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THE FINISH LINE

What an emotional journey this was.  It’s even difficult to type this because it means I am at the end of this particular journey.  Preparing and training for this marathon was an all-consuming endeavor, not just for me, but for my family as well–particularly for my husband.  As the race date approached I knew I wasn’t as in shape as I was hoping to be.  I knew I would most likely finish after the course was closed.  I envisioned being escorted off the course because I was taking too long and all the volunteers needed to go home, etc.  I determined in my heart that I would finish, no matter what, because I couldn’t go through, or put my family through, another training cycle.  I worked too long and hard to get to this point, and I needed to see it through.

I was a bundle of nerves as we arrived in Mankato, still dealing with self-doubt and battling the negative thoughts that plagued me for most of my life.  I began to pray, and I heard the LORD say to me, “You belong here.  You have every right to be in this race.”  Then, something changed in me, and even though my emotions were high, I knew I was going to make it.  I had a long list of mantras, but in the end the one that got me through was, “I will finish.  I want that shirt!” 

[For those reading this who are not familiar with marathon tradition, most race participants get their shirts when they pick up their race packets.  However, those doing a full marathon don’t get their shirts until they cross the finish line because the shirt has the word “Finisher” on it.]

First Half
The race started, and I was feeling really good.  It was awesome running the first three miles in the pack along with those doing the half marathon.  My husband followed me along the way, showing up at various spots to cheer me on, encourage me, and pray for me.  Then at mile three we split off.  The half marathon runners turned right, and I turned left.  I was alone on the course, and there was no one behind me.  Then at mile 4, a volunteer named Sarah ran with me for about a quarter-mile with words of encouragement.  Then she wished me well, and I looked ahead, the mile five hill–the biggest hill of the course was coming up.  My mantra was, “That’s my hill.  I own that hill.”  And I shouted those words to everyone along the course.  I made it to the top and at mile six I encountered one of the cheer teams who cranked up their tunes and busted their moves and celebrated as I ran by them.  It was awesome! 

At about mile 8 I caught up to an elderly gentleman also running the marathon.  His body was bent, and I guessed he was around 80, but I could tell he knew what he was doing.  I eventually  passed him and was well ahead of him until mile 18.  After passing the mile 8 marker, friends of ours, Jesse and Debbie, were there to cheer me on.  They drove more than two hours just to support me.  And, their being there was not only a blessing to me, but also to my husband.

I made it up a few more hills, around some twists and turns and approached the half-way mark, and I burst into tears.  My husband came up beside me and started praying, “Lord, the first half is run with the legs, the second with the mind.  I pray for her thoughts.”  He had some more encouragement for me, and I kept going.

Second Half
I made my way to a flat part of the course.  The flatness was welcome after the hills; however, someone decided to turn up the wind machine and I was beaten and battered.  One of the aid station’s cups of water/Gatorade were so full of debris kicked up by the wind I didn’t want to drink. 

I don’t remember exactly what mile it was, but another cheer team, and another volunteer ran with me for a bit.  She said that the cheer team was there to give me pep in my step, she even commented that my husband was there and was pretty proud of me.  I knew there was a long downhill part coming up, and I was planning on picking up my pace.  This would be miles 17-18.  The older guy caught up with me and passed me.  By mile 20, he left me in the dust, and I lost sight of him for the rest of the race.  Then I hit the infamous wall.

The wall is real.  Everything hurt.  I thought I was going to collapse.  I didn’t want to drink.  I couldn’t bear another gel.  Six more miles.  Would I make it?  Then one of the medical volunteers rode his bike up next to me.  I thought, “Please don’t ask me how I’m doing.”  He didn’t.  Instead he said, “I’m so proud of you.”  I sighed in relief.  Then, wouldn’t you know it, when I was in the most pain, there was a photographer.  I plastered a grimace on my face, raised my hands to show that I was “enjoying” this.  It’s awesome looking through the photo proofs because I couldn’t hide the pain.  The bottom of my face is smiling, but the top half is in obvious pain.

My husband decided to join me on the course for the final six miles, and he was welcome company.  I won’t talk about the annoying golf cart on my heels who was assigned to follow the final runner.  Okay, I did, but that’s all I’m going to say about that.  Miles 20-23 were through the woods, we were alone, and I wasn’t doing well.  I wondered where the “Psychs on Bikes” were, because I could really use some mental help.

We came out of the woods back onto the city streets and I knew we were a few blocks from the finish; however, instead of heading toward the end, we had to turn left and enter into the dreaded Sibley Park.  I remembered hearing someone at the start line say, “Sibley sucks.”  I discovered why.  It’s only a two-mile loop, but when you’ve already gone 23 miles, two miles is grueling.  There were twists and turns through what I am sure is a lovely park, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there.  Another medical volunteer stuck by me to ensure I made it through.  We were approaching the end, and I couldn’t believe what I saw–another hill.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!”  The volunteer said, “This is your last hill.”  I replied, “Promise?”  Eventually, we made it through, and turned left onto the final mile.

There in front of me I saw two angels in bright yellow shirts on bikes.  They were waiting for me.  I recognized one as Cindra Kamphoff, the leader of the “Psychs on Bikes,” but it was the other lady who engaged me in conversation and encouraged and energized me through the end–I found out later her name is Kate.  I had quite the entourage of volunteers surrounding me who were committed to leaving no one behind.  They stopped traffic one last time opening the way for me.  I saw the scaffolding of what once was the finish line (the FINISH banner was already taken down and put away), but I was filled with new strength and energy and ran again.  Everyone working on tearing the finish area down stopped what they were doing and cheered me on.  One of them (Beth) joined me in running the final few yards, and Maureen shook my hand in congratulations.

Jesse and Debbie were there waiting for us.  Everyone knew “Rebecca is coming.”  They later told me that someone came up to them and asked, “Why is Rebecca doing this?”  They began to talk, and Jesse asked about the time the first runner crossed the finish line.  She proceeded to say, “I admire Rebecca.  She’s the one out there doing the work.  Sure there are those that can run this in less than three hours, but Rebecca is out there now doing the real work.  She’s got what it takes.  She’s got courage.  She’s got the perseverance.  I so admire and respect that.”

Another person came up to them and said, “Are you waiting for Rebecca?  She’s out there and she’s not alone.  There’s a group of people with her, so she’s not alone.  She’s going to make it.”

Oh, and the older guy was actually 87-years old, and this was his 325th marathon!!

In the days following, I was stunned to learn that my story was shared with hundreds of people through Facebook…all inspired by my effort, and I was even mentioned in a newpaper article.  I wondered if I was in the shape I was hoping to be in and did finish the marathon in 4 hours 30 minutes, would what I did have had this kind of impact?  I realize that people were inspired because I struggled through and didn’t give up. 

For me, when God first issued the challenge to complete a marathon, I was shaken to the core to realize that it was not a metaphor.  He really wanted me to do this.  His Word to me then was, “You’re stronger than you know.  In doing this, I will release a strength in you that will surprise many.”  I believe that is happening.

I will continue running.  I registered for a half-marathon in May 2013 a month or so before this marathon, and I’m currently working on building a stronger running base and losing the rest of the weight so I can be leaner, stronger and faster.

The purpose of this blog was to keep me focused and accountable as I pressed through to the completion of this goal.  Now that this goal is complete, this blog will come to an end.  Thank you to all who encouraged me, prayed for me and cheered me on.  I couldn’t have made it without you.  Thank you, Dear Hubby, for all the time you sacrificed to support me through this.  We are better together!

Dear Hubby and me at the finish. I got my shirt!

Truly, my hope is that my story will be an encouragement and inspiration to you to face your fears and press on to do great things.  If I, the least likely runner of all, can finish a marathon, you can achieve your dreams, and I will be there to cheer you on.

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The Road Ahead

The organizers of Mankato Marathon produced a narrated video of the full marathon course I will be tackling in a little more than two weeks.

 

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Words of Encouragement

After my last blog post I noticed that the Mankato Marathon organizers posted the “Hey! Fat Girl” post by FlintLand , I alluded to on their Facebook page, so I posted this on their Timeline:

Thank you for posting the “Hey! Fat Girl” blog by FlintLand. I stumbled upon it myself during a low point in my training a few days before you posted it, and I was so glad to find it. I know some people have responded with “I was that Fat Girl,” well, I am that fat girl who will be run/walking the full marathon on October 21. When I was feeling discouraged I did a Google-search trying to find stories of overweight people who completed marathons for some motivation/inspiration. Instead I found a diatribe of negativity about people who are overweight trying to run.

I assure you that although I am still carrying 40+ pounds of extra weight and will most likely be crossing the finish line in 6+ hours, I did do the training. I lost some weight, gained muscle and increased my endurance and stamina. You will see where I am, but I know how far I came and how difficult the journey to get to the start line is for me and my family. I didn’t expect to still be carrying this much weight going into the marathon and while there will be those wondering why am I putting myself through this (why not wait until I lose the rest of the weight?), I have my reasons. I have deep, personal reasons for pushing through to the finish. I can’t quit now, or I’d risk never getting there, and I know if I can get myself to the start line chances are in my favor that I’ll make it to the finish.

For most of my life I was the fat girl who was on the sidelines of life, hidden in the shadows. It’s my time to break into the spotlight and smash the negative self-image to smithereens. I would like to have reached my goal weight by now, but the truth is I haven’t. And even though conditions are not ideal, I will be at the start line and I will give it my all on the course, and I assure you that no one will be as grateful as I am to all of the kind race organizers and volunteers for recognizing that “Even Fat Girls Do Marathons.” No one will appreciate, as much as I will, all of the volunteers who will be out on the course longer because of me. No one will value the cups of water/Gatorade, the claps and cheers and words of encouragement from the cheer zones as much as me.

I am terrified about what I’m about to face, but seeing the enthusiasm from the Mankato Marathon team encourages me to press on. I won’t always be the “fat girl,” and I consider this my first marathon. I just need to get through this one, and I’ll come back stronger, faster and leaner next year.

These were some of the comments:

From the Mankato Marathon organizers:  Rebecca- I am so proud of you! It is so inspiring to hear your story! If I could give you a Facebook hug I would!

From KM:  That is so inspiring Rebecca. You are going to do an amazing job. This marathon stuff is not easy.

I am a slowerish runner and this is also my first marathon. I sometimes wonder what makes me think I can run this marathon. I too have lost a large amount of weight with some more to lose. But the most important thing is that we are getting out there and not letting our obstabcles stop us like so many other people do!

From BSR:  You GO GIRL!! Super proud to have you in the race! I know you will find an abundance of support at this and many other events. You are an inspiration!!!

This one blew me away, From KQ (from Machu Piccho, Peru):  Distance running at any distance really falls into the category of “For those that understand, no words are needed. For those that don’t, no words will ever suffice.” It is next to impossible for a non-runner to understand the mental and physical transformation a person must go through to do a 10K, half, full or ultra marathon. What I tell everyone who is nervous is that there are no last place people, only final finshers. The last person across the finish line at any marathon last year still did something only .0017% of the country has ever accomplished. If you can show up at the start line Rebecca, the rest will just fall into place.

Words of encouragement to remember and ponder.

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Hey! Fat Girl!!

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I have been battling my weight for almost as long as I’ve been alive.  I was the fat girl on the playground who was always teased and picked last for teams, and I grew into a fat, insecure and depressed woman who is now doing everything I can to smash that identity to smithereens.  A few years ago, while praying, I felt like God was dressing me in new clothes.  Although I couldn’t see them, I felt the garments being placed on me.  I asked Him, “God are you giving me a new identity?”  He said, “No, I’m bringing you into your  true identity.”

This running journey I’m on is part of this transformation to capture my true identity.  However, I still have to battle the old one.

I joined a running group; however, I was never able to actually run with the group.  When the group takes off it’s not very long before I’m left to trudge out the route on my own.  Everyone else is an experienced runner, marathoner, ultra-marathoner, triathlete, etc.  Being the only newbie is awkward, and knowing that the kind folks who man the water stations have to be out there longer because of me only makes the burden of training that much more difficult.

While there’s no doubt that I have lost some weight, gained a lot of muscle, and improved my overall fitness level, I’m still so far behind what would be considered athletic.  I finished some races, including two half-marathons, but the closer the October 21 date comes the more afraid I am.  Can I really finish a marathon?

I decided to look for some motivation and inspiration on the Internet.  Surely, there have been others who are still struggling with their weight who have completed marathons and lived to tell the tale.  I wanted to find their stories.   Instead, I found a bunch of diatribes about why fat people shouldn’t run, criticisms about overweight people “disrespecting” the marathon because if they truly trained they shouldn’t be overweight, right?  Reading these left me deflated.  Then, I found this blog:  Hey, Fat Girl!  and was reduced to tears because these were the words I was craving!

This is a picture of me approaching the finish line of the last half-marathon I ran.  What do you see?  A fat woman who doesn’t belong in a race, or a mother and son sharing a special moment crossing the finish line together in sync?

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New Math: DLF>DNF>>DNS

I am not great at math.  Years ago I took a college algebra course, and I can honestly say that I never worked so hard and did so poorly.  The instructor was more frustrated than we were.  She stood with her arms akimbo and exclaimed, “You should know this by now!”  I huffed out of the class thinking, “Well, if I knew this by now why am I wasting all this time in this class?  Isn’t it the instructor’s job to teach?”  Exasperated, I withdrew.

Well, the purpose of this blog is not about math, thank goodness; it’s about my journey towards a marathon.  So, what does this equation mean?

DLF>DNF>>DNS

The past few weeks have been pretty rough.  After completing my first 16-mile long run, the following week I bruised my tailbone to the point that by the time my next long run came around I was only able to do six miles before an old injury point in my low back flared up.  The following week was race day–a half marathon.

This was my second half marathon.  I felt ready.  My back was feeling better, and I had a goal of finishing in under three hours.  (My first half finish time was 3:21.)  This was a much smaller race; mostly experienced runners getting ready for their next marathon.  Looking around it seemed I was one of the only newbies.  As I stood at the start line the thought that passed through me was, “There’s no way I’m not going to be last.”  Then I heard the LORD speak to me, “This is your race, your pace.  Don’t worry about them.  You run your race.”

BANG!  The race started.  As expected, although I was on my target pace, I was far behind the rest of the pack.  I had to force myself not to pay attention to the course officials speaking into their radios, “Yep, the last one just past.”  I struggled to ignore the guy on the bike behind me (another race official following the last runner–me).  I decided to pay attention to the kind folks who encouraged me with, “Good for you.  That’s the way to keep going.”  Nevertheless, according to my goal, I was on target and feeling great until mile 11 when my left calf seized up on me and pain shot all the way up through my hamstring.  So, I sort of hobbled the last two miles and crossed the finish line dead last.

Now, the decision…do I beat myself up and feel embarrassed about finishing last?  No way!  That’s why I like this equation:

The fact of the matter was that I was out there running my race, and I finished.  The best part was limping around the last bend and seeing my Dear Hubby and two small children get excited to see me.  My children ran over to me, and my four-year-old son got to cross the finish line with me, and my two-year-old daughter was there to give me hugs and eat my chips and drink my water, and my son got to jump on one of the medical station cots because it looked like a little trampoline.  My kids, nor hubby, didn’t care that I was last.  They had fun seeing Mommy run.  Oh, and I beat my previous half-marathon time by 15 minutes, and even though I was dead last, I still got the cool shirt and medal.

This past week I dealt with the pain in my hamstring that was still recovering, I tripped over some uneven pavement and scraped up my knee and the palms of my hands, and I caught a cold.  Sigh.  But the biggest battle I faced is self-doubt.  Can I really expect to complete a full marathon?  I’m still struggling with that.

Earlier I met with a wellness coach for a consultation.  Turned out he is an experienced marathoner, now age 59.  He ran his first marathon at the age of 49.  I keep waiting for someone to say to me, “Rebecca, you’re not ready.  Withdraw from this race, and try again next year.”  And I would really expect someone who has done multiple marathons to look at me and realize the ridiculousness of me trying to do this; however, after hearing my story he confidently said, “You can do this!”

I’m still having trouble believing it.

To Be Continued…

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Battling the Wall

I came to a realization that I don’t know my limits.  I’m pretty sure I’m still holding back and that I can do more, run faster and farther, than I’ve done.  The past few weeks I noticed that my recovery time is quicker.  Have I been giving it my all?  There is fear involved.  I don’t want to completely crash and be incapacitated.  I have life to live and children to take care of.

The fact of the matter is that there is the proverbial “wall.”  It does exist–that point when fatigue overtakes runners and they feel they cannot take another step.  However, the interesting thing is that distance runners don’t try to avoid the wall.  They know the wall is coming, so they prepare for it.  They develop a battle plan to conquer the wall.  They know how to keep pushing until they hit the wall, and then push themselves through it.

Did you see the movie The Truman Show?  The movie is about a guy who was adopted by a production company and his entire life is a reality show.  He lives on a fake island with cameras capturing his every move.  Everyone is “in on it” but him.   There are elaborate plans to keep him confined to his limited environment through fear.  However, at the end he decides to blast through his fears and get off the island.  The scene I keep visualizing is at the end when Truman is on the boat trying to get to Fiji.  He runs into a storm and fights his way to keep the boat from capsizing and to stay alive.  The storm calms and the skies clear.  Truman is enjoying the ride and the warmth of the sun on his face.  Then, the boat crashes into the wall and he realizes he can’t go any farther.  The most heartbreaking moment is when he starts hitting the wall with his body trying to breakthrough.

There is no denying the fact that running long distances is HARD.  It takes time.  I need to figure out how to keep going when I get tired and when I’m in pain.  It’s going to happen, and it will happen long before I get to the finish line.  I had to learn the difference between pain due to injury and pain due to fatigue, and I need to have a plan for when things get tough.

How do you keep going when you’re tired and in pain?  The answer is that you need to know you’re going to “bonk,”  and don’t allow your emotions to hijack your brain.  Learn to control your emotions.  Remind yourself why you started this journey because when emotions run high it’s difficult to remember the plan you made when you were in your right mind.  Remind yourself what you were thinking when you ask yourself, “What the *#%# was I thinking!?”  Write it down.  Refer to it often.  It is your security blanket.

“…write down the vision clearly on tablets so that even a runner can read it.”  Habakkuk 2:2

While running you need short, simple CLEAR statements when the going gets tough.  King David often did this.  Read through the Psalms and notice when he speaks to himself with words like this, “why are you downcast?  Rejoice in the LORD.”  Combat negativity with positive mantras like:

  • ROAR (on my last long run, I envisioned myself letting out a roar of a battle cry to silence negativity)
  • Stronger Than You Know
  • YES YOU CAN
  • Pain is weakness leaving my body
  • It’s a hill; get over it

Another key is to be sure you are fueled properly.  Watch your nutrition and hydration.  Make sure you have the proper fuel in you before you actually need it.  Once the fuel is depleted you cannot restore it on the run.  If you get short of breath or develop other pain you can slow your pace and recover and then keep going; however, if you deplete your fuel stores you won’t be able to re-energize.  The key is to drink and find an energy source you can consume on the run.

I’m also learning that it’s good to know my limits, but what good will come of beating myself up over my weaknesses?  Everyone has them.  Instead, I need recognize my strengths and do them better.  I have a plan, and remind myself of my plan often.  How do you develop a plan?

  1. Determine your goal.  Mine is to complete a full marathon on October 21, 2012.
  2. Analyze the possibilities.  Know what you’re getting into.  The amount of time it will take to train properly.  Know what to do when things get difficult.
  3. Select a training schedule.
  4. DO IT–put the training schedule into practice.
  5. Evaluate.  Be sure to consider what you did well.

Luck is where opportunity and preparation meet.

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Getting My Rear in Gear

A couple of weeks ago I, along with my Dear Hubby, kicked off my full marathon training season by running a 5K–Get Your Rear in Gear.  My goal was to finish in less than 40 minutes, and my official finishing time was 34 minutes 39 seconds (keeping in mind my first 5K finish was more than 43 minutes).  


The Colon Cancer Coalition organizes these races throughout the country to raise awareness of and to raise funds toward research to find a cure for colon cancer.  In addition to the fact that I work in the Division of Colon & Rectal Surgery at Mayo Clinic, I also have two friends who are battling other serious colon diseases and were in life threatening situations the week before the race, so, even though they weren’t fighting cancer, I still ran with their names on my racing bib, and I held them in my heart and prayer as I ran (both are doing much better, by the way!).  


It was good for me to run this race after experiencing the Med City half Marathon.  The Med City race was more focused on the runners’ accomplishments (I trained, I ran, I finished, I got a cool shirt and medal, etc.); however, running a 5K for a cause is so inspiring, and the 5K distance isn’t very intimidating so it brings many less experienced runners to the starting line who feel that they are doing something to support a loved one by running.  

Then, the following week was my first long run.  Summer is here in Minnesota; no doubt.  I’m experiencing a new season in running–learning to run in heat and humidity is completely different from running in the winter. Both are equally as challenging and require different strategies.  Winter running is all about clothing; summer running is all about hydration.  So, even though I have some experience under my belt I feel like I’m having to start over from square one and re-learn how to cover the distance.

It was already close to 80-degrees at 7:00 a.m. and even the most experienced runners in our group were apprehensive.  I was armed with my Nuun-laced water and sporting my orange Mankato Marathon in-training shirt.  The group was running 10 miles, though my training plan only called for 8.  I thought I’d give the 10 miler a try.  However, with the intense heat I cut it back and did 7.75 miles (close to the 8 miles my training plan called for).

For my mid-week runs I decided to go to the gym and use the “dread”mill since we are under some excessive heat warnings with heat indexes in the triple-digits.  Running outside is much more enjoyable, but dangerous in this kind of heat.  Nevertheless, I got the miles in, and I’m ready for this Saturday’s long run–as ready as I can be at this stage.  The good news is that the weather is supposed to cool down a bit with temperatures in the 70’s during the morning.

Getting my rear in gear for this season, and looking forward to all God wants to teach me.