Head, Shoulders, Knees and Feats

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Portland marathon: 26.2 miles

Cupcake flavor: Pumpkin with maple buttercream frosting

Wakeup time: 4:45 am

Start time: 7:11 am

Finish time: 11:50 am

Temperature: 60 degrees

Mood: Giddy, excited, happy…after a successful pre-race bathroom trip.

Pre-race meal: Honeycrisp apple, almond butter, and a pumpkin ALT bar.

Race fuel: Nuun, pink lemonade and GU chomps, watermelon

Longest training run: 22 miles

Length of time training post-injury: 10 weeks…yikes.

Here I am, a month and a half later, finally blogging about the Portland Marathon. Sigh. Dental hygiene school gets in the way at times. But, I promise this post is full of happiness and cupcakes!

My training wasn’t the greatest this time around and, quite frankly, pretty stupid inadequate. I was apprehensive about what the Portland held in store for me. I’d signed up for this race a year in advance, and I wasn’t about to give up running because of a silly little injury and a lame boot. Das Boot came off the end of June and my physical therapist was adamant that one, I wait at least a month to begin even light running, and two, that I purchase shoes with lots of support and cushion in them. I did my best to listen.

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My first run back was in mid-July. See the picture? I listened. I waited a month to run and I’m even wearing supportive running shoes (and mismatched socks.) These are an old pair of running shoes, but I even went so far as to go and try out 8 different pairs of running shoes with varying amounts of support in them. I hated them all.

I made a valiant effort to try supportive shoes for 3 weeks. And then I ditched them. Not. A. Fan. They felt heavy and entirely too rigid. I’m so accustomed to my Brooks PureDrift or New Balance Minimus, that anything more felt cumbersome. I like the minimalist, lightweight, flexible, 0-4 mm heel drop, kind of shoe. So, that’s what I returned to. Sorry, Kyla.

My few weeks of training were slow, as I eluded to in my last post. It was humbling, grueling, and a little disheartening at times. I never once kept track of pace. But I know I was slow. It was enough of a mental struggle to get out the door each time, that pushing pace didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. Not to mention that my tibia wasn’t fully healed either. I was not concerned about pace. I needed to focus on distance, on crossing that damned finish line.

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Here I am chucking deuces at the 22 miles of Forest Park I’d just  conquered. Longest training run before the marathon.

What a run. I set out that morning to run 16. Eight miles out and eight back on Leif Erickson trail. 7 miles in, I had a very sudden and large need for a bathroom. And not the kind of need that can be satisfied with jumping off the trail for a moment. From that point, it was 4 miles to the nearest outhouse. Which happened to be at the entirely opposite end of the trail, 3 miles beyond my turn-around point. My other option was to turn around and run the 7 miles back to where I started. What do you think I chose? My 16 mile run suddenly became 16+3+3=22. At least I had a happy tummy at the end!

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Race day came way too quickly. The stats of which I eluded to at the beginning of this post. I’ve been mulling over (for 6 weeks now) how exactly I wanted to discuss my Portland marathon experience.

Let’s talk about songs. These tend to define the overall race experience in a number of ways. Driving to the race with one of my best friends from elementary school and our respective boyfriends, the nerves were almost palpable. I woke up that morning with a rather ridiculous song stuck in my head, and had no choice but to play it for the car: DJ Khaled, “All I Do Is Win.” What can I say? I was ready to win the race.

After my first real experience with multiple race corrals, I really did start to feel like cattle being herded. The song going through my head at the start line is one I’m rather ashamed to admit. Standing there waiting, I kept hearing, “Players gonna play, play, play. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate. I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake. Shake it off, shake it off.” Taylor Swift, you do not need to be in my head this early in the morning. However, I could stand to shake off those nervous jitters that always take hold of me in the minutes preceding a race start. 

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Here I am in the first third of the race, still entirely too energized and happy. Except, that’s surprisingly how I was through the majority of the run. In the first 8 miles, I kept looking all around at the other runners, in awe of the energy surrounding me. We all had put forth so much effort, so much time, to make this day a reality. This sounds rather silly, but the REM song, “Shiny Happy People” popped into my head as I ran down Naito Parkway. The song is rather repetitive, but it basically talks about being surrounded by shiny, happy people. And that is exactly how I felt. I even felt like a shiny, happy, people. Yes, a people. Shiny, happy, sunshine and smiles.

Again, the first 6-8 miles seemed to zoom by. Partially because they had so much live music for us. The other part being the aforementioned energy. The music though! So many wonderful artists, guitarists, vocalists, multi-instrument ensembles. One group was playing MGMT, “Electric Feel” on a particularly boring straight stretch. Thanks guys, I had that song stuck in my head for the next 10 miles.

Overall, the race went better than I’d hoped. A random spectator during mile 18 saved my life with the most amazing banana I’d ever eaten. I really should just start carrying a banana with me during long runs, because they always seem like pure, ingestible gold 2/3 through a marathon. Remember this? Mile 19 of my last marathon, and my aunt handed me a banana. I am fairly certain I had tears in my eyes. That was how happy I was at the sight of a banana.

Mile 20, there were belly dancers! What a random form of entertainment for the runners. I, however, loved it. Little known fact about me: I belly danced for 4 years in high school. It’s such an amazing form of self-expression, not to mention pretty great to watch…except when you’re 20 miles into a run. I stopped and demonstrated my best hip shimmy and hip circle with a huge smile on my face, as if to say, ‘see I know how to do this too! Can’t you tell?!’ Sadly, I am more than certain I looked very similar to someone having a seizure. Sigh. I tried.

The last few miles of the race, I was accompanied by an awesome runner from Seattle. I’m pretty sure our random babble was what kept me sane.

 

This was about mile 23 or 24. I made my new found friend stop so I could capture this. I’ve been taking pictures of random “Hello, my name is…” stickers for two years now.  You can see them here on my Instagram. I promise you, I’ve never placed one myself.

As we ran the last 2.2 miles, every other word out of my mouth was profanity. Poor friend. All I could think about was the burger I was going to feast on afterwards. I detailed every last topping I wanted.

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1/3 pound burger with pepperjack cheese, over easy egg, bacon and avocado.  Craving was indeed satisfied.

Head, shoulders, knees, and feats. Head, shoulders, knees, and feats. Eyes and ears and nose and mouth…Head, shoulders, knees, and feats.

What a random song to pop into my head while running a marathon.

Head: Positive mental attitude is everything. Without that, the race could not have been conquered. It is remembering why you’re out there, why you run. It is remembering how far you’ve come to be in this moment. ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’ I could not be where I am today without the support and encouragement of my friends and family.

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With tears streaming down my face, I could not think of a better way to come across the finish line. This guy even made a shirt to show his support:

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“Team Jessica” on the front and “#werunforcupcakes” on the back.

These ladies. Forever friends. And an amazing support and more hugs at the finish line.20141125-131834.jpg

 

Shoulders: I had the most difficult time keeping my shoulders out of my ears during the marathon. I kept having to conscientiously relax them. Surprisingly, they were the only part of my body that was sore the day after the race. Explain that.

Knees: Going into the marathon, I reminded myself to keep the pace slow and steady. About halfway through the race, my knee started to twinge. Immediate thought: “Oh no! Another injury! How in the world am I going to make it through the rest of the race?” It is amazing how quickly my brain jumps to conclusions. I pushed on.

Feats: Simply, I crossed the finish line. I completed another marathon. I ran 26.2 miles two months after Das Boot and an incredibly humbling injury. I pushed through mentally and physically to cross the finish line of my third marathon with tears streaming down my face and a giant grin.

Don’t worry, the cupcakes were devoured.

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Whidbey Island Whims.

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“Sweetie, we need to let Jessica get to sleep. She has to get up before the crack of dawn for her race.”

“When it’s still a butt?”

This is how my aunt informed my ten year old cousin that I would be setting the alarm for the ungodly hour of 4:45am to be at the Whidbey Island Marathon on time. Getting up before the (butt)crack of dawn…when it’s still a butt. At the very least, a pain in one.

What a crazy weekend. Saturday was an all day volunteer dental event called Give Kids A Smile. From there, I drove straight up to Burlington (4 1/2 hours) to meet up with my family. We had dinner together and drove the country roads to look at all of the tulip fields. Who knew there was a tulip festival going on? The dinner was what we call a pre-race meal of the gods: sweet potato fries and a bacon cheeseburger. Not to mention the avocado on top and sautéed mushrooms. Did I mention these were bottomless fries? This decision was not regretted for a moment. Besides, this photo was what went through my head during that evening and probably the three weeks prior to my race:

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In further preparation for the race, I had to make a last minute trip to the store. Who loves gummy bears for long runs? This girl! I don’t mind the Gu Chomps, Shot Blocks or other sport gummies, but I am a firm believer that a gummy bear does close to the same thing. It’s a little sugar boost. I like to suck on them, rather than chew them. It gives my body something to process, my mouth some flavor, and my brain something to think about and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a weakness for watermelon flavored Gu Chomps. Just no Gu gels, please.

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Don’t worry, I didn’t buy all three pounds of gummy bears. I cannot imagine how absurd that would have looked running with that bag…I bought a sensible amount. Clearly.

Race day brought that pre-5 am wakeup time. Ugh. I hardly slept the night before. Pre-race excitement is real. I drove out to Oak Harbor with enough time to catch the shuttle up to the race start and pick up my race bib. Crossing over the Deception Pass bridge on the bus, I was reminded of one of the many reasons why I run, why I get up at ungodly hours, why I push myself to do what I do:

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This. Nature’s beauty in all of its simplicity. It was a perfect moment leading up to the start of a marathon. The last 25 minutes until the race start was spent waiting in line for a porta potty/blue room/honey bucket (read: every runner’s best friend before a race.) Then began the 5 minute, 4 minute, 3 minute, 2 minute countdown, which was when I dove into the next vacant stall. There’s nothing like the start of a race to make you pee fast! With not a moment to spare, I heard the gun go off as I pushed my way into the tangibly anxious group of runners, relieved in more ways than one.

The energy at the beginning of this run was palpable. So many energetic, smiling people. The views in the first two miles were phenomenal. That same view above on the Deception Pass bridge was revisited by over 600 runners. Many times throughout the run, glimpses were caught of the snowcapped Olympic mountains.

Mile 6 brought the ever so difficult shedding of my long sleeve. Okay, so taking off a layer wasn’t the hard part. The difficulty came from removing my race bib from my sweatshirt and putting it on my tank top; removing and reattaching safety pins while running. Not easy. I managed to both avoid stabbing myself and put the bib on straight. Success.

Mile 9 brought a lovely hill. And, a sign that said, “Run faster. My legs are getting tired waiting for you!” They, of course, had to put a photographer in place when we were a quarter of the way up it. Quick, hide the miserable look on your face!

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Miles 10-15 found me lost in random thoughts, random chats with runners about cupcakes, and the delight in many gummy bears. It was a perfect mixture of shade and bright, bright sun. I spent nearly two miles trying to remember the saying, “Did not win is better than did not finish, is better than did not start.” Just imagine the variations and disorder in trying to put that together. Mile 16-17 was a struggle. Another beast of a hill. One. Mile. Long. I was losing my rhythm. I started to realize how little sense my thoughts were making.

I’d told my aunt, uncle, and cousin the night before to sleep in. I told them that I could hold my own through the first half, but their support in the second half would be invaluable. Indeed, it was. After climbing that beast of a hill, I needed some positive reinforcement. And there they were, shouting at me, “We love you! You’re amazing! Do you want a banana?” A banana?! To my semi-delirious mind, a banana sounded like gold. Outside of delirium, a banana is such a great snack while running. As she handed it to me though, I looked at the banana perplexed…How do I peel these things, again? I gave my aunt a hug and said, “Thank you! You mean so much to me!” To which she replied, “Don’t pants your poop!”

The runner in front of me turned around and gave her such a strange look. I had no choice but to explain where that phrase was from and the amazingness of this Marathon thoughts video:

Now, imagine a mildly delirious runner trying to describe the above video. Complete with wild hand gestures, shouting about Rob Thomas, second winds, and the perils of chafing. After that, my thoughts were making even less sense. So, imagine my surprise when those thoughts turned themselves into continued conversation with this random runner. I’m really curious what this runner thought of me; especially as I started spouting off about how I fancied myself a ballerina. That is, when my feet get tired and my legs feel heavy, I think about light feet. Keeping my steps light and not plodding. The first image conjured up in regards to light feet is a ballerina. I completed this thought with, what I thought, was a beautifully graceful leap in the air. Mind you, this was mile 23ish. Graceful and 23 miles do not go in the same sentence.

I passed a runner around mile 20. She says to me, “this is what I call guts.” I’d never thought of it that way. What is that ever popular adage? ‘No guts, no glory.’ Miles 18-26 are the guts of the run. It will gut you. It will take guts to push through, to make it, to complete the marathon. Without guts, without mile 18-26 gut of the run, there can be no glory. The glory of the finish line, the glory of another feat accomplished, the glory of knowing you pushed yourself to Empty.

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I think of those last few minutes of the run, coming into Windjammer park. All through the race I’d kept a smile on my face. I was happy out there. I was doing something I truly love. But that last half-mile was the biggest mental game. I wish I could perfectly capture that moment, those emotions, the utter and complete desire to stop moving, stop breathing and pumping my arms. All I wanted was to be done. To cross that finish line. To collapse on that lush, green, sun-soaked grass that had come into view. My lungs hated me, my legs felt mechanical, and JT had become too much in my ears. It was exhaustion at its finest.

I gave everything I had left in the tank to sprint the last 0.2 across the grass. With simultaneous feelings of euphoria and the desire to die, I crossed the finish line of my second marathon. 13 minutes and 20 seconds faster than my last. I found my aunt, embraced her, and, as was true with my first 26.2, cried tears for the spectrum of emotions that washed over me.

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When people ask how my marathon was, I tell them it was both agonizing and amazing. These two words could not have explained it more accurately. It was amazing in that I was pushing myself to do something that less than 10% of the population ever accomplishes in a lifetime. It was amazing how much my body could endure. It was amazing the runners I met, the views of the beautiful PNW, and the strength I demonstrated in which I did not know I possessed. It was equally as agonizing. It was agonizing mentally to push through that negative self-talk. The proverbial blerch that tells you that you’re better off walking up that hill, slowing down for a minute, or, hell, stopping to take a nap. It was agonizing physically as I’ve been nursing some pretty intense shin pain for the last month. It started acting up about mile two.

They talk of people being able to push through pain. The ability to push it out of their mind and focus on other things so that it doesn’t affect them. I never believed this was possible until it happened on this run. I pushed aside the pain in my shin. I managed to push through it all the way to the end. I crossed that finish line and collapsed in the grass. It took a week to be able to walk without limping. But, I just remember this:

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I run for me. I run to keep my sanity. I don’t run for you. Or for them. I don’t run to beat other people. I don’t run to be fast. I run for those who can’t. I run to find myself.