Tuesday, October 22, 2013

No Longer a Marathon Virgin

When I started training for my first marathon last June, I had no idea where my training would take me. I had no idea if I had it in me to run 26.2 miles. I had no idea that the friendships I forged during training would be instrumental in getting me across that finish line. And I was clueless about the emotional impact it would have on me. It’s been a few days since I finally completed the Nationwide Children’s Columbus Marathon – and even though my body is battered and bruised, my inner self is still jumping for joy.

One of the reasons I wanted to run this particular marathon was that it benefitted Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Each mile marker was reserved for a Patient Champion and their families. These kids and their families are patients at the hospital – and many of them are long-term visitors with rare and complicated diseases. I knew what it was like to be one of those parents – after all, Maya was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia at 2 months. She received her liver transplant at the tender age of 19 months. We spent months in the hospital, both before and after transplant. And although our ordeal was spent at Cincinnati Children’s and I had never actually been inside of Nationwide Hospital, that didn’t matter. I KNEW what it was like to live in the hospital, unsure about the future of my child. I KNEW what those kids go through on a daily basis. And I KNEW that an event such as this marathon would help raise more than awareness and money for the hospital – it would also raise the spirits of the kids and the families. 

The day before the race, we headed to Columbus and checked into our very nice hotel room - no kids, no dog, AND a king-sized bed. Recipe for sleep, right? Wrong. I'm still trying to figure that one out. I guess I'm used to having a 65lb dog vying for space every night. But we did have a wonderful dinner and some kickass chocolate cupcakes for dessert. (And as we all know, chocolate can improve just about any situation.)

On race day, we had to be in our starting corrals at the bright and cheerful time of 7a.m. (Seriously. Why so early, people?) We left the hotel around 6:30a.m to walk to the starting line. I managed to drink a little bit of water and coffee and cram half of a plain bagel in my mouth, but my nerves wouldn’t allow anything else. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30, but due to the massive amounts of people (I think around 18,000 total between the ½ and the full), it took 20 minutes to cross the starting line. Did I mention that it was freezing cold and that I was wearing shorts? Luckily, I met up with my friend TerriAnn, who did her best to make me laugh and calm me down. This wasn't her first rodeo and she kept telling me I would be fine. I didn't necessarily believe her, but I kept nodding my head and agreeing with her because I was too scared to do anything else. 

As soon as I crossed the starting line, my body clicked into gear. Unfortunately, I lost TerriAnn.  During the first few miles I just tried to settle into a comfortable pace. Around mile 4, I took my fleece off. (It was purchased at Goodwill and I knew in advance I would be tossing it on the course. All the clothing tossed on the course was recycled back into Goodwill.) The first half of the race seemed relatively decent. Crowd support was great. I drank water at almost every water stop, ate my yummy Chocolate Outrage GU at my predetermined spots, didn’t puke, etc.

Right around mile 17, I started faltering. My legs were on fire. My quads and hamstrings felt like they were going to pop out of my skin. I had to keep going, though. Part of the course takes runners through the infamous Ohio State Stadium – and I knew some friendswould be waiting for me there. So I kept barreling along. That brief moment I saw them was fabulous – and I managed to smile and keep going. They later told me I looked great. I’m still not convinced they weren’t drinking even though it was way before noon.

By the time I hit mile 20, I hit the proverbial wall. My time at that point was 3 hours, 19 minutes and 34 seconds. I had another 6.2 miles (10k) to go by that point. Normally, I can run that distance in under an hour. Instead, it took me almost an hour and 15 minutes to run those miles. I was a wreck. My legs were on fire. (Yes, I know I said that already. It's worth mentioning. Several times.) The only thing that kept me going was the thought of seeing another Patient Champion at each mile marker – and it was the thought of those kids and my kids that kept me going. (Plus I knew I could have wine when I was finished.) It seemed that each mile was harder than the previous ones.

At mile 22, I realized I had to go to the bathroom. Badly. So I ducked into a porta-potty. (Again, not a fan of these contraptions.) Have you ever tried to do the hover above the seat trick (ladies, you know what I'm talking about) with quads and hamstrings that were on fire? No? I don't recommend it. The only thing that propelled me out of there was the fear of being found passed out on the floor by race personnel. Somehow, I got back on the course and resumed running. I use the term "running" very loosely here. The mental picture I have of myself resembled one of the zombies from The Walking Dead. 

I despaired that I would ever get to the damn finish line. Finally, though, I saw it. And as I ran down the final yards, I realized that one of Maya’s favorite songs was playing – Roar by Katy Perry. I wanted to laugh and cry. The feeling when I crossed that finish line was incredible. It was unlike anything I had ever felt before. I did it! 26.2 miles! Suddenly, the pain didn't matter. Nothing mattered at all except that feeling of complete and utter elation that I had accomplished this damn near impossible goal. It was made even better when a nice lady put a medal around my neck and directed me toward where my friends were waiting for me. 

During the (uphill, one mile) walk back to our hotel room, I found out that two of my friends from my running group had qualified for Boston that day, including Tracey, who had ridden with us to Columbus. My time of 4:33:29 would not earn me any awards, but that's okay with me. I was just happy to make it back to the hotel room before we had to check out at 1 so I could take a shower. And I won't go into detail about almost getting stuck on the toilet in the hotel room. 

By the time we made it home, I could barely move. But I was also starting to plan for my next major challenge – a 50k. It’s not until June. I have plenty of time. And I already plan on doing a half in November and another full in the springtime, along with a few other races – including another triathlon. And all the aches and pains were worth it - the marathon raised over one million dollars for Nationwide Children's. And that's kind of a big deal.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

AF Marathon: A Recap (Yep. Had to happen.)

I recently ran in the Air Force ½ Marathon. I have been excited about this race since I signed up for it in January. (Yes, I signed up for an event 9 months before it occurred. It’s called OCD, look it up.) And, true to form, I was also scared to death. This is a BIG event. Huge. People from all over the world come to Dayton, Ohio to be part of this race. In fact, all the races, including the 5k, the 10k, the half, and the full marathon sold out. Have I mentioned already that I don’t like crowds and porta-potties? Here we go again….

My running partner, Steve, picked me up at the very socially unacceptable time of before the buttcrack of dawn. Seriously, the sun wasn’t even up yet. But the powers that be tell runners to arrive for their races at least 60 to 90 minutes before the start time due to traffic. And we live 30 minutes from the base, where the event is held. To say that I was nervous on the drive to WPAFB is a massive understatement. We managed to get in and park (on a runway, no less) with a minimal wait.

The crowds were almost overwhelming, even at that early hour. We walked from the tarmac onto the base grounds and around the museum and over the river and through the woods to the runner’s area.(Seriously, it was a long walk. Not good when you’re already nervous and have to pee and it’s chilly.)  Luckily there was more than ample amount of porta-potties. And so I conquered my fear. It was either that or pee my pants (or worse) during the race. Not a pretty sight either way.

The full marathon (including the wheelchair division) and the 10k started at 7:30. The half-marathon started at 8:30. We checked our bags at the baggage claim and meandered over to the starting area to warm up. Steve, ever the brave one, went up to the front of the crowd to be closer to the starting line. Since I did not possess that level of confidence, I stayed toward the back of the crowd. I realized right before the race started that I was 50 feet BEHIND the 2:30 pacer. My goal was to run it in less than 2:10. When the gun went off it took me 5 minutes to get across the start line. That’s how far back I was. That’s how many people were running it. Over 5000 for the half-marathon alone.

During the first mile, I was playing catch-up. I darted around people when I could. As I headed into miles 2 and 3, the crowed thinned out a bit. I caught up to and then passed the 2:20 pacer, then the 2:10 pacer. Soon I was in a good rhythm. It took me until mile 3 to realize that my headphones were screwed up. I could only hear the music out of my left side. The right earbud was silent. Weird. I tried not to dwell on it. Seriously, I could’ve obsessed about it and it let it ruin my whole race but I had a bigger problem: hills.

This race is not a flat course. However, in true Lisa fashion, I had not checked out the elevation on the map. Steve had, and he told me just before the race that the hills were done by 7 mile marker, so it should make the last 6.1 miles relatively easy. Let me say this right now: Steve is a big fat liar. 

By the time I hit mile 8, I felt good. Then I saw THE hill. It was bigger than the others. And longer. It might as well have looked like Mt. Everest. Son of a motherless goat. Stupid, stupid hills. One of the interesting things about this course is that part of the time the half runners and the full runners share the same course. This hill is one of those instances. As I was huffing and puffing and cursing up this hill, I happened to glance over to my right, across the median. I saw a  wheelchair racer. He was obviously struggling to get up the hill. His arms were working double time and it looked like he could roll backwards at any moment. There was a runner behind him. I could hear him yelling. “Keep going. Get up the hill. You can DO this, man!” At that moment, I realized that my battle with the hill was almost trivial compared to this man’s battle. And if he could make it up the hill without the use of his legs, than I could also make to the top. So I stayed on pace with him, with both of us reaching the top at the same time. I turned left and didn’t see him again. But his tenacity stayed with me for the rest of the race. I felt humbled and inspired.

The last few miles of the course were a blur. By the time I hit the final mile, I realized that I was going to be well under my realistic goal of 2:10. I thought maybe maybe maybe there’s a slight chance that I could reach my dream goal of 1:59:59. So I kicked into high gear. By that point, I had been a good little runner and stayed hydrated by stopping at every water station except for the first one and the last one. I crossed the finish line and found out a few minutes later that my official time was 2:01:54. It wasn’t my dream goal, but it was damn close. And I knocked about 11 minutes off my time from my first half marathon back in April. Woot!

The beer I had afterward was one of the best I’ve ever tasted, even if it was just plain ol’ Miller Lite. (Yes, I had a beer at 10:30am. No judging. Besides, they didn’t offer wine.) I also met a guy who finished the marathon in less than three hours. He was exhausted but happy, which summed up most of the crowd. A woman also came up to me and thanked me for being her pacer. She said that she followed me for the last few miles of the race and that I kept her going. That put a huge smile on my face. It kind of made me feel like a real runner.

That race was simply an incredible experience. The hard work and dedication of the other runners and the thousands of volunteers made it something I will remember for the rest of my life. And I will never forget the sight of the wheelchair racer pushing up that hill – it was a great reminder that we all have our own obstacles to face. Some of us just have different ways of dealing with them. Personally, I’ve found that my family, running, red wine, and good friends make all the difference in the world. Clean porta-potties are never a bad thing, either. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly About Running

When I started running last year I had no idea where my journey would take me. I had no thoughts (delusions?) about running races – especially of the marathon length. However, soon I found myself hooked. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s probably better for my bank account and non-felon status than some other addictions that people endure. This weekend is the Air Force Half Marathon. In another month, I’m running the Columbus full marathon. Sometimes I still can’t wrap my mind around that.

Anyway, soon after I started running – and let me be frank here – at first it was more fast walking and wheezing – I began to notice changes. Some of them were good. Some of them weren’t so good. Here we go:

1.) Muscle Definition

Whee! Although general everyday movement was a real issue the first few weeks I ran regularly, I was happy about that. I had quads! I had hamstrings! I knew that because of the pain emanating from those areas. Hell, even my obliques hurt. But that means progress. And progress leads to muscle definition and strength. Don’t get me wrong, I will never resemble those bodybuilders who look like they have to rely on someone else to wipe them after a BM, but a little definition is a good thing to have. Especially after popping out two kids.

2.) Weird Tan Lines

Marathon training during the summer months makes for some weird tan lines. And not only from the running shirts and sports bras. I have tan lines from my shorts. And my socks and shoes. My legs are gloriously tan (unhealthy, I know. But the color is nice.) but my feet are whiter than a member of Congress who’s just been told he has to take a pay cut and actually work for a living.

3.) Digestion Issues (AKA Runner’s Trots)

Exercise has a way of “getting things moving,” so to speak. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unless it happens during a run. Without access to a bathroom other than the one Mother Nature provides alongside of the bike trail. And watch out for poison ivy. Check the leaves, people. Check the leaves.

4.) 5 A.M. Wake-up Calls

I’m in a running group. All of us have different schedules and different responsibilities. Some people work full time. Some don’t. Almost all of us have kids and spouses who need our attention. This means we sometimes have to run before the butt-crack of dawn, especially on long run days or for speedwork. I may have mentioned this before, but I am not a morning person. (Think Linda Blair from the Exorcist.) But I have, multiple times, crawled out of bed sobbing bounded with enthusiasm out the door for trail running (and ranger dodging) in an unopened park at 6A.M.

5.) Chafing

This might be TMI, but boob chafing is the worst. The. Worst. I experienced this during a recent 18 miler. My sports bra did a number on the underside of the ta-tas. Ouch. Aquaphor is my new BFF.

6.) Dietary Changes

Most marathon training plans call for little to no alcohol intake. So like the good little would-be marathoner, I gave up drinking red wine. That little experiment was the longest four days of my life. I’m sure my family felt the same. (Think Linda Blair again.) And please note that this was during summer vacation while the kids and I were home together. All day. Every day.

But I know the body needs the right fuel to work at the optimal level. So during the week, I make every effort to eat healthy. This means whole grains, plenty of protein, plenty of greens, and minimal trips to the DQ. The weekends are a different story. They often include pizza, and usually a trip to my favorite Mexican restaurant. Chimichangas with sour cream and guacamole, anyone? Margaritas? Count me in. Sometimes we end up at a steak place. I love a nice rare steak and a big ol’ baked potato with butter and sour cream and cheese and bacon bits oozing out of it. Get in my belly.

Marathon training has been a series of lows and highs. I often wonder just why I’m doing this and if I’ll be able to make it to the finish line. And I’ve decided that it’s probably a good thing that I’m so damn stubborn. I have a feeling that’s a trait most runners share, regardless of whether they run marathons or not. That trait will no doubt help me when I attempt my first 50K race next year…

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Warrior Dash!

There are a lot of things that I’m scared not overly fond of. Clowns. Heights. Swimming in water such as ponds, lakes, and streams where I have to share space with creepy crawly things. (I’ve mentioned this before, as I am a fan of swimming in nice chlorinated pools where the water is crystal clear and there’s no risk of being bitten by a catfish or a crab or whatever else lives in muddy waters.) I’m also not overly fond of large crowds, Porta-potties, or mud. And I’m slightly claustrophobic. (I’m not neurotic, I swear. Really. Just maybe a bit picky.) But when my friend Jen and I discussed doing a race called the Warrior Dash, I immediately said yes. The Warrior Dash is a 5k obstacle course based on military training that is often seen in boot camp. There’s 10-12 obstacles that involve swimming, climbing up and over things (heights vary from 4 feet all the way up to 20-30 + feet), crawling through underground trenches where the sun doesn’t shine and there’s little wiggle room, and jumping over fire. Did I mention that I’m not a fan of open flame? There’s a reason I have an electric fireplace as opposed to a gas fireplace and I will never cook on a gas grill.

Anyway, Jen more or less told me how fun it was, as she had already done a few. So we signed up for one in North Lawrence, Ohio at some place called Clay’s Park Resort. A resort! Sweet! Initially I thought it was the type of place that had swimming pools complete with swim-up bars that I could belly up to and order a frothy adult beverage (with an umbrella, of course). However, I did a few minutes of research AFTER I committed to this race and I learned that Clay’s Park Resort is a campground. It didn’t have a nice chlorinated pool where I could see the bottom. No bar, either. That is NOT my idea of a resort.

The race weekend finally arrived and Jen drove the seven hours to my house from the Land of Cheese. We hopped in the car on Saturday afternoon and drove the 3 hours to North Lawrence. (No camping, we stayed at a nice hotel about 10 minutes from Clay’s Park. In beds that had clean sheets and within walking distance to a nice little place that had decent food and adult beverages. That’s how I roll.)

As we woke up at the buttcrack of dawn on Sunday, my nerves started going a little haywire. Okay, a lot haywire. As we inched closer to our start time, my palms started getting sweaty and my stomach tied up in knots. I’m no risk taker! What if I couldn’t do the obstacles? What if I got stuck way up high on something? What if a giant mutant fish/crab/waterzombie/snake wanted to eat me? What if I had to be carried off the course because I fell and bonked my head and slipped into a coma and a Lifetime movie was made out of my life? All of those thoughts and more struck me as we were waiting in the starting corral. Jen’s main concern was my hair. So as we were waiting in the overly packed starting corral surround by hundreds of people we didn't know, she French-braided it into two supercute pigtails. At least if I fell down, I’d have good hair.

When the starting gun exploded, something inside me clicked and we took off. All of the obstacles are in the last two miles of the course, so we ran on the rocky, hilly, wooded trail for a mile before we hit obstacle one. It was a little daunting, with an over/under concept that required upper body strength and flexibility. (Yay for all the yoga I’ve done, it really came in handy!)

I was really starting to get into the rhythm of things – until we hit the first water obstacle. It involved sliding feet first down a muddy embankment into water that was brown. No visibility whatsoever. Someone around me made a joke about malaria. Fabulous. As I slid into the water and started swimming, I concentrated on not swallowing any of it and just kept looking forward. I made it through to the other side and crawled up the muddy banks. Then I started running again. Whew.

Some of the next 7-8 of the obstacles were harder than others. Some required concentration and balance, others required us to use all of our muscles and rely on our partners. Only one was claustrophobia inducing. More than a few were in water. I’m happy to report that I did not get stuck on top of any obstacles, nor did I go around or take a pass on any. And just as we ran up yet another hill, I saw the final 3 obstacles. I followed Jen up a large rope netting, shimmied over the top and climbed back down the other side. Next, we jumped over a few rows of fire. Finally, we crawled on our stomachs through a massive mudpit, trying to avoid getting snagged by the barbed wire overhead. And by the time we climbed out of the mud, covered head to toe in grime and muck, I realized that I had FUN. Yes, it was a test of strength and determination. Yes, some of the obstacles were scary. But isn’t that what life is about? Finding out where our strength reserves are and digging into them so that we can move forward?

Overall, it was a fun weekend. Jen and I came in 120 and 121 out of 879 females in our age group that day. We drank cheap beer after the race and posed for pictures in our ultra-fashionable thrift store sunglasses. We were muddy, sore, tired, and exhilarated. It definitely wasn’t a typical girly weekend. And I’m still on track with my marathon training and only suffered a few scrapes.

But just for the record, I avoided the Porta-potties. They might’ve had clowns in them.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Being a Glutton for Punishment

I’ve been running for a little less than a year. I’ve participated in a few races, including some 5k’s, a freezing 5 miler, a slightly above freezing 10 miler, a 10k, a half marathon, etc. But I wanted to try something different, so I recently competed in the West Milton Triathlon. Well, maybe competed is a strong word. I should amend that and just say that I participated in it.  I also coerced my running partner, Steve, into it so we could team up. (Two person teams get canoes. Solo participants get kayaks. I’ve never been in a kayak and didn’t feel like taking my chances.) The race consisted of a 3.5 mile canoe trip down the Stillwater River, a 5 mile run on back country roads, then a 17 mile bike ride through more country roads. And it started at the buttcrack of dawn. Good times.

A day or so before the race, I got an email from the race director that contained valuable information, like the maps for the running and biking portions. I ignored those. I skimmed over the race directions about where to park and where to pick up timing chips, etc. Then I got to the line about no headphones/cellphones/ipods allowed. WHAT? I wasn’t allowed to listen to Will Smith get jiggy with it or Dolly Parton stumblin’ into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of ambition? I NEED a distraction when I run, something to keep my mind turned off so it won’t keep telling me to quit. Then I realized that I’d be with my running partner and he could keep me going. He’s a track coach and a positive person in general. Great for dragging my ass along when I’m feeling like I can’t possibly take another step. 

Anyway, race day dawned sunny and clear. We got to the starting point and managed to get into the canoe without tipping it. I should mention here that I am not good in canoes. I don’t like being in muddy bodies of water where I can’t see under the surface. I’m always afraid that I’m going to get eaten by a mutant catfish or some type of creepy crawly thing is going to latch on to me if I so much as dip a finger in the water.  The Stillwater River was moving at a good clip (go figure) and we stayed in the current for the most part, which helped to propel us along. We got to the docking area, where I managed to get out of the canoe without getting wet. Steve wasn’t as lucky.

We set out for the running portion. About a half-mile in, Steve realized he had forgotten his timing chip in the transition area. He told me to go ahead and he turned around to go track it down. So there I was, running alone. On a back country road. Without music. With only my thoughts to keep me company. Those 5 miles seemed to take forever. It was hot. I was thirsty. I was grumpy. I swore I was never doing this again and what in the gay hell was I thinking wasting a perfectly good Saturday morning by running around these damn dusty roads in Podunksville. I made up some new cuss words in my head. (It’s a pastime of mine when I run, especially on hills.) 

I finally made it to the main road that took me into the park where we had set up our bikes earlier. Spectators lined the road, yelling out encouraging words about “looking good, keep going,” etc. I wondered if they were on crack or blind, because I was sweating buckets and felt like I was moving in slow motion. I made it to my bike and waited around for Steve. I drank some water. Waited some more. When I saw Steve, he told me to go ahead and he’d catch up to me. So off I went, tired but excited that there was only 17 miles between myself and the finish line.  (I feel I should say that Steve’s total run time was less than mine, and the whole timing chip debacle was the only reason I beat him to the finish line for that portion.)

The first mile was all uphill. I put my bike in easy gear (yes, I know there’s technical terms like high gear and low gear but I don’t speak bicycle, so easy gear it is.) and made it up the hill. By the time I got to the 5 mile marker, I was flying. I wished I had my phone with me so I could’ve checked my biking app (I love Strava!), but those pesky rules…anyway, a little over an hour later I crossed the finish line. A few minutes later, Steve rolled in. We had finished! All in one piece! And we didn’t come in last!

Do I wish I could’ve done better? Yes. I finished in less than 3 hours, but next year the goal is to finish in 2.5. I did get a cool new medal - which is hanging with the half-marathon medal in my bathroom.

And I’ve already started training for a marathon in October. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Five Year Liver-versary!!!

Today is Maya’s liver-versary! It is a day of celebration and remembrance. We celebrate it every year, and every year I feel even more amazed and grateful that after everything she’s been through she’s still here. I still can't believe it's been five years. She’s in kindergarten now and is growing up so fast. Her most recent health issues and hospitalizations have been tough, and there are more procedures planned for the near future. Maya takes much of what she endures in stride, and even manages to stay semi-still twice a day when I flush the port to her bile drain. (For anyone who knows Maya, that whole staying still concept is just something that she doesn’t subscribe to.) She is an active participant in her own care, and getting her blood taken and taking medications are all things that are normal to her. She’s never known anything different.

Maya has been on numerous medications from the time she was two months old and diagnosed with biliary atresia. She was only a year old when she got her “new” liver. Directly following her transplant she was on sixteen different medicines. Now she is only on three. One of the most important ones is her anti-rejection med, Prograf. Unlike her other medications, which are liquids, Prograf is a small but mighty capsule. It is what keeps her body from rejecting the liver she has been gifted. It has to be given on time, exactly 12 hours apart EVERY DAY. In order to administer it to her, the capsule has to be broken open and the powder has to be mixed with a little bit of water, then given to her via an oral syringe. For five years, I have made sure she has gotten every dose. I have trained all babysitters and family members on how to give it to her. I have been doing it for so long that I could probably do it in my sleep.  

I have, in recent months, talked to her about taking the pill and swallowing it like a big girl. She seemed eager to do it, but for some reason, I held off. After all, she’s only 6 years old. What if she’s too young? What if it gets stuck in her throat and she never wants to try again? What if….

What if she can take the medicine on her own and I realize that she IS a big girl…that she IS growing up? Hm...

During a recent hospital stay, she decided she didn’t want the medicine mixed “baby style” anymore; she could handle it on her own. This recent development makes me both happy and sad. Happy because it signifies not only her independence, and to be honest, it makes my life a bit easier. Sad because it signifies her independence, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.  So now when it’s Prograf time, I simply hand her the pill and a glass of water. And when she’s done swallowing it, she opens her mouth and sticks out her tongue and tells me the pill is in her belly. Then she gives me a huge smile, belches loudly, and walks away with a skip in her step. 

Happy Five Year Liver-versary to my sweet (and sassy) little girl, who's growing up so quickly. I love you.