Monday, May 23, 2011

Reflections of A Virgin Marathoner

4 hours and 51 minutes later I crossed the finish line with a huge smile, arms in the air, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. And then the floodgates of tears opened. I cried because I was so tired, so excited to be done, but also so emotional that I could check something so big off the bucket list.

And it all began eight weeks ago.

I'm not sure what possessed me to wake up one morning and decide I was going to run a marathon. Somehow I felt inspired to lace up the running shoes, go for a jog, and decide that I would start training right then and there. I never stuck to the training schedule (as you may have read in previous blogs,) but I endured cold weather, blizzards, being chased by dogs, getting stuck in drainage ditches, and the most painful shin splints.

And all for what?

Since Sunday I've been asked many times, "Was it worth it?" and "Would you do it again?" People just shake their head and laugh as they watch me hobble by in pain, wondering why anyone would ever put themselves through this. At first I didn't understand it either. Some days it would be so hard to get out and train and I would almost convince myself that it wasn't worth it. But now I get it. While everyone in the race is unique and runs for different reasons, I feel like there are two types of marathon runners: those who race, and those who run. I am a runner. I am not in it to win it, or in it to accomplish a certain time; I simply run until I stop. As I ran on Saturday I watched people around me and saw myself in so many of them. They were in the zone, practicing what they had worked for for so long, and telling themselves "you're almost there." Many shirts said "Running in remembrance of..." or "In it to finish." I ran behind one girl for almost 22 miles and her shirt said "The feeling of pain is nothing compared to the feeling of quitting. Keep running." I read that one over and over again to myself. Just keep running.

I felt very moved and inspired by all the spectators on the streets of Fargo and Moorhead. People smiled and cheered us on, many of whom I'm sure knew no one in the race; they just felt compelled to cheer on thousands of strangers. My bib had my name on it so it was quite surreal to run by and hear "You can do it Jenny!" "Come on Jenny, you're almost there!" I was sweating, red in the face, and breathing hard but I didn't care because I was surrounded by thousands of others just like me. Every racer was putting his or her pain on display for the whole city to see. Raw pain, humility, passion, and desire.

And then it was over. I crossed the finish line alone, completely elated, and then stopped. I thought I would be so glad to stop running, to be able to sit down, but it didn't feel right. I felt like I should keep running, just keep moving. The rest of the day was hazy and surreal. Everyone kept asking me, "How was it?" but explaining the experience was like reliving a great dream. Details were blurred, time seemed irrelevant, and I felt very alone, but in a good way.

So was it all worth it? Imagine waking up from a great dream and being able to slip back into the wonder of it all a second or third time. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Wouldn't you?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

7 days to go...

Whew, it's been awhile since I've written but let me tell you - life has not slowed down for a second. In the midst of all this training for a marathon I managed to finish my thesis, write a 15 page final exam, present my research to the department, organize a going away party for Dave and I, pack up the entire apartment and move back to the midwest. I got a few runs in here and there but there were certainly more days I just said "Ugh...I hate running." It's been exhausting and I've been less than motivated. Let's take the run I did two weeks ago as an example...

I planned on doing a 14 mile run, mapped out the whole thing, stretched, and prepared the night before. Oh boy, nothing could have prepared me for this treacherous run. It started out alright, albeit slightly chilly. The road I was running on started to head out of town which, in Montana, means the shoulder disappears. I was running on a road where cars were driving 70 miles past me, dust was flying up in my face, and the temperature was dropping. Suddenly, at about 4 miles, two vicious dogs came running out of their house, barking violently at me. "No!" I was yelling and commanding them to stop. "Sit!" They kept barking, coming closer and closer and I had nothing to do, so I ran faster! "NO!" Imagine me running, yelling at these two dogs to "sit! go away!" as cars were racing past me without hesitation. And then it happened again another mile down the road! An annoying, ankle-biting chihuahua came racing out of its trailer park, barking and foaming at the mouth (ok, that may be an exaggeration,) trying to bite me. Luckily I could just kick that one out of the way.

I thought the worst was over, but I was wrong. I reached a bridge that I could not run across without risking my life, or at least a few limbs, so I thought to myself, "well, I can just hike around it. The ditch doesn't look that bad." So I climbed over the bridge and into the ditch, which quickly dropped off into a marsh of broken glass and barbed wire. I found myself avoiding thorny bushes, questionable bags of garbage, and climbing over drainage pipes, all the while balancing on an extremely steep embankment. Finally I made it out, said a few curse words, and finished the first half of the run. I was planning on running in and out but after the disastrous start I thought it would be better to take another route home.

I dipped under the interstate and decided to take the frontage road home. About half a mile into it the wind picked up to a steady 60 miles an hour. Road signs on the interstate were shaking, debris was flying out of the ditch, and my shirt kept coming up as cars drove by. "Are you kidding me!" I yelled to the sky. "I hate running!" Each step felt like I was lifting a twenty pound weight on each foot. I could hardly move my legs, I was freezing cold, and a slight drizzle had started to pelt my face in the gusting wind. Cars whizzed by and I secretly hoped one would hit me so I could be taken to the hospital where they have warm beds.

But I finally made it, after a couple of walking sessions, lots of loud yelling into the wind, and maybe even a few tears. As I was walking the last block back to my house my neighbor rode by on his bike and yelled, "Come on, you baby - run!" If I had a stick, it would have been thrown into his bike spokes.

I hate to say it, but I have hardly run since then. I am staying with my parents right now and the temperature has been near freezing with pouring rain. How am I supposed to train in this? It's far easier to sit back and watch "I Used To Be Fat" on MTV. But today I bought new shorts and an amazing zebra tank top from the 1980s, (which I will proudly sport during the race,) and it has inspired me to get back in the game. So tomorrow is a biggie - 18 miles. My dad is going to meet me half way as an "aid station" with water. (I told him to ride his bike so I'm not tempted to jump in the car.) After that I am going to focus on biking and endurance training, trying not to injure my legs before Saturday. I feel like I have the endurance to complete this thing if my legs and hips can withstand the pain. That means lots of massaging, ibuprofin, energy gels (yuck,) and motivational words. Any positive reinforcement is encouraged!

7 days to