Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Inspiring and Being Inspired

A message popped into my inbox this morning from an unfamiliar sender. It started, "You do not know me but your stories have inspired me so much."

The sender went on to say that she stumbled on my blog last year while searching for Team In Training info after her parents received a fundraising letter from a family member.

Apparently she bookmarked the site and, while in the midst of a divorce, returned regularly to read about my progress -- probably both emotionally and physically.

"It gave me the strength I needed to start thinking of myself," she wrote.

Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would inspire someone to take care of themselves. My whole hang-up about looking out for myself has been that it goes against my instinct and desire to help others. I always thought of it as selfish. It took me a long time to realize it's not selfish at all. And now I realize that taking care of myself has helped others.

Beyond the fact that I have apparently inspired and helped a total stranger through a difficult time, I certainly never thought I'd inspire anyone to start running.

But that's exactly what this woman has recently started doing -- admittedly taking on the challenge of running during the toughest season of the year, especially in New England. (I strongly believe that if you can train in this weather, the rest of the year is a breeze. It really is!)

I've been very moved by the onslaught of messages I've gotten from people after my last blog post on my experience with the Hampton Half Marathon. They've shared stories about how I've been inspiring them to start running, asked about joining TnT groups around the country and told me they feel a little better taking on a challenge after seeing my success.

Turns out, I might even take a trip to Toronto later this year to re-connect with my cousins for a 10K -- and I'm very excited about that prospect. (I should warn them ahead of time that if I'm traveling internationally to run six miles, they best be at the starting line with me!)

Words cannot express how I felt when I heard these things, and in particular, when I received the message today.

I may be inspiring her, but she and the other supporters I've apparently touched, also inspire me to keep going and never look back.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Day In The Life

Today I ran my sixth half marathon. Wow, I never thought I'd be saying that.

Just a little more than a year ago, I completed my first 13.1 mile event in Disney. A little more than 18 months ago, I hadn't even run a mile and thought that 13.1 seemed nearly impossible.

I finished today's Hampton Half in 2 hours, 15 minutes -- my second-best finishing time since the start of my running career and six whole minutes than I finished the race last year.

But the day really wasn't just about a finishing time or even a race at all.

It was day to appreciate the commaraderie and support of friends and teammates. And it didn't really matter if those friends and teammates even made it to the race. Their commaradie and support was evident, even when their physical presence wasn't.

Here are a few snippits in one day of my running life:

6 a.m. - Awake in the guest room of my parents' house after spending a Valentine's Day dinner with them. I'm awoken by the gentle nudge of a German Shepherd nose, as I am every morning. I get out of bed and quickly dress in my race-day gear -- running tights, wicking turtleneck, fleece jacket and my trusty sneakers. It will be the last race for this pair.

7 a.m. - Head to Portsmouth for the first run of this season's new Team in Training team. It's chilly but sunny. Great running weather. Am happy to see the usual group of mentors and Coach Jack, along with a small but seemingly lively group of new runners. Can already tell it's going to be a great season.

8 a.m. - Knowing that we run a half marathon later in the day, Shawnna and I don't join the team on the course. Instead, we opt to drive to a turnaround point to support the team -- barely making it to the mark after running into (almost literally) a former teammate and stopping for a quick chat. (Surprise.)

9 a.m. - The team's first run is quick. The miles are low. We have a couple of hours before our race, so a handful of teammates head to Dave and Nancy's for breakfast -- not just some store-bought bagels and OJ, either. It's a full-blown, homemade breakfast - suitable for pre-race fueling, of course. Baked oatmeal, pancakes, fruit and more.

10 a.m. - Out the door to the race. Shawnna and I drive together, having a lively and amusing (but somewhat deep) conversation along the way. We make our way to the registration, pick up our numbers and shirts, attempt to figure out the new disposable timing chip and stand in the slow-moving line for bathrooms before the race. See co-worker Dan, who's running the race and in training for the Boston Marathon, and his wife, Jenn, who I hadn't seen in many, many years since my old reporting days. Quickly decide she's one of the prettiest people I know.

11 a.m. - At the race starting line with nearly a thousand other runners. Hear my name called out. Turn around to see a smiling face -- and admittedly can't immediately place it. He's wearing sunglasses and a hat. A running friend? A work friend? "David Silver," he said. Total shock. David and I went to school together in Presque Isle, Maine. (I would probably even consider him one of my first school-age boyfriends, if you have such a thing in middle school, after a crush at summer camp one year.) We both moved around a lot and lost track of each other through the years. We start the race together and chat about what we've been up to for the past 20 years or so. Wish I could have kept up with his pace a while longer to catch up more. I lose both him and Shawnna in the crowd.

11:30 a.m. - Struggling with the zipper on my windbreaker -- again. The same thing happened two weeks ago when I ran with it. (Why did I give it another chance?) I try to unzip it, and the zipper gets stuck, holding only the very bottom seam together. My jacket fills up like a parachute when the wind hits it. I struggle with it for a few more miles and try to zip it back up -- which I do successfully, but now the zipper at the bottom of the jacket is separating, leaving me with just a small zipped portion near my mid-section. Can't wait to get to Mile 6 at the planned TnT waterstop to ditch this jacket.

12:00 p.m. - See the purple and white balloons at the Mile 6 water station. Can't wait to get rid of the jacket and this "wardrobe malfunction." Get closer and realize it's not the TnT stop. Consider ditching the jacket anyway, but decide to hold on to it for a while.

12:15 p.m. - Run strong miles between miles 5 and 9. Feeling really good - except for my ongoing battle with my frustrating jacket. See Dan again. He notes my iPod (not technically allowed in the race - I'm a scofflaw). Asks me what I'm listening to, which happens to be Def Leppard at that moment. But I run the gamut of musical selections throughout the race.

12:30 p.m. - Finally get to the TnT waterstop with the aggravating jacket just barely fastened. I can see Coach Jack laughing. (He fixed the zipper a couple of weeks ago -- and was probably wondering why I had it on again.) He hands me a GU gel. Happy to see it was espresso flavored, not "Lime Sublime" (which makes me want to throw up). Think to myself how nice it was of him to be there for me and Shawnna. Later find out that he was assigned the task of handing a GU gel to every runner.

12:45 p.m. - Start to feel the twinge of IT band pain as I approach Mile 11. Stop and stretch frequently (and sometimes walk) for the last two miles. Annoyed that I have to do this, but made good time until this point. Plus, no use risking injury for a race that's just supposed to be about fun. Annoyed that Geoff catches my stretching and stopping while photographing us from the sidelines.

1:15 p.m. - Cross the finish line with an official time of 2 hours, 15 minutes. A little disappointed because I thought I might be faster, but satisfied that I pulled in my second-fastest half-marathon finish. Vow to myself to add stretching to my daily routine. (Stretching is definitely my weakness!) Plenty of upcoming races to improve my time. Find Shawnna at the finish line (she finished in 2:01, awesome) and make our way to the post-race gathering for a complimentary beer.

2 p.m. - Back to Dave and Nancy's to shower, then head to another post-race celebration of margaritas and dinner. Geoff pulls out a laptop to show us the slideshow of pictures (literally, a slideshow) he took of me and Shawnna during the race. I am, of course, critical of myself in Spandex tights (do I really wear those in public?), but happy with one particular profile shot of me running along the coast -- with good running form for a change. I look like I might even know what I'm doing out there.

3 p.m. - Answer an ongoing series of congratulatory text messages from co-workers and friends -- new and old. Realize how supportive people are, even if they aren't on the sidelines. I hope they know how much it means to me. Update my Facebook page to show another successful race under my belt. More supportive message pour in from teammates from various seasons. Messages quickly turn into plans for the next race. Typical.

6 p.m. - Say good-bye to the teammates after a fun-filled day with some of the most supportive and caring people I know. I say that not only about the people who physically helped me by cooking breakfast or handing me water, but also for the many people who help me on an ongoing basis to realize that running these types of races is something I can do - and do well. Crank the CD that was dropped off to me with a good luck note on Friday and sing along to some of my favorites while heading back to my parents' for a little rest on the couch with the pooch. Still feeling a bit of strain on my IT band, I take an Advil and ice my left side.

8:30 p.m. - Realize that the couch is way too comfortable to consider heading out for the drive back to Manchester. Am coaxed to stay another night at my parents'. Okay, it didn't take much coaxing. I'm exhausted and it's been a long day.

10:30 p.m. - Decide I should document some of the highlights of what really turned out to be a great day. It didn't matter what the clock at the Finish Line said or even how I felt during those last two miles. The day turned out to be about something much more important: the importance of friends, family and teammates - once again.

11 p.m. - Lights out. Good night, friends.


Friday, February 13, 2009

A Do-Over

If you look in the margins of this blog, you'll see a picture of me running last year's Hampton Half Marathon. I'm pretty bundled up, snow's falling. And, honestly, I'm not enjoying it.

I wrote a post about the race - and I think I may have vowed never to run it again. But on Sunday morning, I'll be at the starting line for a do-over.

My only goal this year is to finish strong, enjoy the race and know that I conquered a race that left me with a negative impression last year.

I'm not saying it wasn't a good race. It seemed well organized. I've heard good things about it from other runners. Looking back, I think most of the bad impression was due to the fact that we ran through rain, slush and snow. (I cannot stand running with wet feet, especially for 13.1 miles.)

Since then, I've run in all sorts of weather: torrential downpours, snowstorms, sub-zero temperatures, scorching hot days. Weather doesn't faze me like it used to.

Last year's race in Hampton was my first half marathon after Disney. I believe I dubbed it the Anti-Disney. I remember finding the race very lonely. I missed the support of the hundreds and hundreds of TnT-ers on the sidelines offering their support and cheers.

Things are so much different this year. Even after my Disney race, I stuck with the team. I developed stronger friendships in the miles I've run since my first race than I ever thought I would.

And on Sunday, my teammates will be there - some running with me, some on the sidelines, some joining us for post-race drinks.

The support will certainly help, and with some good training runs under my belt and a flurry of recent cross-training, I feel ready to have a great race. At least I'll know it will be better than last year.