Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I am a Runner!

Marathon Monday has come and gone and I am left with a high that I have never felt before. Its Wednesday and I'm still not sure I've come down yet. When thinking through how I was going to write this final entry, I struggled on where to start. Lets begin at 4AM when my alarm went off:

I couldn't believe it, I successfully slept from 8PM to 4AM, a solid 8 hours of sleep before my first marathon. I have always been a good sleeper, even as a baby, so I'm not sure why I was so surprised. I was definitely grateful. I was unsure how I would ever be able to run 26.2 miles if I hadn't slept the night before. Good thing I wouldn't have to find out. I got dressed, foam rolled, packed up my gear that was neatly laid out from the night before and got into my car to drive to Spaulding. The Race for Rehab team was meeting at 5AM to board the busses to Hopkinton. Although it was early, I was energized. There wasn't an ounce of nervousness in my body, just pure excitement. I kept telling myself that my training was complete and one way or another I was going to get to that finish line.

The buzz in Hopkinton was something that I have never experienced. Thousands of people being herded like cattle through check points and into their proper corrals. It was beautifully chaotic, yet calm. Suzanne and I said goodbye to most of our team and made our way to Wave 4, Corral 1. We were at the front of the pack, just steps away from Tedy Bruschi and the starting line. When the gun went off tears started to fill my eyes. The cheers from the crowd, the thousands of people ahead and behind me and a sudden sense of belonging pulled at my heart strings. I was a runner! Suzanne looked at me and said "no crying, not yet, you'll waste your energy." I pulled it together and just took it all in. The game plan was to go out slow, 11:00 miles and pick up the pace around mile 6. Slowly one by one, the people we had trained with passed us. Suzanne and I looked at each other, smiled and agreed that we would catch up to them when they lost steam from going out too fast. The rolling hills of the historic Boston Marathon course gave us a beautiful picture of the thousands of runners in their neon colors, charity singlets and swaying pony-tails. As I ran, I tried to remember everything that those who came before me said to take in: the smiling kids, the bands on the side of the road, the party-goers, the creative posters, the sound of pure excitement and sneakers hitting the pavement. I did just that. 

Suzanne and I stayed together almost through the half way point when I had the sudden urge to pee, a now normal occurrence for me on any long run and a running joke in our group. I told Suzanne to go on and I hoped to catch up to her. Once I found a short line for a porta-potty and fixed my bladder issue, I jumped back into the pack and began my now solo journey to Boston. The next few miles (13-17) were really hard for me. The sun was higher in the sky, it was beginning to get really hot and I realized that I needed to readjust. I started to dump water down my shirt and over my head to try and stay cool. Training through the frigid polar vortex this winter did not prepare me for 70+ degree running weather. My legs started to cramp and I began to play mind games, run to the next light Amanda, then you can walk to the next landmark. I played this game all the way until the Woodland T Stop when I caught a glimpse of more of my fans. Their energy gave me strength, the strength I needed just before the turn toward the hills. 

I think I blacked out on the hills. I don't even remember running them. The only thing I remember is a young girl in a wheelchair holding out a cup of water. I didn't need the water, so I reached out and grabbed her other hand. This was the first person I gave a high-five to. After that, I had new legs. I arrived at the top of Heart Break Hill and knew there were just a few short miles left to go. I passed BC and caught a glimpse of my running partner, Suzanne. She was walking and did not look good. The heat had clearly gotten the best of her. I wrapped my arms around her and said, "lets do this, we're going to finish together." She turned to me and said "I was hoping you'd catch me. I think I'm going to throw up." Well, I couldn't let that happen...or maybe I could have let her puke, but she was still going to finish with me.

I never told her this, but I had a dream a week before the Marathon that we finished together. I didn't want to tell her before the race because I didn't want her to feel responsible to stay with me the whole time. She is a stronger and more experienced runner than I am, now with 6 marathons under her belt. I knew if I told her, she would feel obligated to pace with me, stop with me, walk with me, pee with me, etc, especially since she was a big reason that I decided to run the marathon to begin with. Suzanne was the person who got me through my long runs. She distracted me, motivated me, educated me and constantly told me "I'm going to get you through this!" 

People told me that your race goal will change 10 times before race day and about 100 times during the race itself. As I ran up to my friend and saw her discomfort, my goal changed. I was hoping to run the 26.2 miles under 5 hours and I probably could have done it. However, my new goal had nothing to do with time, it had everything to do with ensuring that Suzanne, the person who got me through every mile to this point, got to the finish line and that we did it together. We took it slow, we ran one street light to the next and took walking breaks in between. We talked and I reminded her how close we were. She constantly apologized for holding me back, but little did she know, I was exactly where I wanted to be. All through training she helped me finish, in this new role reversal, I was going to do everything in my power to get her to the finish line.

We made it to Kenmore Square and both of us called our families, who were in the VIP grandstands at the finish line. We wanted them to know we were almost there and to begin to look for us. I took my headphones out, listened to the crowd and again started to cry. My chest got tight and I began to have trouble breathing. Emotions were getting the best of me. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, grabbed Suzanne's hand and continued on. I wish I could bottle up the sound, the energy and feeling of running through Kenmore and into the final stretch of the marathon. That last mile is the longest mile of your life. We made our way under the Mass Ave. bridge and into the tunnel, the only quiet area on the entire course. I quickly said a prayer, collected myself and turned right on Hereford. HOLY CROWDS! Everyone talks about Boylston Street, but I think Hereford is where the party is. Suzanne and I grabbed hands and prepared to turn left on Boylston. We looked at each other and said "are you ready? lets do this!" We made our way down the street waving to our fans at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and finally our families at the finish line. We put our hands up, smiled at the finish camera and wrapped our arms around each other. We did it!

Suzanne and I witnessed the bombs go off together last year. Experienced the fear, unknown and terror that last April brought to us. We trained through the horrible winter together and on Monday we took Boylston Street back together. Despite the heat, the terrible run and physical pain along the way, our 118th Boston Marathon journey ended just the way it began, together.

Pre-Race Emotions

I'm splitting this week's post into two segments: 3 days until race day and race day itself. We begin on Friday, April 18th.

On Friday Morning I woke up anxious. I thought to myself,  'ok, today is going to be stressful.' The days leading up to Friday alternated from feeling like I was going to throw up to excited beyond words. I accepted that I would have to deal with the nerves and went to work. Fortunately, I was able to leave the office early, so I had time to get my nails painted in festive blue and yellow and make it into the city to meet my friends at the expo. After parking my car, I walked to the Hynes Convention Center, had my bag checked and made my way up the escalator. The energy in the building was electric. As I made it to the second floor I started to feel uneasy. There were so many people. I was incredibly uncomfortable. Just as soon as I arrived, I turned around and walked out of the building for some air. This happens from time to time. I have never been someone to shy away from a crowd, but since last April, I occasionally become overwhelmed in crowded spaces, especially when alone. I walked out onto Boylston Street and down to Newbury. I was taking in the sights and sounds of the city and waiting for my friends to arrive. Fortunately, that didn't take long. We picked up our numbers, snapped a few pictures and made our way through the vendor areas where everyone spent more money than they had planned to.

Saturday was the Race for Rehab pre-race party at the Revere Hotel. Kudos to my friends Lindsay and Sara for putting on such a great event. It was nice to compare notes with my fellow teammates on how we were feeling and I was also able to catch up with Ernst van Dyk, the 10-time winner of the Boston Marathon wheelchair division. Kevin Spacey even came to our party! How cool is that? Saturday was an excited day and included the feeling of 'I just want to get the show on the road!'

Sunday, ohhhh Sunday. Talk about being nervous. I was beginning to doubt myself. Was I actually capable of running 26.2 miles? HELL NO! No one should run that far, at least thats what I kept telling myself. I was reviewing everything that people told me: don't eat anything different before the race, make sure you stay off your feet on Sunday, don't drink too much water, drink enough water and my favorite, no matter what stay horizontal. There was so much to think about and remember. I started to call, text and e-mail every single person in my running support system and asked (I'm sure) what they thought were ridiculous questions. Their responses all had the same theme "you know what you're doing Amanda, its just another long run." Another long run? No. This was the big show. The Super Bowl of my regular season games. How could they all be so calm? I was a mess! I made a list of everything I needed for Monday and set it out on my kitchen counter. Socks? Check! Sport beans? Check! Food? Check! Skratch? Check! The list went on. When I finally felt like I had everything I needed, I got into bed around 8PM, prepared to not sleep for more than a minute. Monday morning would come quickly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

One Year Later

On the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon attacks, I can’t help but reflect on the last year and what it has meant to me.

I was unsure how I would feel today. I thought I would be OK, it’s been a year, after all. However, when I turned on the news this morning, as I do every morning, I was confronted with images I have tried so hard to block out. A dark cloud slowly moved over me and I found myself glued to the TV in tears. Today is tough, really tough. It’s the day one year ago that changed me and thousands of others forever. It took our innocence and tainted a day of celebration.  I have been brought back to April 15, 2013 and vividly remember the sound, the chaos, the fear and the complete unknown. Although the emotional wounds hurt, I took the days leading up to today to reflect on how the events of last year have changed me.

The sick and twisted people, no, not people, monsters, who committed this horrific act wanted to instill fear, hate and distrust on the people of Boston. They failed. Yes, we mourn the lives lost and those who are forever changed, but so much good has come from last April. The greatest city in the world came together stronger and more determined than ever. For me, I turned to running as a way to cope. Had the bombings not occurred, I would have never signed up to run the Boston Marathon, I would have never learned just how far I could push myself, I would have never raised close to $6,000 for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and I would have never met the most amazing people who I run with today. Today I am trying to focus on the positive. The fact that these monsters tried to break us, but they did not succeed. In fact, they made us stronger.

Monday, April 7, 2014

21 Miles and Counting

I can't believe that I have neglected to post about my latest training developments, but I have been a little busy lately. I left my position as Individual Giving Officer at Spaulding on March 27th and three days later jumped on a plane for some R&R before starting my new job as the Boston Heart Walk Director for the American Heart Association (today was my first day!) So, I apologize for being delinquent. A lot has happened since my last the fact that I ran 21 miles! Actually, according to Suzanne's running app, 21.6 miles, so lets start there:

On March 29th I woke up like any normal, or what is becoming a normal, Saturday morning. I ate my breakfast, rolled, stretched and drove to Spaulding to meet up with my fellow teammates. When I arrived at the hospital I was in awe of the crowd gathered in neon Race for Rehab singlets. The energy was contagious. The nerves that I had been feeling about 21 miles instantly turned into motivation. All of these people were in the exact same boat as me. After a few group photos, we boarded the Yankee Line busses and began our trip to Natick to commence our longest long run.

As I started the run with my now normal running crew, I felt excited, yet anxious about the miles ahead. The nerves must have gotten the best of me, because one half mile into the run, my foot caught a piece of metal in the road and I tripped and fell. I hit my knee on the pavement, ripped my pants open and instantly started bleeding. I couldn't believe it, 1/2 mile in and my run was ruined...or was it? The old me would have stopped, stayed on the ground, cried and walked back to where the busses had just dropped us off. However, I did the complete opposite: I got up, dusted my hands and knees off and kept going!

The course was packed with charity runners. To be honest, I've seen 5K races with less participants. We even had spectators! I'm not going to lie, the 21 miler was the hardest training run I have had yet and that includes the ones over ice and snow. Not only was the distance a bear, but my knee killed the entire time after the fall. There was one particular time that stood out to me where I thought I was going to have to give up and quit. However, as if she was placed in the most apropos location, the younger sister of Martin Richard, the little boy killed in last year's marathon bombing, came into focus holding out water for the runners. I grabbed a cup from her, said thank you and kept pushing. I had to. I couldn't give up. Martin will never have the chance to run the Boston Marathon and if his sister ever chooses to, her uphill climb to 26.2 would be far greater than mine with one prosthetic leg.

I watched as the miles ticked away and I got closer and closer to Spaulding in Charlestown, the Race for Rehab finish line. For me, miles 13-17 were the hardest, but I was able to reenergize at 17 and the miles to 21 weren't as bad as I thought they would be. I could taste the finish. I started counting city blocks, blocks that I now know all too well. As I approached the final 25 yards I thanked God for keeping me on my feet (most of the way!) giving me the physical and mental strength to push and for being blessed with two working legs. I admit it, I got a bit teary-eyed when I completed the run. All of the months leading up to that day had culminated to this one final Saturday and I had crushed it, fall included!

Since that run, I'm finding myself a bit bored. The mid-week runs are much shorter, even last weekend's run was a "short" 12 miles. Marathoners call this "tapering." I am anxiously awaiting April 21st and am excited for the crowds, the cheers, the little kids handing out water and most of all, to run for those who can't.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Part of Something Big

Yesterday was supposed to be an easy "step-down" week to relax, recover and rejuvenate after last weekend's 18 miler and before next weekend's 21 miler. However, there was nothing relaxing or easy about yesterday's run.

I hit the streets with some Race for Rehab teammates for 14 miles of pure hills. We started at Newton Wellesley Hospital and ran the notorious inclines twice, once out and once back. This reminded me of something my mom used to say to me when I complained about walking to the bus stop: "I walked to school in the snow, up hill, both ways!" Well, she did grow up in Newton, so maybe she wasn't exaggerating, after all. The course was absolutely packed, probably the busiest day that I have ever seen, which made the climb a little more manageable. Along the route I bumped into easily 10 people that I knew. That got me thinking about my journey to 26.2....

I started seriously training last fall, not knowing a single thing about running. My shoes were old and too small, I owned cheap gym clothes, I didn't have a clue about nutrition and I thought stretching meant bending over to touch your toes. Not only have I increased my fitness level over the last several months, but also my knowledge of the running community...and it IS a community. As I scaled one of the first hills in Newton I heard someone yell my name. My initial reaction was 'who the heck knows me here,' but as the figure came into focus, I realized that it was a friend that I made as a result of my training. This scenario played out several more times during my run. Yesterday was the first time that I realized that I am part of something big. Bigger than transforming from a non-runner to runner (yes, I said it!) bigger than Spaulding's Race for Rehab Team, even bigger than the 118th Boston Marathon. Being a runner is like being a part of a religion, an alma mater, an exclusive club and some may even argue a cult! Runners wave to each other, whether they know each other or not; they smile, they cheer each other on, they even think of themselves as one, evidenced by John Hancock's #weruntogether hashtag. It doesn't matter that one person can run 7-minute miles and another needs 12 minutes, they are both runners.

Yesterday's run got me excited, reenergized and proud of what I am now a part of. I'm ready, or at least I think I am, for April 21st. I have one more long run left next weekend and then its time to taper and mentally prepare for 26.2. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Push it to the Limit

There is no better feeling than pushing your body to limits that you never thought were possible. Today I successfully ran 18 miles from Hopkinton to Newton.

I had been warned by many about the notorious downhill miles that live in the beginning of the Boston Marathon course and after today I find myself questioning what is WORSE: running uphill or down!? I now realize why the Boston Marathon is so hard. No, not just because you have to run 26.2 miles, its the fact that this is a race of two tales. The first half is downhill and just as you settle out with a few miles of pretty flat ground, BOOM, at mile 18 you are faced with three terrifying and long hills. I would like to meet the person that chose this route, they truly have a sick and twisted mind. All along the course there are small (and large) F you moments that challenge you physically and mentally. A sick reminder that you're doing something that less than 1% of the population will do.

I have been trying to look at each run as an opportunity to learn something about myself and my body. After the completion of both my short and long runs, I look back and think about what went right, what went wrong and what needs to be adjusted. Today's takeaway is: listen to music! This lesson goes hand in hand with run your own race. Runners consistently have the debate of music or no music, talking or no talking. I run with a group of women that love to chat and I have certainly tried to participate, but I think I'm done. I have found that my best runs are when I turn up the tunes and zone out. Sure, I like to chime in now and then, but I mostly despise it. It's not that I can't, I just don't like to. Running is probably the only time that I find myself not wanting to speak (my mother will get a kick out of that statement!) So, from now on its music, bass, good tunes and losing myself in the rhythm of my feet and the sound in my ears.

Next week is a shorter long run of only 13 miles. Can you believe I said ONLY 13 miles? Neither can I. :)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Best Run Yet

This weekend I had one of my best training runs yet. I tried to make a conscious effort to fuel my body with all the right foods during the week, ran both short runs (can you believe 8 miles is a short run now?) and even strength trained at Fitness Principles in Allston (side note, Keith and Dina are amazing!) I am certainly feeling the pressure as we are in the final stretch of training and know that I need to remain healthy and motivated if I'm going to make it to 26.2!

This week's motivation came from a visit to Spaulding's Traumatic Brain Injury Unit. I took some time out of my day on Friday to refocus my energy and determination to run this year's marathon. While I walked the floor, I witnessed a young man talking into a water bottle, which he believed to be a walky-talky. He was asking anyone who would listen where his wife Christine was. He *knew* she was just with him, but she "disappeared" and he feared that she was lost. I sat down in a chair and watched him. He walked up and down the halls with an aid closely following behind talking into his water bottle: "Christine, where are you? Come back. Please!" He was confused, sad and beginning to grow frustrated. He couldn't understand where his wife went. Fortunately, Christine showed up within 15 minutes and had just stepped out to get a coffee. As I left the unit, I dedicated my weekend's long run to this patient. He can't run a marathon, so I will.

I was excited to join my fellow Race for Rehab teammates: Suzanne, Amy, Katie, Mike and Cara on Saturday for our 15-16 mile training run. Although the group didn't stay together the entire time, it is always nice to see familiar faces. Suzanne and I broke off from the group and continued on from our starting point in Wellesley all the way to Charlestown. We crushed the notorious hills and I even made it down Beacon Street without puking or stopping, a personal best for this rookie! Negative "I can't" thoughts entered my head around mile 9, my mental block spot, and I thought about stopping, but I continued on and thought of the patient I saw on the TBI unit. I was able to finish 15 miles, my farthest run yet, with a smile on my face and pride in my heart. I cannot even begin to express how proud I am of myself. I RAN 15 MILES! Just one year ago I couldn't even imagine running 5 miles.

I am less than 50 days away from the 118th Boston Marathon and $749 shy of my $5,000 fundraising goal. I hope that you will consider making a gift or an additional gift to help me raise critical funds for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Donations can be made here.