How I’m going to make it through this post without it being overwhelmingly long, I have no clue…but I am certainly going to try! (Looking back, I didn’t. Sorry!)
Back in October, when I applied to be the Social Runner for the 2013 Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, I sent in an application full of hope, but also assumed I would never be selected. The cherry blossoms have always been one of my favorite things about the city – so much so that Matt and I had our engagement photos taken during the Festival two years ago – and I knew that this would be about the time that Matt and I would be making our decision about where to move following my graduation. So against the odds, I hoped and hoped I would be selected to share my love for the city and the blossoms during my final months as a Washingtonian.
On a November evening, I was sitting at my computer doing some work for my students, and an email arrived from Molly, the social media director for the race. Out of all of the applications, I had been chosen! I think I screamed some choice words (completely startling Matt while he worked on his grad school applications) and practically fell out of my chair. The kickoff event, where everything would be announced, was the Friday before the Philadelphia marathon, and by pure chance, both my mom and mother-in-law were going to be in town. I couldn’t wait to celebrate the good news with them once they arrived! (And yes, keeping my mouth shut about everything while trying to explain to my family about going to the kickoff was just about impossible, but so worth it!)
As soon as I enrolled in the =PR= Running training program with Coach T, I began to let my mind wander in terms of my race goals. Having focused so much on marathons, I was excited to get back to shorter distances and focus on speed. I wanted to break 2 hours at the National Half Marathon in March, and come out of training prepared to break 85 minutes at CUCB. But in the middle of what should have been my last 20 mile training run going into the Goofy Challenge, my plans were flipped completely upside down.
I found myself in physical therapy with intense knee pain and muscles that refused to fire properly. I began the long (and what felt like a painfully slow) process towards recovery. I taught my transverse and glut muscles how to fire properly. I began working on core and spine stability. I focused on building my hip muscles. And after a while, I slowly began to run. But it wasn’t the running I had done before. I changed shoes. I changed my running form…something I’m still working on. But one thing I never did was give up. CUCB meant too much to me. Even if I wasn’t going to experience the spring of PRs I’d been hoping for, I was going to get myself across that finish line.
At least that’s the mentality I was fighting to maintain. Deep down there were feelings of doubt that were nagging at me constantly. And in fact, until my final appointment on the Thursday before the race, I kept wondering if I shouldn’t just switch to the 5K. I was full of fear. The last thing I wanted was to end up back in PT, pouring more money, time, and effort into a problem I could have avoided by coming back slower. But the go ahead from my therapist that evening left me full of eager anticipation, and helped me push my fears aside.
I came home that night, found the brightest pink nail polish I could at CVS, and got ready for the big weekend! Little did I know that everything I had in store for me over the next three days would leave me in a state of utter disbelief that I had experienced everything I had in such a short amount of time.
After I finished teaching on Friday afternoon, I headed to the National Building Museum for the race expo. I met up with Molly, picked up some awesome CUCB gear to wear for the weekend, and spent some time talking to the vendors. One of the stops on my list was the Gold’s Gym booth. I had to say a big thank you to one of the race sponsors that had helped me through my injury, getting back to being able to run the race.
After giving out some prizes, I quickly grabbed dinner before the VIP Packet Pick Up that night. My favorite part about this event was that I was able to spend some time with my friends from the =PR= Running training group…outside of workout clothes! To be honest, I had to do that awkward ‘is that really him/her’ dance, just to make sure. People look really different when they aren’t in running tights, jackets, and ear warmers!
I went to bed Friday exhausted, but looking forward to the rest of the weekend after that.
There are so many incredible things that happened on Saturday, I’m going to have to list some of my favorites – in no particular order:
- I met Dick Beardsley, Bill Rogers, and Arturo Barrios – with photographic proof.
- I attended the VIP pre-race dinner, and enjoyed talking to one of the US women running in the 10 Mile Championship.
- I spent a lot of time getting to know the founder of Teens Run DC and some of their runners, which is an amazing organization (and if you’re looking for a Marine Corps bib, they have some with a $500 fundraising minimum!).
- I loaded up on some awesome New Balance shoes and running gear.
- I listened to Matt McCue talk about trying to walk on to the Colorado track team, and what it was like to train with Dathan Ritzenhein.
- I randomly met my neighbor while she was volunteering at the Expo.
- I was able to speak to countless runners and volunteers about the race and the Social Runner program.
- I gained an INCREDIBLE perspective about what it takes to put on CUCB and just how hard the entire race staff works, particularly the Race Director, Phil, and Deputy Race Directory, Becky, both of whom always greeted me with a big smile and hug no matter how busy they were!
Following a day filled with incredible moments and excitement about race day, I crashed at the JW Marriott without even bothering to take off my calf sleeves!
My alarm went off on race morning, and I couldn’t believe it was April 7! The moment I had been thinking about since I had received Molly’s email in November was upon me, and I did my best to soak it all in.
I got dressed, ate some breakfast, and headed to the start corrals. I ended up in orange (thinking I was getting in blue, oops), but somehow found one of our training friends. When the race started a few minutes later, I couldn’t believe it! All of a sudden, here it was. I’ve lived through at least 20 big emotional roller coasters since that November night, between school, running, and everything in between. But with the start of the race, all of a sudden those months flashed before my eyes, and I was about to run a race I had fortunately forgotten to be nervous about.
I did 7 minute run/2 minute walk intervals the entire way, and when I started to push the pace ~7 miles, Matt forced me to rein it in. (It was REALLY REALLY tough to keep the pace slow and steady throughout.) But after we hit mile 8 and passed Coach T, I asked if we could run hard for the last two intervals, and he said I could give it everything I had. So I did. I ended up spending a lot of time weaving through the crowd, but I fed off of all of the energy of the crowd (particularly the awesome drummers at mile 9) and pushed with everything I had. After an abbreviated training cycle, my body was tired and it took everything I had to keep my form as I forced myself to storm up the final hill toward the finish line.
The final 400 meters, I choked back tears the entire way. Every tough day I’ve faced during the last five years was flooding through my mind, and crossing the finish line became symbolic of the bigger finish line I’m currently staring down: my dissertation defense on May 15. The feeling of utter relief from the fear and anxiety, but also the feeling of pure joy and excitement after fighting so hard pulsed throughout my entire body. Because it wasn’t just about being strong enough to overcome this injury, it was also about being strong enough to finish graduate school.
In those final meters, I saw the academic road I’ve traveled for five years reflected in the five months I spent as the Social Runner: not always what I wanted or hoped it would be, but continuing to rise up to overcome adversity. When Elizabeth and I spoke with Dick Beardsley on Saturday, he talked about running being a metaphor for life, and being a way to teach ourselves to overcome life’s challenges. Those words rang through my head as I raced to the finish line…and I finally allowed the tears to flow down my cheeks.
Even when I didn’t believe in myself, all of you continued to believe in me. And it was that belief that I held on to to find the strength within myself to keep fighting. Sunday’s finish line was one I needed to cross for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it helped me learn to believe in myself again. It was a reminder of just how strong I can be when I dig deep and fight with everything I have. And beyond all of the sponsorships and the awesome products I received as Social Runner, that was the most important thing I could have gained from this experience.
After recovering from the emotional finish, I basked in the excitement of finishing by grabbing as many muffins from the food table as possible (seriously, I can’t believe I failed to find out where these things come from because they are THE BEST post-race food ever and everyone should run this race so they can eat some!!!) before meeting up with as many friends as I could before freezing to death in the wind, including finally meeting Megan! (I also discovered a tweet from Dick Beardsley and almost peed myself.)
Back at the hotel, we quickly showered and packed for check out and then headed to the VIP post-race brunch. It was great to see Elizabeth one last time before she headed home (and I’m looking forward to a reunion with Molly when you’re back in town!), and it was fun getting to talk to all of the people I met throughout the weekend.
And then Caroline Rotich, the overall women’s winner, came and sat down at our table. I couldn’t talk. I could barely smile at her. What the hell are you supposed to say to the woman that just dominated the entire course, when it took you 1:45:26 to finish??? Fortunately Molly showed up a few minutes later and was able to get conversation flowing…and I found out Caroline runs about 100 miles each week!!! I’m lucky if I hit that in one month!
On the other side of me, some of the American elite women were eating breakfast. And since I didn’t realize who they were, I found I could form semi-coherent sentences around them. One of the runners told me she’s training for the half marathon championship, which will be in Duluth, Minnesota, this summer, and she asked me about my half marathon strategy and if I had any recommendations. I tried my best not to sound like an idiot but honestly, I highly doubt I avoided that. I mean, her life revolves around running, whereas I only wish mine did. (And of course we looked up the women after we got home and they were the 3rd and 6th place US women….so glad I didn’t know that when I babbled on and on about the way I think about a half marathon.)
Moral of the story? At a post-race brunch, assume everyone in the room ran the race in about half the time you did. And also, elite runners are really awesome people that are also not fans of strong headwinds. And they have really funny stories, like being out on a run and having an owl swoop down and try to grab your ponytail. Oh, and they say it’s ok to pee your pants in the middle of a race as long as you’re wearing dark shorts so no one can tell…just throw water on it at the next water stop to clean up after. (And while I felt justified in eating as much as the elite runners were during the weekend, turns out if you don’t run as much as they do, you don’t get faster but your butt does get bigger!)
By the time Matt and I got home on Sunday afternoon, I was in utter disbelief that I had lived the weekend I did. While I obviously would have liked to have avoided injury and totally dominated my PR on Sunday, I wouldn’t trade the lessons I’ve learned throughout this process for anything. I have come out of the last five months a stronger runner and person, and that’s all we can hope for in life.
So to Molly, Phil, Becky, and everyone else that was involved with selecting me and helping me through this process (especially my physical therapist, Kerry), I offer you the biggest thank you that I can for a weekend I will never forget and one of the most incredible experiences of my life. And to all of the CUCB runners and my readers, thank you for sharing this journey with me. It has been one hell of a ride!
Your Turn: Did you run this weekend? How did it go? What was your favorite part of the race? If you have a post about it, leave the link in the comments so I can read all about it!