Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thank You For Being A Friend

I remember slogging around the North Coast 24, on it’s .9-mile track.  It was the race that I wanted to hit my first 75 miler.  I would have to go around that track 84 times.  Yeah…monotonous.  After running for about 12 hours, evening was descending.  A runner approached me, “Do you have anyone to spend the night with?”  In any other context, this would be absolutely inappropriate, but on this course, it was just his way of looking for someone to talk to while we went around, and around, and around.  He needed a friend.

He was a very nice man, but was obviously struggling with the race.  He had suffered a stroke that left him with major holes in his memory and with speech deficits.  We spent hours talking about his recovery and obstacles that he has had to overcome. His finish line was at 50 miles, and he thanked me for the company and said, “If you ever want to run the HAT race, you let me know.  I’m one of the race directors.  We fill up quickly, but you’ve always got a spot.  Thank you for being a friend”.

Fast-forward 2 years.  It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I was running around Chestnut Ridge Park.  On a break, I checked Facebook, and saw that my friend Chris had signed up for HAT.  Right then and there, I signed up as well.  Lucky for me, as they do fill up quickly.

I got to thinking about friendships. Some of the connections I have made have been short and intense and others have lasted decades.  All of these connections are held very deeply in my heart.  I’m also blessed, that many of these friendships have been forged and nurtured on a training run or during a race.  There is just something about the environment of a race that strips away all the pretenses of daily life and allows you to really get to know a person. 

But, not all of my friends are runners.  In the last few weeks, I have had two wonderful opportunities to reconnect with friends from about 20 years ago.  I got to not only catch up on children, marriages, jobs, etc., I got to see how time has shaped and molded these people, who were so pivotal to me, at an important time in my life…college.

I attended a sorority reunion.  When one of my sisters, Laureen, gave me a hug, it was long; it was hard; and neither one of us wanted to let go.   “You have no idea how much I have missed your energy”, she said.  I melted.  It was like I was transported back to that special time in my life before I had the responsibilities of a career and a family.  Back when I was just deciding which direction I wanted my life to take. 

Mary, my little sister in the sorority, and one of my bridesmaids, was the one who talked me into going.  I can’t remember a time when she and I have not been friends.  She is my confidante and truly a remarkable woman.   I ludge you.

As fate would have it, while running a marathon in DC the week before HAT, I reconnected with Victor—another member of my wedding party—a bridesman.  Ah, Victor---so self-assured;  confident;  secure; happy.  We spent a wonderful day puttering around DC, again like no time had passed from when we had last seen each other. 

I took these happy thoughts with me to the HAT race.  The night before about 8 of us went out to dinner and had a wonderful time that had nothing to do with the great food.  I stood (and shivered) at the starting line with Chris and my new friend, and fellow Beast, Mark.  This really is what friends are for.

On the course, I let my mind wander back to these connections and they powered me through the gloriously warm 70-degree day.  I must type that again ---70 DEGREES!  After this long arduous winter it was nice to be warmed by thoughts of friends on the inside and the sun on the outside. 

When I crossed the finish line, I sat with Chris and her husband Joe.  We basked in the warm sun, while I texted another friend to share my finish.  It was easy; nice; relaxed.  Ahhhh…..this is why I do this!

I think of my son, as he prepares his college choice process.   I can only hope that he not only finds a major that will lead to a lifetime of vocational fulfillment, but also a school that will give him the connections that will last a lifetime.

Because, when you reach a finish line, it’s really nice to know, that you’ve got a friend.

Monday, March 17, 2014

DC Rock and Roll Marathon---Even Does It

I arrived in DC the day before the race.  A leisurely walk around Arlington National Cemetery helped me to cement my goal for this race.   I would run it strong, run it focused and be a metronome.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could run by perceived exertion (no watch) and maintain a steady pace over the entire 26.2.   If I could do it, it would prove to me that my training was on track.  I didn’t care what the pace was that I held; that would have to depend on the day, the crowd, the course, my diet, my training and of course Mother Nature.  I just wanted to cross the line with whatever stride I had at the start.  Even 10k splits—here I come.

I got to the start line and I had a heavy case of  ‘I miss my kids’.  I ran the half marathon with my son and his friend last year, and I couldn’t help but feel the void created by his absence this year.  Dang broken leg!   A quick call home, and my daughter saying our favorite catch phrase,  “You are brave.  You are smart.  You are strong.” followed by, “I’m making you some cupcakes”, was all I needed to hear to get my motivation revving.  I would run with NatNo (my name to call both kids when I’m too lazy to call them independently) deep in my heart.

Once I got to the starting line (20 minutes after the gun went off!), I played with my pacing.  It is so easy to get sucked into a faster pace than can be maintained with the excitement of a big marathon start.  C’mon,  fighter jets flying over-head, HUGE American flags, crowds three people deep….it’s hard not to want to sprint it out with pure joy.  I settled in, found my comfort zone, and put it in cruise.

I’m often asked what I think about when I’m running, and the answer varies.  It truly depends on what I am working on.  A nice LSD run, will cause my thoughts to wander to my life circumstance.  Hill work makes me think of swear words.  I can't even think when doing speed work.  But, tempo runs keep me thinking about running….how are my mechanics…my form…my cadence…my breathing to foot strike ratio…my intake/output…my clothing and shoes….etc.  All of those little nuances of running that must be taken into account when you are running towards a goal. 

I really had no idea how I was doing DURING the race, other than perceived exertion.  I could count my breaths and foot strikes and estimate my general pace.  I did know that I was focused on running.  I knew I was steady up to about mile 22,  then my head started to think and my thoughts started to wander.  Okay, time to turn on the iPod.  I needed to flood my head with someone else’s words, so I don’t start psyching myself out of this thing.   The iTunes gods must have smiled on me, because here is the random shuffle of songs that got me through to the finish line:

Worn:  The beautiful song that Noah and his friends made into a video.   It won National Awards and has a ton of YouTube hits:
“And I know that you can give me rest.  So I cry out with all that I have left.
Let me see redemption win.  Let me know the struggle ends. That you can mend a heart that’s frail and torn…”

Brave:  The song Nat and I belt out in the car, when she just needs to let out some frustrations.
You can be amazing, you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.  You can be the outcast, or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love.  Or you can start speaking up…”

Runner:  I can’t even count how many times I’ve run to this song.
And you will run your time, a shooting star across the sky. And you will surely cross the line.”

Losing Grip:  There is nothing like angry Avril when you need a little pumping up.  
“Why should I care?  Cuz you weren't there when I was scared.  I was so alone.  You, you need to listen.  I'm starting to trip, I'm losing my grip and I'm in this thing alone...”

Paralyzer:  More pumping up
I want to make you move because you’re standing still.  If your body matches what your eyes can do, you’ll probably move right through me on my way to you."

And finally, as I passed the 25 mile marker, the last song I heard before I turned off my iPod, and took in the energy of the finish...

Citizen Soldier:  An amazing song that always quickens my pace and reminds me of a friend
I'll walk beside you but you may not see me…”

I crossed the line elated and without looking at the clock.  I felt great and was happy with my performance.   

But, I had to know….I pulled out my phone and checked my splits on the race’s website.  I did it!  I ran nice even splits and my 30k and 40k times matched TO THE SECOND!  It was a textbook perfect marathon!  I’m still smiling over it!

Now Natalie, about those cupcakes…