I ran a ten-mile race last weekend. I didn’t win the race, but I did win.
I’m reasonably new to running, I started running at the age of 48, just four years ago. I’ve run a few half-marathons and one full marathon, so far. I didn’t win any of them. I’m registered for a couple of half-marathons and four full marathons over the next year. I won’t win any of them. But I still win.
Why run in races if you’re never going to win?
Running, for me, fulfills a couple of very primal needs I discovered I have rather late in life; it makes me feel free and it fulfills my competitive spirit. If I’m not in it to win it, how does it fulfill my competitive spirit? I compete with myself, I strive for continual improvement.
Fitness is a lifestyle I believe in, it is a lifestyle I foster, it is a lifestyle I create for myself. Let me clarify fitness and what it means to me:
Fitness is a lifestyle that facilitates good health, well-being, continual self-improvement, self-confidence, and self-worth. Joy.
Fitness is not getting skinny enough to wear that dress to the high school reunion. Fitness is not losing weight to look good, to catch that guy, to attract that girl, to get the engagement ring, to fit into the wedding dress. Fitness is not bulking up enough to win a body-building competition. Fitness is not racing once to prove it can be done. Fitness is not about doing it for someone else.
Fitness, your health, your well-being, are only ever about you. It is a choice and one you choose because it brings you joy.
I run as part of my fitness-focused lifestyle. It is hard, but it brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. I race because it’s fun, I enjoy the fanfare, I enjoy the people, I enjoy having a measure of my personal improvement.
In this past weekend’s race, there were 540 finishers. I came in 309th. Clearly, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t even in the top 50%, but I’m still a winner. I finished. I ran ten miles. I did, however, run at a faster pace than any of my previous races, though this was the shortest race I ever ran.
I poured over the results, the results of others, knowing everyone runs, and races, for different reasons, for very personal and individual reasons. Some folks do run to compete, to win, to be the fastest. Others run for the sheer pleasure. Other folks run because they can. Sadly, some folks run to please someone else.
The fastest finishers, the winners of the race, the folks who took home the purse and the prizes, ran a full five minutes faster per mile than I. One such man was 72 years old. Winning. I reviewed the field of finishers near my finish time, I came in a couple of seconds behind a woman who was 74 years old.
I looked at the people who came in last, and these folks were, in my perception, the true winners of the race and should be awarded the highest purse, the biggest medal, and the most recognition. In the last ten finishers was a woman, 99 years old. Winning. Finisher 540 of 540; a woman of 83. Winning. How blessed to be of such good health at that age to complete a ten mile running race, and, judging from their pace, they were moving along fairly well. They eclipsed my rather ridiculous hiking pace. My rather ridiculous hiking pace elevates my heart rate to an aerobic level, it causes me to sweat profusely, it makes my muscles all wonderfully sore for the next couple of days. A 99 year old woman and an 83 year old woman and a smattering of other octogenarians maintained that pace for ten full miles. Think about it; many folks that age aren’t able to drive ten miles, or walk ten feet. When I grow up I want to be 99 years old and finish a ten mile running race! Run because you can.
I am speculating, but I’m pretty sure those elderly runners aren’t running that race for anyone but themselves. To live to be 99, or 83, is accomplishment in itself. To be able to run ten miles at that age obviates a commitment to fitness, a personal desire for a fit lifestyle. They aren’t running to get in shape to fit into that dress, to get the proposal, to find a date, to please someone else. They run because they can and because it is their choice, their lifestyle, and, I’m guessing it brings them an incredible amount of joy, confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.
And that, my friends, is truly winning.
I do it for me. Do it if you want, but do it for you.
I haven’t been to yoga in ages and I was relieved to find that I could still bend, in an acceptable manner, in a number of ways. With my exercise focus being exclusively on running, lately, in preparation for my first marathon, it is good to be back to other methods of exertion. I did run yesterday, the first time since the marathon a week ago, and it was amazing. I ran really, really, fast! For me. So, for any casual observer, I probably appeared to be shuffling frantically. For the record, there is a brief moment, each stride, where both feet are, in fact, off the ground. Simultaneously. Yes.
I was so indescribably tired last night. After my run and a shower, and taking Mom on her errands, and grocery shopping for myself, I was exhausted. I can run 26.2 miles, but a day of errands with Mom wears me out. I’ve heard there is a “post-marathon” depression, or malaise, maybe that’s what this mild irritability and exhaustion is about. Or maybe it’s the cumulative affect of my six weeks of east coast/west coast travel. Or, maybe because I stayed up until 1:00 AM chatting with my Sweetie the night before. Or maybe it was the chat, itself. He was being feisty, playing devil’s advocate and just generally being a brat. All in good humor, of course, but I was on my toes and sparring the whole time. Or, all of the above. Whatever the reason, once I finished dinner and dishes, all I could think about was reading one of the four hundred new Kindle books I have yet to start. I awoke with my Kindle on top of me, unopened, this morning.
I was excited to get up this morning. I have groceries! Real food! Do you have any idea what it’s like to return to the produce section of a Whole Foods in California after being on the other side of the country? Real, local, organic produce! A selection! I almost fell to my knees and kissed the inlaid tile “Whole Foods” logo on the floor in the entry to the store! I bought yogurt, eggs and produce. That’s it. Three heavy to lift, reusable, “Whole Planet Foundation” bags full of produce. And having yogurt again! Today was the day I have been waiting for! I opened the tub of organic Wallaby yogurt, made right here in Napa County, stirred in my local, organic honey, and, the best part, I opened a jar of Alaskan blueberries that I helped pick right off the tundra, that my Sweetie jarred and flat-rated to me, and stirred a generous amount into my yogurt. It was the most divine thing I’ve had for breakfast in a very long time. I can’t wait for breakfast, again, tomorrow. Or, maybe I’ll just have breakfast, again, for dinner! Or both!
The yogurt was the only part of breakfast I found enjoyable. My oatmeal wasn’t cooked to perfection. My fault. And it was cold by the time I ate it. I guess I was busy eating the yogurt first.
When I travel, I try to stay at hotels with a fridge and maybe even a microwave. Last week’s hotel was not one. In hotels without such amenities, I usually have fruit not requiring refrigeration and an organic granola bar for breakfast. No matter what I have, it is during breakfast that I check Facebook for interesting news, wish any Facebook friends having a birthday a great day, and write in my journal. I forget, upon my return home, that these activities are difficult to carry out at the breakfast table. I do really like to focus on any articles I click through to from Facebook, reading them from start to finish without interruption, conversation or being read the local newspaper, which Mom seems inclined to do. And today’s article of click-worthiness was awesome! I like to be able to write in my journal with complete focus and attention, since it is my morning affirmations I usually document. I consider this to be practically meditative. I always hope that when Mom see’s my pink journal, she’ll realize that I need a few minutes of complete calm. Nope.
I can remember very clearly, my dad, sitting at the kitchen table, where I sit now, across from my mom. He’d be trying to read something and she’d be reading bits of the newspaper out loud to him, or asking him a string of questions, as she does a lot of. He’d sigh, grimace, as only he could do, mark his spot with his index finger and an air of exasperation and look up at her, impatiently, over the rim of his gold wire rimmed bifocals. When I do that, try to mark my spot with my index finger, as I’m reading on my iPhone or iPad, I end up unintentionally “liking” something or navigating to a link I don’t mean to. I finished my breakfast, my dishes, and quickly retreated upstairs to finish my morning routine. I admit, I was a bit frustrated, which is no way to be first thing in the morning, and I finally remembered that I had altered my routine during my last “at home” stint, to finish those items requiring my focus, before heading downstairs. It was the yogurt and the blueberries, I guess, and my excitement over them, that caused me to forget that rather important little scheduling detail. I am now reminded and will act accordingly.
Yoga, as I said, was great. During our initial stretching, where we are to quiet our minds, to acknowledge and dismiss our thoughts, I was kept pretty busy. Things I wanted to include in any of several articles I’m working on kept drifting through my mind, as did some of my petty frustrations at home. At one point, the instructor told us to let everything “out of our mind”, and, at this point, as only I would do, a song popped in based on those lyrics. I remember my kids’ reaction when I played this song, they find it pretty amusing that I listen to a lot of the stuff they do. The song? “Outta Your Mind” by Lil Jon, featuring LMFAO, the chorus going something like this,
“Get outta your mind, get outta your mind (what), get outta your mind (what)
Bump that shit, get outta your mind (what)
Get outta your mind (what), get outta your mind (what), get outta your mind (what)
Bump that shit, get outta your mind (what)”
So, in yoga, to a hip-hop beat, in my head, I’m singing, “Get outta my mind, get outta my mind, bump that shit, get outta my mind …” It worked. But I almost laughed out loud, just a little, which would’ve been an outward breach of protocol, I’m pretty sure. I’m already about as unconventional a yoga practitioner as you’ll find. By the end of our hour and a half of practice, I was feeling much better, my calm sense of composure, energy and enthusiasm restored. All the bad jou jou of the past couple of days were “outta my mind!”
I didn’t have a text from my Sweetie this morning. We didn’t talk last night, he was headed north, piloting an oversize load to Coldfoot. I fell asleep before sending my nightly, “good night, Love” message. I wanted to send my usual “good morning” text this morning, but thought if he got in real late last night, which was certain to be the case, due to a late start, I didn’t want to wake him. When I got out of yoga at noon, I checked my phone and there were a couple of texts from him. Good, he was home. I don’t worry, remember, it’s pointless and doesn’t change anything, but, still, I am always super happy when I know he’s home again after a trip north. He made it home fine. The million-mile Ford did not. Well, it did, eventually, but they did not arrive home together and the million-mile Ford did not return under its own power. The poor old blue truck won’t be making that trip, again, until it gets a new engine. Zowwie.
But, other than breakfast and the news from the north, my day went exactly as I hoped it would. I wrote. That’s all I wanted to do today, write. And, now, it’s time to think about dinner. Wallaby yogurt with local, organic honey and real Alaskan blueberries, picked myself and lovingly jarred by my Sweetie. Perhaps, so. Or for dessert, maybe. Or both!
And, tomorrow, a big day. One I am excited for. Though Monday, it is National Chocolate Covered Anything Day. I will plan ahead, prepare, and even try to get a super good night’s sleep in anticipation of this sure to be magical event! Tidings!
I ran a marathon today. I ran my first full marathon. I ran my first full marathon at the age of fifty years young. Twenty-six point two miles. Me.
If you told me five years ago that I’d run a marathon I might not have believed you. I doubt I would’ve said, “I can’t”, because I’d already been baptized in the PMA Kool-Aid, but I might have said, “I don’t run.” And then laughed at the mere suggestion of running a marathon.
My day started early. I stayed at a hotel not far from the start of the race. I selected the hotel because they’d arranged for a “shuttle” to the starting line so I wouldn’t have to hassle with driving and traffic and parking. With over 10,000 runners and the road closures that go along with conducting a marathon, you can imagine the nightmare driving oneself there might present. So, I left my hotel room, bundled up against the 18-degree temperature, and found out front, two school buses. Two school busses with snow on top. I mentioned it was cold, right? I boarded the bus, took a seat and that was the beginning of my education. I got schooled today.
As the bus began to fill, a woman asked to sit next to me. I moved my small mountain of gear aside and she sat. We began chatting and during the course of the bus trip figured out we both run at the same “tempered” pace, I admit, I’m not fast, but I’m effing tenacious.
We were allowed, it was, in fact, suggested, that we remain on the nice, heated bus, until we needed to use one of the hundreds of porta-potties, or the race was to start, whichever came first. It is every marathon runners dream, to be blunt, to drop a load, before the beginning of the race. There is nothing quite like running “in need”. We took turns watching each other’s gear while taking care of business. We agreed to try to run together and, after exiting the bus, dropped our extra gear, stuffed into clear bags that had been provided to us, with our bib number adhered to it. Bags were loaded onto trucks based on the numbers. My number was in the 2000’s and hers in the 4000’s, which were to be placed in separate trucks. In the crowd, after dumping our gear, we failed to find each other before the beginning of the race. I wondered for much of the race, how she was faring, this being her first full marathon, too, though a more seasoned runner, than me, and younger by at least fifteen years.
As I waited by the pace sign 5:10, I saw a familiar face hurrying through the crowd. Miles. A quick hug for encouragement and he was off to a far more ambitious pace banner. I hope to run that fast some day. As I waited, hoping my new friend would find me by the pace sign we both noted as the most practical for our start, I was met by a coach and a couple of members of my pace group from SacFit, my running club. They were running a click or two slower than the 5:10 banner I stood by, but I started the race with them, behind the 5:25 pace group. Nearly last, actually, of all the runners who started the race. The race started at 7:00. I take that back. The race started at 6:59:30 for handicapped participants and at 7:00 for the rest of us, with the elite runners at the head of the crowd, so they wouldn’t have to trip over those of us with a more “tempered” pace.
Handicapped runners? Yes. Quite a few. This I was aware of. Last year, in fact, I was at O’Hare waiting for a flight to Sacramento, exactly like yesterday. But last year, in the boarding area, was a blind man and his companion, on their way to run the California International Marathon, with the intent of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Again. So, yes, I knew there were visually impaired runners, I suppose, that constituting a “handicap”, the word being of use only to those less enlightened, if you ask me.
At 7:06:30, I crossed the start line. I ran with my coach and teammates as the course started out downhill. My “pace group” that we train at is 11:30, meaning we should run at a pace of a mile in eleven and a half minutes. We run five minutes and walk one minute, throughout, so, with walk breaks, our average pace should be around 11:45 to 11:50. We run slower. Which, I will admit, annoys me. Now, on my own, I run between 10:30 and 11:45, including walk breaks. My plan for this race, had I gone it alone, was to try to keep to an average of 11:45 to 12:00, just because of the distance. I’ve never run more than 22 miles before.
At the six mile mark, the coach excused herself to a porta-potty, and as I had a watch that was set to the same intervals as hers, I was “put in charge” of pacing the group. I sucked. We ran at 11:07 and missed the first walk break, but we really covered some ground. At mile eight, I excused myself for a porta-potty and the two remaining team members carried on. I never saw them again. Upon exiting the porta potty, I felt liberated, in more ways than one, and I set off at a comfortable clip. I ran and ran and ran. I felt really good, I was waving at the crowds of spectators, laughing at some of their signs, fist pumping as I passed bands, DJs and residents with tunes playing. I was having a ball! I think I stopped at another porta-potty, I may have over hydrated on the bus, I drained all but a swallow of 1.5 L Smart Water. Upon exiting the odiferous, plastic latrine, there was my coach. We ran together for a bit, she commenting on how we must have been running a bit faster after leaving her at the first bank of potties. I took credit for that, I am always accountable for my actions and inactions, always one to own up to my indiscretions. As soon as we reached the next bank of potties, she, again, broke away to tend to matters. We’d all be Olympians, I’m sure, if not for porta-potties. We’d run like hell if we didn’t have safe, remarkably clean and private stalls to stop at every time we got the whim! Put a big, single bank of porta potties fifty feet past the finish line and watch people run! So, again, I upped my pace and kept plugging away.
I adhered, mostly, to the run five/walk one schedule I’ve used in training. But, now, there were hills, lots of rolling hills. I decided to modify my approach slightly. There is nothing quite so maddening as to run up a hill only to have your watch inform you that you have a walk break at the crest, that lasts for most of the downhill, and, as you begin to run again, the landscape begins to rise again. So, I just sort of altered the pattern a little and walked up the hills and run downhill, letting gravity pull me down. My pace was all over the place between 10:09 and 12:00, the average being right around my comfort zone, 11:07.
Along the course, I saw a couple of familiar faces. A friend, her husband and their daughter. I first met them through Boy Scouting, then, again, in Rainbow Girls, then, again, in the running club. I don’t know why she wasn’t running, but, I got an excited greeting and it made me feel good. I may have had a small, brief pity party a time or two, leading up to the race, at the fact that I had no close friends or family anywhere along the way, and especially at the finish line, to cheer me on. Often, family members and friends will have signs specifically for their loved one and they’ll negotiate their way through road closures to meet them at points along the way, and, finally, at the finish line. My kids live thousands of miles away, as does my Sweetie. Mom, wisely, chooses not to drive as far as Sacramento, and my close friends mostly live in other towns and have very chaotic lives of their own. So, I thrive on reading the signs for the anonymous.
My favorites signs. One I saw several times that said something like, “Go! Random Stranger!” A young lady had an original sign that read, “Hurry! We’re Cold!” Another I LOL’d at, “Make this your bitch” and, not a block later, “It’s long and it’s hard, do it faster!” That one was my favorite. Go figure.
I ran and I ran and I ran. With walk breaks, of course. I ran through a community I used to live in. I ran past the school my kids went to elementary school at. I ran through the village I used to live in where the chickens roam free in the park and cross the street, using the crosswalks. I ran past the park where I used to take my kids to play on the walk home from school, on Fridays. I ran past the bakery we used to stop at first, to get a Danish cookie called a “Hindber Snitter”. I ran past the street I used to turn on to get to my house, the house I used to sleep in on this one Sunday a year when “the marathon” happened. I remember hearing the horns and the bells, the shouts of encouragement from the crowds lining the streets of the village a couple of blocks away, all from the stifling comfort of my house. I ran past the bike shop Santa bought all the bicycles at. Actually, I walked past the bike shop, at mile ten, because that was the steepest hill on the whole course. At mile eleven, I was running again and as I approached an intersection where some Scouter friends of mine live near, I wondered if they’d be out spectating, and sure enough, there they were! A quick hug, including the doggie, and I continued on my way. My friend, Sky, running with me for a short bit to chat, he even took in my next walk break before peeling off the rejoin his wife and doggie. Again, I felt loved!
I continued to run and a few miles on, the family I first saw had made their way down course and, again, I was greeted and cheered on. I ran and ran and ran. I was starting to feel my right Achilles tighten and hurt a bit. My left hip flexor was equally tight and was also beginning to hurt. I crossed the “half marathon” line and kept on going. Stopping here was not an option. I’ve run twenty-two miles and felt, at that point, I could do four more. I was doing this, pain or no pain.
It is at this point when running is much less a sport of physical conditioning and one of mental conditioning. I still felt good, and I just kept telling myself to “stick to the program”. Most of the hills were done with, so it was back to an almost mechanical pace and my run five/walk one intervals. I have always found comfort in rhythm, in cadence. When I backpack in steep mountainous terrain, especially with a pack overburdened with food and water at the beginning of a trek, I find rhythmic breathing to very helpful. And, while I enjoy running with a chatty group of folks, I find as much joy running alone, listening to the metronome like sound of my feet on the pavement. This is “time in my head”. I love that time, when I am physically exerting myself and my brain is just ON!! On with a capital “O”. Or, even, all caps, as I stated above. This is “me time” exponentially. At about mile sixteen, I pass a blind person running. It took me sixteen miles, folks, to pass a “handicapped” person.
I keep running. At mile eighteen, I am beginning to take two sports drinks at the rare aid stations that have any left. I am fatigued. My Achilles and my hip flexor are on fire, and, now, the “chip” that I had to zip tie to my shoe to record my times electronically as I run over sensors in mats at certain points throughout the course is beginning to cause pressure on the top of my left foot. Slowing from a run to a walk is excruciating and the only thing more painful is resuming running again a minute later. But, my mind is more conditioned than my body and I DO keep going. And going and going and going.
At mile eighteen something profound happens. I inch very slowly past a woman, older than me, with a prosthetic leg. And here is my lesson. Who “can’t” do what?
As ten thousand runners ran through Sacramento today, people on the sidelines would shout in encouragement. Often, the encouraging phrases were followed by something like, “I’m glad you’re running because I CAN’T!” Can you imagine what it would feel like to run past these folks, with a prosthetic leg and hear them say, “I can’t”? I’m sorry, I beg to differ. Anyone can, it’s a choice. True, it’s a choice with a great deal of commitment attached to it. But the key there is, it is a choice. People overcome incredible obstacles by choice, but more succumb to the least of obstacles and prop themselves up with the crutch of “I can’t.”
So, why lie? Please. Can we just be honest? How about if we just say, “I’m glad you’re running because I choose not to!” I like that better. Why? Because it’s honest. It’s the truth. “I can’t” is a lie. There was a runner today that was 84 years old. Correction, 84 years young. To be able to run 26.2 miles at the age of 84 is the result of a whole bunch of “I cans”. I know people, my age and younger, who say, with absolution, “I won’t live to be 80.” And, so, they won’t. Their choice.
Let’s talk about respect for a moment. To say, “I can’t” when we can, I think, is disrespectful to people who have greater challenges than we do, and do. The woman with a prosthetic leg who outran me for eighteen miles and chased me for the last eight, we should think of her the next time we catch ourselves saying, “I can’t” for any reason. Yes, we can, we choose not to, so let’s be honest AND respectful. Can you imagine for a moment, having lost your sight, or a leg, and overcoming those challenges to have someone without those challenges whine, “I caaaaannnnn’t”. I’d Kung Fu kick them with my prosthetic leg, and whack them over the head with my white cane, because I know I could!
After my life lesson at mile eighteen, I continued to run, perhaps a tad slower, perhaps with slightly exaggerated walk breaks, and, the whole while, mind was telling body, “shut up, I got this.”
My goal was to finish the California International Marathon, all 26.2 miles. My hope was to finish it within the six hours allowed. My dream was to finish before 5:30. I crossed the line at 5:15:20 and, to my delight, there was Miles cheering me on, a very good friend, indeed. Of course, two years ago, not being a runner, I made myself get up and get ready and drive around all kinds of traffic blocks to cheer Miles on in this crazy marathon at mile twenty, when most runners “bonk”. I cheered as he ran past, but he didn’t even know I was there until I told him later. That’s what friends do. But, it was at roughly that moment, as I waited for him to pass by, as I observed hundreds of ordinary people achieve something their minds told them to do, even if their bodies weren’t so sure, that I thought, maybe, I could do the same. A month later, I joined a running club, on Miles’ recommendation. And I never doubted for a moment, from that instant on that I was a “marathoner”. Today I proved it to anyone who doubted me, which most certainly did not include me.
I just perused the stats. I’m a stats addict. Any stat, I want to see it. Every coach I’ve had for the past two years finished the race behind me. I’m a wee bit competitive, I know, it’s about finishing the race, not beating people. Not beating your coaches. My point is, mind over matter. I suggested to myself I’d finish before 5:30 and I did, I did not know my coaches’ goals or hopes, I only knew mine. I might have suggested my goal, my hope, to myself repeatedly, I might have “envisioned” it a few (hundred) times, but you see? Mind over matter. I was in real physical pain. Now, a few hours later, after a shower and a rest, no pain. I also looked at the stats for my newfound friend from the bus; she quit at the halfway mark and my heart goes out to her. What happened?
For days, weeks, months, people have been asking me, “are you nervous?” Um, no. Why? The only thing I was nervous about was waking up with enough time to pack, eat breakfast, get ready, check out and cram my suitcases in the car before the bus arrived. That was my only stress factor, and it was a stupid one. I never doubted for a moment that I’d finish the race. I vacillated, a smidge, on my ability to run the time I hoped for, or, better yet, the one I dreamed of. Even though I flew in from New York yesterday and fly out, for the east coast, again, tomorrow, I knew with absolute certainly, I’d finish this race. Even though my workouts have been compromised by my travels recently, even though my nutrition has been completely derailed by having to eat in restaurants two meals a day, I knew, absolutely, without a doubt, I’d finish this race today, just like the lady with the prosthetic leg, the eighty-four year old marathon runner and the generous number of blind runners all knew, without a doubt, they would finish this race today. It’s what we tell ourselves we can do, without a doubt, that we do, with joy and ease and triumph. Because we can. Because we choose to.
Next time you choose to use that horrible four letter word, you know the one, not fuck, not shit, not damn, the four letter word that begins with a “c”, the next time you find your mouth opened, gaping wide, and your palette closing to form the ugliest of “k” sounds, the beginning of the most disgusting and sinful word ever, the word “can’t”, remember, first, it’s a lie and second, it’s disrespectful to those who are labeled as less able, but do.