Sunday, October 24, 2010

2010 Baltimore Running Festival

This weekend, Oct 16-17, I surprised myself and many of those that know me well. I am not a runner, nor have I ever been a runner. I normally find excuses to avoid running and if for some reason, I find myself running, it is usually followed by gasping breath and severe side cramps. However, I have always envied those who can run. Those people that can strap on their tennis shoes, blast their favorite workout music through their iPod and get lost in the miles they leave behind as they run. When you watch a runner, their long, natural stride make it look so easy, easy enough that you talk yourself into thinking you can do it as well.
So I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I wanted to become a runner or run a long distance, but signing up for a race, training and completing it have always been a goal for me. Several times I have signed up for a race, paid the fee and downloaded the training schedule, and several times I just never made it to race day. The list of excuses were long and maybe even reasonable, but I was beginning to think it would never happen.
This attempt started like previous other attempts. I become encouraged to take on running to get in shape and what better way to take on running than to sign up for a race, right? If you put money down for a race, sign up for it, you will train for it and be in your best shape ever, right? Well, my previous failed attempts have proven that wrong. It is not so much the act of signing up 6 months ahead of the race that is hard, it is the actual training that follows and the determination to actually make it to race day that become the challenge.
So this time I would train for the Baltimore Half Marathon and it was happen the weekend before my birthday in Baltimore.  Not a reasonable 5K or even an ambitious 10K nor was it an unrealistic full marathon.   (I have signed up for one of those before! You are welcome Duke City Marathon for my donation! J ) I remember forwarding my confirmation to Brian and stating that we would be spending my birthday weekend in Baltimore this year! Brian, who had also signed up for a full marathon, probably opened that email, rolled his eyes and said “Yea, I am sure 6 months from now, you will be running 13.1 miles…sure Mariza.”
The training began.  For my first run, I had a fresh pair for sneakers, loaded up my ipod with enough songs to last me a few hours and charted my course on google maps.  From the runners magazines that I was so religiously reading now, I knew I would have to pace myself and possibly even walk a little, so I was prepared and didn’t have high expectations…
Well, needless to say, that first run didn’t go as planned. I probably only ran a ¼ of it and walked the rest, but I was so tired and everything felt so wrong. My feet hurt, my clothes were uncomfortable, I didn’t stretch enough, and I had no idea where to put my iPod to keep it from bouncing around. Something was wrong....something was seriously wrong, because I did not feel like a runner nor did I look like one.
I felt defeated already, but I went out the next day. Fortunately, I was in the middle of writing my thesis during the first few months of training, so it was either sitting in front of my computer and writing or being outside running. Running almost always won that battle and I found myself running 3-4 times a week. Each time I would build a little more upon my last distance. I would walk a little less, run a little faster, and go a little further.  It was literally baby steps.  I wasn’t adding miles onto my runs, rather I would have to push myself to make it to the next light pole each time.
Before I knew it, I went from being able to only run ¼ of a mile to comfortably running 3 miles. I didn’t still look or feel like a runner, and most would call what I do “jogging”, but I was making progress and it felt good. I actually looked forward to my runs. (Never did I think I would say that!)
Than came some twists to my running schedule. We left to South Africa for a week and I returned with the worse cough/cold that seemed to last for weeks! So not only did that keep me from running, but I also started a full-time job and I just could not get back in the habit of a running routine.
The weeks were flying by and irregularly, I would go out for a short run, and I almost felt as if I had started all over again. Runs were hard again. My body was fighting me physically and mentally, it was getting harder and harder to get motivated to go run after a long day at work.
So it was August and the excuse list started to rear it’s ugly head again. It was too hot outside, the humidity makes it hard to run, I get bored on treadmills, my shins are killing me, I am too tired after work, etc, etc, etc.
But this time was different. It was different because I had some company in this training misery, but my company was far more motivated than I was. Brian’s training was going very nicely. He would leave for a long run and come back hours later to just shrug at the 15 miles he just ran.
I was envious of his progress and mad at myself for not being more disciplined with my training. So with a sense of urgency, I started to run again.
I fought through shin splints, found my rhythm again, and set goals get week for my long run. Each weekend got better than the last. I was still finding it hard to run during the week, but I was getting better with my weekend run.
As August flew by, September brought weekends that were both encouraging and discouraging. I would have runs that were frustrating and gave me no confidence and other runs would feel so good and would almost get me thinking that I could actually do this!
I started talking about the race more often. I told people at work and my friends. I knew myself well enough to know that if other people knew what I was doing, I would be more inclined to actually show up and at least give it a try.
While I know I could have used a few more weeks of training to make up for the lag over the summer, race weekend was upon me.  My last long run was 10 miles and it was not easy. The 10 miles left me tired and sore, but everyone around kept telling me the adrenalin of race day would take me through that last 3 miles. I tried to have confidence in what they were saying but I couldn’t help but wonder just what kind of miracles adrenalin can actually pull off. Because it really did feel like it would take a miracle for me to finish.
As I expressed my concerns to my friends they reminded me that of course there is always the safety net of walking. “if you get tired, just walk!” Run when you are ready and walk when you get tired. I knew this was an option but didn’t find comfort in that being a fair way to finish. Could I actually tell others and make myself believe that I finished a half-marathon by walking??
So race weekend was finally here! I double-checked that I had packed the motrin and running shoes and was ready to head out to Baltimore! We left DC late Friday afternoon and ran into rush hour traffic that had us moving at a snail’s pace and taking close to 30 minutes just to travel the 10 miles we needed to get out of the city. I was a ball of emotions. I was nervous we wouldn’t make it to the convention center to pick up my bib before 9 pm, I felt bad for dragging my sick husband out of town when he should have been nursing his cold at home, and I was nervous that I was getting closer to actually running this thing.
We arrived into Baltimore with plenty of time to pick up my race bib at the convention center. The check-in was full of people getting ready for race day and the excitement inside of me started to bubble. After picking up my bib, t-shirt and energy gels, we left to check-in to the hotel.  Our hotel was in downtown Baltimore so we were central to all race day activities, but by the time we checked-in and found our room, it was late, we were tired and I still needed have a decent dinner, aka carb load!
I dragged my sick husband out of the streets of downtown Baltimore and we settled upon the Cheesecake Factory where we both immediately got warm drinks to get warmed up and waited close to 30 minutes for our table.
It was closing in on 10:30 pm by the time we had gotten our food. I order a large bowl of pasta and was ready to dig in! But we both took maybe 3-5 bites and decided that we had enough and it time to go back to the hotel! My stomach wasn’t ready to “carb-load” at 11 pm and Brian just wanted to get into a warm bed.
We made it back to the hotel and quickly went to sleep. I woke up several times with what I thought was a bad stomach ache, but now that I reflect, I am sure it was just nerves. I was so tired, yet I could not sleep. I was still having doubts. Still planning my escape. Trying to figure out how I could show up to the finish line looking like I had run 13 miles, when really I was sitting in a café for two hours.
Well, the morning finally arrived and I was dressed and ready to go far earlier than I needed to be. So I tried to relax and stretch and enjoy a slow morning. I ate a protein bar that tasted like cardboard with caramel on it and sucked down an energy gel that tasted like orange flavored Elmer’s glue. Yum! Breakfast of a champion!

As I made my way to the starting line, just blocks from our hotel, I saw other people with their bibs on, walking the same way. And as I got even closer, I walked parallel the full marathoners who were closing in on their 10th mile. The crowds were cheering and one of the runners was carrying a very large American Flag, wooden pole and all. It was all so inspiring and the sights and sounds that I was becoming engulfed in took over my nervousness and sent chills of excitement all through my body!
As I made my way to the last wave (us slow runners!), there were people of all walks of life. Old people, young people, couples, friends, groups, and many, many first timers.  Everyone was there to have a good time and I knew I wasn’t alone.

My wave moved up to the starting line, the horn was blown, confetti was blown into the air and we were off.
I move off to the side to get out of people’s way, but as we rounded the first corner, I found myself passing many people. So I slowed down, took in the crowds and people cheering us on and quickly found a comfortable pace.
I had been running for what felt like awhile now and figured we were closing in on mile 3, but to my dismay, we rounded another corner and a big “MILE 1” sign was sitting there. 
I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through 12 more of these miles, but I knew something had to change. I was running a comfortable pace, but mentally, I was just not in the race yet. I was thinking too far ahead at the distance that was in front of me and that was daunting.
So I relaxed and little and allowed myself to take in the surroundings.
While I have to admit, this course was not the most scenic, but the people that lined the roads were amazing. And there were people EVERYWHERE! From the first mile, to the last mile, people were sitting outside their doorsteps with signs and banners. Young kids had made instruments and were drumming a beat for us to run too. People that were unfortunately stuck in traffic due to roadblocks were coming out of their cars and cheering us on! People were sticking their hands out to get high-fives and people were yelling, “you’re looking good runners, keep it up!”
Hmm…do you think they were talking to me??? Nah, I’m not a runner!
So finishing up mile three, there was our first water break. People were lined on the side out the road with water cup ready for us to grab. Some people stopped to drink and tighten up their shoes, but I knew it was way to early to allow myself a break, so I grab the water, took it down with one gulp while I was running and threw the cup on the ground like I was super important! (Note: several people were there to pick up cups and I just did this just once….)
I was feeling so good and was having so much fun! The cheering continued, the crowds grew heavier and the miles started stacking up behind me. I was still running at a comfortable pace….or shall I say, jogging, but with each person that I passed, I felt a little stronger and mentally envision the large crowd of people in my dust while I emerged to the front.  ( Hey..I needed to envision something to keep the moral up!)
What I didn’t know prior to the race was that the course contained many hills. And I was not ready for the hills. It was probably good that I didn’t know the hills were there because I would have probably been apprehensive had I known they were coming up in the course. Rather, I would run a hill and tell myself, if I am going uphill, I have to come down hill at some point and that would feel good. So while that was true and I took advantage of the downhill speed, there was always another hill up ahead.
It was around mile 9 that the knees were really starting to give me some problems. I stopped for the first time, had Gatorade rather than water, and grabbed some gummy bears. I stretched out my calves and felt a renewed sense of strength.
Unfortunately, that strength didn’t last too long, because there was another hill at mile 11 that reminded me of how bad my knees felt.
I hobbled uphill, but took many walking breaks. Every time I stopped to walk, someone would yell, “you are almost there, keep going!” So I would curse them in my head and start running just until I was out of their sight and could start walking again! Ha…I think I kept this up for all of mile 11.
Upon mile 12, the crowds grew heavier and you could hear the sounds of the finish line. Luckily for my knees, the course flattened out and I knew it was just a matter of minutes before I was done. I picked up my pace, to probably what was the fastest and envisioned the finish line coming closer and closer to me.
The last half mile of the Baltimore race, takes you right through Camden Yards, with people cheering for you at all angles. I was surprised by my friend Beth and her husband Jason. I did not know they would be there and actually did not even recognize them at the time, but they were calling my name and I was ecstatic that someone was cheering for me!!
And it just so happened once I stopped waving at my fan club, I turn around to face the finish line and saw Brian. I was looking for him all morning, so it was a relief to finally see him.
So the excitement of seeing some familiar faces gave me that last bit of adrenaline I needed to cross the finish line.  I crossed the finish line and just stopped and looked around for a second and despite the excitement of actually being done, it was a bit anti-climatic because they didn’t allow family or friends to greet you there. So I congratulated the girls next to me, we laughed and she started crying. And the finality of it finally hit me, I had finished a half-marathon! A rush of empowerment fell over me and all the soreness and tiredness completely left my body.
I grabbed my finisher’s medal, a big, cold bottle of water and marched over to the reunion tent to find Brian.
As I sat on the curb, enjoying my much-deserved water, I watched as people finished the race with such a strong sense of camaraderie and accomplishment. I was bursting with pride that I was a part of this group.
Brian quickly found me and the sense of accomplished was felt even deeper because I was able to celebrate with him.
We quickly left the race area to meet up with my sister who had just flown into Baltimore for the weekend.
I will spare the details about the pain I felt after the race, but you can bet I am still glowing in the accomplishment of finishing that race! Finally, I signed up, I trained, I showed up and I finished! I still find it hard to believe myself. Oh, and I guess it is worth mentioning that I finished 13.1 miles in 2:31. You know what they say, "Slow and steady wins the race!" 
So while I still do not consider myself a runner, I have proven that I CAN run. I can get lost in the miles and push my body to it’s limits. And I may still have a long way to go before I am in great physical shape, but I have the confidence that if I really want to do something, a little determination and discipline can make anything happen!
 And I am addicted to the feeling of race day! I have already signed up Brian and I to run a 10k in a few weeks and I am getting excited to cheer on Brian as he runs his first full marathon next weekend!! And who knows, I may be crazy enough to try the full marathon next year! Maybe….
So keep reading…I hope there is much more to come in my running life and that this is just the beginning!

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