Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Dress Rehearsal

We’ve had the final dress rehearsal. We’re just waiting to get on the big stage.

Two Saturdays ago was the last big training run for my Team In Training Boston marathon team. (Boy, I've gotten lax at updating the blog.) Like many other charities, we headed to the Boston Marathon course to plan a point-to-point, 20-mile run – the closest thing we’d get before the Big Day on April 18.

The morning started like most other team meetings: some last-minute tips from our coaches, a few “Go Team” cheers, lots of stretching, story swapping and a tear-jerking dedication by a fellow teammate. That day, we were running in honor of 3-year-old Tucker, our teammate’s nephew who is battling leukemia.

By 8 a.m., we’d boarded the line of school buses that awaited us – 100 or more runners in all – and headed to the starting line. Yes, The Starting Line of the most prestigious marathon in the world. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have butterflies.

It wasn’t the Big Dance, but it was as close as we were going to come to the real thing until race day. We were taking part in the Boston Athletic Association charity run, the 20-mile training run that’s loomed on all of our calendars since we signed up in the fall.

The day ran like a well-oiled machine, complete with a line of porta-johns at the start and a vendor handing out fueling snacks and gloves at the start. (I really wanted some of the gloves, but the thought of holding them while I ran for the next several hours was unbearable, so I passed on the give-aways.)

At the scheduled start time for the Team In Training, our group – all clad in our purple race-day singlets – made our way to the starting line. And we were off.

Just like a race, the group shuffled along. If you've never been in a "big" race start, I hate to break this news to you: the start is pretty anti-climatic. The starting gun goes off ... and well, sometimes you start running.

It’s hard to actually take off running in a big group, and it’s often more like an on-again-off-again jog. I tried to imagine how it would be on race day. Our small group of 140 people is nothing compared to the 28,000 runners that will stand at the starting line on Marathon Monday.

I stepped across the official starting line painted on the road, remarking at its faded and chipped paint. The next time I see it, I thought, it will be repainted and refreshed. I clicked on my GPS watch and tried to find an open spot in the crowd.

I had specific training goals for this run, so I resisted the urge to go faster at the beginning. The downhill slope and the rush of adrenaline surely would have allowed me to pick up speed. But I heard my coach’s advice over and over in my head: Go out slow, go out slow.

Her advice throughout training has been invaluable. I’ve learned so much about the purpose of different runs, pacing and strength training.

I checked my Garmin obsessively. Good news, I was right on track. And when I wasn't, I'd quickly adjust myself to get back on the plan.

On the marathon route, I eavesdropped on the conversations going on between runners around me, but purposefully resisted my natural urge to join in on the chatter. After all, I was there with specific training goals and paces to hit.

Still, I welcomed the opportunity to run with other people around me and to have festive and loud fueling stops along the route. The charities, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Children’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and others, staffed each stop with volunteers. Each was equipped with water, sports drink, fueling snacks, signs and smiles.

I think I ate about a thousand Swedish Fish that day. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I did use them as my main, sugary fuel during the run. I just could not resist the bowls filled with the jelly, sweet deliciousness at the water stops. (Note to self: Pack Swedish Fish for the marathon.)

At the 15-mile mark, I ran past the Team In Training home base and encountered the “Memory Mile” featuring the photos of the people our team is running for. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos, from babies to gray-haired grandpas. There had to be at least 100 of them.

At that moment, our team mission became very real. To my surprise, it hit me square in the heart. My eyes filled with tears and I picked up the pace. I could do this. If nothing else, I would do it for the people in those pictures.

The next five miles flew by as I made my way through Wellesley and into Newton. I faced - and conquered - the hills of Newton without any significant problems. I mentally thanked myself for moving to Goffstown with its hilly terrain, which has forced me into more hill training.

To my surprise, I felt great. My legs felt strong and just slightly tired. I picked up the pace for each of the last three miles. (Yes!)

The 20-miler wrapped up as perfectly as I could have planned - including a somewhat chilly, yet somehow perfect weather-day - and I even added an extra climb up Heartbreak Hill. After all, I’d come all that way and wanted to see what it would be like.

The next time I see those hills will be on race day. It’s scary and exciting just thinking about it. Now, if I can only replicate what I did for the dress rehearsal...

*REMEMBER, I'm running the Boston Marathon to help save lives!**

I'm SO CLOSE to my goal! Please visit my fundraising page to support a good cause and learn more about a very special little boy. Thank you for your support!

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