Boston 2014: The Race (Finally)

Some people like to give you a mile by mile recap of their marathons. In fact, I am guessing you can find thousands of recaps of Boston online if you look hard enough. But I will spare you the details. Outside of it being shoulder to shoulder for the first 12 miles or so (because of the ridiculous, er, incredible amount of runners) and the lack of bombs, it was pretty much just like last year. Same start, same stop. Same hills. Same water stops. Same landmarks. Same distance. You get the point.

But I….I was not the same as last year. Interestingly enough, there is comfort in running a race you have run before. I knew the lay of the land, so to speak. I knew what to expect (unless you factor in that part where, because I was searching for Kurt,  I completely forgot about the hills coming up and thought I had hit a wall around mile 16, only to realize I had just finished the first hill….phew! For a moment there I was cursing at myself for having used a different training plan because clearly I wasn't ready to run more than 16 miles!!!!) And most importantly, I knew that when somebody offered me to take over wearing their bunny ears because the ears were making their head too hot, that I should probably say no even though I really wanted them, because why take the risk of bunny ears slowing you down?!

At any rate, I went all out this year. I didn't hold back. I just assumed I would make it to the finish, one way or another. And I did. Crossing the finish line in 3:18:59, exactly six minutes faster than last year, I felt like I could finally be done with this whole running thing. I had pushed myself to run a marathon in under 3 hours and 20 minutes (because that was the goal a friend of mine had and if it was good enough for her, why shouldn't it be good enough for me??) and with this success, I was done. And my body agreed. So much so that after the race, four different medics approached me to ask if I was okay. One of them stopped me and started asking me questions: "What's your name, runner?" (Oh, oh, I know this one! "Karen"!) "And where are you from, Karen?" (Oooooh……hmmmm…...well, I just moved to Mars……shoot, no, I can't tell him that because then he will think I clearly have a problem. Well, maybe he means where am I from originally, but what if he knows where MojoRunning is because that is clearly displayed on my hat??? Shoot…. oh, I got it….."Pennsylvania.") Apparently I passed the test because he let me out to wander the streets on my own.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally ended up at the free massage place near the family meeting area. As I was leaning against a wall, almost in tears from the cramps in my legs and the emotion of the race (or perhaps that sudden drop of adrenaline!) I began to talk to other runners. One man told me about his pre-race anxiety, how he was so convinced there was something wrong with him last year that he went to the ER the night before the race. This year, he made an appointment with his doctor and changed his asthma meds a week before, which he said made a huge difference. I made a mental note of this and then asked him what symptoms led him to the ER.

"A general feeling like I was going to die…..some chest pains, shortness of breath, you know, basic heart attack symptoms….."

Halleluja and Amen! Apparently this is a thing…..not just my "thing" but something that other runners go through.  Phew!

Boston this year was a race to end all races. If I do it again, (which I won't), it will be at a slow and leisurely pace. It will be without the stress of someone who thinks they are dying and it will definitely include a post-race massage because, PRAISE THE LORD, there is nothing better than a cup of hot broth and a twenty minute rub down after running your tail off for 26.2 miles.

Oh, and it will include some bunny ears.

And perhaps some Xanax.


Easter Message from the Toll Booth

I have to interrupt my Boston Marathon posts because I forgot perhaps one of the most simple and significant parts of the story (it's like when you forget to tell a part of a joke that directly impacts the punch line….well, you know, if the joke isn't really funny to begin with and the missing part was only really important to the teller…..)

We were driving into Boston on Easter Sunday. We were skipping church. For heaven's sake, we were SKIPPING BREAKFAST! And we came upon a toll booth. I am not sure what happened but as we got up to the booth Kurt had to hit the brakes suddenly and he yelled out, "Jesus!"

The man at the booth, foreign born, with a thick, beautifully rich, far away accent, perhaps African, replied: "Thank you for calling on the Holy One when you most needed to!"

Kurt apologized profusely for his misuse of God's name, especially on Easter Sunday! The man adamantly replied, "Oh no, it is never a misuse to call on the Holiest of names in your time of need!! Always call on the one who can help you!"

An unexpected but powerful Easter Message indeed.


Boston Marathon 2014: Race Day Morning

This post is not going to go on at length about how incredible the Boston Marathon is, how it is like no other marathon or how it is essentially the Holy Grail of races. Maybe that is true. Maybe it isn't. What I know is this: Every marathon is unique and special in its own way. They are interesting snapshots into the culture of the city and the people who live there. And they are filled with excitement because the energy and enthusiasm surrounding the running community exists whether it is Boston, London, Dublin or Nowhere Land USA. After spending months beating yourself up to endure 26.2 miles, how could you not be glittering with nervous energy? Now multiply that by 32,000 and THAT is Boston. At least this year.

Race day. You awake early knowing you need to put in some calories and then are too nervous to eat very much and there's no chance you can go back to sleep. It's fantastic. But by this point, most runners are usually pretty pumped. It is race day morning when I am able to just throw myself into the experience and let the race play itself out, however it may go. 

We got ready and then headed down to the lobby to wait for our new friend we didn't know yet, Alli. She arrived promptly and after a quick introduction, we were off. Alli was my saving grace. We were best friends for the day. She was excited and nervous and totally at ease with the fact that we not only stopped for coffee but then proceeded to get lost AND HIT A ROBIN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! But good ol' Alli just trusted the day and kept a smile on her face through it all. I love Alli.

While waiting at South Street to grab a bus, Alli proceeded to tell me all about her qualifier: how she had only signed up for the Marine Corp half marathon and then decided last minute to run the full (and by last minute, I mean she changed her race the night before!) Her longest run during that training had only been about 12 miles. She ended up running a Boston Qualifying time of about 3 hours and 28 minutes. I hate Alli. But when I pressed to know how she trained this time, thinking maybe she had done a little research and realized she might need to actually work on it given how hard her recovery was in D.C., it turns out she couldn't even recall her longest run and had no idea how much mileage she had put in each week. Ahh, the carefree nature of youth.

I proceeded to impart every bit of knowledge I had of Boston's course, what to expect, when to expect it, how many Gu's she would need, etc. etc. She soaked it up and as we stood in the ridiculously long line to use the restrooms, she and another younger woman started stuffing their Gu's in their sports bras and pants because neither of them had a running pack. I marveled at their easy-going (and totally disorganized!) styles. It was as if they had not put one bit of thought into the actual race and hardly any into their training. By this point, there were four of us in our posse, and as the oldest by at least 8 years, I became mother hen, forced them to put on sun block, and wished them well. It was time to get to our corrals.

The walk to the starting ling is about 0.7 miles. I spoke to other women about skin cancer, and whether or not to drink beer on the course. I had thought maybe I would just take it easy and accept whatever beverages were offered but when that first beer stand popped up, half a mile BEFORE THE START, I couldn't risk throwing away all that time and effort, so I kept walking and made it to my starting corral just in time for the gun. And four minutes or so later, I was turning my watch on as I crossed the starting line, relaxed and almost confident in my training, but fully joyful for having been of service to others for that last few hours. The day was a success no matter what happened from there.


Boston Marathon 2014: The Days Before

Kurt and I arrived in Boston late Saturday evening, checked into the hotel in Westborough where we stayed last year and then left to have dinner at a nearby Irish Pub. We opted for a variety of food and washed it down with their craft beer. It was perfect. Somehow, having at least arrived, I felt a wave of comfort. I knew this place. I knew the hotel. I knew the area. The familiarity was calming.

The next day, I awoke early with great intentions. It was Easter Sunday. A day for renewal. I had it in my head that we would get up, have a nice breakfast with a childhood friend and his wife, drive to one of my Blog Reader's churches where I would finally get to meet her and wish her luck on this year's race (she didn't get to finish it last year) and then head into the city for the running expo/packet-pickup.

As my kids would say: Epic fail.

In actuality, we spent a leisurely morning putzing around, didn't really eat breakfast (unless you count the part of a donut that I had bought from our favorite donut guy in Mars), and then headed into the city. I have very poor time-managment and planning skills. Even had someone given me the exact date and time of the resurrection and told me exactly where to be to witness it, I'd have missed it because I would probably want to stomp on more grapes to make extra wine for the after-party and then realize I needed to clean out the wine skins and while doing that see that the hut needed sweeping out and that the Bread still needed to be baked and then notice I was out of flour and so would have to go to the market and, where did I put my sandals again???…..you get my drift.

The Expo was huge and crowded. After picking up my bib number, we ran into a couple from Pittsburgh with their wheelchair bound daughter. Kurt was excited to see a family in both Pittsburgh and Stanford clothing so he stopped to chat. The husband had just completed a month long foot race in Alaska (think Iditarod without dogs.) He was inspirational. In the course of the conversation, Kurt lovingly tried to include their daughter by asking if she was also a runner. She graciously answered that no, she doesn't run. (Um, duh?!)  I refrained from kicking him as he fumbled to recover. But it kept me laughing, over and over again, the remainder of the day so I was grateful.

We entered the Expo, bought an overabundance of race paraphernalia, harassed the HokaOneOne sales guy (because this year they changed the shoes I run in and quite honestly, they stink and even though it wasn't his fault, I figured he could handle it and then he somehow sold me a different pair of shoes….good sales guy!), and then spent some time talking to a young man in the army who runs with a Christian organization. He gave me an orange bracelet that says Boston 2014 WhyDoYouRace.com. As we left the expo to find something to eat (I hear that helps when you are supposed to run a marathon the next day….) I had to admit, the bracelet asked a good question: Why do I race?

After eating our fill, it was back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation where we both pulled out our books. As I was reading I ran across a quote that struck me:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” --Tagore

And it hit me that I had been so focused on my own anxiety and self that I had failed to see the joys in front of me: the delight and excitement of the runners,  the buzz in the city and the unusual peace and quiet Kurt and I had been enjoying. I vowed that after this race, I would make it a point to start helping others more, remembering service was joy. So when we happened to overhear a worried mother looking for a ride to Athlete's Village for her 23 year old daughter, it was a no brainer for us to offer to take her the next morning. It was as if we were in the right place at the right time (and totally eavesdropping) for a greater purpose, one that I truly hope sticks.


Boston Marathon 2014: Getting There

"I am never doing this again." -- Me, like a 100 times after last year's Boston Marathon

(My physical therapist in MN has a recording of me saying it, promising it actually. He would have bet a whole lot of money that I was completely full of it ….I hate it when they're right.)

But really, I wasn't going to go back. Actually, I think my thought process after last year was that "if" I ever ran another marathon it would be in some unheard of place where only a few people actually even show up to run. No huge crowds. No international scene. No threat of attacks (well, unless you include the wild animals out there and then all bets are off!) But I wasn't even certain after last year that I ever wanted to do another 26.2 miles. (Stop laughing. It is true. Kind of.)

And then a week went by and another and pretty soon, I forgot about the intense months of preparation, the weight gain, the labor pains and the sleepless nights and I was chomping at the bit to have another, er, to race again. So I did a few 10 milers and then registration for Boston came up and guess who got the email? And guess who said, "Oh heck…..I have to go back. I just HAVE to. Especially since we are moving closer and who doesn't want to train for a marathon right after moving!" I'm like the Michelle Dugger of marathoning….only, I don't have to wake up in the middle of the night for like 30 years straight or potty train an army.

This year was going to be different though. I'd be running to support runners everywhere. I'd be running to show solidarity with the city of Boston and with the droves of spectators rallying the city on. I'd be running for freedom, for hope, for, I don't know, something bigger than little old me.

And I would do it with a smile and without fear and worry and maybe even without my running watch!  (Which is when you know I am full of it…..)

And I even had a plan to get past the anxiety stage during taper madness: just don't taper so much! Seriously, I was going to run a 61 mile week, followed by a 50 mile week followed by a one week taper of 25- 30 miles and somehow, by not spending 3 weeks at low mileage, I was going to avoid all craziness. (Really now, you could at least TRY to contain the chuckles.)

Insert a capital F here. The plan was going great until about two weeks pre-race when, even though I had anticipated issues and started on Prilosec and taken out most of the acid-producing foods and alcohol and coffee and anything I could think of that would make me hurt inside, it started anyway. First, the indigestion. Next up: Chest pains, topped off by uncontrollable asthma symptoms. Finally, the anxiety peaked, as if my body didn't give a rats petuny that I had a plan (gosh darn it), and I knew, without the tiniest bit of doubt, that I was doomed! I would probably never see my kids again. Or my chickens! I was going to be done for by mile 13 and probably not even make it to the medic tent before someone declared I was a lost cause and my soul had left the building…..I have a problem y'all.

As I am sure I have mentioned before, I come by this crazy propensity toward anxiety very honestly. I am fairly certain it runs down both blood lines which is kind of ironic if you think about it. Both sides of the family are God-loving Christians, both grandfathers were ministers for crying out loud and there is this extreme belief in the goodness of our Creator and in God's power to save under any and all circumstances…..We could preach a thousand sermons on God's grace alone….after all, what else does one really need? Yet when the idea of death crops up, well, let's just say we have an extreme aversion to the idea. I mean, we love God and all, but really, none of us is really interested in going home just yet. We want to delight in the goodness of creation just a little longer, act like the prodigal sons and daughters we are and plunder our inheritance and blessings as long as we can; and quite honestly, even when we are rolling in the pig slop, wishing we could eat as well as the pigs, we are STILL not ready to meet our Maker. Ok, I can't speak for the whole family but I'll take the slop, thanks.

I suppose it is the nature of anxiety though to flood your brain with irrational thoughts. And so as we began the drive to Boston, I got quiet and reflective and contemplated how I could convince God not to take me from this earth just yet (I mean, maybe a tiny car accident that left us only slightly shaken up with only minor injuries could get me out of racing to my doom! Yes, I know I have issues…and yes I know they have medication for it but seriously, who wants to risk possibly ruining their time goals with meds?!?!)

A few hours into the drive, I found myself in a restroom at some back country gas station, tears filling my eyes as I begged to have this burden taken from me. As if I were JESUS ABOUT TO BE CRUCIFIED! Only, I didn't give that whole "but only if it's Your will" crap because really, THAT TOTALLY DEFEATS THE PRAYER! Silly Jesus. He shouldn't have given God an out. Just saying.

So, after my complete and total (but very private because I don't want everyone to know what a wreck I am before the race) breakdown, and after asking Kurt if he thought I should see a doctor about my shortness of breath BEFORE the marathon and being affirmed that we could if I needed to, AND after proclaiming (again) that I thought it was time to really consider switching sports because this panic stuff clearly isn't worth it, I began to feel a little less agitated. I started to practice some deep breathing and wouldn't you know, the slightest inkling of calm began to take hold….."calm" being a very relative term of course but, it was a start and it got me there….


Conversations About The Coop Post

A few days back I was at a soccer game an hour away when I realized I had left the heat lamp on in the chicken coop. I was afraid of accidentally baking  my chickens and so I quickly called my lovely neighbor and asked if she could send a kid to unplug it for me. Problem solved. 

The next day she read my blog post about smearing Preparation H all over the bum of one of the chicks and so she sent me this text:

Neighbor: Preparation H on a chicken butt. Really?!
Me: Yeah. Just be glad I only asked y'all to unplug a light!!!

And I really meant it because what I failed to tell you last post was how this same little chicken had previously become what they call pasty, which means I had to wipe up the poop from her bum several times in order to clear the path for more to come out later…..it can be a real problem, clogging them up and killing them if you are not careful. That darn chicken better lay me a whole lot of eggs!