Monday, December 15, 2008

Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bells 5K

I knew this day would come: my first RUN race post crash. Suffice to say, it's been a while. Long - WAY too long, for someone who admittedly loves to race.

The itch to race has been brimming ever since we moved out here. I've managed to push these thoughts to the back of my mind, but sometime early last week, they broke free and busted forth. It was Mary's blog about "Seeing this little light of Mine" that finally did me in.

Thank You Mary!

Well that, and I didn't think my running heart rate zones were accurate. There's just something about whipping out a really really fast time with a low heart rate that spells BOGUS. Especially when the day before, the exact opposite held true. Slow pace and high heart rate. Can we spell i-n-c-o-n-s-i-s-t-e-n-c-y?

And I freely admit that it was all my fault: I've been hesitant, nay SCARED to compete in a running race since my crash.

For me, running was always my strength, something I could count on at the end of a race. But because it was final thing to really come around post-crash, its been the most difficult mentally for me to cope with slower speeds.

But it was time: I was ready, and I wanted to simply see what I could do.

Hello World! It's Mar-it (pronounced like Mar-shmellow!), and I'm ready to RUN FAST AND RACE!

Jen, being the uber-supportive and wonderful coach she is, readily agreed. Additionally, she casually mentioned that I could choose between a 5 or 8k race.

I'll have the 5k, and no more, thank you very much.

So the Arthritis Association Jingle Bell 5k it was!

Race morning dawned early with a 5:15 am wake up call, followed by a 5:20 and then 5:25 alarm ring. I like to be thorough, and have always harbored a secret fear of sleeping through a race. I did DREAM about my race: for some reason I was going to do an Open Water Swim in New Zealand and my hamstring was hurting. Weird, I know.

Also, very random.

Arrived at the Balboa Park race site an hour or so before the race, picked up my packet, used the loo, carefully pinned on my number (I forgot my race belt!), used the loo, drank some water, loo, water, loo, water, loo, loo.

For a measly 5k, I was certainly in dire need of the port-o-potty's. I guess it was the "fight or flight" response in me vamping up. That's the ONE thing I really like about wetsuits: no loo lines. You just deal and go (certain restrictions apply).

Warm up completed, I peeled off my tights, threw on the race flats, and ran a few strides. On my final walk-by of the car, I was extremeley tempted to throw on arm warmers. The 55-degree temperatures felt chilly to my still-Floridian-adapted-body. But I knew my Northern counterparts would blanch, Liz would tell me to pull up my big girl pants, Jen would roll her eyes, and Mary would scream HTFU.

Suffice to say, arm warmers remained in the car.

However, I did attach some cute little bells on the ends of my flats. One jingle bell per shoe. I figured it was okay to be festive, and the bells added a nice touch. Besides, I wasn't planning on sprinting ahead of my competitors at the last minute anyway. And even if I were, they would hear my Darth Vader-like breathing long before they heard the tiny tinkle of bells.

As I ran to the start, I realized how annoying the damn bells were.

*Bing*

*Bing!*

*Bing!*

*BING!!*

Which each and every step.

The really great thing? EVERYONE had the little bells attached to their person. So did the animals. We were one Binging chorus of people, waiting to run and walk our way through a 5k.

I lined up towards the front, about one row back from the scary fast looking people. You know the ones? They guys and girls all look alike: super skinny, shaved legs, bright race flats, bony elbows that will take you out with one jab - that sort. Oh, and they were all very serious.

I had to remind myself helpful things like "this is for fun!" and "I paid for this!" and "I just want to get my heart rate zones and see where I'm at!"

Who was I kidding?

This was much more than just heart rate zones.

It was my first running race back from my awful accident, and I wanted to prove to myself that no matter what the finishing time was, I could still push myself, my body, my mind.

Gun went off, and so did we. After almost tripping over 5 or 6 kids (where did they come from and why the heck did they line themselves up RIGHT in front? Oh yeah, because they're kids and they don't know any different. The inner child in me cheered!) But I didn't think it would be prudent to take any down as I blew past them, so after a few tricky side-steps that made me think back to drunken dancing at Marine Corps Birthday Balls past, I was on my way.

Within :30 I knew the damn bells would have to go.

BING BING BING BING BING BING BING BING BING!

Yeah, it would drive YOU bonkers too.

But, the cadence of them made me aware of my sride, and I recalled all the run drills I've done to help develop good running form and efficiency.

BINGBINGBINGBINGBINGBINGBING!

About 2:40 into the run, two things happened. One girl passed me, and I lost a bell. And truth be told, I would have wanted to run as far and as fast away from myself if I could. The bells/bell were that bad. What was only mildly annoying at first, was now out of sync and majorly annoying.

Bing Pause Bing! pause BING! pause BING!

Or was it Pause Bing?

Who knows.

Up another small incline and we turned out of Balboa Park onto a side street. I knew we were approaching the one mile marker, and that's when I made a big mistake. I glanced at my watch confirming 1) I was going out WAY too fast 2) My heart rate was WAY too high and 3) It would only be a matter of time until I would be reduced to a shuffle.

Hello World, My name is Marit, and I am about to blow up. BIG time. Get ready for a show!

First mile passed in just under 6:20 and I tried to keep from hyperventilating. This was, after all, a heart rate test, and hyperventilation would not bode well for results.

I could still see two girls ahead for sure, but was a little confused at the three or four other pony tailed runners. Were they guys or girls? One of them had shaved legs, but I honestly couldn't tell if it was a man or woman. Another had thick brown locks, that I later confirmed to be male (after catching a glimpse of his very thick goatee).

The second mile was almost one straight long block, with a slight downhill slant. I don't remember much, except for thanking the volunteers at the intersection from where we came out before hitting the first mile marker.

I was in pain, though. But not a bad pain. The pain associated with doing your best, pushing your hardest, and leaving everything out in the open, raw and exposed. I didn't care about my time or place, and instead focused intently at putting one foot in front of the other.

BING PAUSE BING PAUSE BING PAUSE BING PAUSE.

Then, at exactly 9:40, the bell came off. Literally.

I bounded down a curb and suddenly, there was no BING! Just me, the Darth Vader-like breathing, and my heavy footsteps.

Sharp left turn, down a slight hill and past the 2 mile marker. 12:40 and I was still going strong. At least I get something for consistency, right? After way too long of NOT running a 5k race, the first two miles that I run are EXACTLY the same pace.

Kind of like going to the track and running a 3:00 800. I spent 5 years in high school (laugh if you want, I ran track and cross country in 8th grade - so there), running 3:00 800s. I KNOW how they feel.

I may not be as fast as I was pre-crash, but my body remembered what it felt like to be consistent. Bonus points for me!

And then I hit a hill. A big hill. A hill that had me gasping for breath, and shortening my stride. "Good feeling" gone. But a hill that reminded me I had climbed many OTHER hills to arrive at this point, and that this measly little hill that Mr. Reindeer Horns was sprinting up, was not going to hold me back.

Yes, just ahead of me, was a man running with homemade reindeer horns. And I would be damned if I was going to let Reindeer Man beat me up a hill. Especially since his Reindeer Horned Barrett was slightly askew.

Right turn back across the bridge into Balboa park, and I knew I was almost done. I glanced at my watch and began making deals with myself. You KNOW you're hurting when the deals start getting made.

"Okay... 3:00 left. You can do anything for 3:00. If you hold this pace, you can break 20 minutes. You want this, right? And there's a packet of Margarita Cliff Blocks waiting for you in the car upon your return.... Salty, chewy, delicious!"

"...Oh, and while you're at it, pass that group of 4 guys!"

So I did. I ran for the antlers, and then ran my rear end off for Margarita Cliff Blocks. Oh, and for a sub 20 finish, of course.

In the distance, perhaps two blocks ahead, I caught a glimpse of two girls, and realized that I didn't have enough time OR strength to catch them. Instead I focused on staying strong, thanking the volunteers, and making sure that no one blew by me in the final 200 meters.

Then again, if they did - more power to them!

I looked at my watch and I was right at 19:30. I had no idea where the finish line was, but suddenly one of the two guys ahead of me took off sprinting around a corner, and I knew it couldn't be that far. With as much energy as I could muster, I lifted my feet off the ground an tried to kick up the pace just a bit.

Rounding the corner, the finishing clock came into sight. It read 19:47, and I still had 50 meters to sprint. Bloody Hell, it was going to be close. Inwardly I groaned: breaking 20 minutes would have been icing on the cake, and deep down I really wanted it.

And before I knew it, I was done, clicking the STOP button on my watch right as I crossed. 19:57 according to my clock, 19:58 according to official race time. Hey - as long as I finished under my own power, happy and healthy, it didn't matter.

I walked through the finishing chute, handed the volunteer my tab, and then kept walking. I think a few people tried to hand me water, but I started tearing up - emotions getting the better of me.

The LAST thing I wanted was for the race organizers, volunteers, or paramedics think that there was something wrong with me. And yes - I've cried after races before; but usually only after the half Ironman distance. And not because of the pain or hurt, but of the emotions that I experienced while racing. The ups and downs, I suppose.

This was different; this race was so short, relatively speaking. But I had been carrying the weight of fear, of doubt, of insecurity about my running ever since I restarted back in July. It felt like this race affirmed that I COULD run, I COULD do it, and hence I was okay. I was normal.

And in the end, that's all that I wanted.

I went through (literally) hell and back with my recovery, and all it took to affirm my running confidence was a measly 5k. (small smile). Had I known this, I would have requested a race like this much earlier.

But I think I had to go through what I went through - physically and emotionally. I feel so much better, stronger, healthier, and wiser. I know myself, know what I'm capable of. And I'm having FUN. In these few short months, I've rediscovered why I love this sport, and what it means to me. I don't have to be the fastest, or the best: but the process, the journey, the friends I've gained along the way has all made it worth it.

In the end, I was 3rd female, 21st overall. Turns out that nearly all of the "girls" I thought were ahead of me, were really speedy guys. Ha! To quote Jen (because she was the first person I called after I walked from the finish line to my car) "You're definitely in California now!"

I had so much fun, enjoyed myself so much, that I've already signed up for a my next race. 2009 is looking better by the minute! The resolution 10k on January 3rd. What a great way to start the New Year!

And next time, the bells are OFF from the beginning!

16 comments:

Train-This said...

YEAH SISTER! Way to shine on my DEAR! WOO HOOOO! Or rather.....

YIPPPPPPPPPPPPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

TriGirl Kate O said...

WAY TO GO, MARIT!!! So proud of you. Frankly, I started tearing up just reading about your finish. Such a great Christmas present to yourself.

Beth said...

Great race Marit. I can just imagine how big your smile was... ;)

Roo said...

YAY!!!! And I think that when it's your first race back after all that you've been through you get to write a race report as long as you'd like!

Jen Rife said...

Way to put yourself out there! Congrats on a GREAT race!

GoBigGreen said...

WAY TO GO!
Julia
p.s. I woulda worn the arm warmers :')

Maijaleena said...

Yeah! Great job! I always think fast girls are guys in races. That's part of why I keep my hair long and try to look girly--I don't want anyone thinking I am a dude, and if I were a guy, I would certainly try to look to NOT look like a girl.

Kathy said...

Congratulations Marit - you are well and truly back now!

Danni said...

Awesome job Marit! Congrats on a great race!

Missy said...

I'm with you on those 'pointy' front of the packers...they look like they could impale you with an elbow or something! Congrats on the physical but also the mental lift you got out of the race.

Jennifer Harrison said...

YEAHH MARIT! I knew this day would come again...even despite the bumpy road. When you called crying, I almost died b/c I was like, "OH NO!!!!! NOT MARIT AGAIN!!!"...but it was tears of JOY! :) Congrats again!

Dave said...

Congrats! What a great comeback!

Kate Weaver said...

You did amazing!!! Well done Marit! 09 is going to be a great year for you!

Katie Felker-Povolo said...

Marit...WAY TO GO! How exciting for you to be back in the race! Wish I could have been there to laugh at how annoying those damn jingle bells were! HA HA

Laura said...

Awesome Marit!!! SOOOOOOO happy for you!!!!

Bob Mitera said...

Nice running Marit!

09 is going to be huge for you.