Hey, Saltines! I haven’t posted in a while, and I’ve been missing you guys. I guess I’ve been a little busy mom-ing, working, running, and repeating. I had some big stuff happen this spring, good and bad, so I’ll update you the best I can.
Last August I was invited to a trail run by a physician I work with. The group was a bunch of guys who turned out to be really cool and funny. We drank beer in red solo cups afterwards, and I won’t lie, after 10 grueling miles I could barely walk down stairs for 5 days. I was hooked.
I kept running with them throughout the fall (they helped me train a little for MCM), and instead of taking my normal long break in November/December, I kept running through the winter with them. It was SO fun. We did long runs and trails and track work. They kept me going and running became exciting again!
Then around February I decided to tackle another marathon. Being my home race, the easiest option was the Cleveland Marathon. I started upping my mileage and a good friend of mine named Sarah (who’s qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon … no biggie) helped me write a plan. My plan consisted of quality miles. We focused on 2 workouts per week, a long run, and 2 easy runs. I ran relatively low mileage, mostly staying in the 40 mile per week range and maxing out around 50 mpw. Especially because of my winter running, I felt SO fit going into training, and so motivated.
We tested my fitness at the Cleveland 10 Miler in late April. My A goal going in was to break 1:07. It was an EXTREMELY windy day, so I wasn’t so sure I’d be able to pull it off, but I did! I ran 1:06:56 (6:39 pace), taking 2nd overall for women. Everything went perfectly, and I felt like I was propelling forward through marathon training.
The next couple weeks went really well. I felt ready for Cleveland. I did a couple 20 mile runs (including one on the day of the 10 mile race), some solid track work once a week, and some speed-play on the roads too. Sarah had really thought out my plan well; I felt challenged and felt my limits being pushed, but in a smart way. Juggling running with work and Will (Little Turmeric) and Tom (Mr. Turmeric) was a bit difficult at times, but I think in the end Tom understood and we made it work. I had to learn to prioritize my time and listen to my body. Especially with having rheumatoid arthritis, I’ve learned my body will tell me when I’ve done too much.
Race week came and the temperature was predicted to be pretty hot for race day. I kept a positive attitude even though everyone kept warning me about it. I had run well in heat before, so I felt like this time might be okay, too.
Race morning I woke up at just before 4am to the temperature already at 73 degrees. Oh no, I thought. All bets were off: the mom-bod was coming out and I was going shirtless for the race for sure! In the corral, a few of my friends hugged me and told me to get after it. Relax, and just run.
Going in, my goal was to run a slight negative split throughout the race. I wanted to stay in the high 7:20’s for the first 10ish miles, then low 7:20’s, then 7-teen’s. I had written my pace goals all over my hands for reference.
At the halfway mark, around 1:37:xx (7:23 average), I remember feeling a little more worn down than I had expected, but not bad. But I stayed positive and pushed on. It was warm, but still a beautiful day, and I was taking in lots of fluids and my gels seemed to be going down okay.
Then Mile 16 came and I sank. I felt … not great. Around 17 I stepped off to use a porta-potty and I ended up getting sick instead. My stomach was so upset, I wound up in the bathroom 3 more times from 17-20. I felt miserable. I saw one of my best girlfriends on the course, and she just knew things weren’t going well. She biked next to me as I walked and moaned and groaned. Apparently I was staggering a bit. Like a good runner-friend, instead of cheering and acting like everything was fine, she simply just asked me what I wanted to do: quit? or keep going? I asked her where her car was, and the answer was miles away. After one more bathroom stop I decided to jog it in. She biked next to me for the majority of the last 6.2 miles (she’s an amazing friend, I know) and she even got yelled at by a volunteer who basically told her she was doing so illegally.
The conversation went like this: Volunteer: “Are you with her?” (referring to me)
Volunteer: “Well you have to get off of the course.”
Friend: “What if I am with her?”
“All I’m saying is the course is considered federal property right now.”
Friend: *rolls eyes* as I keep running and laughing in the background. My friends are so awesome.
My training buddy found me with a few miles to go and saved my butt too. He was standing on a hill in the blazing sun, and seeing him for the first time in hours was like seeing a vision of an angel. He carried cold water that he had me pour over my head. Then he kept me going, no questions asked. Yes, yes, I have the best support system. I ate the tastiest orange slice of my life that some woman handed me and just kept laughing and jogging it in with the two of them. I was so disappointed/tired/dehydrated that I sort of felt drunk. I finished in 3:45 and change, probably my worst marathon to date. But hey, I finished! And I didn’t feel too bad afterwards.
That was the problem: I didn’t feel too bad afterwards. All that fitness … gone to waste. Was I really going to let that happen?
I let myself sulk for a few days. Returning to work and seeing friends and family who were asking me what happened/why did I get sick/how did the race go… Over and over and over again–it was like reliving those miserable miles for a week. Then I began to obsess over what to do. My mind was running nonstop for 2 weeks straight: should I run another marathon? If so, which one? How can I afford it with travel? Can I maintain my fitness? Am I still fit?
About two weeks after my race, Gabe Grunewald, my former teammate from the University of Minnesota suddenly became critically ill. After years of battling an incurable cancer, she went into septic shock twice and thing were looking grim. That was just another kick in the butt, a sign that I couldn’t let this slip past me. YOLO, right?
“Being brave, for me, means not giving up on the things that make me feel alive.” -Gabriele Grunewald
About two and a half weeks after the Cleveland Marathon, I purchased a plane ticket to Milwaukee and booked a hotel room in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. There was a small marathon there that looked flat, fast, and beautiful. Why not? YOLO.
I flew to Milwaukee Saturday morning, rented a car, and headed up to beautiful Manitowoc alone. Alone, because my amazing husband offered to stay home with my son while I traveled and raced. Isn’t he awesome? He also thinks I’m nuts, but that’s beside the point.
The local scenery was awesome, and conditions were beyond perfect.
Before I knew it I was pacing around the parking lot on Sunday morning waiting for the race to start. The temperature was in the low 50’s, pretty ideal for a June morning. I had slept well the night before, ate well, hydrated, and felt ready to go. The only thing holding me back at that point was the worry that my fitness might not be as fresh as it was 3 weeks prior. But I was leaving it up to my legs and God to get me to the finish line.
After listening to the National Anthem, a rendition in which the singer changed octaves more than once and made me giggle a little, we were off. It was a smaller race; I think only around 300 people were doing the full. I felt good through the first few miles in the upper 7:20’s to low 7:30’s. The only issue was when I looked down at my Garmin my heart rate was running pretty high, in the 160-170’s. During training, my heart rate really wouldn’t get that high until at least halfway through a workout. Sometimes it never went that high. I tried palpating my pulse (the nurse in me!) but it was hard to do while running. I wondered maybe if my watch was wrong.
Ten miles in and my heart rate was still ticking away in the 170’s and even hitting the 180’s. But I didn’t feel that bad. I actually was having a lot of fun. For anyone looking for a pretty, flat, smaller marathon, I highly recommend this one. We ran all along Lake Michigan for miles and miles, until we got to what they referred to as the “Wet Spot” at the halfway point, where they served us any kind of fluids we wanted (beer, soda, water, sports drinks, etc). The spectators were phenomenal, too. They had easy access to the runners as they could stop and go as they pleased all down the parkway alongside us.
Around mile 15 I passed one of the women and I was stoked! I had just moved into 3rd overall. My heart rate managed to come back down to the 160’s around then, which made me feel a little better, but a small part of me was worried if it was just tiring out.
At mile 17, I started slowing up a little. I stopped at a port-a-potty but didn’t lose too much time. Pressing on, I stayed in third.
Around mile 20, though, I slowed up big-time. I don’t know exactly why, but I remember feeling really weary. I saw the 4th place girl come behind me and I remember her saying, “Come on, I’m hitting a wall too, come with me!” I told her, “No, I’m good.” Immediately after that I threw up 3 times on the side of the parkway.
Afterward my stomach was in knots. I tried jogging it out but my gut was just screaming at me: I knew this was it. I couldn’t handle 5-6 more miles like this, especially without being able to tolerate fluids or nutrition. I wound up getting a ride back to the finish from a sweet couple who was there to cheer for their daughter. I was devastated, embarrassed, disappointed, and feeling really low.
What happened? Why does this keep happening to me?
I’m still not entirely sure. I’ve come up with a couple of theories; maybe my stomach just can’t handle gels (I switched to gels this spring, whereas before I had always used gummies, 1-2 every couple of miles). Maybe my heart rate was just too much for my body to keep up with. Maybe I over-hydrated. God only knows.
Together, these two marathons were a serious jab in the side. I know my body is capable of much better than a 3:45 and a DNF. But I had to try. I had to at least give myself the opportunity.
What am I trying to prove?
That it is possible.
It is possible to be a mom—a full-time working mom, at that—and to still be a badass runner who chases after her dreams and defies the odds of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I wanted so badly to get another BQ and kill it out there, and to show that I was more fit than I had been in a really, really long time.
Gabe has since passed, and what she believed in and stood for lives inside me and has left me wanting more out of life.
I can’t stop thinking about her and hurting for her family. She was an incredible person who fought for what she believed in, in spite of her critics, in spite of her cancer, in spite of every obstacle that came her way. She defied the odds of an incurable disease for years and years.
I want to be more like Gabe. I want to live like her, and to love like her. She lived her life like she had nothing to lose. She loved running like every race was her last.
So what’s next for me? Well, no more spring marathons, that’s for sure! Maybe some 5k’s or a half in the fall. Maybe a full in the fall? We’ll see.
For now I’m trying not to worry too much about what happened this spring. Yes, it sucked, but I believe everything happens for a reason.
At least it was a spring that was truly unlike any other. I’ll always wonder what happened. Who knows, maybe it was just a building block to the seasons ahead!