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Boston Bound My Story

Boston Bound, Part 7

I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. After taking it easy for a month or so after my last race in Akron, I started training for Boston and made my plan very similar to how I qualified. I felt confident in this plan, but through this training cycle I would have to take on some added stress by planning my wedding from across the country (which would take place five days after Boston in Ohio).

The building phase of my plan went pretty well without any hiccups. However, for what was supposed to be my first 22-miler of the cycle, I only did 10 – at a pretty slow pace. I called my fiancé to come pick me up. Mentally I just couldn’t – I felt so burnt out from work, training, wedding, etc. Trying not to get discouraged, I planned to stick to the schedule the following week. I did, and was fine for the next few weeks, but then I skipped a long run altogether. I couldn’t get focused.

Realizing that I began to stress so much about sleeping and waking up in time to be finished with my run before I needed to be at work, I decided to try to do my long runs on Friday nights instead of Saturday mornings. It went okay for a few weeks, but it wasn’t really working out for me. So then I just switched my long runs to Friday mornings (had a later work start) and made Saturdays a 5-mile recovery day. I liked this, and it helped me stress less and get back on track. Since I didn’t run on Thursdays, I also had fresher legs for my long runs.

Even though I only did 26 miles once in training, I felt good because I had eight 20-24 milers in there as well. Body sense – my body felt good and not over-worked. Overall, it was my “chillest” training cycle, probably due to my mind being busy stressing about wedding details instead of running. My last six weeks of training went like this: 18, 22, 20, 20, 18, RACE!

I had a red eye booked to leave San Diego the Friday before race day. I got one final easy 5-miler in that morning and ready or not, Boston bound. I tried to sleep on the flight, but I’m not one of those blessed souls who can pass out anywhere. There were definitely other runners headed for the marathon on this flight and I even met an elderly couple who were going simply to watch.

After a family friend picked me up from the airport Saturday morning, my mom, aunt, and cousin met me there that afternoon. My family drove from Ohio and was my ride back for the wedding.

Our friend took us all to the convention center where I had to pick up my bib. The expo was packed, as you would think, but also a bit confusing. Since I don’t really like expos that much in general, we didn’t stay long – I had what I needed. Disappointed that the participants did not get a jacket, but a long-sleeve t-shirt instead, I looked around at the jackets to purchase. $110 for a jacket that anyone could buy? Not a chance. I passed, if only on principle.

I was able to relax a little bit after I had all that I needed for the race. Sunday was wet and cold, but still lovely. We got to ring the old church bells after attending the morning service at a local historic church, then headed to a Panera’s for lunch. The weather forecast continued to look pretty awesome (for me). I run my best in cool humidity.

Race morning we were in a bit of a rush to get me to the buses. One of the trolleys was down and causing havoc on the area’s public transportation system, so we had to get a cab. After we got to the square, I promptly got on my bus and relaxed. It was a 35-40 minute drive to the race start and the rain started coming. I was NOT prepared for the pre-race wait.

I had a light jacket and pants over top of my race outfit, but that wasn’t nearly enough. We had a little bit of a walk when we got off the bus to where the tents, porta-pottys, and snacks were, so I got pretty wet. Because it was also 45 (ish) degrees, I got in line for a heat retention wrap (I refuse to call them blankets), not that I had a whole lot of heat to retain. I headed over to huddle under the tents, unaware of what I was supposed to be doing. It was clear who the newbies were as seasoned Bostoners brought yoga mats, actual blankets, camping chairs, thermoses, and their own snacks. I had almost two hours to wait until my corral was to shuffle to the start line. Finding a spot in the muddle, I just stood and listened/observed while I sipped on some coffee and ate a bagel.

A lot of people were here in groups. There was one woman near me in particular that caught my attention. She was wearing large, hoop earrings with her make up all done. I noticed she had a bib on so she was racing I guess…. then I overhead a woman nearby casually ask her friends, “So how far are you going today?” Everything stopped in my head – WHAT?!?! I was trying to process what I had just heard. “Yeah, I don’t know we’ll see, maybe half way…” The sound of voices fizzled out as I was still searching for a complete thought. ….. Okay, here it is: “You mean you made it to the Boston Marathon and you’re going to let a little rain stop you from finishing?! Are you crazy?!” It blew my mind. I stepped away from that group to keep from hearing the rest of the conversation. That was the moment that made me fully understand why Boston wasn’t going to be enough for me. I would be back, but not before I addressed other running goals.

Time for corral 7 to head to the start line! I had already put my jacket under my race shirt, but I was still debating on whether or not to take off my pants. I made one last pee and then ended up leaving the pants at the start. Here we go!

I was happy to be moving and getting blood flowing. By mile 2, I had already taken off my jacket – so glad I ditched the pants! This felt good. This cold, moist air was exactly what my body wanted. The rainfall was patchy, unlike the number of runners around me. This was nuts – I had never been in a race with so many people. I kept going at whatever pace I was at and felt I had put forth little effort by the half. I sped up a little bit. My mind was racing with thoughts of cold, run, yay, wedding, Boston, fun, feeling fiiiine, cold, etc. The number of people around me didn’t decrease at all. I kept pushing and by the time ‘heartbreak hill” was over I was like “What hill?”

Oh darn. I had to pee. I didn’t want to stop, but I knew the consequences of not stopping would be far worse. I searched for the next porta-potty and darted toward it. Sorry! I definitely made a runner or two angry for the cut off, but it was inevitable at that point.

After relieving myself, I slightly increased pace and sailed through the last several miles. I sprinted across the finish line knowing I had PR-ed, but unsure of what my actual time was. Upon retrieving my phone, I got my time of 3:18:55 – PR-ed by ten minutes! I was pretty satisfied with that. I had a good race, felt great, FINALLY ran Boston, and was ready to go get married.

“Our Communion” – David Crowder Band

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Boston Bound My Story

Boston Bound, Part 6

This race I was excited to go home for because after a mastectomy, two different kinds of chemotherapy, and then radiation, my mom was running her first half marathon. She felt great and was cancer free.

Seeing as how my last training plan went pretty well, I stuck to the same strategy, but wanted to experiment with double long runs this time around. In the midst of my plan, I added several long run days that were supposed to be 15 miles in the morning and 15 in the evening. I tried to stay in check with body sensing, and when it came time for those double long run days I didn’t even complete one. I wasn’t ready for training runs longer than 26 miles and I wasn’t ready for double long run days. Of course even though I had already qualified for Boston I still wanted to try to improve my time – just in case I couldn’t get in this time and also because I wanted to improve speed. So along with making sure I wasn’t over training on the runs, I made strength training a priority. It was mainly bodyweight exercises focusing on legs and core, but it seemed to help and I felt like a stronger runner when fall came around.

Two weeks before the race, I found out I got in to Boston. I was so happy and relieved. The pressure was off for this race, but I still wanted to run hard and fast and better my qualifying time. Over the summer, I knew I had improved and thought I had it in me.

Two days before the race, I got on a plane and headed for my hometown. Thanks to weather change and traveling I quickly came down with a nasty head cold. I did what I could with nutrition and medications, but race morning was here and I felt miserable. Running a marathon was the last thing I felt like doing.

Fortunately, my mom didn’t catch what I had and she was rearing to go. We drove together to the start line but had to separate to get in our corrals. I was really excited for my mom, and I knew I didn’t have the pressure of qualifying, so I figured I would run the best I could considering the circumstances and be fine with that.

At the start of the race, I was more annoyed than anything. My head was so full it was hard to breath and I just felt exhausted. Once I got going I found a do-able pace and pummeled through the beginning miles. I began to get in the groove as I ran the course and was reminded of how much I loved this race – she will always be my favorite. Around mile 20, I ran into my race buddy from my qualifying San Diego marathon. “Hey!” We shouted almost simultaneously. We chatted for a minute, but then went our separate pace.

Eating and drinking when I was supposed to and keeping a steady “let’s just finish this” pace, I crossed the finish at 3:32. Second best, but with how terrible I felt I didn’t care too much. It was a solid race that I didn’t have any major issues with. My training cycle still strengthened my mind and body and gave me a sense of growth.

My mom finished the half marathon in 2:10 – I was so proud. This wasn’t the last half she’d do, and I would bet on a full in the future.

“You Are” – Crowder

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Boston Bound My Story

Boston Bound, Part 5

I decided to take on the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll marathon again in June to qualify for Boston 2015. This time I was ready to switch things up and wrote out a brand new training plan that had my peak long run at 30 miles, adding an extra month to the cycle. I felt hopeful about this “new and improved” plan.

At the beginning of my pre-plan training, I got really sick with the flu. Dropping to 103 on my already slight 5’5” frame, I lost 8 pounds – along with whatever had been holding me back from Boston. Coming back from the sickness, I was PR-ing (breaking personal records) like crazy on my runs. Of course as I began to train harder and enter into the “meat” of my training plan, I slowly gained the weight back. But I could tell I was much stronger overall than I had been.

After I sailed through the first part of my building phase (miles 10-18), I started to have a little trouble mentally with my long runs. I would be in the middle of an out and back but have to stop in the middle – sometimes after only 11 or so miles. I was mentally burnt out and couldn’t fathom finishing the run. I’d call my boyfriend to come pick me up. It was frustrating and humiliating, but each week I continued to try my best to stick to the plan. I got through 24 miles and then 26, but when it came time to go for 28 I couldn’t. I stopped at 15. The next week I ran 26 and then tried for 30 the following, but again stopped at 15. In the end, the last six weeks of training went 26-15-26-15-26-15-RACE! for my long runs. My mid-week runs were pretty steady between 5-8 miles. Despite my failure to complete the training as planned, I had peace that I was well-prepared.  My best training times weren’t Boston qualifying, but they were closer than ever before and I knew it was going to work out.

It had been a long six months of running, but race day was finally here. This was going to be it. I was carbed up, psyched up, well hydrated, and ready to run. I ate a banana with peanut butter, packed my Honey Stinger supplies in my fuel belt, and was anxiously waiting when my boyfriend arrived to drop me off at the starting line. The usual propaganda took place and I found my 3:30 pace group. My body felt great; my mind felt great.

The gun went off like it always does, runners cheered as they began their feat like they always do, but for me that starting moment was totally different than any previous race. I didn’t have a “conquer the world” surety (like Cleveland), but I had a confident surety, knowing that I was strong enough to qualify.

My plan was to stick with my pace group most of the way and I did. Around mile 3, I spotted a gentleman in front of me with the group that was wearing an Akron Marathon t-shirt. “Hey Akron Marathon!” I obnoxiously shouted. He turned around to see me coming along side of him. We started talking, and he explained that he was from Akron as well but was just in town for family and the race. We chatted for the next 10 or so miles and then the disparity of the dreaded wall phase of the race (miles 16-19) came upon us and we stopped chatting. He started slipping away with about half of the group. The rest of us pressed on up and over “the” hill. I still felt good, even though I missed my company. Mile 20 came and I started to get butterflies. “It’s happening! I’m gonna make it!” I thought to myself.

Hitting mile 23, I began to speed up and front line my pace group. At 24, I didn’t care anymore and started to break away. Nearing the finish line knowing 3:30 was behind me, I sprinted across with the biggest smile on my face – 3:28. Boston! I was seven minutes under the qualifying standard, so it was pretty safe to say I was in (just because you qualify, doesn’t automatically get you a ticket in). I was so happy, so satisfied. I walked around trying to locate my boyfriend and a ride home. After meeting up with him, he ordered me what I thought I really wanted – a Pizza Hut extra-cheese, stuffed-crust pizza. Worst. Decision. Ever.

The registration for Boston 2015 didn’t open until that September. I made sure I marked my calendar for my window to register, but also started making my next training plan for the 2014 Akron Marathon in the fall – a race I wasn’t going to miss.

David Crowder Band – “Oh Great God, Give Us Rest”

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Boston Bound My Story

Boston Bound, Part 4

I’m sorry to say, but for those of you reading, this one is a little boring. It was, however, a race I chose for the purpose of visiting family I hadn’t seen since I made the big move. I was extra excited for this one.

Continuing with the same training plan, I had few problems this time around. I didn’t have any “break through” runs, but I didn’t have any terrible setbacks either. Making a move to a quieter part of San Diego during this cycle, my long runs included some pretty nice hills to climb. Climbing was fun and it made my legs feel much more powerful. Again, I felt as though I could qualify at this race, but my training times were iffy.

Charlotte, North Carolina – I liked the city. It reminded me of Akron. The race numbers were small, and the expo tiny, but that was okay. I was just really glad to be there. Race morning I got dropped off by some of my family and had about thirty minutes to sit and watch the other runners get excited (and yes, I made sure I went pee). Even though it wasn’t my own hometown, that was the vibe I got from the people. This was not a destination race. It was a community of runners with hometown pride. Time to run! There were no pace groups, so it was up to me to figure out my timing. Did I mention I never race with a watch? Oh well. I felt good, and this was going to be a good race.

I kept my pace steady, enjoying the scenery and neighborhoods the course took us through. The course was mild with very few inclines. There were cheer stations all along the way that competed with each other. I later found out that the runners voted post-race which cheer group was the best. I doubt I will ever run a race that’s “better” than Akron, but this was a close second.

Staying strong through mile 20, I had no issues – nutrition, hydration, and pee statuses were all in check. I began to leap frog another female runner who looked to be in my age group. It was on. We ran in silence for a few miles before she finally asked, “What’s your goal?” “To beat you!” I immediately shouted in my head before casually responding with, “Oh whatever, better than before. How about you?” I taunted back. “Oh ya know, same here.”  Translation: “To beat you!” It was obvious we understood each other. We said nothing else as we continued to race and she began to pull away for good by mile 24. My legs were tired and I couldn’t push anymore. She beat me.

I knew I was slowing, but I still felt okay and was unaware of my time. I saw my family at the finish and heard them cheering me on. I sped up to get one final burst in before crossing the finish line at 3:36. The definition of “Ugh.”

Post race I met up with my family and was feeling fine, just a little disappointed. I say a little only because I was thankful to be with family, thankful that I didn’t end up in the medical tent, and thankful that even though I didn’t qualify, it was still a PR.

I came in second place at the family pancake eating contest the next morning. My brother won, but his stomach is a food-vanishing vortex that can never be satisfied. But second place, paired with a much better race, was enough to convince those who were worried about anorexia to worry no more. I could, and did eat enough.

All in all, it was a good race. I had peace knowing Boston was coming – soon.

David Crowder Band – I Am a Seed

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Boston Bound My Story

Boston Bound, Part 3

This was my most difficult training season so far. I moved from Akron to San Diego in February and had a lot of adjustments to deal with. Getting used to city streets and dealing with busy intersections and stoplights was not fun. The life stresses of finding a job to pay rent for my 180 square foot apartment and navigating my new surroundings negatively impacted training as well.

After I got “settled” I realized that I lived pretty close to a very large (and famous) park, where I could run to and around in with little disruptions – unless there was some event going on. My shorter, mid-week runs stayed steady and I was able to PR a few times. But as I began to build mileage I felt slow and sluggish on my long runs. It was hard to even finish and my times were discouraging. My boyfriend had to pick me up a time or two because by the time I finished I barely had enough energy to move, let alone walk home. My last few long runs however, got better as I became more and more excited for race day. I knew everything would have to go right for me to qualify, but there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that that wasn’t going to happen.

I lived within a mile from the start line, so at 5:30 a.m. I began walking towards the beginning of sweet victory? I had had plenty of water and my usual banana with some peanut butter. I packed a fuel belt with nutrition packets that I would carry with me this time. I decided it was better to have a little extra weight than deal with another ulcer incident.

This race was much bigger than either of the others. I was sitting, waiting, watching the excitement unfold around me as the time drew near. I had about twenty minutes and I needed to pee so I jumped in a loooong line of runners also wanting to empty their bladder before the start. The line did not move as quickly as I thought it would. The announcer had just given a ten minute warning and there were still a crap-load of people in front of me. Five minutes…ugh. Alright – I guess I was just going to have to hold it until after the race or pee myself during, because I certainly wasn’t going to take the time to stop and pee on the clock. I made my way to my assigned corral and found my place. I was nervous, excited, and a bit frustrated that I didn’t get to pee, but there was nothing that could be done now.

The gun went off and the masses bolted. I made sure to find my pace group and planned to stay with them at least through the half and then maybe break away. Actually sticking to the plan, I made sure I was drinking and eating at all the right times. In case you were wondering, peeing while running is impossible. Oh well. I still wasn’t going to stop.

Around mile 16, my legs began to get really heavy and I struggled to keep up with my group. My legs had never felt like this before, not this bad. I didn’t understand. Was it because I couldn’t pee? Were my compression shorts too tight? I didn’t know, but my group began to disappear, taking my hope with them. This was awful. The pain in my quads became worse until it felt like I was ripping the muscles apart – fiber by fiber (I was). The pain made me start to run a little funny so I also acquired a sharp pain in my left foot. “An inflamed tendon or something,” I thought. It hurt so much to keep moving, but I had to at least finish. I stopped to walk up a hill in the course and then began to hobble the last 4 or so miles. I looked pathetic so I did get some attention from the medic cyclists, but told them I was fine and just cramping. Crossing the finish line at 4:14 (my worst yet), I wanted to cry – from the pain, from the failure, from everything. I was helped to the medic tent, but didn’t stay long because my hydration/nutrition were fine, it was just my legs that were screaming. Stumbling around looking for him, my boyfriend managed to spot me in the crowd and carried me home.

Not being able to walk after a marathon doesn’t sound that out of the ordinary, but I had trained hard for this and was physically ready. I had never had muscular pain like that before. I later found out that not peeing and holding it might have been the culprit – though I think in reality I just hit the wall hard. My too tight compression shorts probably played a small part, also. Anyway, my quads locked and as I kept running I really was tearing them to shreds. After my previous marathons, I either ran the next day or two days after, but this time it was a solid week that I was struggling just to walk around.

Because of my small frame and slowing race times, some of my family began heavily suspecting anorexia. It was frustrating because I didn’t have anything to give them to convince them otherwise. Eighteen months of training and digressing race times was all I had, even though I knew with each race I was fully capable and fueled to qualify. Stuff just went wrong. But with past disappointments and new doubts, I thought about quitting. But the fact that I already registered for the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon in November and now having something else to prove to my family is what kept me from giving up.

David Crowder Band – Let Me Feel You Shine

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Boston Bound My Story

Boston Bound, Part 2

After Cleveland, I took about a month off from training. I planned to continue using my 3-month plan because I felt like it prepared me pretty well and increased my pace (at least in training). I dabbled a little bit with the Vibrams in pre-training, but not a whole lot during core training. I didn’t want to risk getting injured again.

As a whole, I didn’t have much trouble this go around, but I did learn that quitting early on a long run isn’t the end of the world – even though it felt like it. There was a time or two when hydration, nutrition and/or energy factors got in the way and I knew I needed to quit, or I would set myself back even further.

My nutrition changed a lot this time. Instead of just water, I decided to try coconut water in one hip bottle and plain water in the other. I didn’t want to use anything like Gatorade/Powerade because I didn’t (don’t) think it’s the best option for electrolytes from a health standpoint. This was also part of the reason why I started trying a whole variety of bars, gummies, pureed fruit packets, nuts, honey, etc. instead of Gu. But also, I couldn’t stomach Gu anymore. After Cleveland, my body associated the heat exhaustion and how terrible I felt with the nutrition I was consuming (Gu). So just thinking about using it during a run made me sick. Carrying between 4-5 things in my fuel belt, I did have to use more nutrition than most to keep my ulcer happy. However, because it was a heavy pack to race with, I had planned to have friends/family at different mile markers to give me the food as needed on race day. For hydration, there would be plenty of water stations and my family would give me coconut water when I saw them at our designated mile markers.

A little over a month into core training, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom is the reason I started racing to begin with, so I wanted to dedicate this race to her somehow. I found an organization called Crowdrise that allows you to set up an online donation site to a variety of non-profit organizations. Finding a cause for Breast Cancer Awareness based in Pennsylvania, I set up an account where people could donate money, up through race day, and started spreading the word. Family, friends, and friends of friends donated over $1,500.

When race day came, I put on my pink shorts and my pink ribbon race top with all the names printed on the back of the people who donated.  The weather was perfect. I felt good, and I really wanted this race to be the one to qualify me.

The first 6 miles went by fast and I got my food from my family on the sidelines smoothly. I stayed on pace through the next nutrition stop (mile 12), but my hands were too cold to open the Buddyfruit gummy packaging. For a whole mile, I frantically tried biting and ripping the package, but with no luck (picture the squirrel from Ice Age with his acorn). Finally I gave up and tossed them aside. I would have to wait until mile 15 for my next nutrition stop. At least they were only 3 miles apart.

I was in dire need of something for my stomach as mile 15 came and went without finding my family. A few more miles, and I started to really slow down. I was feeling that awful, burning sensation in my stomach. Around mile 20, I saw my brother come running toward me with a whole bag of food. I quickly took what I thought would be best, but it was too late. Once that fire grabs your gut, it doesn’t let go. The food helped it from getting worse, but my pace continued to slow. I felt terrible. I crossed the finish at 3:46 with a vomiting finish photo and being escorted straight to the medic tent – again. They made me wait there for a while, but I knew what was wrong and I knew they couldn’t help me. I was able to sneak out with the help of my brother when the medics were busy immersing a runner (who was much worse off than me) in a big pool of ice.

Disappointed that I failed at qualifying yet again, I was also upset that my fundraising race for my mom wasn’t my best. I also aroused some questions about my diet from some family members who started thinking my inability to get faster race times and ending up in the medical tent were due to not eating enough. But despite irritating my ulcer, the training for this race and the race itself made me realize running Boston wasn’t going to be nearly enough. I would qualify and go eventually, but that would only be a milestone. I didn’t know why, how, or what, but there was a lot more to come from this running gig.

My next attempt would be the Rock ‘N’ Roll race in San Diego, California. I had planned to finish up school and move there by spring. The race would be the beginning of June.

David Crowder Band – Neverending

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Boston Bound My Story

Boston Bound, Part 1

As I previously conveyed, Boston was never the plan. I didn’t even know what it really was until after that first race. But here I was, ready to take on another marathon to nail down a Boston Qualifier. All I had to do was shave five minutes and some change off my time. No biggie.

So what other marathons are nearby that I could register for? Cleveland Rite Aid Marathon in May – perfect. I have time to rest my legs and then begin training again in January. Now that I had one marathon under my belt, I decided to make my own training plan. I felt my body did pretty well with a 6-8-6-break-5-long run-rest approach, so I stuck with that. Because I felt I picked up enough tidbits of strength and conditioning training from my brother (who was an exercise science major at the time), I structured my long runs to increase by two miles each week from 10-18, and then alternate each week decreasing by two and increasing by four (18 to 16 to 20 to 18 to 22). Twenty-two was my new “peak run” – the farthest run before a race. A lot of this training plan was built on intuition and what I thought my body could handle. I felt like this was a good plan and that it would challenge me but not push me too hard. I gave myself some time for warm-up training before I began my three month plan at 10 miles.

During the Christmas season I picked up my first Garmin GPS watch – no more driving the distance in my car first – and a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes that I was convinced would make me much faster if I trained in them. I was warned about starting out too fast and the injury risks and I actually listened – for a few days.

“Half a mile at a time,” they told me. Okay. I went half a mile and the next day my calves were so sore. I wasn’t used to the forefoot strike that the shoes encouraged. Running on your toes really did make you engage those lower extremity muscles. But my calves got better quickly and I jumped to 3 miles way before I should have. Halfway through a 4-mile run, “Ouch!” I suddenly got a sharp pain in the front of my left foot. It hurt with every strike on the ground, but was not throbbing. I limped home through the rest of the run. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it didn’t go away. It hurt with just walking.  After a week or so, I went to a doctor who concluded it was a metatarsal stress fracture. I was just about to start my three month plan. I didn’t have time to take 4-6 weeks off running!

Well, my options were limited, but my mom knew the local “herb lady” and got ahold of this herb called comfrey. It was supposed to heal a broken bone in half the average western medicinal time. It was/is controversial because of its failure to get FDA approval – something about liver damage if taken regularly, but that’s a whole different topic. Anyway, I took the recommended dose three times a day for two weeks and I was out running again with no pain. But in my regular running shoes of course. I wasn’t giving up on my vibrams, but I didn’t have time to properly train in them – I had a marathon race in three months!

It was a rough start, but I recovered. My training plan went pretty well from there on out. I made sure I finished every long run no matter how bad I felt.  Quitting never got anyone anywhere and even though I sometimes had to go really slow (almost dragging), I still had the pride of finishing what I set out to do. Since then, I’ve delved more into “body sensing” and learned that sometimes it actually is better to quit or deviate from the plan. But for now, that was my ideology and I was sticking to it.

Because Cleveland was an hour away, my mom and I got a hotel for the night before race morning. After experiencing Akron’s expo, Cleveland’s was way bigger. But no jacket?! What is this nonsense! All I get is a technical t-shirt? I think they call it a technical t-shirt because technically it’s a t-shirt, but really the material it’s made out of is less breathable than plastic wrap. Bummer. At least I got a lot of free samples. On to Chipotle, and then to the hotel to chill and sleep.

Race morning! It was going to be a hot one. I ate my banana and drank plenty of water. Since Gu worked so well for me at Akron, I decided to use them again and fit four of them into my shorts pockets. I was so ready to crush this race. The hour or so waiting before a race to start makes me reflect on all the training I did to prepare myself – for about two minutes. Then all that training feels so far away and it doesn’t matter anymore. I think about what my hopes and expectations are for this race. And at this race I felt like I had gotten so much faster and would have no problem qualifying for Boston.

The usual pre-race pump up began and then they warned us about the heat and we started the race with a yellow flag warning. Whatever, I got this. I started out at a strong pace, but still tried to not go all out in the beginning. My half time was around 1:40 so I was on track and ahead of my 3:35 pace group, but I wanted to be faster. I tried to speed it up a bit, but whew! It was getting hot. I came upon a part of the course where we were all trapped on the freeway with nothing to block the sun beating down on us. I slowed because I couldn’t keep the pace. My 3:35 pace group caught up to me and I began slipping through the group, falling into the back of the pack. I struggled to keep up and had to watch them fade away in front of me as I fell further behind. I was getting discouraged, but I still had a little bit of hope of catching them. I thought I had time.

The warning flag had now changed to red, but I still wanted to catch that group. About 17 miles in, I was really beginning to drag. “Noooo!” I thought as the 3:45 pace group passed me. But I couldn’t run any faster, I felt miserable, and my body wasn’t able to push anymore. Not only were my plans of going to Boston next year gone, but my spirit was crushed. I tried to keep running, but at mile 22 I had to stop and walk, though at this point I’m not sure “walking” was the correct term.

Fellow runners were dropping like flies around me. The heat had gotten to me. Two medic cyclists spotted me and quickly rode over. I must have looked as terrible as I felt. One of them grabbed my arm to take me to get medical assistance but I jerked away and said, “No I finish.” My pride may have been broken, but I still had it. I wasn’t going to quit. Because I was still moving and responding, the medics couldn’t force me to receive medical attention, so they rode with me, one on each side, until the finish line was in sight. I started to sort of run/hobble as the cyclists radioed in to the finish line medics that I was coming. I felt so dead. I crossed the finish line at 4:13, and before my knees could touch the ground I was carried over to large fans where they dumped water on my head. In a few minutes, I began to cool down and the worry of heat stroke was gone. One medic stayed with me while the others left to attend to more runners. Unfortunately, I felt good enough to talk.

“I’m better than this,” I said. “My last marathon was 3:40,” I continued. “I’m on my way to Boston,” I kept rambling. I wish the medic would have shoved my shoe in my mouth to keep me from completely embarrassing myself. Instead, he patiently continued to make sure I was on the upswing.

Finally, I was able to leave and go back to the hotel to shower and head home. I was mad, disappointed, and frustrated. I knew I was better than that. There wasn’t another race before September to qualify me for Boston 2013, and I felt like all that hard work of training was wasted. I had a discouraging race, but still really wanted Boston, so I entered the Akron Marathon again that fall to try to qualify for 2014.

As you well know, Boston 2013 was a tragedy. Had I not gotten heat exhaustion, I probably would have qualified and gone. Who knows what might have happened, but I can say that not qualifying at the 2012 Cleveland Rite Aid Marathon was key in me running more miles than I ever thought I would.

David Crowder Band: No One Like You

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My Story The Beginning

The Beginning

“Pay to run? No. That’s dumb,” I told my mother as she was trying to convince me to enter a race. I ran a fair amount on my own. I had my own goals and didn’t need to compete to push myself. Growing up, the schools I went to didn’t have track or cross country so I didn’t even know what a race felt like. I think that’s why my mom wanted me to try it. Finally, she wore me down. But if I was going to spend money on this thing, it was going to be worth it. So at 19, I registered for my first race ever – the 2011 Roadrunner Akron Marathon.

I had very little experience distance running. The farthest I had gone at that point was 9 miles. That was okay. I was going to get a training plan off the internet, just do what it says, and have a marathon on my list of accomplishments. But as most of you probably know, it’s not that simple. At least I had printed a training plan that started me at the beginning – 1 mile. I had eight months to train so I thought I might as well take it slow. Looking, back that was a great idea. I had a lot of lessons to learn.

The first few months went pretty well – nothing I hadn’t done before. I was running five days a week, leaving Thursdays and Sundays as off days. Saturdays were my long runs. I always, always trained on the road. After all, it was a road race right? However, I had not yet acquired a GPS watch so I would drive routes in my car to figure out the distance first. I liked listening to music while I ran and soon David Crowder became the only artist I would listen to on my long runs (and still is). I was having a blast pushing myself each week. The endorphins were flowing and getting that “runner’s high” was an incredible feeling. It brought a peace to my mind that melted whatever stress had been building up that week. And then there was fighting to win the mental and physical battle of simply not stopping, not giving up until you’ve hit your number for the day. Unfortunately, in my lack of experience I made a terrible mistake in running these long distances, and my first 19-miler landed me in the Emergency Room because of it.

I never thought to take food or water with me on my long runs. I figured you eat and drink before you go, then eat and drink when you get back. I woke up at 5 a.m. to make sure I could get those miles in and still make it to work by 10 a.m. I walked out the door and started running as usual, David Crowder singing in the background. The previous week I had had a little bit of “stomach cramping” towards the end of the 16 miles. I had chalked it up to being an amateur. I was hoping this week I would be more conditioned and avoid that obstacle. Of course, that didn’t happen.

The pain was excruciating. I had never felt anything like it. By mile 16, I could barely keep going. Stopping, however, was not a real option. The country roads were barren of traffic at that time on a Saturday morning and I didn’t have my cell phone with me. It was either keep running to get home or make friends with the roadkill. I dragged myself through the last 3 miles, praying to be able to make it back. Mentally, I felt so far gone. Physically, my sympathetic nervous system kept shouting, “Fight or flight! Fight or flight!” Finally I could see my driveway and had a little bit of relief stumbling into the house. Making my way through the kitchen, my mother looked at me and asked, “Are you okay?” “Water and juice,” I mumbled as I kept a forward motion towards my bedroom. Pushing open the door, I immediately collapsed on the floor. In came my water and juice along with another, “You’re sure you’re okay?” “I’ll be fine,” I breathed out as I began sipping the desperately needed sugary liquid. A few minutes later…

Nope. Not fine. Not fine at all. Lightheaded and dizzy, I couldn’t stand up. I had intense stomach pain and I began to vomit. At first it was just fluid, but as I kept vomiting these dark, fleshy-like chunks started coming up. In the meantime, my mother had already called my nurse Aunt who had told us to meet her at the E.R. Off we went, me starting to freak out a little about what those chunks were, but still in a lot of pain with my stomach. We got there and I was taken back pretty quickly to have an IV of fluids and morphine put in. It didn’t take long for my body to relax and my vitals to return to normal.

Upon hearing what I had done and getting test results back, the doctor couldn’t believe how stupid I was. To give you the short version, not only was I dangerously dehydrated, but because I didn’t have the nutrition in me I needed, my stomach acid started to burn a hole to form an ulcer. Yes, my body said, “Fine, if you won’t feed me, then I’ll just start eating myself.” And so those dark, fleshy-like chunks? Part of the epithelial lining of my stomach with some blood. Gross. Before being released, I was given a strict warning to never ever do that again (as if I would try). She also gave me some running snack suggestions – because I still had two and a half months of training left. Mistakes help you learn and grow, but this one cost me. I didn’t know it then, but I would be paying for it for several years.

After taking a week off from training, I was more determined and excited than ever to run this race. On my long runs I made sure I drank every few miles and then ate gummies, a bar, or something every 6. The rest of my training went pretty smoothly. My peak run was 20 miles two weeks before race day, and then 16 the week before. I was nervous, but I was ready.

On Friday September 23rd, I woke up and already felt anxious – but a good anxious. I packed my lunch for class (pasta and pasta) and had zero focus for the day. I had to go pick up my bib at the expo which I considered a chore (still do), though I didn’t know about all the promotional hype and hullabaloo that came with a runner’s health and wellness expo. I was in, got my bib and jacket (because Akron is “the shiz” and gives you a running jacket instead of a t-shirt), and got out. I still had more pasta to get through. Sleeping that night wasn’t really a successful endeavor. My alarm went off. I was already awake, but it was time to get out of bed. I had my race outfit already laid out. I grabbed a banana and water bottle and left – to the start line!

At 6 a.m. on a late September day in Akron, OH it’s chilly. As a newbie I didn’t know runners typically wore old or unwanted jackets and/or sweats to throw off at the start of the race. So there I stood, freezing in my tank and shorts. Oh well. I weaved through people to try and find a comfortable spot to start. Since it was my first, I didn’t really have a time in mind. I decided to start with the 4-hour pace group, but with every expectation of being faster than that. As the time drew near, voices came over the loud speaker, people said stuff, yadayadayada….sang the national anthem, then BANG! The gun went off and the masses started moving.

I was pumped. I didn’t expect it to be that cramped, but I worked with it and darted to openings as they came. After about 4-5 miles, it thinned out and was much more comfortable. I was able to get some momentum going. I was told NOT to use an ipod/mp3 player during the race and was so glad I didn’t. With people encouraging on the sidelines holding signs and so many other fellow runners around me, I would have missed out. Everything was going so well. I was making sure to get water at every station and used the Gu gel that was also provided at certain points. With every foot strike it felt like my legs were getting more powerful. And the adrenaline of a race combined with the usual endorphin fix? I felt amazing and was increasing my pace until about mile 20.

My knees hurt so bad. And my toenails were apparently too long. Oops – forgot to trim them. I ended up losing one of them (which I found out later was a “thing” for runners). I wasn’t even close to stopping, but I did slow down a bit, especially on the downhill slopes, as it made my toe and knee situation much worse. Luckily for me, the last little bit was uphill. I was almost there. That rush was coming back as the crowd got louder and thicker, and I began to pick up the pace again. Heading into the prepared baseball stadium I sprinted that last two-tenths of a mile, passing one more young female on the way. Crossing the finish line at 3:40 with an exhausted, out-of-breath smile, my first thought was, “Wow that was incredible. I’m definitely doing that again.” Without a clue of what was ahead of me, I completed the 2011 Roadrunner Akron Marathon 1st in my age division along with just barely qualifying for Boston (for the standards at the time).

Tired and pretty satisfied with the day, I grabbed my race goodies, found my mother, and headed home. My cousin, who had run the Akron Marathon before and again this time was impressed by accomplishment and mentioned that I had “even qualified for Boston!” I didn’t really know what that meant, and simply thought, “That’s cool” and let it be. But as people began to ask me about the race, this Boston thing kept popping up. So I did a little research and what? There’s an elite race that marathoners come to from all over the world, that has qualifying standards thousands of runners try to beat to get into? Count me in! Oh, but registration is closed for next year (2012)…and the following year the qualifying standards are changing to 3:35. Alright, new goal – Boston! I would sign up for another marathon and run to qualify, then run the infamous Boston Marathon.

 

The 2011 Akron Marathon was the race that started it all for me. In my next section, “Boston Bound,” I tell the story of how I qualified and ran the 2015 Boston Marathon (because again, it wasn’t that simple).

I mentioned that I only listened to David Crowder on my long runs. Well as it turns out, during my training months for every marathon, there is always a specific song that resonates with me. My long runs are not just training to me, but also an emotional outlet. At the end of each race post, I will include that song. For Akron 2011 it was: “O Praise Him.”