21 November 2013

Turtle vs. Sludge

I belong to quite a few running groups on Facebook and I follow a few of my favorite bloggers and their running escapades.  I’m always interested when someone calls themselves a “turtle” and then goes on to explain that their personal best has “only” been 2 hours and 33 minutes.  I wonder if that’s a turtle, exactly what am I?  My personal best came 2 years ago and I crossed the finish line at 3 hours and 36 minutes.  My personal worst was 4 hours and 49 minutes at a race in Wyoming that tried to kill me.  I average between 3:46 and 4:00 so if 2:33 is a turtle, what am I?  Frozen sludge trying to go uphill?

I’ll tell you what I am.  I am a runner.  Not in the traditional sense, nothankyouverymuch, but in a continually redefining sense.  I toe that start line in the hopes of 1) meeting the cut off time and 2) finishing strong with my head held high and my body exhausted.  Most of the time I accomplish both goals.  Sometimes I don’t.  But it doesn’t keep me from signing up for the next race nor does my sludge time prevent me from thinking of my achievement as any less than anyone else’s out there.  Yes, we all travel the same distance but no, the distance is not the same.  My battles on the course are different than anyone else’s – they are unique to me, they are owned by me – and I will not demean someone else’s course by trying to compare it to mine.  There’s a start and there’s a finish but what happens in between those two points has as many stories as there are runners.

As I get ready to head to Tulsa, Oklahoma to participate in the Route 66 Half Marathon, I find myself wondering if I could be a “real” runner and finish the course in a decent time.  I am saddened that there’s a part of me that doesn’t consider herself a “real” runner and I wonder where that comes from.  Does it come from my other runner friends who are showered, fed and rested before I even get to the 5k left mark?  I don’t think so – all of my “fast” friends are incredibly supportive of me and celebrate my finish as if it were their own (you know who you are *cough* Amanda, Jackie, Deb, and Deb, Jim, Michelle,…).  Does it come from the groups I belong to that have this conversation with each other?  I don’t think that is the case either, because I’ve never really been one to listen to “group think” and “group judge” and I love an underdog.  I think it comes from my own insecurity and doubt.  And that insecurity and doubt works together with the mean Bethany during my race.  The mean Bethany that tells me I’m not good enough, don’t look the part and have no right to be out there.  Mean Bethany sucks.  And when Mean Bethany gets together with Mean People Who I don’t Know Who Tell Me My Effort Isn’t Good Enough, defeat is only a step away.  I’ve got to silence Mean Bethany because, well, she don’t know jack.

So I’ll go to the Expo in Tulsa on Saturday.  I’ll be a part of the Blogger Forum I was so graciously invited to.  I’ll sit amongst the runners who are faster than me (really, you’d have to be almost dead to not be faster than me) and Mean Bethany will tell me that I don’t belong.  But Strong Bethany, Determined Bethany, and Humble *cough* Bethany will drown her out.  Because I do belong there and I do have insight to share, encouragement to spread and celebration to take part in.  And then I’ll go back to the hotel and lay out my race gear, post a photo, and lay down.  I won’t sleep, because I seldom do before a race, but I will dream of pushing myself just a little more than usual and come across that finish line in 1) the allotted time and 2) with my head held high.

21 June 2013

Unfamiliar Territory

March 8, 2014

Nine months away.  That's enough time, right?  To develop, organize and implement my first attempt at being a race director?  The idea scares the shit out of me.  And yet, I move forward.

The market is saturated with organizations and people "putting on races" and there are good ones out there.  There are races that can suit all levels of people - or so they say intend.  But very few actually welcome/make feel wanted the "back of the packers".  The Des Moines Half Marathon does a good job.  And so does the Williams Route 66 Half Marathon, even offering up incredible bennies for members of the Half Fanatics, but overall the offerings for 3 hour and 45 minute plus walkers are limited.  

I am one of those s.l.o.w walkers - my best time is 3 hours and 36 minutes (Yea! Run Like Hell! Portland) and my worst came in at 4 hours and 46 minutes (it almost killed me - Medicine Bow, Wyoming) and I am consistently in between those two times depending on mood, weather, shoes, excuses, whining, whatever.  Whether the course advertises a 3.5 hour time limited or 7 hour time limit, when I get to the finish line, the treats have been picked through and everyone has either gone home or is on their 2nd beer.  It's kind of anticlimactic, you know?

I've had this "itch" in the back of my mind for a few years now - I've identified an issue, now why don't I do something about it?  Or I could just sit back, continue to pay good money and continue with my bellyaching about "there's never any support for us back of the packers" - wah.  Makes you shed a tear, doesn't it?  So I am going to do something about it.  I'm going to put away the "what ifs" and bite the bullet.  My goal - to put on an event that seasoned runners and first timers (and back-of-the-packers) will feel value and appreciation for their incredible effort - whether they hit a new course record (and being a new course, the first person to finish will hold the course record!) (Hmmm, I really should market that idea - come!  Be the Course Record Holder!!!) or walked across that finish line 5 hours after they started - both efforts celebrated.

I've really got to work on that mission statement.

This scares the shit out of me.  As I've already stated.  And will probably state 12 million times more before March 8th, 2014 arrives.  I'm afraid of failing.  Of not having enough participants.  Of having too many participants.  Of not thinking of everything.  Of thinking of everything.  I am scared of total, epic failure.

And it's with that fear that I move forward.  I've picked a date.  I've contacted the local running club to make sure I'm not conflicting with their calendar.  I've poured over the event listings from the Chambers of Commerce and Visitor Bureaus of the area I live in.  I've checked the national race schedule to make sure I am not "competing" with their population in a general area.  Unless Striders (our local running club) changes their calendar, March 8th is a decent date.  

This is what I imagine will be the turnout for my event
Next is to send in the Special Event Permit application that is just sitting on my desk.  But I need to name the event.  And I need to come up with a name for my "organization".  And I need to send it in with the $150 Special Event Permit fee.  I need to do that soon.  But here's where my creativity comes to an end - I just can't think of a name for the event.  The next day is "Spring Forward" so I thought to play on that but other than "Spring Forward Half Marathon", I can't come up with a thing.

Once I get the date approved and in ink, I can start on everything else - sponsorships, fuel, t-shirts, goodie bags, volunteers, medals, and the list goes on and on and on and on.  

If I look at all that must be done, I freeze and I begin to doubt that I can do this.  So I'll look at the event as a whole and then zoom in on one particular step.  And right now, that step is to name the bloomin' event.  This one little thing is keeping me from submitting the application for the permit.  But it's just the permit, right?  I can call it "Something Shiny" on the permit and then change the name when I finally decide on one, right?  Probably not.
And this will probably be the actual turnout

Why do I think I can do this?

The tingle in my knees, is that fear or excitement?  And what happens if this is a success?  And what happens if it's not?  Lifetime experience and opportunity are often wrapped up in the tingles in your knees.  Time to shit or get off the pot.  

And I beg forgiveness for the profanity...

14 June 2013

Skirt Chasing in Louisville

(and it's pronounced LEWIS-VILLE here in Colorado, folks...)

This past weekend I was scheduled to attend my friend Rain's wedding and run the Hatfield and McCoy Half Marathon. I say "supposed" to because I was - I signed up for the race, committed to Rain to be in attendance and even talked my dear friend Amanda into not only signing up for the race as well but being my "plus one" at the wedding.  But procrastination hit, airline fees laughed, work happened and my plans were put on hold.  

When I first registered to the the Hatfield and McCoy, flights were reasonable.  I could actually get out to The Boonies Louisville, Kentucky (and via rental car to Williamson, WV then to Knoxville) fairly economically . . . 4 months ago.  2 weeks before the race, not so much.  2 weeks before the wedding/race and flights were $100 less than a round-trip ticket to Scotland plus add on the rental car, hotel and food?  I think not.  Which worked out because work required that I be in Denver for the weekend to meet with a snake charmer car dealer recruiter and water people (apparently the water industry is going to be facing a severe labor shortage in the coming years and the car dealer recruiter wanted me to do his job for him while he collected his "finder's fee") which meant that not only was I going to save a little money by not flying/driving all over the south, but I now had an opportunity to do a race I had my eye on - the Skirt Chaser Half Marathon in Louisville, CO (coincidence between KY? Perhaps not...) put on by Skirt Sports, a Colorado company.

Before my meeting on Saturday, I made my way to Boulder where Skirt Sports has their HQ and shop.  With my registration, I got a gift certificate to use in their store and I thought I would at least be able to get some socks or something.  My experience with running skirt inventory, with the exception of Sparkle Skirts, has been that the skirts - and any active wear, for that matter - are made for the typical "runner girl".  Basically - they're not made for people of any dimension (and I have a LOT of dimension) so I was prepared to buy tons of socks and perhaps a water bottle with my gift certificate.  Fortunately, I was positively let down in my assumption.  Not only did they have dimension skirts but they had them in variety - skirts, shirts, tanks - were available in my size and I was wonderstruck.  And thrilled.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  I didn't get socks.  But I did get a new skirt and a water bottle.  Yea! Skirt Sports!  Now I have TWO stores that I think of as my personal outfitters!  Wahoooo!

The average person, looking for attractive, comfortable active wear will have a hard time understanding the sheer excitement that I felt by being able to go into an actual store and find my size.  Not in bright yellow flower prints on neon green background or huge-ass applique boats, anchors and whales strategically placed to make one look like a buoy warning of shallow water, but actual attractive clothing that you feel confident wearing.  This is what Skirt Sports did for me.  It gave me affirmation that I am worth providing running skirts for because, while I may not set any world record out on the course, I AM OUT THERE and deserve comfort and class while dripping sweat from every pore.  Thank you, Skirt Sports!  Y'all rock!

The Skirt Chaser event was basically a female event but it did have the occasional male runner, scattered about for character.  I guess to have a "skirt chaser" event, one must have those who want to chase the skirt and it's much more diverse if its inclusive of all those who chase skirts.  Or it could just be that it was called that because the finisher award for this event was not a medal, but rather, a skirt.  Who knows.  Your guess is as good as mine.  But in any case, I digress.  The race was organized by Skirt Sports, had a majority of female participants, had an expo "manned" by mainly women and was pink.  And it was one of the best-run races I've done (and I've done a lot) (this is where I brag and tell you that this race was my 29th Half since October 2010) (and this is where you tune me out cause, really, who cares?).

The heat was a huge concern of mine.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I start whining about the heat the minute the mercury goes above 68 and I don't quiet down until it comes back down.  It baffles me continually that not only did I pick something that generally requires warmer weather but regularly takes place in full sun and full heat.  So because of the concern of the heat (it was 80 degrees at 8:00 am the Saturday before the race), I asked for permission to start early.  I shared that I would carry my own hydration (water) and fuel (food) and that I wasn't concerned about an "official" time but I just wanted to get a jump start on the course before the sun wilted me like water dissolved the Wicked Witch.  Permission was granted and I started my course at 0630 (as opposed to the official start time of 0700).

I wish I could say that this race was easy, that my stride was strong and that I didn't have any of the nagging self-doubt plaguing me from the beginning to the end.  I wish I could say that my shins behaved and that they didn't fill me with pain for the first 2 miles.  I wish I could say that I didn't entertain any idea of quitting, of finding a short cut, of being disappointed that while I started early, I was still last.  But I can't.  The heat, combined with that obnoxious voice in my head telling me that I am not good enough, did everything possible to cut me down, to make me doubt and to make me feel like an oompah-loompa (dressed stylishly, mind you) waddling along embarrassingly slow.  I had grandmas, 7 year olds, men in skirts, and women pushing strollers pass me.  But I kept going.  Every few steps I would think I could do it and every few steps I would wonder where I could quit.

At mile 7, I was warned of the hill approaching and at mile 7.1, I saw the hill and my resolve weakened a tad.  But I had just been passed by a man in a skirt who looked like he was out for a lovely little stroll and I put my head down, told the voice to shut up and started up the hill.

The beginning of "The Hill" - that's the guy in the skirt.

This hill was a killer.  I think it was about 1 1/2 miles long but it felt like it was about 10 miles long.  And as you can see by the picture, there's no shade, no relief from the sun.  And the sun was gruelling.  At about this point, it's about 9 or so in the morning and I still had over 6 miles to go.  I do believe "Oh shit" was a frequent, and loud, outburst.  But what was I going to do?  Put out my thumb and hope someone would give me a lift?  I don't think so.  So I took each step, exhaled each breath, and tried to focus on something other than the words that were whirling around in my head.  I entertained the thought that women wore just their bras out on the course because it was the only socially acceptable way to go topless in a society where men could do it for anything - whether or not they should.  I looked at people's shoes - and wondered why they weren't causing them as much pain as mine were.  I gagged on someone's perfume as she rolled on by me wondering if she carried her perfume with her in her race belt.  I admired the mom running with her 7 year old and wished I had started this lifestyle so much earlier so that I would do these with my daughter.  I thought about training more, as I always do, and blasted myself for not training, for not taking this seriously, for not doing it right.  Then I yelled at myself for being negative and told myself that I was my own worse enemy.  I thought about never doing another half marathon again.  And then I thought about the regret I would carry for not working towards my goal of completing one half in every state.  I thought about past boyfriends and wondered what they ever saw in me.  I thought about the incredible scenery and how amazing it was to be out in it.  

And then I crested the hill.  And I looked down at what I had just climbed.  And a huge-ass smile came across my lips.  I mean, seriously.  Who wouldn't smile at that view?

Once I recovered my breath, gave a fist bump to the guy at the top encouraging us on and took a swig of hydration, I headed out and began looking for Mile NINE.  I hate Mile NINE.  Hate. Hate. Hate. HATE.  But it gives me hope for Mile Ten so I look for it each and every time.  The course now led off of the road onto a trail in some of the most glorious open space ever.  The path was rough, with pebbles, rocks and twigs lining it but the view over to the Rockies was gorgeous and the wind, blowing through the prairie grass was gloriously mind-numbing.  I couldn't focus on the voices in my head when there was so much beauty to behold and so much sound to absorb - crickets, birds, people walking/running - it kept me occupied.  I stopped wondering where I could quit.  I stopped looking for a hidden short cut and I stopped secretly hoping that my knee would give out so I would have to quit.  But I couldn't ignore the rapidly growing collection of pebbles in my shoes so when I saw a bench overlooking the valley and into the mountains, I had to stop.

Little did I know, I stopped at the unmarked "Mile NINE"

After I dug out the pebbles in my shoes, I got up and continued along the trail - wondering where in the world Mile NINE was hiding and absolutely sure I had already passed it.  Eventually the trail wound me back to where I entered the open space and I asked one of the workers where in the world Mile NINE was hiding because I didn't think I could continue on until I knew where it was and that I would soon cross its barrier.  She handed me some Skratch (a really good hydration product - oh so much better than Gatorade) and said,

"Honey - you've got less than 3 miles to the finish!"

I hugged her.  This savior of mine who spared me Mile NINE.  She got a big, sweaty hug.  And she didn't care.  Have I mentioned how wonderful the volunteers of this race were?

With renewed vigor and the mantra, "less than an hour now!" pumping through my head, I whipped out my iPod and turned on my tunes.  I regularly do "less than 3 miles" as my "training" runs so I knew I had this.  Not long and I'd have some ice cold water, perhaps a banana and my finisher skirt.  I was so going to Rock. This. Out!

And as quickly as the renewal came, it went.  It felt like I had been walking for MILES and every time I looked down the path to the finish area, I saw the path taking me further and further away.  This is not cool.  To have the finish area within view and lead people away from it.
My "WTF" Face

Eventually, ever-so-slowly, I came to the finish line.  Despite what I had felt, I hadn't actually walked MILES out of the way but the appropriate amount to bring my course to 13.1 miles.  13 point one freakin' miles.  And it didn't kill me.  That dangerous voice of mine is quieted now, for a time, but this course it almost had me.  The voice and the heat led to one of my worse times on a course but I finished it.  And I've got the skirt to prove it.  And a banana.  I got a banana.


23 May 2013

Mile High, Elephants, Topless Men, OH MY!

Colfax Half Marathon

May 19, 2013

I have done this race before.  When I first started nurturing this crazy hobby of mine and way before I decided to do one race in each state, I found the Colfax Marathon and thought it would be fun.  In 2011 it had a 3 ½ hour cut-off.  Which I missed.  By 9 minutes (I still was allowed to finish and collect my medal).  This year it had a 4 hour cut-off.  Which I came under.  By 15 minutes.  Not really an improvement (actually, I got slower), but it’s nice to have that cushion.

This year the race organizers changed the route.  Instead of the majority of the course taking place on Colfax Avenue, they wandered the course through the Denver Zoo and then around other streets that weren’t Colfax.  Only about 1 ½ miles actually took place on Colfax – which isn’t a bad thing – Colfax isn’t the prettiest (or shadiest street in Denver) and I actually enjoyed the new course better.  Except for the 2 miles that went by every restaurant in town.  I was hungry.  And without money.  Or time.  But the best part of this course happened about mile 11.4 – firemen.  Without shirts.  Wowza.

But I get ahead of myself…

I was successful in talking my friend Amanda into doing this race with me by telling her that the course ran through the zoo – “You’ll get to see elephants, Amanda!”  “Sold!”, she said.  And then I told her about the firemen who would be in attendance.  After she wiped the drool off her face, she registered and I had my weekend companion all lined up.  It’s a strange combo, elephants and topless men, but I do what I have to do to bribe my friends.

Packet pick up this year was located at Mile High Stadium (nka Sports Authority Field at Mile High, formerly known as Invesco Field at Mile High, but it will ALWAYS be just Mile High for Coloradans) and I was in heaven.  It made me wish for football season.  It wasn’t the roomiest of packet pick-ups but it was fairly quick and had free parking.  And the view.  O.M.G. it was amazing.

Just look at that skyline!

At packet pick up, the firemen were present and Amanda got all flustered.  She bought their calendar, took a picture with them and forgot her name.  For about an hour afterwards she was still flushed and flabbergasted.  It was quite entertaining.  And I think the firemen got a kick out of her, too, tho I imagine they probably experienced that reaction frequently over the 2 days of the expo.
Our race was scheduled to start at 7:00 am Sunday morning but in order to get to the start and find parking, we had to leave the hotel at 5:00 am.  When my alarm went off at 4:00 am, I began my usual dialogue with myself over the whole insanity of not only willingly getting up that early but PAYING for the privilege as well.  My rant sounded something like this (cleaned up, tho – I have quite a potty mouth at 4 am): “What in the world am I doing?”, “Who in their right mind gets up this early on a Sunday?”, “Why don’t I just go back to bed.  No one will miss me.”, “Dammit – Amanda’s here.  I HAVE to get up.” And on and on and on while I put on my outfit, got my gear ready and headed to the car.  Fortunately, once I’m at the location the energy of the impending race takes over and I get excited, giddy, even, at the knowledge that in just four short hours I will have another medal to add to my quickly growing-crowded medal rack.  I really do love race morning.  It’s the whole getting up and out thing that sucks.
When we finally found parking (they really have to do something about that whole parking issue – you would think that the parking attendants would actually KNOW if there were parking spots in their assigned areas), we had 45 minutes until our Half Fanatic picture meet-up and 90 minutes until the start of our race.  So we hung out in the car until we were just so bouncy from anticipation that we had to get out.  We visited the porto-lets (disgusting already) and then went to our meet up point to wait.  Pretty soon we found our fellow loonies and the pre-race photo was obtained.

Shortly after our photo, we wandered to our corrals and I said good-bye to Amanda.  I then had to take the required self-portrait.

Don't those people behind me look so thrilled?  They're amazed at my self-portrait capabilities.

Finally the race started and eventually I found myself crossing the start line (last corral = a heck of a lot of waiting around time).  A fellow Half Fanatic that I was standing with, Cheryll, kicked off and I began my 2 mile warm up.  I don’t know what it is, but for the first 2 miles of any distance that I do, my shins absolutely kill me.  I always know when I hit the 2 mile mark because the pain goes away and my pace picks up.  Perhaps it takes 2 miles for my body to realize that I am actually serious and just gives up trying to make me stop.  Whatever the case, the first 2 miles and the point from mile 9 to mile 11 are killers for me.  I’d love to figure out how to get past all that nonsense but for now it’s a pretty good mileage indicator.
The race wound through City Park and into the Denver Zoo where we were greeted by this sign:
Not many animals were out (they’re smarter than the average half marathoner) but I did get to see pelicans, a monkey, a Canadian Goose and her goslings and energetic volunteers with creative signs like “There are only 500 wild Somali Asses in the World. These are the kind of asses we want to keep around.” The volunteers and the signs made the time go by quickly and I found myself enjoying the zoo.  I generally don’t like zoos but this was peaceful, pretty and a good distraction.  Before I knew it, I was coming out of the zoo, hitting mile 3 and ready to get down to business.
I had a pretty decent pace going.  Even with the shin pain for the first 2 miles, I was between 16:15 minute miles and 16:40 minute miles.  I was actually on pace to hit a personal best.  I was excited at that prospect and I think it propelled me onward.  Good music, a beautiful sky, amazing volunteers and I just kept plugging along.  Sweat dripping down my face, my feet starting to swell and pound against my shoes (I really need to get some summer shoes) and I was still plugging along.  I said “thank you” to every volunteer, every policeman, that I encountered because they were keeping me safe and on the right path.  And then I saw the fire station ahead.  The course actually wound THROUGH the station and I was promised a cornucopia of topless firemen, just waiting for me to give me a high five and a wave.  But when I got there, no half-dressed firemen awaited me.  Just fully clothed public servants wishing, I’m sure, that I’d hurry up so they could close up their station and get on with their day.  I was highly disappointed.  But it didn’t slow me down.  They were out there, I was out there, and we were all smiling.  So off I went, no visions of six-pack abs pushing me along but knowledge that at the end I could get a beer and take off my damn shoes silently charging each step.  My pace was good and I didn’t feel like I was dying – a big improvement over the last time I ran this course.
My nemesis on a half marathon course is Mile 9 and my inside voice.  They collaborate together effectively to slow me down and make me doubt myself and this time they came on strong.  I hit mile 9 and my heart sunk.  I still had a little over 4 miles to go, the sun was beating down on me, the water stations weren’t close enough together and I could feel my toes being pounded to a flatness that only comes from smashing them with a hammer repeatedly.  I hate Mile 9.  But I pressed on.  My pace didn’t really suffer and I figured that if I could get to Mile 10, I’d still be ok.  I turned up my music and tried not to concentrate on the pain that radiated from each toe as each foot hit the ground.  I set my sights on someone to pass and made it my mission to get by him.  When I passed him, I found a new target.  And then a new target.  And then a new target.
I was just focusing on a new person to pass when my wandering eyes came across an oasis on the course.  There, before my befuddled and amazed eyes stood my half-naked firemen!  Yippee!!!  They didn’t lie to me afterall!  I just had to get a picture.  I mean, really.  Who wouldn’t?


Amanda had the best idea, tho.  She fainted and had to be revived…
Spirits lifted, I continued on my course.  My pace suffered, tho.  I jumped up to an 18 minute/mile pace and I never thought I would ever finish.  I have the consolation in knowing, however, that only one person that I passed (Cheryll) passed me again.  So there’s that.
I finished the Colfax Half Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 47 minutes and some odd seconds.  My 28th half marathon and the 8th race I’ve run in Colorado.  I’m pretty sure that if I get some “summer” shoes, I’ll mitigate the 5k crash at the end.  That and train.  I suppose if I put a little effort into it and trained I could knock my time down.  But I don’t seem to have the attention span to seriously train.  Cause there’s always something shiny to distract me.