Monday, July 4, 2016

Crazy Runner Girl

Just look at us here! This picture literally takes my breath away. I don't even have to see his eyes to know by his body language that he is beaming with pride. He is my biggest fan (though the littles do give him pretty stiff competition). As for me? That there would be the look of sweet relief after doing something that felt impossible.

This photo chokes me up every time I look at it. There is so much behind it. We have a similar photo, minutes after we became man and wife. He with hands on my shoulders, grounding me, for me and 100% behind me yet physically in front of me. Forehead to forehead, the picture of calm in the midst of chaos. He doesn't necessarily love this photo but I blew it up and put it on canvas anyway. I just had to for all that it represents.

As we get further and further out from the date of the race, I can feel running amnesia setting in and, much like in the early postpartum period, the pain I endured and the joy of what was accomplished is fading a bit. This marathon endeavor feels almost as if I just birthed a fourth kid and I find myself wanting to record my "birth story," if you will so the details aren't forever lost.

I guess it is finally official. I am a Crazy Runner Girl. Truth be told, I always sort of despised runners - their lean physique, their commitment to running all the freaking time and their child-like tantrums when they sustained a minor toe-stubbing injury that interfered with their ability to head out for a jog. From the "other side," it was easy to judge. Runners were obsessive. They lacked life balance. Before I became a runner, I soothed myself by claiming there was something "wrong" with my lungs that made it so I couldn't run. Every time I tried, I would get this burning sensation in my chest that felt like death. As it turns out, that was called "being out of shape."

I began running for the very first time (like as in ever in my life) after Isla was born. I needed to burn off the baby weight and training for a 5K seemed to be a good way to jolt my body back into shape. It worked. I hit the 5K distance, my scale reflected my pre-pregnancy numbers and I shelved my running shoes and patted myself on the back for a job well done.

I didn't use my running shoes again until after Emma joined our clan two years later. The scale was a bit more stubborn this time around and even working up to a 10K distance didn't provide the results I was looking for. About this time, I'd begun running with my dear friend Olona, who had been persistently encouraging me to take up running with her. This was no small miracle, this running with another person thing. I was petrified I would be too slow, that I wouldn't be able to keep up, that I would hold her back. Fellow runners, you know this - accepting an invitation to run with another person is an incredibly vulnerable move. As it turned out, we were well matched in pace and it didn't take Olona long to convince me to sign up for my very first half marathon.

I made a lot of virgin runner errors that day that eventually culminated in my peeing my pants during the race. True story. You can read all the juicy details here if you are so inclined. I swallowed my pride and recovered from that mortifiying experience and kept on running. Oh, and that afternoon, a year after delivering, I finally reached my pre-pregnancy weight (totally post-race dehydration but I didn't care!)

By the time I found out I was pregnant with Jack, ALL the people in my circles were well aware of the positive impacts of running for me. It was my natural anti-depressant and mood-lifter and sometimes Graham would excuse me from my life and send me out on a run so I could return a nicer person. With the blessing of my doctor, I continued to run thoughout my entire pregnancy, sometimes even pushing my double stroller as I went. Thankfully Olona seemed to have a thing for the added challenge of pushing the girls so we would alternate in the role of "resistance training" in the form of a beast of a stroller. I don't know why I didn't think I deserved the label of "crazy runner girl" back then....

Fast forward a few and before I knew what had happened, I realized I'd been consistently running for just shy of 5 years AND I found my name is on the registration list for a FULL MARATHON. 


I'm still not entirely sure what made me do it. Suddenly I just knew I had to. I had to prove "it" to myself (what exactly I was proving is still up for debate). I wanted to be a mom with 3 kids who has a bit of a gnarly card up her sleeve. 

And so I did it. But most certainly not alone! Olona and I trained together regularly from November until May. We ran for an hour at 5:30 AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then did a long run of varying lengths beginning at 7 AM on Saturdays. Of course Graham played a huge role too since those kiddos most certainly weren't watching themselves (this time around, the stroller was NOT welcome during our running parties!)

The race course itself was stunning, with miles upon miles of gorgeous views of the city and parks in Vancouver, BC. The temperature on race day was warm, pushing low to mid 70s during the latter half of the race. This threw me for a loop, for sure. The first few miles were great. As every running book warns, we started out at a quick clip, a much faster pace than the speed at which we'd trained. Olona kept trying to slow me down but we stayed under 9 minute miles for quite a while. Then we hit the hill. I'd heard that the course was relatively flat with the exception of one hill. I certainly did not expect said hill to be so long or so steep! It went on for what felt like forever which in reality was about 3/4 of a mile. We made it to the top and thankfully there was a pacer nearby yelling "Keep up your pace! Your legs and lungs will catch up." That become one of our mantras throughout the remainder of the race.

With the exception of the hill, the first 10 miles were great. We ran by our amazing support crew around mile 5 and I was able to throw my outer layer at them for safekeeping. Our cheering people pulled some magic strings and somehow managed to show up at  6 different points throughout the race. Their cheers were so needed!

Then we hit mile 16 (I think - honestly this is where things get a bit blurry for me...) At that point, it was nearing 11 AM and we'd been running through a portion of the course that lacked shade. I'd been drinking water at all the stations but none of the electrolyte drinks.

My parents captured these pictures just before I went south. Not 100 yards after we passed them, my vision went blurry. I told Olona that I felt dizzy and that my legs were going numb. And then apparently I kept right on running. She grabbed my arm and made me slow down to a walk. Thankfully we were going through a neighborhood and it just so happened that someone had set up a sprinkler to squirt water at eye-level on a nearby sidewalk. I went right through it and felt much better. Suddenly I realized how hot I was and Olona told me that my face was really red. We walked for about a minute until the dizziness began to subside. And then we got right back to running. From that point on, at every station, I grabbed two waters (one to drink and one to dump on my head) and one electrolyte drink. The water on my head helped immensely. But for the next 4 miles, I felt really woozy on and off. I couldn't talk. All I could do was focus on running and not passing out. Olona was amazing. She kicked it into high gear with the words of encouragement which was exactly what I needed.

Our race bibs displayed not only our race number but also our names. In-the-know fans would cheer for me by name and every time I heard someone say "Kelsie," I felt a little bit better and I ran a little stronger. By the time we reached the 20 mile point, my will to care what people thought of me was long gone and I found myself yelling to those on the sidelines "Say my name!!" I must have been near delirium. ;) For the record though, if you ever find yourself on the sidelines at any sort of competitive race, cheer for the runners by name. Like for reals.

To my surprise, I actually felt much better at mile 20 than I did at 16. I mean, my everything hurt of course but it was at that point that the last of my wavering in-and-out dizziness finally dissipated. I had spent the last 4 miles wondering if I would be able to finish (and of course the thought that immediately followed was "Oh crap. That means I'm going to have to do this whole thing AGAIN!") Once I passed the 20 mile mark though, I somehow knew I was going to finish. Some might say "it was all downhill from there" (which is an outright lie) but I was able to dig deep and find a little juice left in there. Runners were falling apart left and right. Some were walking, others paused and hunched over a bench, clutching their lower extremities. One guy lay on the ground and the medics were starting an IV as we passed. I started calling out the names of whomever had their race bib visible. "You can do it Larry! Keep going Barb!" Meanwhile I was also giving Olona and I a whole lot of positive self talk. "We're going so fast! We've got this."

People must have thought I was nuts but, like I already told you, I'm a crazy runner girl.

Finally, finally, we neared the finish. The last mile felt like it took FOREVER. We'd walked the same route to dinner the night before so I had a good visual of where I was and how much farther I had to go. I spotted my Dad as I rounded the corner and he ran along the sidelines with me to rejoin the rest of the cheering crew a little closer to the finish line. Somehow I managed to appear to still have some pep in me. Much earlier in the race, Olona had suggested we turn on the jets for the last 2 miles and I shot down the idea, thinking it would bring back the dizziness. So we kept pace together all the way to the 42 km marker (just past 26 miles). But then I spotted the finish line. And without any warning, I just bolted. I couldn't help it. I vaguely recall hearing Olona say "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" but it totally didn't register. All I knew was I had to cross that finish line. NOW.

And so I did. Numerous people have pointed out how terrible it was for me to abandon my friend at the last possible second of the race but she insists it made her go faster. :) I crossed that finish line as the 478th female (103rd in my age division of 30-34 year olds) with a final time of 4:13:15. AND a HUGE sigh of relief.

I did it! We did it! Hallelujah. And I might just do it again. That's the first time I've said that.

Say, WHAT?!?!

If my hamstring will have it, of course.

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posted by kelsie