Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How Squawker Lisa actually finished a half-marathon -- and lived to tell the tale!

A few minutes after the half-marathon.
I am in one piece!
Please let me indulge in this personal, (mostly) non-baseball Squawk. I wanted to thank all my friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances, both in real life and on Facebook, for all the kind words they have showered on me over the past few weeks. A lot has happened in my life recently. As you may remember, an article I wrote for Guideposts magazine -- about running a Spartan Race -- was recently published.  The magazine also did a video interview with me. Oh, and the Staten Island Advance just did an article about me as part of their Staten Island Survivors. They wrote in the article about my fitness journey, and the fact that I completed my first half-marathon two weeks ago. Yes, I still can't believe it myself!

I did the MORE/FITNESS/SHAPE Women's Half-Marathon on Saturday, April 19. All you need to know about the likelihood of me finishing a half-marathon is this -- Squawker Jon was not at the finish line, because he thought it would be at least a half an hour more before I crossed it! He was at an earlier spot at the race -- one I had already passed -- thinking that I would be much further back than I was.

If you haven't already read the articles I linked above, or followed this blog regularly, here is my basic story. I was overweight, middle-aged, and out of shape when I decided over the last year or so to change my life and get healthy. I did a Spartan Race in April 2014, even though most of the contestants were in much better shape than me. Since that time, I have run (more like plodded) my way through over 40 road races. I also won a writing contest for Guideposts magazine thanks to writing about my experience at the Spartan Race, and beat out over 4000 fellow writers for one of 12 spots in the magazine's weeklong Writers' Workshop. The leap of faith I took has changed my life.

A toast at Sarabeth's after the race.
One of the things about my story that has resonated with people is that it is realistic. I am still not at my goal weight. I am still at the back of the pack in races. This isn't one of these "Biggest Loser"-type stories where I lose 150 pounds in three months or something and become a fitness marvel. But the point is that we shouldn't give up on trying to achieve things because we are waiting to get to that perfect weight and that perfect level of fitness. I am now competing against myself, to be the best I can be. If I had waited to do a Spartan Race until I got to the right weight, it never would have happened. But doing the race gave me the confidence to keep on going.

The same goes for doing a half-marathon. I wanted to have a challenge to aim for in April, the way I did the year before. Running friends had advised me not to set time goals for the race -- just to concentrate on finishing. I had also volunteered at several half-marathons over the past year, and saw people who looked like me crossing the finish line, some of whom were literally incoherent at the end. So I had three goals at the end of finishing a half-marathon -- to finish, to finish without needing the medical tent, and to finish and actually sound coherent at the end! Fortunately, I achieved all three. My finishing time was 3:11:42, which isn't a great time, but it was not about the time. It is about completing the challenge.

I did the training for the race this winter, and had gotten up to around 8-9 miles at a time when I got two separate injuries two and a half weeks before the race. My right quad was very sore, and I banged up my right pinky toe hitting it against furniture. I was advised to shut down the training and heal. I only ran once in those last two weeks, a four-mile race in Central Park Squawker Jon had signed up for months ago. So I had real doubts myself as to whether I would have the physical and mental strength to complete the race.

The half-marathon course is two loops of Central Park, a place I had done many races before. So I knew every part of the course, which served me well in the first loop of the course. Despite my nerves, and even though I took it easy in order to save something in the tank for the end, I had PRs (personal records) for the first 5K and 10K of the course, and felt fantastic. The weather was perfect, I had great music -- playlists featuring the Grateful Dead, punk rock, and the like -- and I was very upbeat.

I became significantly less upbeat for the second loop around Central Park. I started to feel tired around Mile 8. By Mile 9, I felt like I was slogging away. Those last 4.1 miles were a particular struggle to get through. I was so exhausted, but I couldn't quit. I didn't want to hear any "Well, at least you tried" about the race. That was not what I had trained for. I wanted to cross that finish line.

All my past running experience came into play in those last few miles, reminding me of what I could do. The five-mile Fourth of July race in the heat. The 10K in 15 degree weather in January. The Pi Day 3.14 mile race, run entirely in pouring rain. All of the training sessions.

I also thought about A-Rod during those last few miles. Some male readers have insinuated that my support of him over the years was due to having a crush on him, a sexist thing to say that they would never say about a man. That is not what I like about A-Rod. While he is a flawed individual, to say the least, he has gotten some undeserved attacks, too, especially this year. Yet he has kept on keeping on, even though he knows that the entire Yankee organization wants him gone. That perseverance in the face of adversity is admirable.  

Like him, I kept on keeping on through the race, when I wanted nothing more but to be done with it. I also had to deal with men jumping onto the course during the race to do their morning runs, something those at the front of the pack didn't have to deal with. I was very cranky at this point, so I yelled at a few of them, in particular, the jerk who took water meant for those of us who paid $80 to do the race!

At about Mile 11, I was totally exhausted. I literally had to give myself a pep talk out loud, telling myself, "You got this," to the delight of several spectators cheering me on. I was extremely slow at this point, but like the proverbial turtle, slow and steady can win (or at least finish) the race.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I crossed the finish line, listening on my headphones to U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)," the song I was also playing when I gave myself that pep talk. I had visualized for months how it would be to complete the half-marathon. I was sure I would burst into tears after finishing. I imagined the crowds, and seeing Squawker Jon, and getting my medal and heatsheet.

Well, at that point, the crowds were pretty sparse, and Jon wasn't at the finish line, but I did get my medal and heatsheet. I didn't cry, though, although I was so sure I would.

The tears came later, when I finally connected with Jon about 10 minutes after the race. When I showed him my medal and said, "Can you believe I did it?" that is when the tears flowed. This was real. I had actually finished what I set out to do, and I was feeling (mostly) no worse for the wear. (My legs were fine two days later; the only thing I felt sore with was the terrible chafing I had on my right arm that lasted for the next week!) I walked -- make that strutted -- around Manhattan with my medal and heatsheet on afterwards, and had a celebratory brunch at Sarabeth's with Jon.

Two and a half weeks later, I still have a bit of a strut in my step. I still can't believe I finished a half-marathon! Now I can put one of those 13.1 stickers on my car. Now I can say to myself that I achieved something I didn't think was possible. What a great feeling that is.

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