Monthly Archives: April 2013

We all dream of running Boston

This is not the blog post I thought I would write today. I expected to write about how I ran the Whidbey Island half marathon yesterday in 2:12:01, setting another PR by two and a half minutes. I was going to tell you how great I felt about running in a steady rain on a course that was even hillier than I thought it would be, how I was passing everyone around me in the last few miles, and how I ran mile 13 in 9:17 — one of the faster miles I’ve ever run and certainly the fastest mile I’ve ever run at the end of a long hard race.

I woke up this morning still basking in my slow happy glory, and eagerly turned to my Twitter feed for news about the Boston Marathon. I “watched” the elite runners finish and then I turned to other business for a while. Later I returned to Twitter…

I’m sure that we — all of us — are shocked, outraged, and deeply saddened by the events in Boston today. There will be many thousands of words written about it, and I don’t want to needlessly add to the fray.

I just want to say one thing.

I will venture to guess that almost everyone who puts on a pair of running shoes and goes out the door has, at least once, been captivated by the allure of the Boston Marathon. It is one of the very few sporting events with global visibility and appeal. It is the stuff of our most noble dreams.

I have never attempted to run a full marathon. I’m only just now beginning to seriously think about making the attempt. But I can tell you what my Boston Marathon qualifying time needs to be. I know because I’ve looked it up. At my age, I’d have to run a 4:10 marathon just to be eligible to register. It is utterly out of my reach. And yet… this morning I scanned the Whidbey Island full marathon results and noted with great pleasure how many people had run Boston 2014 qualifying times.

I want to be like them.

We all dream of running Boston.

I am devastated at the thought of the runners who had just completed the Boston Marathon, and moments later had their legs blown off or worse. The tragedy is unthinkable.

I am so angry, so sad, so grief-stricken, and so deeply and utterly a runner.

I ran my race yesterday, one day after what would have been my late husband’s 66th birthday, and on the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death. Those were small milestones, small but poignant victories for me. It’s not so easy to stop a determined runner.

So I have decided. This October I am going to run my first marathon. I am going to run it because I, too, dream of someday running the Boston Marathon.

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Thinking about what it means to become and be a runner

So my disappointing long run the other day did turn out to be just a fluke… as I’d sort of thought it was even at the time. Yesterday I ran a perfect 10-miler that left me feeling entirely satisfied and ready to give myself some extra rest and a proper taper over the next ten days before the Whidbey Island race.

I spent some time after that run thinking about running and reflecting on the literal and metaphorical places I have been as a runner.

Off and on over the past few days I have mused quite a bit about the experience of running, about what it’s like to become a runner, to be a runner, and to discover strength, resiliency, courage, and happiness as a runner. I’ve been re-reading old blog posts (on this site and previous more private sites) from the period during and shortly after Kurt’s illness and death. I’m re-reading my words from that time because I’m working on a paper proposal for a conference… which may finally begin to lead in the direction of the book that I want to write about running through grief.

It hurts to look back and read words that screamed forth from my pain. But it’s also very heartening to see that I found sources of strength… and a big source of my strength was the fact that I somehow managed to get out there and run. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

There were plateaus and setbacks in my running ability and in my ability to hold my life together. There were times I thought I was going to rip my heart out of my chest. Then there were times when I knew that my heart and mind and legs were all strong and I was going to be able to put all the pieces back together.

Running has taught me — and continues to teach me — that anything is possible with determination and practice. I had to complete a PhD program at age 53 in order to finally convince myself that I am intellectually authentic. Learning to run since then has been something like a PhD program for the rest of me.

I’m tempted to say that coping with Kurt’s illness and death were the comprehensive exams for that second PhD, but I don’t want to contextualize or diminish that experience. I do wonder, however, if I’d have become such a dedicated runner if it weren’t for what happened to Kurt. Before his diagnosis, I hadn’t begun to challenge myself as a runner. I walked a lot. I worried about injuring myself. I never pushed myself hard to see how much more I could do. After his diagnosis I began to see running as something I could do to help myself — sometimes it was the only thing I could think of that I could do to help myself. It was the only thing that brought me any sort of respite.

After he died, running got me out of the house. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me a reason to eat. It put things on my calendar.

Of course, it gave me places and times to cry.

And it gave me reasons to celebrate.

We all have our life challenges, and we all find our ways to cope.

By choosing to become and be a runner, I have found pride — satisfaction — peace — confidence — and a goodly measure of humility.

Life is short. Our days are numbered. How many steps we take, the places we go, the ways we choose to spend the time we have — these things are up to each of us to decide.

As for me, I’ve logged 250 running miles so far this year. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 550,000 steps just since January 1. They haven’t all been steps of sheer joy, but most of them have been pretty good. And they’re all steps in the right direction.

Slow and happy…

One step at a time!

I don’t expect to PR — and that’s okay!

With less than 14 days to go until the Whidbey Island half marathon* on April 14, I should have completed my last long run and be fully into “taper mode” by now. But because I still have this idea of running a full marathon later this year floating around in my head, I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of running 10+ miles and then going out two days later and doing it again. I figure if I make the next few runs a bit shorter (in the 6-8 mile range) and then give myself a few days of complete rest from running right before the race, that should be all the tapering I’ll need to do.

We’ll see.

I set out yesterday to do my last long run, which per my plan would be 12+ miles. I had done that distance at PR pace two weeks ago, so it didn’t seem like a big deal.

Every runner needs to have a humbling experience every now and then, right?

It was the first really warm day of the year… warm, that is, by Pacific Northwest standards. It was about 55 degrees when I left the house, a good ten degrees warmer than any time recently. I was wearing short sleeves and capri-length tights for the first time since last October!

It got HOT. I felt completely sapped of energy. I got hungry — and the Shot Bloks I was carrying weren’t enough to energize me. I got thirsty, but I couldn’t take more than sips of water without my stomach protesting.

I turned around early, telling myself I could always do another out and back to make up the rest of the planned mileage. But by the time I got back to the car, with only seven miles done, I knew I was done.

So my 12-mile “last long run before the race” turned into a 7-mile run that left me feeling discouraged.

I think I’ll give the “last long run” one more attempt later this week, if only to beat back the psychological bugaboo that is now sitting on my shoulder.

Objectively, I shouldn’t really care at all. I shouldn’t have any trouble giving up on my racing PR streak — eight straight half marathons with a PR every time.

Why shouldn’t I care?

Because the official length of the Whidbey Island half marathon is 13.4 miles — not 13.1. That extra 0.3 miles translates to approximately THREE FULL MINUTES for me. To make up three minutes over the course of 13 miles, I’ve got to be 15+ seconds a mile faster than I was last October in Victoria. That means I’ve got to run those 13.4 miles at a sub-10-minute pace.

I actually hit that pace on my 12+ mile run under ideal conditions two weeks ago — but can I do it again? Can I do it on a hilly course on a day when it may be raining and almost certainly will be windy?

I’ve decided that — if I can’t — it’s justifiable and I will forgive myself.

I don’t expect to PR — and that’s okay!

(But it sure would be awesome if I did…)

* If the name “Whidbey Island” sounds familiar to you, it may be because you’ve read about it in the news lately. There was a massive landslide on Whidbey Island, which has destroyed at least one house, is threatening 30+ more, and is still moving. Fortunately the slide location is nowhere near the race route, but you can bet I’ll be thinking about it as I run along the waterfront.