Battle plan

I had my podiatrist appointment last week, and it went way better than I expected it to. I had a bunch of x-rays, and nothing is broken or out of place, which is a big relief.

I had to give this guy my life story of the past 8 months: how it happened, what I’ve tried, which doctors I’ve been to, how it used to feel, how it feels now, what I’ve been doing exercise-wise, where I got my orthotics, the whole nine yards. When I described how the piano came flying toward me and crushed my ankle against a concrete step, he was horrified. When I told him I ran a marathon on it, he was incredulous, but pleased in the sense of “well, if you could do that, it can’t be that bad.”

There’s no name for what’s going on with my foot and ankle, with is annoying because it makes it cumbersome to describe. It’s not like “runner’s knee” or “IT band syndrome” or anything like that. Basically, that piano bashed the ever-loving hell out of some ligaments that tried to heal themselves and became knotted up with scar tissue and adhesions, which are stiff and inflamed, which prevents my foot from having a proper range of motion, which my foot adapted to because it’s lazy, which causes more swelling, which irritates some nerve in my foot, which makes it tingly and achy.

Solution: deep tissue “massage” and intense “stretching,” AKA torture. Basically, they are going to squeeze and smash the scar tissue out of me with assorted torture devices. I’m set to go to therapy twice a week for three weeks, then then see where I’m at.

While I was there, I also had him look at the custom shoe inserts I had made over the summer, and he was somewhat baffled. They cast the molds correctly and they fit my feet fine, but apparently they used a much stiffer material for the bottom half than what is common. Typically, they use a softer cork so there’s a bit more give when your foot hits the ground, but mine is really dense and stiff. He made a few adjustments and they’re fitting much better, but he said he’d like to replace the cork on the bottom with something more appropriate, so I’ll probably look into that after I see how therapy is going.

I ran 1 mile on the treadmill after going to the doctor Thursday, then Dan and I walked about 7 miles on Sunday. I don’t think my ankle is quite ready to pound the pavement just yet, and I’m definitely not comfortable dropping any money on race registrations, but I’m feeling much more positive about the situation and closer to running “for real” again.

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Chicago marathon!

I know, I know. It happened a week ago, but better late than never, right?

As I was running my race, I realized that 26.2 miles is really far, and that there was no way that I’d be able to remember or register everything that was happening during those miles in order to write about it. Having that thought is essentially the only thing I remember thinking during the entire race. Oh, that and the PAIN.

I’m only sort of kidding.

Actually, everything about the day of the marathon could not have gone better, which I am tremendously thankful for.

Dan and I got into town on Friday night, where our friends Lindsay and Kevin promptly took us out to eat at a great pasta place I can’t remember the name of. I didn’t even take any pictures of my food. Helpful, I know. I was being really lame, so we watched a horribly depressing episode of Taxicab Confessions then went to bed.

Saturday morning, we woke up and Kevin took us to Bang Bang Pie Shop where we enjoyed the most amazing biscuits, homemade jams and butters, and candied bacon ever. Breakfast stuck with me so long that I wasn’t hungry for lunch until almost 3…which is miraculous. After breakfast, I met up with some acquaintances/friends who were nice enough to let me third-wheel it all Saturday.

Katie and I met at the national ACES conference [nerd alert] in Cleveland back in 2006 [ouch]. We kept up over the years though social media and both started to get really into running around the same time. She and her longtime friend Mike try to run a race together every year, and Chicago was 2013’s selection. They found a nice apartment for us to stay at on Airbnb and were kind enough to let me tag along to the expo, go to lunch, chill at the apartment and indulge my crazy nail art hobby, go to dinner with their friends, stay with them Saturday night, and navigate to the race start Sunday morning. As Katie said after, it was nice to be friends in real life for once!

We made our way to the expo with Katie’s fiancé, Lance, leading the way. He worked in Chicago for several years and had a better sense of the city than the rest of us, that’s for sure! The expo was huge…it was so overwhelming that I was too busy navigating the crowds to bother really taking any pictures. It was really well organized, there was just so much…humanity. Not paying attention to where they were going or what they were doing. We got our numbers/shirts, and I made a brief stop by the DetermiNation tent to pick up my Charity Village credentials and make an extra race bib. Then we got out of there!

My DetermiNation bib.

My DetermiNation bib.

After the expo, we grabbed some Chipotle and went back to the apartment to chill out. We had a 7:45 dinner reservation for, you guessed it, more pasta, but we didn’t get our seats until I don’t even know when. By the time we ate and paid, it was well after 10 and we were fading fast. We headed back to the apartment and got our race day stuff together, agreed on a 5 a.m. wakeup time, and went to bed. Actually, I stayed up a bit longer to finish my race day nails, then finally got into bed around midnight. I slept OK; I fell asleep pretty quickly, but woke up a lot throughout the night. The upstairs neighbors were playing their music a bit loudly, then I heard gunshots, then fireworks, then it was time to wake up! Despite my fitful sleep, I hopped out of bed and was ready to roll pretty quickly.

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Obligatory nail art picture (grasping celebratory post-marathon wine).

My favorite part of the morning was probably the 5 minutes of standing in the kitchen with Katie and Mike, silently choking down various combos of peanut butter, bread, and bananas and drinking our coffee. Even though we didn’t say anything, it was really nice to share that moment with other people after months of doing the exact same thing all by myself every Saturday morning.

After breakfast, we walked to the L and made our way to the race start with no problems. Security was stricter than any other race I’ve done; I kind of felt like I was at the airport. Your race number had to be showing constantly, and they went through everyone’s gear check bag before admitting runners into Grant Park. We checked our gear and had just enough time to take a few pictures and wait in line for the bathroom before we went to our respective corrals.

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Me, Katie, and Mike right after entering Grant Park.

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Chicago skyline, right before entering Grant Park.

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Ready to rock and roll!

We lined up in our corrals with approximately 1 billion other people, and before we knew it, we were crossing the starting line.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I really don’t remember a whole lot about running the race. There were so many people everywhere that I was just trying to concentrate on not getting stomped on or elbowed or tripping over anyone. I was mostly successful. The crowd support was overwhelming. There were tons of spectators and they were cheering so loudly, it was like being in a wind tunnel. I just tried to stay calm and relaxed to avoid getting caught up on the moment and going out too fast.

Around 3 miles in, I realized I needed to hit the bathroom again. The lines were crazy long, so I decided to wait until the next stop, at around 5 miles. At that point, the lines were still really long,  but I figured that I would be uncomfortable for a large portion of the race, and I might as well be as comfortable as possible for the earlier, easier miles. I also figured it’d be better to get it over with early in the race so I wouldn’t have to stop and then try to regain momentum later. Unfortunately, my pit stop cost me somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes because the lines were pretty long. Not ideal, but I’m glad that I did it instead of risking feeling sick later in the race. Luckily, that’s the only time I had to stop.

From that point on, I put on the cruise control and kind of zoned out, making it a point to look around and check out my surroundings every few minutes. I didn’t bother checking my watch too often, as my Garmin paces were all over the place and wildly inaccurate. I tried to take a few Honey Stinger chews every 3 miles and mixed Gatorade and water at each of the water stops, which were spaced out about every 1.5 miles or something. I’d walk for 30ish seconds to drink and eat a few chews, then resume running. That was my strategy for the whole race, and it worked really well; I never got a stomach ache or bonked.

Dan, Lindsay, Kevin and the rest of the crew were all waiting for me at mile 16, so my primary goal was to make it to that point looking and feeling strong. I was due for some more chews around then, but I didn’t want them to see me walking, so I held off. I never did see them, though they saw me and yelled. Dan said I was totally ‘in the zone,’ which must have been true for me to miss them. I didn’t want them to see me walk, even just for a fuel break, so that propelled me through mile 17.5. Once I realized I had likely missed them, I just put my head down and powered through. I kept repeating the phrase “controlled fall” in my head and made it a point to check my posture and run as relaxed as possible. We hadn’t discussed it beforehand, but I knew that my mom and our friend Ann would be at the finish; I just had a feeling that I’d see them. I focused on getting to mile 20, then from that point on reveled in the fact that each additional step would be a personal distance record for me.

Around 22 miles in, I definitely started to hurt. I didn’t hit the infamous WALL, but my hips and low back were aching and my calves started feeling a little crampy. I had to step off the course twice for about 20 or 30 seconds each to stretch a little. People always praise the Chicago course for being so flat and fast, but that also means that the exact same muscles are taking a serious pounding for all 26.2 miles of the race. It was a huge relief to shake out a little.

At no point did I ever, ever feel like I wouldn’t be able to finish. My ankle also felt great the entire time. After months of training, and several weeks of fretting over my ability to happily complete the race after missing some significant training runs because of my ankle issues, I felt oddly calm the entire time I was running. Once I crossed the starting line and began running, my brain shut off and I just went on auto pilot.

I took a slightly longer walking break at mile 24, probably about 2 minutes, then made a deal with myself that I would run the remainder of the race, and run I did! I got some kind of second wind and I’m pretty sure my legs were just numb after hours of pounding. It was a little frustrating, because the course got pretty narrow in certain parts and a lot of people were walking. Weaving around them was too much energy at that point, and I didn’t trust myself to not trip or lose my balance. I feel like I could have gained some valuable time had I not gotten stuck, but oh well.

Once I got around 1,000 or 800 meters away from the finish, I heard “GO, SALLIE, GO!!!!!!” Sure enough, it was my mom, screaming at the finish just like I knew she’d be. For context, there are thousands of people at the finish line, cheering, ringing cow bells, blasting music, etc. My mom has a…signature cheering voice that is capable of piercing through pretty much any other noise. Not only did I hear her, but I was able to zero in and find her and Ann in the crowd. After that, it was game over. I was so ready to be done, I tore up the “hill” (I think it was a bridge or on-ramp or something. I was super thankful for my Tower Grove Park hills at that point) and cruised across the finish line. Official finish time: 5:01:26.

I threw my hands up and let out a triumphant yell as I crossed the finish line. I miiiight have shed a few tears of joy as I hobbled through the finish chute and got my medal.

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Wahoo!

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Me with my new hardware and a giant smile.

The walk from the finishing area back to the gear check and park exit was brutal. It was about a mile or something and required descending some stairs. After running all that way, I managed to walk to the beer table, grab a cold one, and hobble off to the side of the fenced in area. I collapsed and enjoyed about half of my beer (after calling mom to tell her not to worry, I just needed to sit for a minute).

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The sweet taste of success.

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Bling bling.

Mom and Ann took me back to their hotel, where I took the hottest, most glorious shower of my life and passed out for a few hours. After I was back among the living, Lindsay and Dan joined forces to make an amazing celebratory dinner of Italian pot roast, horseradish mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, and homemade bread. There might have been a little (a lot) of wine and champagne, too. I fell asleep with a full belly, happy heart, and major sense of accomplishment.

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Pizza and beers at Piece, aka Heaven on Earth.

Getting out of bed the next day was another story…but I managed to fight my way through it and eat all of the pizza and beer!

Overall, I feel great about this experience. Running in memory of Kim and in honor of my grandma was so tremendously rewarding. Thinking of them and of all the people who donated to the American Cancer Society in support of this run was a huge source of comfort and motivation during my training, especially when I was having doubts about my ankle. I wish I hadn’t lost that time in the bathroom, because a time of 4:XX would have felt pretty darn good, but I really can’t complain. I didn’t bonk, my body held up, I didn’t doubt myself, and I was able to raise money for a great cause. I can definitely see myself running another marathon in the future, but for now, I’m just going to bask in the glow of what I’ve accomplished thus far.

I did it!

Overwhelmed.

In so many ways!

First of all, I am completely overwhelmed by and thankful for everyone’s generosity. My fundraising goal for the American Cancer Society was $1,000, and you all helped me surpass that by…a lot. Thank you so much for believing in me and this cause enough to put money toward it. It means so much to me, and has really motivated me throughout this tough training cycle.

I didn’t realize this for the longest time, but apparently there was a spot for people to write a little message to go along with their donation? The ACS website has been a little wonky, and I only just found the section of the site where I can view those messages. I couldn’t have stumbled upon them at a better time! Your words of encouragement and motivation really hit the spot as I’ve been mentally preparing for my race next week. I guess I never found them before because I didn’t need them yet. It was great to see what everyone had to say, all in one place, at the same time. It was a real shot in the arm and it made feel all of the feelings.

I’m also overwhelmed by the thought of the task at hand. I haven’t had a good run since my 20-miler…three weeks ago. So taper madness has officially settled in. I also managed to come down with a cold/the worst case of allergies ever, which isn’t doing my body any favors. I went to the doctor to figure out what’s going on, and all he could say is “you keep all of your anger in your nose,” and “I don’t like your lymph nodes.” The good news is that I don’t have a fever and there isn’t anything rattling around in my chest, so he gave me a Z pack to be on the safe side.

I’m also frustrated that the orthotics company doesn’t have my insoles ready yet. There was some kind of mix-up and they won’t be ready until, you guessed, Friday. Yeah. So, given that I won’t have time to really test them out, it looks like I’ll be running (God willing) 26.2 miles with my janky ankle and foot taped up. That’s how I did my 20-miler, and it held up OK, but the way it changes my stride can aggravate my IT band a little. I had some trouble with during my 20, but I was able to work it out with some intense stretching. I had a deep tissue PT session last week and another early next week.

While I’m at it, I’ll also admit that I’m a little apprehensive about running a race with soooooo many people. I did the Eugene half marathon a few years ago, and that seemed big. That was about 8,000 people. Chicago will be about 45,000. I mean. Wow. That’s a lot, a lot of people! I’ve heard nothing but great things about how well everything is organized, so I’m sure it will all be fine, but it’s always a little nerve-wracking to navigate a huge sea of people when you’re not familiar with an area and you’re not entirely awake (given that it will be the crack of dawn when we show up).

Finally, the thing I’m really fretting over: HOW WILL I PAINT MY NAILS FOR RACE DAY? I always paint my nails before a race, and I try to do something unique and flashy. So far, I’m at a loss…my outfit (assuming the weather does what it’s supposed to, which, YAY, it looks like it will be ideal) is royal blue and lime green. So if you have any suggestions, fire away!

Only two long runs left!(?)

I decided to sign up for my first half marathon for a variety of reasons. For one, it was something I’d talked about doing for years. I also ran cross country and track in high school, until an injury sidelined me spring of my senior year, and I’ve been running off and on since graduation. (which was, ahem, nearly eight years ago).

After graduating from college and landing a full-time job, many of my hobbies went into hibernation. Running was one of them. The injury I had in high school still flares up sometimes, so I’d kind of convinced myself that I shouldn’t run a ton of mileage, at least not the kind I’d need to successfully finish a half. So far, I’ve been wrong.

The final thing that pushed me to sign up for this thing and fully commit, though, was the surgery I had in June to remove a frighteningly large ovarian cyst. The recovery process for that put me out of commission for six weeks. After I healed from that, I realized how run down and wiped out it had made me. I suddenly regained all this energy that I hadn’t realized I’d lost.

Once I got the OK from my doc to start exercising again, I joined a gym and started running on the treadmill. One mile turned into two, two became three, and so on.

A good friend of my husband’s (and of mine) had been talking up the Lewis & Clark marathon and half marathon, a course known for being pleasant and relatively flat. It was 8 weeks away and the entry fee was reasonable, so I signed up to celebrate my newfound able-bodiedness.

I have two long runs left before this race, and I can’t believe how far I’ve come. The process has already been incredibly rewarding, and I haven’t even completed the race yet. I’ve regained confidence in my physical abilities, improved my fitness level, lost a few pounds and shown myself that my body is capable of doing way more than I give it credit for.

I’ll probably be ecstatic when I cross that finish line.

Electrolytes! It’s what you need!

Earlier this week, I wrote a whiny post about not successfully completing my long run.

Well, folks, I completed it Friday, and it felt great.

I actually had two false starts on my long run this week, and my doubt was starting to snowball. Rapidly.

I overslept this morning and didn’t have time to dilly-dally the way I like to before I go run. I threw on some clothes, scarfed some peanut butter toast and guzzled some Gatorade. I also put some Gatorade in a water bottle to take with me, something I’ve not done before.

Because I was in a hurry, I left all my junk at home. I usually listen to music when I run outside and strap on a heart monitor.

Today, I just put on my watch, grabbed my water bottle and went. I also wore a different pair of shoes than the ones I’ve been training in.

I took off down my street, bottle in hand, and ran toward the park I like to run loops in. It became evident early on that I was not going to be holding my water bottle for all 7 miles. Once I reached the park, after about 1.5 miles, I stashed it in a tree and went on my way.

After I ditched the water bottle, I realized how light and unencumbered I felt. My hands were free, I could hear the birds, I didn’t have a heart rate monitor sqeezing me or headphone wires flopping around. I was left with my own thoughts and the sounds in the park. It was… liberating.

I ran my first loop and doubled back to where I’d hidden my drink (about 4 miles in). I was starting to get tired. I let myself walk for a few minutes while I drained my Gatorade, and I felt almost immediately better after getting that in my system. I made it through the rest of my run and actually walked an additional mile, for a grand total of 8.

Lesson learned: When you run for a long time, you need to refuel. Also, when it comes to gear, sometimes less is more.

BONKING

Hey, get your mind out of the gutter.

Anyway, I apologize in advance for mentioning, yet again, the awful run I had this morning. If you’re tired of reading about it, you can stop here. No hard feelings, I promise.

According to my training schedule, I needed to run 7 miles today for my long run. It was hot and icky outside, so I slogged to the gym to do it on the treadmill.

I failed miserably.

When I’m doing a run of any considerable length on the hamster wheel, I put a towel over the display so I’m not constantly fixated how far I’ve gone (and how much more is left). After what seemed like a lifetime, I moved the towel to see how much progress I’d made. I was already wiped out, and I’d only gone 2.5 miles.

After much mental and physical battling, I managed to run a total of 4 miles and walk another half for a cool down. I thought I’d get into a groove at some point, but it never happened. I left the gym feeling disappointed and defeated. All because I only ran 4 miles.

Only 4 miles?

After being a total baby and calling my mom to complain about my failure, she gently reminded me that 4 miles is no small distance. In fact, it’s pretty darn significant. Four weeks ago, that was my long run.

I’d let myself become so fixated on the fact that I didn’t complete the assigned distance that I overlooked all of the progress I’ve made so far. So I couldn’t do 7 miles today. Maybe my body was telling me I need to rest. Maybe I didn’t eat the greatest breakfast. Maybe (just maybe) I spent the entire previous night psyching myself out (and not up) for my run. Thankfully, there is always tomorrow. And the day after that.

Come morning, I’ll have a new opportunity to meet my goal. And when I do, you’ll get to read all about it.

A tricky little bugger

Motivation can be tough to come by. Inertia is a powerful force, and it’s a lot easier to stay on the couch all day and watch 10 episodes of The Hills the History Channel than it is to pry yourself off the couch to exercise.

It takes significant amounts of motivation just to get through each day. You need it to wake up when your alarm goes off, to do your homework, to drive into work, to cook dinner and clean it up. In fact, most of us probably spend large portions of our days doing things we “have” to do, not things we want to do. That can really drain on your motivational reserves.

Once I get into a routine, I’m usually pretty good about making my workout a priority. I try to make it just another part of my day; something that’s non-negotiable, like eating lunch or getting dressed before I leave the house (not that I always match or have clean clothes, but still…). I’m pretty good about it, that is, until something derails my exercise train, like friends coming into town or getting sick. Sometimes it will take me weeks to get back on track, by which point I’ve started to lose some of my hard-won progress. Now that’s a motivation-killer.

My half-marathon training so far has gone really well. I’ve had a few days where I didn’t follow my schedule exactly, but I’ve been able to compensate and not lose any ground.

With the date of my race steadily approaching, I have a pretty intense motivator: a desire to avoid public humiliation. I’ve committed to this thing, told friends, family and coworkers about it, and people are surprisingly interested. I also have a friend who has decided to sign up for this race. It will be her second half. When the thought of suiting up and running a few miles is less than appealing, I remind myself that she’s going to text me to ask how my training is going, or that my coworker will mention how nice the weather is and how many miles he got in that day. I’ve also dished out a decent amount of money for my entry fee, and I’d really like to earn that medal. All of those things help keep me accountable and motivated. Oh, and fitting into my skinny jeans with ease doesn’t hurt, either.

So, what motivates you to keep it up when you don’t feel like it? A sense of accomplishment? Doctor’s orders? Your personal trainer? Your desire to eat 12 gallons of ice cream and not gain weight?