“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity/To seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment/Would you capture it/Or just let it slip?/…You better lose yourself in the music, the moment/You own it/You better never let it go/You only get one shot/Do not miss your chance to blow…Success is my only ************* option, failure’s not/Feet, fail me not…You can do anything you set your mind to…”

~EMINEM, Lose Yourself

Less than two years ago (June 2012), I was 60 pounds overweight with no self-improvement goals on the horizon, feeling my world was sweetly full but growing smaller around me. Less than two years ago I was out of touch with the ambition I used to have in spades to challenge myself and to conquer myself and to prove myself. Less than two years ago, I defined myself only by what I was to everyone else around me and forgot that we must first define ourselves by our own inner standards in order to know/remember whom we are. Less than two years ago, I lived in a state of forgetting what it was like to make myself vulnerable to my own wildly ambitious goals, to throw everything on the line and risk failure. Was it taking the easy and content way out? I filled the hunger for truly living with food instead of real accomplishment.

Less than two years ago.

But it wasn’t time to write myself off yet.

Believe me. Wherever you are in your journey, believe me: you can do anything you set your mind to do and are willing to work for. If I can, you can. We are never stuck. What life would you write for yourself if you could?

“Send in your skeletons/Sing as their bones go marching in… again/The need you buried deep/The secrets that you keep are ever ready/Are you ready?/I’m finished making sense/Done pleading ignorance/That whole defense/What if I say I’m not like the others?/What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?/You’re the pretender/What if I say I will never surrender?/…In time or so I’m told/I’m just another soul for sale… oh, well/The page is out of print/We are not permanent/We’re temporary, temporary/Same old story…”

~FOO FIGHTERS, The Pretender 

So for my birthday in December this year, my husband Bill gave me the gift of a race entry to Hot Chocolate 15K in San Diego, as well as a hotel stay nearby the night before the race. He found an historic hotel for us—The Horton Grand—in the Gaslamp Quarter. He gave me months of excited anticipation,  but more importantly he gave me the chance to achieve a goal with the encouragement of our family. He gave me the means to capturing something of infinite value: my sense of self-worth, proved to myself on the pavement. He gave me a goal to which to dedicate months of hard work, something to hold in the front of my mind every cold and nearly-dark and sleepy morning of my training.

And he gave me his expert coaching.

Official stats:

Hot Chocolate 15K (9.3 miles), March 23, 2014:

*5th place woman overall out of 2575

*37th place male/female participant overall out of 3488

*1st place in my age and gender division, out of 481.

I sure like that first place in my division. 🙂

Time was 1:04:56. 6:58 pace. Another results page posts my pace as 6:57 pace.

My 10K split was 43:27…mostly uphill. One of my goals for the next training phase here is to nail a 42 minute 10K.

My splits were CRAZY today, and I could feel that as I was running them.The first five miles of this course is mostly uphill, with rolling hills and downhill to follow. This was the race of my life. My goal going into the race was to hit 1:10:00 at least. I exceeded what I was hoping to do, by quite a bit. I ran with every part of my heart and mind today.

“Interchanging mind control,/Come let the revolution take it’s toll,/If you could flick a switch and open your third eye,/You’d see that/We should never be afraid to die/(So come on)/They will not force us/They will stop degrading us/They will not control us/We will be victorious…”
MUSE, Uprising

We drove down to San Diego yesterday afternoon and checked into the Horton Grand, then walked to the expo at the San Diego Concourse. After a few samples of chocolate and picking up my swag bag, I had the kiddos and Bill return to the Grand, and I walked several blocks in the other direction toward Petco Park to scope the starting line and runner’s area. I relished walking in the city in the early evening, the bustle, the freedom, having a sense of purpose and assurance. I will never tire of the city, any city, and the endless fodder for imagination.

When I returned the hotel, we collected ourselves and walked a few blocks to Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza. I ordered the tapas order of flatbread, hummus, baba ghanoush, and lebni, along with a ginormous organic kale salad with feta, good figs, almonds, and a pomegranate vinaigrette. I polished off much of it, but at a certain point just had to holler uncle. Oh it was delicious.

“All the writers keep writing what they write/Somewhere another pretty vein just dies/I’ve got the scars from tomorrow and I wish you could see/That you’re the antidote to everything except for me, me/A constellation of tears on your lashes/Burn everything you love, then burn the ashes/In the end everything collides/…So light ’em up, up, up/So light ’em up, up, up…”

FALL OUT BOY, My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark

It was almost dark when we got back to our room. I set out my running clothes and pinned by bib on my shirt. We bathed, and then Katie, Eric, and I spent time at our window looking out at the busy city below. We watched the taxis, the line of people waiting to watch the play next door to us, and we looked across at restaurants and other hotel windows. We could see inside of some a little bit, and I told my children about Rear Window. We watched people come and go, and it was completely one of my favorite moments in a weekend of favorite moments. (I told Bill several times that this weekend has to be one of my favorite ever in my life. It truly was perfect. I could not wish for more than this moment right here).

I read to our children, and from down below we could hear the piano and sax music rising from the lounge. Outside, the noises of the city were gentle and lulling. One of life’s pleasures is bedding down above a busy city, especially on a Saturday night. To hear all that life happening around me was so incredibly soothing and magical. The saxophone had such a retro feel to it, too. In another life, I would have liked to have lived for awhile in an apartment in a major city. That was not to be in this narrative, but I got to enjoy a piece of that universe last night, and I loved it. Thank you, my William, thank you!

“You chewed me up and spit me out/Like I was poison in your mouth/You took my light, you drained me down/But that was then and this is now/Now look at me/This is the part of me/That you’re never gonna ever take away from me, no/Throw your sticks and your stones,/Throw your bombs and your blows/But you’re not gonna break my soul…”

~KATY PERRY, Part of Me

This morning I woke up with my alarm at 5:30, read the news a bit, and got dressed. The 15K would start at 7:40ish, after the 5K waves finished. I waited until first light, ate my favorite pre-race fuel (I do not fuel on training runs, but for long race runs I do fuel), which is a ProBar Superfood Slam. I took on a bit of water, not too much. The babies were just waking up. I dressed Katie, and Eric had gone to bed in his comfy clothes to make for an easy transition. I kissed them all goodbye and began the walk to the starting line.

That walk in the early city light was another magical moment for me. I cherish solitariness. I watched a man mop in a closed restaurant that had probably been open most of the night. Runners came from various corners. The city was just beginning to wake up, or go to sleep, or both. The Coronado Bridge rose in the background. I started to get a lump in my throat knowing I was part of the same mindset as so many of these runners: people who make wild goals, put it all on the line, and define themselves by hard work just to prove something to themselves. I wish I had known this kind of secret happiness years ago…

“It’s funny how some distance/Makes everything seem small/And the fears that once controlled me/Can’t get to me at all/It’s time to see what I can do/To test the limits and break through/No right, no wrong, no rules for me/I’m free…Let it go/I’m one with the wind and sky…I’m never going back/The past is in the past/Let it go, let it go/And I’ll rise like the break of dawn…”

ADELE DAZIM, Let it Go (Just kidding, IDINA MENZEL)

By this time, my nerves were getting to me. They had been nudging at me all week, and last night as well, but I did not want to disappoint myself. I can put such pressure on myself, but that pressure also has enabled me to achieve most of my goals in life. Bill is such a loving husband, and an superb coach, and he urged me to be gentle with myself mentally and to rely on my hard work and training. Just run, we repeated together all week. Just run. I start getting all neurotic, though. My thoughtful friend Steve texted me last night to wish me luck and poor man had to hear about how freaked out I was that my legs might not work in the morning. (I always harp on this one, but they always work…what the heck). This morning as I walked the blocks alone I kept repeating the words of Kara Goucher, “Feel the joy that is running.” Feel the joy that is running.

And then? As if out of nowhere right as I entered the runner’s area, I saw my DAD! He had come all that way so early in the morning. I wish he knew how much the sight of his happy face buoyed my heart right up. Just his presence helped me remember my joy, and to remember how watching him run his first half turned me from a runner into a runner with some wild racing goals of her own. I remembered why I loved to run, and what I felt—proud—watching him cross that half marathon line. And to feel his support in those last moments was just what I needed.

I lined up in my corral, J, which was assigned to the elite runners by the times we had entered when we registered. It was to be the first corral to take off for the 15K. I know—it’s still crazy and improbable to me, too. Elite runner? I’m just going with it, folks.

“Freedom/I let go of fear and the peace came quickly/Freedom/I was in the dark and then it hit me/I chose suffering and pain in the falling rain/I know, I gotta get out into the world again/…And now I will start living today, today, today/I close the door/I got this new beginning, and I will fly/I’ll fly like a cannonball, like a cannonball, like a cannonball/I’ll fly, I’ll fly, I’ll fly like a cannonball…”
~LEA MICHELE, Cannonball

I steadied myself, and then the gun. I raced with everything I had. Leave it all here, I told myself. Get up those hills, and get that first half done. Our wave thinned way out, very quickly. I jockeyed for position with some guys. Three women were ahead of me, and I picked one off… but by the second mile, she had resumed her lead on me. She would go on to win it for the ladies. The three women ahead of me for most of the race maintained their pace and lead. Mostly I was trading places with three men. I can run hills fairly steadily, since I train on nothing but hills. I remembered what my friend Jim had told me about hills. And even though I went out fast, I was so grateful for Bill’s interval training. I know what it feels like to hit the anaerobic state. I was flirting with it, but holding myself off just a bit, keeping the length of the race in mind.

Our times were at every mile marker. By the Mile 4 marker, I knew I was slaughtering this race in terms of my own goals going into it. By the Mile 6 marker, I knew that even if I slowed down to my comfy training pace, I would have my own goals in the bag. So I kept pushing harder instead, because that’s who I am. I never took any water, or any offerings of chocolate at the stations during this race. I don’t take water when I train on 9-10 miles, and it just would slow me down here.

It wasn’t until the last mile that things got REALLY interesting in the race. I had been the 4th place woman for miles. I was rounding the second to last corner, and one of the men cheering called to me specifically, “NUMBER FIVE IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!” It was super motivating. I love that man, whomever he was. I never even saw his face. I put on speed, and then the woman caught me at the last curve. She is a 59-year-old marathoner who, I think, is totally awesome. As competitive as I am with myself, when I see someone else do something brilliant I genuinely celebrate. I can run all day, but I am still learning the art of racing. Morris came in right at that last curve—man, she knew what she was doing, holy cow—and squeaked by me. When I tried to regain the inner line, she used her body to completely shut me out. I had to go outside of her, and by the time I finished that she put on her kick and was OUTTA THERE. It was beautiful, actually. I had talked with her momentarily at the starting line. I remembered looking into her clear eyes and thinking: There is a woman who has run all her life and has the sparkling eyes of youth. I want to be that, too, someday. And then to have her pull a racing move on me at the end? I am so inspired by her. I wish I could tell her this without looking nuts.

I have so much to learn about racing. Running I can do, right? But racing is different. There are things to know. I spent most of my run trying to suck in as much information as I could from the other elites in front of me. How did they take curves? When do they split the line? How do they work hills? How much kick do they save? I viewed this race—my third ever—as an opportunity to learn from those who were better.

The crazy part is that the first place woman who took it for our gender was 20 secs per mile faster than I was, which is a couple of minutes or so. I have improved by more than that in my own pace since my October half. It is time to stay serious and focused about shaving off some more time from my pace. I think this is a reasonable goal for me. This race has only made me hungrier for more difficult goals. Never settle.

As I crossed the finish line, the announcer called me out as the 5th place woman, of any age. I couldn’t believe it. But I could. Because consistent and prioritized hard work really does pay off. And because my coach is so smart about what he asks me to do. He knows his craft. And he knows me. And I listen.

I love running because there is really no way to cheat. If you work hard and push, it shows. If a person tries to cheat herself, or misses runs, it shows. Running is such a pure sport. Although road racing is not the most objective way to run (a track is pretty pure), running itself can be a highly objective sport. That is so much of its appeal, to me. I changed as a runner when I started keeping accurate account of times, routes, and mileage. The numbers can be muddied by some variables (stoplights, etc.), but not by much. I love its objectivity. This particular race means a great deal to me, but it will mean MORE next year when I run it again to see how much I improve on this particular course. Still, the numbers today made me proud and, more importantly, give me the inner motivation to keep going for better.

“Do you remember the days/We built these paper mountains/And sat and watched them burn?/I think I found my place/Can’t you feel it growing stronger?/Little conquerors/I’m learning to walk again/I believe I’ve waited long enough/Where do I begin?/I’m learning to talk again/I believe I’ve waited long enough/Where do I begin?/…To keep alive a moment at a time/But still inside a whisper to a riot…”

~FOO FIGHTERS, Walk

When I crossed the finish line, I felt emotion fill my entire body. For the next several hours, I would tear up and randomly cry a bit just thinking about the race and the sheer elation that comes with conquering a massive goal, thinking about how fortunate I am to be alive, feeling grateful for my family, and reflecting on how a fateful day in June 2012 when I decided to absolutely change myself come hell or high water had led to this moment…this moment, of feeling fit and healthy for myself and my family. This moment, of proving to myself that life is as vibrant as I dare to live it. This moment, of being absolutely alive. I think of all the times I got up to train when I didn’t exactly feel like it…worth it, worth it, worth it.

“Well I’m not a trick you play,/I’m wired a different way/I’m not a mistake,/I’m not a fake,/It’s set in my DNA/Don’t change me/Don’t change me/Don’t change me/Don’t change me/(I can’t be tamed)/I wanna fly,/I wanna drive,/I wanna go/I wanna be a part of something I don’t know/And if you try to hold me back I might explode/Baby, by now you should know/I can’t be tamed/I can’t be saved…”

~MILEY CYRUS, Can’t Be Tamed

I saw a friend of mine from my teaching credential courses at the finish line. She has a decorated running past, and her husband is a runner who maintains an awesome running blog that I read. I loved seeing her there, and reconnecting in this sphere. It was a special moment. I then found my husband, my dad, and my children. We went to get the finisher’s mug, filled with chocolate loveliness. We shared it, then went to our hotel. I changed, and we went for a proper breakfast at an Irish pub.

Home again in Temecula, I unpacked, washed and put away some laundry, and took the kiddos to the park. And basically ate leftover chocolate chip pancakes all day. Back on the clean path tomorrow!

Now, some (or way too many) pictures from this weekend:

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Our room in the Victorian-meets-a-bit-of-Italy room

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View from our room, from one window. The other window looked down the street the other way.

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Walking to the Hot Chocolate Expo at the Concourse

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EXPO! We sampled a bit of hot chocolate, but there weren’t too many vendors there really. The Long Beach Expo is about three or four times bigger.

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Selfie with my favorite coach at the expo

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Racing swag bag…loving the warm-up hoody!

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In the courtyard of the Horton Grand

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Bill did an EXCELLENT job choosing this hotel for us. I loved it, was gaga over it really.

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My loading-up dinner!

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Walking back to our hotel after dinner

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“Feel the joy that is running.” (Kara Goucher)

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My family was there to cheer me on, and there is nothing like that feeling…

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Selfie while waiting for the start

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Corral J: No walkers. This business just got real. No pressure. 🙂

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Thousands of people!

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Blowing a kiss to Eric and Katie while Eric points to Mommy!

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Head down, getting my mind focused on my legs and doing a system check while grounding myself to Earth and remembering: I have trained. The hard work will pay off. Just run. Just run.

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Eric cheers!

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Finisher’s mug! Hot chocolate in the middle, and a little side container of hot chocolate sauce, along with a banana, pretzels, a rice crispie treat, a marshmallow, and graham crackers.

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Back in mama-mode: sharing the contents of the finisher’s mug! Concentrating on even and fair distribution!

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Thank you, my William, for this birthday present, for your love, for your belief in me, and for your superb coaching. We make an amazing team, you and I.

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Ready for check-out after breakfast

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A walk to the park and building roads in the sand together

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Playing hide-n-seek with some boys we met at the park… I snapped this right as Katie happened to find me!

“I’m in the race, but I’ve already won/And getting there can be half the fun/So don’t stop me until I’m good and done/…Perfect day, it’s the perfect day/It’s the perfect day/Nothing’s gonna bring me down/I could stay forever as I am/On this perfect day/Nothing’s standing in my way/On this perfect day, when nothing can go wrong…”

~HOKU, Perfect Day

This has been one of the best few days in my whole life. I am so thankful and so over-the-moon about how my race turned out. Consistent hard work, discipline, and sheer tenacious will make all the difference.

I have the Carlsbad 5000 a week from today. It is the fastest 5K in the world, and Bernard Lagat will be there racing. I don’t have expectations set for myself as yet. Bill has me speedworking this week, but in truth, my strengths do not reside in the short distances. I am a long distance runner. But. It is a race experience, and I want to get a benchmark time on this course this year so I can have an objective standard by which to measure myself next year. Time to get my head in THAT game!

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