Thursday, October 29, 2009

Marathon Diaries, Part 1: Perseverance: Get it.

I gave everything I had to get to that finish line. But, along the way I took in an incredible amount of perspective, insight and inspiration. So much in fact that to tell you about it, it will have to come in pieces. Here is Part 1 – Perseverance: Get it.

As I was carbo-loading the night before the marathon, my nephew was excitedly telling me that he can now skip a bar as a he swings across the monkey bars. His actual words: “Yeah. My friend taught me how. I couldn’t do it a first, but I just persevered. And then I could do it.” Yes, he uses words like persevere. He’s 7.

I never thought I’d be a marathoner, but after months of training I was there at the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon with 25,000 others. I had hours of work ahead and the determination to get to the finish line. Words like perseverance, determination, hard, almost there, cramp, happy, dig deep, pain, finish - all of these words took on a new meaning last Sunday as I moved through all 26.2 miles of my first marathon. Inspiration and insight came from within this pack of people around me – runners, walkers, bystanders, Marines.

Mile 3

I saw him first in Georgetown on the hill up to the reservoir. A racer in a wheelchair digging deep to get up that hill. He was working hard but the progress was slow. Very slow. There was a battle between determination and defeat going on, you could see that in his face. But one thing was clear, he was getting up that hill. Every runner that passed cheered him on – Get it. You got this. Way to go man. A mile after that hill, I heard shouts from behind me. Get left. Chair coming through. Get left. We all started to yell it forward as he made his way through on the right side. We cheered as he passed. All of us happy to see that he won that battle. Each hill for the next 6 miles, the same would happen. He flew by me coming out of the water stop at mile 11, heading into Haines Point. I never saw him again. I would have loved to see him finish. That last .2 hill to the finish line was brutal, but I saw his determination and I know he got to the top.

Mile 20

Everyone says you hit the wall around mile 20. It’s true. It’s a brick wall built of extreme pain, self-deprecating thoughts and exhaustion. My foot was throbbing. My legs. Oh, my legs. It hurt everywhere. My time was much slower than I had anticipated and I was becoming more and more terrified of not being able to “beat the bridge.” (not getting to the 14th Street bridge by a certain time, meant not being able to finish the race) And as I turned onto 14th Street, I saw my dad, brother and nephew cheering me on. I burst into tears. My brother paced me for about a half a mile. He told me – this is the part I told you about. I know it hurts. But you’re there. You’ve done this. Now, you just finish it...Or something like that. What he didn’t tell me is that the 14th Street Bridge is the longest bridge known to man. It may as well have been a mountain. I felt like hell, and it seemed like I was making zero progress. This bridge was never ending! And, it wasn’t just me. So many around me appeared to be so relieved to beat the bridge that their paces slowed significantly. We were all just shuffling forward, giving into the battle of determination vs. defeat.

Then something switched. I just wanted to get off this bridge and finish this race, but I was going to have work for it. I asked a bystander in the crowd to tie my right shoe tighter. Delirious Race Logic: if you can’t stop the pain, just make your shoe tighter so you can’t feel it anymore. I turned up my music, and for the next 5 miles told myself, sometimes out loud, “it’s all in your head.” I dug deep, and I got to the top of my personal hill. I couldn’t do it at first. But, I just persevered. And, then I could do it.

Post Marathon finish with our nephew.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I Know I'm Not Hopeless Case

This is it. I am 7 days from my first marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon. I am, in a word, emotional. I think about the finish line and my eyes well up with tears. The finish line. Sigh. In my short running career (18 months), I’ve cried every time I’ve crossed one. All four times. It’s an experience that is hard to describe. All in one moment you feel empowered, accomplished, humbled, proud, and most of all a euphoric joy.

In October 2001, I was a spectator at the Marine Corps Marathon and cheering on my brother in his 2nd face-off with this course. There was an incredible sense of unity in the nation’s capital, just a few weeks past the dreadful events of 9/11. The patriotic spirit in the crowd was palpable. As a kid, I’d been to the race at least 3 times to cheer for my dad, a career marine. (His P.R. on the course – 3:03. I won’t even be close.) This race in 2001, I remember clearly. Jumping on the metro here and there with my dad and husband. Racing to cheer Travis on at the next mile marker. Seeing runners clad in American Flags, taking out their cameras for pictures of the monuments. Watching exhausted runners push themselves up the hill to the finish. (Yes, you read that right. It is UP hill to the finish. Marines....)

The most inspiring image came at the finish line. With my dad’s connections (he's kind of a big deal) we had secured a prime vantage point behind the finish line. It’s an amazing spot to see the runner’s expressions as they cross the line that they worked so hard to reach. For 8 years, I’ve thought repeatedly about one woman’s finish. “It’s A Beautiful Day” was blasting through the speakers. The sun was shining down on the finish line. And after watching several runners finish in what appeared to be excruciating pain, I saw this woman approaching the line. She was determined. She was focused. She was smiling. And, just as Bono reached the full emotion of the song, she threw her arms out to her sides, arched her head up to the sun, and crossed the finish line. Her expression was full of joy, accomplishment, pride and peace. To this day, when I hear that song, I see her face. It was that beautiful of a moment. I’ve thought a lot about her as I’ve trained for this race. And, I’ve thought a lot about crossing the finish line myself. "What you don't know you can feel it somehow." That is what has pushed me through this training, through the pain and through the desire to hit the snooze button instead of going out for a run.

It should be no surprise that I’ve also thought a lot about dessert. Whoopie Pies to be specific. I’m not sure where or when the tradition started. I just know that anytime my dad or brother ran a marathon, my mom made Whoopie Pies. Now, I will have earned mine. And because Carl’s Ice Cream is positioned perfectly half way between D.C and my parent’s house, we will be stopping there for a cone. And perhaps, a milkshake.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Francese Fiasco

The night of our 1 month wedding anniversary (9 years ago), I decided to make my husband his favorite dinner from our favorite Italian Restaurant. Chicken Francese. I was a married, grown-up woman and I was going to cook a fancy dish for my man because that’s what married, grown-up women do. I was excited. I felt domesticated. Empowered. The queen of my kitchen. Or, so I thought.

I grew up watching my mom and grandmothers in the kitchen. They rarely had recipes out or cookbooks. They just moved about the kitchen in a fluid motion, as if they didn’t have to think about it. Dashing this and that into the pan. Making substitutions if they were missing ingredients. Somehow on this night, I got into my head that after just 1 month of being married, and of cooking for two, I had reached this level of domestic diva. I had not.

As I opened the Joy of Cooking to the recipe, I realized the only ingredient that I actually had on hand for this dish was Chicken. But, I really wanted to make this dish so, I substituted, very poorly, every other ingredient. My substitutions and thinking went like this: Chicken Broth. Hmm. I don’t have any Chicken Broth. So, it needs to simmer in liquid…..i’ll just add more butter. Capers? Who has capers? They’ve got kind of a lemon flavor. I’ll just squeeze some lemon in there. Shallots. What the hell are those? I think they’re like onions. I’ll just dice up some onion. Clearly, you see where this disaster is headed. I was also doing all of this while talking on the phone, no less. My mom can talk on the phone while she cooks. But not me, not at this point in my cooking career. So on top of the ignorant solutions for substitutions, I burned the chicken.

My husband of one month came home to find 3 smoke alarms on the porch (because frankly I couldn’t get them to stop) and all the windows and doors open. But, I was not yet deterred. I had opened two place settings of our still boxed wedding china. Lit candles and had music playing. And, I very proudly presented him with his favorite dish. He was kind. He ate. One bite. Two bites. Looking back, I can see the fear in his eyes, but at the time I didn’t recognize it. I ate.

It took me one bite to realize that I was nowhere near the cooking expertise of my mother or my grandmothers. I could not make substitutions or be distracted while cooking. And, this thing on the plate tasted nothing like Chicken Francese.

We ordered pizza.

I’ve come a long way from the Francese Fiasco, but I have never attempted to make it again. Seth, however, makes a delicious version. I had so many expectations of myself as a new wife. Of what I should be. Of what marriage should be.

On my longer runs lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. You tend to do that when you have no access to TV, Facebook or Twitter. And ever since seeing 500 Days of Summer (which you should see if you haven’t), I’ve thought a lot about expectations vs. reality. It was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Who couldn’t identify with the comparison of how you want and imagine something will turn out, and how it is in reality.

So I run. And, I think about the expectations that I have of myself, and the pressure I put on myself to meet those. I think about goals and what’s next. It can get overwhelming and daunting. Just like opening the Joy of Cooking for the first time. Or training for 26.2 miles. So, I just remind myself that I am here in this moment, running this mile. I’ll deal with the next mile when I get there. I know the next mile is there. I can plan for it. I can train for it. Substitutions and expectations will do me no good. If I'm missing ingredients or elements, then I may need to change my plans, or at least my expectations.

It is what it is. To not accept that will only set off smoke alarms.