10/16/13

Reflections . . .

The most peaceful part of Sunday morning - and the water was running
pretty chaotically (for context). A beautiful morning to be a Wichitan.
NOTE - This is a SUPER long post. I suggest you read it in sections (I wrote it in sections).

Sooooo, my half marathon has been run and that means my Start2Finish training through GoRun Wichita and my PFMJoes work with Prairie Fire Marathon is complete. I did it. No mercy killings on the back miles. No golf cart rides to shorten the course. No white flags.

I have complex and competing feelings about what that really "means" and how I "feel" about that and I don't know how to really summarize them in a coherent way so I'm going to just answer some of the questions people have asked and let you figure out what any of it means (let me know if you figure it out - I'm still wrestling with it).

So? Do you feel like a runner now?
No. Same answer as always - runners, life floor gymnasts, competitive karaoke singers, and people who like salt water taffy, are part of a culture and a shared mindset. I have yet to feel running creep in to my blood. I have yet to want to invite myself in to a club of people who make running part of their lives versus something they do with part of their lives. It is disrespectful to a lifestyle I came to understand and appreciate to throw myself in the mix.

How did you do?
I executed MY race nearly perfectly. I used pacing to make the first half of the route go exactly to plan (I was a few seconds over the 1:30 mark at the 6.5 mile point) and I finished the race in 3:06:21 (just 3% slower than I had hoped to be). I was the 109th male in my age bracket (out of 111) to finish and I was the 1,555th person to cross the finish line overall. I feel FANTASTIC about that. I don't have a drop of shame, remorse, regret, or woe.

What was the race like?
I got to the starting point/runners village really, really early (about 6:15). There were already a lot of people there and the energy and vibe was pretty relaxed (save the DJ who was already playing thumping bass lines and pop garbage at a high volume). I putzed around and walked around for about 50 minutes - I ran a few hundred yards down by the river. I geared up. I talked to a few folks, etc. and then my body decided it had to go to the bathroom. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to go to the bathroom and I was literally in a porta-potty when the airhorn to start the race sounded. This was not really an issue for me. I wanted to start at the very back of the pack and I can honestly say I was the last person to step on that rubber mat to get the party started. It was only THEN that it hit me - I never actually stretched and my calves don't like not being stretched.

The first two miles were interesting. I was still sorta' in the pack (the tail of it) and I had people who were slow runners, people who were fast walkers, and people using walking/running for pacing all around me so I was fixated on my Garmin for my own pace (by the way - ladies out having a girls' morning - stop walking only until the fat guy catches you and then run for a while and then walk again until I catch you - that's not cool and I really enjoyed blowing by you in mile three). I had a very strong mile three (I was running in College Hill where a lot of my friends live/were spectating and I didn't want to suck wind in front of them). I was still feeling very strong until about mile nine at which point I realized I was not eating enough and my hydrating had slowed, too. I was not yet concerned - yet.

By the mile 11 marker I figured out those crafty bastards in charge of the race had built a HUGE wall that you would only hit if you were not watching out for it on the course. I can honestly (and with minimal embarrassment) tell you I WALKED .8 of mile 11 (to that point I'd walked a total of just .2 miles (both times while going up hills)). The "wall" for me was as very mental. I remember arguing with a volunteer (she seemed okay with my gruffness - I was respectful) about how she should best fill my water bottle for me and put in my Nuun tablet. I had just nicely gotten my proverbial sh*t together when a dude dressed as Superman came out (at about mile 12) and started telling me I was someone's "superhero" for doing what I did. I actually made a fist - decided not to swing it. But seriously - wherever that dude is - pound sand. And never talk to me again.

Now . . . mile mark 12.6 through 13.1 (the final 1/2 mile) . . . I remember looking at my Garmin and thinking it was over - just had to get across the line. My pace was slowed way down, my physical and mental energies were spent, my spirit (and this will sound like old, moldy cheese) was the only thing that kept me moving forward. I was all but ready to give up at 12.7 miles - I should not admit it but it is true. I was ready to walk the rest of the way in and take whatever crap might come (mainly my own self regret - I did not anticipate boos from the crowd).

THEN, running toward me, I saw my sworn enemy (friend?) Lacy who got me in to this whole thing anyway and she gave me a fist bump and we spouted off about The Goonies and I just started to cry (to illustrate how real the emotion was - I'm crying while typing this, 36 hours later) and I don't know why (will share a theory below). I ran again - pace in the mid 13:00s. I had JUST gotten my crap together when I saw, at 12.9 miles, Kevin the co-owner of GoRun Wichita. I am not sure why (he had a hand out for a high five) but I just hugged him and started to cry and it was that cry that you think is joy but it could be sadness and you are not sure if stopping the hug will help or hurt . . . Kevin politely encouraged me to finish the race and I let go of him.

I remember trying to tap the 13 mile marker (I had kissed my hand and tapped every mile marker this far (some sort of respect/OCD thing (remember, I have a running nail))) and I just whiffed on it. Straight up missed it. And that is the last thing I really remember until several minutes later when I was sitting on a concrete wall near the Hyatt (looking at the water wall pictured above) with my daughter and still sorta' wife sitting next to me and that feeling of sitting and knowing it was over (there was a medal around my neck) felt amazing. Probably as good as it felt for those "present" as they stepped on the rubber mat of victory.

Here's what I think happened in the middle . . . I clearly crossed the finish line on my own two feet. I have been told I refused my finisher's medal (not sure why) and passed on a bottle of water offered by one volunteer only to ask the next volunteer (who was handing out Gatorade) for a bottle of water). I had a lovely woman try to put a foil blanket around my shoulders (that didn't happen as she intended) and I reached my gross hands in to a tray of orange wedges to help myself to some fructose. She convinced me to get my hands out of her oranges and to go get my medal. There were photos taken of me (if we are "friends" on Facebook you've seen one) that I don't remember having taken and a walk over to the wall that I don't remember taking.

I just remember snapping back in to reality with sticky, orange covered fingers and a mixture of coughing, wheezing (my allergies have been brutal all week), and crying and the inability to calm down except that a woman who's been by my side for a whole lot of ups and downs in the last decade was there encouraging me to relax. I'll say this right now - the best part of that whole day was just sitting as a family on a cement wall for a few minutes. I can't think of any other person I know being able to calm me down in those moments (no offense, rest of the world) and I'm grateful she was there.

So - yeah - I was peeing when it started and mentally checked out when it ended. How was the race? Perfect.

Why do you think you got so emotional?
I don't know. I have three possible ideas 1) It was just my body and brain hitting the wall and losing a little bit of reality. 2) It was prideful tears that I had "owned" this challenge and made it all the way through. 3) It was fear that, upon crossing that finish line, I had no more direct commitment to honor and no challenge or focus or controllable thing in front of me. My gut says it was number three . . . I don't do well with change, I don't handle endings well, and I don't do well with confusion or time for it. I had settled on my next challenge (more on that below) before I ever pulled out of my parking spot to drive home and shower after the race. Just having something set in my brain allowed me to finally calm all the way down.

Are you glad you did this?
Absolutely. I was pretty open when all this started that I didn't have a ton of control over much in my life when I was asked to be a "Joe" and I was excited to try running because it was something I could control 100% and it was something that I had never really tried before and never really expected to try. I controlled running. I mastered my body as much as I could (I lost more than 25 pounds and I logged 500 miles of running) and I found such peace and tranquility and time to really, truly think while in my Brooks. I can honestly say I'm a better man (and this is not hyperbole at all - I can quantify and justify this if someone wants to challenge it) for taking this challenge and making it my proverbial bitch. Am I fast? Nope. Am I a strong, proud runner? Nope. Am I, for the first time in my life, serious about getting physically active and fit and actually having a defined muscle or two? Yep. Have I wrestled more with my thoughts and concerns and fears in this process than the hundreds and hundreds of hours of therapy I've talked through in my life? You betcha'.

My total PFM Joes training in a few random stats and figures.
Since I started running I've been hired and am months in to a great position that truly challenges me. I got a new car (after getting the job). I am weeks away from finalizing my divorce and things with the home my family shared in happier times. Those were all big question marks just four months ago. In the meantime I'm not just co-parenting but I've started to build a true friendship and relationship with a woman that I've only ever really wanted peace and support for and from for a long, long time.

I can honestly say this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life and knowing I finished this commitment and crossed that finish line means more to me than my high school, college, or graduate school stage crossings combined and any other "close" to a chapter in my life. Running has helped me. Running does help me. Running has inspired me. Running owes me nothing.

Why were you so anti-support?
I'm a jerk. I don't do well with receiving kindness and, candidly, when all this started I had a very large chip on my shoulder that I had to work off on my own. I knew that if I made this a group thing - if I even went and really embraced the group runs - I would feel like this was not "mine" and I had to make it mine.

THAT being said - I want to truly thank Lacy with the marathon for asking me to do this (I really don't know what her expectations were and I don't want to know how far off the reality was from her hopes). I want Kevin with GoRun Wichita to know that his interest, support, concern, and encouragement was PERFECT coaching for a guy with my disposition (never too much in any way). I hope they are both "proud" of the time and energy and INVESTMENT they put in me for these long, long months. I owe them that.

I'd also like to really thank my still sorta' wife for being agreeable and flexible with our custody schedule and for continuing to support me in a stage/dynamic of life that is not an automatic expectation.

I'd also like to thank my friend Skibba for sharing tips and suggestions along the way (some welcome, some forced) and for loaning me everything from a water bottle to a Garmin and for listening to me complain and helping to put things in the context of what I needed to do next to improve. A very good "sherpa" that helped me a lot.

I would also be remiss to not thank EVERYONE who did anything from a Facebook "life" or a Tweet in support of me to calling, writing, talking, and encouraging me along the way. I have felt very supported and loved and coddled in these months and I can't say "thank you" in a genuine enough tone to do it justice. But I can try.

Will you continue to run?
Yes. I just bought a $170 pair of shoes - they owe me 336 miles (I kid, but only sorta'). But, yes. As mentioned previously on this blog post and elsewhere, I have come to enjoy the challenge of running but - more importantly - have almost come to depend on the time I spend running for thinking and working through mental puzzles. I will NOT be running another half (or full) marathon in the next year (yes - I am officially leaving the door open to running this race next fall . . . but it is just a small, small crack at this point). I'll do some 5Ks and I'll run a few days a week.

BUT I'm going to put running in the context of an overall pursuit of better health and fitness. I hope to continue to work out five days a week but would like to walk, run, swim, bike, lift weights, do some yoga, etc. etc. etc. If I can get myself in better shape - I'd be way more likely to run another long distance and maybe set some different goals and objectives to those runs.

For now it is about not backsliding or getting fat(ter) and sauc(ier) but, instead, taking the focus off running. I want to be fit - not ripped or swole or whatever the kids are saying these days but FIT. I've started that process. I can and will continue that process.

(The following is a REAL question - presented verbatim) You're a guy who seems to run from obsession to obsession and you seem to "need" to be immersed in a challenge like the world would end if you don't have something "look at me"is to point to - what is next?
Hebrew. Straight up. I can't call myself a good Jew if I can't read, speak, sing, and comprehend the language of G-d's chosen people. If I can spend 8 or 9 hours/week running, I can spend 5 or 6 hours/week on Hebrew. So . . . yeah . . . that's my next thing. It will join running, knitting, reading, Rokuing, and a long list of passions that come and go but leave their mark on me and fade in prominence but stay part of my life.

Do you have any advice for might/would-be runners?
Yes. Put on a pair of sneakers (go get fitted at GoRun Wichita but take your current kicks with you and ask them if your current pair is good enough for you to at least get started with), walk out the door, pick a direction, and stride out. Then curse the decision within a few yards. But do it again. Once you get your first mile behind you - go back to GoRun Wichita and buy some serious running shoes. The investment (it ain't cheap) will motivate you to stick to it.

I won't say "if I can do it - you can do it" but I'll say that if there is an urge in you there is NO reason to not at least try it. It physically hurts at first. It is exhausting in general. It is fantastic once you start to feel your body learning and doing what the brain tells it to. I don't think everyone should run a half (or full) marathon but I think everyone should try new and different things and challenge themselves. If that means agreeing to running a half marathon . . . that is not the worst thing in the world.

More importantly (for local people) - if Lacy asks you to be a "Joe" in the coming campaigns - DO IT! You get free kicks, free enrollment in the program, and free marathon registration . . . that's a whole lotta' free to not take advantage of.