It’s Not Always A Competition

“It’s not always a competition,” I say to my children on an almost daily basis about something. My two boys race to get their clothes on, slurp down cereal, run to the bus stop.  It is always a competition with them and as a mom it is exhausting trying to keep up with the feelings of the loser.  But at the same time, I totally get where they are coming from. I am a typical type A, highly driven, stress laden, competitive person. I made everything a competition from day one. Grades, friends, boys, sports, heck, I was even the damn Prom Queen. Because. I. Always. Win.  And happens when a highly competitive person doesn’t win?  Emotions happen.  Lots, and lots of emotions.

I had a hard time in college.  I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a mediocre fish in an ocean.  I had to work so much harder at everything and it turned out that I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t have the guts to pull it off.  My grades were decent, my track times were decent, my relationships were lukewarm.  And since I wasn’t a stellar anything anymore, I spiraled into a horrible black hole of depression.  None of it was necessary of course.  Looking back now I see that my GPA (3.7) was completely fine.  I set a lot of great PRs on the track and I learned a lot about running while on the team.  I performed much better than I gave myself credit for.  It wasn’t poor performances that got me down, it was the stress of trying so damn hard.

This temperament makes being social difficult.  I don’t have fellow athletes; I have arch nemeses.  When I see times posted from former teammates, I can’t help but compare myself (especially if they used to be faster than me). Oh, she’s had two kids since college, well I’ve birthed four! Oh, she ran a 3:32, yeah, well, I ran a 3:22!  He runs 35 miles per week, puh-leeze, I run 40!  I know, unhealthy, right?!  But it’s my nature. I am driven to go a little faster, go a little farther than someone, anyone else.  This need to out-perform keeps me going, which I suppose is a good thing, but I do worry that it will lead to either injury or another bout of depression.  Being a competitive person means that I am switched on almost all of the time, and, frankly, it’s exhausting.  It’s also not sending a very good message to my kids.

I’m trying to turn over a new leaf, to take on a different outlook.  Yes, it’s a race & times matter, but it’s about bettering myself, not being better than someone else.  I’m going to have to stop comparing.  I’m going to have to stop analyzing data and stalking runners on Athlinks.  I’m going to have to start practicing what I preach. I know…I know…  I need to start being a gracious winner inside and out, AND I need to be a gracious loser.  If I won’t stand a tantrum from a six year old who came in 2nd to the bus stop, then I really shouldn’t be tantruming over someone who wanted it more and edged me out.

The Mile That Broke Me

When I was in middle school we had to do the Physical Fitness Test for P.E. Some kids moaned and groaned about it, but I actually liked it. I was good at it. I was awkward with over sized glasses and scraggly hair, but I was also very competitive and this was my chance to show off. I couldn’t be popular, but I could do this. It was an easy A. Sit ups, pull ups, sit & reach — done, done, and done! But my favorite part was the one mile run. I was fast. I knew it wasn’t a competition, but I was the best and it was the one thing I could be so proud of.

It was Spring of my eighth grade year and my gym class lined up for the mile run. The goal was to run two and a half laps around the baseball/softball/soccer fields while our teacher, Mr. Arch, timed us. I don’t even remember what the passing time was since I already knew I’d beat it. I was running for more than just a passing grade, for more than a Presidential patch. I was running to impress my teacher and classmates and possibly hit a PR. Mr. Arch sounded his whistle and away we went, plodding through the damp grass. I moved quickly and effortlessly. Being on the track and cross country teams meant that I knew where every wobble and divet in the fields were, so I could easily avoid them. As usual, I headed a small pack of athletic boys. Some were on the track team with me. Some played other sports like baseball or soccer. They breathed heavily behind me and I felt self conscious, as many fourteen year olds do. I didn’t like being in close proximity to boys because they unnerved me and sometimes they gave me good reason to feel unnerved.

I picked up my pace to pull away from them as I rounded the first chain-link backstop. I could feel the presence of someone on my left shoulder. Andy drafted off of me as he puffed along. “You keep running like that and I’m going to break your legs, Mary-Alex.” I was startled and turned to see him with a snarly grin right above my shoulder. He threw out a sturdy elbow that caught me in the rib and threw off my balance. I ping-ponged between the backstop fencing and Andy until I had regained control of myself. Once in the open again I tried to veer away from him, but Andy kept close, grunting threats of bodily harm and demanding I slow down.

Andy was one of the best boy athletes in our grade. He played soccer, basketball, and baseball, was popular, was a bit of a trouble maker, and was someone I feared. He was competitive also, but rough, which made him dangerous. And I was often one of his targets for bullying.

We passed by Mr. Arch on the first lap, and he barely looked up. This was no longer just a physical fitness test. This was so much more than a time trial. This was a race. This was boy vs girl, good vs evil. We ran stride for stride around the perimeter of the playing fields while he called me names, promised me rape, and told me I was a dyke. I had been told that boys did these kinds of things, said mean things to girls because they liked them, because they had crushes on them. But I didn’t feel liked. Andy didn’t have a crush on me. Andy had an ego trip and a need for power and dominance. He would have liked to crush me. We were out of earshot of the teacher when he practically growled at me. “I’m going to fuck you, then I’m going to kill you.” He punctuated this decree with a sharp kick to the back of my knee. My left leg wobbled and buckled beneath me. Andy trotted on while I pulled myself up off the grass and attempted to walk it off. He pulled away from me and there was no hope for regaining my position. But Andy wasn’t my target; the clock was and I had to get moving to try and salvage my run.

There was maybe a quarter of a mile left, two more back stops and a finish line. I ran awkwardly and the rest of the lead pack of boys dashed past me. I let them go; there was no point in trying anymore. Andy was too far ahead. I stumbled, half jogging, half limping to where Mr. Arch stood with his clipboard and stop watch. “Great job, Zicky! Six and a quarter…” I tried to tell him that I had gotten hurt, but was told to come back when he wasn’t writing down times for the rest of the class. But the bell rang before I got a chance and everyone else just moved on. Andy didn’t make eye contact as we shuffled out into the hall. I was a better runner, but I didn’t get a PR and I didn’t come in first.

I didn’t pursue the issue. I didn’t even tell my parents. I had passed and I wasn’t significantly injured, so there wasn’t really anything to complain about. I figured I’d just be told again how boys can be be boys. And what did it matter if I was first? 6:25 was a decent time. I knew how fast and strong I was, did I have to beat some boy to prove it, or couldn’t I let him have the win and be happy while staying safe? I spent the next ten years being safe, staying out of the way of some aggressive guy. I kept a step behind, giving away the win out of fear that I’d be cut off at the knees again. And for ten years, anger festered. I was angry at myself for not fighting back, for not being loud about it, maybe for not hitting first. I was mad at myself for being so stereotypically weak. I just didn’t know how to get up and fight back, and I had been down so long I didn’t see the point in trying.

And then I had a daughter. A spunky, headstrong, fierce little girl who loves monster trucks and dinosaurs and doesn’t care at all if her two older brothers are bigger than her; she’ll take ’em on any day! If I won’t get up for myself, I must get up for her to show her to be strong, to be fierce, to not be ashamed of being in front. She needs to be taught to stand up for herself, and to fight back if need be. She’ll be targeted one day. A pimply teenager or insecure college guy will make a move on her, will try to degrade her, to take out her knees. I know this because, unfortunately, some boys will be like this, because I don’t believe that bullying or date rape or domestic abuse or sexual harassment or gender inequalities will ever truly cease to be. But she will be prepared to get back up and take back what is her’s.

I’m not slowing down or giving up anymore. I’m never going to take a step back for someone else’s pride. I now run for my daughter. I run for all daughters. I run in the name of Girl Power and Feminism and Equality. I am going to always run, I am going to always be fast.

Quitting Paxil

In July of last year I started anti-depression medication.  My doctor felt that my anxiety attacks were a form of postpartum depression manifesting itself. After all, it had been a traumatic birthing and postpartum experience and my mind was still reeling from it. That, coupled with the ridiculous hormonal upheaval, it was perfectly understandable for me to ‘not be myself’. She put me on 10 mg of Paxil, the lowest prescribed dose, because it was compatible with breastfeeding. The parents and I intended to pump and ship milk for a full year, so it was important that I still be able to do that. But, my doctor did feel that it was hormonal and did not like the idea of me being on the drug for an extended amount of time.
“After you are done pumping and your hormones level out, we can discuss weaning.”

I pumped for the full year and took the Paxil for the six months. Life was fine. Exactly three weeks after weaning from the pump I got my first period. I continued to take the drug for the next month, but decided that it is now time to stop it. My dosage has been cut in half, and since I had been on such a low dose for a short time, she suggested three weeks at the 5mg, then stopping entirely.  Sounded good to me.

It sounded good until the withdrawal symptoms kicked in. I naively assumed that I could quit a low dose pain-free. Boy was I wrong! It has been one week at 5mg and I am suffering from some of the worst side effects. Brain zaps and diarrhea seem to be the worst, but there’s also the extreme dizziness, nausea, lack of focus, stomach pain, joint pain, and general tiredness.  Running is almost impossible because movement in general brings on such a strong force of dizziness that I’m afraid I’ll fall. (I’ve only fallen once, but that was from standing up too fast!) I feel like I’m trying to walk under water or I’m drunk nearly all the time. I tried running some hill repeats on Saturday, but was so afraid of falling and being hit by a car, I gave up and just went home. I plugged away at a long run on Sunday, but at a snail’s pace, and I took a friend along with me just in case.

The way the drug has been messing with me these past 7 days has made me want to get off it even more. I crave it now. And some little voice in the back of my head keeps trying to tell me that quitting will be too hard, too painful.
“Just stay on it for now, Mazy.”
“It’s only 10 mg. That’s not a lot. It’s okay to keep taking it because it’s not a lot.”
“You can’t quit. It will mess up your running. You’ll lose all your training! Just take it through this next marathon.”
“You can’t handle the pressure of training without it. You can’t ever BQ without it. You won’t be able to handle the crowds without it. You can’t run without Paxil.”

I know all of these things are false, and I am shutting them out. In fact, this coming marathon now has a whole new purpose for me. I will run just fine without Paxil. In fact, I will PR without it. I’m strong enough to run well. I will also overcome both the anxiety and the addiction, because that’s how badass I am. Last year’s marathon was about battling my body’s shortcomings, this year’s marathon will be about battling my mind’s. If I can put my body back together and run some of the best races of my life, then I know I have the strength and power to do the same with my mind.

So, aside from trying to keep as positive as I can, I have found a few other tricks that seem to help cut down on the withdrawal symptoms:

1. NO alcohol. I don’t drink a lot, maybe one or two a week, but I’ve found that even the smallest amount of alcohol exacerbates the symptoms.
2. Stay hydrated. I’m drinking extra water which calms the headaches and dizziness.
3. Tea. I have found that lavender and ginger teas are especially soothing.
4. Keep a schedule. I can easily get wrapped up in my own discomfort and end up wasting the whole day because I don’t feel well and it just seems too hard to do anything. Planning out the day ahead helps keep me distracted from the discomfort and focused on what needs to get done. This morning I wrote out how my day needed to go (1. Kids on bus/Go for easy run 2. Feed animals/clean kitchen 3. Load of laundry 4. Write until 2:30pm 5. Kids home/prepare dinner).
5. Tell people. I’ve told my family and close friends that I’m coming off of Paxil and I am okay with asking them for help when I need it.

One week down, two more to go!

 

Hungry for Control

I’ve read a lot of testimonies of runners who have overcome eating disorders and have felt compelled to tell my own. But for years I’ve been afraid. Coming out with my story would mean that I would have to admit it to myself first, and I haven’t been ready for that. But, this past year has been a struggle for me, and I’m overcoming it by being real with myself. I’ve admitted to and changed a lot so far in regards to mental illness, I suppose it’s only fitting to tell the rest of my story.

I got through high school with a lot of issues, but I was okay in my own skin and had a great relationship with food. I wasn’t like those other girls that dieted, and then starved, and then wound up in the hospital. I was smarter and healthier than that.  I was making good choices. I was in control of things. But, then I got to college. I had trouble with school, with relationships, with running, with money. I felt like I was being sucked into a depression vortex and that the whole world was a bully, sticking it’s giant leg out to trip me every chance it got. I was twenty years old and spinning wildly out of control.  When I became depressed or stressed, I wouldn’t eat. When I was busy scrambling to get a paper written, I wouldn’t eat. When I was rushing from practice to one of three jobs then back again to class, I wouldn’t eat. I started playing with my food.  I discovered hunger and I liked it.

Being hungry seems like an odd sensation to like, but I loved it. The gnawing at my insides, the queasiness, and dizziness were almost like a drug. I stopped eating to be hungry. But I didn’t view it as an eating disorder. I was doing it on purpose, contentiously not eating. And I wasn’t concerned about my weight since I didn’t have a scale in the dorms. I didn’t care what I looked like — I looked fine. What I cared about was the control. I got to control the way I felt, and I got to control the hunger. I would go to the dining hall and eat a meal for breakfast, then take a couple of bagels with me. And then I wouldn’t go back. As the day went on I would get hungry and think about those bagels with peanut butter or cream cheese in my backpack, but I wouldn’t eat them. I’d carry them all day, wanting them, but not eating them. I’d think about how they’d smell and taste, how’d they feel in my mouth, and then force myself to not imagine them at all. I grew giddy at the thought of power — I could eat them and end the hunger or I could continue on, building an even greater hunger. I would set them on my desk while doing homework to stare back at me; to scream back silently at my growling stomach and not eat them. I’d be dizzy, fatigued, and nauseously hungry by the time I went to bed. Some nights I’d eat the bagels, but most nights I just threw them away.

I viewed it as a mind trick, training my body and mind to be stronger. It was all about will-power!  I eventually grew used to the hunger, grew to look forward to it. To me this wasn’t an eating disorder because I wasn’t concerned about my body and I still very much liked food. In social settings I was fine with eating a meal. I was okay with people seeing me eat, going to restaurants, dinners with my family, that sort of thing.  In fact I’d often boast about just how much food I could eat! I didn’t binge on anything and I never threw up. Besides, wasn’t anorexia something pretty popular girls got suckered into to stay pretty and popular? That wasn’t me. I was in control of it. It was a choice. It was a game.

Of course, I didn’t do well. I slowed way down and got injured repeatedly. I eventually quit the track team. I was so fatigued I’d often oversleep and either miss a class or the bus in to work. My grades suffered. I failed a class and had to retake it. I was moody and constantly fought with my boyfriend. I refused to admit I had a problem and I refused to blame the food, because it wasn’t about food. It was about a deep, dark, depression and a strong need to be in control of something. I couldn’t control so many other factors in my life, but this one thing I could.

I barely made it out of college alive. It took a lot of effort, but I made the Dean’s List several semesters before graduating. I had a relationship, a place to live, a car. I had a college degree and a job at a newspaper; I was now an adult. I was older, but not better. I didn’t outgrow my issues. So for almost two more years I kept it a secret. I never told anyone that I craved feeling hungry. If I told anyone they would say I had issues…and then I’d have to face them. Instead, I kept it a secret, coming up with excuses to skip meals, telling myself that I was in control.

As you can guess, I was not in control. It took meeting my (now) husband and getting pregnant to really accept that what I had been doing was really bad. I was 92 pounds. I was sick all the time and I had kidney problems. I was depressed. I was suicidal. I was a huge mess that was about to become a mom and I had to clean myself up. Most importantly, I had to relinquish control. I had to rely on my loved ones to help me out, and I had to trust that they would love me back. I had to start setting realistic goals for myself and allowing myself pride when I reached them. I look at my children now and I shudder at what I was…what I could have been. I fear that they will inherit my type A personality and suffer for it. I fear that they’ll somehow catch my mental illness. Even now my mind circles ’round food as a means of gathering my thoughts and reigning in control of my disjointed life. While I haven’t purposely withheld food in 8 years, I’ve certainly thought about it. I weigh myself often and write down my meals to remind myself to stay healthy. Focusing on things that spark joy and give me a sense of accomplishment have certainly helped. Marathons are my drug now. My kids are my cure. And I’m okay with admitting that I need help. I take Paxil. I can take charge without hurting myself.

 

Try Hard

“Mom, it seems like at almost every race we go to you’re the first or second girl runner,” my five year old mused over dinner last night.
“Yes, often in the smaller races I do well,” I answered.
“But why are you always first or second? How come nobody else is faster?” he asked.
“Because I try really hard to be as fast and as strong as I can be.”

While I think my son may be giving me a little too much credit, I do appreciate his observation. My running is throughly supported by my family, almost dauntingly so. My husband (jokingly) expects sub-human times out of me and I’m an Olympian in my children’s eyes. They see greatness in me and expect it every time I head to a starting line. And they seem to think it comes easy, that winning is somehow innate. But in reality I’m a regular lady running just ahead of the pack, pouring out everything she’s got just to snag a trophy at her local 5K. And I don’t do it because I’m highly competitive (okay, I’m a little competitive!). I do it because they are watching.

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I want my children to grow up to be successful and happy in whatever it is they end up finding their passion in. But, in order for them to be successful, they need to know what that means. By watching their mother set her sights on a goal, strategize, work for it, and reach her achievements they are learning how they can go about being successful.  Running, running well, setting PRs, and taking home trophies isn’t easy, it isn’t innate, but the trying is what exhibits greatness.

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I also want my children to go ahead and expect success out of others, even if their expectations are daunting. They should expect everyone to try their best to succeed, because if one isn’t trying to “win” then they have already accepted a loss. Expecting success from their teammates, classmates, and future coworkers will benefit them; their teams will win more games, schools will perform better, and companies will be more profitable. If they learn to expect success, reach for it themselves, and encourage those around them to as well, then the community as a whole benefits.

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Trying is important. Sure, there are races when I know I shouldn’t place or pace well. There’s a fast field or I’ve been hampered by injury. But these are self-defeating excuses. Someone has to win, might as well be me, right? I can at least try, give it my all, and go home happy that I did my greatest no matter how I finish. I went into my last race with a sub-21 minute 5k in mind. But after the first mile I knew I had it in me to push harder. Could I go sub-20?! Well, I had two miles to try. I pushed as hard as I could for those two miles and was so happy that my cheering kids got to witness me finishing in first place AND with a 19:24 time. They got to witness the power of trying.

 

Illness While Training

Illness has been brutally kicking my butt for the past two and a half weeks. First I got mastitis, which was down right terrible! I went on antibiotics and limped through life for a couple of days. The flu-like symptoms (joint pain, ridiculous headache, and extreme exhaustion) were enough, but even when I felt better, I was still unable to do much running due to the pain in my breast. Then, joy of all joys, I developed thrush from the antibiotics. And, as soon as that was all cleared up I dealt with another round of mastitis on the other side — just to even things out I guess! I’ve spent 5 out of the last 14 days IN BED and the rest of the time I’ve been wondering around like a zombie.

My marathon is in 12 days. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO BE SICK!

I was finally feeling well enough to run yesterday, but I’m so lost in my training plan that I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I try to get in some of the key workouts I missed? Do I just do what’s scheduled for the day? Do I double up? Gaaaaa! In the last few weeks when I was able to run I did nothing more than a few easy miles here and there, less for fitness and more for sanity.  My training calendar called for intervals, but I missed out on my long run over the weekend, so I had to decide which workout would be more beneficial. I figured working on endurance and hills, especially after taking it easy for so many days in a row would probably be the wisest choice. I went with 4 miles moderate, 7 miles at threshold pace, 3 miles easy. I did this on the road so I’d have both sun exposure and hills. I think I did okay!

The problem with illness while training for a marathon is that the training schedules aren’t set up for it.  There is little wiggle room, and when you are forced to slow down it allows the opportunity for doubt to creep in. And doubt can be just as debilitating as an injury or illness.

I hit a hill at mile 7, almost an hour into my run and my Garmin was telling me that my pace was slowing considerably. I had more than 4 more miles to go at this pace. I’d have 23 more miles to go in a race. My legs hurt. I wasn’t coordinated enough to get my nutrition packets out and deal with water and run at pace at the same time. I wasn’t prepared for hills. It was warmer than I had anticipated. I took too much time off. I wasn’t ready.

Yup, self-doubt was taking over. Half way through mile 8 I had to give myself a bit of a pep-talk. There’s no room for doubt in marathon training. Fear locks up your muscles and keeps you from doing your best. I have to come to terms with my own fitness and health; I’ve put in the training and I’ve dealt with a few health issues along the way, but I will be okay. I need to be honest with myself and be real with myself about what I’m truly capable of accomplishing; I’ve set a realistic goal. While it’s not a goal I want, it’s a goal I need and one that can realistically be attained.

My slump was short lived and I made it through the rest of my workout just fine. I won’t lie; I’m still a little nervous about race day. I’m nervous that my infection won’t totally clear or return between now and then. I’m nervous about all those long miles. But, I know I’ve done them before and I’m very prepared to do them again.

Now, only positive thoughts for the next two weeks!

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Marathon Fail

Five and a half months ago I delivered a small and very early, but otherwise healthy baby boy to a wonderful couple that deserved to be parents, but needed my help through surrogacy. I had a lot of complications with pre-e, resulting in a minor stroke and leaving me feeling pretty crappy about my broken body. At 8 weeks postpartum I was cleared to run again, so, to get over my bad mood, I decided to focus my energy on training for a marathon. On Sunday that training came to an end as I approached the starting line for the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington VT.

My reasons for the run were basically to help my mind and body heal; to distract myself from postpartum depression. My goals for the race changed over those 16 weeks of training though. At first I just wanted to do something, so I didn’t even care how I ran. But, I realized a few weeks in that I was recovering faster than I had anticipated and began flirting with an actual time goal. A part of me wanted a 3:35, but I felt that was awfully presumptuous. So, I decided to train with 3:35 pacing for speed workouts, but aim for under 3:45 (3:44 was my last time for a marathon and I wanted to break that). However, as race day approached, the weather was not looking favorable. Extreme heat, humidity, and thunderstorms were being predicted and the race director kept sending warning emails about hydration.

Still, I decided that even with the heat, I could probably pull off my plan. It was about 75 degrees at 8am (the start of the race). Maybe if I ran it quickly enough I could beat the heat and it wouldn’t be so bad? My race strategy was to start with the 3:30 group (8:00/mile pace) to get the nerves out. I always start out way too fast, but staying with a pace group that was only a little faster than my intended pace would be okay. I figured I could hang out with them for the first 5 or so miles, then settle into an 8:00-8:15 pace, taking the downhills strong, getting through the two up hills, and possibly walking through the aid stations if necessary. I planned on eating my fruit snacks every 30 minutes and alternating Gatorade and water that would be provided at the aid stations at nearly every mile marker. I could do this!

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2505 is me, with the silly socks!

An air horn went off, signaling the start of the race. Watches beeped in the crowd all around me as 3000+ athletes shuffled through the gate. After almost a minute we were running. The crowd was too thick and I was boxed out from my pace group, struggling to get back to the leaders in the first mile. BEEP! I crossed the first mile marker at 8:40! I gotta pick this up! I gotta get out of this pack! I somehow managed to pick my way through the throngs of runners and position myself right behind the 3:30 pacer. BEEP! 7:39. Huh?! We’re going too fast! I chalked it up to the slight down hill, the excitement, the crowds…BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. 7:38. 7:27. 7:39. Okay, this wasn’t what I had signed up for. The miles were clicking by fast, yet the pace felt easy, comfortable. But I knew better. I’d been through this before. I didn’t know if this was part of the pacer’s strategy or what, but I knew that this pace was not for me, no matter how easy it felt at the moment. I let go of the group before mile 6 and sat back at a comfortable 8:30 pace. I had no desire to rush the hills and I was already beginning to feel the heat of the day. There was little shade and I still had a lot to go.

I got through the first half feeling great. I was confident, but conservative. I might actually pull this off I thought to myself. But then something strange happened. Most of the first half of the race was on the only Beltway. There were two aid stations, but few spectators. When the race returned to the city streets, things began to get congested and loud. Cheering spectators lined both sides of the streets, yelling, ringing cow bells, blasting music. Despite the heat, I was beginning to feel cold and shiver. This freaked me out since I still had half a marathon to run! The noise from the crowds pushed in on me, giving me a different sensation of being boxed in. Then it happened – the trigger! An ambulance was screaming up the street from behind me. I felt the panic build in my chest as the wail of the siren got closer and closer. I was seeing spots & sparkles, swallowing repeatedly to keep from throwing up, and trying to ignore the goose bumps. The ambulance passed on my right and I had a visual of it. The imposing red ambulance, the intense noise grating at my brain, it was too much. Panic exploded in the back of my head. A severe headache took over, pushing tears from my eyes. I couldn’t help but cry. I was having a full-blown anxiety attack in the middle of the street, inside of a huge crowd, with 11 more miles of a marathon to run and no place to hide.

Almost on cue, my friend Marianella stepped from the crowd and took my hand, trying to keep them from flapping. She handed me cold, wet sponges and practically dragged me up the hill, talking to me the whole time. Somehow she got me through the episode and running again. But I had tanked. The anxiety had wiped me out. I am often exhausted after an anxiety attack and have to sit quietly for some time, or even take a short nap. This was the first time it had ever occurred while running. I didn’t even know it was possible. I had no energy left to keep up an 8:15 or even an 8:30 pace. I had no idea where any of the pace groups were at this point. I wanted to join up with 3:45 to try to salvage my race, but couldn’t remember if they had already passed me or not (they hadn’t). My brain was going to mush. My new goal that was adopted at mile 16 was simply to finish.

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That would be Marianella in orange, dragging me through Mile 15.

This was clearly a stupid goal. My whole body was screaming at me to stop. I was dehydrated, alternating between feeling way too hot and shivering. I had an intense headache at the back of my skull and a tight jaw. I was plodding along, barely moving, and walking every five minutes. But I was just so stubborn. I didn’t die from HELLP syndrome. I didn’t die from stroke. I wasn’t going to die from this either. I had trained for FOUR MONTHS just to prove that I was stronger, that I couldn’t be beaten down. I was running this marathon to PROVE what my mind and body could really do. Pulling out of the race, seeking medical attention would be admitting failure, would be accepting broken-ness.

I stupidly plodded on.

I stopped checking splits, but I did feel a deep sense of despair when the 4:00 pacer overtook me around mile 24. I almost gave up at that point. I was blinking slowly, desperately wanting to go to sleep. I was delirious. I was losing track of where I was, how far was left. I started counting between blinks and steps to keep myself straight (and awake). Thankfully my friend plodded along with me on the last mile, up to the 26 mile mark. I found a wee, tiny little bit of umpf left in the tank and poured it all out in the last half mile “sprint”. I entered the shoot. I passed my cheering, smiling family. I kept running. Man, where is the finish line? Doesn’t this end?! I saw the inflatable arch up ahead. The time clock. Where is the mat? Don’t I have to step on a mat for my time to register? Then nothing. Just weightlessness. I thought I hadn’t passed through the finish.

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2505 is me, with the silly socks!

Someone much larger than me was cradling me. I panicked a little once I realized my feet were nowhere near the ground. I was taken into a large white medical tent and set down on a cot where a nurse slapped on a blood pressure cuff and another took my pulse. 104 over 65 with a heart rate of 110. I had finished in 4 hours, 3 minutes, and 52 seconds. I had finished without stroking, without dying, without throwing up. I had finished!! I was far from my goal time, but I had done 26.2 (26.4 according to my Garmin watch) miles!! I was feeling better after a bit of Gatorade and a banana. I was tired, but I could move and there were runners pouring into the medical tent with severe cramping and vomiting. I felt that I was taking up space.

Wrapped tightly in a space blanket, I meandered through the crowd until I met up with my family. That’s when I learned that the race officials had cancelled the race. Due to the extreme temperatures and humidity, they had to call the race for the safety of the runners. Those still on the course were instructed to go to the next aid station and wait for the sweeper bus to pick them up. Police barricaded the bike path that was the last two miles. Official timing ended at 4 hours, 30 minutes. I just made it! Soon after police began clearing the park and telling people that the post-race party was over due to lightning strikes close by. It was all kind of an anti-climactic end. It was all just one big marathon fail.20160602_161143[1]

But I did learn from all of this. And, I suppose that’s more important than PRs.

1. I really need to seek help with my anxiety. If I want to move forward, I can’t let it hold me back and this past weekend was a real wake-up call. I just can’t safely go through it alone anymore.
2. I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. It hurt my feelings to change focus and give up my goals, but I was strong enough to do it. It hurt my body to endure 11 miles post panic attack, to move my body up & down hills in blistering heat, but I was strong enough to do it. I’m not as damaged as I think I am.
3. I truly believe that my training was solid & that I did a great job for the past 16 weeks. I know where I messed up in the race, and I know how to fix it for the next one. I think that had conditions been better (i.e. NOT sub-tropical temperatures!) I probably would have faired a bit better. I think I also learned a thing or two about running in the heat as well.

It’s 18 weeks until the next race. That gives me just enough time to relax and recoup and then start all over again with fresh legs, mindset, and goals!