Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The State of My Ass Address

Well, here we are. Another holiday season is looming, and my ass is still big.

I've learned to cope. I mean, come on - it tags along everywhere I go. I'm grateful that gravity hasn't completely destroyed it, and I've come to terms with the fact that I will never be one of those girls, with the tiny tushies and all. But here's the gig:

It's mine. I earned it. I built it. I'm stronger and healthier than I look. I could probably kick your ass.

There are times when I see my reflection and I think, "damn ... you've done a lot of good work here." There are other times when I shrink away from the girl in the mirror, because all I can see is my immense thighs, or my turkey neck, or the bags under my eyes, or my bra bulge or back fat or front butt or whatthehellever. Come on, Mags; you are obsessing about the wrong things.

And so, the State of My Ass Address:

Ladies and gentlemen. Friends, Romans, countrymen. My ass is awesome. It does its job with great aplomb, giving me somewhere to sit and providing a place for my legs to connect with the rest of me. It contains muscles that allow me to run - maybe not like the wind or Forrest Gump, but run nonetheless. In the right pants, it looks great. In the wrong pants, it's still not half bad.

It's mine. I earned it. I built it.

It pushed me through four half marathons in 2013, and it's training for at least one more early next year. (This just in: probably two.) It provides the base from which I'm building a functional swim kick. It hurts like hell after spin class or a long outdoor bike ride. And it occasionally garners a compliment from a friend, because guess what? It's awesome.

So my weight may stay steady this holiday season (although I'm streaking again - at least one mile a day from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day) and I may not lose a single pound, because let's face it: hot buttered rum and cookies and at least one trip to Lou Malnati's. I'm realistic. I'm not gonna throw caution and good health to the wind, but I'm not going to obsess either.

I'm going to accept my ass - and all the stuff that comes with it - for what it is. Because what it is, in case you hadn't yet caught on, is awesome.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Fourth of Four - Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon

It started as a joke and became a quest. A quest to run not one but four half marathons during 2013. As I approached the start line last Saturday night, I couldn't bring myself to claim the goal as achieved just yet; nope, not until I finished.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?

On Saturday night, November 9, the same crew with whom I travelled to Florida back in February - Linda, Shelly and Di - and I returned to another RunDisney start line, this time for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. Thirteen-point-one miles, through the night, starting at 10 p.m.
Linda, Me, Shelly and Di, ready to begin our race. 

Sometimes it's hard to believe the girl in that photo (or any of these photos) is me. I look strong and confident. I'm wearing a mini kilt! But it's me, and that version of me is just so so so happy to be running. So in love with the idea of doing something that she once thought completely impossible. So far outside her comfort zone, she has no idea where her comfort zone is anymore, and that's just the way she likes it.

For Disney races, you arrive literally hours before the start of your wave. I kinda like this, because it allows me to chill without the stress of getting where I need to be. And to us, "chill" means sitting in the grass, applying acupressure to each other's hands, and taking liberal potty breaks. Seriously, we have tiny bladders.
Di and Linda, hand massage. 
Around 9:30, we made our way to the start corrals. Shelly and I were together, so we chatted our nerves away and wished each other well. At 10, the first corral was released with a flurry of fireworks; every few minutes after that, another corral started - each with its own pyrotechnics - and soon it was our turn.

Running at night is something I really enjoy. There's something about the night air, the stars and the freedom of the shadows that just feels right to me, so in a way this was totally my race. I started out running slowly, according to plan. My first mile went by without me even really noticing, in 14 minutes. Yes, slow, but right in my proper wheelhouse. I was saving my energy. I was running this race without any GPS feedback, relying on my own ability to do math at each mile marker, so I really didn't know how fast I was going along the way; I was just joyfully running. It felt great.

The race begins at the Wide World of Sports complex, and heads out along Osceola Parkway toward the Animal Kingdom. By the time you reach mile 4, you're deep within the theme park, and it's dark, and there are a lot of people. But you just keep running. Mile 2 was 14:34; Mile 3, 15:01 (damn, I was slowing down); Mile 4, 15:03. Okay. Conserving energy. We're in the middle third now, time to pick it up.

Leaving the Animal Kingdom via the parking lot (Mile 5), we ran back along Osceola (Miles 6 and 7) to World Drive (Mile 8) and onto Buena Vista (Mile 9), finally entering Disney's Hollywood Studios. I sped up along this stretch - Mile 5, 14:14; Mile 6, 13:37; Mile 7, 13:27 (my fastest mile). And then I started to run out of steam. Mile 8, 15:41. Mile 9, 14:48. My playlist kept me motivated and I just ... kept ... running.
Running through the Hollywood Studios.
I can't believe the smile, either.

Right around Mile 10, inside the Studios, we entered the Osborne Family Festival of Dancing Lights. Or as I like to call it, "Every Christmas light ever." Usually when you walk through here, people are shoulder-to-shoulder and it's not all that much fun. This was amazing; I felt like I was flying through here. (Spoiler alert: I wasn't.) Mile 10, 15:27. I would not go any faster than this for the remainder of the race.

The thing is, I knew I was slow. I knew there was a chance I wouldn't beat my abysmal Princess time from last February. And it didn't matter. I was having a blast. Literally every picture the photographers caught of me, with the exception of one that appears to showcase all nine of my chins, shows a happy, smiling Maggie. I was joyful and strong through the entire race. We left the Studios at Mile 11 (16:42), wound through the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, the Boardwalk at Mile 12 (15:45), and into Epcot, winding around Spaceship Earth at mile 13 (15:43); 13.1 was just outside Epcot. 
Me, with Spaceship Earth behind me.

Did I have my perfect race? No. Disney races can be tough. The camber of the road slopes in a way that makes my plantar fascia cry. My left ankle went numb at mile 2, but it didn't hurt, and I never stopped feeling awesome despite that bit of weirdness. So I just kept going, listening to my body and walking when necessary, but for the most part, I powered forward.

I don't know who the walking chick is,
but the girl on the right? She's one
damn happy runner.

I don't think I have ever finished a long-distance race quite so happy, and it had very little to do with how well (or not) that I did. I finished in 3:20:12, fully eight minutes slower than my performance in the Great Western Half last May. But I had so much fun, it didn't really matter. Each Disney race, I have improved a bit; my first Princess was 3:24, my second 3:22, and this one 3:20 ... so if I improve by two minutes each race, it will only take me 12 more to get under three hours!

More than 2,000 people out of 12,143 were slower than I was. More than 150 in my age group and more than 1,600 women were slower than I was. Not that comparison is the point, but it does help me to see where I stack up. Either I'm getting better, or everyone else is getting worse.

But that's beside the point. The point - the only point - in all of this, in running to begin with, is to give your all. Yours. Not someone else's. Part of what made this race so fantastic for me, personally, was that I felt good the entire time (right up until I stopped running, but that's another story for another time.) I pushed when I could, I held back when I felt it appropriate, and I left nothing out on the course. Usually runners gauge their personal record, or PR, on beating a previous time. But this race, this magical night through three Disney theme parks, was my half marathon PR in a way that really mattered. I may not have made my time goal, but I did have the best time ever out there on the course.

And isn't that what it's really all about?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Here's what happens when you're willing to be ridiculous

I think it was last February, when Carrie suggested I follow up the Princess Half Marathon with the Great Western in May. I was already trained, after all, so the transition to the next race wouldn't be out of the question.

Yes, I do believe that's the point at which I figured, well, why not? Why not turn this one half marathon into two? And quickly on the heels of that thought cam the next:

If I can do two, I can do four.

So here I sit, ready to travel to my fourth half marathon of 2013.

First came the Princess, with its own set of weather-related issues. Warm and humid, I had a tough run, only just barely setting a new PR.
I finished, and I got my medal. 

Then, in May, I did run the Great Western. It came with what can only be described as the Most Epic Finish Line Ever, thanks to my friend Rich Bird who - in honor of my stellar fundraising efforts in support of Walk MS - showed up as I finished the race, in a kilt, playing the bagpipes. (Side note: I have the greatest friends ever in the history of ever.)
Rich Bird and me. He's the best.

July brought the Rock-n-Roll half marathon in Chicago. It almost killed me. I set a new PR of sorts, running my longest half marathon ever. They ran out of water for us back-of-the-pack runners, and I got acquainted with the personnel at not one, not two, but three medical tents. But I finished, and I'm damn proud of it.

Somewhere around mile 11,
I made a friend. 

This Saturday night, the posse (me, Linda, Di and Shelly) will head to another Run Disney starting line, running the Wine & Dine half. It combines two of my dearest loves - food, and running. It also serves as a reminder: setting a goal, no matter how outlandish it may sound (four halves in one year?) puts me in motion, bringing out the relentless competitor in me who cannot be stopped.

No matter how difficult it gets. No matter how much my knees ache. I will keep going.

I never take a race for granted, and until I cross the finish line in the wee hours of Sunday morning (the race starts Saturday at 10; since I am a long way from running 13.1 in sub-2, I'm resigned to running into Sunday) I won't call it a done deal. But I'm on my way. I have goals - I'd like to PR - but travel and weather often mean I need to maintain a solid grip on reality. And that's okay; the only real goal in any race is to finish strong.

So, off I go, to bring to light a goal that started as a joke, and ended up being something worthy of a year-long pursuit. I have literally been training for a half marathon (or four) for more than a year. In February, I will allow myself to take a rest and focus on training for triathlons (the goal? Three in 2014). But this year will always, always be special to me, because in 2013 I proved to myself that even the most ridiculous, the most outlandish and the most seemingly impossible goals are achievable.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hot chocolate, looking forward

Last weekend, things sorta came full circle as I ran the Hot Chocolate 5K for the second time.

That race back in 2010 was the first timed 5K I ever ran. The past few years I've done the 15K, but this year - with the half marathon coming up quickly - I decided to pull back and just go for 5.

It was a great weekend, shared with my sister Kathie, her friend (mine, too!) Carrie and my friend Linda. Kath and Carrie were running the 15, and Linda and I the 5. We spent Saturday at the Expo (and eating dinner at Frontera Grill) and pretty much all day Sunday at the race site, or traveling to and from, or - as tradition demands - eating.

So different from just three years ago. Back then, I rocked a 16-minute mile. This time out, I finished in 40 minutes 56 seconds - still not consdered fast by any means, but exactly nine minutes faster than 2010, at a 13:11 minute mile. I will take it.

It's pretty wild, this running thing. Sometimes I am still confused and bewildered that I do it. But I do, and I love it. Not always as it's happening, but most certainly when I am done.

So that wee 5K leads into the main event - the fourth half marathon of 2013. In a few days I will head back to Disney World, to close out the year the same way I started it. Running 13.1 miles through the happiest place on earth.

Updates to come. I cannot wait.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Why I run

Today is my sister Kathie's birthday.

To celebrate her birthday three years ago, she participated in her first-ever 15K race on November 6 - the Hot Chocolate run. And while it wasn't my first-ever race (I'd done an untimed 5K and a 10K mud/obstacle run/ride), it was the first time I was really trying to do well. I was running the Hot Chocolate 5K, and it was the first time I crossed the start line wanting to be a runner.

I will never forget that race. I wasn't wearing the "right" clothes; at this point, I didn't understand wicking fabric or the importance of not wearing cotton. I wore yoga pants and a hoodie, and (bless 'em) my friends Justin and Diane bought me a pair of scientific gloves (they warm up as you sweat) and a hat.

I ran that 5K in the crisp Chicago air in 49 minutes and 56 seconds, mastering a 16:05-minute-mile. It wasn't dead last, and I wasn't dead. I felt like I'd won.

This was in the early days of my runnerhood, and in a lot of ways this is where it all began. But my favorite part of that day was finishing the race and waiting near the finish line to watch my sister cross the line for the 15K.

I had never been to anything like this before, a race so huge, a race so long. I was awestruck by the athletes heading for the finish after running more than nine miles. It seemed otherworldly to me. And when I saw Kathie coming, I was overwhelmed. I remember hot tears in my eyes as I shouted her name.

My sister, the athlete. The runner. In that moment, she became my hero.

I remember calling our dad and barely being able to get the words out. Pride welling up inside me, I couldn't wait to tell him that his daughter not only finished, but she finished smiling.

We'd never been an athletic bunch, my sisters and I, but that all changed the moment my sister finished this race. Because of her accomplishment, I began to see myself differently. I wasn't in very good shape, and I'd never run further than 3.1 miles, but I started to believe I could do it.

And that night, over dinner, I told my sister of my plans to run a half marathon, some 15 months later. I'm pretty sure she thought I was nuts, but in the year+ that followed, she gave me every tip, hint and bit of advice known to man. She encouraged me, believed in me, and propelled me forward. She ran her own half marathon and prepared me for mine.

She gave me my wings.

There are a lot of reasons why I run, but if it hadn't been for Kathie, I don't know if I would have had the confidence in myself to really do it. And yes, 15 months after I made my declaration - that I would run a half marathon - we went to Disney World and completed the Princess Half Marathon.

Happy birthday, Kath. Let's do it all over again!
Five princesses - me, my sister Jenn, the Princess Aurora, my sister Kathie,
and the sister we claim as our own, Carrie.