Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chicago's Hot Chocolate 15K..!

How about another race after a marathon?

This wasn't my plan exactly when I signed up for the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K. I wanted to do the race last year but couldn't because of work. This year though, I was off and signed up without realizing it would take place just 6 days after the marathon.

My friend Elizabeth and her boyfriend Jim were running the 5K portion of this event. We met up early the morning of November 5th and went to the start line. It was FREEZING and the race was delayed due to an accident along the course somewhere.

Once the running began I couldn't feel my feet. It took about two miles of slow running due to the crowds to get warmed up. Forty thousand runners were up and going this morning as opposed to the 1,125 runners in Atlanta.

I ran the whole time. I finished.I drank a cup of hot chocolate and ate chocolate fondue on various goodies such as a banana, apple slices and pretzels. It was pretty running through the Loop but I'm learning quickly that big races like this one aren't my cup of tea. It's stressful to run with so many people. I like a lot of space.

I'm still glad I did it. Elizabeth, Jim and I met for brunch and I stopped by Intelligentsia to see Jeff. No more races for the end of the year but I do have another challenge in mind...

The After..!

Whoo hoo! Jeff and I made it to Atlanta the morning of Oct 28. We rented a car, checked into our hotel downtown and drove to my parent’s for dinner. I’m extra giddy, happy to have him with me, wanting to soak up everything about the city and my previous life here. I want to bottle it up to keep with me forever. It’s as if my eyes can’t take enough in. I want to be everywhere. I also want to talk Jeff’s face off, share every single one of my memories with him as we drive passed places I used to frequent.
Mom made a beautiful, delicious dinner of spaghetti and buttered bread for us. The table setting was gorgeous and we ate off her fine china. My aunt and grandparents joined us. It was so nice to see everyone, to take a little break from life as I currently know it.

The next day Jeff and I went over to the race expo at Atlantic Station to pick up my race number. It was a bit chilly and I started re-thinking wearing shorts for the race. I bought a purple pullover jacket that says “Atlanta marathon” on the back of it. I also couldn’t live without a “26.2” magnet, finally happy to be able to buy one.
Even after picking up my gear this still doesn’t feel real. I keep waiting for it to “hit”. I keep thinking some feeling will announce it’s presence and will jolt me into recognizing that I’m going to do this tomorrow…ready or not. Nothing is happening though. Not even after coffee at Octane, not after meeting Kat for brunch, not after driving around, not after going to Lululemon to buy long running pants because seriously, let’s be honest, running through forty something degrees in next to nothing doesn’t sound like fun. I am caffeinated but feel I could sleep for a week and am wondering what’s wrong me? How come I don’t feel anything more than loopy?

The weeks leading up to the marathon, I spent a lot of time freaking out, being emotional, crying a good bit and stuffing my face. I thought I’d be more prepared, but I didn’t know what that actually meant. No, I didn’t do a twenty mile run but I did cross train with yoga and weight lifting. No, I didn’t run every single day. I didn’t even run most days, but when I did run, more often than not, I listened to my body and tailored my mileage accordingly. Some runs were short, some were slow, some fast and some were long. I honestly, ran when I felt like it.
At work I wore my Danskos to protect my feet instead of heels or really flat shoes. I got weekly acupuncture treatments, slept eight hours most days and did my best to maintain a solid plan of eating. All there was to do now was actually run. I’ve had this build up of anticipation since June and suddenly, here we are, finally in Atlanta, the night before the race.
Jeff is sitting across from me at my most favorite Italian restaurant, Sotto Sotto in Atlanta’s Virginia Highland neighborhood. We’re both pretty quiet. I don’t remember the last time I ate here but I’m thrilled he’s able to share the experience with me. We turn in early as I have a 5:15am wake up call.
When my alarm went off I thought I’d feel a surge of excitement like I did the morning of my first half marathon in Chicago. There was excitement of course but mostly a sleepy calm that had me slowly rolling out of bed, glancing at a sleeping Jeff before beginning to pull on all my gear.
At 5:30 Jeff got up and began making coffee for us. I ate a protein bar and made sure I had a little bit of cash, my iPOD, (it was advised that we not listen to them as the course was not completely closed. I decided I would thread one ear bud through my shirt and into one ear when I was ready. There is no way I’m running for that long without some kind of music.) and my energy gels to consume along the way. I planned a stop at both13 and 20 miles for a refuel and some stretching.
Before we left the hotel Jeff gave me a giant hug telling me he was proud of me. I chewed on my face to keep from bursting into Niagara Falls style crying. It means so much to have him here alongside me. I love to run alone but for this race there is no way I’d want to finish without him.

The traffic at Atlantic Station was a little crazy at 6:30am. The temperature outside was forty six. I wondered where my dad was as my phone was quiet. He was meeting us at the start line then going home to get my mom. When it was time for me to get into my “corral” (I waited till the last possible second.) I peeled off all my warm layers, giving them to Jeff, before kissing him goodbye and heading over to the mass of people ready to run.
I found the end of my corral and squeezed in, wanting to stand as close to other people as I could without being weird so I could feel a little warmer than I was. It was still dark outside when the National Anthem was played. I looked out at the little piece of Atlanta skyline I could see from where I was. My favorite building, One Atlantic Center on West Peachtree was glittering and I couldn’t help but to smile a little.
Within minutes we were all off and running. There wasn’t a “wave” start, just one big one so off we went. I saw my dad along the sideline of spectators holding a camera, and wanted to yell out to him but didn’t want to freak out the guy running beside me.
For two miles we all ran pretty close together through the dark. It felt peaceful, but really cold. The bones of my fingers were aching. I planned for my first three miles to be rather slow. Of course my first mile was just under ten minutes and I wanted something a little closer to eleven. I continued to slow down, stopping to stretch my shins a little before going again.
I noticed that many people had their iPODs going and or were chatting away. I was content being alone. As I approached mile 3 I decided to turn on my music.
We went into downtown. My iPOD was set to “shuffle” so it was randomly playing stuff. For a while all the songs that were playing were ones I was obsessed with after Rob died including his favorite, Saving Abel’s “Addicted.” I couldn’t help but smile a little. I ran a lot after he died, imagining he was with me. My longest run ever was months after his funeral, totaling sixteen miles. I was in a lot of pain after that. I wondered what sixteen miles would feel like now.
Eventually, the newer stuff I downloaded started filtering in as we made our way into Castleberry Hill. I remember visiting a little coffee shop a long time ago. I like the area but it was out of the way from where I used to live.
Running up hills was a little nuts. I refused to stop and walk though. I watched the sun rise as I ran passed the capitol. At mile six I had to stop to relieve my very full bladder. (TMI? Sorry.) I made a point of drinking water at every other water station whether or not I thought I needed it. I stretched a teeny bit and got back to running. I sped up a little and noticed as I passed the digital clocks along the course, that I was still hitting my ten minute mile target.
At mile 8 we were running through Grant Park. I ate an Accel energy gel they were giving out as I ran on passed the Atlanta Zoo. I had warmed up a bit and my body was feeling good. Thoughts of chocolate chip pancakes were going through my mind as I ran passed Dakota Blue. I was ecstatic to see all the beautiful changing leaves on the trees, reminding me of my last days in Atlanta before moving up to Chicago.
At the Oakland Cemetery people wearing costumes cheered us on yelling we were “almost there”. Ha! Hardly. We weren’t even at the halfway mark. Running passed the wall lining the cemetery made me think of eating Mexican food with my co-worker Matt and going for a walk through the cemetery observing all the headstones and the ages of people when they passed away.
I beamed at all these people and high fived many of them as I ran on by. I was stripped of fear, not caring what I looked like, not caring about anything but this exact moment, running beneath sunshine through a place I, in my mind, still call home, in search of a finish line where my family and dear sweet love would be waiting.
We hit another hill after crossing Boulevard on Memorial. The Highlands were coming and it dawned on me that 13 miles was coming soon. These short hours would be over with before I knew it. It took weeks and weeks to get to this point but it was going to end in a blink of an eye. I was trying to soak it all up, store it away in my mind to later draw on when I was feeling incapable but really, I couldn’t stop my head from wandering, from going on it’s own journey. I kept bringing it back to my body though. I focused on my breath, keeping it steady. It was steadier than it ever has been in the history of my running. Full deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. My lungs felt strong, full and capable. My legs were still feeling energetic and my arms were pumping happily along.
I try not to feel angry when I see a gigantic hill in front of me as we approach mile 12. This isn’t something I feel like doing. I start lifting my knees higher to move myself along when I hear a voice next to me.
“You got this hill!”
I turn to my right to see a man running alongside me.
I laugh and say it’s only because he’s here running with me.
We both laugh confessing this is our first marathon, neither of us able to articulate why we were crazy enough to sign up for it but here we are feeling grateful it’s a perfect day.
We keep going and I observe that we’re running at the exact same pace which could be trouble. I didn’t plan on making any friends during this experience.
He tells me his name is Larry and asks how old I am.
“No way.”
“You got kids?”
I laugh and tell him I have a fabulous boyfriend.
“What makes him so great?”
Oh my. My mind reels and I suddenly think “quick, sum Jeff up in three words because your breathing is getting jacked from talking.”
“Jeff is supportive, the kindest person I know and he lets me be who I am..”
“Well that’s really good.”
“It is.”
Larry confesses to having some issues with his parents and I’m starting to think that this is too heavy for me to deal with. I don’t want to talk or listen anymore as we approach the Virginia Highlands. This is the part of the marathon I was most looking forward to. It’s my most favorite neighborhood in Atlanta. Jeff was meeting up with Kat and Gordon at Limerick and I wanted to be sure to see them.
After a little more talking with Larry I excuse myself and hang back a little. I don’t want to run any slower but I want to make sure to put a good distance between him and myself.
I cross Ponce de Leon on N. Highland. I run passed Belly, Van Michael, and Surin, all places filled with happy memories and am so excited to go pass Limerick. I see a taxi blocking the body of a man I already know is Gordon. His two dogs are with him. I also recognize the person getting out of the taxi.
“Jeff!” I yell out to him, waving.
He waves back, smiling and I yell to him that I love him.
Gordon waves and yells that Kat is down the street. A few strides later I see her and yell out to her, checking for cars before sprinting over to her for a giant hug. Seconds later, Jeff has plowed into me, kissing me and I squeal to them that I’m on time! I just may finish in four hours!
“I can’t believe it!” I exclaim and we all exchange hugs before I dart across the street again and get back to a small group of people I was keeping an eye on to help with my pacing. (unbeknownst to themJ)
I can’t help but to smile as I run down roads I used to run along when I lived here. We approach Piedmont Park and run through part of it. It’s still so green and beautiful. I am reminded of rollerblading with my friend Shannon three years ago before I moved, wiping out several times and laughing so hard we could barely get our asses off the pavement. I see a guy holding a poster that reads something like “Every wall has a door!” I etch that into my brain to save for later should I hit the dreaded “wall”.
As we leave the park I see we’re at mile 16. I eat my caffeinated energy gel. I feel both nervous and excited. I can’t believe that my legs are still working as I’m beginning to run along uncharted territory as far as mileage goes. Before I know it, I’m going passed mile 17 and going faster. I’m clocking a couple of eight minute miles and slow it down feeling tears sting my eyes because this is actually happening!! I’m really doing it!! And I don’t want to die!!
At mile 18, I drink some water and take another Accel energy gel to hold on to for later.
Mile. Twenty. I am literally mouthing the words to Nelly’s “E.I.” as I’m losing my mind a little, and running up yet another damn hill. I end up passing Larry and decide that I better not slow down. I recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Serenity Prayer and keep my knees up while getting myself up this hill that feels like it is it’s own marathon in an of itself.
I think about stopping to walk at mile 22. Things are getting very quiet as the crowd I was with has thinned out almost entirely and I feel alone. The people that I do see are walking and it’s tempting but I don’t. I’ve slowed to an 11 minute mile and don’t care. I remember my high school track coach telling us to do long runs on the weekends. We were told to go for an hour and it didn’t matter how slow we were so long as we did it. An hour to me at age 17 seemed like an eternity, so I never did it. Here I am at age 30 going for four hours.
Mile 23. Accel energy gel time.
We go through Lindberg Station which has changed so much I don’t recognize it. I run onto Peachtree Street going passed the Panera Bread I used to eat at on Sunday mornings when I worked in Buckhead. There was yet another damn hill near Piedmont Hospital and again, I felt determined not to quit. I kept my head down so I wouldn’t be tempted to walk like everyone around me.
I thought we’d take Spring St to Atlantic Station but nope, we take a right onto Deering Rd and follow that. At mile 25 I see the elapsed time is 4:12hr and find that I will not make it in four hours…but I can do it in under 4.5 hours if I hustle. This sounded great until I saw that there was once more hill.
My iPOD begins playing Duffy’s “Mercy” and I smile. A woman in a small crowed of people cheering for us yelled “Go Melissa!” (my name was on my race number) and my smile got bigger as I picked up my pace. I heard her say “that girl has too much energy.”
A few minutes into mile 25 people began yelling “Only one more mile to go!” I continue to pick up my pace. I turn off my iPOD and let the noise of the cheering crowd push me. I see the finish line and continue to go faster. My eyes scan the crowd looking for Jeff, or Kat, Gordon or my family. I can’t hear and don’t see anything but a blur of faces. I absolutely cannot believe how fast my legs are going after going for so long.
I touch the finish line at four hours and twenty five minutes. I don’t feel short of breath. My quads and shins don’t hurt, but my calves are seizing up. A woman puts a medal around my neck and a guy takes my picture before I hear my dad say “Lissa!”
I race over to him and hug him hearing him say in my ear “You did it!”
“I did!” I reply trying not to cry. “I ran the whole way.”
Jeff is my next hug then Kat, Gordon and mom. I’m tired, but so happy. Cameras are snapping pictures and we’re all talking that everything becomes a happy blur.

I’m not sure what I was expecting to feel after running but what I did feel was a sense of accomplishment like I have never felt before in my life. I didn’t allow any negative thoughts to cross my mind while I was out there. There was nothing but sheer joy and happiness at what my body could achieve and the strength of my mind that kept me in a state of determination all the way to the finish line. I will take this feeling with me wherever I go and infuse it into everything I do.
As for running another marathon…one day.