Friday, October 23, 2015

Not how I dreamed it would be

I'm up early, anxious to get to the Marine Corps Marathon expo to pick up my race packet.

I expected this kind of anticipation when I dreamed of this journey a year ago, when I stood in NYC's Penn Station and counted the number of days till the race on my iPhone screen -- whispering as I tapped my finger on the tiny calendar boxes, 12 months' worth.

I thought of this day when I set out on my 40th birthday for a 3-mile walk, determined to make every day matter, to make this year THE year. The year I finally ran the MCM.

I imagined this moment when I dragged myself to the gym at midnight after a long shift at work, just to get in that one mile so I could continue the walking streak that would be my MCM motivator.

I pictured today during those many trips to the Pacers running store to get new shoes, new inserts, more Gu and the $90 Camelbak that would allow me to carry as much water as I needed on those hot, double-digit runs.

... and when I sat on the Georgetown waterfront after completing 14 miles, sticky with sweat and bug spray but beaming at my accomplishment.

... and when I cut out this quote from the newspaper after Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky set a very unexpected world record: "I just wasn't afraid to fail tonight .. Yes, it did hurt a lot, but I got through it, and it feels really, really good right now."

All along, I imaged what today would be like: My heart racing, like little butterflies fluttering in my chest and trying to burst out, I'd walk into the large expanse of the expo and beeline for the bib-number table. If he was able to pry it out of my hands, a Marine would then scan the bib and direct me to the T-shirt area, where all the butterflies would be zipping and zooming inside me and I'd likely tear up. (Oh hell, I'd probably have already teared up when I walked into the convention center and saw my first Marine.) The shirts, though: I love the MCM shirts. I've proudly worn my past 10K shirts with their high collars and sturdy fabric, and getting the actual MARATHON shirt would send me into a state of euphoria. Then I'd turn to the actual expo, my eyes darting all around and my ears picking up the nervous energy coming from the other runners. I wouldn't buy any official merchandise -- I'd be so afraid of jinxing myself -- but I'd leave with my goody bag tightly grasped in my hand and a smile on my face.

Yes, I'm up early today, anxious to get to the Marine Corps Marathon expo to pick up my race packet. But not for the reasons I had dreamed of.

I'm going early to avoid the marathon excitement. To avoid seeing all the fit and happy runners. To get in, grab my 10K packet and get out -- as quickly as possible.

My job in Rosslyn already has bombarded me with reminders of this weekend's race: The street has been renamed Marine Corps Marathon Drive for weeks now, and when I left work last night, I saw two of the stories-high signs marking Bag Check and Family Meet-up. There will surely be more banners up today.

So, selfishly, I don't want to spend much time in Pre-Marathon City. It's a reminder of the hope I had and the hope that was lost when I dropped out -- again. But on Marathon Day? My new dream for Oct. 25, 2015, is to enjoy the sights along the 10K route (including my nemesis, the 14th Street Bridge) and to spend the rest of the morning cheering on those whose dreams are in the making.

And maybe from them I'll find the courage to continue toward mine.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ending the year strong

Two thoughts for today:

1. The day I turned 40, I began my walking streak, which lasted 211 days. Sickness stopped the streak; a focus on the marathon kept me from starting it back up. Tomorrow, Sept. 10, will mark 50 days until my 41st birthday, and I'd like to finish this year off strong by walking every day until then. I know streaks are insanely hard to maintain, especially during a season where everyone gets sick, but I'd like to try.

2. I need a new focus in my training for the 2016 MCM, and I think from now until April, I need to focus solely on speed. My inability to maintain a 15-minute mile (and, realistically, I need to maintain a 14-minute mile) has been my Achilles' heel. At the same time, speed training in the past is what always ends up injuring me. So I hope to soon post a plan for my next step.

It's been a hard few weeks, but I know I need to focus now more than ever.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

+ 365 days

Some dreams take longer to reach than others.

Mine, this passion to run and finish the Marine Corps Marathon, will sadly (once again) be a dream deferred.

I decided this week, on one of three short runs, that the right thing to do is to put the race off a year -- essentially add 365 days to my training schedule. No amount of wishful thinking was going to make me speed up enough to finish. And living in fear the next two months that I would fail was not my idea of enjoying life.

Let me be clear: I'm not giving up, nor am I telling my 8-year-old self to give up. There will be no major break in my training. I won't tear up my MCM calendar and stop running. I will continue on. There will just be some more padding in the calendar before I hit those 13-mile-plus long runs again.

It's the right thing to do, I know, and I'm sure you all know, too. And I do not in any way view this as a failure.

That said, I'm not going to say it doesn't hurt. When I submitted the transfer paperwork last night, I actually had a hard time hitting the "submit" button. I was crushed. But then I got the email that read, "In late January/early February 2016, you will receive an email notification to re-register..." and I was excited all over again about what was to come. It's not over.

Whether I run the 41st annual MCM when I'm 41 or the 50th annual MCM when I'm 50, it's a dream that isn't going anywhere.

And despite setting out on Oct. 29, 2014, with the goal to run the MCM in 2015, I refuse to look at this past year as a failure. I walked at least one mile for 211 days straight. I lost about 25 pounds. I got up to 14 miles in my training. And I made strides toward this goal, closer than I've been in six years.

I've signed up for the MCM 10K in an effort to not be overwhelmed with sadness come Oct. 25. I hope the race, like it's done in the past, simply re-energizes me to keep going, not give up, never look back.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Two weeks

In two weeks, I will have to decide if I will continue on with MCM training or defer until next year. (One other option: Transfer to the MCM 10K.) These two weeks are crucial for me. I need to give my mind a reset and see if I can turn this training around.

Like the past nine months, it will be a challenge.

This morning, two hours before I was supposed to wake up for my 16-miler, I was wide awake. I read for about an hour, then began thinking about the run. I had zero desire to go. Zero motivation. So I canceled it. Slept through the 5 a.m. alarm. When I was awoken by the sun around 8 a.m., I wasn't disappointed in myself -- I still had zero desire to strap on my water-filled CamelBak and head out for a five-hour run/walk. But it was a beautiful day, and I DID have a desire to be outside running. So I walked to the high school track and did three miles.

Yep. Three miles instead of 16. But I was glad I got outside and didn't fall in to the "all or nothing" mentality that typically defines me.

I've been thinking about this lack of motivation recently. As much as I am trying, trying, trying, I admit I'm not giving 100 percent. This recent horoscope hit home:

"You're not doing all you can to ensure the outcome that you most desire -- but why? It's a good day to examine your motives very carefully."

One thing that I'm sure has been holding me back (physically, yes, but mostly mentally) is my weight. I stopped eating the junk that my office gives out for free every day (for the first week or two of our free-snack program, I succumbed to M&Ms and Famous Amos cookies and a bunch of crap; for the past month and a half, I have not touched the bad stuff). But I still am eating a lot of bread/carbs -- and too much dried mango at work -- and not really tracking my calories. When I DO track myself and choose Sweetgreen salads over Chipotle burrito bowls, I not only feel better physically but I am much more motivated during my runs. Even if the weight isn't down, I'm more inclined to run longer, more often, better because my mind believes I can.

And as many people tell me, and I have experienced, so much of long-distance running is mental. I have put in the miles, and I should be able to go farther, but when I get that nagging voice in my mind telling me I can't do it, it usually stops me cold.

So I've decided to see what happens this week, and hopefully next, if I focus on my diet and small runs. See if I can flip that switch in my brain. It's really the last tool I have in my toolbox -- and a critical one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Keeping that chin up

Blog rewind: Let me start by backing up two weeks and telling you about that 14-miler. It was brutal, but I did it. That’s thanks especially to my friend Lori and her son, Jack, who planned to meet me at Georgetown’s waterfront park afterward. The plan to meet up with them ensured that I got myself out to the Capital Crescent trail (an old favorite path of mine) and had enough time to finish.

The beginning was hard. I was exhausted, could barely pick up my legs and my CamelBak (I bought one to help keep me hydrated on long runs) was so heavy. But I kept telling myself that the beginning is always hard for me. It takes me a good two-three miles to warm up. So I kept on. When I hit the turnaround point at Mile 7, I was feeling good. But right before mile 12, oof – it became brutal. It was getting hot, the sun was intense, and I was feeling really nauseated and woozy. The last two miles seemed to last forever, and I wondered if I was even capable of finishing them on two legs. At one point, I stopped and stood against a railing until the nausea passed. It took me more than 40 minutes to do those last two miles, I was dragging so much.

But what a feeling of accomplishment when I finished. It had been about six years since I had gone that far.

That week was rough at work – I was filling in for a colleague and worked long days and didn’t run once. Not even on Sunday.

Last week at work was also bad. I stayed late nearly every night and worked till 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday to finish a photo gallery for Jon Stewart’s last show. The next night was the GOP debate, and I stayed until 3:30 a.m. Needless to say, with the exception of some speedwork on Tuesday, I didn’t get out to run. (The speedwork was good, though my foot began to hurt toward the end.)

On Sunday, the plan was to do 16 miles. My foot was hurting a bit and I worried about getting too far out and not being able to get back. So I only went to mile 5 and turned around then, finishing with 10. I was so tired. When I got home I fell into bed and slept solid. 

Today, Wednesday, I went out to do speedwork ... only to find that the track was closed again. It had reopened to my delight last week but here it was shuttered once more! So I went out on to the hilly Custis Trail and tried to run as fast as I could. I was impressed with my speed and endurance -- until I looked at my watch and saw how insanely slow I had been going. It was frustrating to say the least.

How am I feeling mentally? That’s been … interesting. Of course, the realistic part of me still worries and believes 100 percent that I’m incapable of meeting the time limit for MCM. But even if that IS the case, I have reason to push on. Two of them, actually:

1. That girl in the picture I posted last month. When I think about her – when I imagine her saying what’s coming out of my mouth (I can’t do it – I’m too slow – what if I can’t finish? – I should give up), I want to shake her and lift up her chin and tell her NO—you can do ANYTHING. You just keep trying, OK? What will be, will be, but don’t give up.

2. An answer to an important question I recently posed. I wrote to an old coach of mine asking if it was even capable of a person my size to even run a 14-15-minute-mile, to even finish the MCM. He wrote back and told me it was possible but that it would require a lot of hard work. Days later, I came across a Runner’s World story about a woman who is my weight and runs marathons and ultra-marathons. She finished MCM at least three times. She runs at an 11-13-minute mile. She makes no apologies for her weight. She is amazing. And she gives me hope that it’s possible.

So with those two people as my inspiration, I continue on.

Monday, July 27, 2015


I'll write more later, but for now, I at least wanted to give a small update: Yesterday, I completed 14 miles. The beginning and end (especially) were rough but I did it. And I'll take it.

It's something!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Looking for a ray of hope

Nagging thought on today's beyond-pathetic 3-miler:

You should know by now that just because you want something really bad, doesn't mean you can make it happen.

Why I keep pursuing this dream -- that is so clearly beyond my capabilities -- is beyond me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Making the connection

I often think about this little girl with a round face, chubby arms and sad eyes. I see how she struggles in her life, and I so desperately want to help her.

I want her to be happy.

I want the daily teasings about her weight -- from friends and family -- to stop.

I'd love to see one of her many young crushes reciprocated.

It's not her fault she's overweight -- she's 8 years old, for crying out loud. It's not like you can blame this little girl for her body, for the excess weight.

Unlike me.

I'm 40 years old. I can blame myself for my body. I can blame myself for not being good enough to be in a relationship. I can blame myself for not eating better, for allowing myself to succumb to bad feelings. I should have more self-discipline. I should be more diligent about exercising. I should drink more water. I had my chance when I lost 150 pounds and I blew it. I am to blame for my many failures in weight-loss.

For this little girl, I have sympathy and empathy. For myself, not so much. I don't feel like I deserve it.

The thing is? That little girl is me.

When I see this photo of myself from my First Holy Communion, I feel horrible for the girl in the picture. I wish I could turn back time and give her a happier life. I wish she didn't have to sit on the school bus and endure daily taunting. I wish she hadn't been bribed by family members to lose weight. I wish she didn't have to feel so ashamed of something she had no control over.

But when I look in the mirror, or fail to finish a run, I am consumed with self-hatred.

I must learn to make the connection -- that she is me, and if I love her, I need to love myself. If I can find empathy for her, I should for myself as well. Why it's so hard, I have no idea. But I keep this photo on my wall so I can see it every day and try.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Setback dominoes

The setbacks, they just keep on coming.

It started with the cough -- the bugger of an illness that made me stop my walking streak. It lasted for more than three weeks. As I expected, once that streak ended, it was hard to find the motivation to pick it back up. Streaks like that aren't easy to do, and knowing that my foot pain was likely caused by overuse, I wasn't very motivated to begin again.

And with the lack of exercise came the overeating. It's a part of my history: All or nothing.

Then, after my vacation (where I took my running shoes and clothes but couldn't find a do-able path), I headed out to my neighborhood track for a long run only to find a sign that said the track was closed until Aug. 22 (INSERT PANIC HERE). Seeing that sign made my heart sink -- and then race with anxiety. The track was less than half a mile away from my home and was what helped me keep up my training. What was I going to do? The Custis Trail, while also close, was just too hilly for me to get in a solid run.

The rest of the week was a disaster -- I was filling in for folks on vacation and had to be at work at 8 a.m., sometimes not getting home until 9:30 p.m. Then I worked a solid 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Saturday shift. (That's not a typo: It was an 18-hour workday.) The next morning, there was no way I was going to try to go for a long run. My immune system was already compromised from the lack of sleep. I could not get sick again.

All this past week I have found myself in a massive depression (mixed with some serious anxiety). I know the culprit: No running + free endless snacks at work. I was eating too much sugar/preservatives, was under stress at work and had no outlet to get rid of it.

On Friday, it took every ounce of energy I had to drive out to another high school track my friends had told me about. I did two laps before the rain came pouring down. (Normally rain doesn't bother me, but in this case, I was wearing my glasses and didn't have a hat.)

I returned today, Sunday, for what I hoped would be my long run. I was supposed to do 15 miles. I was sapped. It took everything I had to get to 10 miles, and most of it was walking. Get this: For the first two miles, I felt pain in my shins. What?! All this training had gotten me to a point where shin splints weren't an issue; I take a month off and I'm back to square one? Then my foot/toes began to ache. I thought the running/walking break I had taken had healed my feet. Apparently not.

What does this mean? I wish I knew. I can't help but see these series of setbacks as a sign that I shouldn't be doing this. Then I think of that song on my iPod: "You're an overcomer. Stay in the fight till the final round."

So I'm trying to look at this practically. I plan on adjusting my training schedule to build in more time before I try 15 again. And I need to get back to remembering the mantra "Live every day with intention" -- by planning my walks/runs better, committing to rolling my legs and strengthening my muscles, and having a solid plan for eating so I don't succumb to the sugary snacks.

As you know, that's easier said than done. But the only other choice I have is to quit and that's not an option right now. This fight's not over.

This past week, as I have wallowed in self-pity and battled anxiety, I searched hard for motivation -- I skimmed through my marathon books, flipped through Runner's World, etc. But unlike in the past, these writings weren't inspiring me. Every morning when my alarm would go off, I'd shut it off without a second thought.

Then yesterday, I was going through photos from the past year to get prints made, and I came across the shots of me walking the Turkey Trot, running in the snow, posing after those 10-milers, smiling on the track. And I remembered how much I had gone through to get to this point.

I was looking outside of myself for motivation while it was inside me all along.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bummers and blessings

So. That cough of mine got pretty bad. It lasted nearly three weeks, and in the middle of it, I was sent home from work when I couldn't stop coughing and had a hard time catching my breath. I remember being in bed at 4 p.m. on that Thursday thinking, "But what about the streak?" I knew there was no way I could get out of bed and go walking, and when it hit me that I would have to end the streak, I was devastated.

The streak ended at 211 days.

I'm super proud of it. Yes, I wanted to do a whole year, but I had to be smart. And by taking three weeks off of running (and more than a week off of daily walking), I was able to give my feet a chance to heal along with my lungs.

But, as you can image, I've been fretting about falling behind in my training. So today's run was going to be super important. It would be the first day back on the track since my 10K in mid-May and my first attempt at running since the cough, and I really needed to get in at least 12-13 miles to feel good about where I am at.

I was blessed with a beautiful day -- truly perfect weather. And my first few steps at running actually felt great. I coughed a bit during those first few miles but soon hit a stride. And, I'll be darned, I was able to complete 13 miles this morning -- and without pain in my toes.

I thanked God over and over again.

And I thanked Jill. A year ago today, Jill passed way from breast cancer. She's strongly been on my mind over the past few days. When her song came on my iPod at mile 7, I was tired but was able to run the whole song (as I will forever try to do whenever it comes on). And what that taught me/proved was that I can do anything if I just put my mind to it. While I thought I couldn't run a step more during the prior mile, I proved that I indeed could. All because of Jill.

I miss her so much it hurts. Jill was always encouraging me in my running, always asking how it was going. Before my race at UNC, as I was standing at the Bell Tower getting ready to run, I pulled up the last email I had received from Jill. It was written April 22, 2014, a little more than a month before her death.

This is how it ended:
"thank you so much for your love and prayers.  miss you.  hope you are still running.  I think of you often and am so proud of all that you have accomplished in that arena.  it is not easy to keep up the motivation, I remember. love, jill"

I remember when I got that email feeling embarrassed that I hadn't run in quite awhile, that I had nothing positive about that to report back to Jill. So now, every step I take closer to getting back into a real running routine, I think of her and compose little notes in my head to her. The day before that race at UNC, Edgar posted video to my Facebook page of their four kids cheering "Run, Diana, Run."

And so I do.