Friday, April 13, 2012

Boston Marathon Countdown: 4 days to go - "Hello CITGO"

Date: April 12
Days till the race: 4

I woke 15 minutes before my alarm this morning after a late night of packing and preparing to leave for Boston today. The last few weeks, maybe even the last month, have been a roller coaster ride of emotions for me. Last night I was riding high as I opened my empty suitcase and began filling it with clothes, running shoes and a few hopes and dreams as well.

I don't know if I've ever had this diverse mixture of feelings about a race before. I'm usually looking forward to the race regardless of the circumstances surrounding the event; but Boston 2012 has put me on an emotional spin cycle. I think part of the reason is because this is my second visit to the Boston Marathon.  That matters for two reasons:

  1. Boston is not just a race but a convening of some of the fastest marathon runners around.  They say that qualifying is the hard part and that a runner should not "race" Boston, but simply enjoy it; yet there is this desire to be able to "hang" and show Boston how you got here.
  2. I always expect myself to do better at something the second time around.  The first time you learn about the challenge and the second time you apply those learnings and do better.  Unfortunately, I'm anticipating a much slower race this year, and I feel sad about that.
When I ran Boston last year, I was riding high on the excitement of making it to Boston; and felt a contentment simply to be at Boston. This year I feel like a failure. Yes, it seems unrealistic and extremely self critical.  I realize this. Yes, there are thousands of runners who would love to throw a well-worn shoe or two at me for even placing the words "failure" and "Boston Marathon" together in the paragraph.  Realistic or not, it's a shadowy emotion that I feel in my heart today.  Someone: throw a shoe at me!

As the plane descends over a cloudy Boston, my eyes scan the ground for any sign of the infamous marathon route from Hopkinton to Boylston Street in downtown Boston. My mind flickers through the fond memories I made last year. My mood swings up again as I recall coming into the final 5k of the course last year, and seeing the infamous "CITGO" sign on the horizon signaling that the finish line was within reach.  The "CITGO" sign is an emotional totem that only a Boston runner understands.  My spirits fly as I think about seeing that CITGO sign one more time, and see it in the most special way: as a Boston Marathon runner.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Countown to the Boston Marathon - "No, I'm not excited!"

Date: April 8, 2012
Days till the Boston Marathon: 7

It's been 14 weeks since I started training for Boston.  On January 2nd, I welcomed the New Year with a determined resolve to run the Boston Marathon fitter and faster than I did in 2011.  Unfortunately, due to injury, I had to abandon the "fitter and faster" part, but I haven't abandoned the determined resolve.

"Are you excited about the marathon"?  I seem to hear that a lot these days from curious friends, family and colleagues who continue to support of my all-consuming running adventure.  "No, I'm not!", I reply.  I think it surprises people that I reply "No" - everyone but fellow marathon runners.  Having a marathon just 7 days away is not like having a birthday party just 7 days away.  Yes, both days are cause for celebration, but the marathon requires me to run for 42 kilomters before I get party.  And I don't even want to party after that.  After a marathon, I crave a quiet place more than anything - somewhere where I can digest the events of the day.

I do get excited for the marathon - eventually; but generally not until a day or two before the race.  Up until then, my mind is still chewing on thoughts of worry and general preparations. (Do these arm warmers match my vest?  LOL)

Tuesday morning I will go for my final session of physiotherapy before the race.  One more round of shock wave on the hamstring in hopes that it will buy me just a few more kilometers before the increasing pain, caused by the calcification on my muscle, begins to rob me of my peace of mind. My training schedule for the final days before the race will be:

Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: 45 minutes easy riding on the bike
Thursday: 6k run at race pace
Friday: 7k run at a leisurely pace
Saturday: rest
Sunday: rest
Monday: MARATHON!!!!!!

And with that, I will get back to my race day preparations: hit the foam roller, create my music play list and rest!  T-minus 7 days!

Monday, April 2, 2012

14 days till Boston - "Earning my stripes"

Date: April 2
14 days till the Boston Marathon

Yesterday I crossed a very big milestone in my training journey: I have come to the end of my "heavy training" and am officially on a taper.  I'm both really happy to finally make it to the end of the tough stuff, but I'm also anxious knowing that there is nothing more that I can do to improve my strength.  If I have under-trained, it's officially too late to do anything about it.

The weather was crappy yesterday, so I had to abandon my usual running replacement (aka: cycling) with indoor cardio.  The cardio session started off with a 50 minute spin class which I followed with 10 miles on the treadmill, 30 minutes on the elliptical and finally 20 minutes on the stair climber. 

The workout didn't get really hard until I hit the stair climber.  By that point I was already 2 hours and 50 minutes into my workout, and I was more than tired of being on a machine going nowhere.  The only thing keeping me going was the knowledge that this was it: the LAST big effort, and it was an effort that mattered. 

With the stair machine set to 20 minutes, I began to climb - the sweat dripped down my arms, my back and even my eye lashes.  My legs were cementing beneath me.  The minutes seemed to take forever to click by.  One by one, the stairs unravelled under my feet, and I fixed my gaze on a budding tree that I could see out of the window - across the street from the gym.  The bright yellow buds reminded me of everything we love about spring: the proverbial "thaw" and the optimism that comes with nature resurrecting from the winter sleep - ready to feel the sun on its face.  I fixed my gaze on the yellow buds and thought positive thoughts.

Step after step, I continued my climb and watched the numbers change on the electronic panel in front of me.  9:56...8:48...7:58 - the numbers counted down.  I silently celebrated as each new minute clicked over on the timer.  A small trail of sweat trickled down my forehead and found it's way into my left eye - stinging it wide awake.  My feet ached.  My quads twitched.  I thought about the marathon ahead and reminded myself that suffering is all a part of the journey.  It should be expected - and embraced.  It's how we get stronger.  It teaches us what we're really made of.  It makes crossing the finish line that much sweeter.

5...4...3...2...1  DONE!  I eagerly hit the "STOP" button on the stair machine and wobbled off.  A wave of relief rushed over me.  I made it!  A smile crossed my face, and I looked outside at the yellow buds on the tree.  I reflected on the last three months of training and felt confident - knowing that I trained hard in spite of the obstacles.  I will be able to stand at the starting line on April 16th knowing that, regardless of the outcome of the race, I fought hard, and I deserve to be there.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Countdown: 20 days. "Hanging on by my fingernails"

Date: March 26
20 Days until the Boston Marathon

Three weeks out from Boston and I'm back at this difficult, yet familiar place: the "I'm really tired - is it over yet?" place.

With fatigue setting in from week after week of heavy training, my mind and spirit are beginning to feel the strain.  Yes, I recognize this feeling well.  Legendary ultra-runner Bruce Fordyce refers to this state as "the Fordyce Prima Donna Syndrome".  It's a place that many endurance athletes arrive at after weeks of pushing their body further and harder to strengthen it for race day.  It's can be summed up in two words: total exhaustion.  

There are many challenges associated with the fatigue that comes from heavy training.  Sleep becomes more illusive as my "restless legs" keep me awake through the dark hours of the night.  I've lost the patience and attention span for normal social interaction, and crave quite time to myself.  I dread my training schedule, and drag myself through workouts that my body is just too tired to do.  Grumpiness overtakes me as, day after day, I convince my lactic acid laden legs to keep moving through short runs and long rides on the bike.  

How does one keep going when everything in their body is screaming to just go to bed and stay there for about two days straight?  The first time I went through this, I worried a lot.   I would lay my head down at night wondering how the hell I was going to run a marathon feeling as weak and tired as I was feeling.  I still recall that rainy day in 2010 when I was 15 days out from race day and on my final long run before my two week taper.  I had 34 kms on deck that day, and about 28kms into the run, I crumbled.  Feeling utterly spent in every way, I sat down on the side of the road and cried in the cold, spring rain.  After 10 minutes of sobbing, I picked myself off of the curb and pushed myself to complete the 6 kms home.  

I had a similar experience this weekend.   I set out on Sunday for one of the long bike rides that I do on the weekend to replace the long runs that I WOULD be doing if I wasn't injured.  With 100kms as my goal distance, I was already entertaining thoughts of quiting by 15 kms into the ride.  With more than two and a half hours of cycling left to do, I came face to face with the difficult question: how bad do you want it?  Sure - you could go home and sit on the couch and pretend it doesn't matter...or does it?  

The difference between last weekend and that rainy, spring day in 2010 is that today I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I can muscle through the tough times knowing that this is all part of the process, and that my perseverance will be rewarded.  Sometimes, in running and in life, we feel like we're just hanging on by our finger nails.  Sometimes we need to dig deep and ask ourselves "how bad do you want it?".  Training for marathons has helped me see that, just when I think I'm at my limit, I have "6 more kms" in me.  I think we all do - if we want it bad enough.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

27 days till Boston: "How to train for a marathon WITHOUT running."

March 19, 2012
27 days till the Boston Marathon.

I've been training for the Boston Marathon for a little over two months now, and I'm in the midst of the heaviest training I will do in preparation for marathon day.  The catch is: even now in the peak of my training, I'm not running more than 6 kms at any one time.  Are you scratching your head?  Yeah, I don't blame you.

When I was training for the Boston Marathon last year, I didn't think I could possibly experience more drama in the training process.  I was suffering from a pesky (and concerning) pain in my groin that was causing the same symptoms as a bone fracture.  With only six weeks left to go until race day 2011, I was told to stop running, and had to complete all of my heaviest training exercises on the bike and in the gym.  I was ecstatic when, come marathon day, I was able to not only complete the marathon, but run a personal best and qualify for Boston 2012.

Fast forward a year, and I find myself suffering from the same injury once again, only this year I know the reason for the pesky pain.  My "pain in the butt" (literally) is caused by bursitis and calcification on my hamstring and adductor.  Sounds complicated, no?  All that needs to be said is that I have experienced pain with every strike of my left foot since my training began in January.  

With a diagnosis in hand, the prognosis was inevitable: stop running!  Stop running?  Are you kidding me?  But I NEED to run this marathon!  I WILL run this marathon!  With more than 10 weeks left in my training plan, the doctors advised me that I need to stop running or find myself in unbearable pain come race day.  I'm lucky to have a small team of medical Jedi's on my side - directing me to a variety of treatments designed to get me in "better" shape for the race.  I've had shock wave therapy shot into my adductor to break up the calcium deposits, and deep tissue massage that has brought tears to my eyes.  I've even had cortisone injections in my hamstring. (you know you're serious about a race when you'll face a three inch long needle in the toosh to relieve some pain.)  I've been replacing all of my runs with cross-training ever since mid-January.  Hour after mind-numbing hour spent on spin bikes, ellipticals and stair machines to try to build my endurance in preparation for the day I need to run 42 kms.  

Yes, I am the marathon runner who doesn't run.  What an unenviable moniker that is...

Ain't no mountain high enough!  I have always subscribed to this doctrine when it comes to my running - even when the obstacle is not to run at all.  It takes a lot of faith to train for a marathon without running.  I would be lying if I said that I haven't doubted my progress on more than one occasion.  But here I am: 27 days until race day, and I'm STILL keeping the faith.  Luckily spring has arrived early, and I have been able to get some great workouts in on the bike, but there is still much to do...and only 27 days left to do it in.

Tomorrow brings another day of faith, determination and sore legs.  One more day closer to the big test.  I guarantee I'll make it to the start line, but will I make it to the finish?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Disappointment is your friend

Date: Tuesday, January 3
Weeks until the Boston Marathon: 15

January is a tough time of year for many reasons.  Another holiday season is behind us, and it's time to face the music...and I don't like the tune.  It's back to work, it's cold outside, the days are short, the nights are long and I'M FAT!!

Ok - fat may be a bit of an overstatement, but it's a reflection of the disappointment I feel in myself.  The last few years have found me extremely dedicated to my marathon goals.  Not the dead of winter nor the pain of injury could keep me from pushing through towards that very important personal goal of running the Boston Marathon.  After finishing the Boston Marathon last year, I began holding myself to a different standard - I began expecting more of myself and continued to push hard to maintain that standard.

Nobody will deny that the higher you climb, the further (and harder) you could potentially fall, and this dedicated runner fell hard indeed.  The autumn of 2011 found me caught in a perfect storm of nonperformance: I broke my toe in September, had to travel to Halifax for a month for work soon after, and then came back to the food-apalooza we fondly refer to as "Christmas".  The combination of no running and eating has left me with barely enough strength to eek out 12 easy kms along my beloved Don Trail.  I'm a shame to Boston alumni everywhere.

 Disappointment can be like a heavy anchor, pulling us deeper and deeper into our dark thoughts - demotivating us and preventing us from rising again to a place of pride and personal satisfaction.  It's easy to get lost in our mourning for paradise lost, and turn to wine and chocolate as a means to drown our sorrows.

Or, one can use their disappointment to their advantage.
And I intend to do just that.

With Boston 2012 only 15 weeks away, there's no time for self pity.  As I once again entrench myself in my marathon training program, I'm turning to my disappointment to fuel my workouts.  Yes, I am putting my disappointment to work for me!  Every time I think I've done as much as I can do: climbed enough stairs, completed enough squats or pushed my heart rate as high as I think it should go, I think about how far I've fallen from grace - and how badly I want to reach the top once again.

So far, it's working for me.  The disappointment is such bitter medicine that I'm driven to get back to a fitter, faster me sooner than later - so that I don't have to take the medicine anymore.  This time of disappointment has also given me an opportunity to see myself as more than just a runner.  There are other corners of my life besides running that can benefit from some additional focus and improvement.  I anticipate my resurrection from this disappointment will bring me to a place where I am not only a better runner, but a better person - one who is once again appreciative of the success that I have enjoyed as a runner, a woman and a human being.

Let the journey begin.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A second shot at "once in a lifetime"

What's the best way to start a Monday? 

With an e-mail from the Boston Athletic Association confirming that my application for the 2012 Boston Marathon has been accepted!  As soon as I opened my e-mail today and saw the word "registration" in my inbox, my heart leaped.  I was hoping to receive the e-mail this week...I didn't think I would receive it this soon.  My face went hot as I rushed to click the e-mail to open it.  It was the news I wanted to hear: 

"Jessica Wilson,
This is to notify you that your entry into the 116th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16, 2012 has been accepted, provided that the information you submitted is accurate."

I remember the first time I received this e-mail.  It was October, 2010, and I waited nearly a week after applying for the 2011 Boston Marathon for confirmation that I made the cut.  I was so excited when I got the news that I re-read the e-mail two and three times just to make sure I was reading it right.  Even today, as a Boston Marathon alumni, my sceptical side still prompted me to re-read the e-mail two and three times - just to make sure I was reading correctly.  Just to make sure I was really "in". 

Life is fueled by our aspirations to make our dreams come true.  We are motivated by a voice in our heart that guides us like a compass towards moments in life filled with satisfaction, success and a supreme contentment with our human condition.  Some dreams are very personal, and some resonate with other like minded people.  Some are tiny...and some are mighty.  Sometimes we are inspired to share our dreams, and sometimes we hold them in our hearts like secrets - never meant to be known to another living soul.  Some we don't achieve.  Yes, some will slip through our fingers, leaving us to tell the tale of "the one that got away".  You can't win all the time.  But some we actually realize, and they shine like stars above the mountaintops of our imaginations - reminding us that dreams can come true if we only try.

And if we're really lucky, we might just get the chance to live a dream twice. 

See you in Boston in 2012.