Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Boston Marathon - The celebration slipped away. Again.

April 15th, 2013. Race day had finally arrived. My husband, John, and I had traveled to Boston so that I could run in the coveted Boston marathon. With excitement and awe, I crossed the finish line at Boylston Street in 3:35:27 with a new PR by over 3 minutes. I was ecstatic! All of my hard work had paid off. I made it through the long finishers chute and retrieved my cell phone to let John know that I was done and we could meet at our hotel in Copley Place, one street over from the finish. We made our way into the hotel and up the elevator. When we arrived at our room and looked out the window down at Boylston Street, we noticed that no runners were running by. No one could be seen. The fences and barricades had been knocked over. As we were trying to come up with an explanation, John said "maybe there was a shooting." I thought "No way" and then we started hearing the sirens. As the scene unfolded below us and the horror of what had happened sunk in, the excitement that I had just felt completely disappeared. A PR no longer mattered. I sat there shaking uncontrollably, in complete shock about how something so horrible could have just happened. It's difficult to even imagine the carnage, the horror, the loss that so many people experienced that day. I never got to celebrate crossing that finish line, but it seemed like a minuscule thing compared to the suffering of so many others.

My good friend Melanie convinced me to go back to Boston in 2014. Although I had always thought that Boston would be a one time thing, I decided to go back and get that finish line celebration that was taken away from me. Months of training began. Long runs, speed work, painful physical therapy. The work was done, the hay was in the barn. Marathon weekend finally arrived. John stayed home with the kids this year as both were still upset by the events from the previous year. My friend Lauren traveled with me and we were going to be meeting up with our friend Karen who lives near Boston, as well as my friend John Geissinger and his family.

The city opened its arms to the runners, all who were determined and ready for this race. Boston Strong was everywhere, you could feel it. The excitement was electrifying. We spent Saturday at the expo, picking up our Runners Passports and getting our coveted bib numbers. We find a local seafood restaurant & bar and have a wonderful and fun-filled evening. Sunday morning rolls around and when I get up, I notice a slight cramping in my stomach. I go down and try to eat some breakfast, but the feeling does not go away. I had planned on doing a 2 mile shakeout run, so John and I leave for a run through Cambridge. I complete the 2 miles, but the cramping remains. Eventually it comes on stronger, so Lauren and I decide to walk a block to the pharmacy. I get some stomach medicine, sure that this will do the trick. I spend a majority of the afternoon in the hotel room, curled up in the fetal position. When I try to walk, my stomach is cramped so badly that I can't even stand up straight all the way. I start having race day doubts creep into my mind, but I try to push them back. I will be fine. I'm always fine. Karen arrives at the hotel and we leave for the Red Sox game.

I am trying to stand in a hot and crowded train heading to the game, and honestly thought that I was going to pass out at one point. We find our seats at the game and I sit down, doubled over and wait for the game to begin. The pre-game ceremony is a beautiful tribute to honor the victims, the survivors, and the volunteers. As I watch, I can't help it as the tears stream down my face. Everything surfaces. The memories from last year, the sense of loss I feel for the victims and families of the victims, and the physical pain I was currently feeling. John asks if I'm feeling better, but I can't respond. He tells me not to worry about the race, everything will be fine. After awhile, I tell Karen and Lauren that I need to go, so we leave the game early. John and I decide on a meeting time for race morning and we part ways. We make it back to the hotel and I immediately lay down, but Lauren encourages me to go ahead and get my race things together. I muster up the energy and can't help but think that there is no way I will be able to run in the morning, it's 9pm and I still can't even stand up straight. I pack my things and we go to bed. Laying there in the dark, Lauren and Karen make me promise that I will be careful in the morning, that I listen to my body and not hurt myself. I try to get comfortable, but have a fitful night's sleep. My alarm goes off at 5:30 and much to my dismay, my stomach is still cramped - although much less than it was the previous day. I get dressed, take some more stomach medicine, grab a bagel and banana to go. Karen takes John and I to the bus and we begin the drive to Hopkinton. I am trying not to sit doubled over, but find that it relieves the pain a bit. I force myself to eat the banana, but can only manage a couple of bites of the bagel. As time goes by, the pain begins to subside. I try to come up with a run plan and decide that I will just listen to my body and run a comfortable pace. I am not very confident, knowing how detrimental it is that I wasn't able to eat anything the day before. John leaves for his 10:25 start feeling confident, excited, and nervous. I feel none of those things. I make my way to the start with Lisa (another runner from Austin) and I line up in my corral. The gun goes off and we begin the race. The crowds are amazing, lining the streets on both sides yelling things like "thank you" and "Boston Strong" and "great pace!"      

The beginning part of the course is predominately downhill, so it is a fast section. My first mile split is 8:05, so I remind myself to slow down. Next splits are 8:07, 8:07, 8:09. My legs are feeling pretty good, I'm not pushing too hard. It's a little warmer than we were hoping, but it's far from being Texas hot. I have an 8:10 split for Mile 5 and I take a gel as I had been training with them every 5 or so miles. By mile 7, my legs are starting to feel sluggish which is definitely abnormal for me that early on. Miles 8 and 9, I've gone from sluggish to struggling. My heart rate has increased and my pace has dropped to 8:29. One foot in front of the other. I hear the voice in my head saying "You can do this. You can do anything you set your mind to." And I also hear Lauren and Karen in the back of my mind reminding me of the promise I made. My pace drops to 8:48. I feel it all slipping away. I know that I physically can not make it another 16 miles. I have to stop.
Most endurance athletes fear running out of gas. My fear is not finishing what I start. My tank was empty before I started, the cards were stacked against me at the starting line. I had hoped that I could run 26.2 miles on sheer determination, but it proved to be not enough this time. I have never DNF'd in my life and it is a hard pill to swallow. I know too well how to push through discomfort and pain, but there is a difference between that and what I was experiencing during this race. It may have taken me years, but I have finally learned to listen to my body. I have such loving and supportive friends who have offered me condolences and amazing words of encouragement. My husband John sent me a text that said "I know it sucks, but THANK YOU for stopping. ❤❤." No matter how difficult it is for me to accept it, I know I did the right thing.
And I also know that I will run Boston again. I don't know when, but I know with all my heart that I will have that finish line celebration on Boylston Street. I'm determined. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Not Just Another Resolution

I make it a point every year not to make a New Year's Resolution. I have found that resolutions are made with good intentions but they always seem to end in failure. I know that I need to make some changes in my life and set some goals for the future, but I will try my best not to treat them as resolutions. I am a goal-oriented person and I hope that setting goals for myself will help me to implement some positive life-long changes. In 2013, my goal is to become a better mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, athlete, employer, employee, neighbor, teacher, student, leader, housekeeper, communicator, and listener. I would like to be a better example for my kids when it comes to eating right, being healthy, being happy, laughing more, complaining less, being responsible, being accountable, not getting caught up in petty gossip, and doing for others.
Yikes. Re-reading this, I guess it sounds like a pretty big goal.
In order to improve in all of these areas of my life, I will need to work harder at being there for others. For my family, for my friends. Not putting off contacting a friend when I know they need someone to talk to. Not running an extra mile when I know I can pick the kids up 10 minutes earlier. Not putting off a menial task that ends up snow-balling because I procrastinated. Doing something nice for someone else just because I can and then teaching my kids that if everyone did this, the world might just be a better place.
I need to feel more connected to what matters the most in my life and it has dawned on me that in order to become more connected, it means that I need to be less connected. It seems that these days, we are all constantly connected - either via iPhones, iPods, iPads, computers, cell phones, Facebook, Strava, Twitter and in this world of technology we have lessened real contact with people. Look around in a restaurant, the adults are texting or playing on Facebook while the kids are playing video games. Conversations are minimal. We went to a concert in Vegas with 20,000+ people. If you looked down from our nose-bleed section seats, you could literally see hundreds, if not thousands, of lit-up phone screens. I don't know how many times my kids have asked me a question that I didn't even hear because I was too busy reading an article online or sending a text. I am guilty of this. We are all guilty of this. Don't get me wrong, I love technology. I love that with the click of a few buttons, we can find an answer to the most random of questions (most recently "How big is the screen at Cowboys Stadium?"). I love that my kids have something to occupy their time on a long road trip. I love being able to keep up with my oldest of friends and see what they are up to now, but it keeps me from actually contacting them just to say "Hi" and "I've missed chatting with you."
When I was younger, the youth minister at my church told me that my gift from God was the ability to listen. People talk to me because I listen. It is in my nature to be friendly to everyone and a lot of times, I have strangers telling me things that they would normally only tell a good friend (just ask John - it drives him a bit crazy!). I am a social creature, that is how I thrive. I have become so busy and so caught up in being "connected" that my idea of "social" has become interlocked with technology.
I have stopped using my gift. I am going to try harder to start listening again and in doing so, I hope that all of those areas in my life that need improvement will actually improve. There are so many things that I want to make better about myself and sometimes it feels like I am juggling too many balls in the air, but I know there is a way to find the perfect balance between working full time, being a GOOD mom, and being a GOOD athlete. I will make the time this year to fit in all of the important things in my life and if that means I need to disconnect more, then so be it. I'm not done with technology, far from it. But I think it's time to be less available, less connected. Maybe I'll see what happens if I turn off my phone today. Something tells me that the world won't end. And even better yet, I'll also have my kids turn off that video game and pull out a board game. We need to work on being connected.
Find that "thing" that is important to you and THRIVE in it, whatever it may be.
LIVE every moment. LAUGH every day. LOVE beyond words. And don't be afraid to turn off the electronics every now and then. The world may be a better place for it.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

I AM AN IRONMAN (or Ironwoman!)

I am not a newbie to triathlon by any means. I love to run. I love to ride. I love to swim (ok, really I do not love to swim but it is a necessary evil). I even love to train. But mainly, I love to race. I have done numerous races and rarely do I get very nervous. I am organized, I make lists, I make lists for my lists and I don't forget things. Usually. Except I did forget something this time, but we'll get to that in a bit.
I know exactly what I am capable of and when I set a goal, chances are good that I hit that goal spot on. The problem was, I had never tested my true endurance capabilities and I had some serious doubts. Ironman Coeur d'Alene was going to be a true test of my endurance, my fitness, and above all else - my willpower.

On Thursday, I went to the Ironman Expo to get the athlete check-in out of the way. It was very intimidating to see all of the fit athletes (men mainly - out of approximately 2600 athletes, only 27% of the racers at IMCdA were women) and hear them talk about how many Ironman races they have done. Ironman this, Ironman that. Every other person seemed to have the M Dot tattoo. I actually had someone even tell me that they couldn't believe that I chose CdA as my first. He told me that you are supposed to start out with "an EASY Ironman" as your first race. I told him it was a little late for that. Someone asked me my goal and I said to finish of course, but that I would like to finish in under 12 hours. He looked shocked and told me that was a lofty goal for my first time. I just smiled.
I use Friday to try to relax and organize my Gear and Special Needs bags. I way overpack because I would rather be overprepared than underprepared. Looking at all my stuff, you would have thought this was a multiple day endurance event.

I decide it would be best for my mental state to stay away from everything Ironman on Friday except for the mandatory athlete meeting held on Friday night. Saturday is bike and gear bag drop off. You wouldn't believe all the sweet bikes and wheels in transition. Don't get me wrong, I like my bike. It's just that seeing all the really nice ones added to the intimidation factor. John and I drop off my stuff and abandon Ironman Village to grab lunch.

Now it's time to finish packing up my Special Needs bags and relax at the lake house with the family. I eat my normal pre-race dinner of grilled chicken and a baked potato. We go to bed early as I know 4:15am is going to come very soon. The race starts at 7:00am so transition will only be open from 5-6:30. Water temperature is reported to be around 58 degrees, but no one seems to agree about the actual temperature. I hear rumors of 54, 57, 60. It doesn't really matter to me. It's just going to be cold. The air temperature in the morning was supposed to be around 55 degrees. Friday night, I make the decision to wear a normal bathing suit under my wetsuit and then change into my tri-suit in T1. I knew this would take extra time, but I get cold very easily and I was very worried about being too cold on the bike after the swim.
We wake up to the sound of rain which gives me a terrible knot in my stomach. I do not want to ride in the rain. The rain turns to drizzle and then thankfully, it stops. I get to transition and make sure my bike is ready to go. I check my gear bags. I'm ready.
Transition closes and we make our way down to the beach. My plan is to start front and center. I'm going to mix it up with the big boys. I don't want to chance a bad swim time by getting stuck behind the masses.

At 6:59, the cannon goes boom. The next thing I know, it's a mad dash to the water. The problem is, I was starting at the water line so I didn't have far to run to get the forward momentum that everyone else behind me had. The swim was everything I'd ever heard it would be. A frantic, chaotic, swarming mass with elbows being thrown, bodies over bodies, water splashing everywhere. I am very comfortable in the water. I do not panic during races. I got so much water in my air pipe so many times, that I repeatedly could not get a breath. I honestly had the thought "I'm going to drown." I finally catch some air and continue on. 900 meters out to the turn buoy, make a left turn and another left, then head back to the swim exit. I run out onto the beach, head back to the swim start and then dive back in. This is a two lap swim, half way done. It's not nearly as crowded now, but there are still lots of people. I've got a guy drafting off me. I wouldn't mind him drafting, except that he keeps grabbing my feet. I give him a swift, hard kick and lose him. Don't mess with me. HA! My family is on our rented pontoon boat watching the swim so I look for them every now and then. I think I spot them so I stop and wave. Oops, not them. It's a medical boat. I swim on. I finally make it back to the beach and the woman yells 1:05 at me. I'm thrilled. I was thinking I would come in at maybe a 1:10. I wasn't pushing it, I just wanted a comfortable swim. My feet are so numb, I can't feel them at all. It was like I was running on nubs up the beach and I'm not sure how I make it up the incline. Wetsuit strippers yank off my wetsuit, throw it to me, and I'm off to grab my bike gear bag and run into the women's change tent. My personal IronSherpa grabs my bag and we head to find a chair. She dumps it all out and I take off my bathing suit and start trying to put on my tri-suit. Keep in mind, my hands are numb. My feet are numb. And I'm wet. If you have ever tried to put on a sports bra when you're wet, you know this is not an easy task. I am struggling to get my top on. My sherpa is trying to help, but we are both struggling. Two other women come over to help us and we finally magage to get my top on. Round 2. Tri shorts. Same problem. I'm feeling like a fumbling idiot. After what seems like forever, I'm finally dressed. We struggle to get my arm warmers on, but I know I need them. My sherpa starts throwing everything back in my bag and I say "What about my socks?" and she responds with "I didn't see any socks." Um yes, there are socks. So we empty the bag and go through everything. No socks. We scour the ground. No socks. We check under the chairs. No socks. My positive mental balloon pops. What in the hell was I going to do? I don't ride without socks. My mind is racing. I'm going to get blisters so badly that I won't be able to run. Barefoot, I run out of the tent with all my stuff in my hands and decide to try and find Vaseline. I ask a lady outside the tent if there is Vaseline anywhere. She says "No, but I have sunscreen." I need that too so she smears my shoulders and face in sunscreen. I give up on the Vaseline search and run sockless to my bike.  I put on my helmet, glasses, shoes and I take off. I can't stop beating myself up for forgetting something so simple that could possibly ruin the outcome of my day.
My goal on the bike is to keep my heart rate down and effort easy, even on the hills. And there are a lot of hills on this course. I had lots of people give me advice, but it all pretty much came down to "Do the bike that you should do, not the bike that you could do." My goal was to keep my legs fresh so I can survive the 26.2 mile run.
Lap one. All the guys that I beat out of the water are now starting to zoom past me. This is hard for me, but I let them all go. There just happens to be a water stop at Hwy 95 and the street that leads to our rental house, so I know that I will get to see my family soon. I was so glad to see them and hear their cheers, even if just for a moment. I ride into the headwind to the turn around and start making my way back, this time with a tailwind. I make friends with the riders around me (imagine that) as we pedal onward. I wore full fingered gloves for warmth, but I was having trouble opening the wrappers on my bars and nutrition. I pass my family on my way back into town and throw my arm warmers and gloves towards them at the rest stop, hoping they might see them. More cheers and smiles! I pull back into town and the crowds are very enthusiastic. 56 miles down. Lap two. More of the same. I'm feeling more confident on the fast downhills in spite of the crosswinds and I feel strong on the uphills in my granny gear. The wind picks up but I'm thankful that the storm that blew through earlier caused the wind to blow from the opposite direction than it normally does. Going out is tough, but a tailwind home will be a bonus. I see my family one more time. I pull back into transition and finish the bike portion in 6:11 which is an 18.1mph average (including my porta-potty stop).

I hand off my bike and run to the Run Gear bag section. I grab my bag and head back into the women's change tent again, ready to inspect the damage that my shoes did to my sockless feet. Miraculously enough, no blisters. I am so relieved and thankful. My sherpa empties my run bag and I try to squeeze my sweaty legs into my hot pink compression socks. This is no easy task either. I grab my nutrition, water bottle, run hat and I'm off. My goal on the run was also to keep my heart rate below 150 for the duration and to run the whole marathon. The first couple of miles, I decide I'm going too fast so I slow down (8:29 pace was not going to be sustainable). I'm feeling pretty good at my adjusted slower pace and know that I will have no problems keeping this pace.

My heart rate is low. I'm hydrating and keeping on top of my nutrition. I run the big climb described as "definingly significant" but I take it slow and easy. 6 miles down and I start making my way back into town. I see my family on the other side of the street and know that my 13.1 mile turn around will bring me back to them, so I don't stop at this point but just wave as I go by. I get to the turn around and then run back and stop to give quick hugs to the kids (my first stop - other than one potty break at mile 4). As I leave them, my mind is having trouble convincing my legs to start running again. John yells "Run!" and I stick my tongue out at him. I run off and tell myself that I'm half way done with the run. Only 2 hours or so to go. At mile 14, I start getting nauseous. I try to fight through it, but it gets stronger. I start to panic. I am scared that if I start throwing up now, that I won't be able to stop. I decide that it's better not to throw up so I spend the next 6 miles walking when the nausea overwhelms me and running again when it subsides. I try other forms of nutrition at the stops, but nothing helps. I take another porta-potty pit stop and I'm off again. This time, I decide that it will be in my best interest to walk up the "definingly significant" hill, but I no longer care. Now I just care about finishing. I end up only being able to take in water and Endurolytes on the last 6 miles. I'm getting closer to finishing. 4 miles out. I walk up one last hill and tell myself "you are almost there. Run." So I run. My mind is playing tricks and trying to convince me that it's OK to walk, but I don't. 3 miles out. Heading back in through the neighborhoods now. There are more people there to cheer which helps mentally. Another runner asks me if I'm almost done. I say "Thankfully, yes. What about you?" She responds with "No, I still have another lap." I want to cry for her, but instead I mumble something that I hope sounds encouraging. 2 miles out. I now know I can do this. I'm almost there. 1 mile out. I see my parents and kids. I want to cry at the sight of them, but instead I laugh and smile and wave to them as they laugh and smile and wave to me. I hear someone yell "Only 5 more blocks!" I'm going to do this! Hundreds of people are cheering and reaching out for high fives! I'm grinning from ear-to-ear and I'm running giving high fives to anyone who wants one.  And then I see the finish line and I run towards it, arms raised in triumph!

As I cross, Mike Reilly announces my name! I don't notice until later that he doesn't do his standard "You are an Ironman" he says "Erica Harshaw. You go Erica. Way to go!" I crossed the finish line and I was even still standing on my own two feet.

A finish line volunteer checks on me and determines that I do not need medical attention. We grab my finisher shirt, medal, and hat then she leads me out of the finish line shoot and I find John. He leans over the barrier and gives me a big hug and says "I am so proud of you." And I will admit, I am proud of myself too.
Everyone told me I would be fine, that this race would be a piece of cake for me, but I had my doubts. I don't like the unknown. I knew I had done the training, but I didn't know how I would handle piecing it all together. I have no doubts now. I did it. And I broke 12 hours. I have to say that I was disappointed in having to walk on the run, but a 4:21 is still a pretty decent marathon time.

This was an epic journey and I could not have done it without John's support. The training was so time consuming and he and the kids were the main ones to feel the brunt of it. John became the primary caretaker and he did it without complaint, even though he had to watch the kids solo for hours on end and then deal with my fatigue when I was finally done for the day. Words can not express how thankful I am to him. Thank you to my parents for coming to Idaho to support me and to help with the kids. I have numerous friends and family members who offered words of encouragement, advice, and they let me use them as a sounding board when I needed them. I am also thankful that I have a great group of people to ride with. I want to thank the members of TRG for pushing me and helping me to become the cyclist that I am today.

Thank you for reading! I bet you didn't realize that this was going to be a novel when you started. I guess the good news is that if you have gotten this far, I didn't bore you to tears with the details :-)

I have had several people ask me "What's next?" To answer truthfully, I have NO IDEA! For now, I'm going to relax and enjoy some shorter races!

For anyone who wants to see the stats/splits for my ride or run, here are my Strava pages.