To run another full? Or NOT!

And that’s the burning question… I ventured into this awesome “sport” of running about 9 years ago. It was a tentative start and not really out of a need for fitness – in the beginning any way. I mostly needed a stress reliever for a very stressful life event taking place at that time in my life and one day I just ran around the block. And I kinda liked it- so I kept running, no more than about a mile or so here and there.

Fast forward a bit, post cross-country moveS…  It probably took a good 2 years after I started running before I even knew about these 5k races and I just decided I’d give it a try one December morning back in 2006. I was all alone running that first race- no one that I knew was at the finish line to congratulate me. I just got a simple, yet appreciative, text message from my best friend asking me how I did. Her next text: “Will you do it again?” My reply: “Maybe. I guess so”.

But before I go any further… I always have to give credit to a very good friend of mine, Stacey, for inspiring me to even become a runner. I remember seeing post-race pictures of her lying in the grass with that, “OMG, I just finished!!!” exhausted look on her face- always with a smile! I will say I blame her and it’s all her fault I started running and every time I go for a run I think of her in gratitude… Runs2Smile!

In the fall of 2007 Stacey asked me to meet her in Nashville for the ‘08 Country Music Marathon & ½ Marathon suggesting that I should run the ½- she was signed up for the full. I wasn’t totally convinced in my own head that I could do it: “Me, run 13.1 miles? But I’m not even a runner!” Somehow she kept saying the right things to get me to sign up… but I didn’t register for the ½. Instead after I read an article about how Katie Holmes was going to run the NYC Marathon that fall I said to myself, “Oh heck, if Katie Holmes can do this so can I!” So as strange at that sounds, that was my kick in the butt motivation to sign up and commit to training and running a full marathon! I had no idea what I had just done…

But… I didn’t tell anyone I signed up for the full. I told everyone I signed up for the 1/2 instead. Somehow I thought it would be fun to “surprise” everyone and I kept it a secret. THIS IS A VERY DIFFICULT THING TO KEEP SECRET. PERIOD. Runners love to talk about running. Imagine not telling ANYONE except a perfect stranger walking by at the end of your run on a public sidewalk that you just ran 17 miles for the first time in your life! Imagine sitting at the bar on a Friday night with your girlfriends talking about your race next month and how excited they are for you to run 13.1 miles- but you’re not. You’re actually running 26.2 and the only person you can tell and express your excitement to is the strange guy you’ve never met before whose hitting on one of your friends when they step away to to to the bathroom. Answering the question, “So, how many miles did you run today?” was like dodging bullets. “A lot” seemed to be a common answer. I actually fessed up one time and answered truthfully with, “Oh, just 16 miles.” And then I had to explain that by running more than 13.1 miles it would somehow hopefully make me run a faster ½ marathon. I guess that worked. Even more excruciating was running my first ½ marathon ALONE and no one was the wiser. So now I was keeping two secrets- I just ran my first ½ marathon and I’m going to run a full.

Secret

We arrived in Nashville the day before the race of course to hit the expo and pick up our race packets. I don’t know if I was more excited to run the marathon or to finally be able to tell a friend/someone I knew that I was running 26.2 miles the next day! As we approached the area to pick up our packets and go to the right or to the left depending on the distance, I pulled Stacey aside (I had a friend standing by to take our picture) and said to her, “I can’t run the ½ marathon tomorrow”. She gave me a bewildered look and said, “Why not!?” I’m sure she was thinking I was hurt- I was truthfully, the left knee wasn’t good and she knew that. I responded with, “ Well, because I’m going to run the FULL!!!!!”.

Stacey Nic1 Stacey Nic2

There. Finally. It was out! Now my secret was a secret no more!!!! Our close of group of friends at the race that weekend now knew I was running the full, not the ½ marathon! Five months of keeping this a secret was finally over!

  Stacey Nic3

But as soon as I told them I swore them all to absolute secrecy… I didn’t plan on telling anyone back home for another two weeks. I wanted to make the announcement at an upcoming party when I knew all of my family and friends would be there together.

And the next morning, after freaking out while we were stuck in Nashville traffic for over an hour in the pouring rain and almost missing the start of the race and then running into the starting line corral without even a calf or quad stretch, we ran… 26.2 glorious miles!

 Nic marathon

Nic marathon2

Ok, they weren’t ALL glorious. It’s a marathon. They can’t ALL be glorious, who am I kidding. But actually the first 7-8 miles WERE glorious and I couldn’t stop smiling!

 Nic marathon3

After mile 7 or 8 my knee started to bother me. I had hurt my left knee about two weeks prior to the race and I really did a sharp tapper in my training because of that hoping (praying!) it would help. But I was still going to run this thing. I put in WAY TOO much work, sweat and time to not try and finish this marathon.  I definitely started to slow down around mile 10 and I pulled over to fix my blister band-aids and give my knee a break. By then Stacey, who started several corrals in front of me that morning, was already looping around on that out-and-back stretch of the course. I managed to catch her attention as she ran by and I pointed to my knee so that she knew I was slowing down. It was going to be a long day. At mile 17 I had that talk in my head as the route on the full marathon course made a pass by the finish line of whether or not I should just call it quits. But I decided to keep on going. I dare say I was barely even running at this point. Somewhere around mile 23 in middle of a park that was way too quiet my picture was snapped… I muscled out a smile and later I noticed that my feet were barely off the ground. I basically shuffled for the last few miles until the very end of the race. I even walked with a few elderly men who clearly had my time beat by a long shot… buts that okay. I was going to FINISH.

 Nic marathon4

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy in all of my life as a runner than that day I saw the finish line at the end of my first marathon. That damn knee really hurt, but I stopped my shuffle and picked up the pace. I was really ready to be done running and finish! So with my ponytail flying in the air I ran faster around the last corner with a big SMILE…

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And DONE!!!

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It took a lot longer than I ever thought it would to finish that marathon. My chip time was just around 5 hrs and 45 min. But I did it. And for some reason that’s all that mattered that day. I told everyone I was only going to run one marathon and this was it. And that’s what I told everyone two weeks later at that party when I announced not only did I run a ½ marathon, but I also ran a FULL marathon! And, it was worth the wait to tell them!

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(*note the ice bag on my knee post-race)

But then I ran another marathon 10 months later… Clearly my knees were not in good shape for the first one so I had to do better and run a second. I wanted a better time. This time I was going to be very careful and not get hurt. So I signed up for the Gasparilla Full marathon in Tampa. And this time all of my family and friends will be at the finish line!

So, another wet and very rainy marathon I did run. There was absolutely no one running with me at miles 16-17. All I had was the hard, cold, face-pelting rain to keep me company. And do not let the finish line photos with the sun beaming down fool you… the sun managed to show itself for the last four miles of my race that day. Five minutes after I crossed the finish line the skies opened up again. I was completely soaked from head to toe, shoes and socks when I crossed that finish line.

 Nic marathon8

And not to mention, braces on BOTH knees this time!!! Yes, I was hurt again. But my time did improve and I finished just under 5 hrs and 25 min. Most importantly, all of my family and friends waited out the rain in a near-by grocery store to be there and cheer me on at the finish line!

Since then I’ve been asked over and over again over the past 3-4 years, “Will you run another marathon?” My absolute answer has always been, “NO way!” And here are my reasons against it:

  • A month after my first marathon I woke up in the middle of the night with the most terrible, knife-stabbing pain I’ve ever felt in the arch of my foot… plantar fasciitis – this was the “debilitating, get me a cortisone shot” kind of injury and it kept me from running for months!
  • I landed myself in PT after my second marathon to help with the nagging knee and ITB issues
  • Training for a full marathon is a “life sucker”, meaning YOU HAVE NO LIFE what-so-ever

There are probably more reasons why I wouldn’t run another marathon, but these four usually suffice in convincing myself that there’s not a chance I’d put myself through that again. Not to mention that during my last marathon I told myself, “Self, you will never, ever have to run more than 16 miles agin in your life!”. Thinking that I might actually run more than 13.1 miles while training for a ½ marathon… ha, nope. Not ever.

And now the dilemma … To run another full? Or… NOT? I haven’t quite figured out my reason for doing this other than to train for an Ultra running weekend next February, but I’ve already signed up for at least 4 half marathons this coming fall/winter, including two in one weekend. Now, some would say, “That’s crazy nuts! Why are you doing that?”, but I call it training. If I’m going to run 4 races (15, 5k on a Sat followed by a ½, 8k on Sun) in one weekend in February then I probably should get used to running multiple races in one weekend, right? Somehow I tell myself this makes sense and I’m not that crazy.

AND I badly want to run the Spacecoast ½ Marathon this fall. BUT I missed the registration for the ½ since this race filled up so fast … BUT the FULL is still open for registration… So, do I tempt my desire and sign up for the full with intentions to actually train for a full hoping for no injuries (pre and post marathon) and somehow try to fit a full marathon training schedule in my already “Do you ever sleep?”  life?

 Liar

So that leads me to the reasons WHY I should sign up for another marathon…

  • I’m going to have plenty of time to train for a marathon on Dec 1st
  • I’m already signed up for and have training races on my calendar that fit a marathon training schedule
  • It’s in my hometown (or near as can be…). My family and friends will be there to support me and some will be running the race too!
  • I just saw Spirit of the Marathon II in the theatre – if you’ve seen I or II you can appreciate how motivating and inspirational these movies are!
  • I Run2Smile
  • Because I can. I am alive. I am breathing. I am a runner. And  there are others who cannot.

Have I just talked myself into this- running another marathon? If I have, it certainly won’t be a secret!

Marathon

Cheers! And The High-5 Train

Ok, so in spite of all the bad that happened in April, there was definitely some good stuff too! So dare you ask, what happens when a detail-oriented, organized, planner wants to cheer on fellow runners at a race? Well… this.

She summons all of her awesome running club pals… and anyone else for that matter- all grown adults mind you. Offers them “adult beverages” at some strange, wicked, early hour of the morning- sometimes before the sun is even up! Stencils 30+ cheer signs. Stays up all night (literally- no sleep!) baking and icing custom cookies for those in the running club who are running in the race (yeah, I did that only once…). Tells everyone she knows that they better show up- or else! Ok, so not really, but I’m pretty good at convincing people that waking up before the crack of dawn to shout insanely loud, hold up some pretty darn funny signs to encourage every kind of runner in the race and hand out M&M’s or gummi bears (or to eat the vodka soaked ones!) is one heck of a great way to spend a weekend morning!

I’ve always found it rather difficult to do things on a small scale- especially when I’m “running” the show. I always think to myself, “If someone asked me to do this, what would I want it to be like?”… And from there I go! First there was an impromptu cheer station last fall with myself and two close running pals. We ended up hanging around after my finish at the Women’s ½ Marathon in St. Petersburg, FL to cheer on the rest of the runners/walkers that morning. Honestly, this was so much fun that the ideas flowed quickly between the three of us and before we knew it the first official “Cheers Station”, as it came to be known as, was born.

We set out to conquer the St. Pete Rock n’ Roll ½ Marathon/Mini races this past February. Luckily for us, cheer stations are highly encouraged to show up for the Rock n’ Roll race series- there’s even a cheer coordinator for Rock n’ Roll! And it was my goal for us to be the BEST cheer station on the course. I was ready to blow out the competition… Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating since we were up against mostly high school cheer squads! But still, this one had to be good otherwise no one will want to do it again, right? And it was good. REALLY GOOD! So good in fact that when runners were interviewed by the media post-race and asked about the course they mentioned OUR Cheers Station! Some of them didn’t know who we were, but word spread pretty quickly. I heard from a friend who mentioned she overheard her co-workers the next day talking about the awesome cheer station at mile marker 10.9. That was us!!! Our running club’s Facebook site got a lot of hits the following week- all with thanks and praise.

All in all, there were about 30 people who showed up that morning to cheer at our first ever “Cheers Station”. Everyone was so enthusiastic- actually, a lot more than I had ever imagined! Generally speaking, we’re a group that can be a bit goofy sometimes I guess, but if it’s one thing we’ve got down is how to have fun- no matter what we’re doing! And I love them for that! Gummi bears and M&M’s were cheerfully handed out all morning long. Signs were held up high and the cheers on both sides of the street were as loud as they could be! And yes, there were some adult beverages as well as those nifty little Irish Breakfast Shots complete with beer candied bacon made freshly made around 8pm the night before. And oh, don’t forget the “Finisher Cookies”… I had iced the last one at about 5:30am that morning.

We followed up our successful Cheers Station at the Rock n’ Roll race with another one at the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa a few weeks later. This one was a beast to plan- four races over two days. We had Cheers volunteers who were also running in the races (including myself- I ran all 4!) so we had to operate on a staggered attendance for the two days. I managed to run AND then cheer on day one, but day two had my number… there was no way I could walk to the Cheers Station that was over a mile from the finish line after running a total of 30+ miles over the course of the weekend.  But I sure did enjoy my vodka gummi bears on the tail end of my half marathon that morning! Another highly successful Cheers Station in the books!

To put it mildly, the planning aspect is a lot more involved than I ever imagined it would be- for a cheer station! But the time, effort and hard work are so worth it! Everyone, and that includes me too, has such a great time giving back, handing out high-5’s and cheering on our friends and fellow athletes on the course. Our most recent, but certainly not last, Cheers Station landed us just before/after the mid-way point of the out n’ back 10k course at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Pete in April. This race was a little different from the last two. We were able to situate our Cheers Station at a local residence allowing us some nice amenities- power, bathroom (not a port-o-potty, cheers to that alone!), and … access to a water hose. This proved to be a fairly useful tool since by the time the tri-athletes were running by us they seemed to enjoy a good, cool spray from the garden hose! The normal fun ensued starting with our Irish Breakfast shots and various other beverages to start out the day. And then they came… first the “elite” athletes. They were fast and focused… but a few cracked a smile when they saw our signs – “Your beer called… it said it’s getting warm”, “You feel like crap, but you look good”, “Worst. Parade. Ever.” and so on and so forth… It was good to see them smile and hopefully we didn’t break their concentration- too much! Then the mass of runners jammed both sides of the road on the course. There were athletes of all abilities each with their own unique story and background as to why they were competing that day.

But like I said, this one… it was different. I took on the duty that morning of the “Official High-5 Station”. Our typical man in charge of the high-5’s was actually an athlete that day on the course. After a while of standing on the side of the road dolling out high-5 after high-5 I started taking notice of those who were walking. And heck, who could blame them… walking part of a 10k run after a swim and bike is perfectly normal for most right? But I guess I either felt like they should finish strong or decided I needed some extra exercise that morning. Was I jealous they were running and I wasn’t? No, I highly doubt that, but perhaps maybe we needed more smiles on this running course!

I started jumping in, high-5 sign in hand, randomly with various walkers and encouraged them to at least jog with me. I continued to do this, sprinting back to the Cheers Station after a short jog/run, later dubbed the “High-5 Train”. Over and over … and then I met Scott. I had already run with several other runners on the course and when Scott walked by I joined him. Then we started running together and he told me his story. He participated in the 2012 St. Anthony’s Triathlon, but he didn’t finish. He collapsed within seconds of the finish line- his heart had stopped and he was rushed to the hospital. So this year he was to FINISH. Well, we kept on talking and kept on running together. I think we decided between the two of us that I would keep on running with him- all the way to the finish line chute! That’s where his son was waiting for him- at the exact spot he had collapsed the year before. He and his son ran down to the finish line together to celebrate Scott’s accomplishment and triumph! I stayed to watch them cross the finish line and waited as they were immediately pulled aside by the media for an interview to say congratulations. I missed the rest of the Cheers Station that afternoon… but that’s ok. I got to run that day with Scott- I wouldn’t trade that for anything. And I know there will be more Cheers Stations! “High-5 to that!”

Scott’s Story

Cheers at the Rock n' Roll!

Cheers at the Rock n’ Roll!

The whole crew!

The whole crew!

Finisher cookies for the Rock n' Roll 1/2

Finisher cookies for the Rock n’ Roll 1/2

St. Pete Rock n' Roll

St. Pete Rock n’ Roll

St. Pete Rock n' Roll

St. Pete Rock n’ Roll

Gasparilla Cheers Station

Gasparilla Cheers Station

St. Anthony's Triathlon

Street chalk and signs

St. Anthony's Triathlon

Irish Breakfast shots in the making!

St. Anthony's Triathlon

The High-5 Train

High-5's at St. Anthony's Tri

High-5′s at St. Anthony’s Tri

St. Anthony's Triathlon

Running with Scott to the finish line!

St. Anthony's Triathlon

Meeting Scott at the Cheers Station

The month of April, as a runner, was definitely full of emotions- many highs and the ultimate low. Running for me has always been my “safe haven”. It’s what I turn to when my life hits a valley as it helps pull me out of that valley and to reach my next peak. Running for me is about friendship, good times, celebrating personal accomplishments (mine and other’s), reaching the next goal and giving back to the community and my fellow runners – all good, honest, joyful and heartfelt things (any nagging injuries aside…).

Then the bombings in Boston at the marathon happened and that took away some of those good, joyful feelings that running has always afforded me. Gone was that safe haven. It left me with a pit in my stomach, anger and above all absolute sorrow for those who were directly impacted by the horrible events that afternoon- sorrow for the runners crossing the finish line, their families, spectators, emergency personnel, race volunteers and those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And sorrow, not any less, but maybe a different kind of sorrow, for those who had trained so hard for so long to run Boston only to have their dreams shattered within an instant and stopped before the finish of the race that day. They, however, will have another chance to make their dream a reality.

The hours and tumultuous few days that followed didn’t allow many of us the opportunity to catch our breath and breathe any easy either. I was interviewed by a local TV station a few days afterwards. They asked me about what had happened and how it affected me personally and about what the local running community was doing to come together as one in spite of the terrorist actions from that afternoon earlier in the week. I’m very thankful that I’m part of a wonderful local running community who rallied together to show their support. We gathered that night a few hours after the bombings for our usual Monday night run and ran/walked together after a short moment of silence – with heavy hearts. There were a lot of hugs and a deep appreciation that we were all there- together. But at the same time mindful that there were those who were not okay. Having worked for John Hancock I had several friends/ex-coworkers there running the marathon. I was so very thankful that everyone I personally knew who were at the marathon that day were okay. Deep breath… they were safe.

All of our running clubs across the country for the rest of the week supported Boston by wearing Boston 4/15/13: Runners United to Remember race bibs. There’s a local memorial run for Boston next week- 2.62 miles to be run after an opening ceremony where local race directors will speak as well as those who were at the marathon during the attack. A lot of us, including myself, have bought Boston gear… t-shirts, head bands, jewelry, etc. All in an effort to raise funds for various charities set up within the past month to help those who were most affected by the tragedy. We’ll gather next week to remember, cherish what we have and show our solidarity. Runners are an awesome power- not just alone, but together as we run as a family.

But what did those who did the unspeakable take away from us runners? For me, it’s my peace of mind and letting all that’s bad creep into my joy and love for running. Having to think about terrible and evil things at a time when I should feel nothing but excitement for either myself or for those who show up to toe the line that day. Some innocence in running was lost for me that afternoon in Boston.

My next race was the following Saturday. A simple 5k race. I was tired. It had been a long, long week- physically and emotionally. I wasn’t sure if I really had it in me to run this race with a full commitment from my body. I pinned my Boston bib to the back of my shirt as I worked my way to the starting line. I had made up my mind the night before that I was going to run this race for Boston. I was alone that morning in that I didn’t set out to run this race with a friend as I normally do. I was anxious to get started- I had a busy day ahead and this was the first of four activities to get the day going. “Let’s go. I’m in a hurry”. The starting gun went off and within the first few steps it was pretty clear that my body felt good: “This is gonna be a good race”. It was a quick start. I had been working on my stride recently and doing some speed work in hopes of getting faster. I smiled- it had worked. Now I needed more power behind my faster steps. Power to really push me. Here’s where I pushed even harder. Each time I felt like slowing down I said to myself, “Run hard. Run strong. Run for Boston”. I probably said this to myself about 3-4 times and each time I would find that extra strength to charge ahead, faster- and stronger. Running faster and stronger I also thanked all of the police officers who took time out of their day to volunteer that morning, as I usually do in every race. Just a simple, “Thank you”. But somehow it meant something more to me that morning. The finish line was within reach and I knew my time was good. Really good. It had been years since I had a PR on my 5k time. I had come close a few months ago, but missed it by 5 seconds. Overall, I had come a long way since my first 5k race in 2006 with a 32 min+ finish time. I looked up and saw the clock was seconds past 26 minutes. Ok, let’s do this! I summoned whatever energy I had left in the tank and sprinted my best to the finish and got that PR. 26:12- for Boston. I admit, I was a bit emotional after I crossed the finish line. I had kept my emotions tucked inside pretty well all week, but knowing that I ran hard for Boston and I did it, I got the PR, I just kind of melted in the moment. I sat down, held back the tears… and smiled. BIG. And along with that PR I finished 3rd place in my age group. An unexpected bonus.

One week later, there I stood, this time as a volunteer, at the St. Anthony’s Meek & Mighty Triathlon on April 27th – at the finish line. It wasn’t very crowded that morning as the starting gun went off near-by at the pool, but still there were those evil, fearful little thoughts that crept into my head. A box of finisher medals had already been stolen – we had to hand out prior years’ medals instead to most of the adults who finished later that morning. What else was going to be stolen that day? I pushed those evil thoughts out of my head. But I was angry that they even got in. And mad all over again at those who attacked Boston that day. There was a little discussion amongst us there to volunteer at the finish line that morning about what had happened in Boston. I have no doubt, that they were more vigilant that morning, as was I, keeping an eye out for anything that seemed even the slightest bit out of place. But I managed to put on my smile, as I always do, loudly cheer on the finishers coming down the chute anxious to cross that finish line and finally be DONE. I handed out ice cold waters and high fives to kids who wanted them that morning. The fear and the evil weren’t going to win. No way. I’m sure it will get better in time- less fearful, less worried. But I know that I won’t ever forget. There’s still always going to be that part of me that remembers whether I’m volunteering or running the race myself. I’ll always remember…

Bay area runners unite in support of Boston victims

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