Thursday, June 30, 2005

Two steps forward, one step back

Well, my lunchtime run was a qualified success.

A success because we ran and it was extremely fun. We chatted and avoided the closed streets around the White House, and got stared at by people in business suits, (not like that! Or maybe some of them like that, but that’s not what made this a success) and found and ran through sprinklers on the White House lawn that weren’t barricaded, and also ran a couple miles.

But a qualified success because, damn. I say again. Da-a-a-amn. It was hot out. And the cool water from the sprinklers was nice, as was the drinking water I carried, but there is only so much that you can do when it is that hot and sunny and humid.

And between rushing to get back in time to shower and heat up our lunches before the end of our hour and all the red lights at intersections, I’d be shocked if we ran more than 2 miles.

So that was Tuesday.

We decided to modify our experiment for Thursday, and meet an hour before work to run.

That, my very smart readers will no doubt have deduced, was today.

And everything they say about how having a running buddy to meet in the morning will get you out of bed far more readily than if you are just trying to motivate on your own is true. Because I did NOT want to get up this morning.

Like the very clever chickadee that I am, I stayed out until almost midnight and had two glasses of wine (two!) and a beer (three drinks! What a lush!) because I was having fun and, well, worrying about tomorrow morning the night before is so very last season.

But three drinks and a late bedtime do not a morning girl make. So again, a qualified success. We ran, and the weather was far less oppressive, but my headache was far more oppressive, and the red lights were even more omnipresent, and I doubt that we made it even 2 miles. But we did have a lovely session of ab work on the White House lawn (it’s close to my office, we’re not obsessed with Dubya, I swear), and we still had time to shower and get to our desks on time.

When I get back from Africa, we are going to resume our experiments in running from work, and, if they have finished renovating the office weight room, we may try to add some resistance training to our Tuesday/Thursday regime.

All told, a decently productive week, even if my mileage was shockingly low (shocking to me, and not, most likely, to anyone else).

Monday, June 27, 2005

Exercise in Futility

You might be shocked to learn that a week after running a difficult marathon (nay, not just a “week”, a full week) my body is not completely back to pre-marathon shape.

You might additionally be shocked to learn that running in 90°+ weather, with depleted energy and not enough water, is really, really hard, and somewhat unpleasant.

And, you might be shocked to learn that after a full month of no resistance training, and that little marathon thing (see point 1, above) that I’m not quite up to doing the same weights I was the last time.

On the other hand, you are all very smart people (much smarter than I) and you may not be shocked to learn any of those things. You may instead be shocked to learn how shocked I was to learn, the hard way, all three of those things.

Will I ever learn? (Answer: probably not).

I was bound and determined to run on Saturday, because it was about time to get back on that horse. I knew that it was going to be horrendously hot and muggy, so I decided I would wake up early and run before it got too hot.

But I made that decision on Friday afternoon, before I decided to stay at work as late as necessary to catch up on ALL my filing and ALL my email so as to better prepare myself for the horror of my desk after being away a month, and to minimize the chances of something major falling through the cracks, leaving my boss a full month to consider how unhelpful I really am. There was a line in the sand, I told my boss, as he tried to convince me to accept his offer of a ride home at 8:15 pm, and I wasn’t going to cross that line until everything was done and filed and neat.

I’m not sure that made any sense (he was looking at me a little funny), but I had already been at work for more than 11 hours, so it was the best I could do.

Unfortunately, I only made it until 10:45 until crippling hunger forced me to leave my post. Note to self: next time you pull an all nighter, buy dinner BEFORE all the shops close in the neighborhood.

Additional note to self: Don’t let things pile up for months until a week before you leave on a long vacation.

Needless to say, by the time I got home, ate some dinner, and unwound, it was too late to wake up early enough to run before the heat hit.

So, instead, I slept later, and ran errands all morning/early afternoon. Finally, after resting on the couch for an hour, at about 5 pm, I decided to attempt a slow 3 miles.

Of course, and I know I’ve mentioned this before, I live on the side of a hill. There is nowhere I can run from my house that doesn’t include several fairly steep uphill climbs. Also, and I seem to remember mentioning this somewhere before, I’m not that smart. Thus the insanely logical decision NOT to bring water with me.

As I told Jeanne, after about a mile and a half, I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up, or pass out and then throw up, and then choke on the vomit and then die. Because I am nothing if not prone to understatement.

But fine, I dragged my ass home, a little bit worse, but, dare I say, wiser, for the wear.

Flash forward to Sunday, when I was once again unable to wake up early enough to beat the heat. Still, at 10:30 I finally laced up my shoes and hit the streets, planning a longer run than the previous day (but I brought water! I learned!).

Man. It is hot in DC in the summer. And the sun? A veritable fire-y ball of hotness. And the humidity? Oh, the humanity.

But here’s where it gets funny. On my way back, after a walk break, I noticed someone from work running on the parallel trail on the other side of the creek. Less than half a mile up, the two trails converged, and, grasping at any motivation to keep running, I decided to keep up with this guy so that we would meet up.

It may be helpful, at this point, to know that this was one of the runners from the 3-mile race I did earlier this year, who ran it in about 19 minutes. Not that he was running that fast on the rugged, slightly hilly trail yesterday morning (my side was paved and flat), and he even stopped to chat with someone for a moment. But still. Dude can run under-seven-minute miles.

Nevertheless, we reached the fork at the same moment, and we stopped to say hello.

But here’s what I didn’t foresee. After a few moments of chit chat, he suggested we continue on.

Err… Would that be running?

Of course, said I. Let’s go, I said.


See, in my head, I thought it would be wimpy to admit that I was hot and out of breath, and really would rather walk for a bit, but he should continue on without me, and have a nice Sunday, I’ll see you at work tomorrow.

Oh, no, clearly it was much better to start running (really a slow jog from his perspective), only to arrive at the next intersection all red faced and huffing and seeing stars. Because that wouldn’t be nearly as embarrassing.

Le sigh.

But I survived, and even got myself to the gym for some weights, which… well, you get the idea already.

Today is a rest day.

Tomorrow, I’m trying a new experiment. My friend at work, who won the silver medal in freestyle kayak at the World Championship in Australia this year (she is so cool), wants to start running once a week at lunchtime for cross-training purposes. Of course, there is the small issue of the ridiculously hot weather, but I see no reason why that should get in the way of a nice lunchtime run.

Don’t worry. I’m rolling my eyes enough for all of you.


I keep forgetting to mention this, but if you haven't been checking out the Rundown every Tuesday, you totally should.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I lied

A little more backwards looking is in order.

Because you know what I finally realized, like, Wednesday-ish? Or maybe Thursday.

I ran a marathon, y’all. An honest-to-goodness, not just kidding around here, mar-a-thon. And that will never be un-true. They can’t take it back. I have the medal and the t-shirt and ALL the bragging rights.

I anticipate that this will come in very handy.

For instance, should I ever choose to go back to school and have to take an exam, a classmate might say to me:

“This test is going to be mega-hard. We need to have a marathon study session tonight.”

And I will be able confidently to reply,

“That will be no problem. I know just what to do, because I ran a real marathon once.”

And my future classmate will certainly be appropriately impressed.

But a more likely scenario, since I’m unlikely to go back to school any time soon, might find me and a friend at the grocery store, and my friend might say:

“Let’s have a marathon ice cream eating session.”

And I will say, “Good idea.”

And my friend will say, “The only question is, Phish Food or Godiva Dark Chocolate.”

And I will say, “Friend, I ran a real marathon once, and I can tell you that it requires a lot of hard work. There is no skimping. You must go the distance. We need to buy BOTH Phish Food AND Godiva Dark Chocolate.”

And my friend will have to concede that I am correct, because I have in fact run a marathon.

So thank you to everyone who patiently waited for me to come to my senses and said such nice things to me like “congratulations” and “we don’t think you’re stupid” and “it took you HOW long? You clearly suck at running marathons,” except for that last one, because nobody actually said that to me.

This doesn’t mean I don’t still plan to have a rematch, because those 26.2 miles are my bitch, and I think they might need another lesson in the ways of my bitch slapping before they fully understand.

But it does mean that I’m done being stupid (about this particular thing).

Thanks also to the very smart people who gave me the answer I wanted to hear about the New York Marathon. I fully expected everyone to say, “Chill out lady. There are plenty of marathons and you have plenty of years to train for them. Why jump in so quickly?”

And you didn’t, because you all have confidence not only in the ability of a person to train for a marathon in four months, but in the ability of THIS person to put in the work required to do that training. Which is pretty awesome, actually.

But. That required me to call my own bluff. Do I really want to jump right back into this? Am I ready? Because training for a marathon is really hard work and takes a pretty big psychological toll. Especially the sense that it all leads up to ONE day, where you have ONE chance to get it right. That makes every twinge and ache feel like it’s going to ruin everything, when really it’s just a twinge or an ache.

I think the truth is that I’m not ready to train for my next marathon. I want to run lots and stay in shape and run half marathons and 10-mile races and who knows what else. But I also want to find a little more balance in my life, and maybe have time to see my friends and, I say again, who knows what else?

Big picture here, I don’t really want to be a person who runs marathons. My goal is to be a person who runs her next marathon really well. Which means that when I train for the next marathon, I want to be fully committed to my training, and I want to be ready to do some high mileage weeks, and take this training to the next level (“Beginner”. As opposed to “novice.” That’s right baby, so hardcore!)

Whew. That feels like a big decision. But I can always change my mind when I get back from Botswana. And even if I can’t get a number for New York, there are plenty of other marathons I could run this fall or winter, if that’s what I decide to do.

Meanwhile, things are back to normal chez Naomi. I can once again walk up- and downstairs in all appearances like a normal person. I can stand from a seated position with no hoisting whatsoever. I no longer limp even a little bit.

And I completely ignored my alarm this morning when it was politely trying to remind me that I had scheduled today as my first attempt at a post-marathon run. According to Hal Higdon’s schedule, I could have started running as early as yesterday, so now I’ve basically skipped two days of running. I’m trying to convince myself that this Does Not mean that I have reverted to my non-exercising ways, even though I also had a giant chocolate chip cookie at lunch today, and it’s been almost a week since I last exercised.

The extremely tiny part of my brain that is rational is yelling as loud as it can that as of two days ago I could hardly walk, and was clearly in no position to run, bike, or ellipse anywhere. And that the exercise last week was a marathon. And that there’s always tomorrow. But the much bigger part of my brain that is crazy is laughing and pointing and saying, “I hope you liked fitting into that adorable sundress this morning because it will never fit again!!! Muah-hahahaha!”

It’s good to know that, despite turning into some unrecognizable, size-8, running chick, I’m still completely neurotic.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


The time for looking back has passed, and the time to look ahead is at hand. Forwards, I say, and onward.

First things first, the blog isn't going anywhere, so get back off of that ledge. Writing here is too much fun, and anyway, there will be a 26.2 miles vs. Naomi 2: The Rematch (working title; may change. Actually, I've been trying to come up with a play on my favorite series progression of all time: Die Hard; Die Harder; Die Hardest; Please Stop Breathing Already; You Win, I'll Die, to no avail. The best I can come up with is: 26.2 Miles vs. Naomi: With a Vengeance...) Anyway, I'm sure you'll all want to reserve front row seats for that match-up.

However. There will be a brief hiatus for the month of July, because I’m going on vacation (yay!). I’m heading to Botswana for three weeks of volunteering in a national park, where I will be living in a tent and performing some vague, as-yet-unspecified park maintenance-type (“environmental”) work with a group of like-minded (read: crazy) people. Botswana, for those who are curious, is a tiny land-locked country just north of South Africa. It’s the one of the richest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (per capita), a combination of a small population, lots of shiny, shiny diamonds, and a democratically-elected government that sees it’s role as serving its people. It is still a third-world country, and faces many of the same problems other southern African countries do, including the world’s highest per capita AIDS infection rate (very depressing), but on the whole, from what I hear, it’s a terribly charming place to visit. Plus, it has extensive national parks, with some of the coolest wildlife in the world, including elephants and giraffes and lions and zebras and did I mention elephants? Because I lurrrrrve elephants.

So, in case you can’t tell, I’m totally excited about that (though very naively so, in as much as people tell me that the real thing is somewhat different from recent DreamWorks feature Madagascar, which I understand involves far more choreographed dance numbers than one finds in the wild.)

But, my tent is unlikely to include wireless internet, so I will be Cut. Off. Terrifying.

I will be bringing my running shoes, though, and I hope to have some interesting stories to share when I get back. So, umm, please come back and read this when I get back. I’ll bake cookies!

Now, I have a very important question.

There’s a chance that I can wrangle myself a number for the New York Marathon (I have mad connections, yo).

I know that the smart thing to do would be to take some time, run some shorter races, and get myself into really, really, really good shape before starting training for this rematch. I do NOT want to set myself up for a painful repeat of Anchorage. And really, aside from the fact that I have the patience of a goldfish, there’s no hurry.

Except, there’s a chance that when I get back from Africa, I’m going to decide to do something ridiculous like join the Peace Corps or join the staff of some English language newspaper in Djibouti. And that would totally put the brakes on my budding career as a world class gymnast an amateur runner. I mean, I hear they have some decent runners in Africa (wasn’t there a famous Kenyan once?**), but I think my focus will be slightly shifted if/when I move abroad.

So my question is this: is the NYC marathon in November too soon? Especially considering that I won’t be able to really start training until I get back in August. And who knows how much I’ll have been able to run in Botswana.

I think I know the answer to my question, but if you want to give me the answer I want, please feel free to leave it in the comments. Because I really, really wanna run the NY marathon. My family lives there!

In summary: I’ll be around for the next two weeks, and will hopefully get in a run or two before I head Africa-ward, and then when I get back it will be hardcore training for the VA Beach Half Marathon.

So stay tuned for more pain and misery. Or wait, I mean inspirational messages of love and joy. I can fly higher than an eagle. Something like that.

** Just to clarify, since often I really am this clueless: this is me making a joke. It’s funny. Laugh. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

More reflections on the marathon

Okay, I probably shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard late at night. I get maudlin and wordy. And after I posted last night, I realized there was more to say.

My last post accurately depicts how I felt during the race, and in the days afterwards. But as time passes, and especially as I start to recover from the complete exhaustion, I’m starting to get a little perspective (yes, Susan, you are absolutely right about that).

As I tell this story, I’m starting to recognize two things. Firstly, nobody can change what happened, and secondly, nobody can force me to focus on the success if all I insist on seeing is the failure. Especially if I insist on telling the story as if the failure is the most important part.

I think I had some vision of a great narrative arc: Girl hates running, girl takes on extreme challenge to run marathon, girl astounds critics and supporters alike by running a record breaking marathon.

And maybe that would be the story if my life were a movie, but I’m not Rocky, and that’s not my story, and not just because I didn’t get that mythical perfect marathon.

I think it’s more like:

Girl hates running, girl takes on extreme challenge to run marathon, girl learns new respect for her body and what it can accomplish, girl uses that knowledge to continue to challenge herself and reach new heights.

And that’s what running has done for me. As a sport, I love how it’s completely individual—a question of setting and achieving your own goals—but also something that a lot of people share. (I suppose it’s different for elite runners, but most of us aren’t elite runners.) When things were tough at the end of the marathon, we all supported each other, even complete strangers. One detail that I forgot to mention was that, when I was walking, even the people who passed me by offered encouragement.

And, as I said in my last post, despite what I may have thought when I started this process, this won’t be my last race. And, I guess, it won’t be my last marathon.

Now I have a PR to beat.

100 years of marathon; or, the longest entry ever

I am writing this entry from the comfort of my couch, from whose loving embrace I vow never to leave. That way lies movement, and with movement comes pain. I’m really not down with whoever invented the act of standing up. The guy who invented sitting, though, we can still party. And whoever put those handicapped stalls (with bars for hoisting! And a higher toilet!) in public bathrooms—if you’re ever in DC, give me a call. I owe you a drink.

Aren’t you glad I share such details with you?

Actually, I’m starting to feel better. Saturday and Sunday were spent giving Anchorage my best impression of Igorenstein (Frankengor?). My back kept me lurching, while my completely-dead quads remained unable to support me if I bent my knees. It was a pretty sight, I’ll tell you.

But it was hard-earned pain. And I was definitely not the only one walking that way, around the city, and on the plane home.

So, are you ready to hear about my marathon in excruciating detail? Too bad, because I’m ready to tell y’all ALL about it.

Chapter One: In which our heroine finds a fly in her salad, eats a big plate of pasta despite not being hungry, and brings a banana back to the hotel for the next morning.

The pasta party. Conveniently scheduled for 4 pm, which is my usual dinner time, since I’m eighty-five and a connoisseur of the early-bird special in all forms. Or, you know, not. Plus, I’d had a late lunch, because I’m smart like that.

Because I like finding things to stress about, I grumped about the fact that the penne was not whole wheat, which is the carb choice I prefer. I get that some people don’t like the taste, but it’s such a better energy source. Don’t you think they could have offered both options at the party?

Anyway, after making fun of me all day for my obsessively planning how I was going to lay everything out that night for the next morning, my sister got to listen to the experts (our coaches, a Runner’s World columnist, all the other runners) lecture us to obsessively lay everything out that night for the next morning. Ha!

So after dinner and a brief meeting, we headed back to the hotel, where I (say it with me) obsessively laid everything out for the next morning. Heh.

Then, sleep.

Chapter Two: In which our heroine wakes up at the crack of dawn (which is remarkably hard to differentiate from the dead of night when it’s light out twenty-four hours a day), lies in bed until the alarm goes off at 5:15 am, and dresses for the marathon.

After checking the forecast at least every other day for 10 days, I learned that the national weather service has no freaking clue. The predictions ranged from sunny and 67°F to rainy and 55°F, and everything in between. And it changed hourly. (Okay, so sometimes I checked more than every other day.) But on the day of, the cold and rainy predictions prevailed, and we opened our curtains to the darkest we’d seen since arriving in Alaska. It was in the high 50s, and I think it warmed up a bit before the start, and the rain was just a sprinkle at that point. I was wearing a Tyvek jacked (one girl was selling them as a fundraiser, and I figured I could ditch it once I started to warm up).

I ate my peanut butter granola bar and banana, and headed down to the lobby, where everybody was milling around, taking pictures, and eating breakfast. I felt pretty relaxed, all things considered, and was excited to get started.

Chapter Three: In which our heroine takes the bus to the start, uses the portapotty, mills around, enjoys the Top 40 music playing over the loudspeakers, mills around some more, heads to the start, eats a gel (it having been over an hour since breakfast already), and generally mills around.

Hmm. That pretty much covers it, actually. (Note the absence of a warm-up jog and stretching. You think our coach might have suggested that instead of talking us out of it?)

Chapter Four: In which our heroine tempts fate, explores hubris, and invites irony as she flies through the early miles.

The gun went off promptly at 8 am, and it only took a few seconds to cross the start line. I’m not good at being patient in the slow shuffle of the starting crowd, and so LadyFab and I soon began to weave around people. By the end of the first mile (11 minutes), we had pretty much gotten to a speed we were comfortable with, so it wasn’t too bad. Everywhere you looked there was Team in Training purple. It was actually kind of nice, and all the singlets showed the name of people’s home chapter. I saw a lot of Texans (from three separate chapters, I think), but there were runners from all over.

LadyFab and I had both agreed that we wanted to run hard during this race, to push ourselves and each other to have the best race we could. Normally the first few miles of a long run feel like they take forever, but in the excitement of the morning, and maybe also because of the cool weather, that morning they flew by. Plus we were running pretty fast—we hit the second mile marker in just over 9:30. Definitely faster than we’d intended, so we tried to pull back a bit, but we felt absolutely fantastic.

We were both wearing water belts with gatorade, so we passed through the first aid station at mile 2, though I pulled off my Tyvek jacket and left it there.

These first several miles were along a highway. There weren’t many spectators, but drivers were honking and yelling as they drove by. All of the first 14 miles were net uphill, but, with a few notable exceptions, the slope was very gradual. We averaged about 10 min/mile—slower when the hills got steeper—still a little fast, but within reason, we thought. Our training pace was typically 10:20-11 min/mile, especially by the end of training, and we felt that we could keep up a faster pace on race day. We grabbed some water and walked through the second aid station around the fourth mile, and quickly got on the move again.

Somewhere in this point (mile five maybe?) we hit the trail. It was more rugged than I’d expected—more mud than gravel, and fairly narrow and windy, but it was gorgeous. Lush green trees (and with the intense months of sunlight and a lot of rain, the vegetation in Alaska was simply giant) on both sides of the trail and snowy peaks in the distance. There were still a lot of runners, but we didn’t feel crowded, and there were very few spectators. It felt like just another training run (with a little more pressure), and we were having a great time.

Somewhere around mile seven, after a gel and another water stop, I noted that we were going pretty fast. “Maybe we should slow down,” said I.

“Yeah, probably,” LadyFab agreed.

But when the next mile marker appeared, we were still at the 10 min/mile pace.

“Hmm… I don’t feel like we’re running a crazy pace, even if it is fast.”
“I agree. I feel great.”
“I just don’t want to regret this in 10 miles.”
“Me neither.”
“But we have plenty of time to slow down at that point, and it’ll be all downhill. Plus, we’re too stubborn to let a little pain stop us.” That was me. And LadyFab agreed.

Shall we take a moment to fully absorb the innocence and stupidity in that statement?

In my defense, in the past few months, I’ve run through knee pain and back pain, and at the moment we had that conversation, my back had already tightened up, and I had the beginnings of a stitch in my side, but neither bothered me very much. They hurt if I thought about it, but I figured I’d worry about the pain when the race was over.

Perhaps, though, I should have taken note of those signals from my body, and slowed down.

Chapter Five: In which our heroine encounters family, conquers hills, and perseveres through the middle miles.

Mile 9 was the first designated spectator spot, and my sister and LadyFab’s family were all there, in orange rain hats, smiling and cheering. I had given my sister a pile of emergency supplies, and she anxiously asked me if I needed anything, but I still had plenty of gels and Gatorade in my belt. We were anxious to keep moving, so we planned to see them again around mile 17.

Off through the water stop, with a brief stop at the PortaPotties, and we were on our way.

The hills really started to pick up at this point, and all of a sudden, my stomach lurched, and I really needed to make another bathroom stop. This hadn’t ever happened to me during a training run, but luckily there was a lone Portapotty at the next mile marker (mile 11, the top of a hill) so I darted inside.

Afterwards, I felt better. At the next aid station, I took another gel (I was aiming for one every 5 miles or so), and I still felt pretty confident. We were almost through the uphill portion of the course, I’d faced some unexpected obstacles, but pushed through, and we were making much better time than I’d ever expected.

Miles 12 and 13 had the worst hills we’d seen, and I started to get winded on some of them, but I knew they were ending soon. We kept walking through the aid stations, and I walked on one of the hills when I felt out of breath.

Our memory of the elevation chart showed the trail turning downhill right at mile 14, which turned out not to be the case. But by mile 15, the trail had leveled out and then started to go downhill, and then the trail ended, and we were back on paved roads.

Chapter Six: In which our heroine would say that she began to crash and burn, had she not stricken both words from her vocabulary.

This was about when the first twinges of leg cramps appeared in my calves. Despite a couple slower miles from the ugly hills and my second bathroom break, we were still flying through the miles. My legs never cramped up during a training run, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I drank some Gatorade, grabbed an orange slice at the aid station, and tried not to worry about it.

I was getting tired at this point, and I was really looking forward to seeing my sister at mile seventeen. A couple of times the cramps pulled me out of a run, but I would soon start running again, and kept up with LadyFab.

Mile seventeen came and went, and no family. The aid station a half-mile later came and went (a Mardi Gras theme), and no family. I had really been counting on seeing them and I was pretty disappointed that they weren’t there. I knew they were probably further along somewhere, but I was getting tired, and my feet kept clenching with the cramps, and I was starting to get worried.

I started to walk, and LadyFab kept going. My legs kept spasm-ing and buckling under me, and I didn’t know how to make it stop. A TNT mentor (meaning she had run at least one marathon with TNT before) stopped and gave me a salt packet, and counseled me to keep hydrated and just keep moving. She suggested walking on my toes for a minute, but that was even worse, and my legs were so tender that I felt like I couldn’t stretch them.

I was still walking painfully, and Lynn-the-St.-Louis-coach ran up next to me. She was incredibly cheery (a sharp contrast to my near tears self) and she said that she saw me coming down the hill and she thought she’d see if she had anything in her bag of tricks that could help. But I told her that I had been drinking, had eaten orange slices and salt packet recently, and that stretching didn’t seem to help, so she just smiled and wished me luck.

Soon after, I finally saw my sister and LadyFab’s family. My sister started walking with me, and she helped me restock. I grabbed a gel for later, and we refilled my water bottles with the extra Gatorade that I had left with her. I had wanted to take a picture of her and LadyFab’s family specatating, because they were so cute with their orange hats, and TNT shirts, drenched from the rain. I wanted to tell my sister how glad I was that she was out there cheering me on, and supporting me. But by the time I got there, I was shaken and in pain, and all I ended up doing was snapping that I didn’t care that Gatorade was getting poured all over her backpack.

LadyFab was well out of sight at this point, so I grabbed my iPod (stashed for just such an emergency) and started running again. I put on my favorite running playlist and started to feel better running with the familiar tunes.

The cramps were still there, though, and between miles 18 and 20, I had to walk a fair bit. I think I averaged about 13 min/mile at that point. Sometimes I could run for a few minutes before my legs buckled, but sometimes it was just a few seconds.

During one particularly bad period, the pink-spiky-haired Canadian coach walked with me for a bit. He didn’t have any answers either, but he encouraged me to keep going, and he assured me that he would look out for me further along on the course. I started running again.

I hit mile 20 at 3:40, almost exactly when I finished the 20-mile training run. But it had been a very different three-hours-forty-minutes. When I finished that run, in addition to the elation of a really great run, I remember calculating that if I did that on race day, I would almost certainly be able to run the marathon in under 5 hours. But on marathon day, I pretty much already knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Somewhere around there I noticed that my quads had pretty much died. The cramps were still painful, but even when they abated enough to let me run, I couldn’t manage to go very fast.

This is when I started thinking about the bloggers who had persevered through tough races recently, about the fun races I ran with Tim, my personal pace-rabbit (in a good way), and about how I had still raised a lot of money for a really good cause, and how my time didn’t really matter. I was crying with frustration and pain, but I just had to keep going.

Truthfully, I never really wanted to stop. I wanted my legs to stop hurting, I wanted the finish line to be closer, but I didn’t want to stop. I’m not sure anything could have made me stop at that point. Early in the race, LadyFab and I chatted with a TNT-er from Philly who had run the Dublin marathon the previous year on a broken foot (a shoe issue—his foot broke during the run). He finished though. I doubt my cramps were half as painful as that, but still, I can understand what kept him going.

Chapter Seven: In which our heroine becomes acqainted with the Winston Churchill quotation, "If you're going through hell, keep going", then becomes more than friends, and then develops an intimate, lasting relationship with the phrase.

By mile 22, I was barely running at all. My miles had slowed down to 16 minutes each, the temperature had dropped, and the rain had picked up. I wasn’t having fun.

Then I ran into Luke, a teammate from DC, who had suffered a torn muscle a few weeks ago. His dreams of a sub-4 hour marathon evaporated, but he figured he could still run. When I saw him, he was practically dragging his bad leg behind him, but he was still cheery. His fiance (who ended up running a 3:43 time) had promised to come back and run the end with him when she’d finished, and he said he didn’t want to make her run four whole miles, so he figured he had to get as far as he could before she caught up to him.

I ran a bit and outstripped him, but he caught up a bit later. When we hit the 23 mile marker, he realized that if we did 12 minute miles we might still be able to beat 5 hours, so we both tried to run again, but my calves buckled after a few seconds, so he kept on without me.

Everybody around me was hurting pretty bad at that point (except, I suppose, for the people who were still running or race-walking, who passed us), and I started chatting with one nice woman from Anchorage. She had injured her knee somehow, and was as frustrated and lonely as I was. Again we started running, and even though she fell behind, she caught up again pretty quickly.

We could hear the announcer at the finish line, but we still had almost two miles to go, and “insult hill” to climb. I saw the Canadian coach a couple more times, but I was running each time, so he just nodded and let me pass. It felt good to know he was looking out for me.

So that’s how it ended. I shuffled up the hill, walking when the cramps kicked in, running when they left me alone for a few seconds, and made sure to save enough energy to run through the finish, at about 5:13.

Kind of anticlimactic, no? I wish I could tell you I was elated when I finally crossed the finish line, but I was just relieved. I was crying, and I’m sure my picture will be hideous, but I’m not even sure I want it. I want to feel proud that I ran a marathon, in tough conditions. I wish I felt noble and brave for finishing, and that I had learned something about myself and my determination. I wish I didn’t care that I didn’t beat 5 hours in my time.

But mostly I feel stupid. I said in my last post that “shit happens, and I can’t control that,” and that’s probably partially true. I’d never had leg cramps before, and I don’t really know why I got them on Saturday. But I could have run a smarter race, and not rushed so much in the beginning.

I wanted so much to cross the finish line with LadyFab feeling as great as we did after our 20-mile run. She ran the race I wanted to run, and I’m proud of her, but I’m jealous. Half the time, in our training runs, I was the one pushing our pace and keeping us going. I don’t know why my legs fell apart, and I want a do-over.

I know it’s ridiculous to feel this way, and part of me still remembers the non-runner from five short months ago, who has clearly lost her mind that she now somehow feels that it’s not enough to finish a marathon on her own two feet.

So I don’t think this will be my last marathon. I’m not sure when I’ll run another one, but this doesn’t feel like the end of the story of 26.2 miles vs. Naomi.

On the plus side, I seem to have truly changed my attitude towards athletics. I’m already planning to run the Virginia Beach Half Marathon in September, and the Army-Navy 10 Miler in November. Plus, I’m very intrigued by the prospect of a Triathlon. If only I could swim in a straight line…

Judah asked me if I ever expected to end up “loving to run, and running fo’ever” and the answer is no way. But I really enjoy this, and I’m really proud of it, recent evidence to the contrary.

But now it is quite late, and this is beyond long. Good night all.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

So.... That happened.

In the matchup of 26.2 miles versus Naomi, it was a knock-down, drag out fight, and I wish I were exaggerating. The miles took a beating in the early rounds but came back hard. But I fought tooth and nail and hung on to the bitter end.

That's the cutesy version of what happened. The long version will come later.

For now, the short version: There was no blood, some sweat, and a few tears. A lot of rain. Really painful leg cramps. But I finished, as I had no doubt that I would. Even at my worst, I knew I would finish.

I couldn't have done this without you all, though, and that's the truth. I kept thinking about "Just keep swimming", and "Keep going until they make you stop", and "Keep going, kid", and running with Tim, and raising almost $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and I thought about thinking about those things, and I thought about telling you all about thinking about those things, and then I let out a few sobs because I was grateful for the inspiration, and because I had so far to go. And then I took a few deep breaths, and just kept on keeping on.

Then there were the people here today who helped me keep on keeping on. For now I'll just list them so I remember later. Their stories will come when I give the full report. Lynn-the-St.-Louis-TNT-coach; the pink-dyed, spiky haired coach from Canada whose name I never learned; Luke; Cindy from Anchorage; my sister.

And, in a Naomi-typical burst of optimism, let's accentuate the positive:

-- My knees didn't hurt.
-- Mosquitos were not a factor.
-- The scenery was delightful, even when running was not.
-- I gave it everything I had. This is really what I was talking about in that last post, even if it seemed like I was talking about being competitive. Shit happens, and I can't control that, and it was worrying about the uncontrollable that was stressing me out. But I can control my resolve and my effort, and I used all I had of both to get me over the finish line.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Guess what?

I'm in Alaska! And you know what they have here? Glaciers and whales and starfish and porpoises and stellar sea lions. Have any of you seen a stellar sea lion, because they are, no joke, amazing.

No bear sightings as yet, and considering I'm now in Anchorage's center of urban sprawl (anybody want a souvenir from Walmart?) I'm thinking that ship may have sailed.

But the hotel has internet (hi internet!) so here I am posting. Next stop, the race expo, where I will pick up my race bib and tshirt and all, because, oh yeah, I'm running a marathon tomorrow. Who knew?

Happy weekend, y'all!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

on my way...

Last night I called my grandmother to say goodbye before my trip, and also to check in, since she hasn’t been feeling well lately.

During our brief chat, my grandmother, according to whom I can do no wrong, revealed that, actually, I’ve disappointed her lately.

“I’m proud of 99.9% of everything you do,” she told me. “But this. You’re driving me crazy.”

What could I have done to elicit such disapproval from this woman who spoils me rotten?

Have I treated my family with disrespect? Have I thrown away my career to join the circus? Am I, god forbid, abusing drugs?

Nope. It’s this fakakta* running scheme. She doesn’t understand it, she doesn’t like it, and every time I’ve spoken to her in the last several months, her first question has been, “are you done with the running yet?”

My uncle, who reported on the war in Iraq from Kuwait and recently visited Baghdad, told me, “don’t be a hero.”

My mother bemusedly told me to “have fun.”

My older brother asked me if I was sure I was related to him.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining. My family loves me, is proud of me, and, if I feel it is necessary to run a marathon in Alaska, well then, they’ll cheer me on. Even my grandmother, in her way, has supported me in this, and she gave a big donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

But, that doesn’t mean they get it.

All of which makes me very glad that I found so many running blogs, have so many runners who read and comment on this site, and have friends who will run and race with me. It’s nice to know that some people enjoy the same kind of meshugas** I do.

Thank you, everyone, for your well wishes and encouragement, throughout this process, but also in the past couple of days. I have now finally passed through the crazy and have emerged into the calm.

It helped that LadyFab was so excited and confident at our last training run on Saturday. It also helps that I’m finally packed, with all the final details of my itinerary arranged, and have left plenty of time for freaking out and last minute preparations on Friday (which I don’t anticipate needing, but I’m glad I have the option).

But the biggest factor keeping me sane is my newfound resolve for the race. Originally, my goal was simply to finish. And, back in February, when I couldn’t run three miles without stopping to walk, that was a huge goal. But, as I progressed in my training, I became confident that I would absolutely get my butt across those 26.2 miles (Kain ein horeh***), and I began to want a new goal. I started thinking in terms of time goals, and, while I still have those in the back of my mind, it seemed to be overly ambitious for a first marathon, and likely to lead to disappointment.

But over the past week, I’ve been thinking about what it would really take to make me feel successful after running this race. I know some people want to feel strong the whole way, enjoy the crowds, and take in the whole experience. That seems to make a lot of sense, but I know for myself, I’m too competitive to let that be my goal.

After training for so long, I want to know on Saturday, however long it takes, that I’ve given it everything I could. If that means I hit a wall somewhere and end up blowing my time, that’s what happens. But I want to put everything out there.

That is not to say that I will throw away my training and start sprinting when the gun goes off. I still plan to pace myself and walk through water breaks and do my best to make the race go as well as my 20-mile run. But shit happens. And that’s okay.

Anyway, that’s my mental state. I’m excited for my trip, and I’m REALLY excited for the race.

On that note, I leave you with this:

elevation copy

Catch you on the flip side!

* Yiddish: Fucked up; crazy
** more Yiddish: craziness
*** still Yiddish: No evil eye! (Sorry, talking to and about my grandmother brings out the Yiddish in me.)

P.S. Go wish Somebody luck. She's running in Anchorage too, and, as a Canadian, is flummoxed by our fakakta (see how I brought that right back around?) measuring system.

Friday, June 10, 2005

What I'm thinking about

One week to go. Give or take.

Actually, one week from tomorrow, but I didn’t think that sounded as good.

But now I’ve gone one about this for three lines, so would it have really been so bad to be accurate in the first place?

Let’s try it.

One week from tomorrow.

At this time next week plus one day, adjusted for the time difference between DC and Anchorage, I will have run somewhere between 20 and 22 miles, unless for some reason I am unable to run at my anticipated pace, in which case I will have run some as yet unable to be anticipated distance.

How’s that for accurate?

I have weathered many minor freakouts as I attempt to redirect my anxiety about race day to other, more controllable things. I have changed my itinerary for my travel in Alaska before the marathon, I have obsessively considered and reconsidered my packing list and where and when I will buy certain last minute items, including Gatorade powder and Gels and a wedding gift for my friend who’s not even getting married until after the marathon but why not worry about that now, because it’s so much fun.

I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t like the way my size large TNT singlet fits and that I will probably not be able to exchange it for a medium until I reach Alaska which means that I will probably not be able to run in it before race day but I will bring Woolite with me so that I can wash it the night before anyway.

I continue to wonder how my sister will manage to get from the hotel to the race course and to move around on the race course without a car. But I have decided not to worry about that as there will be many other family members of TNT participants, including the family of LadyFab, who will have cars and presumably be willing to make room for her. And there are also taxis and buses and this is Not A Crisis.

I have also decided not to be upset that the forecast predicts rain for marathon day, because they predict “light rain” and a temperature of 65°, and I have run in the rain before, and I have decided that “light rain” means a gentle cooling sprinkle of water that I will enjoy.

I continue to be oddly confident about running the marathon itself, despite the completely inexplicable soreness in my hamstrings and the persistent pain in my lower back. But who can worry about running when I’m so busy worrying about when I’m going to get my car inspected? What’s that? Look over there! No, behind you! What? Me? I didn’t say a thing.

So that’s that, then.

I’ll update at least once more before I leave on Tuesday, but then I will probably not be able to update until I get back from Alaska.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Toe-tapping (the impatient kind)

Hurry up.
Hurry up, hurry up and wait.
Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up and wait.
Please come see what you do to me.
I got the blues.

Hurry up, hurry up. hurry up. hurry up. hurry up.

I don’t think I like tapering.


Naomi: Should I be getting worried? I haven’t had a good run since the 20-miler. I want to be out there running, but I don’t feel right when I am.

Shelly Glover*: Some runners gain weight, get restless, climb walls and deeply desire to run more miles and so forth.

Naomi: Yeah, that pretty much covers it. But what about Brian? And both Jens? Everything seems out of sync and achy, even though I was feeling great leading up to the taper.

Shelly: The taper may seem to bring on injuries. You may develop all kinds of minor aches and pains, or feel sluggish and irritable as the race approaches. You train less but worry more. This is normal. These problems disappear as race day adrenaline pumps you up and your well-trained body and relaxed, confident mind take over.

Naomi: Oh. So, I’m normal then? That’s… well, a relief, I guess.

Shelly: Yup. Normal.

Naomi: So, should I make sure to get all the runs in, even if it feels crappy? I don’t want to ruin my conditioning…

Shelly: It actually takes less mileage to keep your fitness level then it did to build it. Dr. David Costill's research shows you can actually maintain your VO2 max or maximal oxygen consumption with a two-thirds reduction in training frequency.

Naomi: No way. It always seems like it’s much easier to get out of shape then to get back into shape.

Shelly: …

Naomi: No, you’re right. That’s dumb. It’s just how it feels. Anyway, now I’ve got more time to hit the weights and get in some aerobics classes and stuff.

Shelly: When we talk about resting here, we really mean it. This is not the time to catch up on all those chores that have collected while you've been marathon training. Read a little and rest a little. And remember to cut back or stop weight training and other cross training.

Naomi: Oh. Oops.

Shelly: If you are concerned about resting in these next few weeks in lieu of training vigorously, be assured that no training you do at this point can improve your performance—but it can hurt it.

Naomi: Huh. That’s a good point.

Shelly: Well, I do have a master's degree in exercise physiology from Columbia University. I co-authored The Runner's Handbook and The Competitive Runner’s Handbook and I am a veteran road runner and marathoner. Plus, I coach Mercury Masters and The Greater New York Racing Team.

Naomi: Hmph. Smarty Pants.

* All of Shelly’s lines come from this article, helpfully linked to by Chelle. Chelle’s running a marathon the same day as I am, but at her pace, she could probably run hers, fly to Alaska, and run mine with me. Heh. Fast chick, indeed.


Okay, I still hate tapering. But I’m supposed to. Or, at least, with my personality, it’s pretty much a given that I would.

At this point, I just want to get out there and RUN already. I’m ready and raring to go, and all this waiting is messing with my head.

Plus, I keep reading all these inspiring race reports. It seems like EVERYBODY ran a PR or a new distance this weekend, and I’m so impressed with you all. Check out this week’s Rundown for links to a bunch of really good ones.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


Picture me, standing on the side of the road screaming my head off like an idiot every time I see a neon green visor with purple letters that say TNT. That's what I am doing in spirit this morning, even if it may appear, to a casual observer, that I am lying around reading a book.

Today, among many other races and racers, many of my Team in Training teammates, who have become familiar faces after five months of Saturday mornings and many, many miles, are running the San Diego marathon.

Not that any of them are reading this, in as much as they don't know about this blog and are currently, you know, kind of busy running a marathon, but, nevertheless, good luck guys, I know you are doing fantastically.

And good luck to Sarah and Irene, too, and anyone else running a race today.

Friday, June 03, 2005

It's all in your attitude (and other great platitudes)

This post has been rambling around in my head for a while now, which doesn’t bode well for its eventual comprehensibility. But I thought I’d give it a shot.

One of the most frequent comments I’ve gotten since I started training, both on this site and in real life (real life, what’s that?) is this:

Wow. (Fill in the blank) miles! I could never do that.

Like most utterances, there is always subtext. In this case, the subtext falls into two distinct categories.

Some people say, “I could never do that,” and mean “Nor would I ever want to. That sounds awful, painful, boring, masochistic, and other adjectives that I don’t feel like listing right now. But I’m happy you’re happy!”

To which I say, “Thanks! (I am very happy. And long distance running can be all those things, and I understand why you wouldn’t want to spend your time doing it, but this is what I want to do right now.)”

But other people say, “I could never do that,” and mean “That sounds really cool. I would never be able to achieve that distance. You must be amazing.”

To which I say, “Thanks! (In fact, I am amazing. Too bad you’re not as cool as me.)”

Hee. Oh the fun I have with parentheses.

But seriously, there’s nothing amazing about running a marathon. It’s just a question of putting one foot in front of the other a lot of times.

You know the Ellen Degeneres character in Finding Nemo? I’m a lot like that. Also, I’m a huge dilettante. I like to try everything, and can only stay focused until the next shiny thing crosses my sightline. If there is a method to my madness, however, it is that I look for things with the smallest possible entry cost and the best possible payoff.

Notice how I said, “entry cost” and not “investment”. That’s because I am extremely short-sighted. I am telling you right now, that if I had to write an essay to join Team in Training, I would not be running a marathon two weeks from Saturday. (Eek! Two weeks!) But all I had to do was fill in my address and check off a size for a free t-shirt, and I was guaranteed I would be able to run a marathon in Alaska.

Of course, there were still months of training to come, but by then I was already committed.

(“Well, now we’re already committed” is a frequent refrain in my family. It can be applied to all sorts of different situations, like if it is taking forever to get a table at a restaurant, or if we make a wrong turn that leads us on a much longer detour. In a related story, “Let’s just cut our losses,” is not often heard chez Naomi.)

So my point is this: my running a marathon is not evidence of how very cool I am but rather that anyone who wants to can (and if you’re tempted, you should totally go for it).

"But what about..." I hear ya. I come up with all sorts of reasons that I can’t do it too. Just check through my archives from the last four months—specifically, any entry on a Friday. (Speaking of which, yesterday's, in retrospect, too fast 5-miler, has reintroduced Brian-the-Back-Pain into my life and left me limping all day. Which kindasucks.) But every Saturday morning, I start running and my body takes over. The mileage increases are, by design, so incremental that they begin to feel inevitable. Once you’re moving, that is.

"But what about..." No, I get it. What you're saying is that you don’t want to. Which, you know, fine. If everybody ran marathons, then there would be fewer people to fawn over me for having done it. And that, well, that would just be tragic.

But now I’m starting to understand why, back in February, it was always non-runners who warned me about injuries and dangers inherent to marathon running. The people with experience just shrugged that off and encouraged me. They knew that there’s nothing magical or impossible about running a marathon; that it was just a matter of running and not stopping until a few miles (okay, a hell of a lot of miles) later.

None of this means that I’m not inordinately proud of myself for this whole process, or that I’ll stop bragging about it any time soon. Because it’s an insanely cool thing to do, and so are all the people who choose to do it.

But the awesome comes from the decision and the dedication to follow it through, not from the physical exertion.

Because I firmly believe that anyone can do anything, (even if not everyone can do everything well).

(Does anyone else think I should have waited to post this until after I actually ran the marathon? This whole post feels like a Godsmack waiting to happen.)

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sometimes I also do other stuff

So when you live alone, you learn very quickly that things don’t get done until you do them.

(If my brother were reading this, he’d say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” If my friend Kate were reading this, she would just laugh, because, yeah.)

It has a plus side, which is that nobody makes the dishes dirty except you, and that yummy leftover curry stays in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it and also nobody is there to whine that that bathtub is starting to look gray, and was that a style choice or were you thinking about maybe cleaning it one of these days, not that there’s any hurry, I’m just curious.

But, on the other hand, as much as you might wish for dishwashing fairies or elves that also do laundry, things don’t get clean until you clean them.

So if you leave dishes in the sink and your bed unmade when you go out for a run, you should not be surprised to find things looking remarkably similar when you come home.

Except, that is, if you have the world’s best houseguests staying with you.

Last weekend, otherwise known as the Superfun Happy Friends Weekend, and also known as Beach ’05!! (with pictures!), a bunch of my college friends convened in DC (three in my apartment, and two with Tim and Jackie) for a weekend of hijinks and inside jokes and long car trips.

And not only did my friends cook for me, clean my apartment, and make my bed everyday, they were also totally cool with me taking an hour in the morning to go running or hit the gym. Even when I started whining about how I didn’t want to go, they just reminded me that I would feel great when I was done, and that there would be breakfast waiting for me when I got back.

So why do so many of these friends insist on moving far(ther) away?