Sunday, January 30, 2005

Now what?

I let this go for a long time after the marathon, but I've decided to come back to it, keep writing here about my running, make this a place where I record not only the mechanics of the run but the sightings and reflections.

As you've seen, I'm no Olympian, but I value the experience of running and racing. I value it enough to keep up the training for it--even now, cold as the winter has become. I don't know just now what my specific racing goals are beyond the Broad Street Run in May. But I'd like to improve my time for that--and would like to make a success of my teaching. I have started a new teaching job--it's part-time but that's something, and I'm teaching introduction to literature. "Small steps," Mike always reminds me.

It's a slow resurrection, and sometimes I still feel unsure of how it's going. But here is where I can stop and take stock. "In it for the long run" might be about more than running, but for the most part, my thoughts here will be primarily about running, but with the hope that the insights gained while running will offer me (and others?) a portal into some life wisdom. Or not.

So I'll start with yesterday's run (1/29): a stop-start run, partly due to snowy/icy conditions. I was tired of the treadmill and wanted to be outdoors, even though the running was more difficult. I had a 90-minute run on my schedule. At the end of this run, my watch read 1:34:03. I have no idea what my distance was or whether this, in fact, reflected the amount of time running. I would stop my watch and forget to start it. When I stopped at my mom and stepfather's grave, I let my watch run for about ten mins. while I dug the wreath out of the snow, dug around to find the military stone they'd provided for my stepfather, poured a few drops of Lourdes water and planted a kiss on the ground for each of them, and (reluctantly) started off again. A mound of snow separated the grass from the drive, so it was a little of a climb to get past that and walk to the grave and back. I used to simply run in the cemetery and now I can't without visiting the grave. I don't think I'll ever stop missing my mom, yet I also know she's not far. She helped me find joy during Christmas--I know that. Our family had a wonderful gathering, celebrating being together, feeling my mom was with us.

After I left the grave, and before leaving the cemetery, I heard Canada geese overhead, looked up, and there was a long line of them in a V formation. Made me wonder how long Canada geese throughout history flew in that pattern. Before I was born. Before my parents and grandparents were born. Years and eons perhaps of that flight pattern. I thought of some familiar animal behaviors that we take for granted but they connect us to lives before us: cats who purr and rub against us, dog who bark at strangers.... Birds flying in a V formation.... I continued on....winding my way around neighborhoods--where I came upon a purple finch sitting a bit dazed in the middle of a road. I ran toward the bird so it would fly off the road and to safety from cars, but it sat still looking up at me a little dazed. I bent down thinking that would awaken its flight reflex, but no, it allowed me to pick it up, cupping it in my gloved hands, making me wonder if it was hurt. But its wings looked healthy, not that splayed out broken look of an injured wing. It perched quietly in my hands as I carried it away from the road. I was surprised at the degree of trust, thought it might be a baby or a young bird--it seemed to have none of the tufty soft feathers of a baby. Saw a picnic table in a yard, and thought that might be a safe enough spot for the time being, though I don't know why. Gently, I stretched my hand over the table, so it would be easy for the bird to hop off. It hesitated a while, didn't seem to want to leave. I wondered if maybe I should simply take it home--warm it up, give it some raisins (didn't have much in the way of bird food) and then try setting it free. But it eventually jumped onto the table, then down to the ground, making slow progress across the lawn, struggling in the ruts made by footprints until I began to wonder if I'd done right letting it go. I stood by watching for a while, then, seeing it approach me again, I decided perhaps I should carry it home after all. But as I started toward it to pick it up again, it flew up into a tree. A pick-up truck sped down the street where the bird had been and around a corner. "Okay," I said to it, "I feel better knowing you can fly. Be safe, my friend."

Soon afterward, entered Naylor's Run Park, past the plowed road and across a snow-covered playing field, up an icy/snowy trail where I'd either bury a foot in snow every time it touched ground or land on a packed, slippery coating of snow/ice. Chorus of crows cawing at something I couldn't see--a hawk? A fox? I've been told there are foxes in that park but I've never seen one there. I'd like to someday. I have seen them in the cemerery, but not for over a year.

Crossed the playing field and headed for a bridge over the stream that leads to a trail--only a few minutes left to the run, so chose not to run the trail but stopped a moment on the bridge and saw rocks come to life and turn into mallards. So it seemed. Suddenly the stream was alive with ducks. And as they drifted away from me, I set off to finish my run.

It took, in fact, much longer than the hour and 34 minutes on my watch and led me past time, into timelessness. And I held a finch in my hands.

The marathon itself--sorry to keep you in suspense so long!

No doubt you wonder how the marathon turned out. Or maybe you don't. The short form is that I ran a chip time of 4:57:59 (nicknamed 4:58) and a gun time of 4:59.

Here's what I posted to the Dead Runners Society listserve following the race (edited a little for this blog):

Philadelphia Marathon--One Cone at a Time

Well, I won it! ;)

Funny coincidence--after a nap and having some pasta, I opened the e-mail to a song (on NPR's American Roots--a blues special) of which the first line I heard was "I got the blues so bad, my feet hurt too much to walk." Well, I don't have the blues, but funny to hear that when I just ran a marathon. What a day! My first completed marathon since Boston! Not as fast a time as I'd have liked but early in the race, I could feel it was going to be a slow race. Started out easy, as my coaches warned me to do. Then couldn't quite get a faster pace going, and was on about 11 min. pace at 5 miles. Decided to see if I could pick up to sub-10, but tho. I did quicken a bit, it wasn't quite sub-10, and by then I was thinking ... 26.2 miles ... how fast am I ready to go? Just decided to push the pace JUST to the edge of where it was comfortable but not so hard I couldn't maintain it. Then got into survival mode. Think "start slow, then ease off."

Saw Dave, near the halfway point and told him I just couldn't get any speed going...felt a bit discouraged. But he said don't worry about the time, just finish the race and enjoy it. And with that in mind, I decided initially on a strategy of "run when you can, walk when you need to." Then settled on walking water stops and trying to run as much as possible otherwise. And also ignoring the significance of the times that flashed out at me at each mile. Slow times, but the point was simply to keep going.

I had decided to dedicate the race to my Mom--I'd started into this training program as a way to heal from her loss--and I sure wasn't going to drop out! As some of you know, I had to drop out four years ago at about sixteen miles due to a calf muscle that wouldn't loosen. Thought of that as I rounded the start/finish area at the Art Museum, and how if I could make it past that point, I'd have the confidence to keep going and finish.

After the 15ish water stop, I was closing in on the previous "scene of my undoing." I was met near that point by Mike (Peak Performance coach and leader of the Tues. night workouts) and Jill, a Peak Performance team-mate who was out to cheer people on (and later host a great post-race party). They were so enthusiastic, cheering, and Jill handed me a bottle of water, while Mike snapped a pic. Was soooo good to see them, as they ushered me past the drop-out point and into the rest of the race!

Once I got to mile 17, I knew I'd thrown the monkey off my back! Then at the Falls Bridge, there was my sister Liz with a hug and her camera! What a treat! Energy boost! Then labored on to Manayunk, hitting another hard patch, when I reached a water stop and didn't want to stop walking. Then I had this feeling/sense "just run to the next cone." Once I reached that traffic cone, I told myself, "just another cone." And gradually, one cone after another, I reached Green Lane in Manayunk, the turn-around point. At 20 miles, the time was 3:48. The thought crept in that I might be able at least to break five hours and not have my slowest marathon (my first was 5:07), if I could hold on, keep running, walk ONLY the water stops. I managed to keep doing this...and found my way back to the Falls Bridge by now psyched that I was in the last six miles...and there again was Liz!

Another hug--another energy boost, this time an even stronger one!

Suddenly, I felt I could even pick up my pace a little. I found myself by turns doing the "survival slog" and actually something akin to running. Thought, "hah! Kelly Drive--I run here all the time! I'm almost there!" Thought "finish, please, please finish!" Ignored cramping in left foot. Thought "could I really break five hours?" Saw Dave cheering--that took me through the last stretch that would otherwise have seemed infinite--kept running as hard as my tired legs could stand, and there was the finish line. And the clock--still starting with "4"! Chase time! As I drew closer, it turned over to 4:59, and I was just over 4:59!

Got a bit hypothermic and cramped so. Collapsed onto a bench, and some very nice people got the med folks out to take into the med tent for a while...iv needle. Eventually Neil (my bf) found me. At that point, I was sufficiently recovered to leave--those folks in the med tent deserve a lot of applause--they obviously had a long day! Found Dave, and we all headed to Jill's party. Great food, bloody mary's (oh well, some post-race "rehydration") ;) and a chance to relax. Jill even made her shower available to anyone who wanted to get freshened up. Felt much better after that!

Couple of quick takes (quick?): Five minutes before start time--NEEDED a bathroom stop. Line for portolets stretched at least a half hour long. Panicked--what to do! Ran to Parktown Place Apts. to front entrance. Said to security guard, "I have a marathon in 5 minutes--is there a restroom I can use here?" She directed me to one, and after that, I sprinted to the start, coming face to face with the 5-minute milers, squeezing and "excuse-me'ing" my way back into thecrowd to where I would be less likely to get run over. Not as far back I'm sure as I should have been, but with the start a minute away, I needed a quick stretch. Then we were off!

Wore for much of the race a St.L Cardinals hat--found it on Columbus Blvd. I'd decided not to wear my baseball hat, but then began thinking I should have b/c my bangs had gotten long enough to get in my face, so I thought it would help to have something to hold my hair back. But what could I do--then I saw a hat someone had dropped and made a quick decision to grab it, wondering if it was wise--who knows who might have worn it. But it looked reasonably clean. Put it on, and at many points during the race, I'd hear "Go St. Louis!" and "Come on Cardinals!" I saw at one point a woman with a Red Sox shirt, and called "Go Sox!" which must have been strange w/ my St. Louis hat. But my newly acquired hat went well with the team singlet (blue with red and white trim) and when it got chilly along the river, it was good to have something on my head.

Throughout all this, I have so many people to thank! My coaches and team-mates, my family who thought of me and cheered for me--especially Liz who put in a personal appearance!--the med tent people, and all who were there for me, Neil included, looking for me for almost two hours! Thanks to the angels! Wore an angel pin I'd bought on my birthday. I think the angels approved. Got through the rough spots. Thanks to so many of my online buds here and in Coolrunning, who gave me advice and encouragement through all this. Finished. Was overcome with excitement, shivering, amazed. It was done!

Thanks especially for my Mom for cheering me on in spirit--felt her there in so many ways! Also my Dad's spirit in the med tent when I began to worry that maybe this time I'd done something awful to myself and maybe was in worse shape than I knew...and then sensed/felt "you'll be okay." And then began to feel better.

It was a good experience--not easy but good. And now on to more challenges...more races...more marathons... an ultra? Who knows?