Archive for June 2010

And The Winner Is…

June 21, 2010

Me!  Well, at least in my age category.  I placed first in the 10K Female, 40-49 in the YMCA’s Rockport Father’s Day Race.  My overall place was 44th.

I arrive at the site at 7:30, per the instructions on  the website.  A handful of race staffers rush around, setting up tables and unpacking cardboard cartons of water bottles, Gatorade, and fresh fruit.  I look around for all the other runners, but it’s just me.

“Hi.  Aren’t we supposed to be here at 7:30?”

“Are you registered?”

“I am!”

“You only have to come this early if you’re going to register today.  What’s your name?  Let me give you your number and tee shirt.  You can come back in an hour or so.”

I look around for Sue but don’t see her anywhere, so I take my number and my race tee shirt and walk back home, occasionally looking down at the safety pins I’ve put through the laces of  my Nike Free sneakers.  I want to wait to learn how to pin my number onto my running shirt the right way when I go back to the start line.

Sue calls around 8:15.

“Where are you?”

I tell her, then hop in the car with my hubby and he drops me off, taking time to snap a few pre-race photographs of us with our numbers pinned to our shirts, ready to go.

Sue knows everyone.  She introduces me to many of the women who will be running and share our age category.  We rush off to the bathrooms and pee about 5 times before we are instructed to line up for the race.

I don’t hear any gun shot or whistle sound, but suddenly everyone around us is running.  Then, we are, too.  My tinge of nervousness melts away and all I feel is excitement as we take off.  The sounds impress me the most.  Hundreds of sneaker-clad feet hit the pavement in a crazy rhythm that makes me think of heavy summer rain on my porch roof.  I can hear breathing, too.  Light, at first, then labored and intense, then even panting as runners begin to pass us.  I can already hear “hobo blows”— runners blowing their noses onto the sidewalks.  And lots of hawking and spitting.  I smile to myself— we’ve only just started and already there’s that much mucous exiting bodies!!!

Men and women of all ages struggle to find their place as we head down the street and make the first turn.  I am in running heaven, surrounded by running angels of all shapes and sizes.  I feel good.  Ready.  Sue wants to start off slow and I think we do, but when we hit the first mile marker, our time is 7’50” and I turn and grin at her.  We’re off to a good start.  The day is sunny and hot.  The air is thick with humidity, and sweat is already trickling down my back and face.  We catch up to one of the women Sue introduced me to and run with her for a few minutes.  We pass her and press on.

We stampede down South Street.   Runners are all over the road, which is not closed.  Cars crawl by; runners part like water to let them pass.  We go left at the fork towards Cape Hedge Beach, then down the steep hill at Penzance Road onto Pebble Beach.  I can see runners way up ahead, right in front of me, and I have to look back for a second to see more coming from behind.  We are overtaken by two men who are running barefoot.  They seem to float above the sandy, rocky beach road, the soles of their feet dark brown and thick.  I am jealous, wishing I had been able to accomplish barefoot running well enough that I could be just like them.  They make it look easy, and I will my calf muscles to behave the next time I run barefoot.  Next year, I tell myself.

We run behind a father-daughter team and they become our pacers.  The girl, probably about 13 years old, has a hard time on the hills.  Her dad is sweet, encouraging her to keep going.  I can see the sweat ring along the neck of the back of her pink tee shirt, and watch the ring spread down her back as we press up the long, slow hills on Marmion Way.  We pass a bed and breakfast, and the smells of bacon, sausage, and maple syrup turn my stomach.  I am flooded with relief as the smell is replaced by the clean summer scent of privet hedge in full bloom a few yards beyond the B&B and my energy returns.

Sue and I stay together.  I can see she is struggling a bit today, and think it must be the heat and humidity.  Part of me wants to run ahead, but a bigger part of me wants to stay with her.  She is my running partner, and we have conquered so many of my fears and challenges together that today, on my first race, I think we should stay together.  I want to race, but more, I want to run this race with her.

I’m so caught up in watching the runners ahead of me and their various gaits and running styles that I have not really noticed the scenic beauty on the route today.  There is so much going on that it’s hard to pay close attention to anything at all.  I do manage to wave to some of my neighbors as I pass their houses, and am stunned by how quickly the time has gone by— that I am already running past my own house and the end of the race is near.

Sue and I ease down the steep hill on Atlantic Ave., and she’s a couple of steps behind me.

“When we get to the big hill, you go on ahead.”

“No, I want to run with you.”

“No, you should just go.”

“No.”

But then, partway up the hill, I see her falling behind.  I turn and look over my shoulder again and I call back.

“Okay!  I’m going!”

I sprint up the hill, picking off three runners in a row.  I reach the top and make the turn, passing two more people— a woman and then a man.  I can’t see exactly where the finish line is, and I turn again to see if I can see Sue.  She has not come around the corner yet.  I want to cry because we are not together, and I want to shout because I can see the end of the race.  I pick it up once more and see her husband right before I cross the finish.

“Where’s Sue?”

“Right behind me!”

And it’s over.

I walk along the yellow plastic ropes that create a narrow lane,  marking the very end of the race.  An ambulance and several EMTs stand at the end, looking closely at each runner as they make their way along the path.  I’m fine, and grin at them as they scrutinize my face and then move on to assessing the runner behind me.

Sue comes in, and we grab water and Gatorade.  We are grinning.  She doesn’t seem to mind that I ran ahead at the end.  We stand for pictures again, my husband clicking away with the camera, us laughing and wiping sweat from our faces.

“Let’s go see our times!”

“How do we find out how we did?”

“Oh, they post them on the wall over there.”

The 5K race is already posted, but runners are still coming in from the 10 K.  We wait around, chatting, until we see someone with paper and tape next to the wall.  A small crowd gathers, and I press my way to the front to read the small print.  I turn to Sue.

“Is it by number?  By name? Are the numbers in order? Oh! Wait!  What does 44— 1/9 mean?”

“Who is it?  Who’s 44— 1/9?” Vicky asks.

Sue’s friend Vicky is right behind me, looking over my shoulder.  She’s asking the question we all want the answer to— which one of us got first place?

“Me.  My name’s there.  With those numbers.”

“That means you came in 44th overall, and first in your category. Congratulations!”

I am surprised and pleased.  Yet, even as it hits me that I placed first in my age group,  there is a hollowness in my victory.  I feel that I let my friend down by sprinting ahead that last 1/2 mile.     She told me to go ahead, and I did, and she really seems okay with it.  The rest of my day is filled with congratulations from family and friends.   And although I receive a framed photograph with 10 k Female, 40-49, 1st Place printed on the front, and yes, although I chant “I won!  I won!” about a hundred times to my husband and kids, inside myself  I am sad and disappointed, too.  I feel like I let both Sue and myself down by not finishing the race together.  I honestly think that if I was having a slow day I would have told her to go ahead, so why do I feel this way?

Is it like being born and dying?  That in the end, we have to do it alone?

There’s so much to think about and learn in life— I am stunned by how much of it can happen while I am running.

I can hardly wait for the next race.

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Madonna and Me

June 18, 2010

I’m running.  Fast.  I round the steep, short hill that flows down to Pebble Beach and I think, Wow.  Sunday is my first real road race. I have a flashback to the eighties and instead of hearing The Black Eyed Peas pumping into my ears from my iPod, I hear Madonna’s husky, youthful voice.  “I made it through the wilderness.  Somehow I made it through….like a virgin…” and realize that’s just how I feel.

I’ve been passed by plenty of runners, and have passed just as many on my running route over the past few years.  But I’ve never run with the intent to pass, or experienced the possibility (or the reality) of the slight humiliation that comes with being outrun.  I run because I love the way it feels, and because I love the effects running has on my body and on my psychological well-being.  So far, when another runner passes me, I wave hello and just keep going.  I know there are faster runners out there than I;  it never mattered before.  Now, somehow, I think it might.

The Rockport Father’s Day Race is this Sunday.  There’s both a 5K and a 10 K loop, and I have chosen to run the 10K.  The route is my regular everyday route, which is so familiar by now I think I could run it with my eyes closed.  Sue, my running partner, suggested we register and run the race together and I guess it’s time to get over whatever barriers I have around running a race and just do it.

I spent this running week preparing.  Monday I woke up at 5:30 and ran the race route plus a little more.  Tuesday I did plyometric drills and core work.  Wednesday I ran the race route again, focusing on speed.  Thursday I ran a beautiful, easy, long run, 12 miles, and my average speed was an 8 minute mile.  Today I ran a recovery run, part of it with my friend Michelle, and we just took it easy, chatting about eating vegan and how challenging it can be in restaurants and with friends.  Tomorrow is a rest day, just cycling with a friend early in the morning.  Then, Sunday, the race.

As I ran on the route on Monday, “Like A Virgin” kept playing in my head.  I rewrote the lyrics to suit running instead of sex, humoring myself with revised lyrics like “in a race for the very first time” and “I made it up the hill.  I have a strong will” and “Gonna give it my best, My fear is fading fast. Sweating like a boy, Not gonna come in last”, and “Oh oh baby, I can hear my heart beat for the millionth time.”

The thought of running in a crowd instills both excitement and anxiety.  Will I be able to get my rhythm with all those other runners panting in my ear?  Will I do myself in by starting too fast and losing steam later on in the race?  Will I get my first ever cramp and have to walk?  Or will I fly like I’m alone on the road and not worry about what’s going on around me?

I’m not sure if I care about placing so much as just beating my own regular time, but there’s some little part of me that is wound like a tight spring set to release full force.  Like A Virgin:  In a Race for the Very First Time.

Absence Makes the Heart Ache

June 12, 2010

My husband’s mother, Charlotte, died on May 12 of this year.  She had not been feeling very well for a while—I’d say for at least several months, but was one of those women who sometimes masks her feelings when things aren’t right.  The mask was not just to fool those around her.  I think it was to hide and protect herself from the scrutiny that comes from living in close proximity to her family.  She lived next door to us.  We saw her often, and I was the one she depended on to take her to her doctor’s appointments and do her little errands when she wasn’t feeling up to doing them herself.

On the way to her third trip to the emergency room by ambulance, she strained against the belts the EMTs  used to keep her from falling out of the carry chair they used to transport her from her second floor bedroom.   She  raised her arm in the air, pointing her finger in my general direction, smiling, giving orders.

“The occupational therapist is coming at 10.  You’ll have to cancel her and reschedule!  And Phil’s coming at 2.  Give him a call and maybe you can meet him instead!”

She was smiling but also trembling as she reminded me what to take care of, as the two women driving the ambulance and the police officer assisting them slid Charlotte onto a stretcher and folded the carry chair.  I watched the black rubber wheels on their metal spider legs collapse under the seat and felt my own knees begin to buckle.  I smiled back at Charlotte, trying to make believe everything was all right, but felt tears prickling behind my eyes.  One of the EMTs walked over to me, crunching on the gravel stone of the driveway.

“Go back in and pack her a bag.  She’s going to need slacks, a blouse, some socks— and don’t forget her shoes!  You’ll probably be bringing her home tonight!”

The woman laughed as I tucked Charlotte’s purse under the cotton blanket and black restraint.  I wiped my tears and leaned in to kiss Charlotte’s soft cheek.

“You’ll need this.  Your health card’s in there.  Don’t worry, though, I took out the money and the blank check.  I put them in your dresser.  They’ll be there when you come home tonight.”

That was Thursday, May 6.

My husband and I, along with Charlotte’s best friend Rosalie, were with Charlotte when she drew her last, labored breath, just seven days later.  We held hands with her, and with each other, already missing her cheerful strength and love.  The three of us stood in a tiny circle and cried together, unable to accept such a loss without each others’ support.

I keep seeing her finger pointing to me as she waited to be put in the back of the ambulance.  I see her in the hospital bed, at first seeming to improve, then so quickly spiraling downward.  I see her struggling to breathe, and I see the fear in her eyes.

I see the open blinds of her bedroom windows, the lights on at night with the timer she liked to use.  I see her empty place at the table, the red rose bush by her front door blooming, and I ache for my husband’s mother, my friend.

It has been hard to do all the things one does when someone dies.  And there are so many of those things left to do.  I hate the thought of cleaning out her closets and dressers, but I know she would want it to be me, not her sons, to pack away her cotton panties and bras, to fold her slacks and blouses nicely before a donation truck takes them all away.

Running every day while Charlotte was in the hospital gave me strength to be there for my husband and children as we all watched what could not be changed or stopped.  Now, running helps keep the ache of loss at bay, helps me sort through my feelings that slip uncontrollably between grief and relief— grief for the loss, and relief that it’s all over.

Part of me has been suspended through all this— the place where my feelings cower in a corner, trembling like my mother-in-law as she sat in that transport chair, knowing what I have to do but not wanting to take the trip back.  I have been unable to write until now; the story obscene, elusive, and heartbreaking, my will weak from the ache of loss and the fear of writing it for me— and to share.