Archive for January, 2008

Boston Training: Week 1 Recap

Most marathon training plans involve at least 16 weeks of preparation for a race. Because I participated in and then recovered from a 50K distance event at the beginning of January, my official training for Boston started 13 weeks from race day (April 21). I am not starting from scratch without a running base, but this first week’s return to marathon training was a good reminder that I’ve spent the seven weeks since Kiawah Island Marathon turning in reduced, all easy pace weekly mileage. It’s time to get back to work!

Each week between now and the Boston Marathon, I plan to submit a short wrap-up of Monday-Sunday’s workouts. Here’s how Week 1, January 21-27, went:

Monday – 8 miles easy in the morning, out and back from my house. 30 minutes on the spin bike at the Y that afternoon.

Tuesday – 6 miles with 6 X 2:00 at 5% incline on the treadmill.

Wednesday – Cross-trained by teaching spinning and then 25 min. of fast incline treadmill walking.

Thursday – I opted to sleep in vs. run early, the only time I could get out this day. No surprise, early morning workouts are not my favorite! So it became the week’s rest day.

Friday – 6 miles easy, out and back from my house. At the end I did 4 X 100m strides.

Saturday – Somewhat hilly 25K tune-up race done as a long run at Fort Story, Va. I ran each mile by feel and ended up doing 4 at marathon pace range (approximately 8:35/mile).  This run is part of a series the Tidewater Striders sponsor for the Shamrock Marathon.  It’s very well-attended and well-supported with shelter and food pre- and post-race, chip timing, aid stations, etc.


Sunday – 6 miles recovery/easy at Fun Junktion, the location in the photos above. I rediscovered the 1.25 mile pond loop after a couple years of not running at the park about 3 miles from my house. Since I last visited, mile markers have been installed in such a way that I could easily do 400 and 800m repeats here! It’s more scenic than a track for sure.

Totals:41.5 miles + 2 cross-training workouts; 1 weights session; 7 pilates or yoga sessions (mostly teaching)

Good stuff:First and foremost I was healthy and able to complete each workout; Intermittent, nonspecific yet noticeable lower leg achiness seems to be subsiding from my right leg; I rediscovered a local place to run; The 25K race photogs. put on their Flattering Lens, so I am not cringing at the race photos.

Stuff to keep an eye on: Lower leg stuff isn’t 100% gone post-runs; Hill running technique; Adding back enough quality workouts (interval, tempo, and marathon paces) to increase marathon-specific fitness.

Goals for the coming week: Stay healthy and able to complete each workout; Return to being more mindful with nutrition again; Safely travel and successfully complete a hilly long run in Shenandoah National Park during the weekend (weather permitting).


I’m Inclined

Just under 13 weeks stretch between now and the 2008 Boston Marathon.  As a point of comparison, here is an elevation profile of part of the historic course:

And here is an elevation profile of Elizabeth City, N.C.:


OK, I know; it’s an EKG monitor. But the area is flatlined — in more ways than one, although that’s a post for a different day, not to mention a whole other blog. What it means for Boston training is: I’ve got to head for the hills!

But where?

My planning-prone mind has a few schemes, from closest to farthest in proximity:

  • A smaller as far as overpasses go, but lightly used highway overpass about 10 miles from my house.
  • A large, but considerably busier highway bridge with a wide shoulder about 15 miles from my house.
  • The Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. I can practice take-offs at the birthplace of flight!
  • Mount Trashmore Park, a landfill-come-grassy hill surrounded and bisected by paths in Virginia Beach, Va.
  • A couple of Boston-bound runners who train with the same coach are taking day trips to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to do some long downhill runs. I’m invited.
  • Last but definitely not least, I have been assured of a hilly long run next month when I visit a friend who is also preparing for Boston.

Luckily I have good options. The disadvantage on time-crunch days is they all involve anywhere from a 20-minute drive one-way to going through airport security. Today with a busy office work day and a committee meeting, none of my best-laid plans materialized. Plan B: a treadmill in the YMCA conveniently adjoining my office building.

I warmed up for two miles, then ramped up the incline and speed for 200-300 meters, recovery-jogged, and repeated. I watched my heart rate climb from 150 to 168 toward the end of the session. The workout was a great time. I felt strong and energized charging up the rubber belt peaks, but I wasn’t kidding myself. I knew I had barely tasted incline.

While I cooled down, I tried to imagine Boston’s famous hills. How big will they be? How long will they be? How much will they hurt? Will I have the energy for them all?  Will be I able to finish the race? What is this flatlander doing thinking I can run such a tough course? Wait — am I making mountains out of molehills? Can I learn to run hills smartly, in a way that is as gentle as can be on my body but well prepares my legs for the challenge? Of course I can.

Then my thoughts wandered to less literal topography. What part of life’s course am I currently ascending? Where does this upward momentum lead, and what will the view at the top show me? That mystery eventually revealed is also a blog entry for a different day.

Since my qualifying race, I’ve been on Cloud Nine. As much as I loved the hard training I told myself more than once that I would never, ever, EVER need to run or train like that again, unless I felt like it. I imagined a long running career of cruising destination road races and unspoiled trails at a comfy 9 minute/mile pace.

Training to run Boston involves a surprising, different kind of motivation than trying to BQ. By doing that, I apparently proved myself to be a certain level of runner. Now I feel pressure to uphold that, to run a smart race, to respect the course, and to not crash and burn before family, friends, and literally millions of spectators.

First and foremost, it’s supposed to be fun. It is fun. It will be so much fun. I need to remember that.

With just under 13 weeks to go, I am nervous. I am a little scared.  I am a lot excited. Based on that, just think what race week will be like!

On the Couch with Britney

Although I will be the first person to proclaim love for my work and willingly admit that I do not deserve nor do I wish to complain about its demands, the reality of a new semester is sinking in this week. I have to know what day it is again. There are more than 100 new faces and names and body individualities to learn and give more than 100% to when we’re together in class. Much of my awake time will be spent thinking ahead and making sure all seven of the classes I teach are prepared for and ready to go; this will l wake me up at night, too. It isn’t much compared to people I know who balance more restrictively scheduled jobs with marathon training and family commitments, but after almost a month of freedom, it is jarring.

So this week I am getting reacquainted with my semester routine: wake up, meditate, listen to music while getting ready, catch up on e-mail over breakfast and coffee, drive to work listening to more music, teach until early afternoon, be utterly useless for about an hour recharging my batteries from teaching, do office work as fast as I can because here comes my favorite part of the day — training! After that I often take a pilates class or teach an evening yoga class, then see if I can remember the way back to my house after 12 hours.

At home my sweaty, tired body voices its demands. Feed me! No, wash me! No, recline me on the couch! Almost always the shower wins out, to feel fresh for dinner. By meal time I am famished, so dinner (always eaten on the couch) is something like tonight’s rapidly ready, epicurean underachievement of canned turkey chili over quick-cook brown rice, with a side of steamed vegetables and a yogurt for dessert.

Since I teach Nutrition, I know what these convenience foods lack, even though they are among the most nutritious fast items out there. I’m also aware of another nutritional no-no: eating in front of the TV. You aren’t supposed to do that. You’re supposed to relax, savor food and its nourishment, and eat mindfully. Studies show that people consume more calories and have much higher rates of obesity for every hour that they watch TV.

What can I say? I like a side dish for my mind during meals. Although I would argue that TV does next to nothing beneficial for the mind, it’s hard to use your hands to turn the pages of a book while trying not to all-out shovel food into a ravenous tummy. I live alone, so there’s no one to talk to. That leaves me to frequently welcome Dr. Frasier Crane or Lisa Simpson or Alex Trebek or Sienfeld & Co. to my table, er, sofa.

This week, my guest of dis-honor has been Britney Spears. I’m sitting down to eat when my non-HD TV’s non-cable networks offer “Cops,” home shopping, or “Entertainment Tonight.” ET easily wins. For a recovering celebrity “news” junkie, the show allows me to stay effortlessly informed about TomKat, J-Lo’s and Nicole Kidman’s pregnancies, Jessica Simpson’s latest romance, and, of course, Britney.

The girl appears to be deconstructing. Yesterday’s footage featured her shopping for a pregnancy test and hinted at drug use and a suicide note authored by Spears. Now that won’t look good for her custody hearing next month. These antics may be nothing more than publicity stunts, but even as fabricated acts they don’t exactly build a case for character.

Speaking of character, how did a reputed suicide attempt become fluff for gossip press sound-bytes?

I don’t really care about or care for Britney Spears, and like much of America am ready for her to take a permanent leave of absence from the public domain, but on some level she is still a fellow person obviously in a world of pain and disconnect.  She is a troubled young woman and a mother. People surround her from all directions, invited or not. She appears to need help. Why isn’t any of her entourage or even the press successfully intervening? Now that would be a scoop.

If a pop star with limitless resources and a blinding spotlight can run amok unchallenged, I dread to imagine how many invisible mortals are out there hurting, slipping through the cracks with no one to catch them.  

Yes, Britney Spears solicits the camera’s glare. Yes, she is a public persona subject to different treatment. It still feels wrong to sit by and watch.

Maybe I need to work on that one-handed mealtime page-turning after all.

Brand New Shoes, Brand New World

Yesterday my friend Meredith (“Mert”) and I spent time catching up while shoe shopping. So what’s noteworthy about that? The image of the shoe-shopping, chatting female bonding is a 21st century cultural icon thanks to the “Sex & The City” amiga chicas.

We weren’t after Manolos or Jimmy Choos, though. Mert and I found ourselves mesmerized before a wall of colorful and stylish specialized footwear designed by Brooks, Mizuno, Asics, New Balance, Nike, and Saucony. Running shoes.  

It was Mert’s first trip to a running store, and I had fun seeing what has become an errand for me through her fresh eyes. Looking at the rows of bleached white or glossed gray leather embellished with pink, red, orange, green, and purple  — there was even gold python motif for one brazen Asics model — the eye-pleasing hues made the experience more like being in a flower shop. “They’re so pretty,” Mert exclaimed. But this merchandise can keep going long after the most beautiful bouquet wilts, and offers even more opportunities for blossoming.

My wish for Mert, who is beginning a running program this week, is that running will enhance her blooming in fitness and wellness.  Her growth in that direction really took off last year when she trained to teach pilates classes, which is how we got acquainted.  I was immediately drawn to her openness and  positive energy. Although we hardly knew one another at the time, I impulsively invited her to South Carolina to support me in the marathon I ran there last December. “Watch out! It’s addictive, and spectating is how I got hooked,” I warned her.

I had a strong feeling that her smile and encouragement would be a welcome boost, punctuated by her special cheer we practiced, “Run, Bitch! Malt Balls!” to push me, make me laugh, and entice me with my favorite candy as a post-race reward.  Sure enough, while I stiff-leggedly ambled around after finishing, Mert’s enthusiasm for what she had just witnessed again boosted my tired body. “That was so cool! I want to do one! Maybe a half marathon some day.” Mwa ha ha ha, another precious soul converted.

Like all new runners, Mert was a little unsure in this new world of endorphins and wicking fabrics, and asked lots of questions yesterday.  “What kind of socks will I need?” “Will I get shin splints?” “Will you run with me when they make me run to look at my feet?”

The store assistant, Jeremy, measured Mert’s feet, pronounced her an overpronator after seeing her take a few paces, and brought out a few pairs of shoes to try. Side by side we ran down the store’s aisle and back while she test drove each model.  We left with an orange and white pair of Sauconys, Mert’s passport into a new adventure. 

Depending on how her beginning running program goes, Mert could be ready to try a 5K race in a few months if that’s something she wants to do. If she does, I’ll be there yelling “Run, Bitch! Pork Rinds!” to push her, make her laugh, and entice her with her favorite snack as a post-race reward.

Good luck as you start on your running journey, Mert! I hope this new world you are stepping in to shows you the world in a new way. May running take you wherever you want it to … and possibly even beyond what you can imagine.

50K of Learning As I Go

Nonevent: Team Slug International Fattest Butt 50K (approximately 32 miles)
When & Where: 8:20 a.m. Jan. 5, Killens Pond State Park, Felton, Del.
Results: 6:05 (1st female)

While focusing on marathon training for the past several years I’ve been inspired by ultrarunners, those runners who get to 26.2 miles and then just keep on going. On Saturday I joined their lower ranks as I took my first strides beyond the marathon distance. Those not quite nimble steps were at times challenging and humbling, mostly fun, and always in good company.

Encouraged by friends Mandy and Derek who I met last spring while supporting my friend Meredith Murphy in her quest for a 100 mile run finish, I decided last fall to put any remaining fitness from Kiawah Island Marathon toward a 50K. The ultrarunning group Derek and Mandy are part of, Team Slug International, organizes an informal one each January outside of Dover, Del. The Fattest Butt 50K “nonevent” is TSI’s variation on a “Fat Ass” run:  A friendly, no-frills semi-race that is a winter tradition in the ultrarunning community meant to encourage participants to get their behinds in gear after the holiday season of excesses.

As it turned out the Fattest Butt would dramatically change the appearance of my own derriere and, in the process, become the week’s second and true Wardrobe Malfunction run.

Festivities started Friday night when Mandy met Staci, Lloyd (two other running friends) and I and took us to a local Dover Italian eatery for pre-run carbs. Between bites of bread and pasta, first-timers Staci and I had many questions for Mandy and Lloyd, who have both completed ultra-distance events. After dinner we walked to a grocery store a few doors down for some last-minute provisions. Temperatures in the 20s felt positively frigid to my Southern-acclimated body, and I hoped the rumored warmer forecast for Saturday would prove accurate. Staci, Lloyd, and I shared some stories over beers back at the hotel where we were all staying. Then it was time to do the usual race preparation routine of getting my gear and clothing ready to go for the morning before bed.

The next morning I woke up a few minutes before my alarm and did not want to get out of the very cozy, warm, and enticing pillow-top bed. I could have stayed under the covers all day. After a few minutes of coaxing, I forced myself from the comfort zone and quickly dressed to converge upon the well-stocked hotel breakfast for coffee and my usual pre-long run meal: oatmeal with peanut butter. Mandy came back to lead our caravan, and Staci, Lloyd, and I followed her to the park. Race Director Derek ushered us in, and the 28 runners began casually setting up water and fueling items of choice on a cluster of picnic tables. There was also a community table in the middle where we donated more substantial eats so people could help themselves during or after the run. Everyone was exchanging introductions and appearing very relaxed. The pre-run routine and atmosphere drastically contrasted marathons, where I get up three hours early to digest breakfast and arrive at a starting area swarming with striding runners and buzzing with nervous energy.

After a short briefing and prayer the run started. Again there was no typical road marathon start of jostling and swerving. Heck, there wasn’t a Start line! Mandy led us out on the 3.2-mile packed dirt trail circling Killens Pond. We would retrace the route 10 times to reach the 50K distance, passing through the picnic area each time for provisions. The sun brightened a partly-cloudy sky and made the 30-degree air feel comfortable.

I spent the first two loops running and chatting with Meredith and Staci, and trying to memorize the trail. Derek’s directions had been a simple “keep the pond to your left,” and after the first two loops I felt oriented and ready to spend a little quiet me time in the woods. Gradually I pulled away and hoped I would meet up with Staci and Meredith in the late loops when I anticipated needing encouragement. I had not done any training specific to a 50K other than run a marathon four weeks earlier, recover for a very easy week, then return to regular easy running with one 16 mile long run thrown in on Dec. 22. Total winging it. Everyone had assured me that was more than enough as long as I took the 50K at an easy pace, but I was still questioning my sanity and a little bit doubting if I could complete the distance. It seemed like such a long way, so I decided to simply think of it as 10 loops instead of a specific amount of mileage.

During Loop 3, I briefly ran and talked with two gentlemen. Larry had come from Texas to add Delaware to his list on his 7th cycle of completing a marathon or longer run in all 50 states. Gilles, a resident of Vancouver B.C., was visiting family nearby and took the opportunity to do a much flatter course. It was impressive to realize how far dedicated ultrarunners will travel for a low-profile run in a relatively low-profile sport.

Even for a coastal dweller like me, the course’s few small inclines barely intensified my breathing.  To give my legs a break, I adopted a method many ultrarunners use of walking the “ups” and otherwise running the “flats” and “downs.” Without nearby trails to run regularly where I live I was overjoyed to have a good part of the day ahead to be on the path, and was deep in appreciation of the surroundings when Lloyd surprised me from behind.  He is a faster runner, but I hadn’t expected to see him that early in the day. Even though his intention wasn’t to run all out that day, he said he’d fallen in with two runners who were out for a race and pushed their pace for a few loops before letting them go. We compared our days so far before he pulled ahead of me.

Before coming in to the aid station for Loop 5, I noticed that my hands were starting to swell. This common side effect can indicate low blood sodium but I usually don’t experience it so early in a long run, especially when drinking Gatorade as I had been. I spent a little extra time at the picnic area and took an electrolyte tablet along with a portion of peanut butter and honey sandwich for some extra energy. Lloyd showed up in the picnic area and I was surprised again to see him before I quickly headed out. I had a surge of energy and motivation all of a sudden and was ready to make some good progress.

My pace picked up to what felt like marathon pace and I had the sensation of flying along the trail. It was a serious runner’s high enhanced even more by the natural setting, always my favorite for reflective running. Last night at dinner we had talked about a different event, the Self-Transendence Marathon in New York, but I felt on the verge of my own enlightening endurance episode in the middle of Delaware. Lloyd had caught up to me by now, and I was enthusiastically evangelizing about what a great trip I was having.

“I feel amazing! This is so much fun!”

“It’s such a beautiful day!”

“I just have to watch my footing a little more on this trail! Especially the downhills! I feel a little off-balance going down!”

“But, this is THE BEST!”

Wheeee … I took flight and time slowed as I floated peacefully for what seemed like 10 seconds before coming down hard on my right side. THUD! I was shocked to find myself face down in the dirt. Not wanting to break the great rhythm I’d had, I moved to get right back up — but was stuck to something. My running tights were clinging to a small stump that left a 3″ hole in the seat of my tights as I stood. Lloyd walked with me for a minute and I remarked “Damn, this is the second time this week I am running with my ass hanging out!” He instructed me to put on his extra pants when I got back to the picnic area, then ran ahead so I could focus on staying upright rather than on talking to another runner. I took two Tylenols to prevent any aching and felt truly lucky to be uninjured and pain-free after that fall. I quickly resumed running, but at a more conservative pace and with my eyes firmly fixed on the trail.

Back in the picnic area there was a little show & tell with my boo-tay boo-boo. Derek and Assistant Race Director Debbie immediately began showing their genuine concern by taking close-up photos of my bloody butt, but Derek did graciously help me put on the other pants. They fit perfectly and after a cautioning to take it easier and be safe by race volunteer John I was ready for the second five loops.

Maybe it was the fall or the break in momentum with a longer stop, but Loops 6 and 7 were groggy. I wasn’t running slower yet, but I felt less coordinated and alert. I kept thinking how a nap would be perfect and daydreaming about that pillow-top bed I’d get to crawl into later. Everyone told me I would have a low period, so I figured I was experiencing the ultra lull. It still wasn’t anywhere near the struggles I’ve worked thorough in marathons, so I just thought positively, kept up my electrolyte-peanut butter sandwich combo at the aid station, and waited for the fatigue to pass. I got a small boost when I came up on Mandy, who is the cutest ultrarunner ever with her assortment of running skirts and always positive attitude. By Loop 8 I felt revived and like a lifelong native of the trail. By now I could anticipate its landmarks: There’s the first bridge. There’s the place where I fell. There’s the cabin area. There’s the good view of the pond that’s just starting to freeze. There’s the tree where dozens of lovers carved their initials.

Before leaving the picnic spot for Loop 9, I knew finishing would be easy and said to Derek “After the next loop I’ll be an ultramarathoner, and one more after that one, I’ll be a Slug!” My legs were heavier now and I was slowing, but still only felt like walking the “ups.” I discovered what Meredith had told me was true, that starting to run again after a walk break is very difficult on tired legs. So I just kept running.

To make sure I learned whatever I am supposed to learn, on Loop 9 just as I noticed I was coming up on the spot where I’d fallen, sure enough I was bowing before the trail gods on hands and knees again in the exact same place. This time I had been shuffling instead of charging, so I got up, shook it off, and kept moving forward. In the aid station I briefly chatted with Derek before setting out on my last and final jog around Killens Pond.

During what I told myself was “the victory lap,” I took a little time to try to come to some personal conclusions about the tiny amount of experience I now had in the sport of ultramarathoning. I would finish in around 6 hours, the longest duration I have spent on a single episode of any physical activity. The whole endeavor seemed a bit ludicrous, yet I could honestly say I’d had a good time the whole way. Spending time outside on trails has long been therapeutic to me, and something I dearly missed especially during the last couple years.  This activity combined trail time with my favorite sport of distance running. Coming up on 32 miles with plenty of energy left, I had no problem imagining tackling a longer ultra distance event such as a 50 mile run with proper training. Still, I wasn’t sure I liked the relatively slower running pace, and at times had thought about how a nice day hike would be more fun with possibly less chance of injury. The fall had been startling, and more than once I’d thought about dearly held plans for the first half of 2008 that would be shelved if I’d broken a bone. But I hadn’t broken a bone. I wasn’t seriously hurt, and the pond loop trail was certainly not the last chance for potential injury I’ll encounter between now and April. 

In a few minutes I would come in to the picnic area and see friends’ faces sharing my achievement of a personal distance record on foot. In the marathon four weeks’ prior, I was fortunate to gain a huge sense of accomplishment and reward for hard work. But as I gave the Fattest Butt its final pat, I savored feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and joy that I wish everyone could and would experience by simply putting one foot in front of the other. Running has so many rewards, but I think this is among its most precious gifts.

Running to the picnic area for the last time, I heard a few claps and cheers. “I am a Slug!” I yelled in response. Debbie and Lloyd snapped photos of me coming in and receiving my award, the famous bad-ass black Team Slug T-shirt. Finally I was reunited with Meredith and Staci, who finished four minutes later to all of our applause and excitement.

It was cold if you weren’t running, and Staci and I went off to change into dry clothes so we could stay as warm as possible. The bath house was closed, so we ended up changing with only the back wall for privacy. Now we were ultrarunners, who are reputed to be the “craziest” in running circles, so it seemed like a natural slightly nutty thing to do. We rejoined the growing number of finishers at the picnic tables and savored delicious Cup-o-Noodles and other snacks before walking back on the trail with Meredith to loosen our legs and remove a few course marking ribbons from branches. Meredith’s husband Eddie came in for his first ultramarathon and first-ever race finish as we headed out, so we got to be the first to congratulate him.

Everyone pitched in to clean up the little spot that helped keep us going that day. Runner and volunteer Slugs alike said congratulations, thank you, and good-bye to each other before spreading out in their various directions, leaving the trail but taking the rewards and memories of its 32 miles.

From Kiawah Island to Boston in 26.2 miles

This is a race report originally posted on I want to save it here for myself, as well as provide a little background to the future writing I’ll surely be doing about training for Boston.

Race: Kiawah Island Marathon
When & Where: 8 a.m. Dec. 8, 2007, Kiawah Island, SC.
Result: 3:44:41

As I trained for the Kiawah Island Marathon through summer and fall, it felt like the day would never arrive. My training went off completely issue-free and I enjoyed every mile of marathon preparation like I never have before, with the exception of running through this year’s seemingly endless hot North Carolina summer and warm fall. Little did I know that on race day, all those muggy long runs and swampy speed workouts I logged would reimburse me.

As the race drew closer, I started incorporating visualization and positive thinking as part of my regular meditation practice at the beginning of every day. I was extra careful with my nutrition and re-lost almost 10 pounds to return to the weight I feel best at for running and racing. In addition, I found myself in the happiest, most positive and relaxed place mentally I’ve been in in a couple of years. With all of these things coming together, I had my mind made up to run a great race and that this third attempt at a BQ would be the one that nailed it.

Now there was only that small, HUGE detail of running 26.2 miles in under 3 hours and 46 minutes.

The journey to Kiawah Island, SC, began Thursday afternoon when a group of four runners and two “support crew” rolled out from our corner of North Carolina. Our caravan took us to Fayetteville NC, almost half way, where we stopped for the night. I was traveling with four women I know casually through teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, three of whom were running the half marathon. Our lone brave man, Mike, is the husband of one of the half marathoners. Over dinner and beers, we started to get better acquainted, then called it a night for that all important “night before the night before” quality sleep.

Friday morning, we continued the excursion. After what seemed like forever and half a dozen stops, we arrived at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, where we were staying and where the race was happening the next day. We got our race packets, settled in to our villas, and had an early pre-race dinner of bread, pasta, and brownies. After dinner I finished getting my race gear ready, took a bath, talked on the phone, stretched, and did a recorded guided relaxation. I felt ready to sleep after that, although it was the typical pre-race sleep of waking up many times and dreaming that I couldn’t get to the Start on time.

4:40 a.m. Saturday. Yay! It’s race day! Everything from the all important bathroom business to a traffic free 5-minute ride to the start area couldn’t have gone better. I was one of the earliest runners to arrive an hour ahead of the 8 a.m. start, so I saw the palmetto tree-bordered area peaceful and serene before thousands of pairs of muscular legs would be stretching, pacing, and lining up. I wrote my name on a piece of tape to identify my gear bag at the honor system bag check, thinking it was a testament to what so far seemed to be a small, friendly, well-organized race that the runners trusted one another to pile their stuff together. I spent the rest of the hour stretching and listening to music (including the now requisite “Fame” and “Flashdance”) in the indoor waiting area, repeatedly going through the Port-a-John line, and placed myself between the 8 and 9 minute pace signs about 5 minutes before the start. I felt confident and excited, yet relaxed at the same time.

It was 50 degrees at the start and sunny, with temperatures expected to be in the low 70s by the end. This is warmer than ideal for me, but I knew the plentiful shade on the course and low humidity would help and decided to just work with being warm and not react to it in an upset way. I had not done weekly track workouts in 90 degrees all summer for nothing! There were many miles of suffering in the heat that I could use to draw strength to keep pushing through a warm final hour.

The gun sounded and I made it across the Start about 1:30 into the race. Kiawah has a small starting area for its 4,000 runners, three-fourths of those half marathoners, and apparently nine-tenths who need to review Race Start 101. The first mile was the slowest start I’ve ever had. Without trying to waste energy, I maneuvered around and passed countless walkers and runners who had lined up far too forward for their paces. Somehow I got to Mile 1 in 8:39, just where I wanted to be for an easy start.

Apparently I took out my frustration on Mile 2, since I hit it in 8:02. Way, way too fast! I could have let this freak me out and tell myself I just blew my race, but instead I calmly let it go. From Mile 2 on, I never looked at another mile split until after the race. Instead I compared my overall watch time with a 3:44 pace band I wore. I knew I would fuss and worry too much over individual splits, when overall time was what counted. Especially after now seeing my splits, I believe this decision was one of the key things that helped me.

The next several miles I settled in to running. For a few miles, my feet and lower legs had the same bad puffy feeling they’d had during my most recent BQ attempt, 2007 Shamrock Marathon. My right foot felt like it wanted to explode out of the shoe. My lower legs felt swollen and stiff. At Shamrock I pretty much mentally freaked out that I wasn’t feeling perfect early in the race, and ended up with a sprained foot, acute PF, and a DNF. Today I told myself my legs were just getting used to the task and that they would feel fine in a couple of miles. And they did.

Now I could enjoy the course. It is gorgeous and fun to run, with Spanish moss dripping trees lending shade most of the way as we cruised by coastal marshland, ponds, golf courses, and mansions. About four miles take runners on wide bike paths, which looked exactly like my favorite training path where I live. Some runners don’t care for double-loop courses, but I do many of my long runs back and forth on a 5K distance path and don’t get bored with that, so had no issues with doing a loop only twice. I loved the natural scenery of the course, and didn’t mind the lack of spectators or entertainment.

Inside my head I had a loop playing too, what I now call the “Mantra Medley.” Over and over with the rhythm of my stride I repeated my phrase “Yes I Can, Yes I Will;” the phrase my coach gave me, “This is what you trained for;” and the slogan I got from my friend Lloyd, “Today is my day!” Many times I pictured the two of them running along on either side of me saying those things. I had also made a poster board collage a few weeks ago with pictures of inspiring people and encouraging images, and I mentally recalled each motivational image over and over.

Mile 13 came in 1:50 as I started loop #2. With the half marathoners heading to their finishes, we marathoners had the place to ourselves. It was our party now, and it felt good. I was having fun! Miles 13-19 were my strongest feeling all day and I was feeling so good that I decided to spread some positive energy around. No one passed me the entire second half, but many runners I came upon who weren’t plugged in to earphones got a little encouragement or greeting. I complimented people, joked with them, shared a mantra, or asked them their goal today. A few talked back and asked me mine, and I would say “I need under 3:46 to get to Boston and I think today’s the day,” and get some encouragement in return. I’ve never had this experience before because I’ve always worn headphones in marathons. I will never wear headphones in a marathon again!

I got to Mile 20 in 2:50, just what I wanted so I’d have 56 minutes to run the last 10K if need be. That would be training run pace. The long way home was starting, and now I had friends to watch for. Mike would bike out to meet me at Mile 21 with Gatorade I’d given him the night before, and a few members of our group planned to walk to Mile 23 after the half marathon finish. My “Bike Sherpa” Mike pedaled into view at the exact time I needed him. I was warm, thirsty, slightly carb-depleted, and almost all alone on the course. All of a sudden, I wasn’t having so much fun. I wasn’t feeling any muscle fatigue or pain anywhere, just low-level exhaustion and fogginess. Thoughts of doubt started to creep in. Thoughts of stopping really started to creep in. Thought of repeating my 2006 Philly BQ attempt and running out of steam too early were haunting me. The “Mantra Medley” volume had been turned down. Knowing I needed fuel, I kept taking swigs from the Gatorade bottle Mike had on his bike, and listening to his quiet encouragement. He said I looked stronger than anyone else around, that I was getting there, that I was almost through this bad spot. I didn’t believe him right then but decided to act like I did. We went past two of our friends who screamed and cheered for me and I could barely acknowledge them, but inside was grateful for their support.

Miraculously, the Gatorade kicked in right before Mile 24 where Mike dropped me off at the second bike path. I had 21 minutes to run 2.2 miles and all of a sudden the confidence that I could and would do it today came back. I charged down the bike path losing count of the runners I passed. The “Mantra Medley” was back up to 11 and now I was seeing myself phoning my parents and friends with happy news in 20 minutes … Yes I Can, Yes I Will … 15 minutes … Get ‘r Done! … 10 minutes…Today IS My Day! I started having visions of the Dairy Queen DQ logo, except with the letters BQ, and laughed to myself because I’d heard only ultrarunners hallucinate.

With about half a mile to go, my legs suddenly felt heavier but I ignored it. Amazingly, I still felt no pain except for a little tightness in my calves. I kept checking my watch to make sure I would still make it in in time. I would! Finally, Mile 26! I had about 3 minutes.

I had imagined this moment for close to two years, and now it was actually going to happen. The feeling was unreal. I had pictured my not-so-emotional self bawling like a baby or doing a cheerleader jump at the Finish, but as it came into view I told myself to use the countless 800 track repeats I did in training to dig in for my strongest finish, and everything else was a blur of semi-shock and exhaustion until I stopped across the line.

The Finish

My watch said 3:44:43.

Two volunteers helped me get into a chair. Apparently one took my chip and somehow I had a cup of Gatorade in my hand. I don’t normally swear, and all I could say to no one in particular and everyone in earshot was “That was f—ing hard!”

My friends found me, wanting to know if I’d made Boston. Not entirely trusting my watch, I sent two to scout for official results. When they came back with an official time of 3:44:41, I sat there and felt the overwhelming joy and accomplishment and pride and success permeate through me.

Good NewsI am a runner who does not possess an extraordinary amount of natural athletic talent but, I have learned, was able to make up for that with an infinite drive to do whatever work it took to achieve this dearly held goal. But the best thing about qualifying is not that on April 21, 3 days before my 36th birthday, I will have the great honor of lining up at the Start of the Boston Marathon course. The best thing is all I have learned about the sport of distance running and about myself, how I have grown, and the so much stronger person I am for this journey of 18 months of training.

I was not on that path alone. The advice, support, and encouragement from more experienced runners, my coach, my parents, friends, training buddies, and especially today a Bike Sherpa helped me cross the line in under 3:46. With that kind of inspiration, every step felt like a blessing. Even the agonizing ones from Miles 22-24.

Mile Splits: 

1 8:39
2 8:02
3 8:31
4 8:42
5 8:21
6 & 7 17:09
8 8:29
9 8:40
10 8:36
11 & 12 16:49
13 8:30
14 8:21
15 8:33
16 8:38
17 8:15
18 & 19 17:33
20 8:31
21 8:40
22 8:36
23 & 24 17:58
25 8:37
26 8:25
.2 1:56

Chip time 3:44:41

’08 is Great!

I’ve always been a fairly goal-oriented person. I am fortunate and proud to have accomplished a few major-for-me things that I set out to do, and always chalked it up to the combination of focused work and study, a little talent, and a good amount of luck.

In 2007, I became conscious of another method for manifesting goals. I call it tapping in to the power of intention.  Other people might refer to it as creative visualization, the law of attraction, mind over matter, or the power of positive thinking. There’s a best-selling book franchise out on it, “The Secret.”

I know — I can hear the groans. “The Secret?!” That mass-marketed, overly simplified rehashing of rose-colored New Age parables? She’s going to get all woo woo rainbows and crystals  now.

I read “The Secret” last summer when I was the lowest I’ve felt in more than five years. It seemed to make some sense, especially the assertion that holding back and being uncertain about a pursuit will sabotage any efforts in that direction.

At the time, I was interviewing for a teaching job in Northern Virginia. I liked the college and the position, but I had doubts about making such a frenzied transition, leaving my current department high and dry without a full-time instructor weeks before a new semester, as well as some personal uncertanties.

I’m sure I brought those second guesses to the interview. The job went to a different candidate, although I got very positive feedback and encouragement from the search committee chair.

A few months later, I watched “The Secret” DVD. In the midst of its overly dramatic scenarios and silly faux-ancient styling, I recognized truths for me. Leaving the screening, I had a sense that anything was possible. I began wholeheartedly expressing gratitude in advance every day and created a visual collage to complement training  hard to run a Boston Marathon qualifying time of under 3 hours and 46 minutes.

On Dec. 8, I finished the Kiawah Island Marathon in 3:44:41. I had earned an invitation to attempt the most pretigious road race in the United States, but more importantly had learned to use the power of intention.

Last week while flying back to North Carolina from Fargo something occurred to me during a little chat I was having with myself, inside my head of course as to not alarm today’s all-too-skittish air travelers:

Andrea, you just used intention to succeed at one important goal. What would happen if you applied that to the whole shebang for 2008? There are a few significant areas in your life where you don’t appear to be approaching all the potential that’s out there. Are you really prepared for complacency at age 35? You’ve been telling yourself you’re completely happy and fulfilled regardless, but are you just afraid of failing in situations where success would mean a shot at greater happiness and fulfillment? You’ve got it really good right now, and do you deserve that much abundance? Isn’t it selfish to ask for more?

The whole notion was, and is still, a little terrifying. Be careful what you wish for, and all that. It’s necessary to be smart and alert but I strongly believe too much cautiousness will delay, if not totally stall, some dearly-held goals.

I decided 2008 would be the year that a few long-desired goals manifest. My new mantra is “’08 is Great!”