Thursday, June 14, 2012

St. George Marathon 2011

This is a compilation of some of my previous writings and leads into my thoughts about my 2011 St. George Marathon experience.

“So when is your baby due?”

“I’m not pregnant” I replied.

I almost went along with it but I couldn’t do the math fast enough to come up with a reasonable due date. The question was totally fair—no doubt, I looked pregnant.

It’s not as though I wasn’t aware of my physically unfit situation. I had just recently been to the Doctor. The skinny mini little assistant entered the room with her handy dandy Body Mass Index (BMI) chart and informed me that I was “obese” and that my cholesterol was much too high at 240, and should be under 200.

“Wait there just a minute, can I see that chart you have?” I already knew I was overweight but obese?

“I really thought I was in the ‘overweight’ range.” Attempting to defend my X-BMI title as "overweight," I only embarrassed myself even more. Did it even matter what the BMI chart said? Forget that I crossed the line from “overweight” into “obese,” I had crossed the line from “careless” into “hypocrite.” What kind of person with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics and Nutrition Science becomes “obese?” By continuing on my current path, it wouldn’t be long before I would become “morbidly obese.” Thinking about that was painful enough; I didn’t need to try it out and experience that pain too.

The Dr. prescribed me some cholesterol lowering medication which I decided not to take. I wanted to at least try to practice what I learned to preach. My Dad told me, “As long as you’re a Mugar, you’ll never be under 200…unless you take medication.”

“Okay, we’ll see about that.” I said. Was that a challenge because I took it as one?

I wasn’t tall enough to be over 200 pounds—I’m only 5’4”. I had no excuses; I was just a very good example of how the Law of Thermodynamics works. When you eat too much and don’t move enough, you gain weight, it’s not rocket science.

Not long after being asked when my baby was due, and getting news from my doctor that I was going bald, officially obese and my cholesterol was dangerously high, I got news from my kids pediatrician that two of my girls weight to height ratio was not heading in the right direction, this was a nice way of saying that they’re getting chubby--like mother, like daughter. How could I possibly expect my kids to live this healthy lifestyle I imagined when I was a classic “before”--without an “after”--picture? The only way my kids were EVER going to care about their health is if I cared about mine.

I knew I couldn’t change my addiction to food, that was too much to ask of myself yet, but I knew I could balance out my food addiction with an addiction to some sort of exercise.

It was the beginning of June 2009, and some of my friends signed up to run a 4th of July 5k. They would start training the very next morning. “I’m in!” I begged…and that was it, I was in.

I ran two miles and I almost died, my legs were like Jell-O and I didn’t even know if I could drive myself home let alone ever walk again. I HATED every second of it. Why do people run? I thought. This has to be the world’s stupidest sport! It’s not like you’re trying to get a ball in a goal. I remembered this quote I read with a picture of a runner next to it: “My sport is your sports punishment”—I completely understood. 

How could I get addicted to something so miserable? I had been noticing all the runners on the streets in my town—they were all skinny. In fact, all the runners I knew were definitely addicted by my standards and very fit. I started hanging out with them and trying to keep up with them.

I found that running for a reason was the only thing that would keep me going. That first 5k short term goal was just enough to keep me running until the 5k--so I thought.  But something changed…Could I beat my own time? I thought. I suddenly got competitive with myself; not such a bad thing right?
My first 5K with Amber and Chandice to my left

Right…But I didn’t have one ounce of motivation at the crack of dawn, to jump up out of my warm, cozy bed—in fact I was a bit zombie like and could hardly walk when first waking up. I was listening to a Dr. Laura radio show and something she said rang true for me: “It takes obligation NOT motivation to succeed on an exercise program.” So I began to obligate myself to someone almost every morning. They were depending on me just as I was depending on them, to follow through. I was a good enough friend to know that you don’t commit a friend to meet you for a run-- before the sun comes up—and then stand em’ up—not cool. I began to obligate myself even more by “pulling” people from all different walks of life into “my” new running group; veteran runners, family members, my church friends, my bishop, his wife, friends I grew up with, my podiatrist, other moms from my kid's school, moms from my daughter's dance class, new neighbors and old ones, other runners I found on the streets running at the crack of dawn, random strangers at the local yogurt shop, and even a cop who pulled me over once--actually twice.
Me, Lisa, and my sister Heidi.

Six months into my new running addiction, I averaged running 4-5 days a week, and was now down 25 lbs. My amazing veteran mentors had my long run up to 13 miles now, which I would have never done alone. I was finally starting to be able to keep up with them on occasion, especially while they were recovering from the St. George Marathon.

The network of friendships I began to develop through this common thing we all had in running was amazing. The support and therapy we provided for each other was something that I couldn’t live without. But something happened in my family life that changed everything in the snap of a finger. My husband suddenly became ill with a rare disease called Guillain Barre Syndrome and within 3 days he was in the ICU, completely paralyzed. 

My running came to an immediate halt and so did our travel plans. We were supposed to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with our friends, Rod and Lori (AKA, our Bishop and his wife). This was my husbands dream trip and we had been planning it for over a year. This trip was another huge part of my decision to start running. How could I even THINK about my need to run and socialize with my friends, when my husband could not even walk nor talk? He couldn't move, eat, pee, poop, shower, brush his teeth, and could barely breathe on his own. With four children under the age of 9 and a very sick husband, running was the last thing on my mind; although I can’t think of a time I’ve ever needed it more.

Bishop Rod, one of the most thoughtful, genuine people I have ever known, convinced me that I needed to take time for myself during this ordeal. Among a million other things he and his wife did for our family, one was that he arranged babysitting for me at 5:30 in the morning a couple times a week so that I could continue to run. I tried not to accept the gift because I felt it was over the top and self-indulgent, but they would not take “no” for an answer. I think he fully understood my dependency on the stress relieving and happiness benefits running provided.

Within a few months, my husband had a miraculous recovery and learned to walk and function independently again.  He was even able to go back to work. Things were getting back to “normal” in my family life and the group convinced me to sign up for St. George with them. They all got in, but I didn’t. I couldn’t have felt more relieved; I honestly didn’t think I could get through a marathon training program. A marathon was something I had NEVER dreamed of doing--NOT on my bucket list at all. I piggybacked the veterans through their entire training and by the time they were ready for their marathon, I was too. They demanded that I choose a fall marathon, so I picked something close by and convenient, Santa Barbara (2010). My goal was to simply finish the race and I did, in 4 hours and 29 minutes.
Last 1/4 mile of Santa Barbara Marathon 2010. Me on the Rt. and my friend Lisa on the left.

I continued with my running and weight loss efforts; the weight was still coming off, but very slowly. We all signed up for the 2011 St. George Marathon and got in this time—Woo Hoo! Signing up for this race mentally committed me and began changing me from the inside out. My relationship with food changed dramatically when I started training for this marathon. I began eating strictly for the purposes of fueling my workouts, and recovering from my workouts, not for pleasure or comfort. My taste buds changed and my acquired taste to salt and sugar was noticeably different. I only ate foods that had nutritional value. My thought processes in my brain changed too; Instead of running so that I could eat, I was eating so that I could run.

I did the full training plan with the big dogs this time, even the speed work on the track once a week. It was much more difficult than the beginner training I did the year previously. I was not able to keep up very well with these veterans, but I continued each week to do this speed training, or “barf workout” as I called it. I was running with my podiatrist who is also a 20-year Boston Marathoner so I knew I had to be doing something right.

I found that misery really does love company and that although the track workout gave me anxiety just thinking about it the night before, I continued to go and fulfill my obligation to my friends. We have the best camaraderie. We strengthen each other’s faith and often share our faith with others in the group. We open up about the challenges we face and have learned so much from each other. Sometimes we get a little personal; I have been known to get emotional while discussing my personal challenges. I have also learned quite a bit about what “TMI” is. I guess I am a complete provider of Too Much Information. We have this little saying, “what comes to our runs, stays at our runs,” and we all respect that. We share a special bond I think, and we are even known by the strong character traits we have. I have been introduced to a new runner like this, “oh and this is Kelly, she has no filter.” I like to think my running buddies don’t mind it so much that I lack a filter. Sometimes we’ll start off a run in silence and they’ll all look to me for a story, which I almost always have a few in my queue; “what do ya got for us today Kelly?” They’ve even been known to time my stories while running and when I stop talking Jeff will simply say, “44 minutes, she just talked for 44 minutes straight.” Even my bishop will keep me in check, keeping track of how many times in one run I say something borderline inappropriate and then he gives me a score at the end of the run. Like in golf, the lower the better. I have most definitely become a better person because of the friends I run with.

While packing all my stuff and preparing for St. George, my sweet--clueless about running--husband stopped me and asked, “So, are you gunna qualify for Boston this weekend?”

“Was that supposed to be funny?....Are you mocking me?....WHAT ARE YOU SAYING!?!?!?!? …..You’re kidding right?……. Why would you say that?”

I had never even dreamed of running a marathon, let alone qualifying for the Boston Marathon! I didn’t even have a clue what it would take for me to qualify, why would I? I never dreamed this. Mine was fairly simple; fat girl dreams of becoming skinny girl.

My husband had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints in Boston--20 years earlier—and apparently it was HIS dream to go back to Boston.

Now I suddenly felt some pressure, uninvited pressure I guess you could call it. I couldn’t help that I wanted to make him proud of me. I thought about all he had been through with his physical health and the commitment he made to our 4 children while I trained every Saturday morning during my long runs. Now I felt like I owed it to him.
My husband, Richard and I with our four kids

I secretly checked the Boston Marathon website for the qualifying times. It was out of my league. Not only that, but they had just dropped 5 minutes off all the age groups qualifying times. They had to weed out all the "slow" runners as the race had become too popular. I would have to run the St. George Marathon in 3:39:59. That’s almost an entire hour faster than my first marathon—impossible!

I had planned on running this marathon with my friend, Bishop Rod; our training paces are the closest in our running group. I knew his goal was to break 4 hours and that seemed like a reasonable goal for me too. I trusted him, he had run St. George 8 times. He has always been much faster than me, in training and in races; however, I did stand a chance at keeping up with him under St. George Marathon circumstances. For him, heat combined with long distance are like water to the Wicked Witch of the West. Bishop had printed me a copy of his weighted pace band for our “break 4 hours” goal of 3:59, but now I needed to see what a 3:39 would look like (but without anyone knowing.) I went on the internet and found a weighted pace band specific to the St. George course from a man named Scott Zimmerman. He had done quite a bit of research on different runners and their split times to come up with a mile per mile pace formula specific to the St. George course. I punched “3:39” into his excel spreadsheet pace band and the average pace calculated out at 8 minute 21 second miles. I thought my “3:59” goal was lofty, but at 3:39, sprinting 26.2 miles made my “lofty” 3:59 goal seem like a walk in the park. I taped my new secret 3:39 goal to the backside of the 3:59 band, then laminated with packaging tape. I made sure that NOBODY could see it, including myself…LOL. I was embarrassed that I even printed it.

We made the 6-hour drive to St. George as a group, many of us carpooling. I was riding with Joan who had run the St. George Marathon several times in her life, and had also once qualified for Boston there. We chatted about running and just about anything and everything. There were some people in our running group with outspoken plans of qualifying for Boston this weekend. Joan told me about the time she qualified for Boston in St. George. I felt openly inspired and secretly ridiculous at the same time. I couldn’t tell her about the pace band I had printed; for once in my life I kept my big mouth shut and my little ears open. “Everyone always had the ‘best advice’,” Joan told me, “The classic advice for a distance runner--‘don’t go out too fast,’ but the year that I qualified for Boston, I just went for it! I gave it my all from the very beginning. I took my chances on hitting the wall but I qualified for Boston. I left nothing on the course. Nothing at the beginning, middle or end.” she told me. I just took it all in and didn't say anything about my secret race plans, I didn’t want to jinx myself.

The morning of the race, we were all together eating breakfast in Whitney's condo. My friend Dennis was asking everyone for their ETA to the finish line, so he could calculate approximately when and where he would go on the course to cheer for us and take our pictures. I kept ignoring him, hoping he would forget about my ETA, but finally he asked me point blank, “What’s your pace going to be Kelly?” I shrugged my shoulders while one of my running buddies finally answered for me, “She’ll be doing 10 minute miles.” I just went along with it, for all I knew, I would be.

While waiting at the top for the race to start, we used the port-a-potties of course. The first time around was fine and much to my surprise, they didn’t even smell really. I was regretting not eating my typical whole grain carbohydrate diet while carb loading. The switch over to all that white refined stuff and the sweet carbs over the last two days did not help me “move.” I had to get back in line again, hoping that by the time I got to the front of the line I’d be ready to “move.” Oh gosh, the port-a potties smelled so bad now, I started dry heaving. I could feel the barf coming up, and I was about to rocket launch all the breakfast fuel that I needed for the race. I pulled my spandex up as fast as I possibly could, bolting out of that bathroom for the deepest breath of fresh air I have ever consumed. I gave up, all my friends were headed toward the chute and I didn’t want to loose anyone. Right before the final countdown, when they were just about to blow the horn, I told my friend Rod, “Shoot, I gotta go to the bathroom."

“WHAT?!!!?!?” he blows a gasket. “I’ve run this race for the last 8 years, and I have NEVER had anyone to run with! For the first time ever, I actually have someone to run with and she has to go the BATHROOM!?!?!? You’ve had over an hour! HURRY UP!” He was a little pissed off, to say the least, but trying to cover it in a nice guy, funny sort of way.

“Gosh, never mind, I’ll just wait.” (this is gunna be a LOOOOOOONG race I thought)

There were quite a few of us from our running group in the chute, but we all got a little separated. Our “elite” runners, Jeff and Kim, went way up front as they were aiming for 3:30 times and we weren’t (-; We started off pretty fast at around 8:16’s and held a pretty steady pace. I had a pretty solid race plan based on Jeff’s/Dr. Katz’s advice—to ditch my water belt, drink at all the water stations, take a gel about every 45 minutes, and RUN THE TANGENTS! Between the dynamic duo, Jeff and Joan, I think I got some pretty great marathon advice. I added some advice for myself also--to pour cold water down my back and neck at each water station.

When Bishop and I got to the Veo Volcano hill at Mile 7, the sun came up and the volcano must have been a rolling boil inside, because it immediately began to take it’s toll on Rod. I poured cold water down his back and mine. It worked for me, but not for him )-: I had heard all these horrible things about Veo from all the people I knew who had run St. George, but the anticipation of it was so much worse than the reality for me. Maybe it was the adrenaline, or maybe it’s because I live in Anaheim HILLS and all we ever do are hills. My weighted pace band was allowing me an 11-minute pace for Veo but I didn’t need it and Rod knew it too. He told me to go ahead. I didn’t. He told me to go ahead. I didn’t. He yelled at me to go ahead, all mad like. I did and I didn’t look back. Call me selfish, I know.

I came up on my friend Kelly and ran with him for a while, but then he stopped to stretch a hamstring injury and I never saw him again. Then I came up on Adam, another runner in our group. We ran for a little while but then he started complaining of plantar fasciitis problems, saying, “I should’ve paid a visit to Dr. Katz." Jeff Katz is the veteran runner in our group, he's also our podiatrist, it's kinda nice to have a running foot doctor in the group. Anyway, Adam slowed waaaaay down, so I kept going.

With regard to running, I am strongest on the down hills. I know what people are thinking when I say that...well duh, gravity sort of does that to you. But this is more than just the gravity. The difference between my uphill pace and my downhill pace far surpasses anyone else I know. It’s odd actually.

When I got to snow canyon, it was shady, and very steep downhill. For some reason I have no fear of going fast down hill and seem to just fall fast. I think it might have something to do with my childhood training in downhill skiing; my parents put me in private ski racing lessons as a teenager. Snow Canyon didn’t have any snow, but it sure felt like it; I was passing people like I was on skis and I felt great. I knew I had to be going really fast! When I got through Snow Canyon, I looked down at my Garmin and I had been running a 5:15! I needed all the insurance I could buy on that downhill and I definitely had saved up enough for my mental confidence to take on the heat and the flat the last few miles would give me. I was now on pace to take my 3:39 race, and after Snow Canyon I had just enough confidence to turn my secret pace band over.

I was officially in high gear, with my pace band switched, coming into mile 20. Still running through every water stop and making a point to stay hydrated, I started to feel slightly mentally compromised. I began talking to myself, convincing myself that it was all worth it and the pain was only temporary. I thought about my husband and all he had suffered while paralyzed and I began dedicating those last 6 miles to him. Every time I felt pain that seemed too difficult to endure, I thought about Richard. Every time I started to slow down to a pace that would compromise my goal, I thought about Richard. Several times, I thought to myself…at least I can choose to endure this pain, he didn’t have that choice. Those were six of the most emotionally draining miles I have ever endured. When I came up on mile 25, I went straight for the water stop, as I took the water I looked up and there I was, face to face, with one of my dearest friends and running partner Kim. I was facing toward the finish line and she was facing toward the starting line. I put my arm around her in an effort to get her turned around and moving with me; “Come on Kim, let’s go!” as my arm slowly dragged away, Kim stayed, appearing a little confused. She was getting a drink, a little delirious, but keeping it together enough to realize she needed water. I looked back to see if she was coming but then I turned the corner and lost sight of her. Kim was dehydrated, she barely even knew who I was. I felt bad about leaving her, but she was at an aid station, the best place she could be on the course, only 1 mile from the finish line, and the lady serving her the water was clearly aware of her needs. As I continued on to my final mile, I looked at my Garmin. I was pushing the limits! This was going to be so close that I had to sprint to the finish line if I wanted to seal this deal. I picked up the pace and it was painful. I immediately started telling myself negative thoughts--forget it, it’s over, you can't do it,--but then counteracted telling myself: You have run 25 miles of a Boston qualifying marathon. Then I began chewing myself out: IF YOU SLOW DOWN NOW, YOU HAVE WASTED 25 MILES AT A PAINFULLY FAST PACE FOR NO REASON! THERE IS NO WAY YOU ARE GIVING UP OVER 1 STUPID MILE! These were the final words I repeated in my head to keep myself sprinting, and it worked. I crossed the finish line in 3:39:39, with 21 seconds to spare.

That had to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I entered the grass area and partook of the most wonderful Blue Bunny Popsicle ever known to man and the most delicious--and my all time favorite, Great Harvest--bread on the earth. I never drink soda, I actually don't like soda, especially Sprite, but their ice cold soda was amazing, best I've ever had! Joan came up to congratulate her husband Jeff, and when she saw me standing there with him, realizing I had already finished the race, her jaw dropped, “KELLY?!?!?! Oh my gosh!...AMAZING! I am just Amazed!...WOW!”

“She qualified for Boston.” Jeff said.

“You qualified for BOSTON?!?!?!?!?” she exclaimed!

“Yeah, I think so.”

I hadn't seen the official results, so I was hesitant to say, 21 seconds was not enough to be sure. I found out later that my Garmin is very accurate and that my time was exact. I ran the tangents PERFECT, thank you Jeff, as the mileage on my Garmin read exactly 26.2.

Joan didn’t expect me to qualify for Boston, nobody in our group expected me to do that.

“Thanks for the great advice Joan” I said, “I did exactly what you told me you did the year you qualified for Boston.”

As everyone started coming in, we set up camp behind the gazebo at the park, and made a place for our fans and all of our friends to hang out on the grass together. By this time, Kim, Rod and Lisa had all finished the race. Kim only came in a couple minutes after me, and Rod and Lisa a little bit after that.
Kim and I after the race.

Kim told me to check my division to see if I placed. I sort of snickered at the thought. “No, really,” she firmly stated, “you need to check and see if you placed, you very well could have.” I ignored it at first, but about an hour later, while waiting for others to finish the race; I thought about what she said and nonchalantly walked over to check the standings, sort of embarrassed to even tell anyone where I was going, I just went by myself. I had to go straight to the gazebo to ask the volunteers to look it up because they were having technical difficulties with posting the results. The lady comes back with a 5th place plaque and hands it over to me, I looked at the paper to confirm and it was real. I actually placed in my division. It felt a little bit self indulgent and out of touch with reality to make any kind of big deal about a silly 5th place plaque, but it represented so much more than what it appeared to on the outside.
Running buddies: From Left to Right: Lisa, Heidi, Me, Kristen, and Whitney
I redeemed my cell phone so I could call Richard; it was a long painful walk to the bag pick up, but the volunteers knew that. They watched as finishers walked toward them, getting their bib numbers off their shirts. They spotted this limping whimp from a distance and when I got there they were holding my bag out for me...waiting--that was pretty amazing. I went straight over to the bathroom and changed my sopping wet spandex, then I called Richard. I never thought I would get so emotional, but I started crying. Everything we had been through together from the very beginning of my running journey came to fruition in full emotion. I thought about Richard's illness and how far he had come. I thought about his incredible recovery and then how he conquered the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu one year later.

Richard and I with Bishop Rod and Lori...oh, and our guide Eric
I thought about all the goals I had accomplished along the way: getting my cholesterol down to 185 (as a Mugar, 100% naturally with diet and exercise, thank you daddy for the challenge), crossing the BMI line from "obese" into "overweight" and now into "normal," then adding this to all of that was so exhilarating. I was living the dream life and Richard was so proud and excited. He went and proclaimed my "victory" from the roof tops. I guess he texted all my friends, his friends, and our families and told them what I had done. I began getting an abundance of encouraging text and FB messages from everyone I loved.

I am competitive, but competitive with myself. It just doesn’t make sense to compare apples with oranges, so I would rather not. My goals include getting my God given body to the most physically fit place I possibly can so that it performs at it’s highest possible efficiency. I am not there yet, and may not ever be, but I will die trying. In my efforts, if I am able to inspire somebody, anybody, to change their life to take just a little better care of the wonderful gift of a body that our Heavenly Father has given us, then in my mind, I have succeeded. That's just one more thing to add to the list, of things I have found make my life more enjoyable to live. I’m not gunna lie, I had even loftier goals for St. George 2012. With the 15 more pounds of weight I will be loosing, I was going to try taking something higher than 5th, 1st would be fun, but 4th will even do. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the cut. My friends who I train with got in on the lottery, but I didn’t this year.