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That Was Hard

“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.”
– Jerome Drayton

Okay, here it is….a blog post about my first full marathon!  Now, I know that people who have just run their first marathon don’t generally like to talk about it much.  I mean, surely this is the first time most of you have even heard about this, right?  What?  Melissa ran a marathon?  You’re kidding!  I know, I know, we marathoners are generally kind of quiet about such accomplishments and all….

NOT!

AHHHH!!! I ran a friggin marathon, people!!!

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Anthem Richmond Marathon – finisher photo

And I cannot. stop. talking. about. it.  My friends and family are going to hate me.  I just can’t stop.  Coworker: “Hey, Melissa, you want a piece of gum?” Me: “No, thanks. You know, I can’t chew gum when I run. It’s weird. Oh, hey, did you know I just ran a marathon?…”  Oh yeah, it’s that bad.

But, in a meek attempt at trying to reign in the length of this blog, I’m going to narrow down my recap a little for you.  I’m going to tell you the top 10 most important, most memorable things about my first full marathon experience.  Okay?  Sound fair?  Short and sweet, right? Good.  Then, here we go.

Marathon Memory Number 1The friendship. Oh, hands down, this makes the list. I was so blessed to be able to make this marathon trip with two good friends and fellow marathoners, Tammy and Teresa.  This was Teresa’s second marathon and Tammy’s fourth. Not only were they incredibly supportive, but they were also knowledgeable and helped me know what to expect.  It also helped to know that they would be at the end waiting for me!  (They both PR’ed in this race, by the way!  Go Tammy and Teresa!)  It also didn’t hurt to have buddies to hit up the Cheesecake Factory with after the race!  Mmmmmm.

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Me, Teresa, and Tammy – before and after

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I would have stood up for this picture, but…. :/

Marathon Memory Number 2The awesome bling!  Okay, I know I’m not going in chronological order here.  I didn’t get the bling until the end of the race. But hey, it was important enough to throw in here at the top of the list, okay?  This race had so much cool stuff for the finishers!  I got a finisher’s hat, a finisher’s fleece blanket, and a butt-kickin’ medal.  Oh, and a bagel.

Marathon Memory Number 3The funniest sign I’ve ever seen in a race.  Now, granted, I’ve never done a marathon before this one. But I’ve done quite a few races and have seen quite a few signs. Not to mention the signs I’ve seen online.  But the dude that was waiting for us at the bottom of a hill during this race takes the cake.  Now, mind you, it was 26 degrees or so at the beginning of this race, and it didn’t warm up a whole heck of a lot throughout the day.  But there, standing at the bottom of a hill that I had decided to just walk through, was a man…buck naked…holding a, um, strategically placed sign that said “Run faster, or I’m dropping the sign.”  Oh my gosh, that was the funniest thing ever!  I managed to pick up the pace a tad, believe it or not, and ran up the whole hill.  How about that?  So, thank you, naked stranger man.  Job well done.  (Okay – and don’t tell Richard – but I actually peeked when I ran by and he wasn’t actually naked.  False advertising….)

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Starting line

Marathon Memory Number 4The feeling at the starting line.  Oh, there is nothing like it, my friends. Knowing that all that hard work and daydreaming had lead me to that moment.  Standing there amongst thousands of other people that I thought I’d never stand among. It was quite humbling. And oh so awesome.

marathonme10Marathon Memory Number 5: The running. Of course. The running. I wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t love to run, right? That feeling of soaring along…knowing that I was about to go a distance I’d never gone before…ahhh.  It’s hard to explain if you’re not a runner. Just trust me. Unchartered territory is a beautiful thing to a runner. And I knew that’s where I was headed.

Marathon Memory Number 6Mile 20.  Although I was already tired and starting to hurt, Mile 20 was such a beautiful sight. My longest run to-date up to that point had been a 20-mile training run. I knew that the moment I stepped across that 20 mile point, I was somewhere I had never been before. And that was really cool.

marathonme9Marathon Memory Number 7The pain. Oh, the pain.  Hey, I didn’t say that every moment I remembered from the marathon would be pleasant, did I? I will never tell the story of my first marathon without remembering that pain. Oh my gosh! When all those marathon articles I read said, “Be prepared, it’s gonna hurt,” by golly, they meant it. It did. It was intense.  See this picture? Obviously not the most flattering picture of me there ever was. But it’s definitely the most real. You can even see it in my hands…they are balled into fists of determination. Honestly, I love this picture. It shows what it took to keep putting one foot in front of the other and get myself to that finish line. My legs did not want to continue, but my heart did. And this picture shows that.

marathonme11Marathon Memory Number 8The unbelievable amount of support.  Oh my gosh…I couldn’t believe all of the texts, Facebook messages and posts, phone calls, etc. that I received with regard to the marathon. It was amazing how many of you had my back through this. And believe me, I thought of all of you as I ran. I got a message from my mom during the race telling me how proud she was of me. From my fantastic husband saying the same and how much he loved and believed in me. From my teenage daughter who…okay, time to drop the sentimentality here…who said, “Have fun running and stuff.”  Hey, you take what you can get, right?  I got a phone call from my dad after the race checking on me and making sure I had made it okay, and telling me he was proud of me.  This is what life is all about really. Knowing that family and friends are there with you through it all. I never felt that as much as I felt it while I was running that race.  In fact, I broke each mile down to pick a particular person in my life and thank God for them.  That’s what got me through some of those last miles, believe me.

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About 0.05 away from the finish line

Marathon Memory Number 9Seeing the finish line.  Oh, people, let me tell you – there is nothing like that.  Knowing that the pain was so close to being over!  Knowing that I was about to join the less than 1% of people that know what it’s like to run a 26.2-mile race. (After seeing this crowd, I still just can’t fathom how that statistic can be right, but I guess it is! There was a moment after the race when I was explaining the feelings I was having to Richard and he commented, “There are very few people in this world who really know how you feel right now.” Wow. Such a humbling thought.)

And finally, here we are.  The end of the list.  (See?  That didn’t take too long, did it?) 😉

The final most important memory about my first full marathon experience?  The thing that I won’t ever forget for as long as I live?

Marathon Memory Number 10That feeling I got when I crossed the finish line. That feeling that even I, a blabbermouth writer, can’t seem to put into the right words. That knowing, deep down in my soul, that I did not give up. That I set my mind to do something so extremely difficult…so unbelievably hard…and that I actually succeeded at it.  That feeling of pride in myself.

As I crossed that finish line, I left so many things behind on that marathon course. Past heartbreaks, mistakes, health problems, self-doubt, insecurities….you name it. At that moment in time, as I crossed that finish line, I was one thing, and one thing only.

I was a marathoner.

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Anthem Richmond Marathon finish line – 5:28:12

So thank you, readers.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  Thank you for reading through this and for humoring me as I went through the memories that this experience has left me with. Thank you for letting me show you how very much this means to me and how it has literally changed my life.

Now, you go out and find something that gives you this feeling, okay?  I mean it.  Go.  Right now.

Life is way too short not to have moments like this one.

***

“I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.”
– John Hanc

 

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Lead By Example

“It’s hard being a girl. There are a lot of body image issues that come up and I think the best thing we can do for our kids is lead by example.”
– Cheryl Hines

Some of you may remember me mentioning a while back that I am now helping coach a new Girls on the Run team in our area.  If you’re not familiar with Girls on the Run, we are basically what the name implies…girls on the run!  We have a team of 3rd – 5th grade girls and we meet twice a week…not only to run, but also to talk about the qualities and values we need to have to be the best ladies we can be out here in this big ole world.  And believe me, I’m learning just as much as the girls are.  No doubt about it.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog.

exampleblogOne of the things the other two coaches and I have discussed is the importance of participating in both the physical activities (running, warmups, etc.) and the mental activities (lessons about our character, etc.) right along with the girls.  It’s one thing to tell people what they should do, but it becomes a whole different lesson when you show them.  It means more.  For instance, if we expect the girls to do 20 laps, then we get out there and do 20 laps with them.  If we are teaching a lesson about the importance of not gossiping, we have to make sure we don’t find ourselves in situations where we, as adults, are doing just that.  You catch my drift?

We have to not only lead these girls, but lead them by example.

Now, I thought I was doing a pretty job of this whole concept. I mean, after all, I’m currently training for a marathon…surely I’m leading by example as far as running is concerned, right?  And when we have our lessons about character traits, I’ve been willing to share personal info from my own life (including the parts I admittedly need to work on myself…I mean, who knew that listening was actually a part of the process when I’m arguing with my fiancé, Richard? Hey…you learn something new every day, right?)  But earlier this week, something caught me slightly off guard.  My “lead by example” strategy got challenged.

One of our girls was talking to me during our laps, and she mentioned how much trouble she has with her “crazy hair.” Now, this wasn’t the first time this girl has mentioned her hair, so I know it is somewhat of a sore spot with her. Like me, she has been “blessed” with a head full of curly hair.  And, as we all know, the straight-haired girls want the curls and the curly-haired girls want to give them to them.  I understood this girl’s dilemma quite well.  Taming the mane does not come easy.

So, we had a conversation that went a little something like this:

Her:  I have so much trouble with my crazy hair!
Me:  Why do you call it crazy hair? You have great hair!
Her:  You don’t understand. It’s curly and frizzy and everywhere all the time.
Me:  Oh, I definitely understand, silly. Mine is exactly the same.
Her:  *quizzical look* No, it’s not.
Me:  Well, sure it is.
Her:  I can’t tell. You always wear it back.
Me:  Well…

And here’s where I had to actually stop myself from saying what was on the tip of my tongue.  Because you know what almost came out?  What almost spilled out of my face was, “Well, that’s because my hair is horrible and I can’t do anything with it.”

Whooops.

Didn’t I just finish telling her that we had the same hair?  If I said that, what would I be telling her about her own hair?

I can’t remember exactly how I finished the conversation. I think I told her something about how as you get older, you find more ways to fix your hair and different products that make you learn to like it better, etc.  Which is true. But you know what I usually do with my crazy curls?  Straighten them. And when I don’t have time for that, I pile them in a ponytail or in a bun. I hide them.

Here’s where I need to learn to lead by example.

If I tell this little girl to embrace her curls and learn to love them…all while mine are hidden from view, is she going to hear me?  Is she going to learn to accept herself for who she is and not try to “fix” what she perceives as an error to make herself more “acceptable” to her peers?  *sigh*  I’m guessing not.

Time to lead by example.

mehairblogSo, today, my crazy curls are flapping around for all the world to see.  When I get to practice in a few hours, that little girl is going to see that she and her coach have a little something in common…curly, “crazy” hair that we are learning to accept and appreciate.  Together, we are going to show each other that this thing that makes us unique, somehow also makes us the same.  And we are going to learn to be proud of that fact…not try to hide it.

So, thank you my little Girls on the Run student for showing this old gal a little thing or two.

Are you leading by example in your life?  Something to think about, isn’t it?  The little people are watching…don’t forget that.

 ***

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Journey to Mayberry

“As an athlete, when you least expect it, you may find yourself standing on the threshold of an accomplishment so monumental that it strikes fear into your soul. You must stand ready, at any moment, to face the unknown. You must be ready to walk boldly thru the wall of uncertainty.”
– John Bingham

It’s time to talk about running again.

So, as you may remember, I’m currently in the middle of training for my second half marathon on November 9.  And, training with me, is my training partner from afar, Zoe in Australia.  (Read that Cool Story here.)  As a quick recap, Zoe and I met online through this very blog and have decided to train together for her first and my second half marathon.  Mine is an “official” race (the Mayberry Half Marathon – a small race in Mount Airy, North Carolina), and she will be running on her own there in Australia.

Well, let’s do a quick update, shall we?

We are officially 17 days pre-race.  Yikes.  SEVENTEEN DAYS.  That seems so soon….

I have spoken with the race director and he has pulled some strings and worked it out to get me a bib to send to Zoe so that she will have an official number to wear as she races (and she better wear it too – you hear that, woman??) 🙂  Here’s a picture of it before it is shipped off to Australia to its rightful owner:

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Goodbye, little bib.  Enjoy your journey halfway across the world.

Once I have completed my half marathon (which I will do – and hopefully with a time of less than 2:30), I will be awarded two medals.  One for myself, and one for Zoe.  I’ll ship her medal, together with her t-shirt, of course (hey, we all know we only do this junk for the t-shirts…) to her in Australia as well.  Eeek!  Sounds exciting, right?

Well, it is.  But it’s also scary.

This little “project” of mine has put a lot of pressure on both of us to succeed.  And let me tell you – this process has not been an easy one.  She and I both have been through quite a bit getting to this point.  At the beginning, we had our training plan all laid out…4 runs a week with gradual increases in pace and distance…we were ready to ROCK this thing.  Stick to the plan…no variances.  Go team!

Yeah, well.  That hasn’t happened.

We’re both thirtysomething-year-old moms.  While it’s easier on me having teenage children; her, not so much.  She has small children that she has to arrange to have cared for so that she can squeeze in her training runs.  And on top of all of that, she has battled the head cold from hell…TWICE.  I, too, had said head cold once myself.  (Hmmm…wonder if you can catch a head cold from 9,000+ miles away?  Ahhhem…excuse me…15,000+ kilometers away.  Google’s “miles to kilometers” function is my new best friend these days…)  And, on top of that, I got an acting gig that I hadn’t been expecting to get during training (read that blog here if you missed it), which took a little chunk out of my training…  Oh heck.  I could list a million things here, but I’ll give it a rest.  The point is this…

Life has happened.

It just has.  And it’s always going to.  There have been times that even if we were able to squeeze in our runs, we weren’t able to go as fast or as far as we had planned.  Mental ability is just as important as physical ability…and some days it just hasn’t been there.  For either of us.

But you know what?  We’re still here.

We both still have our training plans in front of us every day.  We both still check in with each other, and build each other up when we’re feeling down.  We give gentle pushes when needed, and give the little e-hugs when a push just isn’t going to cut it.  We have understood each other’s frustrations and virtually held each other’s hands, not only through the not-so-great runs, but also through the reasons that have accompanied the not-so-great runs.  In other words, we have become friends.

And that’s pretty awesome.

So…seventeen days from now, I certainly hope to report back here and tell you that my friend and I have finished the Mayberry Half Marathon.  Together.  And, if the sickness prevails with Zoe and she’s not able to complete it on November 9 as planned, then I’ll come back here and tell you on November 10.  Or November 11.  Or however long it takes for it to happen.  Because it will happen.  (And I’ll be holding her medal and t-shirt hostage until it does!  Yep.  Holding the coveted T-SHIRT hostage.  That’s runners’ blasphemy right there, but you do what you have to do…)

The point is this.  She’ll be ready.  Sometime in the near future, my friend Zoe will have completed her very first half marathon.  And she won’t have a giant group of people to run with and to cheer her on.  She’ll be doing it entirely on her own.  Her own course, her own pace, her own journey.  And that, blog-readers, is some serious bad-assery if I’ve ever seen it.

So, thus ends my “Cool Story” recap.  Tune back in here in a few weeks for another update.  And until then, whether you are a runner who is training for your next race distance goal, or just a human being training to get through whatever struggle you’re currently facing, remember these words:

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Keep moving forward, friends.  We’re all in this race together.

***

“It’s important to know that at the end of the day it’s not the medals you remember. What you remember is the process — what you learn about yourself by challenging yourself, the experiences you share with other people, the honesty the training demands — those are things nobody can take away from you whether you finish twelfth or you’re an Olympic Champion.”
-Silken Laumann, Canadian Olympian

Cool Story

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.”
– Aaron Douglas Trimble

So.  Wanna hear a cool story?

Ok, see this pic?

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That’s me on the left.  And on the right is my friend Zoe.  [Isn’t she gorgeous!?]

Ok, so it’s a picture.  No big deal, right?  Just a pic of two chicks who are friends.  Both women, both in the same age range, (both, incidentally, feeling silly taking a ‘selfie’ pic…), both smiling and happy and healthy.  I can hear you now – “Yeah?  So what?”

Ok, so we’re both runners. Is that a tad more interesting?  No?  Ok, how about this….We’re both runners training for a half marathon.  Slightly cooler, right?

Still nothing earth shattering?

Hmmm..  Alright, let’s try this – we’re training for a half marathon together.  Now, is it cool story?   Sure it is.  Two friends training for a half marathon together.  That’s intriguing, no?

Oh shoot.  Silly me.  I almost forgot the most important part.  The part we writers like to call the twist.  You ready?

Zoe lives in Australia.

I live in America.

Yep.  You read that right.

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With 14 time zones, an ocean or two (I sooo didn’t pay attention in Geography class…), and a boat load of cultural differences between us (people use kilometers?  Really?  I know about the 5K and the 10K, but you mean there are others??), Zoe and I are training partners for our half marathon on November 9.

So, how did this all come about?

Well, it’s pretty simple really.  In early May, just a few short months after starting my blog, and just days before my first half marathon, I received my first comment on here that was not from someone I know personally.  It said:

Good luck! From Melbourne, Australia!

I just wanted to let you know how much I’m enjoying your writing- I found you when I was searching running blogs as I’m a new runner myself and totally obsessed. You write so evocatively and thoughtfully, and I often find myself smiling or nodding along to your musings! Best of luck with your half, you’ll smash it!

Warm regards,
Zoë

I’ll never forget how thrilled I was to get that message.  Not only did it make me realize that other people were reading this stuff (besides my ever-loyal friends and family in real life), but someone was actually reading it in Australia!?  What?!  How cool is that?  This message was the first in what would become a banter between two women all the way across the world from each other over the next few months.  And then, when I announced that I would be training for my second half marathon in November, Zoe suggested that we train together.

So, here we are.

We’re only in our first week of training, but I intend to post a few updates along the way to let you know how we’re doing.

Isn’t this great?  Someone way over on the other side of the map is my buddy.  My training partner.  We’ve never laid eyes on each other in person, never heard each others’ undoubtedly cool accents (ok, her cool accent – my southern drawl is nothing much to brag about if you ask me…), and have never even shook hands.  In many ways we’re still strangers, but in many other ways – the ways that matter – we’re friends.

We’re just truly never alone, are we?  No matter how much we may feel like we are at times, something like this reminds us that we’re not.  Somewhere out there, there is someone not only going through whatever you’re going through, but willing to go through it right beside you if you let them.

Yep.  That’s good stuff.

Ok, so now is this a cool story?  😉

And guess what?  It’s just going to get even cooler.  So, stick around!

***

“In union there is strength.”
– Aesop