Sunday, February 26, 2017

Clarity



I firmly believe that what you believe, you become. While running in the Chicago Marathon this past fall, my Garmin signal cut out in the first mile and was intermittent throughout the course. With the loss of my pace lifeline, I ran by feel and at one point found myself running upfront in the 3:00 pace group. With limited training and absolutely no expectation of a 3:00 finish, I felt like a spectator among athletes of a caliber not my own.  And so when the wind picked up and I started feeling the distance, I willingly receded to the back of the pack, and at some point not distinctly beknown to me, I made my way to the slower pace groups, 3:05 and 3:10. In the same fashion in each pace group, I made my way from firmly upfront to dangling off the back of the pack. However, despite running scattered paces throughout the course, I finished proudly, joyfully, and in complete awe in 3:11:39, as it was a decent P.R. following  a very difficult comeback. It was a glorious moment of conquer against my perceived odds; I will always remember the Chicago Marathon as one I ran with all my heart. However, I can’t help but reflect and wonder: did my beliefs, or lack thereof, hold me back? If I believed I could run a 3:00 marathon, could I have hung on when the going got tough? Did I cut myself short?

After three months of recovery and casual running, I begin my training for the Cleveland Marathon tomorrow, which by coincidence happens to be in the first week of Lent. If you’ve been following my training (or if you know me even just slightly), you know I most certainly don’t believe in coincidences; something special is bound to come of this perfectly timed synergy. In his beautiful, heart-warming, enlightening book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.” There has been so much clarity in my perspective since reading his book; there is a level of contentment and peace that comes when you recognize and better understand the love of Christ in your heart. With that said, my goal for Lent and for my training this spring is to connect my heart with my mind, knowing that I can accomplish all the extraordinary goodness He has planned for me if I move forward confidently, patiently, and faithfully according to His time and His plan. I know I’m capable of running a 3:03:30 marathon (an average of 7:00 minutes per mile), and aiming for anything less at this point in my running career would be out of insecurity and laziness. The time is now to try to make this happen, as I will (hopefully) have some pretty exciting obligations this fall that will likely prevent me from being able to take on training. Working to make this happen is going to require a good plan, mindfulness, unrelenting determination, and trust in His plan; I know I have my work cut out for me on many levels.  

Although I considered looking for a new training plan and perhaps a coach to make sure I attempt this wisely, I’ve had too many other commitments over the past few months to dedicate the time and resources to seeking and building the trust I’d need to move forward with something new. Finding the time to write this blogpost has been challenging enough! So, I’m going to once again wipe off the dust on my good ol’ McMillan Training plan and focus on 12 weeks of solo training. I’ve managed to P.R. in every distance on this plan, and most importantly, I enjoy it. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…right? I do plan to tweak it a bit, cutting it down from 16 weeks as it is intended to 12 weeks, as less has proven time and time again to be more for me. I successfully trained 10 weeks for Chicago, and believe an extra two weeks will be just the right formula to have me fit but not burned out prior to getting to the start line. I also plan to stagger my training paces, dedicating weeks 1 through 3 to 3:10 paces, weeks 4 through 6 to 3:07 paces, weeks 7 through 8 to 3:05 paces, weeks 9 through 10 to 3:03 paces, and weeks 11 to 12 3:10 paces. Weeks 9 through 10 will serve as my “peak” weeks, and weeks 11 and 12 will be my “taper” weeks. I also plan to get in at least one half marathon, which will likely be the Tow Path Half Marathon in early April, and perhaps one or two 5ks.

To help with my "belief" training, I have my Chicago Marathon finisher’s certificate posted on my refrigerator with my current P.R., along with my new goal inscribed underneath it; hopefully by seeing my goal time each day, I will come better to believing it as I’m tirelessly squeezing in each training workout amidst the chaos of everyday life. I know I’m capable of achieving a 3:03:30 finish, and also I know that working toward this goal is a process, and most certainly not an end in and of itself. In the Book of Joy (another amazing, must-read book that dissects Joy from a Buddhist and Christian perspective), Douglas Abrams describes the Dalai Lama’s perspective saying, “Whether or not we succeed often depends on many factors beyond our control. So our responsibility is to pursue the goal with all dedication we can muster, do the best we can but not become fixated on a preconceived notion of a result. Sometimes, actually quite often, our efforts lead to an unexpected outcome that might even be better than what we originally had in mind.” All things considered, only the Lord knows what will happen on Sunday, May 21, 2017, but I’m most certainly excited to embark on the journey to find out! 


(My "belief" training! **Just for clarity: I was the 220th female, not overall; perhaps someday...LOL!)


My spring marathon training experiences of the past have not been the most pleasant (feel free to read through any spring blog post from 2011 through last year if you’d like to find out why, LOL). From all my good, bad, and ugly experiences, I know that focusing on only one training run at a time, constantly listening and responding to my body, seeking medical advice when I need it,  and adjusting my plans as I go will be vital components to fulfilling my goal of connecting my heart with my mind. As said in Hebrews 12:13, “Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.” I plan to make straight my path, knowing that this path by which I walk is not my own, but His. He does not challenge us to push our perceived limits without guidance, and so I plan to train carefully and close to Him through this Lenten season, and thus with clarity. With this clarity, I know that each training run for this marathon is for the greater good of more than just myself alone, but to further enrich my relationship with Him and to bring an abundance of light and goodness to others along the way.

May God bless everyone through this Lenten season. Happy Spring training! 

<3 MP



Friday, December 30, 2016

The Why of MP



After allowing myself a week of no running and a few weeks of light trotting, I decided to give the remaining few weeks of fall to training for a few short distance races. My goal was to aim for a 5k P.R., as I was still on a high from the P.R. train of the Chicago Marathon and felt I could carry this momentum with me into a shorter distance race.  As I was working though my November training and planning for the upcoming Cleveland Turkey Trot, I was jolted one Sunday morning by the sermon given by a priest at my church. He asked us to reflect on what we do, and ask ourselves if the things we do are for Christ. If the answer is no, then we need to ask ourselves why we’re doing it. If it’s not for Christ, then who is it for? And should this be something we are pursuing? In our secular, politically correct, business-oriented world, I find it more important than ever to ask ourselves why we do what we do, and identify who it is we are serving. So, while sitting in the pew, pensive and eager, I began doing an inventory of the things I do in light of what he said. Just about everything I commit myself to at this point in my life passed the test except for one thing: running.

Running requires a certain level of selfishness that has always made me uncomfortable. To ensure I don’t deny other life commitments,  I dedicate a narrow range of time in my day for it, and am therefore extremely inflexible when it comes to meeting up with running buddies to commiserate in the pain that help us grow into better runners. I have spent a great deal of money on entrance fees, hotels, travel, shoes, nutrition, and medical costs over the years, and haven’t been as truly conscientious of this as I should be until recently. Speaking of medical costs, I’ve burdened my family with terrifying phone calls from paramedics who’ve found me on the side of the road on three different occasions, in addition to the burden of my fibula injury that had me completely dependent on their assistance for 7 weeks. I’ve sacrificed Friday nights with friends and Saturday morning soccer games with my nephews for long runs and races. My passion for running ultimately gave birth to this brutally candid blog, and at one point a Twitter account by which I tweeted each detail of every single workout and race as consolation for the inherit selfishness of my beloved hobby; it has been my hope that through social media communication, sharing the good, bad, and ugly of my journey, I could turn something seemingly self-centered into something empowering and inspiring for others. Even in doing so, and knowing that I have accomplished this mission in more ways than I likely am aware, I couldn’t help but reflect on the priest’s words and began repeatedly asking myself: "Who am I running for, and why?" Later that night, while texting with my big sis about my internal dilemma, I told her I was going to go for a run and pray on it. As soon as I hit “send” and re-read the text, I laughed to myself, as I had my answer written on my phone in black-and-white. As selfish as running may be, something in it in the most mysterious way always connects me back to God, helping me better understand who I am, pushing me to grow into a better version of myself, and helping me help others along the way. But, even with this answer looking me bold in the face, I still wasn’t completely sold and still harbored some concern about the meaning of running for me moving forward. Before deciding on a commitment to spring marathon plans, I decided to give myself some time to do some deep reflection, pray, and let the answer found in my heart guide my way. 

As the days leading up to the CLE Turkey Trot approached, I decided to run the 5k race over the 5 mile race. I was not feeling up for the longer distance, and told myself that if I hit a homerun, aka a 5k P.R., I’d call it a racing year. When I woke up Thanksgiving morning, I knew the 5k race was the right choice over the 5 mile. My gas tank was feeling low, and I was not feeling particularly energized or enthusiastic about racing long. As I made my way into a drizzly, dreary, but never the less beautiful downtown CLE, I parked my car and hopped onto the streets for a warm-up. As I was making my way past the 1,000s of runners, I took a peak down an alley way and saw a homeless man picking out of a dumpster. As I continued on my way, I was overwhelmed by the image of what I’d seen, and felt a deep sensation of the guilt of privilege. Here I was, blessed to be one of the 10,000 runners burning calories and enjoying myself before having  a dinner of plenty with my family, while there are people stuck in the cold rain eating out of dumpsters in complete solitude among us. I decided to loop back around, not exactly sure why or what I’d be able to do, but felt compelled to go back never the less. And as quickly as I passed and went back, he was gone. I couldn’t get the image of the shadow of him off my mind, and the feeling of passing him in the motion of all the other presumably privileged runners around me. This image was particularly vivid when I made my way into the Marriot to use the bathroom knowing that I had the privilege of care-freely doing so, whereas others of a different appearance are denied such a right. This thinking stayed with me throughout the race, a feeling of sadness overcome by gratitude for all the blessings I have, and an awareness of all that could be taken away in a moment. It pulled me through a comfortable but hard pace by which I earned a 3rd overall female finish with a 18:41, 6:02min/mi P.R. As I crossed the finish line, suspicious of a short course and not particularly eager to celebrate a seemingly nice P.R., I decided to make my way through the streets of CLE for my cool down. As I did my cool down, I made a point to make eye contact and smile at each homeless person I passed. In doing so, it was my hope that maybe they felt noticed as humans, in the image and likeness of Christ that we all are, and perhaps feel a little less lonely and caste out on this particular day dedicated to gratitude.  No smiles were returned to me, but rather looks of puzzlement. I left with hope that underneath it all, something good came from it, although I will never really know for sure. I took the energy of the day with me to my family, and enjoyed the gift of all the love, time, laughs, and amazing food the day had to offer me.  

Although I had achieved the P.R. that should have concluded my race year, my short course suspicions were igniting the perfectionist flames in my mind, leading me to the Reindeer Run 5k in Lakewood the following Sunday. Any decision made solely to settle perfectionism is likely a foolish one. And a foolish decision this was. Throughout the entire week leading up to the race, I was completely physically exhausted. I was in bed at night by 8:45pm when my day allowed, and up by 5:15am as I had to be despite my body begging for more sleep. I had a 48 hour migraine from Thursday through Friday, that finally subsided by Saturday. Despite my body telling me it was done, I was determined to prove my P.R. on Sunday on the flat-fast Lakewood course that I had run a 19:04 on the previous year. I fueled up on both Friday and Saturday nights, and was feeling confident I could make it happen. Perhaps, a little too confident…

When I woke up with the sun shining and the feel of a fairly comfortable December morning temperature, I quickly hopped out of bed and rammed my foot into a huge frame jutting out into my hallway. OUCH…it hurt, and it was a sign of what was ahead. Without getting into all the details, the Reindeer Run was a disaster. From the moment I began my warm-up, I was feeling deflated, my right foot felt dead, and I was ready to get the race over and done with well before it even began. I just wanted a P.R. and be on with my Sunday, in other words, my focus was solely on the outcome. Extremely greedy, indeed. And when the race horn went off, I plunged my way on to the course and pushed. And, WOW, did it hurt. I was breathing heavy, my legs felt like bricks were attached, but I pushed hard anyway.  I knew it was going to be a tough pull, but I still thought I could do it. As I came to the first mile marker, my pace was way off…I was in the upper 6:30s! I was working so hard, it was a beautiful day, and yet my pace was a solid 30 seconds off of where it needed to be. I immediately became inundated with negative thoughts, angry with myself for not listening to my body, feeling like a complete fool. In my self-pity, I was passed by two ladies, and was told I was fourth female by a spectator. I felt like I was running against a river current with no clothes on; I was working so hard yet completely embarrassed by my performance. After crossing through mile 2, I finally started getting it together. I looked down to my watch, and was in the 6:00s. Knowing my pace matched my pain, I re-gained confidence for a strong push to the finish. I passed by one of the chicas who passed me earlier, trying to get her to pull through with me but she let me know she was spent. When I heard 19:00 at the 3 mile mark, once again I started getting smashed with that feeling of defeat, but pushed through any way. I finish 19:37, 6:20 min/mi, 3rd overall female by chip time, but started in the pack rather than upfront, and was snatched for the 3rd overall spot by gun time from another chica. I was extremely frustrated by my performance, and disappointed to end my race season in such a foolish, shameful way. 

I thought about perhaps getting in just one more “prove yourself” race the following weekend, but it would be after a week of no running. I was super wiped, and my body needed to heal. Additionally, the temperature dropped dramatically, and I could hardly stand outside long enough to open my car without having a temporary shiver-seizure. And with the cold temperatures, came lots of snow, which helped me step away from racing in 2016 for good and accept my accomplishments for what they were. After all, if 19:37 is a bad last race, I’ve come farther in my running career than I’m giving myself credit for! In fact, like all bad races, there was a lot I learned from that intended in-and-out experience, highlighted for me by Chuang-tse, a Taoist writer mentioned in the Te of Piglet (which I highly recommend, but be sure to read the Tao of Pooh first; Taoism is so good for the soul): 

“An archer competing for a clay vessel shoots effortlessly, his skill and concentration unimpeded. If the prize is changed to a brass ornament, his hands begin to shake. If it is changed to gold, he squints as if he were going blind. His abilities do not deteriorate, but his belief in them does, as he allows the supposed value of an external reward to cloud his vision.” 

Running a race solely for a P.R. not only drains out all the joy of the experience, it blinds you and inhibits your ability to perform to your greatest potential. My successes in running this year came when my sights were not tied to the outcome, the Chicago Marathon which ended up coming with a nice P.R. in addition to an awesome experience, and my failures came when I couldn’t see past the outcome, the Cleveland Marathon by which I was determined to hit a 3:03 finish time, but ended up injured before I could even make it to the start line. When I limit my focus to a P.R., I somehow fall out of sync with my body and everything falls apart. As one who is extremely goal-oriented and has accomplished a great deal because of this, I don’t believe abandoning goals will help me improve. But, rather than putting all of my focus on the goal in and of itself, I have to make it about the experience and trust that the results will come with it when it’s meant to be. Rather than putting my faith in a set pace and time, I have to put my faith in doing my best and trusting God to help me know what that is. If I could describe my Chicago Marathon experience in one word, it would be confidence. I had absolutely no confidence in my limited training, but all confidence in how I felt that day, and in God who brought me there and was going to get me through. If I can apply this confidence in who I am and in God in all aspects of my life, I know in His time I can accomplish whatever it is that is tugging at my heart. 

So, with that said, what is tugging at my heart?

God. I plan to continue pursuing my relationship with God, and work each and every day to carry out that of which He has created me to accomplish.

Family. I plan to continue working to be the best daughter, sister, aunt, Godmomma, cousin, and friend I can be, and ENJOY my time with those I love so dearly. 

Giving. In particular, I plan to be conscientious of giving of my time to others, no matter how busy life can be. Additionally, I plan to give 15” of my hair this year to Wigs For Kids once my pony tail reaches that length. 

Travel. I plan to head back to Europe this summer. My trip last summer opened up a door for me that has changed my perspective eternally. I am SO excited for the history, culture, food, architecture, connections to new people as well as the spirits of my distant ancestors!  

Learning. I plan to do lots of reading, from books of those who are kind enough to make recommendations for me, and also from those books that pull me in while I’m wandering aimlessly through Barnes and Noble. Just about every book I read this year, in one way, shape, or form, felt like a gift from above; my list is below (I’m happy to lend out any that are mine, just let me know!). 

Teaching. I am so beyond blessed to have a profession that is my passion. I hope to share all I learn with those in my classroom, as well as with those in my everyday life, and to continue to work to improve my craft so as to help others bring out the best in themselves. 

Running. As long as I keep my focus on Christ through it, and not on a desperate attempt for an outcome, I hope to run in the Cleveland Marathon this May! I know I will make mistakes, and I’ll need to adjust my thinking from time to time. My plan is to give CLE the same minimalist approach I gave to Chicago, trust my ability, and have faith that God will help me know what my best is that day; more to come on that in my next post. 

All these plans are God willing, and ALLELUIA to that, as His plans are always WAY better than mine! :-)

I hope everyone has a wonderful end to 2016. Make it a Happy New Year!

<3 MP



MP’s 2016 Reading List (in order of date read, not preference):

Breakthrough
The Name of God is Mercy: Pope Francis
The Happiness Advantage
All the Light We Cannot See
Great Expectations
Me Before You
Siddhartha
When Breath Becomes Air
The Color of Water
The Rosie Project
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light
The Light Between Us
A Man Called Ove
In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better
Things Fall Apart
The Great Gatsby
Be the Miracle
The Tao of Pooh
All But My Life
The Te of Piglet
How Bad Do You Want it?

In progress for 2017: A Dog’s Purpose

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Follow Your Heart: Chicago Marathon 2016



On a snowy, cold Monday February evening this year, I was mindlessly cross training on the elliptical, stuck in day dreams about adventures past and those to come. The Chicago Marathon came on my mind, and although there isn’t too much detail that specifically stands out in my mind from when I ran it in 2009, the overall experience is one I’ll never forget. This was my second marathon and my first big city running adventure, and much to my surprise became a turning point in my running career. Without much focus in my training, I improved my marathon time by over forty-five minutes, and missed a Boston Qualifying time by a minute and some odd seconds.  It was a tough run and a discouraging finish, but it motivated me to do the work to achieve goals I never would have dreamed possible. With these memories on my elliptical mind, I considered for a moment possibly running Chicago that following fall.  After this quick consideration and my mind on to something else, I hopped off the elliptical, looked in the mirror, and noticed I had my Chicago Marathon 2009 t-shirt on.  Just as I was ready to assume this to be “just” a coincidence, I checked my email later that evening and saw an email from the Chicago Marathon about upcoming registration. This is no joke! I did some research on guaranteed entry, and my Glass City Marathon 2014 time made the cut. As one who does not believe in coincidences, particularly two in a row, I knew God was talking to me; I was meant to run the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 9, 2016 and so I started making plans. I had already planned to run the Cleveland Marathon that spring, with an aggressive goal of a sub-3:03, and figured Chicago would be a good “enjoy the experience” follow-up marathon.

As always, things didn’t go as expected. I ended up injured 10 weeks into my training for Cleveland, and was out of running for three months. I ended up traveling to Europe in June and North Carolina in July, shaking the ground I’d been walking on for years; my perspective on just about everything changed in more ways than this little blog will ever allow me to express. When the end of July came around, I had to make a decision. I was already registered for Chicago, but only had 10 weeks to train. My orthopedic doctor assured me I was healed and ready to go, but I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up. I had maybe 20 miles of running in me going into my training, my physique matched my lack of fitness, but something inside me felt compelled to at least try. With a series of check-in appointments set with my orthopedic doctor, my old McMillan training plan laid out with paces that were uncomfortably slow but matched with my current level of fitness, and many, many prayers, I decided to give it a chance. My goal was to make it to the start line healthy and energized, and to enjoy the experience of one of the world’s biggest and best marathons. 

The first week of my marathon training was incredibly humbling. After easing back in with no problems last fall, I expected the same transition this time around. However, for whatever reason, I was further behind that I had realized. I was extremely out of shape, my speed work was embarrassingly slow, and my first long run, 10 miles felt like 50. I was literally gasping for air trying to make my way through, my legs felt like they had bricks attached to them, and I was running 8:30min/miles. This continued on for the first few weeks of my training, and I started to think that maybe my good running days were behind me. And, to be honest, I felt okay with it. Like I said, much of my perspective had been shaken over the summer following a difficult year, and I was willing to accept whatever was to be. I was feeling good, had no abnormal pain, and was truly enjoying my training. 

After a few 5k races, one of which bringing to light more than "just" running thanks to my beautiful Grandmother (see: http://runningwithlipgloss262.blogspot.com/2016/10/for-rosemary-cleveland-race-for-cure.html), things started to click into gear. As cooler temperatures made their way into Northeast Ohio, my runs became easier and I could feel myself progressing. I started to slowly increase my intensity, but forced myself to stay patient and to keep my long-term goals in the forefront of my mind. After pulling through a tough experience at the River Run Half Marathon on September 11 with a 1:30 (see: http://runningwithlipgloss262.blogspot.com/2016/10/it-was-beautiful-morning-for-one-of-my.html), I could feel my potential knocking on the door and it was time for me to let it open. 

Post-Painful River Run. Pushin' out a smile because the photographer was really sweet and I didn't want to be rude. LOL!


After the River Run, I had only four weeks of training left before race day. If I could get in a solid 18 mile and 20 mile long run, and at least one good tempo run, I was confident that I’d be golden to not just make it to the start line, but to cross the finish line with a decent effort. With life at an all-time crazy busy, physically and mentally, getting in these runs with quality was difficult. My 20 miler was the trickiest to schedule, so I ended up at the Tow Path at 6:00am, a time that worked for well me but didn’t exactly correspond with nature. Without paying attention to the fact that the sun wasn’t to rise for yet another hour, I eagerly arrived to a pitch black and desolate CVNP, and was forced to change my plans accordingly. I literally laughed out loud for a good five minutes as I sat there in the dark parking lot. I attempted to get on to the pavement to stretch but felt too foolish (and pretty scared!), so I got back into my car. This moment definitely put things back into perspective for me. Most things in life, we simply can’t control. We have to be adaptable, slow down our busy minds, and trust that God will help us get things done if it’s His will. And so I waited in my car for a good forty-five minutes, enjoying my coffee in peace and quiet, and when the sun came up, I was on my way.  I ended up having one of the best long runs I can remember,  managing a comfortable but challenging 7:32min/mi average, much different that my painful 8:30min/mi 10 mile run from just a few weeks prior. I drove home from that run feeling more confident than ever that, God willing, I would have a positive Chicago experience. But I only had two weeks to go!

With trust in my training thus far and my current level of fitness, I decided to sacrifice those last two weeks of training and tapered. I only had 8 weeks of true training under my belt, but something in me was telling me it was enough; I knew in my heart I was set. With a great deal going on in my life outside of running, I wasn’t going to argue, and so decided to faithfully follow my heart! It helped me relax, have time to accomplish what I needed to with more ease, while catching up on reading, rest, and good food. 

When marathon weekend rolled around, I was feeling healthy, energized, and beyond excited to take on Chicago. With my little travel bag packed tightly, I made my way to the bus station downtown to catch the Megabus to Chicago. After an 8 hour bus ride, I made some super sweet running buddies, and together we Ubered our way to the Expo. While walking in to the Expo, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I felt so immensely grateful to be there healthy, full of energy, and injury-free, in addition to this being the second time in my life I’d been given the opportunity to take part in this incredible event. After a few loops around the Expo, I hopped into another Uber to make my way to my hotel, to discover that it was a half mile from both the start line and the finish line; it could not have been more perfect! After a little bit of walking, dinner, and a stop at the market, I was cozy in my hotel room watching tv, saying a special prayer on my Vatican Rosary, and was ready to fall into marathon sleep (Marathon sleep= laying in bed without moving with your eyes closed, hoping time will pass quickly because you’re too excited to actually sleep) with words from Luke 1:37 written in the 2nd Joyful Mystery, “Nothing is impossible to God,” soaring through my mind and nestling into my heart.

When I sprung out of bed that morning, I knew it was going to be a good day. I put on my special purple singleton, bought for me by my baby sister and Goddaughter for my 33rd birthday, my purple visor from Chicago in 2009, my Boston Marathon 2011 loud, proud green shorts, and my favorite arm warmers that have traveled more distances with me than I ever could possibly calculate. I was eager and ready to go, feeling blessed beyond measure to have the chance to run my best. This marathon wasn’t about anyone or anything; it was just about that moment. No past races were on my mind, it was just the here and now. I truly felt free without a worry in the world. 

After lots of hydration, coffee, a little breakfast, and my gear bag packed, I was set to go and made my way to the streets of Chicago. It was in this moment that I knew it was going to be a GREAT day. The weather was truly perfect and there were happy runners everywhere; I immediately made running buddies on my way to the course. I was shocked to learn that Chicago is classified as a World Marathon Major, bringing in people from all over the globe! I met people from England, Germany, the Netherlands, and my favorite being an extremely enthusiastic guy from Japan who’s run 118 marathons!!! The people I met before the race even started was in and of itself such a sensational experience. 

Security was on point, ensuring a safe experience was to be had for all 300,000 runners and the millions of spectators. We were divided into about 10 different corrals, making a huge marathon feel like a small one! The corrals were loaded with Gatorade and water stations, in addition to accessible porta-potties with waits no longer than 5 minutes. It was AMAZING; I was very, very impressed! I found my Cleveland running buddies, hung out with them for a bit, and then made my way to my start corral. The corral assignments were based on your recent running times; you couldn’t choose your corral. This was awesome, because it helped to ensure you were running with people at your ability level and REALLY helped make running through the race course smooth from start to finish. While making more running buddies in my corral, I started to verbalize my goals, something I hadn’t yet done up until this point. My goal was to finish uninjured while enjoying the experience and running my best through each mile. I felt confident that my best would be around 3:10, but I was only going to do so as long as my body let me. 

When the gun went off and we crossed the start line, I had to work hard to keep it together; I was so emotional! I cut the emotion as soon as we crossed under an underpass and my Garmin lost signal; I was in this thing alone! The 3:10 pacers (although VERY cute) seemed young and a little too funny (one of the guys was peeing on the side of the road in the first quarter mile), so I decided to ditch ‘em and do my own thing. At the Expo, I picked up a 3:10 pace tattoo and pasted it on my left arm. With the course clocks at each mile, I felt good about giving it my best and syncing it with the times listed on my pace tattoo. My Garmin came back on, but it couldn’t give me a consistent signal. So, I stuck with my new plan: I just ran what felt right. And it felt SO GOOD! 

The course was literally alive; spectators covered every inch of Chicago. I’ve run several other big city marathons before, including Chicago, but in this moment I was just in absolute awe. The spectators were fun, uplifting, spirited, and positive, kindly sacrificing their Sunday mornings to cheer on a bunch of crazy runners! The music, funny signs, and the chants make the experience the spectacle it is; the big cost in the entry fee is most definitely accounted for with this constant support, encouragement, and entertainment. I have to admit that the spectators carried me through this race; THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, city of Chicago! 
Love you, Chicago!!! <3


With my just “go with feeling good” mentality, I was running with the 3:00 pace group for a few miles. I knew it was fast, but it didn’t feel fast, so I just went with it. The marathon is SO hard for many reasons, particularly with how slow you have to run to conquer the distance; it’s a tricky mind game. Slowly, I faded from the 3:00 pace group and I ended up with the 3:05 pace group. I’m not sure exactly when I faded from them, but eventually I was crossing the half-way mark in 1:32:24. I was way ahead of 3:10 pace, and started feeling the distance, particularly in my back and in my abs. Although my breathing was under control and my legs were okay, I knew I needed to run this last half wise. The marathon is hard for so many reasons (have I already mentioned that?), in particular for how unpredictable every mile can be. You’ve got enjoy the miles that are good, and hang on when they’re tough. I said some special prayers to St. Teresa to give me the strength to hang on without pushing myself beyond my limits, and around mile 16, I got a little tug in my heart.  I had run a great race thus far, and definitely had enough in me to get to the end strong if I ran patiently and comfortably the last 10 miles. I decided to pull down my arm sleeve over my 3:10 pace tattoo, and from that point forward I just ran by blind effort. I didn’t check my watch for the next 7 miles, and was having so much fun with the crowd and making my way through the beautiful, vivacious city. I learned later that my pace dropped significantly during these miles, but my effort felt the same in comparison to the early miles so I was none the wiser in the moment. 

All smiles nearing mile 23!


Once I got to mile 23, I took a peak at my pace tattoo and knew I was golden for a P.R. and should be right around 3:10 at the finish. I decided to enjoy the glory of those last few miles, try not to do anything stupid to mess up all the work I’d done up to that point, and went on auto-pilot glide-mode. Somewhere in those miles, the cute 3:10 pacers caught me. Clearly they had a plan that worked, but I didn’t have it in me to hang on to ‘em. I was feeling good with my glide, knew I was in for a P.R., and was willing to pass on a sub-3:10 as long as I got to the finish in one piece. As I crossed through mile 25 to 26, people started to drop like flies on the course; it’s so hard to watch that happen so close to the finish. Emergency crews were carrying a guy off the course, and I couldn't help but feel helpless and a little flustered, and nervously mumbled to the guy next to me “We’re going in the right direction, right?” And he said, “YEP, WE’RE DONE!” I pushed the little incline to the finish, turned the corner, and saw 3:12s on the clock. Knowing I was in the 3:11s chip-time, and comfortably coasting through, I was in utter shock. I was literally laughing and crying because it was just too surreal! The announcer said, “WELL, someone looks a little happy!” and I started screaming, “YEAH YEAH YEAH!” fist-pumping in the air, Jersey-style.  I have no idea what prompted the fist-pumping; I guess I just wanted to hit something and all I had was air! The crowd ROARED as if they knew me, and WOW is all I can say about how that made me feel. 
 
I crossed the finish line, hands in the air, still laughing as I was still in complete shock. All bones were intact, I listened to my body, and I had a blast throughout the entire course. Most importantly, I knew I ran my best and never lost sight of what mattered. I was ecstatic, probably looked like a mad woman, and it felt amazing. I was announcing to everyone who’d listen, “I’M NOT EVEN GONNA BE SORE, I FEEL GREAT!” The emotion from everyone in that moment, in particular the international runners, is something I’ll never forget. It was truly beautiful.  Oh, and my official time was 3:11:39, a 7:18min/mi average, almost a 2 minute PERSONAL RECORD!!!!! It was icing on the cake; my time could have been a half hour slower, and if in my heart I knew it was my best I would have been satisfied. It was an awesome feeling of conquer; this entire experience is tangible proof that nothing is impossible to God. 

Post-Chicago smiles!!!


After I made my way through the finish line party, I went back to my hotel to change, grabbed lunch at a cute pub off of Michigan Avenue where I had my celebratory burger and fries, and then made my way back to the Megabus for my bus ride home to the CLE! Nothing could peel the smile off my face and the warmth in my heart, not even a stand-still traffic jam plus a delay at our rest stop that added an extra hour and a half to our bus ride! 

So, what did I learn from all this? Number one: the marathon is REALLY hard. VERY hard. It’s an iconic distance, and we love the challenge it brings into our lives and all the life lessons that come along with it, but it is most certainly brutal and every bit full of insanity.  No matter how many times I run marathons (this was number 13 for me), it never gets easier. You can’t fully prepare for all of the variables that impact your performance; you just have to train your best, listen to your body on race day, follow your heart, and run smart. You have to run uncomfortably slow in comparison to a 5k, and trust you are doing what’s right to carry you to the finish line. In fact, 5k racing and marathon racing are totally different ball games. You can be a great 5k runner, and not be able to master the marathon, and vice versa. In fact, I’m still unsure of which race is my strength, because I feel still haven’t yet fully figured out either distance!  

Number two: build a relationship with a doctor you trust. I felt confident going into this marathon because I was under the supervision of an orthopedic doctor, Dr. Cohn, who I’ve built a relationship with since my fibula injury in 2014. He tells it to me like it is, not how I want to hear it. He cares about my health, and understands my goals. He’s smart, experienced, and I highly respect him. I’m not sure I would have run Chicago, or any other marathon for that matter, if it weren’t for his expertise and medical guidance.

Number 3 (one of which I’ve been working towards since the summer and one I’ll be working towards fully understanding the rest of my life): we need to have a close relationship with God. I’m constantly asked, “How do you do these things all on your own?” My response used to be, “I dunno, I just do?” But my new response is, “I’m not doing it on my own!”  I’m just following my heart, trying to be a better person each day, in the light of He who created me who is by my side. Always.

Number 4: life will always be busy. I feel like I’m constantly hustling from one thing to the next, and I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon. It’s just how it is. But when we can surrender to the moment and just enjoy it with who were with amidst all the hustle, life is REALLY good. Amazing things happen when we are paying attention to them, not dwelling on what we did yesterday or what we have to do tomorrow. Stop worrying about the busy, and enjoy the moment! 

Number 5: follow your heart. It takes practice, but life is much better lived when we listen to our hearts and maintain faith when it isn’t what we want to hear, or seems beyond what we are capable of achieving. It wasn’t until my feet were on the streets of Chicago that I could fully feel my potential for that day. God wants more for us than we could ever dream; we just have to believe it and surrender ourselves to His plan. It’s not easy, and something we have to remind ourselves of and work towards understanding every day. We have to remember that no matter what, nothing is impossible to God.

Where does this bring me now? I’m not exactly sure. Despite my post-race optimism, I was definitely feeling the marathon the week that followed. I was extremely sore and physically drained; I probably could have slept for 24 hours straight if life allowed me. But, life doesn’t work around my crazy running schedule and so I took some time off and have been easing back into it. I may run a 5 mile or 5k race in November and/or December if my body is feeling up to it, but I plan on taking all the time I need to fully recover. I may attempt a 26.2 this spring, and/or one next fall, as I’d like to figure out how to get closer to 3:00. It’s a crazy and aggressive time goal, but I feel I have the potential to do so, God willing.  In the meantime, I plan to adjust to some life changes, enjoy my P.R., LIVE like a normal person for a little bit (whatever that means!), and perhaps pursue some new challenges. We shall see!

I am beyond grateful for every aspect of this entire experience, and everyone on this Earth and above who supported me along the way. The Chicago Marathon will forever have a special place in my heart. <3

Happy Fall, everyone! GO TRIBE (still love you, Chicago!)!!!