Thursday, October 29, 2009

High Tech Community

I'm not a "techie" by any stretch of the imagination, but I've always found myself drawn to new ways of connecting with people.

I embraced email in my early days as a freshman the University of Illinois, spending hours in the dorm computer lab (yes, it was before anyone actually had computers in their rooms, let alone laptops!) typing away on a now-archaic email system.

The challenging part was, not many of my friends even had an email account, so I essentially spent most of my time communicating with other friends in my dorm and across campus.

But it was a start.

A few years later, long before the craze of instant messaging and before anyone even used the phrase "chatting," U of I unveiled its "ntalk" feature that allowed you to chat with someone computer-to-computer. Brilliant!

I spent late nights clicking away on the keyboard, "ntalking" with friends back in Illinois as I spent my summers in New Hampshire with my family. (My friend Dana and I might maintain that we created the "LOL" abbreviation, along with a dozen or so others that never took off. As an aside, I never use "LOL" anymore. Much too common and over-used.)

Since then, I've dabbled in other high-tech communication tools - blogging, texting, Facebooking. I'm just starting to try my hand at Twitter, although I admit I haven't fully embraced it yet and am hesitant to take it on, knowing my tendency to go all-out with things. (Perhaps I need to link it to my Facebook account so that it doesn't become "just another thing" I have to do.)

Recently, I've discovered that my main source of communication often isn't face-to-face or even phone calls anymore.

While some would argue that might put up a barrier or shut me out of truly getting to know someone, I'd argue the opposite. My Facebook friends would tell you they probably know more about me than anyone. I've connected with people and developed relationships through email, Facebook and blogging - people whom I otherwise would not to have reached out to in a more personal manner.

Certainly more comfortable than the written word than trying to get my thoughts out in person, writing (whether on this blog or in a Facebook update or in an email to a friend) has helped me focus my thoughts, share my experiences and move me forward in a positive direction.

As with everything, I probably need just a little more balance.
(Someone close to me recently described me as "intense," to which my response was, "Intense about what?" His reply, "Everything.")

I guess a personality trait like that is helpful in marathon training.

He's right, though, it does spill into everything - communication included. If you want to reach me (and get a quick response), your best bet is to text, email or Facebook. (I've become semi-obsessive about checking these, thanks to having mobile access through my phone. Do I really need to be that connected?)

My mom, who doesn't text, complains that I don't return her calls as promptly as I reply to a text from my dad. I often leave voicemail messages unchecked, while rarely take more than a few minutes to reply to an email in my inbox. For me, texting is almost like instant-messaging via phone.

So what does this have to do with running and marathon training?

While surfing aroung on Facebook, I stumbled upon a post on the Manchester City Marathon page from a New Hampshire blogger and runner giving his thoughts on the course. Having run the course many times myself, I was interested in hearing someone else's take on it.

I read that post and many more. The web is a funny thing. You can easily get lost. I found myself jumping around on his site, taking in his experiences and advice. I found myself admiring the support of this online community and the moments they take to document their lives. I found myself relating to some of the experiences and finding inspiration in others.

I fired off a quick email to send my compliments to the site (if he's like me, feedback is always appreciated) and share a link to my own blog. Not surprisingly, I got a relatively quick response that included even more tips of sites to visit and features I could add to the blog.

RunBlogger's site is amazing - well designed, chock-full of information, widgets, tabs, automatic emailing, counters, ads and all sorts of other techie things I don't know how to do. (Yet?) Mine is like the archaic ntalk to his super-charged instant messaging program.

I even found a common friend, Matt, who was the feature of the most recent post on the quest to run a marathon and raise money through Team In Training.

I only wish I'd found RunBlogger's site earlier in my training, as I think it might have provided another outlet of support and encouragement. Not to worry, though, since I don't have plans to stop running after the marathon. I'm sure I'll be a frequent visitor to this site and others.

Runners like me - you know, the people who aren't out to win races, the ones who are out there to better their lives, achieve personal goals and just plain have fun - are everywhere. We like to share our experiences. And I think we know the value of learning from others.

I'm glad that this high-tech community gives us the forum to keep doing that. Things sure have come a long way since ntalk.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Mile For You (And .2 For Me)

NOTE: Below is text of an email I sent out to friends and loved ones last week.

Dear Friends,

I can hardly believe the Manchester Marathon is just around the corner. It seems as if I started out this journey so long ago, although at times I feel as if I’ve just begun. Marathon training is definitely a journey. I’ve learned a lot about myself during this process, not the least of which is that I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of friends and loved ones like you.

When you take on a task like a 26.2, you get a lot of advice from people about how to break down the miles into manageable segments. After all, no matter how you look at it, 26.2 miles is a long way to run. It’s a long way, physically. And it’s a long way mentally. One of my favorite tips I got was to dedicate a mile to someone who’s helped you get this far.

So that’s exactly what I’ve done. You are receiving this because you’ve played a part in this marathon journey. (If you’re lucky, you didn’t even have to run any of the miles!) Truth be told, there are probably a dozen or so names I could include on this list. It’s perhaps the only time I’ve actually wanted the race to have a few more miles. (That thought passed quickly, don’t worry.)
It’s my hope that reading this will show you how helpful your support has been to me. You’ve given me the courage to start.

Bring on Marathon Day!

MILE 1 - Steve
It was not an easy decision to include this name on my list, but at the urging of someone close to me, I decided it would only be fitting to start out the race by recalling why I actually laced up those first pair of sneakers. The start of the race will be hectic and I’m sure I’ll be working to find my spot in the crowd, to find the pace that suits me best and to prepare for a long road ahead. It seems only appropriate that the first mile be run thinking of a time when I struggled to find my spot and pace the best suited me in life. I know that I would not be who I am today or doing the things I am if not for those years and the lessons learned.

MILE 2 - Sarah Avery-Leaf

Although only a handful of people even know that I know Sarah, she has helped me through more things than I could list. It was at her urging that I attended the first Team In Training informational session and the first practice – something that was far outside my comfort zone. She was the first person to encourage me to pick something seemingly unattainable and the first to believe that I could do it.

MILE 3 - Jamie Ruel

I remember Jamie and her daughter sitting in front of me at Info Night for Team In Training in August 2007. I don’t think either one of us knew what to expect. Both non-runners, I don’t think either one of us thought we would sign on the dotted line and run a half-marathon in just a few short months. I recall our first run – 2 miles. We weren’t even able to run the whole thing. Our team runs turned into mid-week coffees, Christmas shopping trips and other outings. Although I don’t see her nearly as often as I used to and not nearly enough as I should, I know I always have her support and friendship.

MILE 4 - Christine Rice
It might be a bit of surprise to Christine that she made this list. But I felt it was only fitting to include a person that, from the other side of the computer screen, has cheered me on and supported my marathon efforts. Christine and I met while I was a reporter and she was a copy editor at Foster’s Daily Democrat. I recently reconnected with her on Facebook and am always pleased to get her cheery comments and feedback. Her warm, positive attitude is contagious and I know it will carry me on Race Day.

MILE 5 - Heather & Derek Van Patter
Despite the fact that many miles and a border crossing separate us, Heather and Derek are my two closest cousins. We spent many hours together growing up, playing make-believe shopping, hair dresser and early computer games. They’ve followed my training and offered much-appreciated support along the way. At one time, they even talked about doing a 10K, a distance that I’ll pass around this point of the marathon.

MILE 6 - Kristi Hallowell Guillemette

We can go years without seeing each other, then pick up like we’ve never been apart. Kristi and I worked in the Rochester Bureau together during my years at Foster’s. We’ve shared many laughs – and more than our fair share of grilled cheese sandwiches. For my birthday this year, I was so pleased to get a surprise package from Kristi: a signed copy of Marathoning for Mortals, personally signed by John Bingham. I’ve been continually inspired by a quote from John: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. It’s that I had the courage to start.”

MILE 7 - Aunt Kathy
Although we call her “aunt,” Kathy isn’t really a blood relative. She and my mom were college roommates and stayed close during my younger years in Canada. I remember sleepovers and trips on the subways – and always feeling connected to Aunt Kathy. Several years ago, she was left paralyzed after a reaction to what was supposed to be routine surgery. I remember vividly going with my parents to the Toronto hospital, nervous about seeing her in that state. My fears quickly washed away when we opened the door and saw Kathy’s smiling face. Since then, she has worked hard at physical therapy to gain some mobility. She’s taught me, perhaps without even realizing it, to never take your health and abilities for granted.

MILE 8 - Julie Grena
There are a lot of memories that come up when I think of Julie, who lived in the Sigma Kappa sorority house with me at the University of Illinois. We later shared an apartment with some other friends. Julie is someone who can always make me laugh and, since learning of my marathon training, has offered many supportive words. I was happy to hear that she also took on the challenge of a half-marathon and has successfully completed two this year. Julie and I probably aren’t the ones from college that you’d pick out as runners. Just goes to show that you never know where life will bring someone.

MILE 9 - Dirk Ruemenapp, Lemont Haas, John Whalen, Ralph Ascoli
These guys are co-workers at the Union Leader. I always appreciated their support during the challenge of taking on my first half-marathon. That support continues today through ongoing interest in my running adventures and training.

MILE 10 - Dave Dulong, Nancy Peters
At my first Team In Training practice, I was greeted with a huge smile and a booming, friendly voice. That was Dave. And it is Dave. He’s the TnT cheerleader, the one always encouraging us, sharing his stories and tips. I’ve run a lot of miles with Dave, who was my mentor during my Disney training. Like many of my teammates, Dave isn’t just a running partner. He and his wife Nancy have opened their home many times to let those of us who travel to practice grab a shower, prepare for races or have post-run celebrations. We’ve spent many miles in his SUV driving the course, supporting the runners and helping people crossing the finish line.

MILE 11 - Elena Modini
I’ve never met Elena. In fact, I’ve only rarely had any sort of communication with her. My first introduction to Elena came through a message to my inbox. I didn’t recognize the name at all, but my interest was sparked when I read the first line of the message. “You do not know me but your stories have inspired me so much," she wrote. Elena went on to say that she stumbled on my blog last year while searching for Team In Training inf. Apparently she bookmarked the site and, while in the midst of a divorce, returned regularly to read about my progress – perhaps 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. Knowing that there are people out there like Elena inspires me to keep going and to share my story.

MILE 12- Matt Allen
I’ve met a lot of people since I started running with Team In Training. Matt joined TnT with his friend Seth last year, both signed up to take on the challenge of the Lake Placid Half Marathon. And a challenge it was. Although Matt didn’t have an ideal race day, I was impressed that he quickly used it as a learning experience and a chance to focus himself on another goal. I’m so happy that he’s training for his first marathon and know that he’ll have a great experience. Matt’s always there with an encouraging comment, a witty remark and a good attitude. And, perhaps most importantly, I can’t forget to note Matt’s sense of humor, particularly in the video gems he posts on Facebook, which keep me smiling and usually laughing out loud.

MILE 13 - Granny Grace Robinson

It was during one of Granny’s annual summer visits that I announced to my family that I had signed up to run a half-marathon. To say they were surprised doesn’t begin to describe it. Robinsons aren’t runners. I had even waited a couple weeks after signing up to get a few training runs under my belt before sharing the news with them. Since then, Granny’s been a great supporter of my efforts and faithful reader of my blog. I can always count on her for words of encouragement. I can only hope to be as happy and healthy as she is when I reach my mid- 80s.

MILE 14 - Kevin Gray, Maureen Milliken, Scott McQuillen, Vin Sylvia, BJ Bergeron

Our paths in the hallway of the Union Leader don’t cross often, but I can’t ignore the support I get from my fellow Union Leader runners. I enjoyed following Kevin’s successful quest to run his first marathon last year, have learned from Maureen’s veteran tips along the way and compared running notes with BJ. I have been impressed by Scott’s consistency and dedication when I see him leave for his lunchtime run in all seasons and am encouraged by stories of Vin’s distance-running adventures. I might have even convinced Vin to join me in the Manchester 26.2.

MILE 15 - Katie McQuaid
Technically, Katie started out as my “boss” at the Union Leader. It didn’t take long for us to become friends. We’ve done more oddball things for our jobs than probably anyone can imagine. I’ve always been impressed with Katie’s ability to balance work, family and fun – and she seems to get a lot of each of those. I remember watching Katie cross the finish line for the Union Leader 8K Classic a few years ago and thinking I wished I could do something like that. Since then, Katie and I have gotten a few runs in together.

MILE 16 - Patty Jo Duguay, Pam Sirianni
These two office ladies have been with me for many of the ups and downs during the past few years. They’ve followed my running progress since day one and listened to my groans when I came in sore after a weekend long run. More personally, I thank them for listening to my stories, being patient with me when I felt pulled in a million directions and celebrating my current happiness.

MILE 17 - Friends from The Salvation Army (staff and advisory board)
As part of my duties as Community Relations Manager at the Union Leader, I sit on the The Salvation Army Advisory Board in Manchester. And although it’s part of the job, the people I’ve met there have become a part of my life. There are too many to mention by name, although I would be remiss if I didn’t try to list just a few: Diana Holland, Shannon Sullivan, Majors Greg and Joyce Hartshorn, Rene Ciccone, Jane Martin, Kate Ferreira, Steve White and all of the other wonderful, supportive people who dedicate their time to this worthwhile organization.

MILE 18 - Dan Tuohy, Jenn Stevens, Jim Kimble, Frank Tutalo
Sometimes life has a way of going in circles. I met these friends just weeks after I graduated from college when I started as a rookie reporter at Foster’s Daily Democrat. What I didn’t know is that I was being welcomed into a special family, one that is always bound by early-morning budget deadlines, late nights at the Pressroom and memories of “Glass House” meetings. Years later, we reconnected, and this group as been particularly supportive of my marathon endeavor. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t make special note of Dan, who took on the Boston Marathon this year through Team In Training. I followed his training with interest and was inspired shortly after he crossed the finish line to take on my own 26.2.

MILE 19 - Jeff Pelletier

I’ve done a lot of training runs on the Manchester Marathon course and, for most of it, I have an idea of what to expect. Frankly, I expect this mile to be one of the hardest. Mile 19 brings us up to the St. A’s campus, a high point before we make our way back down to the city and toward the finish line. It’s tough, coming after a long, gradual climb up Daniel Plummer and up more, smaller inclines hills on the college campus – not to mention it comes after 18 miles of running. It’s already my least favorite mile. So I think I should give it to my favorite person. It was Jeff who was standing there on the other side of the St. A’s footpath when I did our 20-miler. And it’s Jeff who can handle my cranky attitude at a point when I might not want to run any more. More thoughts on Jeff later, as he is the only one to get two miles dedicated to him during the race. Trust me, he’s earned them.

MILE 20 - Scott Hagwood

Although he wasn’t officially my “mentor” during my Team In Training event, Scott ran with me most Sundays. He gave me tips, kept my pace up and dragged me to the finish line of the Great Bay Half Marathon in 2008. He listened to more stories about my life than he probably wanted to and encouraged me to move forward with running and with life. Scott gets Mile 20 because I can’t think of him without remembering my run with him on his 20-miler during the Big Lake race last year. I handed him jelly beans, silently encouraged him (I knew he wasn’t in the mood to chat) and just tried to keep up. Hopefully he’ll be handing me mental jelly beans at this point.

MILE 21 - Geno Dube

While my main source of training, tips and inspiration remained my teammates, led by Coach Jack, I found myself seeking the advice of a sort-of second coach. I met Geno while taking his Spin Class at the YMCA. He's definitely a motivating person – high-energy, enthusiastic and positive. More than a few times, he made a note of when I missed a few classes – which made me sure to get back to the cross-training. Exactly the kind of nudge I need sometimes. An ultra-marathoner, he took particular interest in my training, asking me about upcoming races, my goals and my plans. Along the way, I've updated him about my progress and he's offered his advice. I can’t say how much his tips, support and encouragement have helped me going every step of the way.

MILE 22 - Jack Davis

Coach Jack has taught me most of what I’ve learned about running. Most of all, he’s taught me that I can do this. Jack has given much time and energy to helping non-runners achieve their goals. And time after time, they do achieve them. At the start of every TnT training season, I look around the group. I see doubt and worry on some faces, nervous excitement on others. At the finish line, we see smiles and celebration. Jack brings us there. I’m not sure that any of us take the time to thank him enough. Jack is not only is a coach to me, but he’s also a friend. He gets Mile 22 because he was the lucky one to receive my near-panicked phone call when I started having an issue with my calf just a couple of days before my scheduled 22-mile training run. He gave me the advice I needed to get back on track – including advice to drop the 22-miler if needed. When I reach that 22-mile mark on race day, I’ll be in unfamiliar territory. And I’ll be thinking of all Jack’s support and advice during the past couple of years.

MILE 23 - Rebel

It might seem strange to have my dog on my list, but it wouldn’t be right for me not to acknowledge what this furry little face helped me through. He’s gotten more hugs and snuggles, seen more tears and tagged along with me more than most other friends ever do. Rebel ran every training mile with me during my quest for the Disney Half. His excitement upon seeing my sneakers is almost comical. These days, Rebel stays home during my runs – too distracted to keep up with my more consistent pace, wanting to stop every 20 feet to mark his territory, and just not being able to handle the warmer temps. But he’s always there when I return – no matter what – excited and tail wagging when I walk through the door. Unconditional love, for sure.

MILE 24 - Shawnna Young
I’m not even sure where to start with this one. Shawnna’s been my frequent running partner during this marathon training. We ran double-digit runs in scorching heat and pouring rain. She’s helped me believe that I can get to the next milestone – and she’s helped me get there. She’s been by my side, literally, as I reached higher and higher training goals. It only seems fitting to run Mile 24 for her. I’m not sure what to expect at Mile 24, which brings across the footbridge by the Fisher Cats’ stadium and onto Granite Street. The finish will be so close. Shawnna has helped me through those nervous moments of dealing with the unexpected many times. Having her by my side during this journey has been invaluable. Although I’m referring to running with those comments, I should note that Shawnna has become a friend throughout the miles. I mean, do you know very many people that could run 18 or 20 miles without using the iPods? We’ve shared a lot of personal moments, aches and pains and plenty of laughs. I wouldn’t have wanted to train with anyone else.

MILE 25 - Mom, Dad, Angela & Marc, Andy & Allison
I moved around a lot during her younger years. It meant new schools, new friends and a lot of unknowns. But there was always one constant in my life – my family. Even though we don’t often express our love and support outwardly, there is an ever-present and unspoken understanding that we’re there for each other. This marathon journey and everything that led up to it during the past few years is no different. I’m happy to celebrate it with them and see them after I cross the finish line.

MILE 26 - Jeff Pelletier
My Trusty Companion. He’s been there with me through all of this – the long miles, the aches and pains, the smiles, the complaints. He’s pushed me to try new things, helped me focus on cross-training and been my constant supporter. Usually armed with a course map, some water and a clear set of instructions from me, he’d follow me along the course during my longer runs. I really appreciated his smiling face, willingness to help out and unwavering support – when I didn’t think I could do this or at the times when I was a little too hard on myself. He made sure I ate properly, drank enough water and got enough sleep when I didn’t focus on those things. He high-fived me and hugged me when I needed it. He let me run in quiet when I needed to. This last mile is for you, TC. Thank you for helping me get this far. I couldn’t have done it without you.

MILE .2 - ME
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past few years, it’s that it’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes – to care about yourself enough to put yourself first in life. I’ve come to believe that taking care of yourself is the only way to truly give yourself to others. Because of that, I’m being a little selfish and taking the last leg of this race for myself. After all, I deserve it.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Getting Me There

A couple of days ago I sent out a special message thanking many of the people who have helped me in my marathon journey. And life journey.

I'm counting the days to the Finish Line now, and I felt it only appropriate to recognize the people who have helped me get here. The ones who will help me get there.

Some of the people were surprised that they were on the list, based on the feedback I've gotten. Their words have been touching and supportive, just re-affirming why they were on the list to begin with. I think many people didn't realize how much their support - no matter how seemingly small and insignificant - helped me keep going.

I even surprised myself with the number of people who ended up on the list - and how I could have easily added another dozen or so. A couple of short years ago, when I had a hard time letting anyone help me, that wouldn't have been the case. Today, I realize that you can't do things alone and it's okay to let friends and loved ones know you need them.

On Sunday, as I finished up my 8-miler - the last long run before the big day - I realized I left out an important group of people: my teammates.

Many of my teammates have become friends and stick out in my mind when I think about my marathon training. I singled out many of them of my list. But I realized Sunday it's not just the individual friends that have helped me. It's the entire Team In Training family.

I mentally penciled in a run with the team on Sunday while planning my weekend, partly because I thought it would be a fitting way to wrap up my marathon training and partly because I sensed I was going to have a personally tough day. I wanted to surround myself with those same positive people who supported me for the past couple of years.

I say "same people" but in reality they're not always the same. The faces change from week to week - you never know who will make it to the run - and some of them I struggle to even learn their names.

One thing that never changes? The warmth, camaraderie and support you feel as we gather in the familiar school parking lot. It was no different on Sunday. Chilly, we huddled in small groups, laughing and catching up with those we hadn't seen in a while. (For a change, I was included in that category, as I've missed many practices in favor of training on the marathon course.)

As the level of chit-chat escalated, Coach Jack tried to get us back on track. After all, we are there to run. Sometimes we forget that. He gathered us into a circle where he normally leads off the morning with some tips, a few words of wisdom and a variety of stretches.

As usual, we went around the circle making sure everyone knows how far they were running, where the turn-around points were and to check in on any nagging issues we might be having. (He should probably clarify that he's talking about running-related nagging injuries - I think there isn't anyone at the TnT circle that isn't or hasn't been dealing with some "nagging issue" in life.)

Yesterday, Coach Jack took a moment to recognize the accomplishments of three teammates - Brianna, Jo-Ann and Maura - who last week ran the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. I was pleased to see them return to practice to quickly, not only because it shows you can survive a marathon and get back on your feet, but also because it shows the significance of the team.

They wanted to celebrate with us, to encourage us to keep going and, for better or worse, to share their stories. Tell us what it's really like out there.

As we completed our final stretches Coach Jack announced to the group that I was in the final week before my first marathon - words that elicited a round of applause, some cheers and a few pats on the back. The support, from some people who are literally strangers, still gives me goosebumps.

We all headed out in the same direction, predictably sectioning off with those who run our pace. I noted what a natural process this is - not a word is spoken and no plans are made. We just somehow fall into place. And I noticed that it doesn't matter who you run with - like I said, the faces change from week to week - there's usually someone to run beside you and help those miles pass faster than they would alone.

Yesterday that person ended up being Brianna, a tell-it-like-it-is girl whom I'd run with several times over the summer. Fresh off her marathon finish last week and wearing the race shirt she'd earned, she was eager to share her experience.

Brianna doesn't sugar-coat anything. The funny thing is, to look at her, you'd never expect her to say some of the things she does. She's a pretty, petite girl, usually decked out in head-to-toe pink. But the words that come flying out of her mouth - especially on the hottest of days or up a challenging hill - rival a truck driver's vocabulary.

I suspected I'd be in for a treat. I'd hear exactly what a first marathon was like... like it or not.

It's hard. No surprise, right? Not just hard. The hardest thing you'll ever do, she said. And it's not hard like training-hard. It's a whole different kind of hard.

Yep, just what I was expecting.

She told me how her attitude got progressively worse, how some of the miles were lonely, how she wanted to rip the headphones from her ears in the final miles. She told me about things that were motivators during training (like rewarding herself with a Snickers at the end of an 18-miler) didn't mean anything at the end of the marathon. (Hopefully her confused boyfriend, who met her at the finish with a Snickers, understood the change.)

She told me how, really, you just want to sit down. She admitted to having thoughts of sitting down in the middle of the course. Even laying down at some points.

But she told me it's the best feeling in the world to cross the Finish Line. You're in pain and just want it to be over with, but you can truly say you've done something that most people don't even think about doing. You've proven that you have the "mental and physical fortitude," as Brianna put it, that most people can only hope for.

I listened intently, nodding or asking the occasional question. I soaked up her advice like a sponge - like me, she was a first-timer, had a similar training experience and runs a pretty similar pace.

When we reached the Mobil water stop, I thanked her and congratulated her again. She wished me luck and she took a right to go back to the school. I still had a few miles to go, so I took a left. I put in my earphones, cranked a song and picked up the pace. This was it, I thought to myself, the last miles of marathon training.

I took advantage of my last three miles to enjoy the moment running by myself, to think back on the early months of TnT when I ran those same roads. Again, I took time to reflect on those who have helped me along the way.

Marathon training, for me anyway, isn't a solitary process. I really don't think i would have made it this far without the support of friends and loved ones. They truly gave me the courage to start.

There are a lot of parallels and overlap in the my marathon journey and my life journey. The difference is on Sunday I get a break from marathon training. The life journey continues - a journey I look forward to experiencing, step by step.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ready Or Not

That's it. I'm done.

Sure, I still have the actual marathon ahead of me. Two weeks from today, in fact. But the distance training is done.

Mother Nature finally gave us a break yesterday as Shawnna and I tackled our last long run before the marathon. The weather was crisp and sunny - the kind of weather that makes us spend a few extra minutes debating between shorts or tights or whether to bring gloves and hats along or how many layers to wear.

Perfect running weather.

I wasn't quite sure how long Saturday's run would end up being. I hadn't pushed my calf much and was a little nervous about trying a long run. My goal was 18 miles.

In a series of texts on my way to meet Shawnna, we decided to run the entire second half of the course, followed by a five-mile downtown loop that included a couple of miles on the first half of the course.

We spent some of the run looking back at the training process - the good runs, the not-so-good ones, the valued support of our friends and loved ones and the physical and mental challenges we've overcome.

At times, we looked ahead to race day. We talked about all the people we might see on the sidelines, where we might need them to stand and what we might need them to bring. We talked about what it would be like in those final miles, what it would sound like as we approached the finish line. We talked about where we might break down and cry - happy tears.

We ended up reaching 19 miles yesterday. And I felt great. I didn't have any of the stomach issues or mental hurdles I had in the 20-miler. I wished aloud that I would feel this good on race day.

Our run ended with the usual high-five and a few stretches. Despite the fact that I just put 19 miles on my legs, I was able to manage a pretty packed day. In a bit of irony, I had already made plans to meet Jamie for lunch.

Jamie, who sat in front of me at my first TnT Info Night, reminded me of our very first team run. Two miles. And we weren't even able to run the whole thing.

Marathon training is a journey, no doubt. Someone close to me often reminds me that "it's not about the desination, it's about the journey."

That may be true - and I honestly believe it is - but I still better cross that Finish Line in two weeks.


Friday, October 16, 2009

So Close, Yet So Far

It was almost 17 weeks ago that I first started filling in those blank boxes on the training chart that hangs on my fridge. I remember thinking that Marathon Day seemed so far off.

And it was. Months away, plenty of time to train and become "a marathoner," right?

Somewhere in my mind I was sure that I would be magically transformed into a so-called marathoner. Not necessarily in appearance or by any checklist, but I figured something about me would change. There would be some way of knowing that I was ready to enter this new elite category.

All of those miles and weeks later, I'm still waiting for the sign. Truthfully, I feel pretty much the same as I did on Day One.

That isn't to say I haven't improved my endurance, my fitness level or the confidence in my running ability. Although I don't think any first-time marathoner ever feels completely at ease as the race day rapidly approaches, I know that I've put the training in and am as ready as I can be right now.

(As a side note, my calf still isn't perfect, but it's much better and I'm pretty sure I can make it through the miles. At least I'll know for sure tomorrow, when I tackle my last long run - an 18-miler.)

I feel ready, sure. I just don't think of myself at a "marathoner."

But in 16 days, that's what I'll be: a marathoner. (I'm mentally crossing my fingers, knocking on wood and all of those things as I write that. A lot of things can happen in 16 days.)

It's funny how 16 days can seem just around the corner. But it can also seem a lifetime away.

There's part of me that just wants to get this training over with and put it behind me. I want my Saturday mornings back. I don't want to worry about waking up at the crack of dawn with double-digit miles in front of me or having to monitor the weather on a minute-by-minute basis.

I don't want to worry about mapping out routes, planting water stops or battling daylight on either end of the day. I don't want to worry about "having to" run.

I don't want to worry about the 26.2 miles ahead of me on race day and whether I'll make it. I don't want to worry about all the unknowns that swirl around in my brain when I think of Nov. 1.

Those are the times when I wish the 16 days would pass quickly.

But when I think of the fact that I'll actually be running a marathon in 16 days, my stomach does flip-flops.

Can't I squeeze in a few more long runs? Can't I do some more cross training? Can't I drop five pounds? Can't I have another month or so to get ready?

And there are the things I'll miss about training -- long runs with Shawnna, never-ending support from TC, mid-week runs by myself, a focus on cross-training, reaching new milestones, pushing myself and working toward a goal.

As I read that list, I realize most (if not all) of those things can be easily incorporated into my post-marathon life. It's a good thing because I've already got 2010's goals and challenges mentally lined up.

Let's just get past this one first.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Feeling Knotty

Maybe I've been smart about it. Maybe I've just been lucky.

Somehow, someway, I've been able to avoid the myriad of injuries that tend to plague runners training for a marathon.

Until now.

During the last miles of Sunday's half-marathon, I felt a tightness in my left calf. I didn't give it much thought, although I did stop to stretch it at one point. The feeling is difficult to explain, other to say it's a tightness in my mid-calf that seems to have developed into an overall ache.

It didn't cross my mind much after Sunday's run. Stretching is definitely my weakness in training (among my weaknesses, I should say), so I'm used to tight muscles and some stretching breaks. I chalked it up to bad preparation on my part.

I hopped on the treadmill (yes, the end of summer is here) the other night after work. I was chugging along at a pretty good clip. As usual, I waited for my legs and body to work out the kinks during the first two miles and hoped to get into a rhythm.

That rhythm eventually came, but the pain in my calf flared up as the miles continued. I slowed the pace from about 9-minute miles to 10-minute miles. Around mile three, I could feel my body starting to compensate for the pain. My stride became uneven and almost limp-like. I stopped, stretched and gave it another go.

I made it another mile before I stopped, not wanting to cause any damage if I had the early stages of an injury. I remembered the words that many people have told me: Listen to your body.

I was able to squeak out a few miles on the stationary bike. (Boy, it reminded my how much better I like riding outside. Those five measly miles seemed to go on forever, even if the monitor display showed 20 minutes at the end of the ride.)

With my calf pain clearly stuck in my head now - I couldn't get past of the thought that I have a 22-miler ahead of me on Saturday and I wasn't able to manage four simple miles - I reached out to Coach Jack for advice.

He asked me a series of questions and, over the phone, was able to get a pretty good idea of what was happening. He surmised that I probably tweaked it (not the technical term) a bit during the half-marathon and it was getting more aggravated as I ran on it.

He commended me for taking steps to deal with it early, before it turned into a tear. I didn't like even hearing that word. He was pleased to hear that the pain was focused on the center of my calf, not near any of the connection points at my heel or knee. Probably a knot buried somewhere in there, he said.

He prescribed a version of RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation. I recruited my Trusty Companion (I think he's beginning to wonder what exactly he signed up for when we met for coffee nine months ago) to give me a somewhat painful, but much-need massage along my calf muscle.

Following Coach Jack's instructions, he pressed his thumbs along my leg, moving from my heel upward. (Always push toward the heart, Coach Jack said.) Along the way, TC definitely hit a knot - and although I grimaced in a bit of pain, it felt good as he put pressure on it to release it.

I followed the massage with a rest on the couch with a bag of frozen peas serving as a perfect ice pack. Not bad, three months of marathon training and this is the first icing I've done.

I'll likely follow the same regimen tonight. Another massage will feel good (sorry, TC!), especially because I'm supposed to run a few miles tonight to see how the calf feels before making a decision tomorrow's mileage.

Tomorrow is supposed to be the Big Day - well, second biggest day - with the scheduling calling for 22 miles, the last long run before tapering down the miles to Marathon Day. Shawnna and I planned to meet in the morning and run the first 22 miles of the course. And for a change, the forecast even calls for sun!

It's daunting, but I was looking forward to getting the big miles out of the way and ending my distance training on a strong, positive note.

Now, I'm not so sure.

I'm worried about pushing it - not only because I'm afraid of making a sore calf worse, but I'm also nervous about having a bad day and putting a negative punctuation mark at the end of this training schedule. With Marathon Day only three weeks away, I won't have another shot at getting it right.

My plan is to see how tonight's run goes, meet Shawnna in the morning and just see how I feel. Honestly, the way I feel now, it's doubtful I'll get the 22 miles in. I hope to get a few, pain-free miles in - or at least some miles with pain that doesn't escalate.

And if The 22 doesn't happen, hopefully I can make up some of the miles next week - although I need to be mindful of the fact that the last two weeks should be spent tapering down, not challenging myself to do more miles.

I know the calf issue is nothing serious. As I told Coach Jack yesterday, if it happened a month ago I would hardly be concerned. But to be facing even the slightest injury at this point - when Marathon Day is so close and I should be spending this time gearing up for my longest run before the taper - is frustrating and a bit scary.

I guess my best option now is to take the smartest, safest route, follow my prescription of massage, ibuprofen and bags of frozen vegetables and keep everything in perspective.

Now isn't the time to freak out.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

September Stats

I can't believe it's already October and less than a month from Marathon Day. My once-blank training chart on my fridge is filling up. I took a few moments to tally up this month's numbers.

Honestly, was feeling like I've slacked a bit this past month. Despite the fact that I tallied some decent miles from long runs, the mid-week runs are becoming a challenge -- Mother Nature steals away the daylight earlier and earlier these days. It's also becoming nearly impossible to get any miles in on the bike. It makes me wonder how anyone trains for the Boston Marathon during the winter's harshest months.

The goal for this month will be to fit in some more cross-training, even if it has to be indoors. Perhaps even some runs on the Dreadmill.

Three months down, one to go. Here's how September's numbers shook out:
  • 97 miles of running
  • 21 miles on the bike
  • Other cross training: 10 hours of horseback riding and one lone hour of spin class

Total marathon training miles:
  • 281 miles of running
  • 307 on the bike


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Best Yet

I don't know whether it's just a nice, flat course or whether the race falls late in the season when I'm well trained. Whatever the reason, I like the fact that my legs sure seem to do fine at the Maine Half Marathon.

I recorded a new half-marathon personal best on Sunday, crossing the finish line in 2:05.

That knocks about three minutes off my time at that race a year ago and about 10 minutes off my finishing time at my last half-marathon in Lake Placid in June. And puts that 2-hour barrier within reach for next year.

Even nicer was the fact that I didn't feel like I was pushing myself. Shawnna and I decided we'd use the race as a training run. We had our normal routine of a chat-filled run, walk breaks at the water stops and even a few minutes at the porta-potties along the route.

We finished smiling and feeling great, as did many of the TnT'ers I saw crossing the finish line.
I'd be remiss if I didn't note Matt's awesome and very impressive finishing time of 2:00:33. I was so happy that he had a good race after a disappointing and troubled run at Lake Placid. I just know his marathon journey is going to be a good one and I can't wait to follow the progress.

I couldn't help but think, as I ran the last mile or so, that in less than a month I'll be expected to double the miles. I really couldn't get my head around the fact that, in essence, I'd be turning around at the 13.1 finish line I crossed on Sunday and run the whole thing over again.

It's still a daunting though, even though I know I've done the training. If push came to shove, I probably could have done the whole thing in Maine. (Not that I wanted to!) I just have to be mentally prepared for those long, tough miles ahead.

Despite the fact that I have my longest run ahead of me on Saturday - yikes, 22 miles! - I know that essentially my physical, distance training has peaked. Now it's time to focus on the mental side of the last weeks leading up to race day, while continuing to take care of the "engine" that will get me there.

The Maine race certainly gave me a little confidence boost. I'm happy to have a new personal best half-marathon time so close to Marathon Day.

And really, when you think of it, no matter how long it takes me to run that 26.2 miles in less than a month, it will be my personal best marathon time.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Disappearing Act

You may recall that when I decided to sign up for the Manchester Marathon several months ago, I was suddenly faced with all sorts of reminders.

In particular, two stand out: 1) The spray-
painted 26-mile marker that I stumbled upon after leaving The Palace Theatre on Hanover Street one day. 2) A short side street -- Marathon Way -- that I added to one of my regular running routes.

About a month ago, I noticed they repaved Hanover Street, covering up the 26 marker. Last night on my way home from work, I noticed that the Marathon Way sign is mysteriously missing. Perhaps someone wanted a souvenir.

I'm sure both will be replaced soon enough. Always one to document life's little moments and perhaps always having a bit of reporter left in me, I had the foresight to snap a quick photo of both of these landmarks before they disappeared.