Post Race

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This weekend I raced. Race probably isn’t the right word. I endured. Yeah, that fits. This weekend I endured. I endured two miles of running followed by sixteen miles of biking and then three point one miles of running again. I endured in under two hours, which was my goal.

I thought when I finished I would be excited and thrilled and I am. I also didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. And it was hard. It causes me to wonder if I could have done the Pocono Challenge, since the course I did was flat and the Poconos would have included hills and a kayaking event. Although, the kayaking would have given my legs a break, something they didn’t get from 8:05 until about 9:57 on Sunday morning. But the first and most overwhelming emotion I felt was gratitude and humility.

This race brought into sharp focus how much my family loves and supports me. Because it wasn’t just me that had four hours sleep the night before the race, and it wasn’t just me who was sleeping in what couldn’t be considered even a two star hotel. It was my son who left his first high school dance early without complaining so we could get into Seaside before midnight. It was my husband who got up early and went out in the dark to get me breakfast. It was my nephew who drove two hours on four hours sleep to compete with me, so I wouldn’t have to do it alone. It was my seven year old daughter who made the sign “You can do it” and every time I wavered just pointed to the sign.

Before the race, the one over riding emotion was fear. What the hell was I thinking? Who cares if I can do this? Never mind, I don’t want to be healthy anymore, pass the pizza and beer. People were nice, but overall were, well athletes and competitors. My nephew and I had two of the only mountain bikes in the rack. And only one pair of shoes each. I was pretty sure the night before I couldn’t do this. The day before I had talked myself back into it after having a mini freak out in the morning. The morning of, I felt like a poser. I took off my biking gloves because they felt obnoxious. I was rewarded with my usual two numb fingers for the rest of the day.

I got my number and my timing chip. Somebody wrote my number on my arms and my age on the back of my calves. Maybe they were afraid I was going to wander off. If lost, please return this contestant to the beach. I spent some time reading people’s calves and found that at least one other woman was older than I at forty eight. Winning my division by default left the building. She looked like she could come in first, second and third before I finished the first two miles. I checked out where the bikes were suppose to leave from, as I had read in an article for newbies. Apparently nobody wants to look like a newbie. I gave it away when I didn’t realize that that the red mark on the door handle of the port a potty meant it was occupied.

Some last minute instructions, no drafting, no ipods, yadda, yadda, yadda GO! Seriously, there was no gun. It was just, GO! Maybe they left the gun at home. Maybe they were newbies. People took off. My nephew and I looked at each other and started a nice comfy jog. Chatting away the first mile. We had twenty more to go and didn’t see the point in burning ourselves out. Besides this was mostly about finishing. Mostly. A small part of me was still hoping to find the super hero.

The first mile breezed by, the second we moved a little faster. I was looking forward to the bikes. I love biking and never seem to have the time anymore, so this was going to be great, right? Right!!!! Except there was a small snafu with my nephew’s helmet – he didn’t have one. So while he was off borrowing one, I started on the loop. By the time I got to the turn around of the first loop it occurred to me that he was never going to find a helmet. I started to pick up the pace. The woman’s calf ahead  read forty eight. Damn, she was older than me. I started to push harder. I leaned forward in my mountain bike, which now felt as though I was chugging along with a trailer and zipped past her. Okay, maybe not zipped. I would have zipped if I had a rode bike. I pedaled hard past her, but I  was fast! The ride seemed really long all of a sudden. The first seven miles are the hardest I reminded myself, which held true even for this. By the time I was half way down the second loop my legs felt fine and I was happy with the breeze. Maybe not pushing as hard as I could, but still going pretty strong, pumping away. My nephew surprised me by catching up as I looped the second time. He must have been seriously motoring to have made it. We chatted fantasy football and promised if we ever did this again we would borrow rode bikes.

And then the third loop was finished and we were running. The last brick I completed was about four weeks ago. I remember how thrilled I was that three miles after a sixteen mile hard ride on the bike felt fine. I remember feeling great and even as though I could have run further. So the feeling in my legs as I jogged up the ramp to the boardwalk was familiar. This was the last leg. I knew we were going faster than it felt. I knew from experience that the first mile wouldn’t be bad, the second mile would be hard but doable and the third mile would be okay. But that isn’t what happened. The first mile was okay, the first half of the second mile I began to fade. My stomach hurt and was threatening to share breakfast. We had to get to the tent and turn around by the cones. Except the tents kept coming, one after another like stinking mushrooms popping up. I swore I even saw some some heat around the top and I had the silly sensation of a mirage. I know, I can be pretty dramatic.

People were walking. Still pushing forward, but walking. Walking was okay. Hadn’t I said that I could always walk if I needed to? Hadn’t that been the plan for the Pocono Endurance Challenge? Yeah, that’s what I said, but I never meant it. Walking would mean that I hadn’t done it. Walking was cheating. Walking was failure. My nephew kept talking me through.

“You’ll regret it forever if you walk.”

“We’re in the homestretch.”

“We can always slow down, you’re running on pace.”

“Drop your arms, so your biceps aren’t stealing your energy.”

I didn’t want to walk, but I really wasn’t sure I could do it. I kept running. When I am running at home and I feel like quitting I push myself to go four more minutes. I didn’t have my phone, or any timer. I asked him to tell me when four minutes passed. I asked him not to lie, to try to make me believe it was only four minutes when it was really seven or ten. And he told me when four minutes was up and I asked for four more. In this way, I was able to chunk the last mile and a half and finish.

The finish line, which was a large blow up with a huge digital clock on the side came into view. Even then, I wasn’t positive I could make it. My family was cheering me on and my nephew said, “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you ever saw in your life?”

“Well, next to my children.” I joked. See, I was joking!!!  I wasn’t dead.

And then it was over. And we had done it in less than two hours which had been my goal, but I really didn’t think I could do it. I am still waiting for my splits, but I know that clock read 01:51:47 when I ran over the mat.  And I know that I was more wiped out than I can remember. I wondered around feeling a little dazed, not exactly sure what to do with myself. I was vaguely aware that someone was getting a massage to my right and that there were donuts and bananas to my left. Somehow this seemed surreal. But the table full of water was my goal. I returned to the food table once, but realized what I was looking for was a bed or at least a seat. And then my family was there and we were just smiling and taking pictures and chatting.

Two hours later we were on the beach, enjoying a warm day. And I was, mostly normal again. Tired and head achy from lack of sleep and maybe still somewhat dehydrated but back to being me.

This is what I got out of the experience:

1. My family really loves me and I am so lucky. I hope I can carry that heightened awareness with me always and not take it for granted.

2. I can dig deep. I can reach inside me and find strength. It was my nephew, David, who gave me the constant encouragement, but it was me that kept my legs pumping. It was me who pushed forward.

3. Even though in the twenty first mile I was swearing off all races period, I know I am going to do it again. Maybe faster, maybe farther.

4. I can.

The Day Before

There is a scene in Labyrinth when Sarah wants to give up. She forgets why she is chasing through the maze. She loses her sense of purpose and is feeling sorry for herself. A muppet comes out from the junkyard, carrying all kinds of ridiculous baggage and coos Sarah back to bed. The muppet pats Sarah into bed, agreeing that really Sarah just needs to sleep, lie down, give up. And Sarah wants this. She wants to be told that she has tried her hardest and not only is it okay for her to stop but it is the right thing to do. More shouldn’t be expected of her.

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This pretty much describes how I have been feeling for the last two weeks or so. I have worked hard all summer. I have tried my best. The race was cancelled. I should just give it a rest. What’s the point anyway? Somehow my purpose has become skewed, my vision cloudy. And I wanted someone to give me permission to hang back, to go easier. Because it has become so hard, and I am scared. And I am so stinking tired all of the time.  I don’t know what I am doing, and I wonder if I am doing it all wrong. It’s not like I’m a real runner or a real athlete.

And life is changing. My son is in high school, my body is throwing me curve ball after curve ball. I can’t plan for tomorrow let alone a few weeks out. My house is a mess, my calendar is full and I am struggling.

Breathe.

But Sarah gets up. And I know why. She gets up because the sluggish feeling of sleep and lack of purpose is so much worse than being tired and afraid. She gets up because she knows that if she doesn’t her little brother will be lost to the the Goblin King. (Seriously, it’s a great movie.) She gets up because she can.  And so can I.

I’m not in danger of losing my little brother to the Goblin King. But I have lost my sense of purpose to vanity. Running and biking in the gym have morphed into calorie burn and not distance or speed. It is the only way I can tell how hard I am working. Okay, not true. It is fear that I will put on weight. Shit, back to that.  My clothes fit, people tell me I look thin. I like that, I hate that. I don’t want to talk about the way I look, it is too easy for that to become the goal and not a side effect.

But hey admission is the first step to recovery. Poor me, I have to work for a living and fit in working out like the rest of world. Poor me, I have a loving, supportive, beautiful, amazing family that expects to be fed. Poor me, I need to pay the bills. (well, okay, I’m keeping that one!) Poor me, I have a home in the suburbs and I have to clean it. Poor me, I run six and a half miles and it makes me tired. Poor me, I have made it to the point of life changes. Wah! Wah! DAMN!!! My life sucks! (sarcasm.)

Okay, enough of that shit. I’m up.

Realities of Time: A Whiney Rant

I have gone off the grid. Not really. I’m getting pretty friendly with the early morning crew at Planet Fitness. However, I am feeling the pressure and the annoyance of limited time. The first few weeks back to school are always busy. Add to that football, and feeling pretty crappy from a cold and this week has been seriously sucky!  The Eagles won: Hooray!!! I stayed up way to late to watch them: DAMN!!!

My work outs have felt less than stellar. As a matter of fact, it feels as though more often than not I  put in a sub par work out then a good workout. If I am lucky I get out for a longer run once a week, and even then it is sometimes cut short due to some other place I need to be, person I need to attend to something I just have to do.

I am starting to enjoy and push myself harder with the weight routine I have been following. It is a mix of cardio and body exercises and free weights that takes about thirty minutes to complete There are no rests and you just push yourself as hard as possible. I am trying to do this three times a week. Afterwards I try to run for about three miles. It is meant to build endurance It seems to have become the one thing I know I can get done, because I can do it in a limited amount of time. The downside is, if I want to make sure I get in the additional cardio I have to be at the gym by quarter to five. Not the easiest for me. So, by Thursday I am often just getting in the weight routine and not the extra cardio. It makes me feel like I’m cheating. As a matter of fact, any cardio I do at the gym feels like I’m cheating. Even if I bring everything I have, there is nowhere near the satisfaction of running or biking outside. Whipping up a sweat in front of a row of televisions just isn’t the same.

Which is one of the reasons I haven’t been blogging. I’m not sure I have anything to say. And what I do have to say sounds seriously like whining even to my own ears. I hate the gym, I’m afraid of running in the dark, I’m tired of biking loops in the neighborhood, I want to stretch out the distance but either don’t have the time or the courage to go on my own. I am so stinking tired by Thursday.

I knew going back to work was going to make life difficult. However it is so different living the reality. I will have to continue to work towards something that meets my standards but I can also fit in. Maybe I need to remember why I am doing this. Why get up at four? Why do I need to bike outside? Why do I feel as though biking in the gym is not real? Why do I feel as though running on a treadmill doesn’t really count?

I do this for me. Everything I do is about getting further faster. It is about becoming strong and challenging my body and my mind to do things I never believed I could do. And now I think differently. Now I think I can. So maybe this is just another adjustment. Maybe running on the treadmills is like learning to run hills, and I just need to find a way to make it work for me. It will never be running outside, but maybe it can find a place in my routine.

As for biking, well there is no way the stationary bike can ever replace the joy of cycling in real space and time. It is beyond that it isn’t as good a work out. There is no sense of joy when you bike in the gym. There is no wind, no top of the hill, no speed, no corners to lean around.

If this is an addiction, I suppose I am having some withdraw. I need to find another fix. There is a ridiculously long bike ride in my very near future. Just the thought makes me so happy.

Fitting It In and Other Disasters

Work and summer have decided to reunite this week, highlighting my previous luxury of working out when I wanted where I wanted. For this week at least, that wasn’t possible. With temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties and high humidity, my original plan to bike or run twice a week outside during the week evaporated. I had forgotten how early four o’clock in the morning actually is. So if you are trying to get eight hours of sleep, that means you need to be in bed sleeping by eight at night. That’s obviously not going to happen. So, almost seven hours it is! 

I know several people who seem to thrive even though they are up at four or even earlier. I know they don’t go to bed by eight or even nine, so I have to wonder how they do it. I have vigilantly guarded my sleep since my first child. I never realized how much I loved my sleep until I had to schedule it in. 

The first morning I was actually excited to wake up. Well, I was when I envisioned it the night before. I pictured myself efficiently getting myself out the door and cruising into the gym by no later than four twenty. Do my thirty minute circuit weight work out and that would easily leave me time for a solid hour of treadmill where I was going to do a speed work out. Back home by six to wake up the family and get ready for work. Easy peasy! Until the dog started to bark around three  in the morning. That’s okay, I told myself, I can nap on the couch. Downstairs, let the dog out, stretch out on the couch. Really should keep a blanket close by for just such an occasion. No worries, our couch has lots of pillows. The kids snuggle under them all the time. Adjust pillows just so, at least my legs are covered. Okay, Sleep! Dog barks. Great!!! Now I can go back to bed. Half way up the stairs I am serenaded by loud jack hammer like noises. Snoring. Okay, no worries, I can leave my door open so I can hear the alarm and snuggle in with my daughter. It is only three thirtyish. I can still catch another thirty minutes sleep. And my alarm is a a little fast, so I can hit the snooze one time. Still make it to the gym by around four thirty and really I should only do fifty minutes total of speed so that I can be home on time. Come oooonnnn SLEEP! But of course I didn’t. At least not until around five of four, and then of course the alarm starts to beep. For some reason in those thirty minutes between walking up the stairs and finally getting another ten or so minutes of sleep my cheer evaporated. No worries turned into son of a bitch! 

Where are my socks? I know I put everything out last night. Except something to hold my hair back, what are they called? Dammit, they are probably all in Katie’s room. If she wakes up, I’ll never get out on time. Finally down the stairs, it’s four twenty five. Where did the time go? I know I only hit the snooze once? Wait, did somebody fix the clock and not tell me? Why would anyone do that? Bastards! The dog wants to go out again? WTF!!! Hurry! Okay, I’ll eat a granola bar while I’m waiting. Only awake for twenty minutes I already am down one hundred eight calories. Not suppose to be about that, but really is a chocolate chip granola bar really going to make me strong? God, I’m tired. Where’s the damn dog? It’s almost four thirty five!!! Go out and round up the dog, grab my bag and keys and out the door I go. Damn, I have to pee again!!! I think I pee more than anyone else on the earth. 

Finally get to the gym. I had bypassed the braid for a pony tail that was sagging down the back of my head and making me crazy. Jump right into my work out, skip going to the bathroom. Hey!!! The burpee things are finally getting easier. Starting to feel calmer and a little more relaxed, even though I am racing through the strength portion to try to make up time. It all goes smoothly and I am on to my morning run. 

I choose the treadmill at the very end which is at a perfect position to watch both ESPN stations and Comcast Sports. By the way, if you are up at four or five in the morning, don’t expect any sports from Comcast, it is filled with informercials on getting rid of wrinkles or cellulite. I find this very disappointing. 

Okay, speed work out. I can do this. So she said put in a good jogging speed and then a good race pace. Her race pace was around seven and half minutes per mile, yeah, I’m not that fast. And I was tired. I was down to about forty five minutes total on the treadmill and that included warm up and cool down. This was not going to be a banner workout day. Clip on the little thingy, plug in my headphones, for the first time I am prepared. Except the television doesn’t work. Not Available, little words across the display shine through totally not caring that I finally remembered to bring my headphones and I wanted to hear about the Seattle Packers game to be played that night. I debated going to another machine but could feel the minutes ticking away. My husband wanted to leave for work by six, I needed to leave on time. I started the machine with speed work out. Enter your miles per hour, the machine requests. Here is where it gets interesting. Miles Per Hour and Minutes Per Mile are VERY, VERY different. So when I put in 12, thinking I was doing a twelve minute mile for my jogging speed and then nine for my running speed, I was totally unprepared for the machine to just go crazy. I was flying. Because it was going twelve miles per hour. 

Now, I’m a Quigley. And the thing about Quigley’s is that we would much rather suck it up in pain then create any type of scene ever. So the machine is racing underneath me, I am pumping my legs for all I am worth and stabbing at the damn down arrow to slow the  stupid thing down. Which doesn’t work. My heart is pumping. Am I worried that I am going to get hurt? Hell no. I’m worried I’m going to go flying off the machine and make a total ass out of myself. As tired as I am, I might even start crying. This would be a total and complete catastrophe. I didn’t want to be the old lady who went flying off the treadmill. Finally, and yeah it was about all of maybe five seconds, I found the pause button. I hit cancel, like three times to be sure that fucker wouldn’t start up again. And then cautiously looked around. If anyone noticed they weren’t making eye contact with me. Took a breath. Fuck the speed work outs. Started the machine and manually, slowly adjust the speed. 

After about a quarter mile of walking at a 12 minute per mile pace, I pumped up the speed to ten and then to nine. I was feeling pretty good even though it was taking forever to make a mile. I had adjusted the incline to three to adjust for wind resistance, although I didn’t feel any adjustment. After about a mile I decide to try a speed work out, nine minutes felt okay, although I hadn’t been doing it very long, so I pushed to eight and a half minutes. It was only for a half mile, so I should only have to do it for four minutes. Man that was a long four minutes. After all this time, my endurance still sucks. I couldn’t wait to back it down and found myself doing number games. I tried every trick I could remember. But there was no, just get to that car and see how you feel, or get to the stop sign. For a brief second in my crazy head, I did think, just get to the mirror, but of course reality shot it down before it could become a full thought. That’s when it hit me, it was just me and the machine. My plan for headphones had failed for the day. I backed it down to ten MINUTE miles. I was tired. After about five minutes I adjusted again to nine. After forty minutes, I hit the cool down. Five minutes later, I wobbled off with that feeling that I am walking slanted. 

I was done my work out for the day. I didn’t feel accomplished or that I had put in a good work out. On these days, I tell myself it is the process of going and maintaining the habit. It isn’t a total fail.  I was already tired and hadn’t even had breakfast. By the time I drove home I felt much better. Later that afternoon, when I came home from work I would take a quick nap. 

But here is one crazy shining moment I can take from that experience. For about five seconds I ran at a pace of twelve miles per hour. I am fucking Wonder Woman!