Many years ago, I told my youngest that he was brave. In his little boy mind, he didn’t understand so I explained that being brave means that you do something that you don’t want to do.
Yesterday, those words flew back to me when my friend, Wendy, posted that I was brave to stop running. I had thought my decision was tough, hard, smart and even courageous, but not once did I think of it as being brave. I know this seems odd when bravery and courage are synonyms, but “brave” is just that much more of a powerful word.
I thought back to that conversation I had with my youngest: being brave means doing something that you don’t want to do. I spent the past three months determined to start yesterday’s race and, in the past six weeks, I rebuilt my strength and endurance to start and finish. I was excited but also cautious that Tammy the Hamstring could make a reappearance. Sure enough, she did – and at the twelfth hour – but she also settled down enough to make me believe that I could run 26.2 miles.
Yesterday, I was on my guard as I started the marathon and, barely ten minutes in, I stepped aside. I got on the sidewalk and I held myself together while I worked my way back to the hotel. Feeling like a failure, I didn’t want any attention but, ironically, I was upset that not one of the hundreds of spectators I saw asked if I was okay. I wanted to cry, but I had to be brave.
Wendy’s words helped me to realize that bravery was a huge part of this journey. I did what I had to do, not what I wanted to do. I am 55 and want to be running and racing competitively for many more. As I reflect on the past few months and set goals for the future, I know that there are going to be other tough decisions to make and I am prepared to face them.
Weeks ago, I took on the “whatever it takes attitude” in the hope that I would be able to toe the line at the Chicago Marathon. I saw an osteopath who worked some magic. I spent time with an acupuncturist who lessened the pain and improved the circulation in my glutes and hamstring. And I found a chiropractor who is a gift to runners.
Within weeks, my Chiro got me running from 2 miles a week at the end of August to ending my training with 40+ mile weeks. When I first saw him, it hurt to walk. Last Sunday, and the one before, I ran 18 miles relatively painfree. I had put in the time running, stretching, and strengthening, and I was ready for Chicago – not for a fast time but to finish what I started.
But you can’t underestimate the power of the marathon. During the final days of my taper, Tammy the Hamstring came back to visit and she was angry. On Wednesday night, Kelly-Lynne and I went out for an easy 6 mile run and, half-way through, I felt like my back thigh was bleeding internally. A bit later, I thought a knife ripped through my piriformis. Minutes later, Kelly-Lynne and I walked Tammy back home, with me holding back tears.
After two more visits to the chiropractor, who felt I was just having a muscle spasm, and an acupuncture treatment, all I could do was hold my breath and hope that I would be able to run. Tammy needed to settle down.
By last night, I felt much better. My leg had loosened up, and I made the decision to run slowly for the first six miles of today’s marathon and take it from there. I felt confident that I was going to be able to finish.
So this morning, I left my sleeping husband and boys at the hotel at 6:00 as I walked to the start. Tammy the Hamstring felt relaxed; she was back under control. At 8:00, we started to move to the start line and began our marathon. But just past the one mile point, I felt a twinge. Tammy had resurfaced.
It was only a few minutes longer before I realized that I wasn’t going to finish. I was prepared to walk the back end of the course but not 25 miles, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to run. So I called it a day.
It took almost an hour to get back to the hotel because of the road closures, and I watched runners and walkers of different sizes and speeds pass me. That was hard. I wondered whether I made the right decision until I hobbled back into the hotel lobby. It was clear that I made the best choice.
A nap, a snack and a lot of tears later, I am comfortable with my decision. I gave Chicago my best shot but finishing today just wasn’t in the cards. For whatever reason, this just wasn’t meant to be.
I am grateful for the optimism of my youngest who said, “Ya, but we’re in Chicago. At least, we get a holiday together.” And he is right. It is Canada’s Thanksgiving and I am thankful to be here with my husband and boys. In the end, this time together is what matters the most.
Last night, I was reminded by a close friend that I have been spending the past several months stepping out of my comfort zone in my running world. Somehow running stagnated for me. I was still running and enjoying it, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. With the exception of a few close friends, I was running alone and my times were becoming stale. I was racing relatively well, but I wanted to do better – and I needed to push myself more. I needed to get out of my comfort zone.
The first real change I made was race the Canadian 5K Championships in the fall. This is an elite event with many Canada’s fastest distance runners. Toeing that line scared me and, as much as I wanted to be a part of that event, I was afraid to enter. As a masters runner, I just didn’t think I was good enough to be a part of it. After eyeing the race for a few years, I finally swallowed my fear and applied for a bib, gulped when I was accepted and nervously pulled myself to the start line in September. After finishing, I was so glad that I made that effort as I realized that it was one of the most prestigious races that I would ever do as I got the chance to race with 200 of Canada’s best runners.
Next, I did something that frightened me; I entered the Boston Marathon. Five years ago, in 2012, my family and I drove to Boston, the year that temperatures were insanely hot. Between the heat, worrying about being able to finish feeling well enough to drive back to Ontario to work the next day, and being pushed so hard by another runner that I ended up on all fours with gravel stuck in my palms, I decided to dnf – never an easy decision and especially at Boston. Over the past five years, this race has became a bit of a monkey on my back and I had to get rid of it; I have to finish that race. In September, I applied to run Boston 2017 and was accepted. In eleven weeks, I will be back, ready for anything that can be thrown my way.
Third, I decided to try something new: this blog. Many know that I have been blogging for years but, like my running, my blog was stagnating. To put things in perspective, I lost the time that I use to be able to put into blogging as my boys are now older (and busier) and my teaching assignment has changed (also resulting in busier days). But writing about running is something that I really enjoy and, if someone is reading about it, then writing becomes even better. Somehow, I needed to make time to record my thoughts and I needed a fresh start. So I bought my own domain and am still working at rebuilding my blog, but I am slowing finding more time to write and am loving it.
And, suddenly, I am excited about running again – truly excited and, like a junkie who just can’t get enough, I needed more. I wanted one more change to light another spark. So last week, I returned to my former club, Toronto Olympic Club, to train under its guidance. I think it takes real courage to go back to something that you once walked away from and my return to TOC is no exception. I left the club two years ago, on good terms, because it was simply too difficult for me to get to practices when I lived in a different city. That distance still exists but I realize how important it is for me to have the coaching and encouragement to physically challenge myself. For now, my coaching is primarily remote, but my heart still skips a beat every time I open my training log to double check my plan for the day, when I lace up, and when I sit down to record my run. And, on Sunday, I was thrilled when I got to wear the club colours at the Robbie Burns race.
Last night, my friend helped me to see that these changes are not just helping me come out of my comfort zone, but they are helping me to believe in myself. The two go hand and hand, and as one gets stronger, so will the other. It’s 2017 and I am strong, I am focused and I believe in myself. It’s going to be an amazing year.
Two weeks later, I am finally ready to write about the Chicago Marathon. It was not my best race and it has taken me some time to accept that. But, without a doubt, it is the best marathon course that I have run. Even when my legs were tightening and I watched my pace get slower and slower, I kept thinking about how much I want to return next year.
For me, I had two goals in Chicago: getting to the starting line and, then, crossing the finish line. I didn’t have a time goal; I had a hope but nothing tangible. Getting to the start line was my way of challenging myself over the summer to get back into running shape, and I did. I felt stronger and healthier than I had in years. With my running history of not racing well at crowded events (I dnf’d in Boston in 2012, the year of the heat wave, and I had trouble coping with the crowds at the Scotiabank Half in 2013 but managed to run a 1:34 PB.), I wanted to test my mental toughness – to prove to myself that I am capable of running a big event and not dnf. For that reason, I trained to cover the distance. I was going to finish – no matter what.
On Friday after school, Dave, the dudes and I began what became 9 hours of driving (including a long wait at the border) to Chicago. We bunked down for night in Jackson, Illinois, which kept us (well, me specifically) from getting too cramped from the long drive. The next day, we arrived at the Chicago Hilton, the official marathon hotel, at 1:30. I would have loved to have had a nap and an easy run but I had to pick up my race kit. So the two dudes caught the shuttle bus to the expo, did our part to stimulate the American economy and got back to our hotel by 5:30.
By then, my headache – unusual for me- and feelings of nausea had started. The stress of travelling and dragging the boys to the expo had obviously caught up with me. I hoped that the nausea was just unnoticed hunger and a good meal would be the cure. While the dudes and I were at the expo, Dave, who had wanted to go out for dinner, screened the downtown core for potential restaurants but I suggested eating at the hotel. “Why not?” I asked. “Everyone staying here is involved in the marathon tomorrow so all of the dining areas are offering pasta specials. And it is probably going to end up costing us just as much as going out somewhere, we don’t have the hassle of leaving, and there is no stress from looking for the right place and waiting for a table.” It was the best decision of the day. Dave and I had the pasta buffet (He supported me by eating pre-spectating carbs) and the boys ate burgers and fries.
Dinner did cure my nausea so I think I was just hungry, but my head was still pounding. I took the boys to the pool and watched them splash and giggle. An hour later, we headed back to our room. It was close to 9:30 and I had just enough time to get my gear organized before hitting the pillow.
By 10:00, I had taken 2 Tylenol, crawled into bed and feel asleep instantly. In less than 12 hours, I would be around Mile 16.