Thursday, March 29, 2012

Unfinished business

A year ago, I was in a very different place.

Just one year ago, I was newly injured. It was on March 21, 2011 - the first full day of spring - that I injured my Achilles. It's been a year, and I have not yet forgotten the pain.

It wasn't just a physical pain, either. There was some emotional pain, too. One race in particular - the Shamrock Shuffle in 2011 - eluded me.

It was held later in the season last year - mid-April - but still, there was no way the Achilles would accommodate. (I later learned I had a tear in the tendon, so it's no wonder it took a long time to heal.) The day I came to realize (with some good advice that was hard to hear) I wouldn't be able to run, I cried. Oh, who am I kidding; I wept childish tears. All I could see was hopes and dreams slipping away. What if that meant I couldn't do the half marathon? What if I gained weight? What if? What if? What if?

I came to accept it. I even went to the race to cheer for my friends. I sucked it up and enjoyed the day, hoping with all I had that the next year - this year - I would be able to do it.

And as luck would have it, I did physical therapy. I healed. I was able to do the half marathon. And last weekend, on March 25 - one year and four days after I injured my Achilles - I ran the Shamrock Shuffle.

The Shuffle is an 8K (4.97 miles) through downtown Chicago, lauded by many as the official beginning of race season in the city. And this year, I ran it.
Linda and me, pre-race. Dig the socks.
Close up on the socks. A thing of beauty, no?
The race was magical. At a little before the first half mile, I started feeling my left Achilles. Seriously? Sonofabitch. But I just acknowledged it, and let it go. If I felt pain, or anything dangerous, I would stop. But instead, I was able to run, smiling, for five miles.

Okay, maybe not the entire five miles. I did walk to the water stations, and up the hills at the end. But for the most part, I booked it steadily through the entire race. And I'm hard-pressed to think of I time when I'd felt happier, or more accomplished.

Setting goals is awesome. Achieving them? That's a whole 'nuther animal.

In the end, I finished the race in 1:06:21, or with roughly a 13-minute/20-second mile. A far cry from the girl who barely walked a 17-minute mile last May.

But it isn't about the time. It isn't even about the run. It's about the accomplishment; the ability of the human spirit to say, "Nope, sorry. I'm not done yet." And I'm not.

Not by a long shot.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weighing, waiting and the bliss of cross-training

I weighed in this week and I was up a bit - 206.2. Pfffffft ... but I'm totally letting myself off the hook a little bit, because it's Nature's Special Time and I know I'm Bloaty the Elf. Yes, I'm pretty sure that means I will not make it to the under-200 club by the time the Shamrock Shuffle rolls around. But I'm okay with that.

Also because I'm putting myself on mandatory rest, so I'm not getting as much working out in these days as usual. First of all, work is requiring some long hours these days. I'm getting to the gym or to the road for a run, but not as often or for as long as usual. But the actual reason for the rest is ... yeah, my left Achilles is totally fucking with me.

The good news is, I recognize the pain, so I'm resting immediately, rather than thinking this is something I can work through and causing greater injury. So, we wait. We ice. We sit with our feet up. The Shuffle is March 25, and I think I'll hold off running (at least anything over a mile) until then.

Having a new, fresh injury pop up has an interesting side effect: gratitude. See, my right Achilles has healed to the point that I forgot what it felt like. I completely forgot the pain, how it felt to have a constant limp. So this gentle reminder has made me feel grateful that I have healed, and come back stronger than ever.

It also made me realize that I have done what I set out to do. All I asked from my legs is that they allow me one half marathon. Just let me do this one thing, and everything else will be gravy.

I'm sitting - metaphorically speaking - in gravy. I can't let myself forget that. So I will give myself however much time I need to heal, and I'll be grateful for it.

Tomorrow, Linda and I will be volunteering for our first race. Good timing, because I wouldn't want to run it, anyway. I'm looking forward to giving back to the race community. I think it will be meaningful. I also think I'll still have breakfast afterward.

And in the meanwhile, there are lots of things I can still do. Bike (oh, how I love spin class!), run, elliptical, walk (carefully) ... I'm in a better place now to continue working out even without running than I've ever been in before.

So here goes ... the continuing saga of my shrinking ass. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Weighing in, setting goals, tri-ing new things

I feel like I've been stuck and yet not for about a year.

I wanted to weigh less than 200 pounds for last year's Shamrock Shuffle. As it turned out, I wasn't able to run the Shuffle ... and I also never did reach my goal. So today when I got on the scale and it read 205, I thought to myself ... I can do this.

The Shamrock Shuffle this year is on March 25. That's 20 days from today, or a little over two weeks. It will mean a whole lot of discipline, but I think I can do it. Or I can at least come close. So I'm gonna try.

As of this morning, I'm back to tracking my food and exercise, and my miles. I missed a few days in my running/walking streak (which depressed the hell out of me) so I kinda derailed myself, emotionally. I'm gonna let that go, and just move forward. Fitness is not an all-or-nothing proposition; it's not about getting it "right" all the time, it's about doing better, whenever you can.

Not gonna lie ... coming back from the Princess Half was a little soul-jarring. After a weekend of truly feeling like a princess, and eating anything I wanted, coming back was hard. Re-entry is always tough after a perfect break from reality, but this was something else entirely. After reaching such a monumental goal, what was left?

The half was always my end game. I would get there, and then be satisfied. I would finish, and then I'd stop. But that's not where my heart is. Now, it's about improving. It's about next year. It's about the next 40 years. And it's a little goose-bumpy. Having let go of the let down, I got back to the gym this weekend. I ran and lifted weights, and I swam. It felt good. It felt ... endorphin-y. So today, in celebration of my newfound commitment, I registered for two more events: a 5K and my first triathlon.

Yeah. I said that out loud. A tri.

April 21, I'm doing the Indoor Tri at Lifetime Fitness in Orland Park. I might die during the swim portion, but what the hell ... it'll be fun.

So, ever forward we go. Out of my post-princess funk, and into whatever my fitness future brings.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Disney's Princess Half Marathon

It's hard to believe that a week ago, I was in Orlando.

It's hard to believe that I made a plan, and stuck with it.

It's hard to believe that I've completed a half marathon.

What a year it's been. In January 2011, when my sister Kathie was preparing for her first Princess Half, I was so jealous; I wanted to be there. But there was no way I could do it. I'd only been running for a few months, so I said, "Next year."

I am notorious for making big plans and having zero follow-through, but not this time. No, this time, I did it.

It was an incredibly emotional weekend. You cannot run (or, in my case, run/walk) 13.1 miles and not somehow be changed by it. You ask the body to allow you to complete this race. You prepare your body to do it by training over several months. And then, one morning, you get up at 3 a.m. ... and you do it.

Here's how the weekend progressed:

Thursday, February 23 - the night before we left - was snowy. Crap-ass snowy. I had friends whose flights were cancelled, and they ended up driving to Florida. We were lucky. The morning of Feb. 24 was still snowy, but somehow our flight was still scheduled. Jenn and I took off for the airport.

We checked our bags, got on the plane, and kept our fingers crossed. Soon, we were on our way. Not without making a new friend, however. Seated next to us was a young lady named Cindy, who was also running the race. What are the chances? She was awesome. Little did I know, we had not seen the last of her.

Once we landed, we got our bags and went about meeting up with our sister Kathie and friend Carrie. They picked us up in the rental car (NITRO!) and off we went to the Expo.

Me, expo-ready.

Holy crap. I've never seen so many vendors ... so much stuff that I wanted! It was pretty amazing. I bought myself a new pair of headphones (so I could stop stealing them from Jenn) and a running belt to hold my camera. I wanted to buy a lot more!

We headed to the hotel (Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge - LOVE!) and got ready to head to the Pasta in the Park Party. Such a great idea! Runners come together for an evening of food, fun and ... you guessed it ... princesses!

"Take your dream and hold it close to your heart." That's me, Jenn, Aurora, Kathie and Carrie at the Pasta in the Park Party.

Race Day morning dawned bright and early. Like, ass-crack-of-dawn early. Like, 3 a.m. Somehow, everyone but me seemed able to look human. I, on the other hand, looked like I was sleeping. I was so excited, and a little nervous. On the long walk to the start corrals, we met up with a friend!

Cindy from the plane, and me.

Yup; sweet Cindy, our row-mate on the flight down, found us en route to the corrals. And by some stroke of luck (or the fact that she totally gave herself WAY too much time to finish the race) she ended up in my corral. So I had someone to be nervous with after Kath and Carrie stopped to pee, and Jenn headed toward her corral.

It was night-dark, and we were surrounded by 15,000 like-minded people. Ahem, princesses. Amazing.

When the first corral was getting ready to start, the electricity in the air was incredible. Fireworks. The Fairy Godmother. And tears. I couldn't stop crying. Next up, Corral B. That's where Kath and Carrie were. I sent my best wishes their way, knowing they would be strong throughout.

Soon, it was Corral E, Jenn's corral. In two more starts, it would be time for me and Cindy to go! With the Corral E fireworks, I cried a little again, because there goes my sister. A few years ago, with a leukemia diagnosis and an uncertain future, this wouldn't be possible. And here she was - a running princess.

Then, it was time. We walked toward the start. The Fairy Godmother greeted us. She bibbidi-bobbidied, the fireworks went off ... and it was GO TIME!

It's weird, running along the streets of Disney World in the pitch dark. Really, truly weird. Before I knew it, two things happened. First came the realization that I had to pee. Second, the entertainment began. This is Disney, you know, so there was constantly something to hold your attention. People on stilts, high-fiving the crowd! So cool. I snapped what I knew was a blurry photo ... and my camera died. DAMMIT. Like, dead dead dead. The lens wouldn't retract. So I put it in my pocket and kept running.

Until I got to the first set of porta-potties. That's another thing Disney does really well. It seemed like whenever I thought I could use a bathroom, or a drink of water, or some BioFreeze (this stuff is magic) ... there it was. It's like they just don't miss a trick.

So I did my bathroom thing, accepted the fact that I'd have to go 13 without a camera, and got into my groove. I was slow - I'm always slow. This should come as no surprise. But man, did it feel incredible to be in this place, where so many of my best memories are, doing something like this.

I think I was at about mile 3 when it hit me. There are thousands upon thousands - hundreds of thousands, probably - of people at Disney World on any given day. I was one of just 16,000 who chose to start this day in this way. It's a pretty exclusive club. If that doesn't make you feel special, nothing will.

I wish I had photos to help tell the story, but I'll have to do my best with my words. Again ... kaput camera. Anyway, before I knew it, we were heading toward the Magic Kingdom. Soon we were running into the backstage area, and employees and families were there to cheer us on. Turning down Main Street and seeing the castle for the first time ... yeah, I cried again. It was just so hard to believe how many people got up so early to cheer us on.

We turned to head toward Tomorrowland, and around the back of the castle in Fantasyland. Finally it was time to approach, and run through, the castle. Herald trumpeters were perched atop the archway, announcing the arrival of stream after stream of runners. And I started to cry.

Oh, shut up.

It was unreal, running through the castle. How many times did I walk through as a child, marveling at the mosaics? How many times did I dream about what was inside? And here I was, an athlete at age 45, running through the place that has always given me happiness. Hell, I'm crying now, just writing about it.

Leaving the castle, there are even more cheers and even more fans. And off you run, for the second half of the race.

Here's where it got kinda tough, but at this point I also knew I would finish. There was a sign that said "Halfway There. Time to Get Stronger". And I kept running. I took more frequent walking breaks in the second half, but I kept running. I even ate Gu. The things a girl will do for energy!

The rest of the race, up until the finish, was pretty much just "run run run walk cry", so I won't bore you with it.

Soon, we were approaching Epcot, and the journey was nearing it's end. We entered the theme park and circled Spaceship Earth - THAT was cool. Upon our exit, we passed the gospel choir, which I'd been warned would be a highlight. They were rocking out to "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee", and I started crying. Again. They were amazing.

Running past them, I exited Epcot and could see the finish line. By this point, I was just a bundle of emotion. Time to dig deep. Time to finish strong. Hell, time to finish, period! Off I ran ... and crossed the finish line. And immediately started to weep.

Looking to my left, I saw Kathie and Carrie waiting for me, I waved, and I wept. An elderly gentleman put my medal around my neck, and I hugged him and thanked him. I stopped to have my photo taken, and made my way toward the Race Retreat.

Me, just after finishing, with my medal. And what Mike Rice insists is a hidden Mickey made of sweat.

At this point, I was completely grateful to my sister for treating me to entry into the Race Retreat. We got a chill towel, and breakfast, and a bloody mary. It was awesome; definitely something I would recommend for any Disney Race. I don't think I'll go without it for any Disney half in the future; it added a measure of pampering to a tough day, and I loved that. Plus, bacon.
The rest of that day was spent in the Animal Kingdom and at dinner at Yachtsmen's Steakhouse. Dad had sent money along with Kathie to treat us all for that meal, which Linda joined us for. It was a wonderful celebration of accomplishment. I still felt like an absolute princess.

That feeling stuck with me well into the next day, too, as all of us (sans Linda, who had an early flight home) went to Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom for breakfast with the princesses. Snow White, Aurora, Belle and Ariel were our hosts, and it was delicious and so much fun. Cinderella Castle. I ran through there.

We tooled around the Kindom for awhile, taking Jungle Cruise, riding through Pirates and visiting the Haunted Mansion. We had our pictures taken with Donald Duck (who never wears pants) and shopped our way down Main Street. Too soon, it was time to head back to the airport.
And just like that, it was over. In a way, I can't believe I did it. In another, I can't believe I ever doubted. One thing I know for sure is that I cannot wait to go back.

For the record ... here are my results:

Distance: 13.1 miles
Clock Time: 4:01:36
Net Time: 3:24:29
Overall Place: 14664 / 16906
Gender Place: 13666 / 15802
Division Place: 1183 / 1417
5K Split: 48:40
10K Split: 1:35:16
15K Split: 2:25:31