 25.8 miles, I hit a wall literally. Upon running into Kenmore Square, I was greeted at the corner of Massachusetts Ave and Commonwealth Avenue by a barrier of people and chaos. Myself and few other Dana Farber teammates had huddled together and were confused. A woman walked up to us to tell us the grave news, “The race is over. There was a bomb at the finish line. People are dead. You can’t go any further.”

My thoughts started racing: A bomb? In Boston? On the world’s most elite marathon route? Is this a joke?

No, it wasn’t. It was all too real. I found myself somewhere between tears and total numbness. I had already been crying for the entirety of Beacon Street (the last 2 or so miles leading up to Kenmore). My barefoot running shoes, much criticized by all of my running friends, had finally betrayed me and given me a series of nasty metatarsal sprains. My phone had betrayed me and died somewhere along Mile 21. I was suddenly in a crowd of people without any way of contacting my loved ones who were waiting for me. It was horrifying.

My teammates and I decided that the only safe place would be to walk back to Mile 25 where the Dana Farber team always camps out and waits. On our way, we found a teammate’s best friend who had a working phone. She graciously offered up the ability to use it to anyone who could remember numbers. We learned from a police officer that calling would be impossible but to try texting. Many chaotic and gut wrenching moments later, I found myself realizing my boyfriend’s number (which I couldn’t remember to save my life) was written on the back of my race bib in case of emergency. We exchanged a series of texts before I learned he was safe and able to come to my side of Kenmore. My parents, however, we trapped and couldn’t leave Copley easily.

Reuniting with Philip was the most profound moment of my life. I have never been so happy to see someone I loved so dearly. I was so blessed he was safe. I was so lucky to have a teammate that helped me find him.

When we first learned the news, my teammates and I were angry. This was our first marathon. We had trained in the worst winter in recent memory. We endured long runs in freezing temperatures. We had black toenails and blisters. We paid our dues. We ran 25.8 miles… we were only 0.4 from the finish. How could we be robbed of this opportunity?

After many hours of digesting what has happened, I can honestly say that this race is a perfect example of how people who live with cancer either in their own body or in a loved one’s body learn the ultimate battle of adjusting to a new normal. Everything is surreal. All of your hopes and dreams are shattered. Your ability to think clearly is muddled. Your heart is heavy. Your eyes are bloodshot. You can’t sleep at night without thinking about “What if?” and spinning yourself in circles.

I ran 25.8 miles for the strongest person I know, my father. I struggled throughout the course just praying for the strength to keep going. I hugged my friends that cheered me on. I received words of encouragement from hundreds of spectators. Fellow runners gave me boosts of confidence. It’s these moments that I hold most sacred. The running community is a strong community. We overcome all sorts of personal barriers to get to race day. It’s unfathomable that someone would harm our loyal supporters and ruin the sanctity of the world’s most elite marathon.

I don’t know yet if I can handle another attempt at 26.2. But I know now that my attempt at the almost marathon is still valiant. I know that I am blessed to have fallen off pace so significantly that I personally avoided danger by mere moments. I know that I am one of the lucky ones who could find my loved ones in the chaos and kiss them in tears.

I pray for all of those who were unable to find their loved ones. I pray for those who are maimed and injured. I pray they know that the runners of Boston are now their biggest fans. I pray that the families of the deceased find comfort in this time of immeasurable grief. This is incomprehensible and unjustifiable. I vow to never let go of the moments of sheer joy I found on the marathon route. I promise to continue to spread the goodwill of those incredible spectators who paid the ultimate sacrifice to the world. Their legacy is the ultimate race medal. And to them, I am undoubtedly grateful.

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My singlet is decorated and ready to go. Guess all that’s left to do is sleep!

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart).

My singlet is decorated and ready to go. Guess all that’s left to do is sleep!

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart).

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It’s all come down to this! It’s nearly time. Here’s to 26.2 closer to a cure!!

It’s all come down to this! It’s nearly time. Here’s to 26.2 closer to a cure!!

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Marathon Training: San Francisco, The Stomach Bug, and 20 Miles By Myself.

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s been over two weeks since my last update. What’s going on?  Did I fall off the wagon?

The answer is well, yes… and no.  After my glorious 17 mile run, I had a couple of days at home before I had to jet off to San Francisco for some business travel.  I have heard horror stories about the hills of San Francisco and dreamed of triumphantly finding a few spare hours in my 15-16 hour work days to conquer them.  I mapped out runs from my hotel all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.  I had it all figured out except for the one detail you can never plan on… your health!

The night before leaving for SF, I found myself in the throws of a violent stomach bug.  A sleepless night spent on the floor of the bathroom wasn’t quite what I had planned.  At 4AM, my amazing boyfriend dragged himself out into the depths of the farthest ends of the city to the only 24-hour CVS around.  He knew I wouldn’t make it through my cross-country flight without my go-to savior: Dramamine.  Seriously folks, if you ever find yourself with severe nausea or the inability to keep anything down this is my little secret!  I discovered this trick years ago when I found myself in a similar predicament while traveling in Greece.  This also came in handy a few years later when I contracted a parasite in Morocco.  By 6AM, I was in a cab headed to the airport hoping that one round of Dramamine would be enough to tackle the 7 hour flight to SF.  It worked, thankfully.

As you could imagine, my plans to conquer a run in SF were abandoned.  By the end of my 6 days, I managed to get in a speed workout but my scheduled 13-15 miles had to be omitted in lieu of recovery.

When I returned to Boston last week, I was worried.  Sure, I could skip a medium run but I couldn’t skip my Saturday run.  I had to conquer my 20 miler.  If I delayed my run by a week, I would risk over-training and the potential for increased likelihood of injury.  Saturday would have to be my 20 miler whether my body wanted it or not.

I considered joining my team for the run but realized I needed to tackle this feat on my own.  This was the peak of my training program.  It was a height I had ascended to largely on my own.  It felt only natural to conquer it alone.

I’m happy to say, I did it!  I once again broke my physical limits and managed to run 20 miles in 3:30.  I knew I’d be slow but I was impressed by my resilience and perseverance.  Saturday was a whopping 36 degrees with a bitter windchill.  After traveling to Orlando, SF, and a warm day in Boston, it psychologically felt colder than ever.  There wasn’t a single moment in the 20 miles from Brookline to Wellesley and back where I ever felt warm.  I just kept running and hoping I would eventually be back in Brighton and closer to warmth.

Mile 16-17, I hit Heartbreak Hill.  I still find it amazing that people consider this to be the worst hill.  I think the hills of Brighton are far steeper and more menacing.  I felt triumphant as I barreled downhill past BC.

By the time I reached the end of mile 20, I was overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment.  The longest run of my life was complete AND I did it alone.  Anyone who knows me should consider this the ultimate accomplishment.  Being a twin, I have spent my whole life in the company of another person.  Doing anything by myself is often daunting.  What can I say?  I just don’t know what it’s like to exist singularly.  It’s a testament to my growth as a person to have run this far without anyone by my side.  I know now that it’s all a state of mind.  I am fully capable of achieving my goals… all by myself.  It just took 20 miles to realize it.  What an incredible discovery.

"You can do anything you set your mind to, man."

Marathon Training: 17 Miles on a Saturday.

Days after returning to the frigid Boston weather, I hit the pavement for my first outdoor run since “Nemo” (aka that huge disgusting snow storm that dumped 2+ feet last month). Thursday night marked a phenomenal internal turning point… I ran 7.25 miles and literally believed it was the easiest thing I had ever done. WHAT?! WHO AM I?? Maybe I was still riding high on Princess accomplishment endorphins or my itch to wear in my new vibrams had me delusional, either way it felt good, real good.

After that run, I signed up to attend my first Saturday team run. I have spent the majority of my Dana Farber Marathon Challenge in solitude (intentionally). You see, for me, running is well… personal. I have really grown into the habit of using it as a therapeutic means to work out my mind and my body.

I have to admit, I have also avoided group runs because the idea of crawling out of bed at 7AM on a Saturday to trek out of the city is a something I’m not usually keen on. Today, though, was different. I woke up early, threw on my running gear and my amazing, supportive boyfriend did his part by driving 30 minutes to drop me in Waltham with my team.

I arrived to find a community of primarily seasoned pros. It was harder than I thought to get integrated but, as I soon found out, all it took was a little willingness to go outside my comfort zone.

The 17 mile course around Waltham + Lincoln was markedly hilly and winding. It was a saving grace to be part of the DFMC family. Every few miles selfless volunteers were standing at strategically placed water stations offering up the right dose of nutritional refuel and spiritual refuel.

A few highlights from my run:

  • Along miles 3-5, I met up with a guy who was running his sixth Boston for DFMC. He told me about his personal connection to cancer; first through his father’s death when he was a child and recently through his sister’s own battle to her current state of remission. It was really motivating. Realizing he came from a similar situation, I took the opportunity to be candid with him and asked a question that has long plagued my training, “Did you cry during your first marathon?” He smiled and laughed. ”Kind of. I hit the finish line and definitely felt a huge wave of emotion.” It reassured me how normal it is to feel a range of feelings as you progress through your 26.2 journey.
  • Miles 8-17, I made friends with Amber. It turned out we had been running side by side for the majority of the run and felt like it was time to introduce ourselves. It proved to be the best partnership. Amber and I talked for a long time about training, life, and our connections to cancer. It was hard to hear about her grandfather’s battle and ultimate passing from pancreatic cancer. We shared a lot of encouraging words and it felt pretty electric. I was lucky; though this was her first for DFMC, Amber had already run a marathon. This meant that my push to 17 would be with someone who had already gone the distance and knew it was feasible.
  • Miles 10-13, Amber and I met a guy named Dick who had been involved with Dana Farber for over 10 years. He had run something like 17 marathons and was noticeably pro-level. Dick was eager to give advice on tips for success. He also told us some inspirational stories about how a friend convinced him to run for DFMC. Since Dick was running 20 miles, we didn’t get to run long with him before the course split into the longer versus shorter paths.

Overall, I realized at the end of the race just how powerful it is to keep the company of others. I never felt mentally fatigued as I pushed myself to the longest distance I had ever run. The volunteers, the fellow runners, and the combined energy of our team spirit gave me plenty of motivation to keep going.

The craziest part? This run marks my second to last time of hitting the category of “my longest run ever.” Next week, my training calls for a 13-15 miler and the following week will be my longest run pre-Boston coming in at 18-21 miles. It’s hard to believe that taper is almost here. All this time I spent thinking I’d never make it and now I’m closer than ever!

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Marathon Training: Fit For a Princess!

When I tell people I’m running the Boston Marathon there’s usually this moment of awe and wonder. People tend to look me in the eye and tell me how great I am and how proud they are. Being the “casual” runner that I am, I often am uncomfortable with this kind of talk. I have never considered myself fast. I am by no means the best runner. I am just an ordinary runner… at least, I think. But somehow, people have a way of looking at me and seeing things in me I have a harder time actualizing. I just didn’t know it yet.

This week’s training brought me back to where the achievements all began: the Disney Princess Half Marathon. Last year, I ran the Princess Half casually. It was merely a test of my personal limits. I wanted to know if I could do it. I had no qualifying time. I started in the last corral. The only expectation was to finish upright and receive my medal.

Flash forward to this year. Despite knowing my time from last year (2:09), I had no interest in delving into what corral I would be in. I just wanted to focus on using the race as a timed trial to break down my own barriers. When I picked up my race packet, I found myself floored to discover that I was moved from Corral H to Corral A. In one year, I had literally moved from the back of the pack all the way up to the elite most runners.

Race day morning was a real treat. A 2:40AM wake-up call is a lot more brutal than any Princess Half blogger will admit. My adrenaline hadn’t quite kicked in yet… I just wanted to get into my corral and stretch the hell out of my nervous legs. By the time I reached my corral, it all became real. Not only was I among the fastest of the 26,000 entrants (those words still blow my mind), I would end up finding myself standing side by side with an Olympian (Summer Sanders). The corral behind me even had its very own Hobbit (Sean Astin). It was humbling to have such awesome company. As I waited what felt like an eternity for the pre-race festivities to end and the race to begin, I was overwhelmed with emotion. All this time training for Boston had me blind to how far I had come. I was making progress. My body was capable. I just had lost sight of just how blessed I was. At least by Disney standards, I was special. Who knew?

The race would prove to be my best yet. I PR-ed for my 10K (57:01), 15K (1:25:55), and Half (2:01:21). My average pace being 9:15; a considerable minute faster than my usual lazy long run pace. The best part about my time was realizing how well conditioned my body had become. I was not as tired at Mile 8 as I was last year. I hit some mental fatigue around Mile 11-12 but still held my pace to be faster than my practice. Despite not breaking my goal of sub-2, I still feel accomplished. I have come a long way from last year and continue to grow as a runner.

The Princess Half reminded me that sometimes you need a timed trial to help solidify your progress. It’s important to keep running, keep training and keep believing. The finish line is secondary to the real goal: overcoming my limits.

There’s 47 days until the Boston Marathon. It’s raining ferociously outside. Yet, I have never been more excited to finish out my Dana Farber Marathon Challenge. Here’s to getting there and doing whatever it takes. I know I am able. I also know now more than ever it’s about finding pride in who you are, where you’ve been, and where this journey will bring you.image

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Marathon Training: Another Sunday on the Treadmill.

Another gray, below-freezing, snowy Sunday morning led to another inevitable trip to the treadmill.  This week I ran on the treadmill at a hotel up in Syracuse.  I inadvertently forgot to pack my pullover fleece and found myself under-dressed for the 15 degree morning temps… but hey, at least I remembered my running shoes!

I also went “easy” on myself today.  This is a reoccurring trend since last week’s long run.  I would love to make excuses and defend my actions but the truth is plain and simple.  Last Thursday we found out what we feared would come: Dad will be needing a radical neck dissection.  It’s an ugly, maiming surgery but it’s the only way to get towards remission.  I decided that in light of the emotional exhaustion of dealing with this news, it was perfectly acceptable to use this week to go easier on my body and allow for some recovery.  After all, next Sunday I have a date with Disney and the Princess Half Marathon again.  Instead of injuring myself in the midst of my grief (a fear that’s very real and palpable the more miles I put on my beginner’s body), I realized it was time to commit to making the most of a timed trial next week.  I mentally bargained with myself: run a great race next Sunday and you can have a few days of shaved mileage… but only for this week.

I know what everyone’s thinking.  This is no time to go easy on myself.  I will never go the distance if I don’t train hard enough.  And yes, you’re probably right.  I probably should be kicking it into high gear.  But I just can’t help but believe that it’s more important to be sound in mind and body.  Mens sana in corpore sano.  You can’t always be pushing yourself to the limits, there needs to be time for mental recovery too.

Maybe this week was a wash.  Maybe I’m setting myself up for failure.  I guess there’s no way to know until we get to the finish line.  For now, I feel much happier and excited.  I think one of the most important elements of training is kindness-to-self.  We must be kind to the bodies we hold; they’re the real vehicles for our success.

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Marathon Training: 2 months to go.

Today marks a big turning point in training. It’s officially 60 days away from Marathon Monday.

The challenges keep coming, full speed ahead. Boston was hit with a historic blizzard that dumped 2+ feet of snow on the city. I was forced to adapt. I spent Sunday running 15 miles on a treadmill… a mind numbing, blister filled experience. I am crossing my fingers and hoping for any opportunity to run outside again.

In those long runs, I find myself grappling with moments where I feel triumphant and greater than the sum of my parts. I feel invincible. I picture the people I’m running for and I feel the pain of that pancake flat treadmill belt melt away.

And just like that I’m nearly in tears by mile 8. It was a darker mile than I’d care to admit. I faced down the reality of what’s to come in the next few months and left it there on my “course”. It’s going to be an emotionally challenging few weeks. But there’s pockets of good in there too.

60 days until we line up on that finish line. I wish I could say I was ready but I suppose that’s the point of training: you’re working on it.

Rivers know this, there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” - Winnie the Pooh

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effinhill-deactivated20130704 said: I'm finding it hard to broach this topic without being untoward or presumptuous. But your last post mentioned cancer but is rather vague as how it has manifested itself in your life. Is it...you....who has it?

I’ve had a lot of experience with cancer in my life but never as my own battle. My grandfather died of lung cancer in 2004. But the closest to home hit last summer when my Dad was diagnosed with stage 3/4 neck and throat cancer. It’s been 9 months and we’re holding on to every ounce of life we can. It’s been ugly. It’s about to get uglier. But it’s part of life’s journey. So yes. I was a little vague. It’s my Dad I’m referring to. And it’s my Dad who motivates me to run even in the depths of a bitter winter. I can’t fight his battle for him but I can run and raise money to help find a cure. It’s the only real thing I can control in the struggle.