There are no words.

There are no words, but I’m going to use more than my share of them to try to process last weekend.

Last weekend, I ran the New York City Marathon.  People say it’s a race unlike any other and they’re right.  It’s either my favorite or my second-favorite marathon ever.  This year, it wasn’t just that it was a race unlike any other – my race was unlike any other.  So different from anything else I’ve ever run.  And I’m still figuring it all out, absorbing it, processing it.  But while I do, I’m going to use this space to try to document everything because I don’t want to forget a single moment of it.  Many thanks to Denise, Ariel, and the others whose photos I’m using here, they captured it visually so much better than I did.

TL/DR version:  We started with four or five of us who never left each other. Picked up another person then another then another. Like blob tag. By Harlem we were all in this together and we nonverbally committed to doing it together and supporting one another. Three of us were first time marathoners. We slowed and waited for one another as needed. And we finished. All of us. Together. I wouldn’t have traded it for a three hour marathon.

Now, the whole story.

I couldn’t believe I was at the end of this two month long running… something.  I don’t even know what it’s called but it was intense.  A half+5k or a full every weekend for five weeks, a two week break and then two marathons (these would be marathons #16 and 17, I believe) in eight days.

I was coming off a really bad time.  The week before the first of the two post-break marathons, one of my hospice rescue dogs bit my foot.  My toes, to be exact.  Multiple times.  And broke the third toe on the same foot (I picked up my foot to get it out of the way of his biting me… ‘how is this dog still attached to my foot?!?!?!’).  Within 12 hours it was infected, which necessitated two urgent care visits in the week between the bites and the first marathon.  It was iffy… I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run.  My gait was off, I was in a lot of pain, and I couldn’t flex my foot very well.  I couldn’t even isolate the pain enough to realize that it was the broken toe more than anything else that was causing such pain.  It was the second most miserable race I’ve ever run (for the most miserable, see the Dirty German Monsoon, Pennypack Park, May 2017).  It was a good 10-15 degrees colder than the forecast.  The sun never came out.  It was headwinds all the way.  How can it be headwinds in every direction in an out and back race?!  It’s a beautiful area to run in, the Shawnee Forest, and now when the colors are changing of all times.  It’s just… very quiet and isolated.  It’s misery to me to be so cold, for one, and then to be so alone.  Alone doesn’t always mean lonely, but for me in this race it did.  This is not to say this is a bad race!  The RD was awesome, and super accommodating.  The volunteers were absolutely fantastic.  Even the guy who picks up the portapotties was super nice and helpful.  Without Melissa and Jim, though, I never would have come to do this race.  Never would have made it.  Never would have found the area and then if I did I would have been too intimidated to do anything or go anywhere.  The two of them made it a FUN weekend despite the misery I was in!  (I just, well, I just should have done the half instead.  But I was too stubborn.)  I’m skipping a lot from that weekend but that doesn’t diminish the affection and love I feel for these two people, some of the absolute best people I know.  And they saved me.  My sanity, my spirit.  Much love, Websters.  ❤

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This race took me forever to recover from.  Since I don’t get any faster, I have begun to chart progress in other ways.  One is the amount of fun I Have.  Well… erm.  So another is how well do I physically recover from a marathon – and in the three years I’ve been doing marathons, I’ve gone from a week, to a day.  Well, this race… it took me nearly a week to recover from.  I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it to do the New York City Marathon.  I thought I might have to defer til next year, and just do the nonrefundable 5k and cheer because, nonrefundable room at the YMCA.  I thought, well, I’ll see people I know and love, and meet people I’ve never known in person before… I’ll see what happens.  I knew, though, that if I started, there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to finish it.

This marathon was so different from any other one I’ve ever done.  The ‘stuff’ leading up to the marathon was… amazing.  The expo was okay, the pavilion was fantastic.  They had the virtual reality of the NYCM last year, and I got to see and hear what the Wall of Sound was like coming off the Queensboro Bridge.  I’ll never be fast enough to see or hear that, so being able to was incredible.  I snagged the last gorgeous finisher sweatshirt that would fit me (women’s running clothes run so small!), paid way too much but it was so gorgeous.

Hanging out with Denise.  The meetups – restaurants, brunches, the 5k Dash to the Finish.  The incredible opening ceremonies, a mixture of loud joyous pomp and quiet singular pride mixed with the biggest fireworks I’ve ever seen not on July 4th.

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Last year’s panic and weariness of hours spent in the Staten Island Ferry terminal and on the buses to Fort Wadsworth, were replaced by a leisurely ride on a single bus walking distance from my accommodations.  It meant I was with Denise the whole time.  Denise is the woman I did nearly the entire Chicago Marathon with three weeks before; it was my goal to keep up with her this marathon too.  This is her turf.  Not only did she have the confidence of knowing this course, having run it wholly and in pieces various times before, but she had friends with her – she came with her own pace group.  There were five of us who basically stuck together the whole time – four of us (Denise, Ruth, Sophia and me), plus Pat who began with us and surged ahead with Stephanie from about miles 6-16 before joining us for good.  I never knew any of these incredible people existed before this day.  We all were together at the start… the start village where this time I got to enjoy it, instead of rushing around trying to figure out my bearings.  We sat around, we ate, we pottied.  We got Dunkin’ Donuts hats.  We pottied.  And pottied.  I saw so many people I knew – Maria, Tom, Mary, and so many others.  I petted dogs.  There are therapy dogs in the runner villages.  We took photos.  It felt like a party.  I felt awesome.  Denise took my pre-race Fluffernutter to a whole new level by making it on CHALLAH!  I was so ready to go!

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Something super interesting – so every wave, and there were 5 or 6, I think – the main 4 and then the wheelchair and elite divisions (I may have this wrong, but anyhow when you’re in Wave 4 and hanging out til 11, you lose count), they start with a cannon.  The first time it was really startling.  But then we tried to figure out which waves was starting when we heard the cannon.  It was kind of like being in the Hunger Games, trying to figure out which tributes were now gone, when we heard the cannon.

And then it was our turn.  We were a motley crew, the party in the back.  We were joking and having a good time.  A shout out here to Wonder Woman, who had the most incredible outfit, makeup and hair.  And to the guy who wrote “I’m single” and his name and phone number on the back of his shirt.  I hope he got some dates out of it!  We made the last of our clothing adjustments, I ditched my sweatshirt and tied a poncho someone else was discarding onto my belt, and sashayed my way to the start of the Verazzano Bridge to “New York, New York”.  What follows are images and impressions after the two miles of Staten Island.

It starts raining, but at least it’s temperate.  It rains all the way through Brooklyn.  Half the marathon is here.  Whole range of emotions.  The joy of coming off the bridge to the cheers.  People on overpasses, calling out to us.  When you have your name on your shirt or bib… and you feel like a rock star because everyone on Fourth Avenue is calling your name.  And then… then it gets quiet.  Everyone sort of leaves you behind.  Except, it was five of us.  Five of us, doing intervals on Denise’s pace, and Stephanie, a first time marathoner whom we met later.  It really emptied out.  There were still stragglers on Fourth Avenue, and they cheered us.  And the buses passed us.  The official vehicles, the buses.  This time, they asked if I was sure I didn’t want a ride.  Nope, I’m good.  They asked if they could at least give me a MTA card.  “Why?”, I said.  So they got out and took our bib numbers.  They told us it was something new for this year, so they’d know who was still out on the course.  I told them I likely wouldn’t be done until about 9 that night.  They were fine with that.  A sweet blonde woman told me that she’d be there, waiting for me, at the finish line and she wanted a hug when I got there.

Then, they pull up the timing mats.  And you see all the aid stations dumping out the water as you approach…

It’s quite desolate.  I’ve written about this before.  But it wasn’t all like that.  People saw my Maryland skirt and I got the occasional “Maryland!” or “Go Terps!” cheer, we all got some cheers, including from the police still out.  There were four of us – Pat had gone on to walk on ahead with Stephanie, whom we didn’t know yet.  At Mile 8, Denise’s daughter Ariel and her SO Tom were there waiting for us.  I love her photos.  She really got in her photos how it is, at Mile 8 when you’re alone!  (Plus she got pictures obviously showing me RUNNING – something hundreds of race photographers haven’t managed to do!)  I was the first to see her – I knew I would lag behind at some point so I tried to stay ahead of the others by 20-25 feet or so so it would be less to catch up.  Ariel told me there would be more people, that there was a huge block party crowd at Mile 9.  I pressed on and… there was.  As I approached… the Electric Slide came on.  And people started to do it.  I approached to their cheers, and they began to part to let me through… and I waved them off and danced with them.  In the middle of the street. It was probably the high point of the marathon for me, energy-wise.  I mean, what did I have to lose?  I was already about last.  I was going to do the marathon.  And here’s the once in a lifetime opportunity to do the Electric Slide in Brooklyn.  How am I not gonna do that.  I didn’t even care, because where else are you going to be able to do the electric slide with 1000 people you don’t know, in the middle of the street in Brooklyn? Then the others caught up, the song ended, and off we went.  But in the background, I heard the Macarena, and danced that as we Gallowayed our way through Mile 10.  People – random people – stayed out to cheer us and render aid.  Water, Gatorade, bananas.  I had a banana.  Sophia was eating hers, and a man dressed as a banana shouted to her, “hey,  I like what you’re doing!  That’s my cousin in your mouth.”  Awesome.

And the miles stretched in Brooklyn.  The roads stayed closed, police stayed out.  Williamsburg.  So quiet.  What do they think of us, half clothed and running through their streets?  I’m looking at the women, the little girls, the men.  Some of the women and girls – they’re looking at me too, some of them are smiling or nod at me.  A girl hanging out the second floor window yelling to me that she’s from Silver Spring.  Mile 11, 12.  My energy began to flag and my foot began to really throb.  What kept me going?  I really didn’t want to lose Denise.  I had meticulously studied the directions and recognized where we were, and had my maps and directions on my belt (hydration belts – I don’t love them, but they’re so good for so much!), but I didn’t want to use them.  I wanted the company that my comrades provided.  I derived energy from the fire truck en route to a fire, lights and siren on, that cut the siren for a couple of seconds to cheer us on via the truck’s loudspeaker.  Then there was the guy who said right about then, that we were the true heart of the marathon.  He about made me cry.  That was probably Mile 12, or close to it.  Those were the longest miles, for me.  I didn’t expect that, there.  The Pulaski Bridge seemed to never get there.

In Brooklyn, I got to know Pat and Ruth.

In retrospect, I’m wondering about this.  Jennifer, whom I spent so much of my Chicago Marathon weekend with, recommended I try a four-mile fuel regime instead of randomly fueling or forgetting to take a gel or something.  I tried this in Chicago and it helped a lot.  I did it the week prior at Shawnee, and so I did it here almost automatically – and then at Mile 12 I forgot.  I didn’t take my waffle (I didn’t bring enough gels so I was using stroepwaffels) until after Mile 13, when I was on the bridge.  I wonder if this crash was my body not getting the fuel it needed and had come to count on.  I also forgot my s-caps.  Lack of salt maybe?  I had some salt packet in the beginning, but maybe that too.  I don’t know.  Things looked up when we hit Pulaski Bridge and that’s when I realized that yes, I could do this.  (Of course I could.  But, the mind plays tricks when the body is worn down.)

Pulaski Bridge… it was closed, but about to open so we went on the sidewalk.  And again… random people offering us water, sports drink, food.  And we came off the bridge and there’s Queens.  Here we were on the sidewalk for the first part of it, but were able to be on the road after.  We thanked more police, who were still out there.  Then there was the best tee shirt ever:  “The Anti-Social Social Club.”  We were misdirected though, when we were aiming for the sidewalk of the Queensboro Bridge, adding about half a mile onto our route when we had to double back to get onto the bridge.

That damn bridge.  This is also known as the 59th Street Bridge because it dumps you out on 59th Street in Manhattan.  Also the bridge in Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “Feelin’ Groovy”, which is aka “The 59th Street Bridge Song”.  Let me tell you, now that I’ve done it twice – no way am I feeling groovy on this bridge.  It’s some kind of hell.  It’s like ALL uphill.  And it’s SO LONG.  (‘How the F are we not in UTAH by now?’)  It’s a pretty bridge though.  And they tell you about how it’s SO quiet.  Because there are no spectators here.  Last year I didn’t experience this because the bridge had opened to traffic by the time I was on it.  This year, for nearly the entire time, we had the quiet.  We had the closed bridge.  (We did stay on the pedestrian walkway for safety, but it was still closed!)  And so we got to experience that.

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On the Queensboro Bridge, I got to know Sophia and I got to know Ruth better.

It began to get dark – thanks, Daylight Savings Time change – and we began the trek up First Avenue.  It’s really only about 3-4 miles, but it feels like forever.  Do yourself the favor and don’t do the math.  (Well, let’s see, it’s 59th Street and I have to go to 125th….)  We had some time in the road, some time on the sidewalks (sidewalks are so hard on your legs and feet!), and spent a lot of the time in the road-painted median between the bike lane and traffic lanes.  The police allowed this and it enabled us to move and feel better, continuing with our intervals.  The roads were still closed!  This is also where we began picking up people along the way.  This is where we found Pat and Stephanie for good.  This is where we also found Michael, who asked if we were going to go all the way up.  (What?  Of course.  How is that even a question?)

It’s kind of like that anti-social social club.  I love being around people.  It is awesome being with people when doing a tough race.  Unfortunately I’m not a very nice person when I’m mid-long-race.  I’m kind of bitchy and grumpy and emotional and kind of just an asshole.  I’m not like that in normal life!  I want to be around people so much and then I’m just not very nice to them when I am.  To my fellow racers, I’m so sorry.

Even as heartening as the wall of sound is to run into, or must be, since I won’t ever see it, I feel like it was just as heartening to hear the small groups of people who saw us and where we were and what we were doing and cheered us as we went past. Police in small groups of three and four, diners, people just walking down the street on a Sunday night, the crazy amazing aid station that stayed out for us and treated us like superstars and took incredible care of us at mile 18.

And then… Mile 18.  We reached it.  89th Street.  The aid station.  I have to say… New York’s Galloway group is amazing.  I wish we had one in DC like that.  They were responsible for the bus I was on in the morning, and for this aid station at Mile 18, and they stayed out late.  And Ariel and Tom, who were out there with happy voices and faces.  I love these two kids.  They are the most cheerful, supportive, fun people.  Denise told them we’d be late.  If I’d lagged behind, they would have waited for me too.  They had EVERYTHING.  Chips, Coke, water, all kinds of sugar and salt and drinks.  And chairs so we could sit as needed.  And access to an indoor bathroom (albeit down a couple of steps… stairs… ummm)!  This is also where we picked up Sue, who came down from Connecticut.  Injured, and just getting back, she deferred this year but came down to cheer and boy oh boy, she was the course support that we needed for the last eight miles.  That’s right.  She accompanied us the last eight miles.  She took photos.  She talked nonstop to keep us up.  She told jokes.  She was armed with every kind of snack and drink we could want (where did she keep them?).  Every time we stopped there was an instant buffet presented to us courtesy of Sue.  She carried this big sign the whole time, and wasn’t afraid to use it – in the Bronx approaching the Madison Ave. Bridge and on 5th before Marcus Garvey Park especially – to stop traffic when we had the right of way but they would have turned anyhow.

Before we knew it we were on the Willis Avenue Bridge, and into the Bronx.  Where we made our way through on the sidewalks, where Denise knew where she was going and I was tempted to pull out the maps and directions, because the blue line disappeared in the dark and wet roads and under cars.  We figured it out from memory and the portapotties provided clues to reinforce our directions!  And, this is where it solidified.  Previously, when I had to use the loo, I asked if anyone else had to go too.  I didn’t want to stop in case no one else did, and if they didn’t and I couldn’t catch up… this time, Ruth and I went, and was the first time that it was like, if someone needs to stop, we wait.  We all wait.  We all move together.

In the Bronx, I got to know Sue.

And then there it was, the LAST bridge.  Madison Avenue Bridge.  Back into Manhattan for the final borough!

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We were back on sidewalks, and some of us began to feel the injuries and the toll that eight or so hours on our feet takes.  (And while most of us began after 11, in Wave 4, one in our crew began in Wave 2.)  Our group began to get more loosely configured, separated by traffic lights.  So we would forge ahead, and wait when we split up.  And then somewhere around Marcus Garvey Park, which confused me so much last year but this year made perfect sense, we picked up our last group member in this blob-tag version of the NYCM we were running (okay, by this time, walking).  I’m sad to say I don’t remember his name but he was as much a part of our tribe as anyone else.  Police were still out and cheered us!  We forged onward.  When we got to the Museum Mile, we were able to go back in the street.   It’s all uphill… and I said something and Sophia laughed.  She was in a lot of pain and… I made her laugh.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, that I did that!  At one point we were harassed by some random drunk guy who wouldn’t leave us alone.  The police were there and dealt with him.  There was a photographer and there was an NYRR person who checked us in by bib numbers.  We were able to stay on the street until about two blocks from Central Park.  In the park there was a man who offered us water and Gatorade, too.

In Manhattan, I got to know Stephanie and Michael, and I got to know Pat and Sophia better.

Two marathons in three weeks has helped me know Denise so much better – and then there were the extracurricular activities as well, in between.

Central Park has never seemed so large as it did that night.  But I made Sophia laugh again, and that made it all worth it.  We knew we’d all finish together, because somewhere along the way it stopped being an individual race and became a collective journey.  But Denise had a plan – she choreographed our finish line.  Let’s cross hand in hand, she said.  I loved the idea – it’s not something I usually get to do, since usually I’m by myself and in shorter races there may be people behind me or us.  This time, there was no one else.  Ruth had the idea to put the three first-time marathoners, Stephanie, Sophia and Michael, in the middle.  We dumped back onto Central Park South, and were marked a few times again by NYRR volunteers who – despite the late hour – were so full of such positive energy and enthusiasm.  We passed David Fraser, who would be the final finisher of the marathon, and his team.  We kept going.

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Last year I wanted that damn poncho like nobody’s business and I panicked about the course closing.  I saw I had nothing to worry about but last year there was nothing like this. There was a finish line and all the things and some people cheering but nothing like this year.  Not only were there dozens of people assembled, including my friends, but there were some of the elites there, too, to welcome and hug us.  I have lamented that I never hear that Wall of Sound after the QB bridge because I’m too slow and so Brooklyn’s energy has to carry me the whole way. Well, we got our wall of sound, didn’t we.

Remember that woman in Brooklyn who took my bib number and told me she’d be there at the finish line when I crossed it?  Sure enough, she was there and found me.  As promised, I hugged her.

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I can’t explain how wonderful and incredible it was to run a marathon with people the whole time, and the support and the love and respect from everyone along the way.  It was more than a group finish.  Maybe I could have been a half an hour faster than I was, maybe more, because I was moving pretty well, but it was so much better to be with the group, they buoyed me when I faltered and as a group we slowed down when others needed to slow down.  I think the very best moment (other than the finish) was when one of us, a first timer who was really struggling with pain issues in her hips, it was about mile 23 or so and I said something to her and she started to laugh. Her face was twisted in pain, she seemed on the verge of tears and she laughed. I made her laugh a few times and she said I was the comedian of our little party at the back. I made her feel good for some moments and I can’t tell you how great that was.

For once in my life I wasn’t dragging or holding anybody else back, I was right in the middle of things, right in a position not only to draw strength from others but also to return positive energy to them and support them when they needed it. I took, but I also got to give. I started out with Denise and four other people, we stayed together basically the entire race.  It was, exactly where I belonged and needed to be.

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There were cameras.  There was video.  It’s been Instagrammed.  A woman interviewed me and I had no idea where she was from, and just kind of weepy-babbled incoherently.  I had no idea!

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Irony of ironies.  If you finish fast enough, you get listed as an official finisher in the next day’s New York Times.  Not every official finisher makes that cutoff, but that’s a goal for a lot of people.  I know I’ll never make the NYT, and I’m ok with that.  And then… we made the NYTimes anyhow – their video blog.  Aha! So that’s what I was being interviewed for!  I kind of cringe when I see myself on the video, my shirt was literally falling off of me!

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Chicago, and other things

So it’s been a while.  There are things I should have written about, but haven’t, because I was in a funk.

This is going to be a long post.  Of course, running related, and emotional.  And if you want to read it through, please do of course.  But this one is, more than the others, for me.  To remember as much of this experience as I can.

First, it has been quite a season of running.  I joke that I simply have poor impulse control but that’s actually quite true.  Every weekend since September I have had a race – and generally, a half+5k or a full.  (When you have recovery and taper at the same time….)

There was the Bird in Hand 5k and half, where the miles flew by because I had the rare experience of doing the entire half with someone who not only was at my pace completely, but whom I really, really like as a person and enjoyed spending every minute with!  Then came the Canada Army Run, and I did the Commander’s Challenge, which meant a 5k and a half, back to back.  That experience deserves its own post, because Canada, and Ottawa, and this race in particular – were some of the best experiences I have ever had.  (These races were so hot though – 87 degrees and 93 with the heat index.)  And meeting my Canadian friends in person, at last!  But I’ll save this for another blog.  Racing in Canada – being in Canada – was so sweet and satisfying.  The following week was the Jimmy Fund Boston Marathon Walk, which turned out to be a 93 degree marathon.  Even though it’s billed as a walk, I ran some of it.  This is the Boston Marathon – the route, and the same RD.  For me, the meaningfulness was in the course.  The best part – aside from feeling how it feels to run (or walk) every step of the Boston Marathon and helping the Jimmy Fund – was spending the weekend with a good friend whom I don’t get to see very often.  And then there came Wineglass, which is always a wonderful time (with the added karaoke event this year!).  Wineglass, though, for all its components being truly perfect, including my own race, has ended for me the past couple of years feeling badly about myself.  I can’t explain it.

Back to Chicago marathon weekend.  There was so much more about the weekend as well.  It was about the marathon and then it wasn’t about the marathon.  It was also about people whom I love.  People with whom I got to spend time beyond the marathon.  It was celebrating a friend’s milestone birthday, my Elsa.  That was amazing.  I’m so glad I was able to celebrate this with her and to meet the people close to her in her life!  One of my very favorite people whom I see every so often but whom I have never got to spend time with the way I got to this time.  I got to be a part of her world in a way I never have been able to before, because I got to spend so much time.  Thank you for that, Jennifer and Marc!  And then to see other people – some I’ve known in real life and others not until now.  It was amazing.  People I would who were in the race, but whom I would only really ever see outside the race, because they were so much faster than me.  And being a part of Marathon Maniacs.  This isn’t my first full since becoming a member, but it’s the first time I got to join up before the race for a photo.  (Too bad I was with the group on the wrong side of the fountain and we ended up missing the official photo, but we did get a different one together.)

And, we did the International 5k the day before the marathon.  It was amazing.  It was a 5k but it was also so much more than a 5k.  It was the happiest race I’ve ever run and loved the experience.  Everyone was so… happy.  The joy was palpable.  People from countries congregated and ran in matching kits and with flags.  People walked and ran and stopped for selfies and to gawk at the really impressive Chicago architecture.  (It really is super nice – where DC has torn down the old stuff in favor of severe glass and steel, Chicago’s is still there, and beautiful.)  Running along the lake.  Grandparents walked it with young grandchildren.  Families of marathon runners did it together.  The weather was beautiful.  The sun shined.  Everyone stayed out on the course – the water, the photographers, the medals.  The scarf we got as swag was absolutely beautiful.  It was so nice.  The weather was perfect.  Running along the lake was amazing and beautiful.  Everyone was so friendly and the people who were course marshals and water stops were out there the entire time.  Even the photographers were amazing.  And then we got medals too!  It was hands down probably the best 5k ever.

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And then I got to speak a lot Twi of all things.  Twice.  The night the bellperson who brought up our rollabed was from Ghana.  My uber driver the night of the marathon when I went to the restaurant for Jennifer’s party was from Ghana.  It was the coolest thing because I got to really spend time speaking it with them – not just the basic greetings.  It has been a long time and it was so very cool.

And it poured on Friday and Saturday night and on Saturday night we were treated to the most gorgeous rainbow.

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Which leads to the Chicago Marathon.

I went in thinking I should have deferred this race.  I was tired and worn down, I wasn’t really super excited to run this marathon.  I felt like I should have savored and spent more time on my other races.  And every weekend a new bag to pack and new stuff to do… it’s a lot.  (And not just for me: massive kudos to my husband Chris, who held down the fort, caring for the dogs and the house – no small feat with our crew – as well as holding down two jobs.)  I didn’t defer, mostly because I wanted to spend the weekend with my friend Jennifer, who was turning 50.  Spending time with Jennifer, going to the expo – I began to get excited.

I tried all different things this time.  I’ve turned into a 10-hour marathoner, give or take, and yet I can finish a half in under 4, so there’s no reason why it takes so long for me.  I crash and burn toward the end, and before I went to Chicago I solicited advice from running experts (who are basically friends of mine who are runners).  So this race – it was flat.  I put in a new fueling strategy.  I did intervals for a big chunk.  I also had the advantage of running with someone, which doesn’t necessarily make me faster but makes the time seem to go by so much faster!

I got to run with Denise, a friend with whom I have shared much (the NYCM finish line, the run4allwomen, the Women’s March in January 2017) and another back of the packer.  I found her at about the 5k mark, and we ran the rest of the 37.2 km together.  Part of this description I’m about to give you – it was her idea.  She said it, “our race is not your race”, and she’s completely right.  She took photos to document what it’s like to be there at the very end of the runners.

The marathon experience

When you are in the far back of the packer like I am, you are running very different race.   My point is to give a picture of how it IS to be at the back, something most people have no idea of and would never ever consider.  What I want to do when I point out about losing support – is two things.  One is just to create an awareness and an acknowledgement that this exists.  That we exist and this is what it’s like for us.  I have a friend who is an amazing marathoner.  He BQ’s and everything.  A couple of weeks ago, he passed me in his full when I was at about mile 11 of my half, and I had a half hour head start.  We were talking about this and he was genuinely surprised at my experience – the entirety of it, how we do it, how we handle it, how long it takes.  I want people to know about it (and respect it, and not disparage it).  Second, if I “want” anything, it’s for people to think about it, people who are in a position to do something about it.  Maybe at water stops that are breaking down, leave the water that’s already poured on the sidewalk.  Or leave the jug and a stack of cups like they did in Chicago.  Just little things like that.

One of the things Denise and I talked about during our 8 hours together, were things things most people will never know.  For example, how demoralizing it is when you are APPROACHING an aid station and they SEE you, and they dump out tables full of water and hydration onto the street (they flip the tables over).  Is that really necessary?  The water and cups are already out, just leave them out!  Why waste it!  Even leave out a couple of jugs and some cups.

Chicago, its people, its police, and its marathon on-course folks were really good to us back of the packers.  It seemed like we were handed off from neighborhood to neighborhood by the police and by Tim the course director. God, I loved him. He was amazing.  But probably for me the biggest surprise and difference from NYCM were the regular people.  This group around mile 4-5 – yellow shirts, with “26.2 You Run, We Cheer” on it – really cheering us on.  They were absolutely great.

Other experiences on the course:  Seeing Suzanne, who is a legendary four-time finisher/walker of this race and who was so encouraging and welcoming to me, and also Alan, who is a quadriplegic, walking with his guides and support team.  Getting hugs from people I didn’t expect on-course, people I knew from Facebook who now are real-life friends.

And we passed people!  We. Passed. People.

And we got lost and had to backtrack.  Yes, we got lost.  That thin dotted blue line was awfully faint in places, and moved all over the streets.

And the strangers and regular people on-course.  The police officers who stayed out after the park area directing traffic, even yelling at the drivers who tried to pass through while the course was closed.  The women who stayed out for us at mile 6-7 or so, handing out Twizzlers, pretzels and chips.  The people who offered sports drinks and the woman who stayed out long after her aid station closed up – she got them to let her keep a jug or two of water and a stack of cups.  The people who were dining along the route as we passed by maybe miles 9-11 or so – it was a gorgeous day and outdoor seating was packed.  And we were all alone and running past, and someone would see us, and it would start a chain reaction and everyone would be cheering for us, shouting encouraging things and… it was like a wall of sound.  The Wall of Sound I never got to hear in NYC off the 59th St. Bridge and probably will never hear – I got a flavor of what that would have been like here.  My Wall of Sound.  And then the diner who beckoned us over and offered us his water glass.  HIS water from HIS meal as he was dining.  He figured we might need it and he offered it.  And then the waitress who came over as we were drinking, told us to hang on a minute and returned with big plastic cups full of ice water to take with us.  I can’t express enough what this kindness meant to me.  The kindness, yes, but also the recognition and the desire to enable us to reach our goals.

Later there were other people. There was the man with a booming voice and microphone and music and a woman who was helping him – he kept shouting encouragement and saying we were “walking with purpose”.  (Actually I was still running, but it was so slow that probably it looked like walking!)  We took a photo with him, he was so awesome.

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There was the woman who was sitting all by herself, with a spread any ultra race director would be proud of: pretzels, Pringles, candy, blueberries, cantaloupe, water, other drinks.  When we thanked her for staying out, she replied that she was staying out as long as she felt she should stay out.  She had a World Vision sponsor tee, and we told her some of the World Vision walkers were behind us – we’d passed three or four of them at that point.  We gratefully ate the sweetest melon I think I’d ever tasted, and took some blueberries.  At least that was the idea.  She gave us the entire pint!  I think they sustained us for three miles.

That’s how it all went, actually.  Despite being outside the time limit and all official aid stations dismantled, we found support every couple of miles.

This is the only race I have ever been complimented by the police on-course, on my tan!

 

We stayed on the streets and dodged the sweepers and garbage trucks.  Big, blue, loud tanks.  Empty streets other than the two of us, and eventually these behemoths.

There were police and overseers and Tim (bless his heart) looking our for us (cold water, pretzels, sunscreen!  He said I was getting burned and could he put sunscreen on me, and sprayed me with it!).  I remarked a few times how nice everyone was and how easy it would have been for them to boot us to the sidewalk, but they didn’t.   It’s something, when you are weaving between the different trucks and street cleaners along the way, it definitely adds some mileage! They made a point to look out for us and never once said to move to the sidewalk, they gave us the dignity of working around us. Not until they reopened the streets did they do that, and so for most of it we were able to stay enough ahead of that, that we got most of it done on the street.  As such, we were able to get to mile 15 without being put on the sidewalk, which is really great.  It was also a BIG help.  We were lucky because the asphalt really was much more forgiving than concrete.  The concrete sidewalk is much harder on the feet and legs than the asphalt.  (A lot of the problem with my crash and burn, I think, is basic pain from fatigue and soreness – the amount of time, added to concrete, added to standing at stoplights etc. – it’s a challenge!  But one I will meet EVERY time.)

Denise and I, we are slow, but we are experienced marathoners who know how to manage our race.  Therefore, although we are slow, we were never in any physical danger. Except for maybe bee stings and eating flies.  I think the people from the race whom we were dodging on the course, knew this and understood this and that’s a lot of the reason that they were so supportive. I think human nature wise, They saw what we were doing and were supportive of it.  I wish I knew what happened to the 10 or so people that even we passed.  There were at least four different women at three different points that we passed between miles 10 and 18, in orange Worldvision shirts. There was a guy all in navy blue tee shirt and shorts, a woman who had a quick pace and was very thin, but ran almost backward leaning as she ran and walked, she checked in with medical tents along the way and kept going, after passing them I didn’t see them again, but I lost them both somewhere. There were 3 different people from H corral and L corral whom we passed, they weren’t wearing metals and didn’t have heat sheets, they just seemed to be hanging out.  Where happened to those people?

We entered the University of Chicago at Illinois area.  I was really excited to see Hull House!

Then there was the guy in the college area in the bar by the no-glass window opening who was apparently yelling at his buddy across the street as I ran past.  He yelled, “the marathon is over!” – so I looked right at him and said, “no it’s not!”  He smiled and said it was aimed at his friend across the street and told me to keep going.

And then there were more, even after we went to the sidewalk and they reopened the roads.  The women who gave us cut-up pickles.  The people sitting on their steps in Pilsen as we ran past – just doing their thing in the late afternoon but cheering us along when they saw us.  The blueberry woman who drove by us later on, shouting encouragement.  The police who encouraged us along the way, the kids at university-area bars.  And intermittently but perennially, Tim.  The last time we saw him, he gave us peanut butter pretzels and more cold water, and we took photos.  He took photos, I should say – he took pics of our bibs and said he’d find us through our bibs and send it to us.  (Tim?  Paging Tim here….)  The women in the big unofficial aid station at mile 20 – they had everything.  Cut up oranges – in tiny ziplocs so we could take them with us!  Pickle juice shots in tiny to-go cups so we could take them too.  They were in such wonderful spirits it buoyed us for the rest.

It had to.  It got a little ugly after that.  Needing to stop and stretch.   Sidewalks and pain.  Street light delays.  We probably would have been half an hour faster without the street lights to wait for to cross the street!  Not that nine hours is a record, but it would be for me these days and half an hour less on my feet – I wonder if they would have done better.  I had an ugly cry before turning onto 33rd, and another one when it seemed the distance to go up Michigan Ave to the finish was neverending.  And in contrast to how it was during the course, the finish was almost the opposite.  The finish line in Chicago was a completely different experience.  Nothing like staggering up Mount Roosevelt just before dusk to turn onto Columbus and be screamed at by people breaking down the scaffolding of what was once a finish line, now gone.  To finish on the sidewalk because they won’t let you cross under what’s left of the finish line and then have to ask where to go and is there any water (to say nothing of medals or anything else), only to be yelled at to go away, that’s not their department, the race ended hours ago, you don’t get anything.  Eventually we found the right people, hanging out – a race person and a volunteer who was staying late, and got water and metals. Honestly, water. This should not have been a hard thing to find. Anyhow, we finished, Denise and I, every step, and extra since we got lost and had to backtrack to get back on the course. However, you wouldn’t have seen us in Monday’s Tribune.  You won’t find us in the official results because they stopped recording them.  We knew this and that’s okay.

I get very emotional.  I can speak only speak for myself but I don’t even have words to explain what it means to me when I see or read or hear other runners who don’t need anything at all and finish with no trouble, acknowledging our struggles and validating my race and finish as opposed to those who say it isn’t a finish, I don’t deserve to call myself a marathoner, I’m not a real runner, because it takes me longer.  I’m seriously sitting here on the sofa bawling at the compassion of others.  But still, even though I crave the validation after the fact, in reality I don’t do this for that.  The race is for ME.  So I can lament that I didn’t have support, which is not an entitled complaint that I should – it’s just being sad that I’m not fast enough to.  But I also revel in the fact that I also know they can’t kick me off a sidewalk, and I know that in the races I choose, I will full well either be prepared to be by myself 100% and more, because I KNOW that I will lose support (I firmly agree with statements and waivers and acknowledgements that if I continue and am late, I will lose support) – or else I will choose races, as NYC and Chicago, that I know there will be bodegas where I can buy hydration and fuel as needed.  I’ve done urban fatass 50k’s and done that, and that’s also what I’ll do in training sometimes.

Surmising post-marathon

In the time since this event, there have discussions among friends about the back of the pack folks.  How some people would like to support them and ideas of how to do that.  There are some places where people already exist who do this – I love the finish line final mile folks, I met someone in Ottawa who does this in Canada.   I was thinking it would be so great to have cheer folks like the group in Chicago, on the course and maybe organize them into two shifts, if they wanted:  the first shift, maybe 4-5 hours (they could overlap), they could tell them, this shift will have the majority of runners.  They will be running fast and you’ll see most of the runners, but most will run on by appreciating your cheers as they run.  The second shift, maybe another 4-5 hours (they could overlap and it all depends on where in the race, obviously no one needs to be out at hour 8 at the 6 mile mark), and they could tell them, you’ll have a lot of downtime.  You’ll have a lot of quiet time and the runners who come through may be absolutely uninspiring, they might be walking at this point.  They might be so slow.  But you can bet that they will be absolutely so appreciative of your being there.  They may cry, they may hug and sweat all over you. I can tell you how it feels when it’s all gone, and how it feels and what it’s like when you finish and there’s actually something there (or along the way) and you are heralded for your efforts.  One thing I’m not sure of with regard to implementation is how to know who’s still out there once tracking goes off and it gets dark, support is lost, etc.  I was afraid in NYCM last year that they wouldn’t know, and would close up.  But they did, and they didn’t.  But know that if you volunteer to do this prepare to get messy:  you will likely be hugged by salty and sweaty bodies, and also cried on by emotional and grateful finishers.

I have to say, in the ongoing-during-race miles, Chicago was much more encouraging than NYCM was.  I’m one of the late ones.  Last year I finished New York at 9 pm and I know I wasn’t last.  I had friends I knew there for me and a couple of friends whom I didn’t really think would be but were.  After miles of aloneness, of sidewalks as you said, of getting lost because that blue line is hard to see in the dark, after being trolled by kids in Harlem and police in the Bronx (“the race is over.  You lost.  Go home”) – both times, true story… finishing TO something and someone who makes you feel like what you just did is a celebration… it still makes me cry.  Thank god NYCM keeps the finish line up and people stick around to give medals and ponchos and after race bags.  Imagine in Chicago, what a difference even a couple of cheering people would have made to us.  And we weren’t even last.   In comparison to NYCM, at Chicago the race folks breaking down the finish line, or what was once a finish line but isn’t anymore, just a bunch of scaffolding were semi abusive people screaming at you.  Like New York, where you don’t count as official for the New York Times or for giving you an official time, Chicago is the same way.  But in New York, they do record your number when you finish and know who you are, and you still can get a finisher certificate (and they’ll count it for the 9+1). In Chicago, I don’t think there was any keeping record it all at the finish line as to who crossed, if they cross late. Which is really super interesting, because of the way we were looked out for and encouraged all along the Chicago route much more than in New York.

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Maybe one day I will be faster.  As I said, there should be no reason I can’t be.  But if I never do, I need to be okay with what I do now, even if it’s not like anything anyone else does.

 

Breaking mental boundaries

This past weekend, I had my birthday.  I am now closer to 50 than I am to 40.  And in the past few years I’ve broken my share of physical boundaries as I’ve become a runner and aimed to complete farther and farther distances.  (I started running very late 2012/early 2013.)  This seems to be the year of breaking out of the comfort zone.  The mental one. (Among other things, I changed jobs after 11 years in the same office.  I switched to a different field – not completely different, but one that will stretch me beyond what I already know, in a different region of the world where I’ve never worked before, with a language I haven’t used in 25 years.)

But this is not about that.  This is about more running.  There are clothing optional races, did you know that?  I have some friends who have done them, and decided to join in the fun this year.  Each day as it got closer I was alternately staunch and scared.  Would I be able to do this?  What would actually happen when the time came and I was called upon to do this?  I’ve talked about wanting to go to Hedonism just so I could run around on the nude side and frolic like a little kid (plus less to pack), but at the end of the day I’d never done anything like this before.

So here is the Race Recap of the Wiggle, Jiggle and Giggle 5k, followed by Things I Learned from Running/Being Naked (and yes, while I walked a lot of it, I did run parts of it as well)

I. Race recap

This race. There was a manner of friendliness throughout, for which I fully credit the race director. What nice people, what good people. I would say 75% were completely naked other than the shoes, another 20% had one item of clothing – a sports bra, or a sarong, and 5% were clothed like they would be for any race. Which I thought was dumb. I mean, I know it’s clothing optional, and there are things that help in running (like sports bras and compression shorts), but what’s the point of going to a clothing optional race if you’re going to wear clothes? They give you a bib and write your bib number on your thigh. I got Lucky 69…. The race director explained the race, which sounded very confusing, but actually it wasn’t at all. You run a loop through a campground, come up, run through some woods, down a hill that’s a neighborhood (don’t kid yourself, this entire thing is hills. Because, Pennsylvania. But this one is the big one, it’s literally named Cardiac Hill). You run back up through the woods, and back down to do it again. And do it basically twice (you finish before the second back through the woods for the 5k). So the course is really hilly. You start with a small downhill which is lovely. You do a big loop through these trailers, which are really semi-permanent, and outfitted with so much cool stuff. It’s fun not only to see people out and about, but to smell their breakfasts and see how they’ve decorated. Some have pro-nudist signs, others you wouldn’t know it’s not a Disney Fort Wilderness trailer. There was one that had the most awesome tiki bar. I really wanted to stop there. So very cool. And then, of course, it’s back up hill. It flattens out for a few hundred yards before you have to go through a woody trail like portion. It’s rocky and uneven and foresty and gave me flashbacks to Dirty German pain, but you’re out of it very quickly, and then it’s even again, and then there’s another downhill – this is Cardiac Hill. I’m told they used to have runners run UP this hill and I’m so glad they don’t now! I’d be a one and done. There is a house on this street with the most beautiful deck tiers. Loop around and run back uphill toward the start. Wash, rinse, repeat. They also had a one-mile fun run that people could do. I and a friend did the race together, and there were two people behind us. One guy dropped off somewhere, and then there was a woman who decided to stop at the one-mile, which left us as the last ones. And yet it was okay.

The race began at 10, which is a late time for a race. (Yay, civilized people time, as opposed to having to wake up at 0430 for the race the next morning.) It was cloudy and even sprinkled at the beginning but then got very hot and I didn’t use sunblock at that time because I would have sweated it off.

Being at the very back so often, one of the things that I am often sad about is that there’s no one cheering anymore. Well, here people were out and they were cheering! (Although hearing from faster runners after the race, they had things we didn’t.) Other runners were also great. Because there was so much out and back, there was a lot of face to face opportunity and many runners did give words of encouragement and support, which was really, awesomely wonderful. And people didn’t have anywhere to be, because half the point is to stick around for the day, so there were a ton of people at the finish cheering. And I’m running in as I always do, wanting to have a great finish line photo… oh right. No finish line photos! The RD, Ron, is used to all kinds of events including ultras and marathons, so there were ultra foods there too, not just banana and water, but cookies, chips, twizzlers, caramel things.

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II – Things I learned from running and being naked.

I don’t chafe. It’s the one time I run that I don’t chafe. My thighs create enough sweat that it’s lubricating and there’s no clothing seams to chafe me.

I’m vindicated, speaking of chafing. I know I always bitch about chafing and having scars from it, and I’m sure people think it’s hyperbole. Well, now they can see it isn’t because I’ve got a dozen scars. Maybe more.

No body is perfect.  Not a one.  And that’s even MORE evident without clothing.

I wasn’t a whole lot slower than I am with clothing, for all the difficulty it was. A couple of minutes off per mile.

I appreciate compression shorts so much now.

Running naked is hard. It’s really really hard. There are so many forces that make your body move in all kinds of ways. It’s more pronounced the more movable parts you have, but even so, everyone has something and it’s so much more work to run straight when your thighs want to go in a different way, your breasts somewhere else. (Actually, my breasts weren’t too bad, though in the beginning I was very conscious of gravity. I am used to going braless when I can – I don’t wear them in the house at night, in winter to the dogpark, etc. – and I never noticed gravity, but when they are completely free, I did, especially the first fifteen or twenty minutes walking to the race start. Then it’s like things equalize and it wasn’t noticeable.)

Sunblock is important. I did apply but not often enough I guess, and it was hell having to wear compression shorts and run the next day. I missed my belly, my lower back waistband area, and part of my breasts.

People really do come in all shapes and sizes. It’s mind-blowing to me that a size, say, medium, or large, fits ALL of these different shaped bodies. It seems like an awful lot to ask of a piece of cloth, to be able to adequately (to say nothing of flatteringly) cover so many different bodies.

Just like your eyes adjust to sunlight and mountain or prairie landscape, they also adjust to flesh. One of my worries was that I’d stare or be caught stealing too many glances at… whatever. And it turns out that really just like when you are surrounded by clothed people, you see people’s faces. That’s what we orient toward as humans. Sure, there are possibly things that catch your eye, just like clothed. But often, as with clothing, it’s that one piece of clothing or accessory or jewelry – here it’s the same. It’s that one accessory or the really gorgeous tattoo that you see – not the shape or color or size of what’s under it.

It’s really hard to escape the baggage. I didn’t talk about it but one of my big worries was that I’d be laughed or stared at, or that people would make cruel remarks. I was kind of waiting for it for a while, and then when it didn’t come, I let it go. Everyone told me that it was nonjudgmental, that no one cares, that people are all sizes, that I wouldn’t be the biggest person there. I’m not sure about that last one – it might be close, I might have been actually. But I wasn’t the only big person there.  Everything else – spot on.

Plus, no one is actually looking at you.  No one cares how you look because they aren’t there to ogle you.  They are looking at their friends, at the pool to see how crowded it is, at the bar discussing whether they want to get the Valerie special (yes, I invented a drink trend… I went to the bar.  “Do you have something sweet and frozen?”  “yes”  “Great, I’ll have that.”  I have no idea but it was fabulous and then more people asked for what I got, and it became a Thing).  If they are looking at you it’s because you have crossed into their line of vision, that’s all.

I did it as a freedom, it’s my birthday, boundary pushing kind of thing. But it was just… nice. It’s nice to float in a pool just as is. It’s nice to run around like a little kid again. It’s nice not to worry about packing clothing and what clothing will match and what will I look good in and trying to look pretty or sexy or whatever… it really is a freedom, and not the one I was originally looking for. This freedom is a freedom to be me, as I am, in a place where everyone else is only as they are as well.

And something else, as I reflect on this in the age of “pics or it didn’t happen” and selfies – and I’m one of the main offenders in that selfie category.  No pictures of this experience.  Well, nearly none.  And the ones you do have, for the most part no one can ever see.  People spend so much time documenting their fun that they sometimes forget to actually HAVE the fun, I think… and while I obviously love photos as much as everyone else, in the end it’s really the ones in your head that matter, the memories that are 3D, not just photos but sounds and smells and laughter and degree – the brightness of the sunshine, the vividness of the colors.  When they fade, first around the edges and then holes in the actual memories… it’s sad to contemplate now, but when they fade that’s all that matters, really, and you can’t be sad forgetting what you don’t remember.

I will do this one again.

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Proper Attire (not running, for once)

A few months ago, MM.Lafleur, this women’s workwear fashion company, came to DC and opened their first showroom here. (They aren’t a typical shop, women put their preferences to a stylist, then try samples of the clothing on based on what they want, they choose if they want any of it, and it’s shipped to them. It’s designed to be minimal fuss, minimal schlepping, a counterbalance to fast fashion, and time efficient.)  I wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post about it because the article didn’t mention sizes and when I went to the website it only had the “typical” size range:
As a professional woman of modest means in the 30-50 demographic who has exactly the trouble dressing herself that the founder describes in the article, I read this article with increasing interest, and then skepticism.  I fully subscribe to the idea of a number of core, investment pieces to supplement with accessories for work wear.  But there was no mention of sizing, so I went and looked it up online, hoping I was wrong…. I wasn’t.  They carry clothing in the exact same size range as Ann Taylor and Banana Republic – if you are over a size 16, you apparently either aren’t worthy of being clothed in the same classy way, or don’t belong in the professional workplace.  Most American women are size 12-14 and up. Had this company decided to outfit the full range of professional women who work, that would have been something really unique and interesting, and worth the article.  (Fashion industry becomes more inclusive and acknowledges size diversity among women who wear suits!)  But you endorsed the notion that larger women aren’t in the professional world or that those who are don’t deserve to be clothed appropriately…. You didn’t mention the limited size range, and you should have.
The author of the article responded to me (Thanks for your thoughtful note…. I agree it would’ve been helpful to delve into this issue a bit in the story. You’re right that the retail industry overall is doing a poor job of courting plus-size shoppers…. In any case, MM.LaFleur executives told me they plan to add plus sizes later this year), the Post edited and published my letter, and thus began a really, really interesting dialogue and journey.
MM.Lafleur saw my letter, and responded, via Twitter and then via email to me.  I was impressed by that, but I was even more impressed because they actually did have extending their size line on the horizon (they don’t call it “plus” which I appreciate – plus what?  I’m all for language that doesn’t call out something as normal and anything else as other – but I digress), and the Post could have avoided all of this by putting one sentence to clarify that.  But they didn’t and here we are.  Talk about serendipity….

The response from the company could have easily been, “we are, stay tuned later this spring” and been done with it.  But it wasn’t, which looking back, gave me something of an insight into the company itself.  (The other insight, that I find very unique and really good about this company, that I didn’t know til yesterday, is that they have a very interactive, iterative process.  They solicit feedback from their clients and want to know what works, what doesn’t, what we like and don’t, what we want to see.  And they remember and will re-design based on the input.  For example, yesterday there was a great top that I wish were a couple of inches longer, because, belly.  They noted this input in a follow-up email yesterday afternoon.)

We got to talking, over maybe two dozen emails, about clothing, careers, being a woman in the work world, being a bigger than average woman in the work world, and about other things, life, etc.  The woman I got to corresponding with, Charlotte, asked if I’d be amenable to being one of their profiled women, once the extended size line released.  I learned more about this yesterday.  Charlotte explained that they were interested in profiling women who are successful in their professions (in their clothes!).  Charlotte (with an incredibly impressive journalism background) told me that she and the company had noticed that men who are in professions like finance, law, banking – white collar professions – often are profiled, glamorized, in magazines, yet women usually end up in magazine articles only if they are in creative professions like modeling and acting.  They wanted to profile women who were successful and at the top of their game in the kinds of professions that the men are – and not coincidentally, the same kind of professions that require women to be clothed in the style that MM.Lafleur presents.

What all of this turned into was… this incredible experience I had yesterday.  They invited me to a photo shoot – but not any photo shoot with models and stuff… I *was* the photo shoot.  Trying on some clothing from the new, not-yet-released-yet-stay-tuned-later-this-week line.  Photos of me in the clothes!  They were aiming for a couple of outfits of the lot to use in this profile.  And hair and makeup professionals, the makeup and the hair… way way out of my comfort zone!  And jewelry, shoes (HEELS!).  This to go with the profile.  (Apparently I REALLY need to exfoliate.  I had no freckles and straight hair for once in my life and it feels SO different.  I cannot believe how much makeup I had on my face yesterday…)
lafleur
Face. Makeup. Flat hair.  Do I even look like myself?!
I admit it was daunting and scary.  I was very concerned that the clothing wouldn’t fit me.  That they would look at me and freak out (oh my god, what the hell are we supposed to do with THIS?).  Plus, they came from New York… with a professional photographer… for ME?   Turns out their photographer is used to mainly photographing professional models… gulp.  I tried to warn them beforehand – I told them I was plain at best and from the measurements surely they could see I’m… let’s call it, oddly shaped, to be kind, right?  Sending my measurements was scary.  Later, Charlotte told me that when she sent them to the stylist team and they sent over the clothing for me – four dresses, three tops and a skirt – she asked if they were sure and they were absolute.  And they were spot on.  Not only did they fit me perfectly, but the styles they sent were completely flattering and also the kind of things I like as well.  A couple of items weren’t my usual style and I was stunned and pleased at how nice they were on me.
The people in the showroom were really good at putting me at ease.  Well, okay, full disclosure, it started with a glass of Prosecco, so….  😀   It’s a really pretty, minimalist showroom, silver and white, with light r&b and jazz and diffusers making it smell nice, too.  It could be easy to feel like the oversized, big, clumsy out of place girl that I’m so used to feeling like, here.  But everyone was so good at treating me like anyone else, that I didn’t feel that way.  (Awkward and self conscious because I didn’t know what I was doing playing model, yes.  Awkward and self consciousness because I’m bigger, no.)  Even the other customers seemed to take the cue and not gawk or wonder what I was doing there – and in Washington women’s workwear land, there is a lot of looking down noses at people who are less than perfect.  And they would have been totally justified in wondering, since the extended sizes aren’t out yet.  It’s amazing how much more confident you can be, when you walk in and you already know that there will be things for you, things that fit, that you DO belong there just like everyone else.
Another flash insight.  The clothing for the bigger sizes is the SAME as the other clothes.  This, no pun intended, is huge.  First, because it indicates that there are styles and clothing that DO look good on every body.  They may look different on different people, but that look good on every body, no judgement on which body wears it better.  And second, and even more important, this is not a company to shy away from clothing bigger women, or sequester us.  There isn’t a “women’s” or “plus” section (what are other women, girls and minus?).  There isn’t a different line for “plus” bodies to isolate them so that their fashions can be un-fashions, reserving the most desired clothing and styles for the most-desired bodies.  This company is not afraid to put their signature designs on different kinds of bodies, they don’t think putting their clothing on a bigger body is going to indelibly hurt their brand, taint it with the mark of a larger person.
We took pictures under cloudy skies in front of buildings that were quintessentially DC, and at McPherson Square.  I wore higher heels than I ever wore in my life.  When we were walking around from place to place, the three of us, it didn’t feel weird like I thought it might with us dressed up sort of and with this big camera… it felt like we looked like just three girls going around DC together.  It was kind of funny… we were talking about work clothing, and I characterized in percentages – how maybe half the time I’m good with something nice-casual-nice, I can throw on a blazer I keep in my office, and it’s good for most things including working level meetings, then half of the remaining I can be just casual because no one will see me outside my office, and the other half I have to really be ‘on’ – international meetings, meetings with foreign dignitaries and front office principals, etc.  Oddly enough, my numbers were slightly off but it was nearly identical to one of their clothing principles. They asked me where I’ve been buying my work clothes, and I realized how difficult it has been to cobble together a work wardrobe that goes together (raised on Garanimals, anyone else?) and is comfortable, from so many different places.  We also talked about protesting and New York and DC, food scenes, dogs, the train, and so much else.  I stopped feeling awkward, stopped feeling like the fat, ugly girl who’s inexplicably befriended by the pretty ones (you know you’ve seen that in so many movies).  My body and my size became a nonissue.  Not even a nonissue, just not something needing any kind of consideration any more or less than anyone else’s.  (One thing I really feel is that fat-shaming would go down if bigger people – who aren’t always actually fat but it doesn’t matter – didn’t feel like they had something to be ashamed of and therefore mean words received no reaction.  One way of achieving this is for people who are bigger who participate in all of life’s activities – including working as a lawyer or stockbroker or banker, including running and swimming and biking and skiing, including going to the movies and to baseball games and happy hours – to actually have appropriate clothing for those activities, and by “appropriate” I mean comfortable, functional, attractive.)  Right here is a giant step forward.
Granted these clothes are more expensive but they are comfortable and classics, and if they fit well and wear well and I need fewer of them and they all go together then I can stop trying to get X from one place, Y from another, LMNOP from this place, and hope they look okay together (usually resulting in half of the purchased clothes sitting in my closet forever).
When I was leaving one of the DC consultants asked if I was a model and I just cracked up.  I thought she was being over the top flattering and she tried to explain that they often do hire models for the clothing and with the new line coming out this week she thought I might have been brought in for that.  Smh…
Here is the link to the genesis of the MM.Lafleur new sizes:  https://u.com/mdash/first-addition-mmlafleur-launches-extended-sizes
(P.S. After the session I thought I would go for a run but for once in my life being all glam like that, I walked instead and then later made my husband take me out to dinner!)

Coming back, and flowers

(From April, and I forgot to post.)

It’s been a while.  A long while.  There’s a reason for that.

Inasmuch as I like to be open and honest and keep things real, where anything I write is interchangeable in tone, attitude and language with anything I actually say, I had to stop for a while, because I have been in a place so uncomfortable and sad that I didn’t have it in me to write.  I didn’t want to take anyone there with me, and I didn’t want to share it.  I can’t just write – it’s why I don’t have a regular blog.  I just write what I need to when the need to write hits me.

What was it and how am I back?  Well, I don’t know.  It was a confluence of a number of things – some of it you can probably guess in turn of the year 2017, and some of it you can probably guess, it being another gloomy snow-less winter in DC.  There have been work worries, and daily life worries and dog worries (we lost three dogs since the year began, and almost lost another).  I just haven’t ‘felt it’ – not in blogging, not in running, not in life.  I’m not sure how I’m back.  Some things seem to resolve, some things normalize.  And it’s spring now, so there’s sunshine, and no one is getting snow so there’s no being left out.

And sometimes, things don’t have to be a certain way.  As a blogger full of entries of marathons and ultras and halfs, I submit to you two recent 5k races.  Races that took place in the same week, within five miles or so of one another, and yet were completely opposite in nearly every way.  And yet, so perfect, each of them.

One 5k… cherry blossoms.  Downtown Washington DC, surrounded by thousands if not tens of thousands of people.  Fast and flat.  Saw people I knew, and negative splits.  Maybe the first time in my life, negative splits.  An absolutely beautiful, gorgeous day. The other 5k… azaleas.  A small hometown fundraising race, less than 5 miles from the DC line, less than ten from those cherry blossoms.  Dozens of people, not one of whom I knew.  Hills!  Unbelievable hills, and so cold and windy.  And… negative splits, and only about half a minute slower than the cherry blossoms.  Given the hills and the chills, that’s amazing for me.  

Totally different… opposite… but the same.  And both amazing.

And I guess there’s always hope, as far as coming back from the suck.

Sometimes, I guess, if there’s some cosmic message and you miss it, life will make sure it throws it in your face.

Thin Privilege

This is not like my other posts, where I am relentlessly positive even in the midst of self-doubt, where I end up feeling somehow triumphant in some way.  This is actually a repost of a Facebook post I made a year ago, and repeated the other day. (So if you saw it on my page, no need to read it here again.)  I’m posting it here because it’s still true, and it’s important to me, and because I hope this might widen the audience who sees it and who maybe will understand, people who never thought about such things before.  Indulge me this momentary departure, please.

A year ago, I came upon a blog post by Melissa A. Fabello that really hit home with me.

It was this:  http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/10/lets-talk-about-thin-privilege/

(Yeah.  She wrote this in 2013 and nothing’s really changed.)

For me, the point of it is that I *could* talk for years about what I’ve felt, gone through, been treated as, told, etc. There’s no point, so I don’t. First world problems and all that. It’s just me, whinging and bitchy, and that’s not constructive at all, so get over it, brat. So when I saw this article, it was finally something that takes it out of the personalization sphere. Whether you agree or not with the premise, it’s a sociological discussion, a cultural debate, part of a larger one about the meaning, trappings and form of privilege in our society (and subsequently, perhaps, what does one do about it). It’s not just Valerie being whiny or bratty or woe is me, which I try not to be, at least not publicly. I’d rather retreat and disappear than do that. I hope I never come across as this wounded or broken. I hope I come across as confident and happy and fun and usually I am… but this is always there, like the backdrop of the stage that is always resting at the very back when the other ones are pulled away and used up.

I have never heard this described so well as in this article… and maybe it explains why, no matter where I go, what I do, what happens, why I just can’t seem to climb all the way out of this damn self esteem hole, even when I’m happy or good things happen (and I’ve had well more than my share!) I eventually get sucked back in. Because I have grown up with this as a moral issue. That I am bad because I am big. That I am undeserving of love, respect, simple acceptance. That last part… I struggle with that, it continues to this day. That’s hard when you are an off the charts extrovert. The happiness with my body – or with myself, IN my body – and the amount of power I let it have over me (because it gets tiring lobbing self-empowering messages at yourself all the time in the face of overwhelmingly negative ones) is a constant struggle.

To add to the article, the loud, vocal, in your face shaming messages as well as the silent but obvious reminders that you don’t fit in, literally:  To be ridiculed while running or exercising. To be told by a doctor that you obviously don’t exercise, and if you protest that you do, that it’s not working and why bother. To be told by a doctor that your size is the culprit for your problems (problems: ear infection, strep throat). To never know if you will find clothing to wear, and if you do, whether you will have to pay more for it, whether it will lack style or quality control, or whether you will be relegated to the “special” area of the store or to mail order – because the store will sell its cheap, crappily made (and yet, much more expensive) stuff to you, but it doesn’t want to see your size in its actual stores. Double this for exercise wear, where if you are female you are probably relegated to buying ill fitting men’s clothing. (Why are women’s running clothes so small, so that a 100-lb. woman needs to wear a large and they only go to XL, maybe?  Why do race shirts go to 2x for men and only xl for women?  Why is there no acknowledgement that runners come in all shapes and sizes?  Because we do.)  To be in a group of friends and they talk about food, or nutrition, or being overweight, and you don’t even know how to respond or what to say so you clam up because anything you say in any direction comes back to point the finger at you as… one of the things they are all trying to avoid. Do they even realize this, do they think of me as their fat friend?

Again to quote my friend, who said it better than I ever could: If you’re one of the lucky ones to have not lived with this or other size-shaming shit, you are likely the recipient of “thin privilege” and I envy you. I wish that were me.

 

More Epic Sh*t. Or, Millinocket.

(Note:  All of the photos taken on race day were taken by other people.  My phones, and my fake GoPro, all froze.  Many thanks to you who took photos – other runners, and Photography By Mike and Far North Photography – for the beautiful photos.)

You know the story of Stone Soup?  Where there’s this genesis of an idea, but how?  Implementation seems so hard when you have an idea.  How do you make it a Thing?  How do you make a marathon and half marathon in rural, northern Maine in December a Desirable Thing?  Gary Allen made it free, and asked that everyone participating spend the money they would have spent on the race, on local things.  Meals, tipping, buying local things, supporting Millinocket.  Not asking one single thing of the town.  Like Stone Soup, so many people decided they wanted in, and wanted to contribute to make it a Great Thing.  And the Greatest Thing is, it’s not just the runners, though it’s them too.  They came, they helped organize and implement, they ran, they spent, they BECAME Millinocket.  (I might be carried away here… I can only speak for myself.)  The locals did too!  They were out in full force, enveloping us in this big bear hug (see what I did there?).  They made mile markers and made – and continue to make – souvenirs for  the visitors, talked and played pool and hung out and danced with and treated us as one of their own, fed us with the most amazing food and the most wonderful smiles.  I’m from New England.  I know the reputation we have.  We’re not friendly, we’re cold, we’re not particularly welcoming to those from Away.  SO NOT TRUE.  I’m willing to bet that anyone in Millinocket this past weekend would say that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

So many memories.  This, my 11th marathon finish, is the hardest race I have ever done.  Physically and mentally – and I’m still recovering, days later.  (I’m pretty quick at bouncing back post-marathon, usually.)

Before the marathon, the day before – we already started to bond.  Being picked up at the airport.  Going around town, the course, the mile markers, the craft fair, dinner.  The Blue Ox!  Oh what a place that is.  How much fun the night before.  It doesn’t feel like the night before a marathon.  It’s cold as hell though, and it’s 7 at night and feels like midnight.  But it’s so warm inside.  And meeting new friends, it’s so great.

At the official 10 am start, it was 12 with a 2 above zero windchill.  I started at 7 am.  I took the early start because I knew it would be an early sunset at 3:51, with total darkness by 4:30, and I wanted as much daylight as possible – and I wanted to be done in time to go to the dance party after.  I think it was 7 when I started, before the wind chills.  I was so surprised to see Pattie maybe a tenth of a mile in… made me happy.  She took pics!  They are almost the only ones I have.  Everything died… phones (even though I carried them close to me), even my GoPro.  So I got no pics.  All my pics are from other people.

It was hell.  The first seven miles, basically, is uphill, and on a road that’s incredibly windy, shady, and long.  You are rewarded with amazing views of Mt. Katahdin (that I couldn’t photograph, she was cloaked in white).  I’m not sure that was enough for me.  Trudged along… alone.  As the morning progressed people beeped at me – runners who were driving into town to start at not-slow-people-time.  I wondered what they thought of me.  It was so cold… so very cold!  My thighs and knees and butt.  I had a pair of tights and another shirt in the drop bag, and I vowed to put these on before the next loop.  As soon as I turned off the Golden Road I used the first portapotty.  I almost didn’t leave because it was so nice in there without that wind.  (Golden, my ass.  Why they didn’t call it the Ice Road…)  Turns out I could have followed the Golden Road another 95 miles or so and hit Canada.

(Note – I’m not in these photos or the ones below… they’re just to show you how it looked on the Golden Road, how it was.)

The miles seemed SO long… but when you turn it’s so much better.  Mentally I had a picture of this race course and that helped a lot.  The next turn mentally felt like the home stretch even though home was a long way away still.  I finally did get to the aid station and portapotty at mile 11.  There was an aid station set up, and I had some ice water.  It was so interesting – how even though it was so cold, and I had my own Tailwind, and it stayed relatively warm (thawed at least), that ice water tasted so good.  All day all the ice water tasted so good!  Amy came into town on her way to the craft fair and encouraged me.  Kate stopped and asked how I was doing and if I needed anything.  I didn’t realize Kate was going to be my guardian angel at the time, and I just kind of grunted I was okay, like I’d been doing.  I’m not a very nice person when I’m in the middle of a marathon.  I’m not a terrible person, I’m just not really shiny and nice and rainbows and butterflies.  I’m kind of a mess, a slob, sort of an animal, and I have meltdowns sometimes.  Thank God Kate forgave me.  Anyhow.  I kept wondering when I’d be overtaken by the other runners, the fast ones, the ones who started on time.

It started happening about mile 11.5 or 12.  Just as I began to come into town.  And as many of them passed me, they shouted back words of encouragement to me.  “Great job!”  “Keep it up!”.  I’m very nearly mortified now… now that I’ve seen myself, and how I looked, “running”, I’m not even sure how these elite superstar fast people even realized I was a runner too.  Maybe the same way Great Danes and Chihuahuas know that they are both dogs?  Anyhow, then there was the woman who became known as the Cookie Lady and Cookie Hill… she offered me a cookie and – get this, who DOES this – I didn’t take one.  I said, “no thank you”.  WTH is WRONG with me!  This was mile 12.5 or so, I cannot even blame this on marathon brain.

And then there’s the final turn into town… it’s funny, what you remember.  There’s this guy talking on the phone outside of one of the houses.  He’s loudly complaining about something… and he has this really thick Boston accent.  Not Maine (and I can tell the difference, thank you).  But real, old style Boston.  And my head whips back (in my mind it whipped back, probably it was like a slow, Jabba the Hut style turn of the head) and then he’s going off about people and how no one minds their own business anymore… and I’m thinking, is this aimed at me?  So then why yell your conversation outside?  Oy.  And then that faded behind because there’s the police officer stopping traffic and my Moose Drop In ladies yelling and squealing and jumping up and down and running me in (truth be told I was more like walking), and I remember saying I didn’t know if I could do this again… and one of them told me she’d see me on the next loop and peeled off.  Then they all did, and I was left to decide, do I go straight to the finish and call it a successful half, or do I turn the corner and keep going, without confidence that I could really do this.  I thought about the other pair of tights.  But for that I would have had to take off my gloves… it probably would have taken half an hour.  I cried to Leslie and some other people… I don’t know if I can do this again, what should I do… drank some water… and kept going.

Midway up that hill, before the hospital, I thought, hmm.  Hospital.  This is a good thing.  And then I thought, wow.  I should just turn around and go back and finish.  But I didn’t.  Then it was back on the Golden Road.  This time with people.  And this was so, so hard.  The hardest thing ever.  At one point we saw this sled pulled by dogs, but I think it was actually an ATV.  That was really cool.  That damn road.  It was only – well, maybe 6 miles.  Not even a 10k.  But it took forever and felt terrible.  So demoralizing.  So many people stopped and checked on me.  Runners, people in cars.  Walked some steps with me, talked to me, took some selfies and told some jokes.  Offered gels, beer, warm water, cold water, HotHands.  That’s what kept me going.  Slow marathoning is such an intensely lonely experience.  Every interaction raised my spirits so much.  Heidi caught up to me and I could tell she wanted, needed to move ahead, but didn’t want to leave me.  So much of this is mental and Golden Road almost defeated me.  I can tell because so many people were so concerned.  It almost beat me, the cold and wind and neverending uphill and signs of sunshine that never made it to me to warm me, slowed me nearly to paralysis.

And this is where, if I want to be super critical and say this shouldn’t count, or where I feel guilt about it, this is where.  Twice I sat in heated cars for a while, after making sure they were in park and that we were not going anywhere.  I don’t know how long.  Ten or fifteen minutes?  In those cars I rearranged and put on more clothes, peeled off my jacket and drank my Tailwind, got new HotHands opened up for me, had a little conversation.  Then I went back out.  I feel bad about that.  I rationalize by thinking, it’s like going to the warming tent or to medical for a little bit during a race, then going back out.  But it still feels like weakness.  The coldest thing on me was my forehead, just over my eyebrows.  I couldn’t pull my hats (yes plural) down enough to reach, and you can’t stick a  HotHands on your eyebrows.  I had icicles on my eyelashes and eyebrows from condensation from my breathing.  Score on the Tailwind though… under my jacket, nearer my body, and blowing back into the tube, I was able to keep it from freezing for the entire marathon.

The forest is LOUD.  Especially when you are alone!  I have no idea what makes such noises.  I didn’t want to look… I kept looking and seeing nothing.  But things were there.

230

(just kidding!)

The home stretch… only 10k left and it took SO LONG.  During this time on Millinocket Lake Road, it got dark.  There were no more aid stations.  I had a headlamp and a kickass reflective jacket, so I was prepared.

 

(reflective running jacket)

My friend Jenny passed me and made me take a Huma gel.  It was good.  Mango.  I was so happy to see her, and spend some time walking with and talking to  her.  I was so glad she was doing this race, it’s been a tough year for her.  Holly and other people stopped for me… I was so afraid they’d get hit.  One woman – I don’t know her name but she wanted to help so badly.  She offered me a ride and I said no, she said, yes I know your pride and everything  but it’s getting so cold… but I was like, I’m at mile 23.  She wanted to do something.   She kept asking if I was drinking enough.  If I wanted a whoopie pie.  Which I desperately did, but couldn’t take anything without removing my face mask, and couldn’t stuff in my Sparkle pocket without removing my ski gloves.  (Note to Gu, Sport Beans and others:  You need to have a cold weather formula.  One that doesn’t freeze, and one that you can open with astronaut hands.)  So she settled on a knit infinity scarf that she double layered over my neoprene face mask which was over my original balaclava, giving me essentially a cervical collar.  I couldn’t move my neck and I had to look a sight. But it sure kept me warm, I’ll say that!

And then Angel Kate came again, and suggested – emphatically – that I run in front of her vehicle, and she would go slowly and be behind me, to keep me safer and more visible.  I took her up on it – also, it’s weird.  This part of the road… it can feel really scary.  Creepy scary.  When you are all alone on it after dark.  It was so good to know I wasn’t alone and someone was looking after me.  Even though we weren’t talking or anything since I was in front of her and she was in the truck.  I had to go to the bathroom, had for miles.  I was way too cold to use the portapotty (the mile 11 pit stop was gone but the portapotty remained).  My gloves were beginning to get stiff and my fingers were cold despite liners and HotHands.  I didn’t need those heat packs the first loop, but by the middle of the second I sure did.  I told Kate I was going to try to use Saw Mill Bar and Grill.  I felt awful asking to use their bathroom, but I was desperate.  Kate waited.  So I went in, and told the waitress I know I was like only two miles from finishing but the portapotties were done (there weren’t any more after that pit stop) and had to go, could I please use their bathroom.  The waitress said of course, and I went and used it.  It took so long, much longer than anticipated.  Three layers on the bottom half and trying to get it so it didn’t chafe, then trying to tuck shirts into each layer – my hands and arms were beginning to fail at dexterity.  But I got myself together and exited.

What did I exit to!  This is something I wish, I wish I could do-over.  Or at least see it from outside.  This is a blur.  I can barely believe it happened.  I came out of that bathroom and it was like that end scene in Titanic, when she’s old and is either dreaming or she died, and all the people are there applauding her.  All these people in Saw Mill – all standing there, giving me a standing ovation, high fiving me, cheering me, congratulating me.  A lot of these people were runners, I could tell, and I was so embarrassed because I hadn’t even finished yet. And I was trying to tell them, don’t high five me, don’t congratulate me, I’m not done.  Someone said, “I know”, and I was wondering why everyone was cheering me then.  I still can’t figure that part out.  I thought I might have died but I was in too much pain, I thought, I can’t be actually dead and still hurt this much.  I also don’t know how these people knew who I was.  Kate said she didn’t say anything.  I sure didn’t say anything.  Being DFL is not something you brag about.  And then I was leaving and a man approached me and tried to give me money and – and I feel SO bad about this so someone please, if you know him, please tell him, I didn’t know who he was or what he was doing, it was all a blur, I didn’t understand, and thank you so much for what you did – I waved it away.  I thought – I don’t know what I thought, I had no idea why someone would be trying to give me money.  So I completely failed to recognize and appreciate $2 Bill Guy.  Kate told me a little about him and took the $2 bill from him for me, because I was too much of an idiot to do it myself.

Kate followed me a little longer, then she went to get Heidi, who had been recovering from her own super badass marathon (that she finished hours ahead of me) at the hotel; they were back in a flash.  By this time I was in town and about to go onto Bowdoin, where it was well lighted and there were plenty of houses to go to if I needed to, but I was a mile out at this point, so I waved them ahead.  The uphill on Bowdoin didn’t seem as bad this time.  The Cookie Hill downhill was much worse though!  As I summited, a woman stood on her porch calling to me, asking if I needed to come in and warm up a little before continuing.  I thanked her but said no, I just need to be done.  The last few miles, that’s all I need… to be done.  The finish line.  It was so very kind of her to offer.  That’s the kind of town this is.  You can leave your car running and go to a store and it’ll still be there when you get back.  You can offer sitting in your car to some random runner stranger and be confident nothing will happen to you.  You can be the random runner stranger and get into cars with other strangers and nothing will happen to you.  This is what I love, this is what I miss with my heart and soul.  This is why I didn’t want to leave, and why I’d like to stay.  This is Millinocket.

And on Penobscot, on my way back in… another woman, in a jeep, short hair and a fluffy dark jacket, stops and says something encouraging.  And says she’ll buy me a drink at Blue Ox after I cross the finish line.  I grunt something affirmative and cheery (I hope – see above about my lack of congeniality during marathons), but don’t think anything about it.  Remember this, though.  And then she drives off and there’s the intersection and all the cars are lined up – they have the right of way but no one’s moving, they’re all honking, but it’s not pissed off honking, it’s cheering me on!  There’s two dozen people, more, on the corner of Central Ave. and there’s Tricia and my Moose Drop friends and they are surrounding me, escorting me.  What the what!  There are SO many people.  Who are these people, what are they doing, it’s COLD!  Heidi and Kate I knew, but the others… wow.  These people came BACK for me, or never left at all.  They’re cheering me and chanting my name and then there’s a high five person chute to run through and they all follow me as I run up the hill (this was UP!  why was the finish UP!?) to the finish line and then there’s Gary, he’s clocked my finish time.

And I’m surrounded by so many people and they are all happy and some of them I remember and some of them I don’t and I’m sorry, it was a blur and it was dark and then a man comes forward and gives me a prize for being last, a homemade jar of Maine blueberry jam from his wife.  I am amazed and speechless and so… wow.  Someone commands that we have to go inside NOW, so we go to Blue Ox and people are cheering and buying me drinks and congratulating me and best of all, letting me sit down.  And this woman, remember I said to remember her, the one with the short hair and the fluffy jacket, we talk a while, her and Kate and me and Jenny and her husband and some other people whom I can’t remember, and the fluffy jacket lady says she’s going to go, and when I hug her goodbye, she says to me, “Welcome home.  Welcome home.”  And this is what I carry with me the most from the weekend.  She got it right.   Home.  This is home.

And wow.  It didn’t stop there.  Tricia came through again, taking care of us and arranging for us the best postrace dinner I’ve ever eaten.  The hot tub.  The dance party.  I wasn’t really up for it like I thought I would be… I think I was still in something of body shock.  But oh how I wanted to party it up and hang!  The next morning.  I didn’t want it to end.  And at breakfast, it didn’t.  Talking with the other runners.  The fellowship.  The respect.

So many people to thank.  So much I didn’t realize at the time it was happening, and how much of an impact it had on my psyche. This is partly my attempt to rectify that, because I feel badly that I didn’t appreciate – or have the faculties to express appreciation – at the time.

Obviously, Gary Allen.  Rockstar race director.  Gary likes to use the metaphor of tossing pebbles (stones?) into a pond.  Michelle, who kept the energy going with her support group!

People who were there for me, who were friends going in and who were also strangers going in but friends coming out.  Alisha and Tanya, who started out giving me a ride from the airport but ended up hanging out and eating dinner together and driving the course setting up mile markers in the cold – immeasurable bonding there… Heidi and Kate.  I’ve known and loved Heidi for a while… she inspires me so much, always.  Like I’m the never good enough little sister who always tries to emulate her big sister.  (Even though the only way Heidi is bigger than me is height and leg length.)  So much Kate, who came with Heidi and helped me immeasurably.  Helping me dress in adding layers, do I need anything, letting me sit in her warm car for a while after the second Golden Road, following me slowly on Millinocket Lake/Bates in the dark.  Amy, who came up with the idea of a chase car.  Leslie, who volunteered in the cold, let me melt down a little and then encouraged me during the transition to the second loop, and then went to check on me.  And kept doing so.  Pattie, keeping track of me.  Jodi, with your finish line video and Michelle with the support group for us!  (I think we may need a postrace support group now…)

People who had no idea that they were instinctively giving me what I needed at the time – and I didn’t realize it either.  I am an extrovert.  A really extreme one.  And every encounter buoyed me, helped me go on.  People on the course who offered their warm vehicles to sit in for a few minutes.  Warm water.  Gu and beans and hand warmers.  People who didn’t know me at all, weren’t there for me but took it upon themselves to look after me anyhow.  You runners who walked a few steps, yards, or quarter mile with me during the times I was really struggling – who were really concerned whether I was okay.  Holly, Bryan, Firefighter Steve from Philly, the runners whose names escape me or whose names I never knew, and all the other people who finished their races and drove by to check on me, offer me things.  The lady who wanted to help do anything, in any way… whoopie pies, hand warmers, water.  Who ended up wrapping a beautiful infinity scarf around my neck.   The people at Saw Mill Bar and Grill, who when I came out of the bathroom, gave me a standing ovation and congratulated me (“but I haven’t finished yet!  don’t congratulate me yet!”).  I am so sorry I didn’t understand what you were doing or your significance, $2 Bill Guy.  I do now.  The people who honked as they drove by and shouted encouraging words out the window.  The cookie lady – I think it was you – who offered me a cookie the first loop, and stupid me didn’t take one, then called to me from your porch to ask if I needed to come in and get warm for a few minutes.

Tricia and her Moose Drop In crowd.  Tricia… you are amazing.  How you do it all is beyond me.  I am in awe of you.  Forget about me (and all the super amazing things you did, like long before I ever came to Millinocket, special order shirts in my size and patiently deal with my in and out of the country connectivity issues, watching for me and escorting me and finding me on the course and halting traffic and sending your minions out and checking on me, and making everyone in the Moose Drop In leave so everyone could cheer me as I came in oh so late at the end, and making sure we were taken care of for food – omg this Ruthie’s food!!!)… what you did, do, have done and continue to do for this race and for this town… you may have been overwhelmed but you handled everything with a smile, and with wit and wisdom and I love you.

People in the end… all these people.  I think there were dozens of you and I cannot recognize or thank you personally.  The ones who were a safety net for me, who watched over me from afar, from your cars as you drove past, from your aid stations wondering where the last sighting of me was, from phone calls to one another making sure I was still okay, from the craft fair and from town.  The ones who I have no idea who you were but you were there and because you were there I had a real finish for the first time in who knows how long.  I have never ever had a caboose award, and this time I won.  I can’t wait to eat that blueberry jam.  You cheered me when I walked into the Blue Ox.  You bought me drinks.  You made me feel like I had done something worthy… when all I am is really just a slow-ass runner who happens to also be stubborn.

This woman.  In a jeep, on Penobscot, you stopped and cheered me on, said you’d buy me a drink at the Blue Ox after I finished.  I probably mumbled something unintelligible in response.  But after the finish, in the Blue Ox, you were there, and you brought me a Fireball, and before you left you hugged me and said something to me that makes my heart so full.  It’s like you KNEW.  You said “welcome home”.  I still think of this all the time.  I feel like I have a place, like when I am there, I belong.  Thank you for that.  That acceptance, your instincts.

Two days later, after the coldest, hardest race most of us had ever experienced and ever will, the race director reports that the race is already almost at capacity for the numbers that were limited this year, for next year (unless he expands registration).  I’m registered.

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Doing Epic Sh*t, or the NYC Marathon

(I skipped September.  I know I did.  And October.  I know it.  I started writing but never finished.  I was in a very bad, negative place, and didn’t want to inflict myself on anyone.  I’m not sure I’m quite past it yet, but I have so much to tell here, that I don’t want to lose it.)

Can I put this on my CV?  New York City Marathon Class of 2016.  As I try and process everything that happened to me over a weekend and 26.2 miles (no, it didn’t take me all weekend to run 26.2 miles.   I’m slow, but not THAT slow.  But I did spend the weekend with friends and doing a 5k the day before), right now I have snippets of memories.

I’ve come back to this a week later and am still trying to get myself in order to write about this.

Now it’s two weeks later, and I’m still figuring it out.  So much figuring out that I registered for the Chicago Marathon lottery today.  (WTF??)

This spot will be revised.  Right now…

Miles 1-8 I was in love.  Verazzano Bridge and Brooklyn… I love this.  Such great energy!  I know I said I was going to be one and done but… no, I have to do this one again, I love this.  I never knew I could love this so much!

Miles 9-12 I was like WTF why am I STILL in Brooklyn?!?!?  And then finally…

Miles 13-15 I was chill, then the 59th St. Bridge, oh for the love of all things holy we have to be in Utah by now how long is this effing bridge (a guy in my NYCM facebook group said, “That efffin bridge loves you and we call it the Queensboro bridge”)….  I know it’s the Queensboro Bridge, but I am old enough to remember Simon and Garfunkel and the whole way across I was singing “Feeling Groovy” which is aka “the 59th St. Bridge Song”. It was kinda heady to have that.  But when you get off on 59th and 1st Ave. and realize you can do math and it’s EIGHTYFIVEBLOCKS til Willis Ave. bridge and it’s HELL TO THE NO I am NEVER doing this one again WTF was I thinking… then it was OMG it’s dark and I’m lost and then Grand Concourse in the Bronx – different part, but still – my dad grew up there, on Grand Concourse. I may have cried.  img_3505

Fifth Ave. was so annoying with the cobblestones and getting lost again… UGH maybe this will be the end of marathons for me, this is about all I can take, then through Central Park and Cheryl and Ady came to meet me and distract me a little, then it was OMG already the finish line is there, why the HELL is it UPHILL at this point… OMG pull up the skirt or it’s falling right off… I’m done I’m done!!

Six hours later I left on a plane for Turks and Caicos (for work!) and decided I didn’t feel that bad, and it was probably the most favorite marathon I have ever run, and I have to do this again.

 

The Husband Runs!

[NOTE:  There are no brilliant epiphanies or words of wisdom here.  Most of the time I write, to get things out that are inside, to help me process or figure things out.  I’m often (as is the case here) not even sure how I feel about what it is I’m writing about.]

My husband runs once a year, he tells me.  He’s not a runner, never was, doesn’t have the runner physique and is kind of shaped and sized like me, only a little more svelte.  In high school he was a wrestler, and that was over half his life ago.  He does this 5k in Rhode Island just to make me happy, because I do it too, it’s a vacation thing that we do together.  It’s lovely on vacation to get the time to be able to be active – even moderately so – together.  Things like climbing Miantonomi Tower, taking long walks to the farmer’s market, the beach, nowhere at all.  So since 2014, which is when I began really to run in earnest and found this race, he’s done this 5k.

He doesn’t train for these.  Not at all.  The first year, he did it in a cotton tee shirt, baggy cargo shorts – and boat shoes.  He didn’t have sneakers.  We got him some.  He didn’t use them.

This year, I signed him up for a 5k that was happening the same time I did that ultra (the one I wrote about in my previous posting), the week before the Rhode Island one that I signed him up for.  Thereby doubling his annual distance!  He did the first 5k, and by that point when it began, I was really hurting – I had over 10 hours in, and he lapped me a couple of times, but whatever.  Two different races.  He was in more pain than I was after that one, and he said he wasn’t even going to do the second one.

All week he was iffy, but at the end he did it.  This second one – the Rhode Island one – the first year, I was faster than he was.  Well, of course.  I was in serious marathon training mode, and he was in boat shoes.  Last year, he did the 5k but I did the half marathon that came with it.  This year… no training, two year old sneakers that weren’t even right for him, he beat me.  By something like 5 minutes.  I tried to shrug it off and it wasn’t that hard, I was a week out from an ultra and, more importantly, I had a bunch of friends at the finish who cheered me on loudly – something I almost never have when I run, and the buoyancy factor from that was amazing.  And the hubs – he was better after that second race, we climbed Miantonomi Tower and he wasn’t really in pain at all.

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We also walked a lot, Newport lends itself to that.  To farmer’s markets, just around.  To Goat Island for the sunset.  And we got him stride checked and fitted for shoes.  Hoka Clifton 3 for him (and for me!  Hokas all around!).  Turns out my feet are bigger than his for running, because I need to size up.  And Providence.  We walked all over Providence – from the ferry to… somewhere downtown… doubling back and over the river, past RISD, up that hill whatever it is, past Roger Williams memorial, to Rhode Runner.

On our last weekend of vacation, we spent it in New Jersey – Atlantic City and North Wildwood, and I looked for a race.  A couple of years ago Stone Harbor had a mile-long race” on the beach with your dog, and while it totally fell apart as far as a race goes, it turned into something different – so much wonderfulness as people and their dogs played in the sand and the surf.  I was hoping to see another one since we had a couple of pups with us.  Well, I didn’t see anything there, but the very next day was the Chickie’s and Pete’s 5k on the Atlantic City boardwalk.  And it had to have been a sign – start and finish was right where we were staying.  So, I asked Chris and instead of the grumbling, he agreed.  Well, I just spend $120 on shoes for him, so….  It’s a great, fun race.  (Boardwalk is awesome, though it got really crowded.  Plastic cup, tee shirt, crab fries and beer, and ice cream.)  He did complain about being worried about running on the boardwalk as we walked it the night before, and how he was tired and he was going to walk the whole thing.

And… you got it.  He beat me again.  By about three and a half minutes this time, and we both sort of PR’d.  (His, yes.  Me, not a lifetime PR, but one that’s really great for me, right now.)  And then we had ice cream, and beer, and crabfries. It was really fun.

I’m glad he is running.  He hasn’t since, but I have hope… he does express his intent to, but I know he has a lot on his plate.  It just makes me… edgy, that he is faster than me every single time with NO training.

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Redemption?

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Sweltering Summer 8-hour and Marathon.  Pittsfield, Mass.  I’m still processing this.

I needed this race.  After Hatfield McCoy and Rosaryville, I needed a personal running ‘win’.  And after losing two dogs in one day and being in a car accident two days after that (the week before this race), I needed a boost.  The Berkshires are my happy place.  This race is extremely tiny and has the most understanding, encouraging, empathic RD ever.  His answer when I told him I needed to at least get to 26.2, hence my need for a super early start: “Great!  Let’s make it happen!”  He will do anything to help you reach your personal goals.  Well, maybe not everything, but he will allow runners an early start, which I gladly took (and needed).  I really needed to set myself up for success – to have a goal distance of more than 5 or 10k ,and to do it.  I needed to not downgrade from that distance running goal – something I flubbed in my last two races, meaning every long distance race since June.  Not to flake out or take a shorter distance because of the heat or whatever.  And, well, it was ugly and it took so long, and at one point I thought I wouldn’t make it and tried to prepare myself for that… but I finished what I wanted (the marathon) and then went beyond it. This race was my two year marathonniversary.

Despite the relief I feel that I did what I set out to do, despite the ‘win’, I was really not happy with my own performance. Depending on what measurement you go by (there were some issues with the timing chip not registering my laps for a few laps before they caught it), I managed 27.7 (official) -28.5 (Garmin) miles.  I also had 2 Garmin watches so I was also tracking my distance, and while they aren’t going to be perfect either they’re pretty accurate. And the chafing. I did everything right to not have it and dear god I’m walking like a bowlegged scarecrow.

But as I’m sitting here, what makes me happy with his race isn’t really how far I go. (Okay, it kind of is. When you’re the slowest one and are always DFL, at least being able to reach some kind of goal for yourself matters.). Get this.  We together, 23 5k runners, 29 marathon finishers and 66 ultra folks – ran 8,611 laps of Clapp Park. We raised I don’t know how much exactly, thousands of dollars, for Moments House, a local charity/foundation which provides all services for cancer patients, whatever they need, even wigs, all free.  So what made me happy was, being a part of something bigger – we together, ran all those laps and raised money or contributed to funds raised and awareness for Moments House. And I was a part of all those laps run. It brings tears to my eyes. And I love how the same people keep coming back and we have become something of a family. It’s a tiny, limited race and many of us are repeat participants, and over the past two years (3 for some, it began in 2013), we have become something of a family.  People know each other year to year.  And it tracks (no pun intended) with just… everything.  The peace and wholeness of the Berkshires, the philosophy that Benn and the Family Griff exude, the kind of inclusion and runners this race attracts.  It’s more than a race. Usually I sign up for races and I never see the elites, let alone talk to them. Never know the RD, let alone his parents (who came to me and told me how sorry they were that two of my dogs died the week before) or who does what. Never (when you’re me) can count on any kind of course support after the first couple miles. And this is just the opposite.  I mean, people gave me props for being out so long (news flash: it’s because I’m so slow, if I were normal I could have started with them to finish the same distance on time; it’s something I’m actually ashamed of, not something to congratulate me for).  Larry Macon, who’s in his 70’s, who has done more than 1700 marathons (yes, you read that right), was doing THIS race.  He congratulated me partway through – I told him I hadn’t completed anything yet, don’t congratulate me yet – and then on one of my final laps, told me “you’re still my hero”.  I’m his hero?  Just replaying this in my head makes me basically cry all over again.  So, this. Not just about the running and the racing and the goals but about the entirety of the experience. I talk this race up and people just don’t get all the things, how running around in circles translates to awesomeness – until they do it.

My husband also did the 5k, that was a first this year; he is not a runner but did it for me. It was awesome to share the experience with him. And then we swam in a beautiful mountain lake and had the best wings in the Berkshires for dinner. Pittsfield has its issues – namely, it’s a city in the Berkshires and doesn’t have the tourist money that the towns around it have – but it is beautiful and its downtown is beginning to come back.  As a western Mass native, I always feel at home here and lose a piece of my heart each time I have to leave.

This is what I told my fellow participants (race director, volunteers at the aid station, fellow runners):  

Thank you. For being you. Whether you are part of race staff, racers I talked to and who encouraged me, racers I never talked to but saw you dozens of times at the aid station and as you lapped me. All of you. For making the slowest and worst of us – not just a turtle but the tip of the tail of the turtle – feel welcome, like we matter and it’s ok that we are there too. For supporting us with smiles and positivity when we are hitting the wall or feel like the wall fell on top of us. (It’s not just me, right?) For giving us not just a race but an experience, a family of sorts, and the perspective that we are all intertwined, we are all part of something bigger, greater.

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