not just a runner, but a DISTANCE runner….(how I became a runner part 5)

At the beginning of 2012, I decided to look beyond 5K races.  I had talked about doing a 10K several times in the past, and in April, Lawrence would host the Kansas Half Marathon/10K/5K.  I decided to do the 10K.  Then I looked at the website and noticed that people doing the half marathon would get a medal and a tech shirt….hmmm, a half marathon huh?  I wondered if I could do that or if it was too much too fast.  I sought advice from my “inspiration team”  (aka Diana & Michael).  Diana instantly said “of course you can do it, go for it girl!”  Michael was a bit more conservative, asking questions like  “what’s the farthest you’ve run?” and “Did you feel like you could go farther at the end?”  I *had* run 10K, and it felt pretty good, but I thought I’d push a bit further.  I thought I’d try for 15 Kilometres.  So after work on Saturday in early January, I decided to run home.   BUT, having cycled that distance so often, I knew it was only about 8 miles, so I had to add a loop to get to 15K.  I ended up going 9.51 miles with a pace just under a 10 min mile.  It was a push, but I still felt pretty good at the end.  Half Marathon it is!  I ran a total of 64 training miles that month, average pace of around 9 min miles, even over distance.

I also signed up for a benchmark run.  It would be familiar territory for me….it was the Psycho-Wyco Run Toto Run 10 mile trail run, and part of that course would be the same 5K I’d struggled with in 2009.  On the second Saturday in February, I showed up at Wyandotte County Lake Park.  It was SOOOOO cold that during the race, my phone actually shut off.  So I ran the last 4 miles with no music.  I did meet new friend though. A girl named Karen, who was from, of all places, COLUMBIA MISSOURI, and I stayed together for the last part of the race and crossed the finish line together.  We became friends on facebook and have kept in touch since then.  I also learned that while runners are super nice, TRAIL Runners are even nicer!  I fell down twice on that rocky frozen course, and both times, I had several guys who were nearby me stop to give me a hand up and make sure I was ok.  At the 5 mile mark, I stopped to switch my knee brace, which required taking off my shoes.  My fingers were so frozen that I was having a dickens of a time getting the double knots out.  One of the volunteers came over to help me AND she asked I needed her to rub my feet?  WHAT?  A foot massage?  Oh, and they had M&Ms and pretzels and stuff at all the aid stations, not just your typical water and gatorade and maybe some fruit.  At the end of the race they had peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, Vegetarian Chili, Chicken Noodle Soup, coffee, advil, more M&Ms, and of course, as I remember from the 5K I’d run there, everyone cheered loudly whenever anyone crossed the finish line.  Amazingly supportive group of people.

Next up that year was the Shamrock Shuffle.  I convinced Jeanette to do it again, but I let her know I was going to run, probably faster than she wanted to (heck, i was planning to run faster than *I* wanted to…I was going to push myself.  I wanted an 8 minute mile), but I would see her at the end.  I finished with total time of 25:09.6, which is an 8:06 mile.  I was ok with that.  After all, i was 12 minutes faster than I’d been the previous year, and 5 minutes faster than my last 5K.  Although, I did notice later that if I’d pushed just a *tad* harder, I’d have medaled.  I was a mere 5.8 seconds out of 3rd place (and 11.3 seconds out of first…that’s how close it was!).  I then ran backward through the course to find Jeanette and finish with her.  On the way, I ran into another friend and I jogged to the finish with him first, and then went back for Jeanette and finished with her.  I was also super proud of her, because she finished in under 35 minutes!

At this point, it was time to set my sights on the Half Marathon and start to really prepare for that.  AND, I found yet ANOTHER “coach” of sorts.  I had been aware for some time that Ron, our UPS driver at Bracker’s (the same one we’ve had since 1994!!!) was a runner.  I think I must have mentioned to him that I had signed up for my first half marathon, and he indicated he, too, was doing the Lawrence Half Marathon.  We figured out that we had fairly compatible paces, and so we decided to more or less run together.  We stayed pretty much side by side for the first 3 or 4 miles, until I hit my favourite zone, which happens usually around the 4.5-5mile mark.  At that point I felt well-warmed up and high on endorphins, so I kicked the speed a bit and started to build quite a lead on Ron.  He caught up to me though, around mile 6-6.5 and I watched him pull some magical thing from his pocket and consume it.  I knew not what it was at that time.  We once again stayed side by side for about the next mile, but by the turnaround, it was he who had the advantage and started building a lead on me.  He finished a minute and nine seconds ahead of me, but I was really proud of my 1:53:16 finish for my first ever half marathon, and Ron was super about it, he complimented me and told me I’d done a great job for my first ever marathon.  After that, I went home and did yardwork all afternoon, which kept me from being stiff and sore the next day. Diana and John were super proud of me and Michael said that I should have been entitled to a long nap on the couch rather than yard work, but I knew that was his way of saying “way to go, kiddo”.  And my family took me out for dinner at Chili’s, where I got to eat a whole mess of food that had been strictly off-limits.  🙂

About a week or so later, Ron tells me that I could totally handle the Hospital Hill Half Marathon….it’s not nearly as hilly as the Lawrence run.  Now, if you aren’t familiar with the reputation of this run and are just going off of the name, “Hospital Hill”, your imagination based on the name only is probably right about on.  Just dispel any thoughts you have of Kansas being FLAT.  That’s western Kansas.  This is Eastern Kansas and Northwest Missouri we’re talking about.  Hospital Hill is known for being a tough and hilly course with an overall gain of 381 feet:


He works on me for a few days, telling me none of the hills are as difficult as the ones we faced on KU’s Campus and eventually, I relent and sign up.  I go back into training mode, hoping to shave a few minutes off of my Lawrence Half Marathon time and maybe beat Ron on this one (again, not that I’m competitive).  I also found out about his secret weapon.  It was something I’d never heard of called “Gu”.  I picked up a Gu to test drive on a long run a few weeks before.  I picked, of course, “Chocolate Outrage”.  Much to my delight, it reminded me of Chocolate Frosting.  Delicious AND packed with the energy I needed to stay strong in the second half of the race.  I planned to have one at the 5 mile mark and one at the ten, and I had one spare, just in case.  The Hospital Hill Half is on the first Saturday in June in Kansas City, so Ron was even nice enough to pick me up that morning and drop me off afterwards at Bracker’s Good Earth Clays.  We arrive plenty early, which is good, because it gave me time to panic – i mean stretch and relax a little bit.  Ron and I meander toward our pace groups and before I know it, we’re off and running.  Again, we stay together for the first 3 or 4 miles, then Ron takes the lead and I just can’t maintain the pace.  Eventually, I can’t even see his florescent shirt and flat-top head in the distance.  But I HAD hit a comfortable pace and I was kind of just enjoying the scenery.  Toward the end, there is a LONG incline up Broadway, and it sort of sucked because we also had a significant head wind.  It actually slowed me to a walk, which I was plenty pissed about, but I guess it turned out to be good for me, because that walk enabled me to pick my pace back up, and I ran up the last part of the hill, rounded the corner and saw RON!!!!  I was pretty sure I could catch him.  And just shy of the 12 mile mark, I did, then I passed him heading up the last uphill before the wonderful downhill finish. I beat him by only a few seconds (in fact you can see him right behind me in the pic on the right, once again in his florescent shirt that makes him easy to spot).  My finish time was actually ten seconds slower than it had been in Lawrence, but Hospital Hill is well-known as a challenging course, so I was pretty happy and consider it an improvement.

I think a strange thing happens to a runners brain a couple of weeks after a race, there’s a moment of temporary insanity when one signs up for another race….in my case, my first marathon.  I decided that with two half marathons under my belt, I could do a full.  AND, it didn’t help that David shows me the 13.1 stickers that people put on their car and says “honey, would you like me to get you one of these?”  Really?  So that I can advertise that I could only do HALF?  No thank you, I’ll wait until I earn the 26.2 sticker, thank you.  So, I put my money where my mouth is and signed up for the Kansas City Marathon.

What the hell was I thinking?????

Throughout the months that followed, I would have this thought MANY times.  Up to that point, my running had shown consistent improvement, which made it easy to keep at it.  During the summer between Hospital Hill and the KC Marathon, this ceased to be the case.  Already during Hospital Hill, my right hamstring was starting to bother me a bit, and that continued to be the case.  I took some time off of running and focused on cycling for the month of June, and then tried to ease back into running in July.  My times were awful.  9:30-10:00 miles, even across short distances of 5-6 miles.  I couldn’t even run the whole distance…it was hot…REALLY hot and HUMID in Kansas, and sometimes, I could barely make it a mile before I felt the need to stop and walk.  I hadn’t felt that way since my early early days of running.  And then there were the runs I couldn’t complete.  I’d have to call David to come pick me up.  After a while, I would head out to run already expecting failure, and usually, would find it.  No amount of research on the impact of heat and humidity on a runner would help me.  I just felt miserable, and I was convinced that signing up for this Marathon was the dumbest thing I’d ever done.  Originally, my goal had been to finish between 3:30-3:45, and at that point, my goal was merely to finish…and even that seemed questionable to me.  I was in pain, every time I ran, and it was getting worse, not better.  The pain, which I originally thought was a tight or possibly pulled hamstring, seemed to actually originate up in my glutes.  I finally was smart enough to ask a good friend, Sophia, who used to be a massage therapist.  THAT was an interesting conversation.  The lead in (over Skype) was ”

hey, can I ask you a muscular type question that I’m thinking your massage therapy expertise might be able to answer….? I’ve developed a major pain in my butt….

She was able to help me identify what was wrong with me (Piriformis Syndrome, confirmed by my doctor a few days later), and gave me some good advice and good stretches to do.  (“You need to be stretching your butt, do you know how to do that?”)  She sent me some screenshots of good exercises and told me to do them every morning and every night, and to lay off exercise as much as possible.  She also suggested some massage therapy and find someone to “stick an elbow in my butt”…also a tennis ball works pretty well.  Sure enough, after about a week, I WAS feeling better.  So I sat myself down and had a talk with myself.  I decided I needed to get my head back in the game.  I got up early one morning to go for a run.  I decided I was going to run a 5K.  Just a 5K, but I was going to run the whole thing.  No excuses, no walking, afterall, it was JUST a 5K.  BUT, I gave myself leniency…pace didn’t matter, I just had to keep running.  29 1/2 minutes later, I had completed a 5K.  It was a victory….a small one, but an important one.  The next time, I decided to go out and run for an hour and a half.  I could walk if I needed to, and there was no distance requirement, but I was staying out and active for an hour and a half.  The plan was to do an out and back, running at least 45 minutes out, and then turning around and coming back.  I actually felt good enough at the 45 minute mark (and had not stopped to walk), that I kept going and turned at the 50 minute mark.  That day I completed 10.38 miles at a 10:15 pace.  Not fast, but I did what I set out to do, and thensome!  I thought back to Diana and the club she had wanted to start.  “The Running Potatoes…we may not be fast, but at least we’re off the couch!”  Damn right, Di!  I’m off the couch….My next long run the following week was 16 miles at a 10:09 average pace, then the following week, back to a 12 mile run (but no walking….ALL running) at a 9:23 pace, then the next week, a 19.03 mile run at a 9:20 pace, and then on October 7th, my longest run before my marathon, 22.51 miles at a 9:13 pace.

The sad news, is that I won’t have Ron by my side (even for the first few miles) at this race.  He hurt his back and can’t run for a while.  I DO, however, have yet another inspiration….My very own 7 year old daughter, Daphne, who recently ran her first ever 5K on October 6th.  Lawrence hosted one of the popular COLOR RUNs in Downtown, and she wanted to do it with me.  This is an untimed 5K for fun.  During the course, you run through 4 “color zones” where you are pelted with coloured cornstarch, each zone a different colour, followed by a final multi-colour zone at the finish line.  Daphne ran the entire race!  She didn’t stop to walk at all, and we had a BLAST together.  I was really proud of her.  AND, she’s planning to train and run in the ThanksgivingDay 5K.  She wants to be in the top three of her age group so that she can get a medal.  Me too, kid, me too!

Once again, for those watching the stats:

  •  November 2008 Thanksgiving Day 5K time – 57:24 (Pace: 18:28.52 min/mile)
  • Feb. 2009 Psycho-Wyco Psychedelic 5K Ice Version – 56:36.7 (Pace: 18:13.07 min/mile)
  • March 2009 Shamrock Shuffle 5K – 39:50 (Pace: 12:49.27 min/mile)
  • November 2009 Thanksgiving Day 5K – 36:44.7 (Pace: 11:49.4 min/mile)
  • October 2010 Unofficial (training run) 5K time – 31:22 (Pace: 9:58 min/mile)
  • March 2011 Shamrock Shuffle 5K 37:23 (Pace: 12:01 min/mile)
  • November 2011 Thanksgiving Day 5K time – 30:14.9 (Pace: 9:17 min/mile)
  • February 2012 Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run 10 mile Trail Run – 2:13:42 (Pace 13:22.2 min/mile)
  • March 2012 Shamrock Shuffle – 25:09.6 (Pace: 8:05.7 min/mile)
  • April 2012 Kansas Half Marathon – 1:53:16.2 (Pace: 8:38.41 min/mile)
  • May 2012 Hospital Hill Half Marathon – 1:53:26 (Pace: 8:39.17 min/mile)
  • October 2012 Kansas City Marathon – …..?????????????