Syracuse Half Marathon

A couple of weeks ago I took a spur of the moment trip down south and was at my sister’s house in NC for an evening. My best friend from high school lives about 45 minutes south of B and was able to drive up for dinner. We haven’t been in touch for a couple of years, but we have the special sort of relationship in which it seems no time at all has passed between visits. I opened the door to greet her and she commented on the change in my appearance.

My face got read, “Yeah, um….I started running.”

She burst into hysterical laughter.

Please understand there was not a trace of unkindness in that laughter. It was the perfect reaction. She has known me for 24 years, even though we have been out of touch she still knows me better than most people. Actually, her shock at my news illustrates how well she does know me. She would have had an easier time believing it if I’d told her I was pregnant with one of the Nelson Twins love child. And yes, let’s just get this out of the way, we did go see Nelson when we were in 8th grade. It was 1991. What do you want from us? They were beautiful!

She texted me a couple of days after I got home. She went running. I couldn’t stop smiling. Turns out a bunch of people I know have started running either again or for the first time after being kind enough to read about me blundering through the process. I’m more proud of helping motivate folks (just like my friend Kelly motivated me) than I am of the running itself. The reason I think friends have decided to give it a try after seeing my struggles and little victories is because it is so unlikely that I’ve stuck to it. It is impossible to look at me without thinking “If she can do it, I can definitely do it!”

These friends that have started running? A lot of them are way better at it than I am. A lifetime of inactivity, almost a decade of being overweight, never being physically fit all add up to a very slow runner indeed. Sheer will that I didn’t know I possessed keeps me going, but my name should be tortoise. I am slow and steady.

One of these friends, T, decided to come visit and run the Syracuse Half Marathon with me. She had done a few 5Ks. She injured herself in January and came back from it, training outdoors to be ready for the race. This was her first half.

She and I watched the weather report last week as the high for Sunday dropped from the 30s to the 20s to the low 20s. The race started at 8am. We wouldn’t even be touching the highs. The cold wasn’t my only issue. Our winter was so harsh that I skipped many training runs. I was woefully unprepared. The night before the race we followed the race map and drove the course. Fear settled like a brick in my stomach. It was hilly. Really really hilly. Super hilly. Frighteningly hilly.

T and I did a quick 15 minute run to loosen up a bit on Saturday. It was clear she was much faster than me. She also said that this was the only half she was interested in running. She wanted us to stick together, but this was her only shot. I wanted her to rock it. On Sunday we stayed together for less than a mile, partway up the first never ending hill of the race, before she took off.

The conditions were brutal. Temps held steady at 17 and it had snowed an inch overnight. T rocked it. She finished 20 minutes before I did. She was incredible. It is pretty great to be proud of someone and in awe of them at the same time. It’s pretty great to know I played a small part in her decision to start running. It’s pretty terrible to feel a twinge of jealousy that she is so much faster than I am. Thankfully the petty jealousy exists outside the pleasure I feel for her.

And it turns out I PRed the race. Barely a minute faster than last time, but with the cold and the hills and the undertraining I’ll take it. For most of us non-elites the only one we are competing with is ourselves. I might be jealous of T’s speed, or my friend A’s speed, or my friend K’s, or my friend N who ran for her university and with a semi-pro club for a time. But they all run their own races. And I want them to do the best they possibly can. I just wish my best looked a little bit more like theirs.

T might have started running in part because of me, but I look at her and see the kind of runner I hope to be someday. To be honest, I look at her and see the kind of mother and person I hope to be someday as well. Don’t know how I got lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who are such extraordinary people. But I will keep on learning from them as long as they let me hang around.

syracuse half marathon

Finishers!

And a big thanks to the wonderful folks who supported us yesterday. Z for kid wrangling. E for making us post-race soup. L and E and D for cheering me on at the finish. E and E and R and E and L for joining us at lunch. I don’t know what I did to deserve you guys, but I love you all.

Crisis of Confidence

My body rebelled as soon as my feet hit the treadmill. I spun around and darted down the stairs and back to the locker room to swallow some Imodium and rush to the toilet. A few minutes later I forced myself back up the stairs and onto the same machine. Less than half a mile in I felt like I was dying. At two miles I couldn’t bear it any longer and walked for the next quarter of a mile.

The Syracuse Half Marathon is just over a month away and I haven’t completed a long run over 8 miles since the half I did in October. Last week I ran 8 total. Today’s 4 was the first running I’ve done this week. And I walked a half a mile of that.

Today I realized I might not finish the race in March. I just might not have it in me. There are a million excuses why, the weather is freezing and snowy, I can’t hack treadmills, T is on winter break, we traveled to see family and brought the snow and cold temperatures with us more than 600 miles south. This is the point in the training when I am supposed to be doing more than 30 miles a week. My week so far: 4, really 3.5.

Tomorrow the windchill will be -30 and we will have several inches of fresh snow on our poorly plowed streets. We haven’t had temps above freezing since January 29th.

All of that sucks, but like I said it is also excuses. Running gives me something to hold onto, a semblance of control. If I can force my body to go ten miles without stopping I can force myself to muscle through the anxiety. Without it I am unmoored. The anxiety washes over me in waves. I call Z almost in tears from the YMCA, interrupting him while he is teaching, to tell him I don’t know how I’m going to get through the day until he gets home. I am jittery and have no patience for the kids as we make our way through airport security. I punish myself by denying myself rescue medicine for hours as the anxiety takes over and ruins the day for the whole family.

Nine more days until this evil month, the longest of the year and you cannot convince me otherwise, is over. It is exactly 0 degrees as I type this. On March 22nd I may not be able to run 13.1 miles, but it will certainly be warmer than it is today or tomorrow or the next day. If I don’t finish the race I will still be working my way back to the place where sweating through the miles proves that I can do hard things. If I can run for two hours without stopping I can face life outside the carefully constructed routine that comforts me and restricts Z and the boys.

photo (51)

Pissed.

last week snow

Last week.

 today snow

Today.

silhouette C

Beautiful C in the big bay window at my in-law’s house.

Running While Anxious

Before joining the masses at the start of the half marathon last October I took half of a benzo. To run 13.1 miles in a crowd of other people I had to take a controlled substance that works as a sedative. I also took 3 or 4 Imodium, can’t remember which.

I have an anxiety disorder and IBS. The benzos are prescribed to me by a medical professional and I use them responsibly. The way I pop Imodium like candy is probably worse for my body. But I’m not interesting in shitting myself. Again.

The benzo brought my anxiety to a manageable level and I was able to run the damn race. But it pisses me off that I needed it. After more than two decades I’m still angry that I have an anxiety disorder. Angry and really embarrassed. And then angry that I am embarrassed.

Nearly half way through another training program for a half marathon in March, and I am discouraged. It has been weeks since I’ve completed the distance assigned for a long run. The weather hasn’t been cooperating. I suck at the treadmill under regular circumstances, but I simply don’t have it in me to do 12 miles on one.

At some point along the way I have started to tie my emotional well being and self worth to running. If I don’t do what the running app on my phone tells me to do it means the anxiety is winning and that I suck ass. Running still provides me with many more positives than it does negatives. This fall it helped me function through some intense anxiety. It has made me feel easier in my body. My self confidence has improved a bit. I have more energy.

Like all good things in my life the anxiety tells me not to trust it. Slowly running has become an adversary. If I reach my running goals, well good for me. But if I fail that is a victory for the anxiety. When the anxiety is in control I want to give up. I want to fail to provide irrefutable evidence that I am worthless and pathetic.

Well fuck that noise. Fuck it.

I have this friend who is a fantastic person. She is funny and good company. She is smart and interesting and successful. She is the kind of person that others want to be more like. In conversation she casually mentioned that she has great self confidence. A couple of minutes later I really digested what she said. And I wanted to ask her how that works. I wanted to know what it is like to look in the mirror and think the person who is looking back at you rocks. I want that so badly. But the conversation had shifted, the moment had passed.

My anxiety tells me if I think anything good about myself I am vain and self absorbed. But my friend is not vain and self absorbed. That is not what confidence means no matter what that bitch anxiety has been whispering in my ear for more than 20 years.

Last week I signed up for the Empire State Marathon. On the eve of my 37th birthday I made a resolution to run a marathon before I turn 40. October 18th is the day I try to meet that goal. And if I don’t do it that day? I still have exactly one year and two months to make it happen.

Anxiety is not going to take running from me. I am fighting back.

frozen water

Only managed 8 of the 12 I was supposed to do yesterday. It was so cold my water started to freeze.

yaktrax

Wearing Yaktrax means avoiding the treadmill for another day.

running pasta

My sisters-in-law gave me running pasta for my birthday. It made dinner a lot of fun.

I DID IT!!!!

I ran a half marathon.

I ran a half marathon.

Me.

A half marathon.

It was awesome.

“Out of all of us can you believe I was the one to do this?” I asked my dad. “Well,” he said, “While we were waiting for you to finish I said to Z that I probably know about 1000 people. And if I was going to rank those people in order of who would be most likely to complete a half marathon you would be about 995. Right behind your grandmother and right in front of your Great-Aunt Margaret.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. His assessment was generous. A year and a half ago I’d have placed myself dead last out of 1000 with a kind of perverse pride.

This whole deal, situation, JOURNEY if you are going to be new age-y about it, is simply so unlikely that part of me can’t believe it happened. I mean, my dad flew up from Georgia to watch the race. My parents are completely bewildered by this strange new obsession in my life, but their pride is tremendous and sincere. You think you know your kid, and after more than three and a half decades I think it is quite the kick in the pants to be so surprised by her, by me.

I ran a half marathon and all I got was a lousy t-shirt. Ok, not true. I mean, I did get the shirt, but what I really got was the biggest boost in my self confidence of my life. I came in 957th out of 1107 finishers. My official pace was 12:06 per mile (well, that part burns me—because I didn’t run the shortest distance from point A to B, so I ran more than 13.1 miles. According to my app the distance 13.42 with a pace of 11:57. My super stretch goal was running at under a 12 minute mile and I’m pissed I missed it). The training program did not magically transform me into a svelte and beautiful 24 year old. But my middle aged body that has been caught in the iron grasp of anxiety for several decades managed to do something preposterously impossible. My body. With its overweight BMI. It ran 13.1 miles without stopping. I don’t need the body of a svelte and beautiful 24 year old to do amazing things. In fact, I’m even more proud that it was my imperfect body that rose to the challenge.

I’m not trying to blow smoke up anyone’s ass. My body didn’t just magically run 13.1 miles one day. It was hard work. It was scary and overwhelming and there were a lot of days in which I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do it. But the training program worked. I surrendered to my running app and just followed the directions. In 16 weeks it took me from someone who ran around 12 miles a week to someone who was able to comfortably finish a half marathon. I’ve said this in basically every post I’ve written about running, but I’m saying it again. If I can do it you can do it. I promise.

Last night Dad took me to my favorite restaurant for a celebratory dinner. I was talking about next steps. I’m going to join the Y runners because I’d like to get faster. I’m aiming to keep the running at about 20 or 21 miles a week. My dear friend has asked me to do the Brooklyn Half in the spring and I think I’m in. Dad looked at me and smiled, “There is part of you that is thinking about doing a marathon, isn’t there?” I smiled back. “Yup.”

Because my 37 year old body can do impossible things.

pre race

Pre race.

Finishing. No vanity here! But this is honest. I’m proud of myself.

post race

Completely blissed-out post race. My family and friends made me feel like a rock star yesterday. Getting out there in the cold to support me sucked ass. But they did it anyway. So to Dad, Z, T, and C who were there at the beginning and the end. Thank you. To D and L who trekked out to about half a mile from the finish, thank you. To E who hollered to me as she was driving in and who made delicious soup and got cheesecake for after, thank you. To J and J who shouted encouragement and then ran next to me for the last bit, thank you. To M and S who were there with a hug at the end, thank you. To my family and friends who texted me and sent me encouragement, thank you. Yesterday was a tremendous victory for me, and you guys made me feel so very loved.

Better Parenting Through….Running?

“I’m not talking to you until Christmas!” T whined.

“Fantastic!” I snapped back.

“Mooooooooom. Why can’t I bring three lego guys to school?”

“Nope. Nope. You said you weren’t talking to me. Why are you still talking?” I turned up Morning Edition to drown him out.

Not my finest moment. Not his finest moment either.

Most days are made up of way too many not-my-finest-moments. Every morning I promise myself I will try to be a better mother to the boys. It is hard to focus on the moments beyond the mistakes.

On Sunday I shared a magical morning with T. The boys watched as I ran my second 5K. Last year, three months after I started jogging, I ran the same race with disastrous results. This year I’m two weeks out from my first half marathon. I’ve followed a 16 week training program and have worked hard to be prepared for race day. Running the 5K again was a lark. While I am extremely slow, I’ve been running so many miles that 3.12, a distance I’d only achieved once or twice before last year’s race, didn’t make me blink.

I ran the whole thing with a goofy grin on my face. As the leaders looped back around before I’d even reached the one mile mark I clapped my hands and whooped for them. I wasn’t concerned about my snail’s pace at the back of the pack. My boys were at the finish line to give me hugs and kisses.

A couple of minutes later the four of us made our way back to the starting line for the 3K community fun run. My husband walked it with C and some friends. T wanted to run.

It was up to him how much we ran or how much we walked. He started strong, darting through the crowds. I laughed as my much less nimble body chased after his. Just a few minutes in he looked at me, “Mom….Mom, my legs hurt.” “I know, baby. But I believe in you! Keep going!”

His pace was all over the place, but most of the time he ran. About halfway through there was a water station and I asked if he wanted do grab some. He shook his head and told me he didn’t want to stop. The effort was on his face, this race was hard for him but he wasn’t giving up.

Near the end he struggled, “I think I’m going to die!” he gasped. “It feels that way, doesn’t it? But I don’t think you are going to die today.”

He was exhausted and proud when we crossed the finish line. We made our way to the sideline to wait for Z and C. I could not get the grin off of my face.

T walked a little bit during the race, probably less than half a K. He is 5 years old and he really surprised me. Not just because he ran farther than I thought he could, but because watching him muscle his way through the distance was just like watching myself.

How many times have my legs hurt since I started running on a whim last July? How many time have I seriously thought I was going to die if I kept going? How many times have I skipped a water break because I knew if I stopped I’d never start again?

Today I am strong and confident. I don’t care that I’m slow, I am very steady.  I am a positive example for my sons. T can see my confidence. He wants to be like me. My running has the potential to inspire him and his brother to be active. He sees me setting goals that feel impossible and then he watches as I work to achieve them. He thinks running is cool. Because I run.

I have an anxiety disorder and self image problems. I don’t wear the confidence with ease quite yet. That doesn’t matter. It is getting stronger as I get stronger.

Did T tell me he didn’t want to talk to me until Christmas less than 24 hours later? He did. Was my response an immature and bad example? Yup. Every moment isn’t going to be one of parenting excellence. I’m still proud of the two of us for trying hard things. And for doing them together.

boys ready to race

C and T ready to race!

t and k post race

After the 3K.

t and k post 5k

Photo credit: Kevin Rivoil

T and I made the paper!

Happily Wrong and Happily Running and Unhappily Anxious

Sometimes there are happy endings. The person in the ambulance? The one I was sure died in the park on September 10th? I was wrong. She lived. She was saved by her soccer coach and she lived. I still don’t understand why the ambulance sat for so very long before taking her to the hospital, or why it looked like she was alone in there. But none of that matters, it is rare that I have been so thrilled to be completely wrong.

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Yesterday I completed my final long run before the blessed taper (end of a training program during which you run progressively less in order to save up energy for the big race) begins. My running app, which is the boss of me, told me to run 13 miles. I did 13.1, the exact distance of a half marathon. Even if I screw up royally on October 19th I proved to myself I can do it.

When you run as slow as I do 13 miles provides a lot of time to think. Lately I can’t escape thinking about my anxiety, which had been unbearable this fall. It was so terrible before I left the house yesterday morning that I was sure I wouldn’t complete the distance.

But somewhere after the 3rd mile just doing the work pushed the anxiety away. The run felt impossible, it was crushingly painful, but I found a rhythm. By the way, the runner’s high people are always talking about? Fucking myth. It has never happened to me.

I’ll tell you what, though. Chasing the anxiety away? The pain is worth it.

I’m in a bad place right now. Scary bad. I drop the boys off at school, come home and sit in front of the computer. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I berate myself for not touching the overwhelming list of shit I need to get done. Sometimes I stare at nothing. I’m always choking on panic and fear.

Why don’t I just do it? Send the emails for the school project? Do the research? Start the editing of a paper? Why don’t I clean the house? Get started on dinner? Organize the avalanche of papers? Do a fucking yoga video?

I am paralyzed. I sit and I sit and I hate myself and I sit some more.

Right now the only thing I have energy for is pretending everything is just fine when I leave the house. The smiles I force on my face at school drop off and pick up, the small talk at soccer, going through the effort of wrestling the boys into bathing suits in the Y locker room before swim lessons, that stuff takes every ounce of energy I have.

Being with friends is a reprieve. I am happy getting coffee with girlfriends, or spending an afternoon at the park with our little gang, or attending birthday parties and cook outs. I can tell my friends the anxiety is bad, but we all have our shit to deal with. Going into detail feels like it would unfairly burdensome.

Admitting I have an anxiety order and that I’m struggling is easy here. In real life I can’t let my guard down. If I don’t pretend everything is just fine I will stop functioning, even at the poor level I’m at right now. That is not an option. The boys must get to school and to their activities. I must make it to my appointments. I must act normal until I can escape to the safety of the house and let myself fall apart while perched on a stool in our kitchen, my blank face lit up by the computer screen.

So yes. The pain of a thirteen mile run is worth it if it chases the more severe pain of anxiety away for a few short hours.

no nap

C naps.

big kid

T grins.

end of harry potter

Finishing up the first Harry Potter book.

Running While Female

Today was the first long run of the first week of my first training for a half marathon. Five easy miles. Although five miles are never easy for me.

About 4 blocks from my house a guy on a bike wearing hard core racing spandex passed me. I smiled and gave a little wave. Because I smile and wave at everyone I pass, it just seems to be good exercising manners. His face lit up, he flashed me a huge grin. A couple of blocks later I’d forgotten about it.

Just gone the mile mark and I was trying to tell myself four more wouldn’t be so bad. A movement on my right caught my eye. I looked over into the smiling face of the guy from the bike suddenly running beside me. I did not smile back. It was around 9:45 am on a Sunday morning. There were plenty of people around, kids and parents on the playground at the top of the park, a young man taking shots at the basketball court, people walking dogs. And I was scared.

The guy was very fit, not struggling with the slow 11 minute pace the way I was. He stayed beside me or a few steps back. At the corner I sped up and made a right around him. For a little while I though he’d stopped following me. But he had not. Sometimes he was 30 feet behind, sometimes he was right next to me. I have no idea where he left the bike. As we circled around the park again he come up on my left, putting me between him and the curb and making me feel even more boxed in.

I wanted to tell him he was scaring me. I wanted to not give a shit that he was following me. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to call my husband. I wanted my wedding ring to increase in size, protecting me from…what? A guy taking a jog? I wanted to ignore the voice in my head saying my safety was threatened. I mean what was the guy really doing? Maybe he was just out for slow run. I wanted to not wonder if my smile and wave were too friendly back while he was on his bike.

But I did. I worried I had been flirting with him. Even though I knew I had not. I worried that my biker shorts and tank top were inappropriate. Even though they were not. I worried that I was being a weak, shrill woman who was making it all up. Even though I was not.

Who knew what his intentions were? I do not think he was going to hurt me. But he was making me uncomfortable and my reaction of tension and discomfort were clear.

Halfway along the side of the park there is a fire hydrant. I usually circle around it and return to the intersection where I hit two miles. I slowed until he was right next to me. And I quickly made the turn. About three quarters of a mile after he first pulled next to me he left me alone. I scanned my surroundings obsessively for another three quarters of a mile until I couldn’t help myself. I stopped with my back to a couple of trees in some shade and called my husband.

I felt like an idiot. A hysterical idiot. My husband and the boys were at a flea market and he asked if he should come pick me up. I didn’t know. I was scared to go home, scared he was still watching me. Scared in broad daylight surrounded by people. I decided to keep on going.

At four miles my husband called to tell me he was there in the car and he’d drive beside me home. I thanked him and waved him off. I finished the five miles. I did not see the man again.

About a month ago, after the Washington Post op-ed by George Will decrying sexual violence against women on college campuses as overblown, creating an atmosphere of victimhood as a prized and privileged status, the internet blew up with reactions that were all over the place. The ones that stuck with me were those written by women who agreed with Will.  I read responses from women who questioned why college girls always thought they were going to be raped. Women asked why did those girls think they would be so special that someone would want to sexually assault them. Women asked why other women were so hysterical.

The 2012 CDC finding that nearly one in five women will be raped in her lifetime? The statistic is nearly the same as a study commissioned by the Justice Department* in 2007 during the Bush administration. It is not a statistic conjured by a liberal administration or harpy feminists to further their agenda. It is real.

Women fear rape for many reasons. I do not  fear assault because I think I am special or desirable or that every guy is  inherently bad and a potential rapist. Sexual assault is a crime of violence and control, not desire. I have been taught for most of my life that women ask for it through their every action. I have been taught that if I am assaulted no one will believe me. The comments by women in response to Will’s article support that. When someone larger and stronger than me gets in my personal space I get scared.

So what the hell happened this morning?

I don’t think I was ever in real danger. Still, I changed my plans to run along the partially secluded path around a stream across from the park after the second mile. I don’t think the man’s intentions were bad. But he surely knew he was making me uncomfortable and he did not stop.

The bottom line is I am ashamed. For not telling him he was scaring me. For not demanding that he leave me alone. For letting my worry that I would offend him get in the way. For even questioning if I’d been flirting or if I was dressed wrong or if I was asking for it in any way. For feeling small and worthless. For still having dread in the pit of my stomach hours later. For already fearing Tuesday’s run.

I’m ashamed for feeling ashamed.

I expect more from myself. But I also expect more from that man, from any man.

photo (44)

I was not doing anything wrong this morning.

 *Study found through this Slate article.