I turned 32 on July 31st. Three days later, I registered for the Disney Marathon. "Why," you may ask. Truthfully, I'm not sure and am still sorting all of that out. Last week, my first response would probably be "to prove I can," but I think I'm quickly changing my tune to "because I know I can."
I started running December 31, 2006, seven months before my 30th birthday. Yes, that is important to note. I had been mostly sedentary for the first 29 years and 5 months of my life and decided to do something, even though I wasn't sure where my journey would lead me. I started with the beginning runners program through my local running club, which I first found out about from my roommate. She was going to do it, too, so if I did it, we'd both have a running partner in the cold, dark winter months. Why not give it a try, it would only cost $15 for the club membership and the cost of a good pair of running shoes. At the time I cringed at the thought of spending $120 on anything, let alone just a pair of shoes. Now, it's become a fact of life. I also had the support of an awesome next door neighbor, who had done a few marathons, which I thought was nuts, but loved her for it nonetheless. ;)
Suddenly, February 10th arrived..."graduation" race day. It was a balmy 26 degrees out with perhaps an even colder windchill, as I embarked on my first 5K. The goal was simply to finish. I lucked out at the beginning and ran into a guy I had met a couple of times before...we'd eaten crabs together following a singles event one time and crossed paths here and there. The day I met him, he kayaked several miles AFTER running the Baltimore Marathon course earlier in the morning. Another one of those crazy runners I told myself at the time. Still, it was nice to see a friendly face, and he got me through the first half mile. I kept going, still not sure what I was doing. The cold burned my lungs and I became more miserable as time went on. Tears bubbled in my eyes, and motivation waned. I finished though, and even managed not to be last. There were people waiting for me at the end who knew I could and helped get me there.
Still not convinced about this running thing, but not quite ready to throw in the towel, I did another 5K a month later, then repeated a beginning running program in the Spring. Fall came around, as did the club's 10K class. I'd completed about eight 5K's by the point, so it seemed like the natural thing to do. I wanted people to run with and this seemed like the next step, but I never intended to run the "graduation" race in November. I met a great group of people who were mentors and coaches in the program and truly wanted to see everyone succeed. I made a couple of friends in the class, too. I convinced myself to sign up the race, not an easy one given the hills. The practice run of the course the week prior went horrible thanks to shin splint problems that plagued me throughout. How my roommate ever put up with the bitchness I had in some of our runs and races together I'll never know, but for which I am grateful. Somehow though, I made it through race day with no problems. The pics of me coming into the finish area can't hide the exhaustion I was feeling, but I finished. More importantly, there were people waiting for me at the end who knew I could and helped get me there.
I muddled through winter and spring. A women's only 10K was going to be in my beloved town. I'd done one 10K and had many more 5K's under my belt by then, no big deal, right? Shin pain, shin pain, and more shin pain followed as I pushed myself harder and further. As race day got closer, I feared something serious was going on, but I was so close to my goal I wasn't going to stop. Race day arrived, I pushed through the race and decided to rest for the next three weeks before a women's 5K I was registered for came. I'd do the race and if I was still having problems, I'd know. A mile and half into the race it was apparent. I finished the race and called the Dr. on Monday morning. A week later, a tibial stress fracture was diagnosed. Six weeks in a soft boot cast. This did not help my mood going into my 31st birthday.
I came to a crossroads....clearly my body did not want me to run, but my mind was still pushing me along. I knew people who did interval running. I researched it and decided what did I have to lose. I signed up to do the Striders' 10K class again, and decided to do intervals this time. The class had alot of the same faces as the previous Fall. We pushed through everything together, became closer, and had fun at the process. I felt stronger and calmer. Maybe I liked this afterall? The graduation race came. I took nearly 4 minutes off of my time from the previous year. And there continued to be people waiting for me at the end who knew I could and helped get me there.
What to do next? My strategy had always been to sign up for races as a motivation to keep going, but there aren't alot in the MD/DC area in December and January. The next race I really knew anything about was a half marathon on the local B&A Trail. D, the head coach of the 10K program was also the race director. I talked to her about it and she said I could do it. It was just a matter of convincing myself I could. She said if I signed up for the training class through the club, she would run with me during the week and get me to where I needed to be. How can you say no to someone who would run in the dark and cold with you in January and February? With her support and that of L, who I had met in the 2007 10K class and who was also signing up for the training class, I sent in my registration form.
Late December rolled around, and I started training for my first half marathon. It was nearly two years to the day since I went on my first run. It quickly became apparent that L and I were the slowest in the group, and likely the only ones doing intervals. By the time we finished our runs, the rest of the class was gone, and the coaches packed up not long after we checked back in. I didn't feel the warm fuzzies I had in previous groups, but I knew I had to stick with it.
L mentioned in passing that she had met a group of other runners online and they were all planning to meet at another trail and that I should come along, too, as most were training for a half around the same time as mine. There would be a couple of others I had met through the Striders there, too. We all instantly clicked. It was a warm and encouraging environment, which I needed if I was going to get through this thing. I stopped going to the training class, and stayed with them. Two weeks before the race, I did a 12 mile run alone, and ran nearly the entire course. I had this, and was starting to believe it.
As I scraped ice off my windshield on race morning, I thought to myself "this is by far the dumbest thing I've ever done." There was no turning back though. Just like with my first 5K, I found a friendly face to run the first half mile or so with. When I split from her, I started my intervals and went on my way, reminding myself I had this in the bag and striving to finish in about 3 hours. Friendly faces emerged along the way, most of them training partners. The offered much needed encouragement along the cold, desolate course. I struggled through the last mile or so, wondering why in the world someone would want to run twice this distance. My parents were waiting at the finish. A friend from the 10K days was volunteering at the finish line handing out medals, and a couple of other friendly and familiar faces were announcing runners and they crossed the finish line. I crossed the fine in 3 hours and 2 minutes. I was happy and yet again, there were people waiting for me at the end who knew I could and helped get me there.
In the months since then, I've continued with my friends from the trail and the Striders. I even managed a second half marathon, this one nearly 10 minutes faster than my first. Then they all started talking about training for races at Disney World in January. Should I do it, too? I'll be running with them all anyway? I'll have people there to help me through those long 20 and 22 mile training runs. About the same time K and I began to run together. She decided to do this interval thing, too, and we run about the same pace. It occurred to me I would potentially have someone to help me through what would likely be the longest 6 or so hours of my life. The morning after my birthday, we had a great 10 mile run together. The next day I bought a marathon training book. Monday morning came and I registered. Tears of nervous excitement began to fill my eyes. I CAN DO THIS!
26.2 on 1/10/2010. It'll be here before I know it, but in the end, I know people will be waiting for me at the end who knew I could and helped get me there.