Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Sweetest Finish

2011 Gusher Marathon
13.1 Miles in 1:17:40.  YES that's 13.1 miles in 1 hour, 17 minutes, 40 seconds.  Pretty fast, huh? Except it's not my time.  This is how fast female winner, Mattie Suver ran the 2012 Rock 'N' Roll Dallas Half Marathon two weeks ago.  But I was there too. Oh i was so there... Let's start from the beginning, shall we?  

My name is Ivy and that's me on the left, running my 2nd 5k at the Gusher Marathon last year.  I'm more of what I call an accidental runner.  Tennis player - YES; Dog lover - Absolutely; Runner - Not so much. Two years ago, before my 29th birthday, I developed a list of things that I wanted to accomplish before I turned 30.  One of them was to Run A Marathon. Since then, it has been what it is, just a bullet item on my bucket list.

To be honest I'm still not sure how it all happened.  In January I started working out again in an effort to get back in shape and to get healthy and well, mainly because I'm going to a friend's Bachelorette in Vegas.
The Fermo Brothers, Jeremy & Willie

Lucky for me, my best friend, Jeremy, and his brother, Willie, are big time runners.  Combined, Jeremy and Willie have completed 21 half marathons, 15 full marathons and a bajillion 10Ks and 5Ks.  Jeremy is also the creator of the Golden Triangle Strutters (GTS - formerly the Running Beer Club), a running club that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Gulf Terrace Hike and Bike Trail in Beaumont.  Did I mention that I was one of the original members?  I must have gone twice and that was about a year ago.  So you can just imagine Jeremy's surprise when I started showing up to the GTS runs in January.  Before I knew it, I have set a personal record (PR) on a 5k and ran my first 10k, all within the month of February. Somehow in between all of this, I signed up to run in the Rock 'n' Roll Dallas Half Marathon set for March 25, 2012. Yes, March of this year and that's 13.1 miles people.

I also decided that with this half marathon, I will join the Susan G. Komen (SGK) Marathon for the Cure’s Team to raise money for breast cancer.  I pledged to raise a minimum of $1,000 with the promise that if I did not raise the money by the due date that I will be responsible and donate the full/missing amount.  I think running your first of anything is such a special experience, but running for this cause makes it even sweeter for me.  It's a cliche but at this point, it's not just about me anymore.  I was determined that I will raise the money and come race day, I'm running my ass off!  

March 25, 2012
FAST FORWARD.  It's Sunday morning, March 25, it's RACE DAY. Around 7am,  Jeremy, Willie and I walk down Young Street in downtown Dallas to the Aloft Hotel to meet the SGK Team for breakfast and team pictures.  It's still pretty dark outside but by now runners, families, organizers are beginning to assemble at the starting area.  There is a sea of runners, some in costume, dressed in their "rock n roll" gear, then there are the hard core runners with their six pack abs, stretching and getting "in their zones" and then there's us... Need I say more?  The way I see it, if I'm going to run, I'm going to have fun doing it.  And no, i did not run with the dumbbells, they were just for the before pics. What?! I'm committing to my character! :)

Let's get Physical, Physical!

Susan G. Komen Team
If there were any runners that day that was short of motivation, all they had to do was stop by the SGK Team pre-race meet.  I really didn't know anyone on the Team but what I found so inspiring is that each runner had a story.  Some were running for loved ones loss through cancer, others running for people currently battling the disease, and some are cancer survivors, running for themselves.  I felt so proud and honored to be around all of them.  
Thanks to my amazing family and friends, I raised $1,150 by race day, making me the No. 9 Top Fundraiser.  What's even more incredible is that the No. 1 Top Fundraiser is a 12 year old boy.  How cool is that?!  

Inspiration?!  Check.  Let's do this.

Starting Line:  Young St. & S. Griffin St.

So we head out to corral 13, the 2:45 group.  We wait for a little bit as the announcer slowly releases one corral after another.  I was expecting myself to be really nervous at this point.  But I was surprisingly calm, about 95% anxious and only 5% nervous.  I was ready to get this run going. 

Course Map
Here are my expectations:   I'm determined to run it in under 3 hours.  I've been running 12 minute miles so I know that this is feasible.  I'm anticipating my first two miles to be rough as it has been the case for my previous runs.  Probably because I'm super excited at each start and my body is slowly warming up.  I'm expecting the last two miles to be brutal but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I can run the entire course.  To boot, I have my fail-safe system in place.  I have conned Jeremy, I mean, Jeremy has volunteered to help me keep my pace by running the whole course with me.  Soon after Willie was on board.  So you see, failure is really not an option.  

Miles 1-3. 

The air horn sounds and we're finally off.  Our 80s getup and GoPros even get us a shout out from the announcer as we cross the starting line.  I start out strong.  I manage to keep my excitement and random "Woohoos" in check while I maintain my pace and breathing.  A few minutes into Mile 1, we take advantage of the course as it goes downhill through an underpass, letting our bodies to naturally pick up speed. As we come out the underpass, I hear runners singing along to "Hurt so good" by John Mellencamp being played by one of the roadside bands.  Naturally we had to join in, "Hurts so good, come on baby make it hurt so good".  Fitting right?!  

As always, Miles 1 and 2 deliver and I'm feeling pretty tired.  There is a teeny, tiny part of me that's thinking, "Holy sh*t, I still have 11 plus miles to go". Thank goodness for the first water break.  Somewhere between Miles 2 and 3, the course goes slightly uphill.  But all in all, I go through Mile 3 without any trouble.  I remember telling Jeremy, "I've ran 9 miles before, I can do this." Per Willie, I eat a couple of shot blocks. I feel pretty good,no signs of hunger or thirst.  Too bad I couldn't say the same for Jeremy.  Poor thing, his nipples were starting to bleed from the chaffing from his shirt (don't worry, Jeremy later finds a medical tent and picks up some vaseline to nurse his (.)(.).  We crossed the 5K marker(3.1 miles) with a time of 39:34.  We're right on schedule.  

Miles 4-5

I get my second wind and I start to get into a groove by Mile 4.  I even stop to dance to "Are you going to be my girl" being played by one of the road bands.  We go through the Highland Park, a really nice subdivision in Dallas.  Think the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  

It was a little before Mile 5 that I begin to feel a little pain around the side of my left knee (let's call her Becky).  Jeremy thinks it's my IT band.  He asked me if I needed to stretch it out but I declined.  It was more irritating than painful.  Becky would surface once in awhile but overall it really didn't affect me.  

The Crowd = BEST part of the race
By Mile 5, I'm in good spirit and still have plenty of "Woohoos" to spare.  Interacting with the crowd is definitely my favorite part of the race.  They're so good at making Becky disappear.

Miles 6-8

I spoke too soon.  I begin to get tired as we enter Mile 6.  We walked through a salt stop (I guess if you're cramping) and I go ahead and down half of a packet just as a preventive measure.  Then more water and more gatorade.  It's not even a few steps back into the run that I had to completely stop.  Freaking Becky is back!  We massaged my left leg a little bit.  Becky seems to go away and we're back running again.  I decide that I can't afford to walk through the water stations.  It seems that the "stopping/walking and running again" movement is aggravating my leg.  Despite Becky, we crossed the 10K marker (6.2 miles) in 1:19:38, still on schedule.   

But I'm now quiet, just concentrating on my breathing, hoping that Becky would permanently go away.  I've seemed to completely run out of "Woohoos". The only thing clear at this point is that we have been running uphill for what seems to be almost a mile.  True story.  Even Jeremy and Willie can attest to this.  For those of you that are not familiar with Beaumont, Texas, it is F -L-A-T, flat.  The "Hills" are something that are completely new to me.  I remember Willie saying, "If it was easy, then everyone would do it." No pain, no GAIN.  So true and so is the damn hill.  Ugh, we're still going uphill!  I'm starting to curse it at this point, the damn thing just kept going.  For what seemed like forever,the course eventually flattened.  Thank goodness.

We're almost at Mile 8 when the pain on my leg sharpens.  Same spot.  It's not Becky anymore, it's full on pain.  I can no longer hide the pain and I had to stop to try and stretch it out.  We do a couple of stretches and I'm good to go.  But not long after I give the Ok signal and take a few running steps that I had to abruptly stop again.  The simple act of bending my left leg to walk was hurting like effing hell.  I had to stop completely, I'm now just standing in the middle of the freaking road.    

It is now starting to sink in that I might have to completely stop running all together.  Panic and frustration set in.  I just kept telling Jeremy and Willie that "I don't want to walk. I don't want to walk."  This was not part of my plan.  Obviously no one plans for something like this but I felt totally blindsided.  What is so upsetting about the whole thing is that I still have plenty more to give.  Yes, I was tired but I was nowhere near exhaustion, nowhere near the stopping point.  It really never entered my mind that I wouldn't be able to run the entire course.  

“There is no shame in walking”
Thank goodness for my amazing coaches.  Jeremy and Willie console me and tell me that there is no shame in walking, that they too had to walk their first half-marathon.  Then the sweetest thing happened.  One runner walked up to me and said in the most encouraging voice,"No matter how much you walk, you're still ahead of the people on the couch."  I don't think she really knew what was going on but I was so touched that she even took the time to try to make me feel better. With all of the encouragement, I somehow find a way to start running again.

Miles 9-12

Tim Taggert, one of Jeremy's Daily Mile buddies, met us around Mile 9 and runs bandit with us ("bandit" means running without registering for the race.  I just learned this a few weeks ago too).  I really can't help but feel special throughout this whole thing.  How lucky am I to not only have two of my friends but also a stranger run with me to help me see my goal through.  (Thanks Tim!)  I only wished that I could somehow run for them too.   

Zombie-walking our way to the finish with Jeremy & Tim.

I kept waiting for that magical moment, just like in the movies, where I would somehow find a way to break away from the pain, the crowd cheering me on as I make my emotional dash to the finish line.  Yup, it's going to happen, any minute now.  Um, not so much...

We crossed Mile 10 in 2:29:48.  This is about a 15 minute mile pace.  I really couldn't do any math at this point but I still believed in my heart that I can still finish the last 3.1 miles within the next 30 minutes.  Well, until we had this conversation: 

Me (in the  most determined tone), “Ok, I can still finish it under 3 hours.”  Jeremy and Willie reply in unison, “Um, let's concentrate on getting you to the finish.” Me (insert the saddest face), “Oh”.

Yes, I was disappointed, but at the same time I was proud of myself that I was out here trying to zombie walk my way to the finish.  So new goal:  I just need to make sure that I finish under the 4 hour limit.  I would be mortified if I'm picked up by the "bus" (You know, the bus that picks up all the other runners that doesn't finish on time).     

To be honest the last few miles leading to Mile 13 was a blur. Here's what I remember.  I stopped at a medical tent to get my leg iced.  A sweet lady offered me an Advil which I gladly take.  Then a few blocks down I was offered champagne which I also gladly take.  It would be rude if I didn't, right?

Mile 13 to Finish Line

I'm not really sure whether it's my left leg finally going numb from the ice, or the Advil kicking in or just pure adrenaline but I manage to start running a little before we enter the stadium to the finish line.  It really feels that I'm running full speed now (By the way, when I watched the video footage, Jeremy was walking next to me. But hey I was sort of running). 
I crossed a giant pad and I'm just so happy, I can't believe it!  I finished!!! Wait...  What? This is not the finish line?  I swear to you, running to the finish line was longer than Frodo's trip to Mordor.  WTH?! 
As we turn the corner, I finally see the finish line.  It's about 150 yards (450 feet) away.  I passed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on our right but I am completely out of "Woohoos".  So close but so far!  Jeremy and Willie are now cheering me on as if I'm running in the Olympics, "Come on Ivy!  I know you're in pain.  Almost there!  Finish strong!  Come on Ivy!!!".
13.1 miles and 3 hours, 39 minutes, 5 seconds later, I finally crossed the finish line! 

13.1 Miles in 3:39:05.  Yay me!!!

The race turned out even better than what I expected.  I may have finished an hour later than my initial goal but never in a million years did I even thought that I could run past two miles, let alone attempt a half marathon.  

This will be the first of more races to come.  I think I see a full marathon in the horizon.  Who wants to run the next one with me? 

This was one of the most emotional, physically demanding, inspiring, and humbling experiences I’ve had.  Big thanks to my family, friends, donors for all your support and for making this such an unforgettable race. Special thanks to my amazing friends and coaches, Jeremy and Willie - there was no way in hell I could have done this without you!  

I definitely recommend to go out there and experience running a race at least once in your life but more than anything, do something that motivates and inspires you.  See you at the starting line ♥