In the beginning…
I’ve been running since the seventh grade (1997!), when I joined the junior high cross country team. What motivated me to do this? Was it the awesome gym shorts we ran in? My undying love for running? Just something to do in the afternoon? None of the above, actually. You see, throughout my entire childhood, I always admired my older brother, and therefore wanted to do everything that he did. This included, but was not limited to: watching him beat the entire game of Mario Brothers on Nintendo, “helping” him bake (this meant I was on clean up duty), playing the trombone, taking German as a foreign language, and yes, joining the cross country team.
Junior High – Let’s Get Physical
I don’t think I ever really thought about whether I would like it or not, I just did it. I had been to multiple of my brother’s cross country/track meets, and it’s not that he was a super-star or anything. (He went to the state meet in relays as a sprinter…distance was never his thing, but he just liked it and it helped keep him in shape.) It seemed like an okay thing to do, and if my brother liked it, then I would too! It had worked out so far in life, so I figured I’d go with it. In junior high cross country, girls run 1.5 miles in races. I laugh at this distance now, but that was some SERIOUS mileage back in the day. I was happy if I ran the whole thing, although in actuality I took many walk breaks. (As a sidenote, we always did our pre-race stretches while singing Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical“…awesome.) I have no clue what my times were like, although I assure you they weren’t blazing by any means, and I usually came in somewhere around the middle to end of the pack.
Although I wasn’t that great of a cross country runner, I was an awesome track runner! The 800 and 1600 were my events of choice, and I usually placed in the top three or four. Let’s forget the fact that there were usually only four-five girls in those races. My goal in the 1600 was to not get lapped by the lead girl from our team (our track was five laps to the mile), and I really wanted to break seven minutes…something I never did in junior high. However, I guess I didn’t hate it, so onto high school we go.
High School – The faster we run, the sooner we’re done!
Let me tell you that high school cross country was a HUGE step up from junior high. We actually ran more than two miles in practice, and our coaches seemed to know what they were talking about and were runners themselves! Imagine that. Practice started at 6 am two weeks before school started, and I barely made it through those first two weeks. My legs hurt, I was so out of shape, and I didn’t really have any friends on the team. Between all those factors, I wasn’t enjoying myself at all, and I almost quit. However, I wasn’t sure what else I would do with my time. (I was kind of lying to myself…I was still in band, but that, for the most part, wasn’t an after school activity.) I figured it had to get better, so I stuck around. Good thing I did!
Freshman and sophomore year cross country weren’t really anything to write home about. I remember running maybe in the top quarter of the JV team, and my times weren’t too bad for the 2.5 mile course we ran. I wasn’t quite as neurotic as I am about keeping track as I am now, so I don’t know what my times were like! Freshman year, I played softball (my other love!) for my high school instead of running track, but I quickly learned that I should stick with park district softball instead of high school. It was more fun, and I was much better at running…so I joined the track team sophomore year. I ran the 800, 1600, 3200, 3200 relay, and the mile relay if my coach wanted a good laugh. Breaking a seven minute mile was no longer ad issue, and I spent sophomore year chasing down the six minute barrier. I remember running 6:00.02 once…and then in the last meet of the season, I finally ran 5:58. Woohoo!
Onto junior year! What a year. Cross country was, again, nothing to write home about. I was usually near the top of the JV team, and I thought that I was setting myself up for a pretty good track season. However, when track season rolled around, I was always tired…I would fall asleep during movies in school, fall asleep doing my homework, and while fartleking in practice, my “fast” was a jog, and my “slow” was a walk. No matter how hard I tried, running was impossible. My coach finally pulled me out of a 3200 during indoor track and told me I wasn’t racing again until I went to the doctor. The doctor sent me to get some blood drawn, which led to the discovery that I was incredibly anemic. The nurse asked me what I did in school, and I told her I ran track. She responded with, “Running?? I don’t even know how you’re walking right now.” I don’t remember what my hemoglobin was, but I know they were close to giving me a blood transfusion. Instead, I was put on a massive daily dose of iron. It took a little while to rebuild my iron stores, and my junior year track season was never salvaged, but I eventually felt better and could finally run well come summer. (My thumb nails, however, have yet to recover. They became super ridged when I was anemic, and no matter what my iron status is, they don’t change.)
I continued to take the little green iron pills, and my running friends would ask me if they could borrow them since I started running so well. During all summers in high school, I did “summer running,” which meant running at six in the morning Monday through Friday. All other summers, I ran with the JV girls, but the summer before senior year, I could hang with the varsity girls and was put on the varsity roster when the season started. We considered this a victory for JV girls, as one of “us” made it into one of “them.” I had a pretty good season, running “top seven varsity” in the big Saturday invitational meets. We even made it to the state meet that year. They changed distances my senior year, so girls ran three miles instead of 2.5. I believe I broke twenty minutes once, although there was a whole ordeal with that race so I don’t have any official time. Somewhere around 19:30-ish. Anyway, the stars weren’t quite aligned for me, as the night before the conference meet, I pulled a muscle during marching band rehearsal and couldn’t run for the rest of the season. I missed the entire state series and had to cheer my team on from the sidelines. I was so disappointed because…hello?? Who hurts herself during marching band? Seriously. Believe it or not, the world kept on turning.
Senior year track! My coach finally took me seriously and realized that I was a hard worker and was worth investing some time in. I also realized that I was a pretty good runner myself, which is something I wish I had figured out sooner. I really began to do well in the 1600 and 3200, and I discovered that my calling is in longer distances. My PR in the 3200 ended up being 12:34, and in the last race of my high school career, I ran a PR of 5:40 in the 1600. There were certainly plenty of people ahead of me, but those are pretty respectable times and I was happy with them.
College – They have hills in Maryland
Enter…college! I didn’t run for a team in college, so it was just up to me to hit the roads. I wasn’t running the five to six days per week that I was used to, but I still got out there fairly consistently, give or take. During the first few weeks of school, I ran around campus, trying to figure out where everything was. (I usually got lost and then would remember that I’m from the Prairie State whenever I encountered a hill). My running picked up a bit when I met my boyfriend (on a band trip!), as he is a runner, and many of our first “dates” were going running together. He turned out to be a pretty good running buddy, as our paces were similar enough for every day running. We ran together through most of college, doing a lot of 4-8 miles runs, I’d say.
My races in college were pretty limited. I ran a 10k on a whim in 46:28. My friend and I did a half marathon together (that we didn’t train for…oops), and we ran 2:05. I did the Cherry Blossom 10 mile with no race specific training, and I ran 1:17:47. A 5k here or there, running somewhere in the 23-ish range. Between marching/pep band (weekend commitments galore!), limited training, and the cost of races (I’m cheap), I never really got around to running many races. However, one of my cross country friends from high school did the Chicago Marathon our junior year of college, which got me thinking…I could do a marathon too! I became obsessed with reading about training, reading about running, reading about marathons…That’s when I found the Runner’s World forums and would spend tons of time reading through all the posts. The more I read, the more fun it seemed…My boyfriend thought I was crazy.
The end of junior year, I signed up to run the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon. I used Hal Higdon’s Beginner program, getting my mileage up to 40 miles/week and doing one 20 miler. I read about hydration, gels, pacing, etc, but I don’t think any of it really hits until you’re doing it. I tried to choke down a gel during a training run, but I thought it was disgusting and moved onto shot blocks. Still not my favorite, but I decided to go with them for the marathon. I took a gamble signing up for this marathon, as the football schedule had yet to be released. When it was, I found that we had a home football game the day before the marathon, and since I was in the marching band (remember, I’m cool), I was going to be on my feet (in a wool uniform, carrying a trombone, standing, cheering, playing) for at least eight hours the day before my marathon. To make matters worse, it was announced the week of the marathon that our kickoff for the game was to be at 7pm. I had hoped to be in bed around then! Luckily, my band director was also running the marathon, and I ran into him at the expo, where he asked what time I planned on running. I told him maybe 3:40 (Boston, anyone?), and he said I wasn’t going to run that time if I stayed at the game, so he told me I could leave after our halftime show. Note: This still meant at least six hours on my feet. Not ideal conditions, but what can you do?
Mini marathon weekend recap: Lunch with boyfriend’s parents (where his mom told me not to die, essentially), pre-game marching band rehearsal, marching, more marching, football game, halftime, go home, stuff face with more pasta, find out football team lost, bed, wake up, run 21 miles, essentially hit the wall (maybe?), finish marathon (yay! 3:51!), feel awesome for about an hour, vomit fest 2006 (boyfriend thought I was dying), home, soup, bed.
Post-College – aka dear college, please take me back
I contribute missing Boston by 11 minutes to marching the day beforehand. Again, band interfering with my running…You think I would have learned. However, this meant that I was soooo close, and I could definitely do qualify on my second marathon! Registered for the 2007 Chicago Marathon, followed Hal Higdon’s Beginner plan again. Had plans for an awesome, Boston-bound marathon until HEAT WAVE 2007 struck. What a miserable day. Any plans for Boston were thrown out at the half, and the good part was that I still finished…before the race was cancelled.
In January 2008, I started a crazy we-cram-two-years-into-one-year nursing program, so I decided to take the year off of marathoning. I still ran 20-35 miles per week, depending how many exams I had (I remember having a quiz/test for all but three days in February. FUN.), and how the weather was (it was an ungodly cold winter). My boyfriend, however, got over his “marathons are crazy” idea when his grad school friend asked him to run a marathon with her. (I guess it’s crazy only when I do it? What?) Anyway, he finished his first marathon in 3:23. Well, I can’t be topped like that, so guess what my new goal is?? Not only must I qualify for Boston, but I must beat his time…obviously. I’m not sure I’m planning on doing that this time around, although it is definitely a longer term goal. Competition is good in relationships, right?
So that’s where we are now. I’m training for my third marathon, and I definitely hope to qualify for Boston this time around. Third time’s the charm! If not, I will do a fall marathon to attempt again. (I really want to run Boston 2010 because I like nice, even numbers, so 2010 is perfect, and it’s the 114th running of it, which is also an awesome number. Yes, I’m weird.) I’m not sure what my others goals are. I’ve never trained for/raced a half marathon, so I wonder how fast I could go. I haven’t really trained for any sort of shorter distance since high school, so it would be interesting to see what I could do. Additionally, I haven’t swam laps in a long time, or ridden my bike that often, but I think it would be an amazing challenge to do an Ironman. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
And that, my friends, is my running story. If you stuck with me to the end, thanks and congratulations! I hope you enjoyed my life as runner, and I hope to be running long enough to rewrite this in ten, twenty, thirty years from now! (Or longer…)
UPDATE – August 2010
I ended up qualifying for the Boston Marathon at the Wisconsin Marathon (and again at the Philadelphia Marathon), and ran the 2010 Boston Marathon. It was amazing and made me love running even more. Since September 2009, I’ve been battling IT band issues, which was caused me to take some time off of running. I’ve been able to do more swimming and cycling, and I did my first triathlon in August 2010. While my heart will always be in running, I’m looking forward to doing more tris in 2011. Next up is the Chicago Marathon in October 2010…and who knows what will be next!