Lisa – Magic…with a big, ol’ side of gratitude

First, be ready. This is going to be a long report. Like book-long. I have a lot to share. Marathon #5. A PR. A sub-4:00. And a Boston Qualifier (BQ)! I cannot believe it. But, at the same time, I believe it because believing in myself led me to knocking this one out of the park. Like I said, this is going to be a long report because you’re going to see how I transformed into someone who did not believe into someone who does.

 

Some background on me:

The idea of even running any marathon seemed like insanity when I first started running at age 25. That first 1.5-mile loop around a lake with Tara came to this? Impossible. As a high school student, I used to say running was “against my religion” as I’m not built for running and the idea of putting one foot in front of the other sounded like as much fun as gouging my eyeballs out with spoons. But, a very dear friend (Tara) told me with my cardio background (From many, many years of Jane Fonda-inspired aerobics, kickboxing, and any other kind of group fitness I could get my hands on) made me an ideal runner. I laughed. I don’t LOOK like a runner. Then I ran. And, after that first 1.5-mile loop, I never looked back. I kept adding miles, setting goals (First 5K, first 10K, first half-marathon, etc.). After one particular half-marathon, I didn’t feel “done.” I wanted more. That’s when I knew I should set my sights on the full marathon. It was 2009. My husband thought I lost my mind (and now HE runs marathons, too…go figure). So, there it was. My first marathon. Chicago 2010. It was awful but I finished. It took me 5 more years and a move to Texas to consider marathon #2. I ran with new friends who are now dear friends. I’ve run one marathon a year since moving to Texas and have run with these amazing people every time. I’ve broken the 4-hour mark. I set my sights on a BQ with marathon #4, the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, only to lose it in mile 20 (Albany, NY should NOT be tropical in October…but it was). Then, I planned for marathon #5. Mountains to Beach 2018 in Ventura, CA. And, I knew I had to be all in so that I could BQ. I would learn from Mohawk and CRUSH it. There was no other option.

 

Training for this race:

From the start, the training for this race was already so much better than Albany. The weather was better, I was hitting my splits and even surpassing them, and I had a “fire in my belly” from Albany that charged me forward toward my goal of qualifying for Boston. I felt great. I learned how to recover with the last marathon and the magic combination of foam rolling, cryotherapy, and massage helped me stay injury-free even in my highest mileage ever! Until this point, I ignored EVERY SINGLE article that said foam rolling cures all. Rookie mistake. Never again will I skip rolling! A speedy running friend (Katlyn) suggested I listen to a podcast by Rogue Running because their episodes inspired her. I knew I had a shot at a BQ then lost it in Albany. Part of that was the weather (wind, rain, and high humidity) but another part was the negative self-talk and the non-believer in my head that showed up at mile 20. The “I’m not built like a runner” and “I am not fast enough to BQ” statements were echoing. So, I thought I’d give this little podcast thing a try. It changed me forever. I wrote a purpose statement. It started with “I AM capable. I AM a runner.” I learned about a lot of famous names in running. I learned about recovery, pushing to your limits. I was a sponge. My commute to and from work became a lesson in resilience while running. It was the perfect addition to my training.

My coach (Sadie) is amazing. Her workouts were perfect for my goals. Her infectious, positive approach was perfect for me. She loved the mental focus I put on my purpose statement because it reflected in the strength of my workouts. I was creating the perfect storm. When she told me M2B has a gong at the finish that you get to ring if you BQ, I knew that would be part of my race visualizations. The phrase, #thegong, was born. I was ringing that gong! Now, I just needed the planets to align on race day. And, we know that does NOT always happen. So I controlled everything I could and left the rest up to the big guy in the sky.

 Planning for this race was so much fun. The training, the friendships during each training run, the travel planning, and the anticipation of a fun-filled weekend kept me smiling during almost all of the 20-week cycle. McKinney Running Club never disappoints. Friendships formed in this club are fierce, honest, and long-lasting. 

 

LA-LA Land

We flew out on a Friday for the Sunday race. The extra day to eat, lounge around, and repeat really help race day go well. The time zone worked in our favor on the way out (not so much on the way home! A midnight arrival home Monday was a smack in the face!). We surprised Denise with a birthday sing-a-long on the plane (Because Southwest really does have more fun on their flights!). It was awesome, especially their “cake” for her made out of napkins and stir straws! Our vacation rental home was perfect. We had space, it wasn’t expensive, and it was close to the beach. Yes, the BEACH! We ate our Saturday lunch at the beach! Best pre-race scenery ever. 

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When I say we ate, I mean we ATE! Duke’s in Malibu was delicious and had gorgeous views right on the ocean. Pete’s Breakfast Café is a Triple D spot in Ventura and did not disappoint for hearty breakfast dishes (Granola, yogurt, and fruit wrapped in a giant pancake? Yes, please!!). Then, there was the pasta. Spasso and Ferraro’s were delicious ways to load up on carbs before the race. Social Tap, just steps from the ocean, was a fun, chill bar/restaurant that made an excellent post-race hangout.

 

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Race

 

The expo for this race was small but with enough opportunity to meander around, try a few samples, and shop. Check-in and bib/t-shirt stations were a breeze. This is a small race (maybe 2500 runners for the full?) so it’s easy to navigate. We were so excited! Everyone in our group was relaxed and happy. Weather looked almost perfect (mid-50’s at the start, mid-60’s by race end, light winds). We were ready! We called our Twin Cities race in October, 2015 a “unicorn” because it was the perfect race weekend. This had a similar feeling and we were SO excited about that!


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M2B is a point to point race that starts in Ojai at about 700+ ft. elevation and ends at Ventura Beach. It’s a net 500 ft. elevation drop which ideally will carry runners to a faster time. The 6 a.m. start meant an EARLY shuttle time to the top of the mountain! We stupidly selected the 4 a.m. shuttle when we signed up and couldn’t switch to the 5 a.m. shuttle. However, no worries because our awesome, amazing race Sherpa, Buddy, saved the day and drove us to the start! This allowed him to get pics before the race and then again at the 6ish mile mark because the course did a 6 mile loop in Ojai before heading down the mountain. 

 

 

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Mountains to Beach does not disappoint for us Midwestern, Texas flatlanders. The mountains, the ocean, the crisp ocean air, and the sunshine were refreshing! It was especially delightful because it was reaching 100 degrees back home in Dallas!

 

Race day temps started in the low/mid 50s and it was DARK as we headed up to Ojai. I could not BELIEVE I was FINALLY toeing the line for this race. The minute I crossed the finish line at Mohawk in October, I cried (a lot), called Chris to tell him “I didn’t do it” and then immediately knew I was going to give it another shot. That fire in my belly sparked to life in Albany and continued to burn all through training. I was ready. REALLY ready. And, here I was…about to start! EEKS!

 

image6For a small race, this was actually pretty decent in the way they organized things. There were plenty of port-a-potties (But, placing them in a U-shape was a bad idea…the way the lines formed created a labyrinth that no one could figure out!).

 

The start was broken into three waves by bib color. Our wise coach suggested we sign up for the 3:20-3:40 corral and hang in the back so that we don’t feel like we have to weave around other slower in the 3:40+ corral. That was a PERFECT call. The more energy we waste weaving, the longer this race would be and the lower our energy reserves for later miles. We were literally the last runners in our corral and never felt like we had to dodge slower runners in those first miles. We were relaxed, happy, and settling into our race. IT’S HERE!

 The first 6-7 miles were a loop up in Ojai. It was easy, fast, and BEAUTIFUL! The mountains, oh, the mountains! So pretty. Chris said there were orange groves around us but I honestly did not see one piece of fruit. I did notice the clear blue skies, the mountains, and the positive conversation with René. She mentioned she felt she was image5running “with gratitude” and honestly, those are the perfect words to describe this run. We felt like ALL of our running friends’ love and support were pushing us to the finish. Their voices would be heard in our heads throughout. It was magical. Around mile 2, I realized I had to use the restroom. I was comfortable but knew dealing with this for an entire marathon wouldn’t be fun. Then, another runner around mile 3 or 4 hopped out of a port-a-potty saying to his friend that he was glad he stopped and now felt he could race. I turned to him and said “I like your idea!” Around mile 7, I saw the port-a-potties up ahead. René and I banked a lot of time in those first 7 miles so we had some wiggle room. I knew going early would be better. I sped up to stop and ran into the thing so fast that I smacked my arm and leg on the frame! René continued running and I quickly caught up to her. Perfect! Was so glad I did that. Now MY race could begin, too!

Mile 7 took us out of Ojai and down the mountain towards Ventura. I don’t remember much about the next 8-10 miles. We were clocking mostly 8:30-ish miles which was incredible.  A lot of downhill, some conversation with a few other runners (including someone who knew all about Allen/McKinney and visited often because he has an office here. Small world!), and the views distracted us from the fact that we were actually running a race. We spotted someone in a unicorn hat (not kidding!). SO many signs indicating this was our race! I tried to hold back in these miles so that we had enough gas for the last 6 miles…because that’s when the race really starts. But, with the downhills, we just kept putting time in the bank with very little effort. It was glorious.

 Some of you know I dedicate my miles to people. For this race, I dedicated 6 mile chunks to just a few but also added the saying “La famiglia é tutto” to my arm (Family is Everything). To me, this quote represents family and friends. I thought of many of you so very often. My first 6 miles went to Josh Rodgers, who died in combat over a year ago. His impact will last forever. The next 6 miles were to a few friends/family battling some tough health issues (You know who you are). Miles 13-18 were for my parents. They need some strength and have given so much to me. I owe them my life, my legs, and my heart. Those first 18 or so miles FLEW by. At 15½ miles, I turned to René and said, “I cannot believe we’re already 15½ in already!” The last 6 miles went to my running community. My MRC, #morethanarunningclub. My running ladies who have taken me farther than I’ve ever expected. They make me a MUCH better runner and a better person. René and my “wing women” – Janelle, Phoebe, and Yvette. They say they were not paid to run and train with us but I swear they were because they joined us on almost every step of the way. I’m pretty sure our coach slipped some 20s under the table to them on a weekly basis. My coach. Oh, my coach! Someone who believed in me long before I ever believed in myself. 

 Those last 6 miles were not easy. It took the sum of my people and my past running experiences to get through it. On my arm, I wrote the simple statement, “I AM,” to represent my purpose statement. I looked at this many, MANY times in those last 6 (especially last 3!) miles. People, hear this right now. When someone tells you that a marathon really starts at mile 20, listen to them. It’s spot on. 100% true. I felt in control for ALL of the first 20 miles. Even at mile 20, my head still felt like it was on straight. I was delighted. All I needed to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’m not a negative split marathoner. I tend to slow down in later miles. I knew I had enough time in the bank so that if (ha, WHEN!) things started to slow down, I’d be mostly ok. But, I did NOT use this as an excuse to give up. I was still mentally tight at mile 20 and my body, while tired from downhills (quads were SHREDDED!), was mostly holding up. Then, I hit mile 23. René and I were side by side for all of the first 23 miles. We hit the mile 23 water stop like we did all the others. We would do own thing, get water, maybe eat, then would meet up somewhere after tossing our water cups to the side of the road. However, this time, we never met back up. I looked back and didn’t see her. I knew if I turned around to go find her, she would have chopped my legs off for not making this my own race. So, I turned back ahead and started running. I hoped she was back there and I hoped she was still running. I never saw her again until the finish (Spoiler alert: My friends, get your tissues ready…because our reaction to each other at the finish, which you will read shortly, will make you cry.). What I did not know was that she kept her eye on my shirt for a lot of those later miles and that helped push her to the finish. There truly is something special about running partners. You have each other’s backs even when you don’t know it. I can’t tell you how many times her words echoed in my head at 4 or 4:30 a.m. when I would get up for a run and just wanted to crawl back in bed. “I never regret doing a workout, I only regret skipping it.” Thank you, my dear friend René. I’m happy to return the favor at mile 23.

 Starting somewhere in mile 24, I was really getting tired. This was the hard part. This was the “suck” I visualized in all of my long runs. When I saw it in training, I would imagine myself leaning INTO the suck versus letting it beat me. I visualized the fences on both sides of the course which indicated I was close to the finish. I could hear the crowds and feel the sun. I could hear the waves crashing on the beach. My visualization of this moment was exactly what I saw in real life. So, I glanced at the “I AM” on my arm and leaned forward. I kept moving my legs. Miles 24 and 25 were my slowest miles at a 9:07 and 9:15 respectively. However, since I amazingly still had my brain, I KNEW I had this. (What also helped was having the mile 20, 22, and 24 goal times written on my arm…because runner math is never accurate…I needed the times written there ahead of the race so that I wouldn’t add things up incorrectly.) I knew I still had over a minute buffer which allowed this slow down and still could get me to a BQ. I also learned from Mohawk that walking did NOT feel better than running. Keep on keeping on. Keep saying that purpose statement over and over. When I saw my mile 25 split of 9:15, something image14came over me. First, it was “Holy crap, that was too slow but I am on track to BQ!! But, calm down, don’t get too excited…you still have 1.25 left!” Second, it was “Woman, don’t let the suck take over! Go nail the pace for your last mile of this unicorn race!” So, I picked it up. Mile 26 has a turn and once you make that last (LAST!) turn, you’re running parallel to the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean. I savored it. I kept my cadence up hoping I was pulling a marathon pace mile. I turned to the ocean and stared. I let it imprint on my eyeballs. I ran with tremendous gratitude for the ability to run, the training, the friendships, the journey, and the race. I did not back down. I did not call it done until I ran over that beautiful blue and red mat. Even when I glanced at my watch and saw 3:46-something and realized that holy smokes I’m coming in under 3:50, I did not celebrate. I still had a job to do. When I saw the finish line, the bold font on the banner made me smile. “FINISH” – I was almost there. This time, if a spectator shouted “You’re almost there,” I would NOT throat-punch them because it was actually true! 

I crossed that finish line and stopped my watch. I was delirious. Started wheezing a bit (which is my body’s signal of overheating). I said to myself “Perfect timing, you gloriously strong lungs, because I’m done!” HALLELUJAH! I did it! OMG, I did it! My watch said 3:48:56. WHAT?? A MINUTE under my goal time? Impossible. I must check the official results after I calm down. Either way, I KNEW I had the BQ with a buffer! I believed I could and I did! I can FINALLY take that mug Sadie got for me after Mohawk out of the closet (because, I did NOT do it there…I did not earn that mug…UNTIL NOW!)

The volunteer at the finish tried handing me a medal. I looked at it and her as if she was from another planet handing me a foreign object. What is this metal and ribbon thing you have? I do not know. I will not take it. Then, I snapped out of it and realized I was finishing a marathon and needed to take this thing and put it around my neck. I did that then turned around to find Rene because I knew she was close. I felt it! She crossed the finish line less than 2 minutes after me. I saw her. I probably screamed at her. I have no idea. But, when our eyes connected, we ran to each other (Ok, probably stumbled… I have no idea what my body was doing at this point). We hugged so tight that I’m pretty sure we became one person. We cried. UGLY cried. We kept saying over and over “We did it.” People on the other side of the finish line fence were crying. It was magical. WE DID IT!

René and I got water then went on a search for Chris, Denise, Sheri, and Terri. We tried to hang near the finish line but the fences didn’t really allow it. Every time we heard someone ring the BQ gong, we squealed. Why? Because we get to ring that bad boy today!! It’s ours! #thegong

 Finally, we parked at a spot just past the finish and saw Chris and Denise come through. They were done! They KILLED IT! I didn’t know it at the time but Denise PR’d by over 2 minutes and Chris by 10 seconds! MAGICAL! Chris immediately stumbled forward and said “Did she do it?” I screamed at him to get his attention (I know this time that I screamed because the guy standing next to me gave me a dirty look. Sorry, spectator-guy. You’re standing at the finish of a marathon…expect some irrational behavior and give me grace for I just BQ’d!).  They came over to us and we all embraced, crying again. We were all SO proud of each other. 

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Sheri and her sister came through next, both with PRs! I am not kidding when I say this day was magical. It really was. PRs for all!

image9The After

Once we all finished, we got food, took pics, and drank lots (and lots!) of water. The race started fairly cool (I would have loved temps in the 40s to start but hey, 50s works). It ended warm. That sun really cooks you after 26.2 miles. But, the weather really ended up not being a factor which was a huge difference from Mohawk. Mother Nature smacked us last October with that race so we were thrilled to get this gift for M2B. 

I checked my official time. Are you KIDDING ME? My goal was “8:45’s all day long” and I’ll be darned…my average pace was…wait for it…8:45! 3:48:54. I executed exactly as planned. I felt like I ran smart. And, it showed in my results! For the first time in my life, I felt like an athlete. A well-oiled machine who planned, trained, executed, and succeeded. Incredible.

 Next up, #thegong!!!!! We got in the long (LONG!) line to ring that BQ gong. We chatted,image15

met up with folks we met on the course, and made some friends who may reunite with us next April (In Boston! OMG!). I love runners. They’re just cool people. First, they’re stronger than steel. Second, they’re so kind. They cheer you on no matter what your running level. I met a sweet 60-year old woman who was celebrating her 60th by running one marathon a month for 6 months. That included Boston this year. She was on #5 with M2B and AGAIN qualified for next year’s Boston PLUS got 3rd in her age group. She clearly was in another class compared to me but savored my BQ as if I was an elite who just won a major race. We are all there for each other no matter if we’re a 10 minute miler, 5 minute miler, or a run/walk runner. The camaraderie and respect across “my people” will always keep me coming back to this sport. 

image13Back to the gong. It was now our turn! Cameras were out, video was rolling. I primed that bad boy (because when you prime a gong, it will make a clearer, purer ring…remember, I was a music major so I have to do this right. I want the BEST ring from this BQ gong!!). Then, I smacked it, cheered, and threw my arms in the air. MAGICAL! René rang her gong. MAGICAL! We officially have our BQ. We did what we set out to do and rang that gong! 

We took a few more pictures, called a lot of people, and headed back to the house to clean up and start the after party! Clean up included Epsom salt baths, showers, and a lot of limping around. 

The after for this race was glorious. We were all celebrating. Buddy, our superstar raceimage8

Sherpa, was moved to tears because we all celebrated each other. We lifted each other up. He was impressed with our selfless support for each other. It’s one of my most favorite parts of being a part of this amazing group of ladies (And Chris!). And, I was impressed with Buddy’s dedication to our races. He is an amazing person. I’m grateful to him for his friendship and what he did for all of us at M2B! We ate, we drank some adult beverages, had more beach time, then did some touristy things before heading home Monday night.

image7As if this accomplishment couldn’t get any more divine, René and I came home to signs in our yard. Our wing women delivered AGAIN! Phoebe and Janelle did what others did for them when they BQd. And, you can bet I will return the favor to my running friends as they continue to work towards their own goals. 

I think that’s about it. I love being a runner. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for my friends and family who support me both on the roads and in my heart. I’m relishing the MAGIC of the marathon and especially this M2B weekend. I’ve said many times that the marathon is a living, breathing being. You must respect it. If you do not, it can take you down right at the knees.

Each marathon is a journey and who I am at the end is always different than the person who started the race. M2B was no different. Ventura held a special place in my heart because when my parents lived in LA, it was the first “real” beach my daughters experienced. Now, Ventura means even more because it is where I finally believed in myself in the way others believed in me. That belief led to a marathon that allowed me to qualify for the elusive brass ring of amateur running…the Boston Marathon! I will be forever grateful for the magic of M2B 2018. It taught me to believe in myself, believe in the magic of the marathon, and run with tremendous gratitude. #thegong

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