Sunday, May 25, 2014

Edinburgh Half Marathon 2014 Recap - Or How I Became a Half Marathoner the Hard Way

Hello all!  I thought I would end my blogging hiatus for a moment to post a not-so-quick recap of my half marathon experience.  I kind of got a bit long winded, for that I apologize...  Or, maybe I don't.  Either way, here you go!!

Back in September 2010, when I started my path to live a healthier lifestyle, I never (in a million years!) would have ever thought that I would run a half marathon.  I mean, it wasn’t even a pipe dream.  I simply had never even contemplated running any sort of long distance.  Ever.  I think I can contribute this mostly to the fact that I couldn’t even run for 30 seconds, let alone hours at a time!

Then, once I caught the running bug after about 4 months, the idea of running longer distances crept into my head.  These were still merely dreams, but I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to run a half marathon?  Hell, maybe even one day a marathon?”  After a few months of running, I bit the bullet and signed up for my “first” half marathon – the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  Now, when I signed up for the race, I was unemployed and had all the time in the world that I could devote to training.  Then a great thing happened, although not for my running…  I got a job - A job that would take up a LOT of my time in the first few months.  My training began to fall to the wayside and after a particularly bad 10k race, I gave up on any notion of running the Brooklyn Half that year and also gave up on running for an entire year.

After my weight loss stalled and I realized that the only exercise I had found to be successful (for me…) was running, I decided to give it another try.  The journey back to building up my stamina was a long and tedious one, however after only 4 months of running again the idea of finishing a half marathon crept back into my head.  I jumped the gun prematurely and signed up for my “second” half marathon, the Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon.  It was going to be in February 2013.  After only a couple of weeks of training I quickly realized that I was in no way prepared for any long distance running, and so instead I focused on frequency instead of distance.  From the Fall of 2012 – Summer 2013 I ran 4-6 times a week and once again proved my theory that running was the most effective exercise for me to continue to lose weight.  I lost 30+ pounds that year.   By the end of that year I was still struggling with longer distances and with the idea of a half marathon still in the back of my head, I decided to sign up for a 10K race and recruited the help of my friend Abby.  She had completed numerous half marathons and was going to run the NYC marathon that fall and did so by using Jeff Galloway’s Run/Walk method.  I decided to ask Abby to run with me for the race and my eyes were opened!  I had always thought that I needed to run straight without any walk breaks to be considered a “runner” and boy was I wrong.  By running and walking in a set ratio, you were actually utilizing two different muscle groups, instead of just the one that you use for running.  By doing so, you tire out your muscles more slowly and therefore enable yourself to run longer.  Once I discovered how much better I felt after runs by doing this, I was hooked!  Now all I had to do was find my next half marathon to sign up for!

I knew that this year of the tour had two breaks in its schedule – a three week break over Christmas and New Years (not gonna happen, plus not really running season) and then a week off right before Memorial Day.  I had already made tentative plans to travel to London during that week and so thought “what the hell?” and began looking to see if there were any races during the week I was there.  I was thinking I would be lucky to find a 5K, or maybe even a 10K but low and behold, the Edinburgh Marathon and Half Marathon was the Sunday of my week off.  I immediately contacted my friend Jamie, who is a running guru and had always said that he wanted to run my first half with me (and who also happens to live in London!).  He decided to cancel his plans to run the London Marathon and instead signed up for the Edinburgh Marathon.  With a friend by my side I decided, once and for all, that I would FINALLY complete a Half Marathon.

Starting just a few weeks after returning to tour from the Christmas break, I began my training schedule.  It was a bit grueling at times, considering for the first six weeks back we were playing anywhere from 3-5 cities every week.  I was at the mercy of the hotel gyms and the quality of their treadmills.  Slowly but surely I added mileage and I was feeling good.  I even managed to finally break my distance record.  Then, because it’s just my luck, I got injured.  I fell off a curb outside of our theater’s stage door and did something (still don’t know what!) to my left ankle.  Thankfully it wasn’t the ankle that has the metal plate and five screws in it as that would have probably been a tad bit more problematic, however it did set me back enough as it was.  I wasn’t able to put weight on my foot for 48 hours and didn’t run for a full two weeks.  Feeling a bit deflated, I got back into my training routine as best I could.  Slowly but surely I was feeling more and more like normal.  Then the tour headed to Florida for about six weeks.  Since all of my training had been inside on treadmills at this point, I knew that I needed to make the best of the warmer weather and immediately began running outside as much as I could.  Ugh, that was an interesting transition!  Going from climate controlled (for the most part…) hotel gyms to running outside in the hot and humid Florida air?  It took a bit to get used to it, but finally I felt like I could attempt a long run.  Week after week I was adding mileage and breaking my distance record.  I was feeling great – so strong and confident.  Every run felt even better than the last.  Then came my scheduled 13 miler.  That confidence was going to be shattered, never to truly be regained.

My 13 mile run was spent in the wee morning hours my final Sunday in Jacksonville, FL.  By the time I left at 6:30 it was already over 70 degrees and probably around 80% humidity.  I had to fight for every mile that morning.  I told myself that I needed a bad run to be able to truly recognize the good ones.  But, inside my confidence was shot.  If my training run was that bad, how was the actual race going to go?  I still had two weeks before I was to head to London, and while I did continue to run during those weeks, I never did anything more than 6.5 miles.  I just couldn’t bring myself to attempt anything longer for fear that it would be another bad run and would wipe out what little confidence I had left.

My days in London before I headed up to Edinburgh were amazing.  I crammed as much as I could into those three days, and still couldn’t even scratch the surface.  I fell in love with the city, just like I knew I would.  Then on Friday I began my long journey up to Edinburgh.  It was a long train ride, but a beautiful one.  I’m glad I decided to go by train, so I could at least catch a glimpse of the Scottish and English countryside.  After my arrival into town I told myself that I was going to take it easy and just casually sightsee, but believe me… once you start looking at the sights in Edinburgh, it’s hard to stop!  What a beautiful, old city.  The architecture in both the Old and New Town was just amazing.  So much history and just beautifully picturesque.

Saturday I knew that I needed to give my legs as much rest as I could, but I still wanted to sightsee.   Unfortunately, this meant that I had to cut out a couple of things I had wanted to do, like climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, but the whole reason for my being in Edinburgh was the Half Marathon and that needed to be my top priority.  After meeting up with Jamie and his boyfriend Dan for some  
untraditional carb loading (Chinese food, it’s works too!) I headed back to my hotel room to stretch, rest and evidently have a panic attack.

I began to worry that because it had been over three weeks since my 13-mile run, that I wasn’t actually prepared.  And that run was atrocious!  How could I trust my body could actually do it?  People kept telling me that I could do it, and that I had it “in the bag” but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe them.  I didn’t believe in myself, how could they?

I frantically started texting my friend Corey back home and asked him to calm me down.  He gave me the best bit of advice, and something that no one had actually said to me – “remember to breathe.”  I went to sleep that evening feeling better, although still not 100% convinced I could do it.

I woke up at the bright and early hour of 5 ready to tackle this race, and quite honestly?  To just get it over with!  I was so ready to be on the other side of this race.  I was ready to say that I had done it, rather than say that I was preparing for it.  I was ready to call myself a Half-Marathoner. 

Unfortunately the weather was not the kindest it could have been – it was chilly and rainy as the time for the race drew closer and closer.  Jamie and Dan came to see me off at the beginning of the race, and wish me luck.  And then, before I knew it – it started!

I knew that I would be okay for the first half of the race, since I had managed to run at least 6.5 miles a couple of times since my 13 miler.  After that though, I wasn’t sure…  As I ran through the streets of Edinburgh, I was easily distracted by the sights as I ran past them.  Holyrood Palace, the Scottish palace of the Queen.  Arthur’s Seat.  Just the houses that lined the streets!  It was all very picturesque!  I was so distracted by the sights that I didn’t even realize that I was (for me, anyway…) flying.  During my training, I was pretty consistently at around a 13:15 mile.  I was content with this.  I have hopes of one day being faster, but for my first half marathon, I was just hoping to finish under 3 hours.  For the first 3 or 4 miles, I was running at 11:30-11:50.  That was SPEEDY!  At around the 5 mile marker, I caught my first glimpse of the sea.  We ran along the coast for probably the next four miles or so and even though it was windy, I loved it.  Just so beautiful and calm to watch the waves crashing as I ran past.  Miles 9 and 10 were really rough. We turned off the coast and actually were hitting a part of the course where the runners ahead of me had turned around and were near the finish line.  So, as I saw the mile 9 marker, they were looking at the mile 13 marker.  It was a bit rough knowing that I had two miles to go before I was able to turn around, but I trudged on.  My pace had slowed considerably and I was starting to need more frequent, or longer walking breaks.  My left foot was becoming numb and my right pinky toe was throbbing.  But… I had made it this far.  Barring a serious injury, I was going to finish.  That was just my goal – to finish.  At this point, and actually at several earlier points in the race, I remembered the advice to “just breathe.”  Each time, it helped.  I would focus on each breath in and each breath out, then I would run.

At about the Mile 11 marker, I started to see the front runners for the full marathon because they had started after us and were on the same course as us for the first ten miles or so.  It was so inspiring to see these people who looked like they were practically flying on their feet.  Then, I saw what was the highlight of my run – Jamie!  I was around Mile 12 when I saw Jamie near the front of the full marathon runners.  He slowed down enough to give me an amazing hug and ask me how I was.  It was enough to get me through the last mile of the race and feel strong while doing it.   I finished the race with an unofficial time of 2 hours and 53 minutes (as of when I posted this, the official results have not been released by the Edinburgh Marathon officials).  That's 7 minutes less than the 3 hour goal I had set for myself.  I'll take it.

I thought when I finally crossed the finish line I was going to burst into tears, or some other extreme show of emotion.  What did I do?  I kept walking.  I was kind of numb, both physically and emotionally.  It didn’t really hit me that I had actually done it.  To be quite honest, I still don’t know if it’s hit me.  I got my medal placed around my neck, fought to find a t-shirt in my size, and caught my bus back to my hotel. I guess I thought that I would feel like a completely different person when I finished, I don't know... 

As I sit here and reflect upon this event that was almost four years in the making, I realize that there are so many people that helped to get me here at some point along the way.  People that pushed and encouraged me.  People that make me feel a winner almost every day of my life.  And so I’ve decided that I’m going to dedicate each mile of the race to them.  In no particular order, they are:

  •  Mile One: My family.  No real explanation needed. 
  • Mile Two: Abby and Beth – these two lovely ladies are two of the most wonderful people I know.  Beth has been by my side through the darkest of days and Abby taught me that I could actually do this.
  • Mile Three: Jason, Trisha & EJ – who tried to teach me that I was beautiful at any size.  And who didn’t say I told you so when I finally figured it out for myself.
  • Mile Four:  Matt Sherr – my running buddy for the past year and a half who wouldn’t take my excuses.
  • Mile Five – Kelly, Susan, Andy, Ben and the rest of my MDQ family - For putting up with me talking of very little else for the past six months and constantly telling me how proud I make them and that I inspire them.  You inspire me too!!!
  • Mile Six – Emily Ho Sandford – for being my inspiration to get healthy in the first place.
  • Mile Seven – Liz Mahan – For being there for me anytime of the day or night. 
  • Mile Eight – Meredith Clark – One day we will run a half marathon together.  Amazon women unite.
  • Mile Nine – Jamie – For always giving me such wonderful advice and being a cheerleader.  You telling me you wanted to run my first half with me pushed me to do this.  Truly.
  • Mile Ten: Corey – for keeping me sane these last couple of months.  And for the best advice.  You are the human Quaalude.
  • Mile Eleven: Brian Kallaher – For the constant encouragement, expertise and inappropriate comments.
  • Mile Twelve: Jeremy Barger & Jeremy Striffler – For the two Jeremys that I reunited with over facebook and who I couldn’t go another day without them in my life.  Constant streams of support. 
  • Mile Thirteen (and 1/10th) – Myself.  Because I have learned that I need to love myself and be my own best friend.  At the end of the day, I did this for myself.  To prove I am officially no longer the old Maia.  I love myself.  I am proud of myself.  I can do this, and I can do anything I set my mind to.  I am stronger than I give myself credit for. 

I think the reason I don't feel really any different following the race is because I realize now that I was always this kick ass and this awesome.  I didn't need that medal around my neck to make me a strong person - I am a strong person!

I am Maia, and I am fierce. 

Oh... and I'm also running the Disneyland Avengers Half Marathon in November.  Because evidently, one half marathon isn't enough for this girl!