Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I still have a full deck; I just shuffle slower now.

I have no idea who said it, but for the sake of my blog I'll take credit.

Could it be that I am - gasp! - getting slower?

Let's all think back to 2009 when I was training for Nike with Babs and Elkin at my sides. Think about it. Think.

Or just click on the links to the left that take you there.

I was all hopped up on a steady stream of first marathon juice. I felt lean, mean and fast. I did a fair amount of boasting about times and pace. We did our first mile test and I clocked a sub-7 minute pace. I.Was.On.Fire.

(We'll skip over the whole "falling apart at mile 18 of the marathon and was a lot slower than I ultimately wanted" thing. Point is, I was faster in training).

Fast forward to this summer's training. I knew Barb had been running a lot faster recently. My gazelle-like buddy had gotten speedier, which I saw Tuesday night after Tuesday night. So when it was time for the mile test again, Ramon broke us up into groups by speed. And I let Barb join the fastest group. She was the only woman in the pack, and natch, she blew the doors off them.

Ramon kind of gave me a look as I put myself into the next group. Kind of a, "come on, you can do better than that" look. But I knew the fastest group would be too much for my abilities. Regardless, I ran hard per Ramon's instructions. Hardest effort my body could handle. I ran to the point of sheer exhaustion. Yet my fastest mile? Would only be 7:20. I was completely disheartened as the two mile repeats that followed were an abomination. A much slower 7:40, then a 7:55 mile. I was beat. And really super pissed off.

So I've been trying desperately to pick apart why this has happened. Have I stopped running as hard? Did I pack on the el-bees these past few years? Did my legs get shorter? Did I stumble into some bad lighting?

No, not really, not possible and as if!

There was only one explanation. I'm 40.


Now mind you, I'm not the type to blame things on age. Listen, if they didn't want us to enjoy these years, they wouldn't make so many damned creams and potions (yay, Juviderm!) to make us look good. I also firmly believe that I am stronger now than I have ever been and will proudly challenge anyone to an arm wrestle over dinner. (What a lady).

I've never regretted turning 40 (like I could do anything about it anyhow) and other than just those few times when I told people I was really 32 - okay, maybe 31 - I've embraced middle age. ("Middle age." I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.)

Okay, so it was 29. Don't judge.

Suddenly, Barb was much more than a mere ten years younger. I thought maybe now she'd have to find faster running buddies. There's nothing I'd hate more than to think I'm holding her back; luckily, Babs and I have a standing agreement that we will leave one another in a race in order to pursue our own goals. That pretty much means I see the Back of Babs for every race. It's never bothered me that she is clearly the faster of us and that I will most likely never come in ahead of her. I just always want to make sure I'm in the ballpark. And on those mile repeats? Forget the ballpark, I suddenly wasn't in the same league.

We've started hill repeats now, which are really designed to make you stronger - and faster. I am one of the few who actually love hills, perhaps because you have a built-in excuse for going a bit slower. But after two weeks of repeats, I already feel my speed on the flats picking up just a bit. I don't think I'll speed up enough to catch Barb on Tuesday nights, but perhaps I'll get close enough to feel her draft.

To be continued.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This is my favorite race photo. Ever.

And I'll tell you why, because it's not what you immediately see. Yes, I look super cute in my fluorescent green tee. Even more super cute with my name on my bib. Not why it's my favorite.

And not even because I'm totally getting air, indicating my haul-assity at this point in the race.


Look behind me. See that dude? The dude who is grinning like this is the most fun race of his life? That's a beer in his hand. No joke.

So last weekend I ran the 2nd half of the San Francisco Marathon. It was a bit spur of the moment; frankly, I'm almost at the next elite level at American and need like one more trip home, so this was all about the miles. When I booked a quick weekend home, I discovered it was also the marathon, so I registered.

The website made it seem that the 2nd half - which started in Golden Gate Park, wound through the Haight and down to the Embarcadero - was less hilly than the 1st half, which went through the Presidio (uh, yeah - I will never forget that 2-mile long ramp of a hill) and over the Golden Gate Bridge.

And then I got to the expo:


But no mind, I had a great weekend planned with family and friends. Stayed with mom, saw the boys.

And headed into the city to stay with Ken, who made me - get this - homemade pasta for a carb load. Next morning, I was on my way.

Seriously, how cute are my arm warmers?

But turns out, I didn't really need them. Temperature was perfect, despite what you see here:

Do you see the heat lamps? Yes, I'm serious! Those are heat lamps! I mean, really, San Francisco? There is simply no reason for those in 60 degree weather. I felt tremendously badass all of a sudden, recalling the dead-of-winter-and-it's-15-degrees and-I-can't-feel-my-face runs. We New Yorkers know how to run with nothing but body heat. Well, pants, too.

I resisted the urge to drop the p-word loudly. I thought that might be bad juju for the race start.

Speaking of which, we started in GG Park, right around the 14-mile mark for the full marathoners. I have to say that at mile 14 in any run, you're skirting the BMZ. (Bite Me Zone, for you See Cindy Run newbies). To then have 5,000 runners - all pumped up on starting line classics such as "Welcome to the Jungle" - suddenly merging with you, all fresh-legged - well, let's just say I would have completely understood had one of them punched me in the back of the head. I told myself I deserved it, should it suddenly happen. It didn't.

But the run was completely awesome. Back to those hills. Website person? Liar, liar, pants on fire. Hills all over the place, and big ones at like miles 9 and 10. Regardless, I had a great time. And since the photographers got some of my best race photos ever, I'm going to show them off.

So back to the guy and the beer.

It's San Francisco, so any marathon that has a David Bowie cover band along the route:

Is bound to have some great sights along the way.

My favorite was a group of spectators dressed like devils. What else would the devil offer during a marathon, when your mental and physical strength should only be matched by the faith you have in yourself to finish it?

But not just beer. At some stations, they had shot glasses of Bloody Marys. And you all know how I love me some Bloody Mary. That one was hard to pass up.

But they were also there at the end, as we rounded out mile 12. Holding signs like, "Come. Sit. It'll be nice." This time, however, the devils meant business. They were holding out entire cans of beer. I remember seeing a guy weave over, shrug his shoulders as if to say, "Hell, why not?" and take one.

(And the Lord sayeth to the Serpent: 'No sweat, he earned it.')

I remember digging this guy immediately and thinking to myself that here was a runner who had already accomplished something so great - and now he was having enough fun to not take the end so seriously. That was inspiring. So all the way to the finish, I tried it out, too.

And when I got my pictures back, I was stoked that Mr. Budweiser was behind me. For as long as I look at that picture, I'll have a reminder of how much fun a marathon can be.

No PR for me, but given the hills, I was more than content.

One of the first races where I didn't spend the rest of the day obsessing over my time. Instead, I spent the afternoon with about 20 friends and family at Pier 23.

How fitting that Kerry sent me this today:

Yep, the 26.2 is for fun.

(Well that, and fundraising for cancer research. Yes! It's a shameless plug! And if you haven't visited my ACS page, do it now. Now.)

I've decided that the next time I'm struggling on a run, I'll envision myself with a beer in my hand, smile on my face, photographer in front of me. Nice cap on a fun and fulfilling weekend. And now I'm only about 800 miles from platinum status.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Remember me?

I'm the one who used to post funny things about running. Sometimes not "funny ha-ha" but "funny sad and pathetic poor girl who thinks she's actually a runner."

In any event, I haven't felt too funny as of late, which is why you haven't heard from me. Before you all worry (hi, Tina!), I'm healthy, Mike's healthy, we're still married and both gainfully employed.

More importantly, I'm still running.

To bring you up to date, in the past nine months that I've neglected you, dear readers, I've run three half-marathons:

1) New Orleans with Babs and Caitlin. Caitlin's 2nd half ever and she killed it.

Obvi, since it was New Orleans, we were running simply to get to the end to get to Pat O'Brien's for hurricanes. It also happened to be Cait's birthday, which explains the feather boa. Actually, I've seen her wearing it around town, so maybe not.

I was not the only person drinking this hurricane. There were two of us.

2) Brooklyn - and oh-em-gee did Babs and I kill-slash-hate this race. You're supposed to be stoked when you PR:

But this race blew. As in the last 6 miles were totally flat, in the beating sun and with not.one.turn. Regardless, I posted my best half time ever, as did Babs. And we got to celebrate the finish at Coney Island with the one and only Javi!

And 3) ... oh yes, there will be wine.

Remember my wine country half last summer with Kerry and the girls? One of my most favorite weekends ever. So I ran another race by the same company, only this one was in Northern Virginia. Who knew about the wineries? I was always there for the in-laws and close proximity to Our Nation's Capital. Score! Now there's a bonus!

Great hilly race with a super cool bottle stopper medal:

In other news, I also turned 40.

Yep, my super-sadistic mother brought my mail to my Vegas celebration, which included an application from AARP. I'm also fairly certain I was older than the Elvis who showed up:

And you tell me if you think any of these gals look a day over 28. My BFF's keep well. And we had a tremendously fun celebration in Sin City:

Another thing I did? Drag a couple of friends into the running fold. Because, really, this is a cult and I am constantly trying to recruit. Hide your wives, hide your kids. Cindy's coming.

Claudie and I ran a 5K in Baltimore - her first race ever. She had been hearing me talking for so long about running that she finally wanted to see what all the fuss was about. How'd she do?

Liked it enough to then join Jenna a few weeks later at her first race ever.

Here's a good place for an observation: I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing happy faces over the finish line. I also like to think that I'm a decent coach (one of the many benefits of being a control freak) and have a lot of knowledge to pass along.

But at the risk of sounding self-centered (Hello? Is this a blog? About me? Named after me?), it was tough to not run at race pace. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed telling the girls how to best tackle a hill or sprint to the finish. And I loved crossing Claudie's first finish line, hand in hand with her. But at some point, I may or may not have wanted to ditch them and see if I could still make a PR.

Whatever. Don't judge me.


All in all, a great 2011 so far. But I'd like to think the best is yet to come. As in November 6th. The New York Marathon.

Oh yes, that one.

You all remember how training for Chicago totally kicked my ass last summer. The summer before that? My first marathon, which meant those double-digit runs that I had never done before rendered me useless for the remainder of the weekend.

I'd like to think I'm a smarter runner now. So I did what every smart runner does.

I got Ramon.

Babs and I have teamed up with American Cancer Society's DetermiNation team, coached by that crazy Spaniard whose sentences I can only decipher about 23% of the time. Not only am I running with my best gal at my side, but we're raising money for cancer research. As you remember, our first marathon with Ramon was also with Team In Training. Hell, if you're going to run 26.2 miles, you may as well stand for something while you're doing it. I have the most inspirational coach out there. I just wish I could understand what he says.

In any event, please check back as I move through my summer training with ACS. And if you feel so inclined, visit my fundraising page and donate. Or visit my fundraising page and say something catty about what I'm wearing in my latest race picture. I enjoy that, too.

Nice to see you again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I finished Chicago! So wait. Why am I so damned disappointed?

Okay, first my apologies on the late post-mortem. I didn't want to post this until I had proper pictures to represent this crazy October morning, which meant waiting nearly two weeks for the official photos. Um, hello? Marathon people? Don't you know I have a blog to update?

But about that. I’ve spent the week or so oscillating between euphoria over finishing my second marathon and dejection in not finishing it in the time I had hoped - and trained - for.

Okay, first the good: Yes, I did it!

I loved the course, loved the crowd even more. I will undoubtedly be back to run Chicago again, I loved it so much. The good citizens of Chicago are my new BFFs for sure.

And really, the whole weekend was fairly awesome.

Mike and I hit the expo on Friday. Mike is My Biggest Cheerleader, which means he must take pictures of me. Every. Nine. Minutes.

I loved this. I tried to bribe the kid on the 0 to move, but alas, 3-year-olds don’t seem to want to be paid off in Gu.

Ryan Hall was there greeting the crowd:

“Who?” you ask? Yeah, really, unless you’re a runner or someone who doesn’t run but follows running (really, who are you? That’s just weird) you might not know who he is. Um, only the biggest rock star in marathoning, duh!

Turns out Ryan had dropped out of Chicago just a week earlier due to what he said was being undertrained. Slacker.

Friday night Mike and I met Andrew and Leslie for dinner near the hotel, and in keeping with my plan to eat bland carb-loading food before Sunday, we chose a Latin-Indian joint known for its spicy dishes. Nothing says marathon training like sweating your ass off through chicken korma and lamb chimichurri.

Saturday morning I took a short run to Navy Pier ...

... and Mike and I carb-loaded. Yes, Mike carb loads, too. Do you know how much effort it takes to follow someone running a marathon so you can take endless pictures of her?

Anyway, I felt the omelet wasn’t going to be enough, so to be safe I also ordered pancakes, potatoes, an English muffin and blueberries. Nope, Michael Phelps was not with us.

And then, we just took in some of Chicago’s beautiful sights.

Super cute shirt, right? Any other weekend, I would have been stoked to be wandering around in just a t-shirt and shorts in mid-October. But not a day before a marathon. I was getting nervous. It was too hot. And Sunday was on tap to be hotter.

Saturday night we met Andrew and Leslie and their friend Rachel for drinks on the terrace of our hotel before heading to Osteria Via Stato for pasta. Highly recommended, btw.

4:30 AM Sunday. I’m up!

Doesn't it look like I should be singing "Here I come to save the daaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!"?

Oh, and do you know how friggin’ hard it is to get a “C” in electrician’s tape onto a shirt? But my name? Was one of the smartest things I did for the marathon. That in a moment.

In keeping with Mike's mandate of documenting my every move:

I was off.

Working my way to Grant Park was very exciting. This really was my first big race. Nike was big, but Chicago? We had Kenyans. And they run for money.

One snafu to share. Since this year I was on my own – no Team in Training, there were little details that I had to figure out for myself, like oh, I don't know, where the Port-O-Johns were located, for example? I got to the corrals at 6:30 AM so I could get as close as possible to the start. But after stretching for a bit, nature called and it turned out the Port-O-Johns were on the other end of the corrals. Not knowing what time the corrals finally fill up, I was nervous to leave and lose my place. So I stayed put. And obsessed for 45 minutes about not being able to empty my bladder.

And then it was too late and the corrals closed.

So I hoped that adrenaline and excitement and the fact that I was totally money and pushed up enough in the corral that I crossed the start at a measly 9 minutes after the gun – would all override the nagging feeling that I now had to pee like a race horse. Not so much. (Thank god the toilets at mile 6 were still not totally a crime scene when I hit them. Relief.) Lesson here? Hmmm ... pretty self-explanatory. Pee before the race starts.

As soon as you cross the start in Chicago, you hear – and see – one of the biggest crowds of spectators ever. And it never dies. You go under overpasses and people are hanging down from above screaming your name. You feel like a total rockstar.

So am I glad I slapped “CINDY” in black tape across my tank?

As my new Midwestern BFFs would say ... you betcha. It would take just one person to scream my name to start a chain reaction. I’d pump my arm or flash a “V” when someone yelled for me. Someone else would see that and join in. And then the next group would pick it up. And since there are virtually no gaps in the crowd in this race, I’d hear my name screamed for an entire block. This crowd was intense and awesome and I will never forget them. Ever. In fact, next time I come back to Chicago for business or otherwise, I may just paste my name on my shirt again in hopes that these kindly Midwesterners will give me a shout-out at like gas stations and stuff.

I saw Mike early – at mile 2. Turns out it was just steps from our hotel and when I realized where I was, I looked for him – and sure enough, like a beacon, there was My Cheerleader.

Oh, I was happy here. Like blowing kisses happy. At mile 2.

I was so happy that I effed with every official photographer I saw on the course.

Perhaps I thought that by flashing the "V" for victory every time, along with an obnoxious pose right into the camera, I'd keep up momentum for the next few hours.

'Cause I kinda did it like every time. Yawn.

Another extremely cool thing happened early on. I saw Ramon. As in the greatest coach ever. He's now head of American Cancer Society's DetermiNation team in New York, and Chicago is a big event for them. But no matter how many hundreds of runners Ramon may be coaching, he never passes up an opportunity to cheer on a former mentee. He screamed like only Ramon can, clanging his freaking cowbell like a crazy person. My heart raced - I loved seeing him.

But it started to turn at about mile 10. Until then, I was totally on pace. Going in, I had broken the race into thirds and was pacing just slightly faster than where I had intended, but I felt good. I had my splits Sharpied on my arm like a tatoo, Gavin (the Garmin) on my left wrist and Nestor (the Nike Sportband) on my right. I was obsessed with time. The plan was to kick it up slightly at mile 11, then again at mile 18. If all went well, I’d just break 4 hours.

But mile 10.

I had been so nervous about the past month. After my foot injury, I basically stopped training. The last run of substance had been the previous weekend with Babs. And it had been just 9 miles. So it made perfect sense that at 10 miles, my body very aptly said, “WTF?”

And that’s when I started losing confidence. I panicked, thinking that if I was already slowing at mile 10, I was in real trouble. Didn’t matter that I wasn’t tired or that I had no aches. Foot was holding up fine, too. But just that little drop in confidence started to do me in. I tried to concentrate on the course. It was so full of life - people hanging from their balconies or on their front stoops. All of them yelling encouragement. I ran through diverse neighborhoods and historic buildings and was getting the best tour Chicago could offer. But damned if I saw any of it. My eyes were glued to Gavin.

Saw Mike and Andrew and Leslie again at the halfway point, and even though I was right on time, I knew very assuredly right then and there by the way my body was responding that I would be hitting no goals in this race.

Do you see me crouching over a bit? I was already working a lot harder.

The teen miles were a bit of a blur. I remember very little shade anywhere. I remember hearing people in the crowd discussing the temperature - nearly 85 at this point. I remember walking through pretty much every water stop – and that despite drinking at every one of those water stops – still being thirsty. I remember getting side cramps from consuming too much water ... and having to then walk again. I remember seeing people on the 3:50 and 4:00 pace teams walking beside me, everyone acutely aware that time goals now meant nothing in this heat.

And I remember never having seen so many people puke in front of me in my life. Seriously, I had to dart at least three times so as not to get backsplash on the Vomeros.

(I later chatted with a woman in my hotel steam room who also ran and upon bringing up the weather, the first thing she said? “Oh my god, people were throwing up everywhere.”)

Things unravelled quickly. Literally. Eventually the “D” started to peel off my sweaty tank and since I had officially entered the BMZ (Bite Me Zone), rather than risk obnoxious comments from a by now-drunk spectator ("GOOOOOOOO Cinyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!") I snatched every letter off my chest, rolled the whole stinking lot of tape into an angry ball and chucked it aside around mile 17.

I tried so hard not to walk, and when I did, I just kept moving as fast as I could. Only once did I stop altogether to stretch my stiffening hamstrings. At that point, a very kind volunteer - an elderly reverend from the nearby community church sponsoring that mile - made his way to me, gently bending over and offering, "There's a medical tent right there if you need it."

And that was all the motivation I needed. No way was I going to be in the med tent. "Move aside, old man!" I yelled, pushing him slightly and burning rubber back onto the course.

As if! I was in the Bite Me Zone, not the Karmically Risky Zone.

During the last few miles, the alert system increased to "red." Any hotter, I understood, and the race would have been called. I was sweating, fatigued and heartbroken. I went through all of the justifications for not making it even close to my goal. The heat. My lack of training in the past weeks. My foot. My confidence. The "D" falling off my chest. But it didn't matter. At this point, I'd be lucky to beat my time from San Francisco. And that race? Had hills.

I kicked myself for ever having told anyone I was running Chicago. Sure, I'd finish. But with zero improvement over my last marathon. After four months of intense training all on my own, where I felt confident I had gotten faster and become a smarter runner. I was ashamed and I was only at mile 24. As my mind raced, I started to hyperventilate. Luckily, I'm still Cindy and thinking of the cold beer on the other side of the finish line calmed me down.

As we entered downtown again and Sears Tower was in my sight, I knew I was almost there. I continued to high-five the still-enthusiastic crowd, and of course, every time I saw a photographer I made my way over so I could pose. Even if I wasn't moving fast, I'd appear so on film. I was tired and sad, but damned if there was going to be a bad picture of me.

(Allow me to make one bitch here about the course: with just 400 meters to go, the throng turned a corner into Grant Park from a beautifully flat course and hit - a freaking 45-degree hill. Really, course organizers? This is where you're putting a hill? Really? There was an audible groan from everyone around me as we rounded the turn to the finish and realized someone was totally effing with us.)

But then ... the finish line was.right.there.

(Mike thought these pictures were funny because it appears I am running right into the back of the ambulance.)

And as soon as it began, it was over.

Well not really that soon. My time was 4:29:59. I beat my Nike time by a scant 42 seconds. But I was 30 whole minutes over what I had set out to do.

I was alone at the finish - Mike and I agreed to meet elsewhere after I had picked up my medal and some food and had regrouped. So in the moments where I knew not a soul surrounding me and I knew I would not be judged, I openly wept. But not for the reason you might think.

It was the end of an epic struggle, from which I emerged completely bedraggled. I wept because I had intended to finish it stronger - and faster. But mostly, I wept because it was over. In these past months, I had discovered what I was really capable of on my own. I pushed myself to get up at 5 a.m. every day to run miles and miles before work. I pushed myself to run hill repeats in 90 degree temperatures. I pushed myself to run a solo 20-miler in the dark. I pushed myself to say no to happy hour with colleagues (give me a break, that was the hardest one).

As cliched as it may sound, I mourned the end of a powerful journey. And I couldn't shake the feeling that I had also totally failed.

Seeing Mike made it all okay, at least for a little while. Being My Cheerleader means constantly telling me how proud of me he is, and he's good at his job. Over Chicago deep dish pizza with Andrew and Leslie, I'd catch him grinning proudly at me.

And when we got back to the hotel, he drew me a bubble bath, put a crappy movie on the bathroom TV and mixed me a mean martini.

Javi had also run Chicago as a TNT mentor and met me for a drink that night. He was in the same funk as I was, as he hadn't made his goal either (But Javi's goal? Would never be on the table for me, even if I shaved 10 years and 25 pounds. He's quite speedy). We comiserated and shared stories from the course over a drink on the terrace before he hit the TNT party.

Mike took me to dinner at the best steakhouse in Chicago, where we gorged on oysters, wine, a couple of ribeyes and a red velvet cake. That night, I slept more soundly than I had in months. Partly because I was drunk. But it counts.

On Monday, after a heavenly and much-needed massage, I proudly donned my finisher's jacket and we wandered Michigan Avenue, stopping at Niketown so I could find my name on the wall.

Do you see me??

But I couldn't stop kicking myself. Every time I'd see someone pass me wearing her medal, I'd wonder what her time was. Moments of pride were quickly replaced by self-criticism.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm proud that I got to Chicago all on my own. I'm thankful for all the support I've gotten along the way, both from Mike and my family - and from all of my running friends who always had a "you can DO this!" at the ready.

I read that nearly 2,000 people didn't finish the marathon, dropping out for a host of reasons, the majority of them heat-related. I will be forever thankful that my body held up and allowed me to cross the finish line. Just two days after the race I was back at the gym, my body healthy and pain-free. And the same foot that forced me to abandon my training was never even an issue in Chicago.

I finished.

But perhaps what kept me from celebrating is exactly what keeps me coming back - the feeling that I'm never really satisfied. So really, there's only one way out of this.

Looks like it's going to be a spring marathon.

Only this time, I might keep it to myself.