April 18, 2011
Occupation: Coach at njoy racing, lululemon ambassador
Residence: Chicago, IL
Time since last race: 3 months
Conditions: Rolling hills, tail wind, clear, sunny, 60 degrees
Official time: 03:43:37
Something funny happens when a dream comes true. Time moves so quickly I can’t keep up. Senses heighten. Breathing quickens. Moments must be captured with noticeable effort.
I learned to pay attention to things like this when a mentor once told me to feel the feeling of the socks on my feet. For 10 years I’ve remembered that advice and I come back to it often. Stop. Re-center. Listen. To your heart, to your head, to the world, to yourself.
I should take my own advice. I’ve put my walls up again. My steel, unbreakable, unshakable walls. Only this time it isn’t detrimental to my health. I will protect this house. I will protect it like the most precious of jewels. I will let in only those who respect what it means to cross the threshold of my door. All too often, and with great ease, I allow my generosity and my heart and my love to get taken advantage of.
One time, when I was especially feeling this way, someone asked me if they thought I’d be happier had I never met them all. I’m never one to wish the opposite had happened in any situation because I take pleasure in learning from all that life throws at me. But my response? It went something like this: “Well, I would just be blissfully unaware of what this kind of love feels like. What it feels like to let down my walls and let someone in.” You know what it feels like? It hurts. And it’s left me wondering… is it better to be blissfully unaware of all the feelings that exist in the world – even the good ones – or should we be open to the risk of possibly experiencing pain in order to find love? Both within ourselves and eventually in someone else.
I know the answer. It’s never better to be blissfully unaware of anything, ever. And it makes me thankful for Alicia, Dan, Jen, Mark, Hadley, Becca, Karyn, Jessi, Allison, Katie P., and Kelli- the ones who hold me accountable for choosing good, for seeing good, for doing good day in and day out. Never have I appreciated the belief that my friends have in me like I do right now. Remember my 2011 beginning of the year funk? It’s still here. I’m still sorting through this period of growth and growing up and while some paths are crystal clear, others are still foggy as ever. But it’s okay because this is life, this beautiful life.
I’ve wanted Boston for my entire adult life and this training time was the most sacred, the most special training cycle I’ve had thus far in my journey (to 50 in 50). Anyone who knows me can attest to that. I’m practically in tears just writing about it. I’m not one of those people that qualifying for this race came easy. Have you ever wanted something so badly you’d literally do anything to get it? I keep (jokingly) comparing myself to Natalie Portman in The Black Swan and during one of my inspirational rants about it, a friend said, “you know she’s crazy right?” Well yes I know that, but it’s not the point. She wanted something so hard and with such desire that she didn’t let anything stop her and while there’s a lot of discussion on the topic of her psychosis, did you see she the way she sparkled when she performed the Black Swan? Nothing mattered, nothing else existed but her own self in that moment. I think every athlete, every performer, every artist sees a little bit of him/herself in Natalie’s exaggerated character.
And my walls? They protect me. I used their protection to shield any outside influence that could have deterred me from having nothing but the very best possible cycle of training from January-April. And it worked. It worked beautifully. I walked into the gym early one Saturday morning to one of the trainers asking me, “what are you so happy about?” Every single time I set out to run over these last four months it was with intention, with a smile and with the bigger picture in mind. Every press of the green ‘Start’ button on the treadmill came with another chance to prove my tenacity and my will to succeed. Nothing stopped me. Nothing got in my way. Not the Chicago weather. Not strep throat. Not jet lag in Europe. Not even the boy who sent flowers on my birthday and never called again got an ounce of my energy. Running got it all, it got everything, it got all of me and it was beautiful.
99.5% of my Boston training was done on the treadmill (which later proved to be not as successful as I’d hoped). Chicago Winter + Me + Lakefront Path – Bathrooms and Water = No Bueno. Most long runs: 14, 14, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 15 – treadmill.
A typical Saturday morning set up:
Thank god for Lauren and Jodi who kept me company on most of these runs. And for Becca, who happily and without complaint, rode a bike next to me in Amsterdam while I cranked out one more 22 miler into the Dutch countryside on our vacation.
I was on autopilot, cruise control, an almost feeling-less machine these last four months. Probably not the best way to float through existence but I needed distraction from the fire (still raging after all this time) in my heart. I will admit I am nervous about the fall-out that’s bound to happen now that I have to resurface into the real world. But fine, I’ll take the punishment for giving of myself 100% to something I wanted.
Which also leads me to wonder, do we have to suffer or take punishment to achieve the things we really want in life? Jealousy, doubters, people who negatively question your goals, being reprimanded for not performing in other areas of life, i.e. relationships, friendships, work, etc. Over the years I’ve endured pain in every single one of these areas to achieve my goals, regardless of what that goal was. Is it that I need more balance? Not sure. To be more compassionate? Always. To be less passionate? Never. Is it the hard stuff that makes us appreciate the good? Oh yes, yes, yes.
Then there was touchdown in Boston.
From the moment I arrived, there is only one word for the whole thing: overwhelmed. The kind of ‘overwhelmed’ that makes you stop and say, “holy shit, am I really here? Did I really make it?” The adrenaline, energy and excitement that radiates from every single person, runner or supporter (those are the only two types of people that exist in Boston), is palpable. I could feel it in my heart, and for someone who really loves to be loved, it was indulgence of the greatest kind for four days solid. There are marathons and then there’s the Boston Marathon. There are goals and then there are life goals. Put the two together and you’d be overwhelmed too.
My support crew in attendance was awesome and massive considering I usually travel solo to my marathons or with only 1-2 other people in tow.
First were my parents:
I am (again) overwhelmed by their continued love and support as I get older. It means so much because for many years it was difficult for them to juggle raising a two-year-old, with one daughter in high school and the other in college. I wanted to hug them and never let go the whole weekend.
Next were my Monday girls (minus Allison):
You’ve heard me talk about them enough. They are fabulous, dynamic, successful, smart and a living example of what real friends are. They’re the ones with whom I am not afraid to be vulnerable and will gladly tear down all walls that could possibly exist.
And last were Ileana and her fiance Patrick, and Dadriana – two girls from my overseas study days in Florence, Italy 2004:
Sabrina (who I’ve mentioned before) is also part of this crew, and I’m convinced that in another life, we were four Italian grandmothers standing in line at the local pasticceria for fresh schaciatta while bitching about our husbands.
I arrived in Boston on Friday and leading up to Marathon Monday was a whirlwind of sightseeing, shopping, brunching, lunching, and dinners all while trying to maintain race focus and a somewhat normal routine. It was difficult and looking back I should have chosen to either be there to race or be there to enjoy myself and doing both was hard! By the time Monday (race day) came around I’d had three full days of adrenaline-pumping excitement and my body was tired despite the fact that I managed a nap each day prior.
Approximately 27,000 runners participated in this race which is a straight shot from Hopkinton to Boston.
All of us have to be bused out to the start and held in a field at a high school until it’s time to start the race. To sit on, people bring trash bags, old blankets, towels and I even saw a guy with an air mattress. Then you just sit. For two hours. And it’s early morning in April on the east coast. Despite the sun, it’s cold and I didn’t wear enough clothes so I was stiff, wrapped in myself and listening to music, taking it all in. Wide-eyed, and looking around, I don’t realize I am smiling until man in a group of people nearby says, “you won’t have that grin at the top of Heartbreak Hill!” Challenge. “Oh yes I will,” I reply. “I’ve been smiling since the day I qualified for this race and I will smile till I cross that finish line.”
Everyone around me smiled too and part of me hopes it inspired someone to enjoy their experience just a little more than had they not been a part of that small moment.
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of internal dialogue with the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my left. I’ve come to many crossroads so far this year so it’s only fitting that in the one Boston Marathon I ran, that I actually had two parallel and different experiences. First was the technical experience and second was the emotional.
So the technicalities of the race… holy.hills.
Remember how I trained on the treadmill for this? My training schedule went as follows:
Monday – cross train (spin bike, stationary bike, rower) and yoga
Tuesday – speed work (run)
Wednesday – tempo (run)
Thursday – steady state and/or hill work (run)
Friday – yoga
Saturday – long run
Sunday – off or yoga
Advice to anyone training for Boston – do more hill work than you think you need. I should have done more inclines on my Saturday long runs, especially in the late stages of my mileage. At Boston, people will tell you the first half is mostly downhill. They’re lying. It’s all rolling hills. Up, down, up, down. By the time you get to the “famous hill section” between miles 16-21, you’ve been climbing all day, so it hardly seems more challenging from the 15 you just completed.
Ever since I went like a bat out of hell down that canyon in Salt Lake City and hit the wall big time at mile 22, I’ve run the beginning of my races conservatively and Boston was no exception. I’m glad I did that because man, this race was tough. I couldn’t seem to get in a groove, my normally very comfortable 7:50 pace just didn’t click in. I had a few nutritional issues (no shocker there) and stopped for the bathroom three times. I’m pretty sure it was a combo of nerves and the fact that I’d eaten my rice cakes and almond butter 2 hours before I started racing, so I began feeling a little hungry and even with gels throughout, I just couldn’t catch up.
Instead of trying to PR, I kept it cool, stayed relaxed and let my body do its work. I didn’t hit the proverbial wall at all but I did feel tight the majority of the race. The hills were awesome as I am naturally a really strong hill climber, but that many and that often…oy. One thing I realized from this race is that I need to do a lot more hip strength work at the gym. A combination of genetics and my skating days have blessed me with very, very strong hamstrings, quads and glutes but I need to work on the hips.
I will gladly admit that I struggled through Boston and it was humbling. The talent that I was surrounded by for 26.2 miles was really something to see. Being that the race is pretty much run on a two-lane road for the majority, you’re surrounded by people from start to finish. There is no thin-out, and definitely no quiet spots. Every water station is crammed and you better not stop, ever, or someone will run right into your back and make you keep moving.
It’s funny though, it didn’t matter how tired or done I was, when I turned left onto Boylston and saw that finish line, it was no big deal holding a 6-minute pace for a quarter mile. So maybe I could have run faster? Who knows, we have 36 more races to find out…
And now the juicy stuff.
From the second I crossed the start line, I felt like a celebrity. Bostonians came out in droves and it really is as energetic and exciting as everyone says. So many children, so many families, all walks of life, I saw it all. In addition to the certified race support, many families handed out orange slices, popsicles, water, candy, pretzels, and the occasional beer. The infamous scream tunnel at Wellesley, I could hear from a quarter mile away. They were so incredible I forgot I was running. The tradition is that you’re supposed to get a kiss from a girl, so I made my way to the crowd and planted one right on a girl’s cheek. We were at mile 13, she probably thought that was gross, haha.
Then there was Heartbreak Hill which really isn’t that heartbreaking because the hill before it was worse. Spray painted on the street from the start of the incline to the top were words like “Thump, Thump, Thump,” and “You Can Do It,” and “Have Heart.” And at the top, decked in Tango Red were 20 of the most enthusiastic lululemon cheerleaders I’d ever witnessed. It didn’t stop… then there were the Boston College kids who were drunk, loud and amazing. They chanted my name (I printed it on my shirt) for over a mile. Next was Fenway Park where that day’s baseball game had just let out. The last two miles are a blur. The road is only two lanes wide and the fans are pressing forward, police and troops holding them back. People reaching out in hopes to share in some of the glory you’re experiencing. Cheers louder than I ever thought possible, and the thought that crossed my mind: “I wonder if this is how Justin Bieber feels all the time?”
Along the course I saw everyone who came out to support me but they saved the best for last. My mom and dad were positioned right at the 26.1 mile mark. Seeing them as I’m sprinting in for the finish was beyond words. They were so excited, so cute, so proud, I just wanted to hop over the barrier and squeeze them!
When I crossed the finish line, I cried. It was the first time a race had brought me to tears. To my right a man was down on his knee proposing to his girlfriend. To my left was a man who had run the race in nothing but a loin cloth. No shoes, no clothes, nothing. I smiled and laughed and took in the greatness of what we had just accomplished. Our own stories, our own paths bringing humanity together on this one day, in this one place, in this one moment. Beautiful.
My parents and my dad’s fanny pack were celebrating too. See where I get it from?
And now, with another major life goal accomplished I’m looking forward to what is next. I’m determined to make good on 2011. I’m fortifying my walls with love and decorating them in beauty. I am buying new socks. I’m doing something about this fire in my heart. I am living a certain manifesto and regardless of where that path takes me, I will continue to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness by striving to elevate myself to levels even I didn’t know were possible.