Thursday, May 22, 2008

His First Race

My Charming Friend finished his first race yesterday -- not that I had any doubt that he would follow through on his commitment to run Concord's Rock N' Road Race.

He did a pretty good job -- very good, actually -- especially considering that we haven't been running much lately.

CF agreed to the run the race as part of the wedu team, which I had joined in exchange for having their team captain at my table for a Big Brothers Big Sisters breakfast earlier this year. In my world, it's all about bartering and exchanging favors.

During one of our few practice runs, CF had completed 3+ miles (although perhaps there were some walking points in those runs?), so I didn't have a doubt that he could do it. Plus, being his nature, I knew that the race atmosphere and the energy of the crowd would pull him easily through the 3.1 miles.

And, as he later told me, he drew upon others for inspiration. "If they could do it, so could I," he said of some not-so-physically fit people in the crowd.

CF showed up in brand-spankin' new running clothes, definitely looking the part for the day and ready to run. (I was a bit disappointed that he didn't show up in padded Spandex like he told me he would.)

We made our way to the Big Bell on the State House lawn, where we were to meet the rest of our team. The rest of the team eventually joined us (I say eventually because I'm sure CF will point out that we were precisely on time and the others were late).

We laced on our timing chips, pinned on our numbers and headed to the Start Line. And we waited some more.

Then it started to rain. Oh, and it was cold.

Certainly not a great day for a race. I told CF once again that he's a good sport. I think it was probably the tenth time I'd told him that day.

The starting gun went off and the 5,600+ runners and walkers slowly took off. The rain came down and soaked us for the first mile. CF didn't complain and just kept running.

He didn't even stop at the chocolate covered strawberries or the straw hats being handed out to runners. (Maybe he just wanted to get the race over with?)

We spent the rest of the race people watching and commenting on runner's body shapes (and studying the extremely defined calves of a runner in front of us).

Soon enough -- in just a little more than 31 minutes -- we crossed the Finish Line. CF had finished his first 5K. I was so proud. He took it all in stride -- and talked about ways we could have made better time.

But for me it wasn't about the timing clock or distance or anything else. It was about doing something I enjoy with someone I enjoy spending time with. There'll be plenty of ways to improve our time for the next race.

Yep, the next race. CF's already given me the OK for me to sign him up for another 5K next month.

Either he's crazy or really likes me -- or maybe a bit of both.

Monday, May 19, 2008

That Doggie In The Window

I'm a sucker for puppy eyes. And Rebel knows it.

Sunday was the first day that I didn't take my furry running partner (not to be confused with my Charming Friend) with me on the run from my house.

It was in his best interest, but he didn't know that.

I woke up Sunday morning with thoughts of getting a longer run in. I had planned a 10-mile run with Scott and Erin on Saturday, but after a mishap with my lawnmower and a couple of house showings scheduled for the day, that didn't happen.

As I laced up my shoes, Rebel thought it was his cue. He ran excitedly to the landing at the top of the steps, waiting (somewhat) patiently for me to buckle his collar and leash.

Sorry, Buddy, I said. Not today.

It was 9 a.m. by the time I got around to the run. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was somewhere in the high 50's.

I knew Rebel's double fur coat would be too much for him and that he wouldn't make the whole run without needing many water breaks.

Luckily, the 2 1/2 mile mark is the lake's boat launch where he can lap up the water and wade around to cool off. But I was planning to do the whole 7 miles around the lake, so there wouldn't be another water break for the poor pup.

I think Rebel sensed he might not be coming with me, so he bounced down the stairs and sat in front of the door -- looking expectantly at the doorknob, then at me with those puppy eyes.

Pleeeese, Mom, he seemed to say.

It was almost enough to make me cave. But I resisted, knowing that as much as I wanted him to run with me, it wouldn't be good for him.

I called him to the top of the stairs, apologized to him and gave him a good pat on the head. Again, the puppy eyes stared at me in disbelief.

As I crouched down to pet him, he even gave me his version of a hug -- he puts his paw up on my arm and snuggles into me. It makes my heart melt every time. I'm sure he knows it, too.

I won't be long, I told him.

It was the first run I'd done without him since I started running in August. We were a team, running buddies. How could I leave him?

I apologized again -- do dogs even know what the word "sorry" means? -- and headed out the door.

I heard a few barks from the house as I made my way down the driveway. (He never barks when I'm leaving the house.) Wait for me, he was telling me. Pleeease.

I turned around for one last look. A little face peeked out through the curtains in the picture window. Even from the end of the driveway, I could see the puppy eyes.

I took one deep breath, felt terribly guilty and turned out of the driveway to run.

It turned out to be a good run. I concentrated on some of the things Coach Jack had talked about on Saturday to improve form and efficiency. Plus, I didn't have to stop for any pee breaks along the way. How can Rebel can possibly lift his leg 15 times in a 3-miles run?)

By the time I made it back an hour later, Rebel had mostly likely forgotten about the episode. I'm sure he didn't feel neglected or abandoned.

Nonetheless, I gave him some extra love when I got home -- and made up for it with a trip to the dog park later in the day, where he met up with his pal (although I'm not sure the feeling is mutual), Bogey and some other new-found friends.

Maybe the hardest part of marathon training during the summer months is going to be resisting those puppy eyes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Returning the Favor

When I woke up Saturday morning, I listened for rain -- even before opening my eyes.

I had told myself that if it was raining I wasn't going to run the Big Lake Half Marathon in Alton. But I didn't hear the sound of raindrops on the windows, so I reluctantly peeled my eyelids back to face the morning.

Within a few minutes, I was dressed in my running gear and packing a bag of things to keep my body fueled throughout the day -- a couple of GU gels, jellybeans, a banana, an orange, Gatorade and water. (I didn't end up eating all of those things, but thought that it was better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.)

I met up with Erin in Rochester so we could carpool to Alton, where we filed into the parking lot with the other runners. (Neither of us had an official number for the race after some last-minute changes in plans, so we decided we'd jump in at the starting line and jump out before the chute at the end of the race.)

We found Coach Jack and the TnT-ers in the school gym, dressed in their distinct purple singlets. Erin and I both wore TnT shirts, convincing ourselves that it wouldn't be as bad to 'illegally' run the race if we were there to support the other TnT-ers.

We lost the group somewhere near the starting line. As the race started and we made our way around Alton Bay, Erin and I chatted about nothing in particular -- running stuff, personal life stuff, plans to run the Maine Marathon (she's also signed up).

Somewhere between Mile 3 and 4, Erin decided that she was going to turn back. I felt pretty good and knew I could finish the 13.1 miles, so I kept going.

As I ran up the steady incline along Route 11, I found myself passing bunches of runners. From time to time, I'd end up chatting with the person next to me for a moment (wearing a Team In Training shirt sparks a lot of conversation).

There was a woman who told a story of running an Alaska marathon with TnT -- and having the race diverted because a moose was crossing the trail. And there was a TnT-er from the Boston team who was running her first half marathon. Then I caught up with Kara, one of my fellow Disney teammates.

Soon afterward I found myself running alone for a while. The steady incline continued and I made my way up the hill, taking in the views of the Lake Winnipesaukee. I passed an entertaining mile marker at Mile 5 that featured loud disco music, people in leisure suits and bubbles in the air.

And then Scott found me.

Scott's training for a marathon in San Diego on June 1 and was working on his longest run of his training on Saturday. He arrived before the race to get in 7 miles and would complete another 13 with the race.

Somewhere along the route, I told Scott that I felt bad that I didn't have a number and was running unofficially. He said not to worry because I was there supporting him today as part of TnT. Maybe he was just helping to rationalize my race entry, but it did help to know that I was helping him that day.

During the half marathon at Great Bay last month, Scott really pulled me through the last few miles. If not for him, I would have done a lot of walking. I couldn't take the hills anymore and just wanted to quit. He helped me mentally finish the run.

So Saturday's Big Lake was just the opportunity for me to return the favor.

I could tell that somewhere around Mile 8, Scott was getting less interested in talking. (It was Mile 15 for him.) He was approaching what is sometimes referred to as the Bite Me Stage -- a point at which you just want to finish and hidden parts of your personality will leap out at whomever is nearby.

Scott just got quieter, so I ceased the small talk and just focused on running next to him -- encouraging him up the hills, offering whatever fuel I had in my pouch and generally just moving forward.

As the mileage increased, so did Scott's pace. By the time we met up with Erin at a water stop (she stayed to help out during the race) around Mile 10, he was running at a pretty good clip.

Erin and I picked up with chit-chat as Scott continued his now-silent run. I could tell he just wanted it to be over. We offered some words of encouragement here and there as Scott neared his 20-mile mark.

As we make our way down the straight-away to the Finish Line, Erin and I left the pack (running unofficially, we couldn't run through the timing chute at the end). Scott continued to pick up his pace and press on toward the finish, determined to hit the 20-mile mark that day.

We lost Scott in the crowd at the Finish Line, which is unusual because he's 6'5"-ish and usually easy to spot. Erin and I hoped that he made it through the Finish okay and figured that he just wanted to get home and left immediately after the Finish.

I finished the 13.1 miles feeling pretty good -- it was the first time that I actually felt that I could have kept running, not that I was just pushing myself to finish the race.

It also felt pretty good that I could help out a fellow TnT-er. It's one of the great things about being part of a team, even if not officially.

Friday, May 9, 2008

When 13.1 Isn't Enough...

What are you doing October 5, 2008? If all goes according to plan, I'll be running the Maine Marathon. Yep, that's right. I signed up.

Now what?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Decisions, Decisions

I have a couple of decisions to make in the next week or so -- and I don't know why I can't make up my mind.

I need to decide whether to run the Big Lake Half Marathon on Saturday (yes, less than a week away). And, on a bigger scale, decide if I'm up for training for a full marathon.

The first one is a relatively easy decision. I told myself if I ran 10 miles yesterday (which I did) that I'd sign up for the Big Lake Half in Alton. So I guess that's what I'll do -- despite the fact that the 10 miles wasn't a great run.

I'm hoping I can attribute a less-than-quality run to the fact that I stayed up until 12:30 a.m. the night before, probably didn't fuel up as well as I should and felt as if I just need to get the run in so that I could make my 10:30 a.m. can't-be-late appointment to head to Maine for the day.

So, with my mind set on running the half marathon on Saturday, I guess I only have one decision left to make: Should I train for a full marathon?

I almost typed "Can I train for a full marathon?" but then decided to change it to the word "should" because I truly think (thanks to my experience with TnT) that I can do it.

Last year at this time, I never imagined that I could run a half marathon -- let alone be preparing for my fourth of the year already. And I know the people I've watched train for full marathons with TnT never thought they could do it. But they did.

And I can, too.

Despite that (sometimes wavering) sense of confidence, I still can't make up my mind about whether I should give it a try.

For starters, I can't decide which full marathon I'd like to try. I'd love to run the Chicago Marathon -- which would give me a chance to meet up with college friends and see the city where I lived in high school and college. I've thought about the Toronto Marathon -- which would bring me back to the city where I was born. And I'm considering the Maine Marathon -- which is on the next TnT training program, is nearby and would lend the support of fellow TnT-ers and family members.

Even if I could decide which one I wanted to try, there's part of me that wonders if I'd have the time I'd need to properly train. I also know that training for a full marathon will take a lot of dedication and some changes in lifestyle habits.

With the nagging part of me that keeps saying that the half just isn't enough, I'm sure I'll eventually get there. I just need to decide when, where and how.