First Half Marathon: 4 Years in the Making- Part 1

On Sunday October 20, 2013 in Denver, I attempted a dream I have had for four years- to run a half marathon.  No one ever (well hardly ever anyone),  just gets up one day, shows up at the start, and decides to run a half marathon without a story.  This is mine.

I started running 4 years ago, in September 2009- just weeks after I finished my thyroid cancer treatments. The surgery I had to have, the recovery, the radioactive iodine, and the fact I had no thyroid hormone for 3 months, left me feeling like an invalid, and there were many days I could not get out of bed.  I remember one morning, after having moved in with my dad and step-mom, temporarily because I was unable to care for myself and my young boys round the clock, my dad and step-mom were at work.  I was sitting on the porch swing, watching the boys play in the yard.  I saw it was 10AM, and knew I had better start making them lunch.  I had to stop midway, walking up their 6 stairs to the kitchen, and it took me 2.5 HOURS to walk about 10 steps from the porch, up the stairs, to the kitchen, and make 2 sandwiches.

When all my treatment and recovery were finished, and I finally started to get the Synthroid (synthetic thyroid hormone) that my body had been deprived of for 3 months, despite the doctors telling me I may never feel “normal” again, I started to feel instantly better.  I was grateful I didn’t feel like I was 120-years old anymore, I was starting to get energy back.  I had always wanted to run in a race, and the 5K Race for the Cure was in a few weeks.  I decided to try running in this, and even if I couldn’t run the entire way, I knew I could walk it, but it would be a victory, just to be able to be there, and move.  Something I had taken for granted until I had cancer.

Most my readers know the story- I was able to finish the 5K race, running, and I was hooked.  I have kept running since then- at times more intensely and seriously.  In July 2010 I entered my first competitive race, for a 3K, and came in second for my age group.  The next year at the same Race for the Cure, I took 12 minutes off  my 5K time from just a year ago- from 36 min. to 24 minutes- those were definitely highlights and goals of my running, but it was not my dream.

Ever since those first steps I took running, I thought of those who couldn’t run, & appreciated how lucky I was.  I dreamed- “someday” if I trained hard enough, worked hard enough, ran fast enough, was healthy enough- “someday” I would try to run a half marathon. In my mind, that would be the ultimate achievement from where I had started to where I would end up.  My physical condition when I started running- to be able to even sign up for a half marathon- might as well have been climbing Mount Everest.  It was really a dream I never thought I would be able to accomplish, but could hope for, if all the other conditions in my life were ideal.

In those 4 years, I’ve signed up for a few half marathons, but always had circumstances arise, where I was not able to train properly for them.  One half marathon was weeks after my mom passed away, and I was just not in an emotional place to be able to do it.  I’ve gotten busy- kids, work, school, relationship, family, friends, my health and in 2011 I had yet another cancer scare.  Over the years, I have never stopped running, but somewhere along the way, I let my dream slip to the background.  Perhaps because deep down, I never really believed I could do it.  Why do something and fail?  The half marathon hasn’t been my focus in a long time, but it was always in the back of my mind- a little part of me never let it completely slip away.

In May, a friend said he was going to try to run his first marathon in October, and encouraged me to give it a shot as well. I decided it was time to make this my goal again, and get serious about it. I signed up, with new found enthusiasm.  Weeks later, I developed a nasty side shin splint that left me unable to run.  By the beginning of August, despite having rested and not having ran for weeks, it was still there.  It was time to decide- I had to train if I was going to run this, but I decided to shelf my dream yet again- rather than risk developing a more serious injury by stressing my shins.

Just days after this, in the beginning of August, I had a bad bicycle crash, and broke and dislocated my elbow. I had to have surgery, and was unable to bend my elbow, or use my arm for weeks.  It was devastating to me. It left me very immobile and in a lot of ways it left me unable to perform very basic functions- from personal grooming to taking basic care of my kids, like I want to.  It was a very painful injury. I’ve never had chronic pain, but I did for weeks with this injury.   I felt helpless, alone, and very much like I did when I was sick with cancer.  When you live by yourself, you don’t realize all the things- until you can’t- you must do for yourself and your children. When suddenly, I could not do these things, it left me feeling very vulnerable, and weak.  When I saw my children step up and help me with things I should have been doing for them as their parent, it made me feel like I could not even be their mother properly. It was everything I could do, to just go to work for the day.  I had nothing left when I got home. Combined with the chronic pain, unable to live my life like I wanted, and unable to exercise or move without constant pain, – this was very demoralizing and depressing. It really was my worse fears realized.  My independence, my ability to care for my children, and my mobility were gone and I was scared.  I felt like I was living in a blanket of heavy fog, only seeing the fog- in front of me.  I could not have known how much this was affecting me at the time, but all of these things contributed to very difficult months, on every level- physically, emotionally, and mentally.

As I started physical therapy, I started to work really hard on the exercises the physical therapists were giving me. They assured me if I did these every day, my elbow would start to get better.  They were right, and within a week, finally some of the pain subsided, and I started to feel more optimistic I would be able to use my arm again. I felt like I was finally coming out of the fog a bit.  I started going to my gym and just riding the stationary bike for 3-5 miles. I could protect my elbow, and not have a lot of pain while doing this.  When the physical therapist told me to start working on holding my arm down, I figured running would be good.  I started running a half a mile, three quarters of a mile, a mile, etc. My arm felt good when I ran, and I felt my spirits rising as well when I ran.  Soon I was up to running 5 miles a week.

A lot of these runs were at night on a treadmill, but I was happy I could at least run again.  As I ran those mindless miles on the treadmill, the half marathon I had signed up for, which was weeks away now, kept creeping back in my mind. Could I do it? The doubts crept in.  Did I dare try? What happened if I tried and failed? No way was I even near the level of being able to run a half marathon, and I still had a broken elbow I was recovering from…was I crazy?

But my legs felt strong from the stationary bike riding, the running I had been able to do, and in the 2 months my elbow had been broken, my shin splint was gone, (there always is a silver lining). One night as these doubts were running through my mind, I decided to turn them off.  I turned the incline up higher on the treadmill, to simulate hills instead.  If I was considering this, I had better train 10 times harder than the race course, in the days I had left.

Ten days before the marathon, I told a client of mine from work, who is also very exercise oriented, I was thinking about actually running the half marathon.  She didn’t hesitate- she didn’t tell me all the reasons why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do this- she just told me I could do it.  And hearing that she thought I could- gave me the push I needed.  When I started telling friends and family I was going to run- no one told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t- and I realized all the resistance and fears were mine, and mine alone.  I saw and experienced people believing in me, and that in turn helped me believe in myself.

I worked out on the treadmill at night when the boys were with their dad, my half marathon 10-day training plan.  I ran the treadmill at a 3 to 4% incline at 12-13 minute miles.  I knew this was harder than the course, but I had to train hard.  I knew I had to pace myself during the race, or I would never be able to go 13 miles.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time left before the race to even try to run 13 miles, without risking the strength and endurance I had built up. But one thing I have learned from running is you are always stronger than you think you are. You can always do more, if you let your mind believe it.

Six days before the race, I put my training to the test and ran 8 miles.  I ran the first half very slowly and conservatively, and finished the second half, running up hills, at a faster pace.  I felt like I could have kept running, and felt very optimistic, I had another 5 miles in me for race day.  It didn’t matter how fast I went- only that I finished.  I felt ready.  I remembered how far I had come from those days as a cancer patient- unable to get out of bed.  I remembered everyone who couldn’t run, and was grateful that I could. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Even though I wasn’t the healthiest I could be. Even though I didn’t have the ideal training. Even though I wouldn’t be able to run as fast as I had wanted.  Even though the previous month had been devastating emotionally.  But I wasn’t going to use these excuses to put my dream on hold again.

Life life, running is seldom perfect. If you never take that first step forward, nothing will ever happen.  Finish or not- I was going to give this everything I had, and if I didn’t finish, at least I tried. Even I couldn’t run the entire 13 miles, or cross the finish line, I would have at the very least, given my dream a chance.

(I want to write this in detail, so will be breaking the post up.  Part 2 coming next!)