This isn’t going to be a lengthy recap or review of Sunday’s Half. It’s more of an ode to my body for taking me across that finish line and allowing the strong spirit within me to give me a 1:44 finish time even when my injured leg/bum (dealing with piriformis syndrome and possible minor hamstring strain) was hollering at me to just please stop.
At mile 10, I knew for certain that my sciatica nerve is involved as the physical therapist and some other medical folks (and fellow runners) suspected. My entire left leg started to feel numb from right below my butt cheek (sorry, no other way to explain it) all the way down to my calf. The left side of my rear hurt, too, and was angry at me for most of the race. But I kept on going on and weirdly enough I couldn’t stop smiling.
There were four very specific moments when I found the strength to push harder. One was when I saw my husband, four kiddos, and my dad (my mom was on her way back from a pilgrimage to Medjugore; she said Mary would be running with me). They were cheering me on near mile 4. They were also at the finish line, but I missed them. I was too busy urging my heavy legs to keep moving. In my previous half and in most past races from my long-ago running life, I could count on a strong finish. But not yesterday. I definitely felt depleted at the end, but that’s okay. About three weeks ago I thought I’d have to sit out the entire racing season. And I can still walk today. Sitting is another story. Ouch! It hurts.
Later around mile 7 or so, I saw a young man cheering us on from a wheelchair. I don’t mean to go all banal on you, but I thought to myself, “He can’t even walk and here I am running. I am so stinkin’ blessed. I’ll run for him.”
Then at that mile 10 marker when the weird tingly, numbness started and my leg felt like it might just give out under my weight, I thought of two very important people in my life. First, my mom with her buttery blond hair and her infections, slightly off-kilter smile popped in to my mind. Yes, she’s had horrible sciatica, too, where it hurt to sit all of the time (mine is fortunately caused by muscle inflammation rather than a back problem). An invasive back surgery helped, but it’s returning again. Then there’s the atypical trigeminal neuralgia (AKA the suicide disease). Every single day her face feels like it’s on fire, but she keeps smiling, hoping, and looking beyond herself to minister to others – so much so that you forget that she lives with chronic pain.
Next, I thought of my little brother, who has constantly teased me in my life for not being much of an athlete in a very affectionate way (he got all the natural talent; I just have the grit). For the record, he did text me a congratulatory, post-race note that referred to me as his “athlete sister,” and I felt like I’d finally arrived. Well, he’s had a medical ailment that’s required two surgeries, one of them recently. Two days after his surgery he landed himself in the ER because a blood vessel had broken. He lost a pint of blood. I called him and as soon as he answered, I started to cry. I know, I know – not too cool to be calling to offer support and to just start losing it. He immediately began to comfort me and said he was going to be just fine. He is so strong. Ironically, his injury also renders his bum painful, so we’ve been making a lot of pain in the you-know-what jokes lately. In fact, the Athens race’s slogan is “Run Your Ath Off.” Well, I was worried there for a minute that I might literally do just that!
The final moment I urged my body on was when I saw a great, past professor of mine near the end of the race. I’d been contemplating walking, fearful that I might trip because I was losing feeling in my left leg. Well, she called me out by name, and I knew I had what it takes to go all the way. Later she said I didn’t look like I was hurting and that I had a big smile on my face.
There was a lot of smiling today. (There were plenty of grimaces, too. Trust me.)
And I was most definitely not smiling so much after the race when I plunged into an ice bath per medical advice. This has been shown to reduce inflammation and help with recovery. It’s also been shown to turn your lips a nice shade of Smurf blue and be more painful than actually running a whole lot of miles in a row.
But there were two reasons I subjected myself to this form of torture (next up was foam rolling with this, which definitely falls in to the hurts-so-good category).
#1 I want to show my body a little TLC. I get frustrated that I’ve been more injury-prone lately, or I can’t go as quickly as I want and believe I have the potential to do, but I refuse to fall in to the trap I once did of punishing my body or using racing as another thing to control or to serve as a measure of my worth. Crazy lady that I am I’m tempted to lace up my running shoes tomorrow and hit the pavement, but I’m going to take it easy and see what the PT says on Wednesday. I’m going to stretch and ice a whole lot and work on my core. I’m going to focus on being kind to my body. I do have lofty goals for myself. I’ve never really engaged in smart, purposeful training. I just run a decent amount of miles at a conversational pace but after today, I have this drive to marble in some speed workouts and more challenging runs into my workout when my body is ready. Technically, with this injury I’m supposed to run slowly and avoid hills. Today was a fairly hilly course, so I need to see how I feel in a few days. I’m not going to get all futuristic (or fatalistic, for that matter) like I frequently do. First things first. I need to heal. I need to pamper this tired, aching leg and bum of mine.
#2 I am in this for the long haul. I want to be running for a really, really long time. I can’t tell you how much it’s lifted my mood and at a time when I wasn’t even aware that my spirits needed a little lift. It can be very spiritual, too. I didn’t have a profound “religious experience” today, but I did see a t-shirt that said “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me,” and that definitely became one of my mantras (so did: “You’ve given birth naturally four times, and this is easier than labor,” and “The faster you run, the sooner you’ll be finished.”). I did have some pretty moving moments during my first half last spring, and I definitely did during a marathon I ran way back when.
Running has also been a way to connect in a very meaningful way with other people. It has been so much better for me than just hanging out in Blogland. I want to be meeting new runners and, of course, gathering my peeps together for years to come. I’ve joked about making us over-the-hill running shirts one of these days, and I can just see us plodding along when our kids are all grown up. For today I want to inspire my kids to be healthy and to love and respect their bodies, and to also use them to give glory to God. Someday I want to inspire my grandchildren.
Although I would have loved to have been off having an alcoholic beverage or at least gorging on a big plate of delicious food with friends during one of the many post-race celebratory gatherings, for these two very important reasons I jumped in to ice cold water instead. And if I’m completely honest, I may have an inner sadist.
Before morphing into an ice cube, it was good to be with my family and to eat my husband’s delicious omelet that was studded with onion and jalapeño bits and filled with cheese. Usually, we have other veggies on hand like bell peppers and spinach, but our cupboards are bare right now. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted just with the spicy bits. Maybe I was just really hungry after burning roughly 1,300 calories.
My sweet 8-year-old Madeline is a very loyal fan and said encouraging things all day. Both she and 6-year-old Rachel picked flowers for me and offered them as gifts. They were worth more than any medal, although the medal for this race was gorgeous. We’re thinking of running a Thanksgiving fun run together. Rachel, in particular, seems to have caught Mommy’s running bug.
I know I started this blog as a mom blog or really just a writing outlet for me. Then it became a place to share my faith (or lack thereof), work out my mothering dilemmas, post only the most flattering pictures of my precious progeny, and hopefully along the way it served as a way to encourage other moms or at least to let them know they’re not the only ones who hide in the bathroom for some alone time. Eventually, I admit that it became a source of angst. I’ve found some balance now even if I’ve lost a big chunk of readership and am likely boring a lot of my readers with my reflections on running. But all along, I’ve always tried to offer an authentic glimpse into my life and into me. That hasn’t changed and never will. I’m not sure where I’m headed or what I’ll be writing about next week, two months from now, or three years from now. As one of my running peeps texted post-race, it’s great to share this one experience, but what’s greater is to share the everyday moments. She wrote, “It’s the journey, not an event…” Thanks for coming along on this zigzagging journey with me.
I thanked my past professor for her awesome encouragement and how it made a big difference for me and that the spectators really made the event. This is so true. It’s the people who support us along our journey who really deserve the medals. The husband who makes me an omelet on my long run days to refuel me. It’s the kids who scream, “Go, Mommy!” and brave the cold, fall morning for me. It’s the grandparents and the little brother who listen to my whining when I’ve had a setback. It’s the friends who send me encouraging texts, emails, or messages via this blog. It’s all of you who have read through this long-winded, meandering post that I claimed in the very first sentence was not going to be long (ha!). Thanks for cheering me on and sticking with me.
I feel very, very blessed right about now.
Oh, and I just have to give a shout out to my running peeps. One was MIA because she had a wedding, but the other two rocked the half! R (on the far right in the picture above) had a finish time of 1:39 and placed 9th in her age group. L (in the middle) was shooting to come in under two hours. She ran the half last time and has said it was a very difficult experience, but she came back and she was amazing! She finished smiling today with a time of 1:53. You go, girls!!!
Next up, the Kiawah Half! I’m very excited about this because my family is sharing a house with one of my besties and her family for the whole weekend.
I’ll end with a random shot of my littles that just makes me smile because it captures one of those candid, unplanned moments where my kids are just being kids, and Thomas is in his superhero stance ready to take on the world.
(We went to the fair on Saturday night, and I had the worst possible pre-race meal ever – funnel cake and some popcorn – so I’m thinking aside from more mindful training, I may need to work on my sports nutrition!)