Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Unforgettable...Yep, That's the Chicago Marathon!!

Well, after a whole year of excitement and anticipation, Marathon Weekend has officially come and gone. Something always seems a little "off" whenever something like this happens--almost as if you don't know what to do with yourself now that you've reached a goal you were pursuing for so long. Of course, my work is far from over, but more on that later.

This is what Katie and I looked like at mile 13 of the marathon on Sunday, when we stopped briefly to say hi to the family and take a picture. I can't speak for my sister, but while we both look sufficiently collected and happy here, I was pretty miserable. Being only halfway through your first-ever 26.2 mile journey tends to have that effect, which has made me think of the top ten reasons I should never consider running a marathon again:

1. Two words: Will Caviness. Mr. Caviness was a 35-year-old firefighter with two young children under the age of four, and an experienced marathoner/charity runner raising money for kids who are burn victims. He collapsed 500 yards away from the finish line and, unfortunately, did not survive. I didn't give it as much thought at first, but over the past 24 hours, it has really made me consider the extreme strain that a marathon puts on a person's body. Throughout the race, I literally felt like my heart might explode out of my chest at any moment, and there were two or three instances where part of my arm went numb for about a split second. I never felt that I was in grave danger and needed to stop, but it makes you wonder...how well do marathoners know their limits? We would like to believe that we are smart enough to listen to our bodies, but the truth is, many of us might not get the hint until we are literally lying on the ground. I'm sorry if this is going in a depressing direction, but I guess my main point is that when a fellow runner loses his life on the course, it gets pretty scary as you start putting it all into perspective.

2. I had an incredible experience at my first half marathon on September 11, just four weeks ago. The weather was beautiful, the distance (13.1 miles) was perfect, and I was able to run comfortably the entire time without stopping for walking breaks. After that, I got it in my head that if a half marathon could go that well, then the full marathon would be a breeze, right? Oh, Rosie, if only you had known :) So, now that I've been through both and am confident that the half marathon is "just right", why bother attempting anything longer?

3. Every marathoner is familiar with that moment where he/she "hits the wall". For me, it was mile 17, and boy, oh  boy, every possible depressing thought raced through my mind during that time. A fellow runner that I know recently said "Twenty miles is a physical feat; after that, it becomes all mental. It's your focus, determination, and what you can handle". This is definitely true. The body isn't designed to take that much impact, so when you attempt it, everything inside of you says "Stop. Please just stop". And in any other situation, you would have stopped a long time ago, but when it's the Chicago Marathon, you can't exactly compare it to "any other situation". My sister and I ran together, so we were attempting to find a "happy medium" with our two varying paces. Maybe it was because we started off a little faster than I normally would have, but in any case, miles 10 through 20 were a doozy, to say the least. Although the idea of quitting never crossed  my mind, I absolutely wished that the ground would just swallow me up and put me out of my misery.

4. Your marathon experience can turn around pretty quickly if you drink too much beforehand, which ended up being one of my problems. Consuming a huge bottle of Gatorade seemed like a good idea at the time, for the sake of being well-fueled, and even though Katie and I went to the bathroom before starting, I felt the urge after only about half a mile of running. It wasn't until I finally found a port-o-potty without lines at mile 20 that I realized just how much that can slow you down.

5. Early in the race, I was eager to connect with every hand that people held out to give a "high five", and whenever someone would cheer for me, I smiled and waved because simply stated, it's an amazing feeling when someone calls you out by name. After a while, though, there came a point where I just wasn't smiling anymore. Nothing about any of this seemed fun. I would hear an enthusiastic "Go, Rose! Keep it up, Rose!" and wish I could just tune them out. Then I felt guilty for not even wanting to acknowledge them when, in reality, what they were willing to do for a bunch of total strangers was pretty darn amazing.

6. I don't know how many other runners have experienced this, but eventually, after completing a certain number of miles, I felt as if I couldn't even think straight. I was texting my other sister Kerry throughout the race, so she and my mom would know exactly where we were, and she would respond with encouraging messages and/or information on where they were standing in the crowd. After about the 14th mile, though, everything was kind of a blur. It's funny to think back on now, but at the time, when Katie would turn and say something to me, I don't think I processed half of it. Whether it's the adrenaline, the exhaustion, or simply trying to put one foot in front of the other, you find yourself just fighting to survive.

7. When I first signed up for the marathon and began the training process, I often said that it would be "just this one time". I rarely pictured myself ever attempting it again. It was more like a "bucket list" activity that I could cross off later as I moved on to the next challenge. Seems reasonable, right?

8. As I mentioned before, I was somehow managing to text back and forth with Kerry as I ran, and while looking through the saved messages later, I realized how dark some of them were. "I feel like a failure" is one that is still pretty clear in my memory, along with "This is bad" and "Please, please pray for me". There were times when I wanted to write her and say I can't do this anymore, Kerry. I just can't do it. What part of me possibly made me think this was something I could do? I refrained from texting those words, but they played over and over in my mind as I hit the most difficult periods of the race.

9. Whether it's a sign of inexperience or a common issue with even the most elite runners, the recovery period is rough. It's only been about 48 hours so far, but the legs are extremely sore, my shoulders ache after lying down in bed for a while, and it is painful to walk down a flight of stairs. Furthermore, I can barely bend over to tie my own laces, let alone help a 7-year-old student at work get the knot out of his shoe. Marathons have a funny way of making you feel elderly for the next several days.

10. To put it bluntly, life is all about challenging ourselves and looking for new things to accomplish once we have reached those goals. I have officially finished a marathon in my lifetime. I did it. Why do it again? I should concentrate instead on finding a brand-new challenge and devoting time to that...right?

Okay, so now that I have spent some time being Debbie Downer, here are the top ten reasons why I know for sure that I will run more marathons in my life:

1. Everyone should experience a marathon in their lifetime. There is something truly beautiful about it, whether you are a runner, a spectator, or a volunteer. I felt it a little bit last year, when I went with the family to watch Katie complete her first marathon in Chicago, and I remember being amazed by the enthusiasm of the crowds. This time around, as an actual participant on the course, I was blown away at the sights, the sounds, the people crowding the sidelines, and how they all came together on a warm, sunny day. I absolutely loved being out there, taking it all in, and noticing details in the city neighborhoods that I hadn't necessarily stopped to look at before.

2. The posters that are held up by spectators were one of my favorite parts of the Chicago Half Marathon, and I enjoyed them every bit as much at the full marathon. Every time I saw a funny or particularly poignant one, I made a mental note to remember it, but sadly, I forgot many of them...and wasn't smart enough at the time to type them into my phone as I was running. A few that I did manage to pull out of my brain over time included:

A) Be proud - you're running faster than my husband!
B) Shoot...I thought they said it was 2.62 miles!
C) Quitting will hurt a lot longer than the pain.
D) It's easier than childbirth...trust me!
E) Dear Lisa, I love you and miss you. Hopefully we will meet again one day. Love, Your Toenails 

3. Every time I listen to "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, I will remember hearing it at approximately the 24th mile, with the crowds going crazy in the background, all while knowing that I was lucky enough to be participating in something amazing.

4. Seeing my family along the way. My mom, sister Kerry, and brother-in-law Jay were able to use the text messages between me and Kerry to track where Katie and I were running, and we saw them three times on the course--miles 13, 16, and 25. It always gives you a burst of energy when you pass your loved ones while running. Just knowing that they are there and excited to see you is a huge source of motivation and support. My dad also participated in sending text messages and reminding us that he was praying. "We're all with you", he wrote at one point, and it's moments like that when you remember that you don't have to do these things by yourself. Our families are there to lift us up during the hard times and make it all worthwhile in the end...and in this case, it absolutely was.
5. Looking through the pictures at marathonfoto.com after the race. I look so exhausted and unhappy in many of them--one in particular around mile 17, where I wanted that photographer to know exactly how I was feeling. Now I wish I had smiled a little more, but even so, it's fun to look through those pictures and recall the various emotions that were taking place at different times. It offers a portrait of the overall marathon for later, after you have regained your composure and can look back on it with a clear mind.

6. Receiving support from everyone on Facebook, from the teachers and parents at my mom's school, at work, and at home. People say the kindest words...they really, really do. I am amazed at how many people have cared about my success and taken the time to tell me so. The same goes for the crowds who came out to cheer on all the runners during the race. What's so phenomenal about these people is that they genuinely want to yell and cheer for you...and they want to single you out individually. I think the best decision I made for this race was buying a shirt online that had my name printed in huge letters across the front. I can't even count the number of people on the sidelines who looked me right in the eye, smiled, and screamed "Go Rose! You can do it, Rose!" Consider the power of what it means that so many people are eager to do that for complete strangers. It gives you hope that the world really is still good at heart, and that's what the marathon brings out in everyone who participates in some way. It's one of those moments where you just want to "pay it forward" and do the same for others when they need it.

7. The weight loss that has come from this training has just been an added bonus. I had lost about 100 pounds by the time I began preparing for the marathon, but training has helped me drop that additional 50 that may have otherwise been extremely difficult to lose. Running keeps me focused on my health and helps me maintain the right balance with food and exercise. I never imagined I'd get addicted to it so fast, but there you have it.

8. Talking to people and having newfound confidence in myself. Just today, I went to the Runner's Soul shop in town and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a marathon jacket and official finishers' shirt. To my surprise, I found it incredibly easy and exciting to strike up a conversation with the woman who was working there. I told her about the marathon, its ups and downs, and the weight loss journey that has come with it. In turn, she told me about her training for the upcoming New York Marathon, and how she has stayed motivated over the past several months. I have been painfully shy my entire life, but by losing weight and developing a passion for running, I have found that I have so much more to say, and it is exciting that I can look at people directly in the eye without getting so flustered or embarrassed. It has taken a long time to get here, but now that I have, it's hard to describe exactly how awesome it feels.

9. There's nothing like walking through the finishers' chute, toward the volunteers with medals in their hands. For a few moments, you feel like an Olympian as they put the medal around your neck and congratulate you on a job well done. As soon as I had mine, I held the medal part in my hand and actually kissed it. I'm pretty sure someone behind me laughed at this, but you know what? When you've been through the grueling journey of earning something like that, all you care about is basking in that happiness and being grateful for what's in front of you. So you look a little silly? WHO THE HECK CARES???? :)

10. Pushing through the pain, because I matter...and because we all matter. I mentioned before that the marathon pulls every single emotion out of you in its time, but ultimately, that's exactly what life is--all those mixed feelings endured for the sake of the payoff on the other side. There's the excitement, impulsivity, shock when the "hard stuff" settles in, anger, pain, fear, embarrassment, and frustration...followed by complete relief and joy when you realize that you have made it. All of a sudden, you want to just live in the moment. You forget the pain pretty quickly, but you always remember the good...and that is exactly how it should be!

Katie and I loved wearing our medals at the hotel after the marathon, when we could just relax and enjoy what we had spent five hours and twenty eight minutes completing. THAT right there is why we do this, and why we love it so much!

And with that, the verdict is in...I am totally and completely in love with running, and as long as I have a say in it, I will continue to chase after it! There's a famous quote (and another famous marathon spectator poster) that says The day will come when you are no longer able to do this. Today is NOT that day! As I continue into my thirties and beyond, my main goal is to stay healthy and stick with the forms of exercise that I love the most...and running just happens to be at the top of that list. Several people have asked me already if I would consider doing the marathon again next year, and the answer is always yes! Absolutely! There's no question about it...which is odd because the whole time I was running on Sunday, I swore that I couldn't possibly be dumb enough to do this to myself again. As I waddled around for the next two days, completely sore and stiff, I knew that this was more than something I had randomly stumbled upon...it had become a passion. It really is like childbirth (not that I would know anything about that, but you know what I mean)...the memory of the hard parts fades as soon as you experience the reward, and from then on, you're eager to start all over again. The 2012 Chicago Marathon is 100% for sure part of my future plan, barring any injuries, and if all goes well physically, chances are I'll find another one to run before that! Ah, it's tough when we start forming obsessions :)

I think my heart will always be with the Chicago Marathon each year, mainly because it's my hometown, and because this is where it all began for me, but I am already getting excited about putting other marathons on my To Do List. The Illinois, Las Vegas, Disney Princess, New York, and Wisconsin Dells Marathons all sound flat-out AMAZING, and I look forward to hopefully turning these dreams into a reality. After finishing Marathon #1 with a goal simply to finish, I am excited about fine-tuning other areas that didn't seem to matter the first time around--such as speed training, increased outdoor runs (the treadmill has represented about 90% of my training this year, if not more), and possibly training with other people to build endurance and practice keeping up with different paces. It will be a slow process, and not all of these things will be achieved at once, but the first step is where it all begins.

Question of the Day: Name something in your life that you love, as well as the top reasons why you choose to persevere with it, even in the darkest moments.

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