Medal No. 20

Eleven years ago I entertained a personal physical challenge: could I run 13.1 miles? 

For some, that was a reasonable, attainable goal. For me, I wasn’t so sure. Never had I been an athlete. I grew up an overweight child and topped the scales at nearly 240 pounds by 14 years old.

Academic? Yes. Athletic? Not even a little.

By the time I graduated high school I’d dropped the weight but in the most unhealthy way. Though I eventually came to enjoy exercise, I also used it to punish myself. It was a cycle of nonsense that lasted throughout my college years.

After getting married and becoming a mother, I watched my body change slowly and caught a glimpse of the unhealthy girl I used to be. Even though I exercised moderately and ate reasonably, I knew I was a hop, skip, and a jump to a size and shape I didn’t want to be.

Then I saw one of my best friends train for and run a half marathon. Astounded and impressed, I wondered – could I do that? Could I run that far? 

As it turns out, I could. I ran the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville in 2007 and was hooked immediately. Bawling at the finish line with a prize in hand that I earned through physical activity, I was ALL IN.  I ran another half in Louisville that year, followed by Chattanooga’s Scenic City Half in 2008. Encouraged and steadfast, I went back to Nashville that April for the Country Music Marathon – all 26.2 miles of it. I turned 30 that year and moved to Texas, and though I was tempted to let running wane on account of high elevation, dry air, and the craziest wind I’d ever experienced, I didn’t quit. I ran Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Dallas. I flew to Chicago and ran there too. 

Back to Tennessee we moved and I kept running. Knoxville, Atlanta, and Oak Ridge. Murfreesboro, Townsend, and Sevierville. At some point I decided I wanted 20 medals by the time I turned 40, and since I hate running in the blazing, suffocating heat of summer, I knew I needed to figure it out no later than May 2018.

Maryville, Farragut, and the Chickamauga Battlefield.

I remember when my sister and brother-in-law ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon years ago. They said the whole weekend was worthwhile, not just the race, and when I polled other runners online, the Flying Pig was mentioned again. A quick search revealed that 2018 would be the 20th anniversary of the race. 

Well, what do you know about that? Twenty is a good number, but I still needed Medal No. 19 if my goal to was make the Flying Pig my 20th. Off I went to Charleston, West Virginia.

In between 19 and 20, we lost Bill. I considered that maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps I shouldn’t go. The business of death in the aftermath can be lengthy, as many of us know. I questioned my priorities.

But then, getting out of town for a night offered a nice distraction. Plans had been made and I had trained. Logistically, it was doable. Cincinnati wasn’t necessarily close, but it wasn’t far either. We could zip in and out. Couldn’t we?

Yes.

The city overflowed, but that’s to be expected when a race draws 43,000+ runners on the same weekend as a Cincinnati Reds home game. Restaurants were packed, so we opted for quick meals and played pool back at the hotel. (Correction: the boys played pool while I stirred. My pre-race brain is singularly focused.)

Mercifully, I slept well and arrived at the start line with time to spare. Unlike the “no frills” races I’ve grown to love, the Flying Pig is ALL FRILLS. The energy in the air was palpable from start to finish. As always, the corrals were filled with people of all ages and abilities, people half my size and twice my size, serious runners and just-for-fun runners. If you think you can’t run a half marathon, then you haven’t seen a half marathon. These events are for everyone.

Miles one through three were a blur because I was too excited to think about it. I saw my family on the sidelines between miles four and five, so that carried me through mile six.

Then came the hills. VERY TALL STEEP KILLER HILLS. I had to walk a little, but that was fine because I ended up taking a photograph of the view from atop Mount Adams, an elevated suburb of Cincinnati. (See the bridge? The start line was well past it.)

What goes up must come down, so miles nine through twelve were pure delight. I made up for the walking and scurried back down to the city with no time to waste.

A few hundred feet from the finish line I saw my family again and started crying. I honest-to-goodness ugly cried.

Then I received my 20th medal and cried some more.

My official time was 2:21, which is typical for me. Not fast, not slow. Just right there in the middle. I stopped caring about my time ten races ago, so when I saw a shirt at the expo that said World’s Okayist Runner, I thought it was perfectly suited for me. I am totally the World’s Okayist Runner.

Of course, I don’t think I’ll stop at 20 medals. I’m eyeballing two more races this year because I have no reason not to run them. If they bring me this much joy, why not? Maybe I’ll run another 20 by the time I’m 50, or maybe I’ll stop counting races and make goals for other things.

Like headstands.

Medal No. 19

Are you ready for the longest race report ever?

There are a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t have run this half marathon. Yes, I was trained for it, or at least as trained as I get these days. The entry fee was low, it was a “flat and fast” course, and, with it being in Charleston, West Virginia, I could stay with Mamaw and visit my Aunt Gloria. Those were the things that convinced me to run it in the first place.

But things started to fall apart, as they sometimes do, and I considered not going just days before I was supposed to leave.

First, Chuck’s work week got extended, which meant he wouldn’t be home. No problem, I thought. I can take the boys with me! They need to visit their great-Mamaw anyway!

But then Salem got sick again – another block – and this time, the medicinal intervention wasn’t working. It all started late in the evening on Good Friday. We were waiting for family to arrive from Disney and I noticed Salem was crouching in odd places around the house. He grimaced, wouldn’t settle, and when I touched his belly, it was hard as a rock. I knew.

Off to the emergency vet we went at midnight, where he was catheterized to relieve the pressure off his bladder. By 6:30 a.m. I was paying the bill and transferring him to our regular vet, who spent the next two days treating him. By Monday, it wasn’t working. Pulling the catheter only made him block again, so a decision had to be made: Let him go or take him to the emergency vet in Knoxville for reconstructive surgery.

I wasn’t ready to let him go.

By Wednesday he was home with newly reconstructed urinary tract, stitches, and an Elizabethan collar (i.e., the Cone of Shame). I was to leave in two days for my race, but seeing as how he was heavily medicated and still wandering like a zombie, how could I leave?

More important than my cat’s health is my father-in-law’s health, and he is not well. Needless to say, there is a lot going on here. 

As I toyed with the decision to stay or go I got wind that my Aunt Gloria had fallen in the night and fractured her pelvis in three places. She was in a rehab center, so the pull to go to Charleston was now not just the race but also visiting her. I was torn.

Enter stage left: The BFF. Corey texted that she was ready and willing to come up Thursday night from Atlanta and stay through the weekend so I could run the race and visit my aunt in the hospital.

For real? She would keep the boys? Take care of Salem? Spend the last few days of Alex’s spring break in Tennessee?

Immediately I thought no way. That’s too much! It’s too much help. It’s silly! I could stay home. I should stay home. I’ll just stay home.

But no, she meant it, as best friends often do, so I accepted. She and Alex showed up late Thursday night, and after taking the boys to visit their Papaw, who’d been released from the hospital into hospice care, I packed my car and set off for a brief 24-hour stay in Charleston. I visited Aunt Gloria as soon as I arrived and stayed up for a short while talking with Mamaw. The race didn’t started until 8 a.m., but I’d missed the cut-off time for packet pick-up, so I needed to get to the University of Charleston no later than 7 a.m. to get my bib.

Naturally, since the lead-up to the race had already been tumultuous, I started to feel poorly as I went to bed Friday night. My stomach was wrecked, and I felt weak. What in the world was this cosmic punishment? I couldn’t settle in, couldn’t get comfortable. It felt like a million needles were penetrating my abdomen.

I barely slept. When I wasn’t writhing in bed I was on the floor of my Mamaw’s guest room holding yoga poses to ease the pain. When the alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., I’d dozed for few hours but didn’t sleep a wink.

This isn’t unusual, by the way. I rarely sleep well the night before a race, and it’s been this way for a decade, so nothing has improved in that area. I’m too nervous about potentially sleeping through my alarm, being late, and not being allowed to run. Personally, I think the pre-race anxiety helps me.

But feeling ill? That never helps. SOMEHOW, mercifully, despite the pain I suffered all night and the threat of snow that had me anxious, the race went well. I finished in my standard time frame, usually falling somewhere between 2:15 and 2:25. (The official time was 2:21.) Also, the pain in my abdomen subsided, which was curious considering how bad it was throughout the night. It did snow, but only a little, and the freezing temperatures were tolerable and kept me from overheating. (Give me a cold run over a hot run any day!)

West Virginia’s State Capitol with snow-capped trees behind it:

The University of Charleston is situated directly across from the capitol building on the other side of the Kanawha River, which made for a beautiful run. I’m sure the event organizers would’ve appreciated warmer weather.

Corey sent me photos from home, a sweet reassurance that all was well.

Salem made himself comfortable, per usual. This was Corey’s view Friday evening:

After a long, steaming hot shower, I had a quick bite of lunch with Mamaw and packed my things to go. My original plan was to stay much longer, but the original plan was long gone. I got on the road and headed home.

This should be the end of the story, but that’s hardly the case. My father in law continues to decline, and Salem is still wearing his Elizabethan Collar because his stitches haven’t been removed. I went to the doctor on Monday to see what in the world is going on with my insides, and Corey went home only to have her own family emergency unfold. Her wife, Gwen, fractured her tibial plateau – the very important load-bearing top of her tibia – at a training exercise for work, and now she’s facing multiple surgeries and months of recovery. It is a huge blow, particularly since Gwen, a police officer and exercise fiend, is not well-suited to a life of low-to-no mobility. 🙁

Yet, we all press on because that’s life. Lord willing, which I’ve learned to say more frequently now, I’ll run my 20th race in May. Should things fall apart again, maybe I won’t. Who knows?

Medal No. 18 and it’s finally fall in Tennessee

I ran a beautiful, dry half marathon Saturday afternoon and earned my 18th medal. My time was totally average, and my (new) phone survived because it did not rain.

Each year the Chickamauga Battlefield race medal represents an infantry from a different state, and I’m loving that this year the chosen state was Wisconsin.

The course was comfortable and well-paced. The uphills were slight and balanced by sloping downhills. The 360-degree views were a bonus.

You can’t tell from the photo above, which was taken with my phone, but the fall foliage finally showed up in the southeast. TOOK LONG ENOUGH. All of October went by and nothing happened. It was too warm, it was too dry.

But then November arrived and BOOM.

And then, Grandma showed up! I love surprise visits.

Medal No. 17, Stranger Things 2, Halloween, NaNoWriMo

In the interest of time and space, here’s a recap of how I ran 13.1 miles in the pouring rain and ruined my phone, how we celebrated Halloween and Salem’s Supposed 10th Birthday, and why I’m taking another stab at National Novel Writing Month with my third novel.

My goal to run 20 half marathons by the time I turn 40 is moving along nicely. On Saturday, the day it monsooned in East Tennessee, I ran my 17th long-distance race. Before readying my cell phone for a wet run in ziplock baggies, I snapped this photo of the windshield.

Oh, the irony.

Fast forward two and a half hours and I crossed the finish line fully drenched but pleased with my run. It wasn’t until I was safely back in the car that I realized water had seeped into the baggie and, therefore, into the phone.

{insert expletives here}

I tried to make a call and couldn’t. The camera wouldn’t work. The speakers wouldn’t work. I was so mad at myself for deciding to run with the phone. I thought listening to an audiobook would distract me from the rain (it did!), but I also thought I’d taken enough precautions to keep my phone dry (I didn’t!). I drove home and immediately put the phone in a bag of dry rice for 24 hours.

The screen is streaked and the phone works fine, from what I can tell, but the forward-facing camera still does not work, which is the CRUELEST IRONY OF ALL for a photographer.

Still, I earned Medal No. 17, and I plan on getting Medal No. 18 in two weeks.

In between the race and Halloween, Chuck, Jackson, and I binged the second season of Stranger Things. (Jeremy opted out.) I loved it as much as I hoped to, but I was disappointed in the amount of profanity in the second season, particularly since Jackson was watching. Every episode I reminded him, “We don’t talk this way, remember?” It was just too much, and frankly, unnecessary. That complaint aside, I thought the plot of Season 2 was an excellent continuation from Season 1, particularly with the inclusion of Max. (I could’ve done without Max’s brother and about 85% of Episode 7.)

This, by far, was my favorite scene. I melted:

Halloween rolled around and we took Jeremy (as Ron Weasley) and Jackson (as Big Nate – his imaginary best friend and book character) to our friends’ house to trick-or-treat. I don’t have a photo of them because I didn’t bring a camera.

Actually, that’s not true. Here is a photo from trick-or-treating:

Only the front camera works (i.e., the selfie camera), and it’s actually terrible.

Oh well.

Before Halloween got away from us, we took a few minutes to celebrate Salem, our wonderfully fat black Halloween cat. As I’ve mentioned before, we have no idea when his actual birthday is, unlike Major, whose birthday is December 9. So, we selected October 31 for our favorite feline and celebrated what might be his 10th year on Earth (we aren’t sure about that either) by giving him a can of tuna.

Finally, since today is November 1, I am making a second attempt at finishing my third novel during National Novel Writing Month. I’ve participated three times before and was successful in both 2013 and 2015. Last year was a wash, but here’s to trying again! (Maybe I only write novels on odd years?) I fully admit to starting the month ahead of schedule because I still have 3,000 (or so) words from last year that I’m recycling. There’s only one story to tell right now, so I’m not starting a new one.

Medal No. 16

For the first time in my long-distance running experience, I thought the race would be cancelled. The weather forecast ranged from a 70-90 percent chance of thunderstorms every hour for ten hours straight. There was no way around it. The race would go on rain or shine, but thunder and lightning would close it down. By the time I went to bed Saturday night, I was certain that I’d show up to the start line already drenched, maybe get a chance to start the race, only to have us pulled off the course for safety.

When I woke at 6:30, the sky was light gray, evidence that the storm hadn’t arrived yet. If it could only hold off a few hours, I thought. I readied myself and drove to the event with a few sprinkles on the windshield. Just hold off, I continued to pray. Just wait.

We started promptly at 7:30 a.m. The air was so damp that the humidity had to be 100 percent, but with the temperature at only 70 degrees, it wasn’t bothersome. As each mile passed, I counted the mileage that remained and felt grateful that the storms hadn’t arrived.

By mile six, a light drizzle began. No problem, I thought. I’m almost half way done. By mile eight, the drizzle turned into a gentle rain. Still, no thunder, no lightning. At mile ten, the rain got and stayed heavier, but with only three miles to go, I didn’t care. I was going to finish no matter what.

There were steep hills and a steady rain, and I’d only accomplished ONE long run (10 miles) while training, but I crossed the finish line in 2:22, in keeping with my usual pace (give or take). Once again, muscle memory and mental strength endured.

I spent the rest of Sunday in bed watching Masterpiece Theater episodes (Victoria) that had collected on my DVR. Occasionally, as I enjoyed pizza and homemade cookies, I’d glance over at my medal collection and feel grateful that I started running ten years ago. I am not stick-thin, and depending on the day, one might be surprised that I’m a runner at all. But I don’t run for anyone else. I run for me, for those medals, to combat the dysmorphia and to clear my head and to bring balance to my life.

Since summer in the South is unbearable, I’ll stick to the treadmill and lifting at the gym during the hottest months. Now I’m on the lookout for a couple of fall and winter races so I can keep adding to the collection. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, one day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day. 

Medal No. 15 from The Santa Hustle

December has been a good month for our family. It started with the most amazing experience ever at Lambeau Field, then Jeremy killed his first deer – a five-point buck. Then yesterday, I ran my 15th race.

First of all, I scarcely trained. I do not recommend not training for a race and today I have the sore knees to affirm it. I have a strong base of running four or five miles a few times a week, but in the last couple of months, I only did two long runs (if you count eight miles as a long run). We were busy, plus East Tennessee was covered in smoke from all the November wildfires. Race training was an afterthought.

And yet, I knew I could run it. Muscle memory is a real thing.

An hour before crossing the start line, it was 26 degrees. I seriously considered wearing the complimentary Santa beard to keep my face warm. I didn’t wear it, but I considered it.

santa-beard

The course was mostly flat, save a few long and steady hills. Lots of runners dressed up in holiday costumes, like snowmen, reindeer, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus. I stayed with my usual attire because, like a baseball player, I’m superstitious about changing it up.

I crossed the finish line in my usual time, grabbed a couple of bananas, and went to the car to go home. I remember when race weekends used to be full events with hotels and big dinners the night before. But now it’s old hat. I’ve done it 15 times, and while getting that medal is still a huge emotional and physical reward, the race experience has lessened from a group event to a singular one. I go, I run, I leave. And as long as my body allows it, I’ll keep doing it.

santa-hustle-medal-no-15

I spent yesterday laying in bed reading, watching football, and icing my knees. Guess who joined me?

post-race-snuggle-buddy

Time to Train

It’s hard to believe I went a full year without running a race. Even though I participated in an 8K in 2013, I did not earn a medal, and I’ve been grappling with that frustration for months.

This is my medal collection to date: One full marathon and ten half marathons.

Medal Collection

I love this display dearly. Chuck commissioned an artist to create the background and then pulled together a shadow box with hooks to display the medals.  It hangs on the wall in our bedroom, right next to the treadmill. I see it every morning when I wake up and every evening before I fall asleep. But what I see is not necessarily what you see.

You see 11 medals.

I see an empty spot.

Empty spot

It’s a smug little spot too, jabbing me every chance it gets, taunting and teasing and telling me I’m lazy.

Well, forget you, Empty Spot! I’ve signed up for a race. So THERE.

That means I’m carving out time to run longer distances and sticking to a schedule to help get me back to 13 miles. It’s not that I stopped running in 2013, but I probably haven’t run more than six miles since November 2012.

Guess who is really excited about training? As soon as I lace up my shoes, he’s at my feet wagging his entire body.

Running shoes

Major wants to run

Let me translate this precious face for you: I see your shoes. I LOVE those shoes. Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh. TAKE ME TOO. Oh please, oh please, oh please. Can I go? Just say it. Just say that one word. PLEASE MAY I GO? I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. JUST SAY THAT WORD.

Major pre-run

To which I reply, “Do you wanna go?”

Then he wiggles and barks and tries to contain himself while I hook him to the leash. We run and we both love it and he gets all the attention because he’s beautiful.

Finally, there’s the aftermath, when he melts into the floor and sleeps for three hours. ♥

Major post-run

A Whopping Three Miles

That was how long I ran today. A wee little run. And it was hard.

Granted, I haven’t run in nearly three weeks but that’s only because I had to pack up one house, sell it, drive across the country and unpack another house. (It’s a little tiresome.) The disappointment I feel about the whopping three miles is mainly because I’m scheduled to run a half marathon in four weeks, so the fact that three miles was hard doesn’t bode well for a girl who needs to run 13 miles in a month. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for supernatural muscle memory.

As for the house, we’re unpacked and settled, which means I resume work on the book immediately. There’s much editing and photo color correcting to do (also within a month). Fortunately, I built all of the 450+ pages while still in Amarillo and now we’re down to the details. If you work in or are familiar with publishing, then you know editing can be an excruciating process. When you read something five or six times, it’s easy to assume every sentence is properly structured and punctuated. That’s just not always the case.

Before I go, let me just say how I love the talk radio station I discovered here. (I’ve got Neal Boortz all morning and Dave Ramsey all afternoon. Yay!)  Now I’ve said before that I’m not going to get political here (remember?) and I’m not going back on that. But with the presidential election year just around the corner, it’s hard not to get all fired up. Here is a fantastic  flow chart (if you’re into that kind of thing) titled Left vs. Right by David McCandless and Stefanie Posavec. It’s busy and detailed, and it’s obviously not without exceptions, but I recommend clicking on the image for a much larger version. Fascinating!