Thursday, November 14, 2013

Just Another Long Run

It was a cool September morning. While holding the camera, anxiously waiting for my daughter to appear, I cheered for runners of various ages as they crossed the finish line. I started thinking about running a half marathon. Why not? I could be one of these people coming through finish line.

I took many pictures of my smiling daughter and I was proud of her for training on her own and accomplishing her goal.

My daughter and I have been running for a few years as a regular part of our work outs and have been motivating each other. We also had done a couple of 5K races. But none of us really thought of running hard core races like half marathons or marathons. This past spring, my daughter asked for “The Competitive Runner’s Handbook” by Bob Glover and Shelly-lynn Florence Glover, started training for her first half marathon, and successfully completed the race.

When she heard that the London Lady’s Half Marathon was being held in November in London, she registered herself as a runner and I told her to register me as a walker. I am a very fast walker and have done very long distances. After being a spectator of a very exciting ½ marathon race, I no longer wanted to walk but to run.   I sent an email to the organizers of the race and requested the change. The reply came that my race was changed from walk to run. 

I was extremely excited. I copied my daughter’s previous training with some adjustment as I only had 7 weeks left to the race. I also emailed the organizers letting them know I was interested in their free training program. We had speed training on Wednesdays and long runs on Sundays. In between, I continued my own training which included yoga, circuit training, and shorter runs. September 18th was my first time with the group and I really enjoyed it. It was great to be part of a team and receive feedback. The group was composed of people of various ages and abilities. Some were pro marathon runners, some pro half marathoners, and some were like me - this being their first half marathon. Then came the Sunday long run and I was extremely nervous. I ran my very first long run of 10K the day before my birthday this past August. Then another day I had ran 12K. I started running with the group and there were a couple of experienced runners that I just stayed with throughout the run. Sometimes I ran shoulder to shoulder with them and sometimes I just kept the pace right behind them. We chatted and had a great time finishing the long run. Surprisingly I did really well for my first very long run of 18.4K. My team was very supportive and gave me a lot of positive feedback that I had done very well and had easily kept up. I really enjoyed being with our group.

After that run I had greater confidence in myself. My goal originally was to be able to cross the finish line. After my long run I realized I could complete the race and actually do it with a decent time of not more than 2.5 hours. But then when I had another long run a few weeks later and ran 21.1 Km with time of 2:11.00 I aimed for finishing the ½ marathon in just less than 2 hours. I was told I was very ambitious with my time as a first time runner.
 But then in October 9th, I started feeling something sharp under my left toe. I took my sock off to examine my toe as it felt like I had a sharp thorn stuck in my toe but there was nothing. Then I checked the carpet. I went for my speed training but did not do very well and I attributed it to being tired and not being a night runner. I did not complete the training as I was feeling a sharp pain travelling from my left glute to hamstring down to my toe. I rested that night and did not work out for the next 7 days. I did research online and found out I had sciatica that is common in runners and started doing specific yoga and using foam rollers. I was fearful that I may not be able to get back where I was. I started running again. In one of my long runs I had to run very slowly as I had severe cramps coming and going. Then my goal changed again. I wanted only to finish the race.

The speed training and the long runs had helped me to improve my time and become a better runner. The last long run before the race I felt great. It was a beautiful sunny chilly fall morning. We were all feeling happy and had a good run. 

The team headed out for a huge breakfast to celebrate our accomplishments. The atmosphere was filled with optimism, laughter, appreciation and we all got a #1Cup full of jelly beans.

The day of the race I was only thinking positive thoughts and thinking of Lanni Marchant. I had tweeted telling her that I find re-assurances through her experience. She was able to overcome her injury and bounce back, finishing her marathon with record-breaking results. Although my goal was not to break any records, Lanni’s story was a great source of inspiration for me.

But there was also another woman who became my beacon of hope that day. Ruth is an experienced runner with some good ½ marathon races under her belt. Her warm smile and genuine caring attitude is hard to miss. I was running with my daughter and she was running with her daughter. We both had conversations that they would finish before us. I started my race really well and felt good except that I had to stop for the bloody bathroom break. I decided after the 1st bathroom break that this will be costly and ridiculous. I told myself, “You have to find mental toughness and defeat the urge of wanting to go”. That was that.

I kept running behind Ruth and her daughter. My daughter had pulled away and I could see her bright neon colored top with her long hair. I kept saying you go baby.

Then around 17.5 Km I started feeling small contractions happening in my hamstrings. During the last 3 Km, the pain became steady and was growing in intensity. Ruth became my beacon of hope. I told myself that as long as I have her in front of me, I’d be OK. She was running a steady pace and I just kept up with her. I had a few options: to stop, to walk, or to just keep going. I kept going but fixed my eyes on Ruth. I said, “Just keep up with her. This is just another Sunday long run.” Then just like that, I saw the huge clock showing 2:08 as I was passing it and I crossed the finish line. Our daughters were waiting for us with open arms and smiles. I made my way to Ruth first and gave her a big hug and said thank you. I then turned to my daughter and told her I was proud of her and she said she was proud of me. We took some pictures and there were more hugs and kind words being exchanged.

"Ruth and I with our lovely daughters"

I told my daughter that I was in trouble and needed to put warm clothes on and that I needed some pain killers. She ran to the medics who said they did not have meds and could not give me any. They did not have cold packs or hot packs! Ruth came to my rescue with Ibuprofen. I had my post recovery drink I had made that morning. I had some bananas and told my daughter that if I stop moving that that will be the end of me. We started walking so very slowly towards home. It was only a few kilometers but that was just what I needed. As we were walking, I told my daughter that if it were not for the cramps I would have finished in under 2 hours. Later on when we plugged our watches to analyze our time, this was confirmed. My last 3K was the slowest.

Right after the race - "Smile is pushing through pain"
For me, running this half marathon was very special at many levels:

It is true that I have been running for a sometime. In fact, running for me is a form of therapy. This is not just a cliché. You see, I have been dealing with depression for the longest time. I can’t take any meds as my body is very sensitive and reacts forcibly. I run to get rid of whatever is on my mind. To remove the fog, the stress, the sadness, the anger, the ambiguity, the doubt, the confusion, and whatever else that depression brings with it. When I run, I feel free. I don’t have to answer to anyone. I’m running away from everything metaphorically until I feel I’m ready to go back.

I have been going through some difficult stuff in my personal life for the past few years and running this race was very symbolic for me. For the first time in my life, I faced the enemy (pain) and did not run away from it. I finished the race on my terms. This was my very first big race of any kind. I ran my 21.1K and I got my time of 2:06 as per my Garmin. Nobody can take my time away! Nobody can take away the feeling I had at the end of the race either. It was not happiness or excitement per se but rather a feeling of gratitude, accomplishment, empowerment, strength during vulnerable times, and overall knowledge that I have been a survivor since I can remember. And it’s that ability that allowed me to run my race.

Unfortunately, my time and race were posted wrong that night.  I contacted the organizers saying I was right behind my friend and they had seen me running and finishing the race. They have not been able to provide a straight answer and to fix the results. The race results show me as a walker with a time of 3.5 hours. I was told my chip must have been triggered due to close proximity to sensors. It has been very disappointing in terms of posted results and how it was handled. 

I literally got an email while I was writing this blog and was told they watched my video and my time will be recorded as 2:07.53. It took 11 days but I'm relieved knowing my time will eventually be posted correctly. I am going to think of November 3, 2013 as another Sunday long run. My time and race was not posted correctly (waiting to see amended published results). There were no medals. There is no picture of me crossing the line. Therefore, I choose not to call it my first official half marathon race. I have learned to pay attention to details of any race I sign up for and to choose wisely.

For me, my personal achievement is the highlight of that day. I know I ran 21.1K and I know I did really well for a middle aged rookie with injured hamstrings. I plan to run other half marathon races. My daughter and I will be running our fist full marathon together next fall as well.

 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon! Here we come....

It is about FREEDOM!

Image Credit:

Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, 
and a miracle fiber called courage.

-George Patton

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