A Yarn About Running.

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Shorts pulled on. Shoes laced. Hair braided. Mind set. Go.

As I tie my running shoes and head out my door, I set my intentions for my run. Is this an interval run, a pace challenge, a hill run? Or is this simply a run because I need it? Am I running because I feel obligated to or because I want to? These questions set the tone for the run as a whole.

Tonight, I ran because I needed it like bananas need peanut butter. I ran because my muscles were tight and sore from my relay last weekend (more on that in my next post.) I ran because it was my therapy

I haven’t written in a while. Fact. Now, I could sit here and give you all kinds of justifiable excuses. But that’s just it, they’re excuses. School, work, relationships, board exams, the dog ate my keyboard…excuses. The real reason I haven’t blogged about running, cupcakes, and happiness is because I’d lost the groove.

I’ve said this more than once, I find my best inspiration for writing after I’ve had a good run. And, I simply have not been putting in the time needed to have good runs, to find that inspiration. Yes, I’ve been running. But, they have not been the feel good runs where magic happens.

Those runs are what make everything else worthwhile. The magic is when everything just falls into place. Your mind isn’t telling you to stop with every step forward. You aren’t worried about time. Or pace. Or distance. You just run. Magic.

It is on those magic runs that I have the best mental clarity.

A side note: You know when you have a skein of yarn that you didn’t bother to roll into a pretty ball? As you use it to knit or crochet, the skein becomes this tangled bunch of yarn. A messy mass of string. The more you tug on it, the worse it gets.

That is how my brain feels before a run. Tangled with the day’s stresses, worries, and the ever-present to do list. It is tangled with thoughts of everything else I should be doing besides running. It is tangled with guilt that I haven’t been more consistent. It is tangled with every bit of negative self-talk tinged with anxiety.

It is not until I’m a couple miles into my run that I can feel those knots start to loosen. I can feel that silly, negative voice in the back of my head start to calm down. The muscle tightness starts shaking loose. The daily stresses start to shake themselves off.

It is so often on these runs that I find myself living in the moment. Once the tangles have been undone and I finally have a pretty ball of yarn. It is then that I can keep my inner voice calm, focus on my breathing, and be thankful for the privilege to run.

This is how today’s run felt. Magic.

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This yarn about running can really be summed up this way:

Before Run = Sad Jess.

After Run = Happy Jess.

And sometimes, it just takes a small reminder to motivate us to keep going.

Set your intentions. Find the magic. Not every run is going to be great. But, remember that a run brings cupcakes, unicorns, and rainbows. Or an untangled mass of yarn. Your choice, really.

 

Like a Ninja

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I looked out the window and thought, “Ugh, it’s raining. No one wants to go running in this.” Then, I had a reality check. I am not the Wicked Witch of the West, I am not made of sugar, and I am not water soluble. The rain isn’t going to make me melt, nor is it going anywhere any time soon. This is the Pacific Northwest. I better damn well get out there, get used to it, and use my integumentary system to the fullest of its protective abilities.

That being established, I went on a wonderful 6 mile recovery run. Recovery run? Yes, a run to recover from running. An easy run. One that is preferably devoid of any type of tracking device. A run more for your mind than your body. It is to remind yourself of why you run. Rekindle the love between your running shoes and the hard ground. This particular recovery run was very restorative, to both mind and body. I was feeling a little down after my performance in my last half-marathon. I took the time on my run to reflect on what motivates me, what drives me to lace up my shoes 6 days a week, and why I had suddenly become so competitive with others instead of just myself. It was only 2 days after my half, and the negative self-talk had to stop. This run was a cure-all. I returned home drenched with the perfect combination of sweat and rain and a giant smile pasted across my face. I had remembered how to run happy.

The Happy Girls Run half-marathon in Sisters, Oregon on November 2nd was beautiful. Central Oregon was the perfect change of scenery. Pine trees, red soil, and crisp air. Pine needles made itself a lovely ground cover intermixed with a little mud through the entirety of the 13.1 miles of single-track trail. The weather report said there was a chance of snow for the weekend of the race. Thankfully,  the frozen white stuff did not show itself the morning of the race, but the air was of the kind that cut straight to your lungs. To add to the beauty of the area, halfway through the race itself, we ran along the edge of Peterson Ridge that overlooked the little town of Sisters and the valley below. Not only was the view at once breathtaking and distracting, but the rainbow that had spread itself across the saturated grey sky increased the view tenfold. As beautiful as it was, you couldn’t stare too long. The trail was rather uneven and rocky at this point, and any glance away from the ground was a surefire way to trip and fall.

Beautiful scenery aside, this girl was anything but happy during that race. I started off like a shot. 7:30/mile pace for the first 4 miles. I ran alongside (technically directly in front of, as it was a single track trail) a woman who told me of her previous races she’d run. My favorite was the thought of running a marathon in Hawaii. Yes, please! I love how distracting conversation can be during a run. At the start of mile 5, she tells me, ‘I’m going to turn it on for a bit’ and took off. I didn’t see her until after the race.

It was a crisp 40 degrees F on race morning. The kind of cold that makes your nose run (get it, get it?). Right about this time, I reach up to wipe the snot from my nose — yes guys, girls have boogers too– when I realize just how much serous liquid is coming from my nose. But it wasn’t. The combination of a lingering sinus infection, cold air and the elevation change produced a lovely case of epistaxis. A nosebleed. During a half-marathon. Just what I wanted.

I wish I could say that I stopped, dealt with the situation properly and finished the race in good spirits. Any runner who has experienced any kind of malady or injury on a run can empathize. It is not the fact that you’re injured or experiencing some kind of systemic issue (vomiting, nose bleeds, GI distress etc.) that upsets you, it is the fact you had to stop running, slow down or take the time to recover. In my case, I was thoroughly angered by the fact that it took my nose nearly 5 minutes to stop bleeding. That was 5 minutes of vital race time lost. 5 minutes of stewing about starting out too fast. 5 minutes of watching my fellow female runners pass me by without so much as a look over their shoulder to the girl with her running glove shoved up her nose. But, I rallied.

I wasn’t happy, in case that wasn’t readily apparent. The rest of the run was spent ‘getting my mind right’ so to speak. The trail was beautiful, yes, but my mind wasn’t. I felt like I was running with a stormy black rain cloud hanging over my head, cartoon style. I had to find a mantra. “Good thoughts in (inhale), bad thoughts out (exhale.)” I ran with the dread that the 9 minute mile pacer was going to overtake me, like the Grim Reaper. He did.

I’d like to say I got happier, but all I could think about was finding that damn finish line. And wondering how terrible my time was going to be. I was frustrated by the downsides to running a race on single track trails. They’re wonderful when you’re alone, but running the same trail as a few hundred women…not so fun. Passing becomes an issue. Especially when said women haven’t been educated on proper trail etiquette. What is proper trail etiquette? Holler at the person you’re about to pass, “Passing on your left!” or “Passing on your right!” Do not wear headphones. If you must, keep only one earbud in. You’ll want to hear us when we holler. If you need to walk, step off to the side. Be kind to fellow runners. Don’t cut them off. And for goodness sake, smile! This is a happy run. Run for you. Not against the women around you.

A very fitting sticker outside Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters.

I finished in 2:04 with a 9:28/mile average. The exact same time as my first half-marathon nearly a year ago. Not exactly the new personal best I was hoping for.

Negativity and nosebleed aside, it was an amazing weekend in Central Oregon. My running buddy, amazing friend and previous employer, rocked the socks off her first half in a couple years. She came across the finish line with a smile on her face, only a few minutes after I did. Here we are just after she crossed the finish line (can we tell someone is tired?):

We stayed at a condo in Sisters all weekend, complete with a hot tub. We spent the rest of race day in Bend shopping and catching up with friends. Dinner was spent at 10 Barrels Brewery. That burger was the best I’ve ever had. As was the wood fireplace outside. Imagine sipping a beverage while sitting outside all bundled up in front of a crackling fire. The smells, the sounds, the ambiance…And then the snow started to fall. Soft, white flakes floating down from the night’s sky. It couldn’t have been a more perfect end to a race day. Good company, great friends, amazing weekend.

I may not have run like a ninja, as my socks would indicate, but I ran my heart out. I ran against every negative thought in my brain and still crossed that finish line, even though it seemed a dreadful distance away. I once again neglected finish line cupcakes, but made up for it in trail mix consumption and pastries at Sisters Coffeehouse the next day. Cupcakes at the next race, I swear!

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Gluten free cherry almond muffin. Nom.

Inspiration

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14 weeks of preparation. 500 miles of training. 2 pairs of running shoes. Countless hours spent in anticipation, frustration, and even a mild form of fear. All to run 26.2 miles. That is 1.7 million inches. A race against oneself. Testing limits and mental toughness. The race is the reward…right?

I can honestly say I’ve never found a truer form of happiness than crossing the finish line of a marathon. Every other emotion had been exhausted as I pushed myself those last 385 yards. Purity.

It has already been a month since my marathon. September 14th. And it feels like ages ago. And yet, still surreal. For the sake of reliving it though, let’s revisit.

Marathon Day  (Hagg Lake Hybrid)

5:45 am wakeup time. I got dressed in my already laid out and color coordinated clothes. They say preparation is a key to success. Waking up groggy and before the sun is up, I most assuredly agree. Having everything prepared the night before made my life a lot easier. I ate my pre-race breakfast with a knot in my stomach and a giant grin on my face. A pink lady apple with a few spoonfuls of almond butter and a green goddess smoothie, complete with spinach, protein, banana and mangoes.

7:20 arrival to Hagg Lake. What an unnerving time, waiting for such an event to begin! Observing everyone’s pre-race rituals was quite entertaining. ‘Excuse me, sir, but why are you running before you embark upon a race that will surely help you to meet your mileage requirement for the week? Is 26.2 not enough?’ Or, ‘How can you be stuffing your face with Hostess donut holes right now?’ and ‘Who does push-ups before a marathon?!’ It was all I could do to maintain an upright position.

7:30 — Then came the time to decide: running jacket or tank top? Music or no music? Garmin or no? With many trips back to the car, we settled on Garmin watch, no jacket and no music. I never regretted any of the above.

7:45 — Let’s be honest. A bathroom is a marathon runner’s best friend. Pre-race bathroom trips = 5 times. Glorious. I would venture to say that this is not abnormal. Prior to training for any kind of distance running, I had an irrational fear of port-a-potties and a strong aversion to public restrooms in general. It’s not hard to imagine how quickly those changed. When you gotta go, you go wherever is provided. And you thank the running gods for the invention of hand sanitizer.

8:04 am race start. With less than 100 people running the Hagg Hybrid Marathon, it was a low-key but very energized and positive beginning to a race. I have to say, I love smaller races. There’s something so close-knit, as if you’re running the race with a bunch of family. Regardless, my legs were restless, my heart was pounding out of my chest and my head was positively buzzing. This is really happening! 

Many people have asked me, “If you don’t listen to music, what do you think about while you run?” I think what they mean to ask is simply, ‘how do you make the time pass?’ A very good question that I do not have a straight answer to. If I were to try and think of key moments or actual thoughts I had during my marathon at Hagg Lake, I think the sum of them would amount to maybe 5 minutes. My first thoughts as the race began were, “Don’t start too fast. Am I going too fast? Breathe.” I started composing my blog post in my head, wondering if I would be able to tell all of you lovely readers how splendid the run was, or if I would have to report how miserably grueling it was.

“26.2. Think of how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.” This phrase hit me about mile four, when I still had a smile on my face, and the rolling hills hadn’t taken a toll on me yet.

The rest of the first half was really a blur. It took place on the road surrounding the lake and proved to be a nice challenge with a number of hills. I could not have made it through the first 13 miles without two amazing ladies, TJ and Heather. Between the two of them, they’d run over 70 marathons in the course of 10 years. Their amiable, determined, yet light-hearted attitude was admirable and quite impressionable upon my newbie marathoner mind. Not to mention, their pace was comparable to mine. And so we ran together. I wish I had obtained their info so I could give a proper shout out! Between forcing me to eat gummy bears and a banana at one of the aid station (which were both amazing, by the way) and telling me to “dig in and use as many profanities as needed” when climbing a particularly large hill, I really don’t know that I would have kept going at the pace I did. Thank you, ladies, for answering my incessant list of questions. It kept my mind distracted.

No sooner had I jumped on the trails in the second half of the marathon, exalting at my pace and still seemingly large amount of energy, than I stumbled upon my support crew. 5 of them all poring over their phones, trying to track my location. I was elated to see them, and their cheers meant the world to me. They were there for me at every aid station for the second half. Yelling my name, cheering me on and giving me more support than I can ever express in words.

Somewhere between miles 18-20, I started to really feel the fatigue. I began calling in my usual mental distractions. I dreamed up the best food I could think of. If I could eat anything after the marathon, I wanted a giant burger. With bacon. Avocado. Two patties. Pepper jack cheese. No bun. Sweet potato fries. And cupcakes. Glorious cupcakes. When that mental distraction no longer worked, I thought of what would bring me the most joy in that very moment, nirvana if you will (aside from crossing the finish line.) The first thing that came to mind was my huge polka-dotted down comforter. The smell of clean linen, the feeling of wrapping myself up in its fluffiness and curling up for a lovely nap. Nothing sounded better to me. And so I focused on burgers and linens.

I went through an aid station somewhere around mile 20, and all I wanted was electrolytes. That lovely yellow liquid was like magic to my mouth. Delightfully artificial and hydrating. I had high hopes that it was going to cure the dizziness that had started setting in. Post-race, my friends in the support crew informed me that I looked deathly pale. They hardly believed my two thumbs up while still managing a smile as I passed through the checkpoint.

Those last 6 miles kicked. My. Ass. Thoroughly. The ground kept trying to come up and meet my face. I wanted to die. I swore never to run a marathon again. Never in my life have I felt like I did in those last miles. Death would have been preferable to the burning in my legs. Those hills became giant monsters. I walked them and ran the rest. Not even the thought of food could get me through this one.

My Garmin watch said 24.2 miles as I rounded a bend and caught sight of Boat Ramp C and the finish line. That couldn’t be right. Were they going to make us run laps around the parking lot to achieve 26.2? Preposterous. But I steeled my nerves and told myself not to get too excited about the finish line, just in case parking lot laps were in my near future. But no, it really was the finish line, and my watch was off (which it tends to do on trails.) Those last 385 yards were the most exalting. A sudden rush of energy propelled me across those finishing mats, to complete my marathon in 4:45. I was met with hugs as soon as I finished, and I started crying. From sheer exhaustion, from happiness, from elation at being done, who knows.  But, I finished!

To anyone who hasn’t completed a marathon, it is incomparable to anything I’ve ever known or felt before. The feeling of simultaneous disbelief and accomplishment. Pushing one’s own limits. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” TS Eliot’s words have never rang truer.

This is my amazing support crew, cheering me on every step of the way. If nothing else, the thought of them waiting on me at the next aid station kept me going. Hearing their continual quotes of this amazing YouTube video kept a smile on my face:

 

Let me tell you, I did not see Rob Thomas, I did not pants my poop (which is an accomplishment), and those second winds are real! Of all the songs to be stuck in my head on race day though, lines from this kept popping in at the weirdest of moments:

It took less than a day to realize that I would, indeed, sign up for another marathon (Whidbey Island in April!) and the thought of an ultramarathon wasn’t so far-fetched after all (Hagg Lake Mud Run in February!). I’m an addict. Two more half-marathons this year: The Happy Girls Run in Sisters on November 2nd and The Holiday Half on December 15th.

Through these months of training, with my friends and family putting up with my ever-increasing addiction, I would just like to say thank you. I know it’s not easy to understand why I spend hours each week pounding the trail and pavement, but believe me when I say that it makes me the person I am today. It keeps me calm. It keeps me sane. It is my catharsis and my meditation. Join me on a run, cheer me on. Don’t hate me too much when I can’t shut up about running. I truly love it, and am elated if my zeal becomes contagious.

I aspire to inspire before I expire.