Tuesday, December 12, 2017

So...How Was NYC?

“So, how was it?”

What? Oh, you mean the NYC Marathon that I completed on November 5th? Um, it was a-maz-ing. 
I have hesitated on writing about it for the past month because it’s been difficult to convey in words how awesome of an experience it was to participate in this race. So let me give it a try…

Imagine the best sex you’ve ever had, or the most delicious ice cream sundae you’ve ever tasted…yeah, just kidding, this race was not like any of those things. It was awesome, but it wasn’t THAT awesome.

Here are the mental notes and reflections I made as I traveled over 5 bridges, through 5 boroughs, on that fateful day:

First of all, it’s New York City. This city in itself is a symbol of strength, resilience, and the American-freaking-dream. To have the opportunity to run through this city while thousands of spectators stand by and cheer you on (singing, dancing, eating, drinking, high-fiving, fist-bumping, clapping, playing instruments, playing the radio, and holding up signs) is quite possibly the coolest thing a runner can experience. Even though it rained that day, people still came out to support the runners and even after the sun went down and the temperature dropped a little, there were still tons of people on the sidelines cheering us on. It choked me up a little, I won’t lie.

I ran for the first 2 hours of the race without any earbuds/music and I ran for the last hour without any earbuds/music. Before this race, that was unheard of - to run even a 5K without music blasting in my ears was a rarity. But during the NYC Marathon I didn’t want to miss anything going on around me. As previously mentioned, the crowds on the streets were fun and engaging. As I ran into Brooklyn, the residents on the street were blasting Beastie Boys “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” on a huge speaker. When I approached the 20 mile mark, someone had put up a sign next to it that said, “Keep going, naked ladies ahead”. At one point I passed by a live band playing the A Flock of Seagulls song, “I Ran”, which made me laugh as I pictured them playing that one song over and over again all day long for the runners.

With this race, I truly wanted to soak in the experience leading to the finish line. Which is a very different approach to running for me – normally I get so focused on wanting to just finish the race that I miss the opportunity to look around me and take it all in. Before I even put my sneakers on for this marathon, I told myself to remember to look around and enjoy NYC, because I knew this would be an experience like no other. As a result, I had a much better race than I have ever had before, both mentally and physically.

You guys…I never hit the wall. Not once. Not even a little bit. What I’m saying is that in 26.2 miles, I never got to the point where I wanted to quit. I never felt defeated. I never had the sense that I might not make it. Don’t get me wrong, it was super hard - I’d go so far as to say it was the hardest thing I have ever done physically (including giving birth to two children). So I am not saying it was easy-peasy - but as hard as it was, I felt good THE WHOLE TIME. And have I mentioned that it rained? And then there were all the hills. And the bridges. But through all of that – I. Felt. Awesome. My muscles didn’t cramp up (my hydration was on fleek and I was good about stopping to stretch every couple of miles after the halfway point), my stomach and digestive system never had issues (learning from my previous marathon, during training I made sure I ate and drank whatever I planned to eat and drink on race day so there were no surprises for my stomach), and my head was totally in the game.

What helped get my head in the game was a meeting I had with the Team Animal League runners the day before the race. The captain of our team had run NYC 9 times previously and he had a lot of helpful tips for us newbies. He told us where all the toughest hills were, he warned us about the dreaded Queensboro Bridge (aka the bridge that never ends), and most importantly he reminded us that regardless of our finish times, we were all going to get the same medal and have the same glory of telling people “I finished NYC”. His words really made an impact on me. After listening to him speak, I knew I was ready to tackle that race.

Another common question people have asked me since the NYC Marathon is “How did you do?” – and every time they ask that, my answer is, “I finished!” Finishing the race is always my goal, if I happen to get a PR in the process, well, that’s just icing on the proverbial cake. In this case, I did technically get a PR – I finished one minute faster than my previous marathon. Hey, a PR is a PR, right? 😁 But for me, the biggest win was that with tougher conditions (hills, bridges, rain, and darkness (as I finished after the sun went down)), I ran harder, stronger, and better than my first marathon. And not “hitting the wall” once during this marathon was what made this my best run yet. Trust me when I say that I have struggled with even the easiest 5Ks, so to be able to say I held on strong mentally and physically for 26.2 miles is just astounding.

Wait, I take that back, by using the word “astounding” it indicates that it’s beyond belief. Let me correct myself – to say I held on strong mentally and physically for 26.2 miles is evidence that I trained well for this race and that I am improving on my long distance running overall.

Ten years ago I was just starting to dabble a little in running but never envisioned anything would really come of it. Twenty years ago I couldn’t even run a mile. As I approach my 40th birthday, I am now a two-time marathon finisher. Seriously, though, how cool is that?

If you are considering running a full marathon, I highly recommend NYC. It’s literally the largest marathon in the world (50,000 participants!) and it takes place in one of the best cities in the US. If I could bottle that energy and save it for other races, I totally would! Don’t get me wrong, I am a Boston girl through and through (I even wore a “Boston Strong” t-shirt for the NYC Marathon), but I really mean it when I say, I NY.

And I can't end this blog post without giving a special shout-out to my girlfriends who came and cheered me on during the NYC Marathon. They stood outside in the rain for over 6 hours waving their cowbells and reminding me that I could finish the race - and for that I will be forever grateful. I'm not sure I would have felt as good as I did after that dreaded Queensboro Bridge if it weren't for knowing those ladies were standing right at the end of it. Sometimes you need your tribe for that little extra boost and I am glad mine was there that day. Love you girls! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Benefit of Being Uncomfortable

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram - or if you know me in real life - you should be aware by now that I am planning to run the NYC Marathon in less than 2 weeks. When a person decides to run a big race like this, it becomes all-consuming. And so you couldn't possibly know me at this point in time and be unaware of my plans to participate in "the big dance" on November 5th. It has (annoyingly so) become my whole life.

A huge part of training for a marathon of this magnitude is the mental preparation for such an event. When I was a month away from the race, something started happening in my head that I was not happy about - I started psyching myself out. Suddenly long runs and short runs both became extra challenging because I just couldn't get excited about doing them. In fact, I dreaded running. For weeks leading up to this point I had been doing great - so what happened? 

I think the reality of the race rapidly approaching began coming into focus and since this marathon is really important to me, my nerves started to get the better of me. Instead of rising to the challenge of that anxiety, my fight or flight response began kicking in and my brain started telling me I should quit. 

What?! Not on my watch, brain. We are doing this thing and we are giving it our all.

I knew that I needed to get my head in the game before race day or I would be doomed. At this point in time, I am most definitely physically ready for this marathon - but if my head isn't in it, this will be the longest, most difficult 26.2 miles anyone has ever run. 

So how do I get myself psyched up and mentally ready for the challenge that lies ahead? First, I use logic. I am a person who needs facts and evidence to truly believe in something (love me some science), so one way to convince myself that I am capable of completing the NYC Marathon is to remind myself (over and over again) that I have done a full marathon before and I can absolutely do it again. Sometimes it's a mantra I find myself repeating to myself as I am running, "You've done this before. You've got this." If I need additional convincing of my capabilities as a runner, I review my training log over the past 13 weeks and read in black and white print the evidence of my hard work. Long runs, short runs, hills, trails, treadmills, early mornings, stair work - I have been pushing my body physically and mentally for weeks now; I can do this because I have put in the time and effort to prepare for it.

In addition to using actual evidence to get psyched up for the marathon, I also work on mentally pushing myself to a place outside of my comfort zone. For example, I went for a 5 mile run this past weekend and during that run I did not listen to music, nor did I use a GPS to track my pace. For an hour I ran on the streets of my home town and the only sounds I heard were my feet pounding the pavement and my rhythmic breathing. Did I mention there were hills involved? Oh yeah, there were. I hate hills (who doesn't?), but I tackled them - and I did so without any music to distract me.

You may wonder, how does this help? Running in silence is very uncomfortable for me. Actually, doing anything in silence is uncomfortable for me - I fall asleep listening to music or TV every single night. I even listen to the radio during the day while I am at work. I tend to feel anxious if I don't have some kind of noise playing in the background of my life. Running is hard and music tends to help distract me from how hard it is. But sometimes I need to unplug from everything and let myself marinate in my discomfort. (Now there's an image, huh?) 

I think that sometimes I need to push myself into a place of feeling uncomfortable so that later, when I am back in my comfort zone, it feels a million times more awesome than it normally would. And oddly enough, this type of mental exercise can pull me out of a funk when I am starting to psych myself out. Being uncomfortable is often times my much-needed "control-alt-delete" to get mentally charged up for a big challenge. Spending time outside of my comfort zone is like a reminder that things could always be worse. What if I have to run the entire marathon without music? That probably won't happen - but imagine if it did! I now know I can handle running for long periods of times in silence, and if I can do that, I know I am mentally strong. I can handle this race. And just like that, my anxiety is mitigated and my head is back in the game.

This mental exercise probably sounds weird to some. But I will tell you this - after running for 5 miles with no music on Saturday, I ran 2 miles today listening to my marathon playlist and I felt super energized and happy. 

Pushing myself a little helped get me back to a good place. I can't fully explain why this worked, but I am glad that it did.

Like a lot of people, I actively choose to be comfortable most of the time. I don't enjoy adrenaline rushes or feelings of being scared or uncertain. I tend to choose the path of least resistance a lot of the times, it's just my nature. But there is a benefit of being uncomfortable. If there weren't, why else would I choose to run marathons? 😊

Monday, August 14, 2017

In Defense of Zumba

At the time I am writing this, I have taken exactly two Zumba classes in my entire 39 years on this planet. So I am clearly not a seasoned expert in this type of exercise. But regardless of my lack of experience in Zumba, I feel compelled to share my thoughts, because I think a lot of people disregard these classes and in doing so, they are totally missing out on the fun.

I know many people who are true Zumba enthusiasts: they teach it, breathe it, live it, and love it. These friends own Zumba footwear and Zumba clothing and they are Zumba-tastic at Zumba-ing. I myself had always wanted to try it (I absolutely love to dance) but felt completely intimidated to even sign up, never mind walk into a class. I’m not even sure why – I took dance as a young girl and can actually count and move on time to a beat. Truthfully, I think it was just my fear of the unknown scaring me off; that and I just didn’t know how I’d measure up to all those Zumba enthusiasts out there – I didn’t want them to think I was some kind of Zumba poser

But then a friend of mine (one of the non-Zumba enthusiasts) who has similar coordination and athletic abilities as me, asked me to join her for a Zumba class. I figured now was my chance to give it a shot, because humiliating myself with a friend seemed a lot less terrifying than doing so by myself.

In the few times I have taken any type of dance class as an adult, I always feel like I can relate to Jennifer Grey’s character Baby in the movie Dirty Dancing. When she’s first learning to dance she is completely distracted by everyone else around her, letting the people who are more experienced and more expressive intimidate her. She also feels a lot of frustration when trying to understand and learn various dance moves throughout the movie. When I first started  Zumba class, that was totally me. I wanted to get every move right on the first try (kind of hard to do when you are a newbie) and not being able to do so made me feel like a Zumba failure. Why was everyone else getting it and not me? (By the way, this was all an illusion – I was not in a room full of professional dancers, they were all regular people like me, sometimes getting the moves, sometimes not. But in my perfectionist head, everyone around me looked like Gene Kelly and I felt completely out of sync).

Then I remembered something the teacher said when she first introduced herself to me at the beginning of class: “This class is what you make it. Even if you don’t get it right away, just keep moving, and most importantly – have fun! Getting the steps right isn’t as important as enjoying the exercise.”  So I took a deep breath, stopped looking at the people dancing around me, and just let my body move to the music. And you know what? It was fun! Once I stopped overthinking it, the dancing came easier to me. And even when I missed a step or two, I just kept going - and it really felt good.

At the beginning of Zumba, this was me:

“I carried a watermelon”.

Then by the end of my second class, I was here:

Okay, not quite. But after completing two classes, I definitely started to get the hang of it and I learned a little something about getting out of my own head and having fun. It wasn’t “the time of my life”, per se, but I really enjoyed it and got a good sweat on.

So if you love dance and are looking for a new and fun way to get a full body cardio workout, I highly recommend Zumba. And don’t be intimidated by the Zumba enthusiasts out there, learn from them – they are the best leads to follow when you fall out of step in class. And here’s the biggest secret of all – they are having the most fun, because that's what it's all about.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I'm Going Over The Edge

I saw the above quote posted on social media today and I thought, "wow, that is so deep, and so true." Then I looked it up (because when I see a great quote, I obviously want to know its source) and I discovered that this is a quote from the TV show One Tree Hill. 😩

No offense to One Tree Hill but I was kind of hoping this quote came from a more meaningful place. I never even watched the show when it was on. Oh well. The quote still speaks to me and I like it.

Regardless of where this quote hails from, its appearance on my Facebook newsfeed is very timely. You see, I was just given the incredible opportunity to participate in the 2017 New York City Marathon, taking place just 15 weeks from now. Um, what?!

On a whim, I applied for a race bib through the North Shore Animal League America, a non-profit animal shelter that is the world's largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization. If accepted, I would have the chance to run the NYC Marathon and raise money for this very worthy cause. As an animal lover and an ongoing supporter of NSALA over the past couple of years, I decided to take a chance and reach out to them about getting an entry into the one marathon I have wanted to participate in for many years. So imagine my surprise when a representative from NSALA contacted me yesterday, letting me know that if I wanted to do some fundraising for them, I would be able to run in the NYC Marathon!

As I mentioned previously, the marathon is happening in 15 short weeks. Fifteen weeks might not seem like a short amount of time for some people, but for a person who needs to train for a full marathon and raise $3,000 - believe me, it's short. Initially when I received the email from NSALA with their offer, I was torn. Can I train in just 15 weeks? Am I able to raise money for such an important cause? Do I have the confidence to pull all of this off? I decided to sleep on it and give myself 24 hours to make my decision.

When I woke up this morning, I made a pro and con list to help me decide - and the pattern was obvious: all of the pros were about how badly I wanted to do this (the fundraising and the training) and how great it would be if I did, and all of the cons were about how worried I was that I wouldn't be able to pull it off.

Then, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I saw two things that helped me make my decision: the first was the quote at the top of this blog post. It forced me to ask myself, "If not now, when?" I could wait another year, but why wait if I have the chance now?

The second thing I saw on Facebook that spoke to me this morning was an image of my husband's aunt rappelling down a 22 story building in Boston. Someone captured a photo of her as she gracefully glided down the side of a building, you guys! This woman fearlessly participated in the "Over the Edge" rappel to support the Special Olympics of Massachusetts and even though I think she is totally nuts for doing this, I am one hundred percent impressed and inspired by her bravery. As soon as I saw that photo of her, I made my decision: I am going to go for it. I'm going over the edge, too! I mean, not literally - I would never climb down a building. But I will run another marathon and do so for a very worthy cause.

Holy crap, I am running in the NYC Marathon in 15 weeks!

You never know where your inspiration will come from. It could come from a One Tree Hill quote. It could come from a relative rappelling down the side of a building. It could come as an offer from an amazing non-profit organization that saves animals lives every single day. Whatever it is, seize it. Because someday is today, and this is your life. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My First Ever 26.2

The image shared above is a Facebook status I posted 7 years ago this week. I'll confess, I am sharing this historical social media update smugly because two months ago I completed a full marathon (my first ever) and it only took 3 days for me to recover. So what I am saying is that I ran 26.2 miles earlier this year and then 3 days later I felt perfectly fine. What? How is that even possible? Seven years ago I was a much younger gal but in this case, youth does not matter. I might be older now, but I am better trained and a lot smarter when it comes to taking care of my body.

At age 39, I can say with confidence that I am a faster, stronger, and more determined runner than I was 7 years ago. In my younger years I easily accepted defeat and lacked self confidence; the girl I was 7 years ago would never have considered training for a full marathon. I am proud of the woman I have grown into and I am not even sorry it took me this long to realize my potential. Isn't that the point of life after all? To take the journey and learn from it? And I continue to learn more every single day.

My experience running the Walt Disney World Marathon in January was, for lack of a better word, awesome. It was the longest and most difficult run I have ever completed and it was also the best run I have ever had. When I got to the halfway point (13.1 miles), I stopped to use the bathroom with some other runners. A woman standing in line with me said to everyone nearby, "We're at the halfway point ladies, up until now you were running a half marathon, now it's official, you're in a full marathon". I won't ever forget that; it was a pivotal moment for me during that race - the reality that I had already run 13 miles and still had another 13 miles to go hit me hard - and instead of feeling scared, I felt excited. I was pumped.

During the marathon I had one fleeting moment of feeling like I wanted to quit: it was at the 20 mile mark and I distinctly remember thinking that I wasn't sure I had it in me to go another 6.2 miles to reach the finish line. But when I saw my two sons and my husband standing on the sidelines ringing cowbells and cheering me on just after mile 20, I was re-energized. The mantra I kept repeating in my head from that moment on was, "you've come this far, you can't stop now". Because after you have completed 20 miles, it's almost laughable to even consider not pushing to the end. What's another 6.2 miles anyway? Piece of cake. (Yeah, right)

Crossing the finish line of that race was such a happy and satisfying moment. I can't say it was the happiest moment of my life (the birth of each of my children takes that title) but it was damn near close.

Yes, I know I look like I am praising the running gods in this photo (as do the other runners near me), but in reality this image is capturing an amazing moment in time. All of the training I did (mental and physical), all of the hard work I put into this race, all of my hopes, fears, and determination - it is all captured in this one shot as I am crossing the finish line. I am so grateful for this photo because now I will always have the visual of this incredible memory.

So what's in store for me now? Well, I am planning to run the Disney Half Marathon in January 2018 (already registered 😏). Last year my training focused on building endurance for a longer race; this year my training will focus on endurance and speed (I am hoping to get a PR in Disney next year). So I will continue with long runs and short runs and stair work (running up and down stairs and Holy Cross stadium), but I will push myself a little harder and will work on incorporating more cross training in my cardio routines. Overall, I am excited for another long race and I am looking forward to the challenge of trying to get a better time than my previous half marathon.

But most of all, I am proud to finally have this decal prominently displayed on the back of my car:

Because yeah, I earned that.