Monday, April 25, 2011

Back in It!

Didn't expect to see me here, did ya? I'm so happy to say that I'm back on the running/racing train. We're heading back to the US in early June, and I just signed up for the Summer Scamper 5k. It's in Palo Alto on the Stanford campus and it benefits the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital (at Stanford). I'm guessing that it will be the same course as the other race we ran at Stanford, but I'm not sure.

Screen shot 2011-04-25 at 7.27.51 PM

I started treadmill training today (it's too hot to function outside here in Dubai, boo). Back to my old friend Mr. Galloway's intervals and it feels great! I'm still highly motivated by that t-shirt quilt I hope to have someday. This is one step closer!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Happiest Race on Earth: Wheelchair Edition

It's about time I finish writing about the half marathon. This is just going to be a stream of consciousness situation, and it'll be more about the aftermath of the race than the race itself, so please don't feel compelled to read it, seriously.


First and most importantly, I need to say that even though the details of our trip are starting to slip deeper into fuzzy memories and the raw emotion of what I accomplished isn't so raw anymore, this is something that I'm going to carry with me forever. I feel like I can accomplish anything now. I have a completely new perspective on myself. I can walk around with my head held high and actually love the person that I am now. That's pretty new. While it's somewhat of a shame that I didn't have this moment until I'm pushing 30, some people never get there, so I feel like one of the lucky ones.

Last time I wrote about the race, I mentioned that the possibility of getting kicked off the course for my slowness was indeed genuine and not just a vague threat by the race organizers. This stressed me out to no end, especially when I started losing the pacers. The last few miles were physically excruciating, but I was fairly certain by that point I'd be allowed to finish, so the pain doesn't feel so bad when I look back. Excuse my candor, but in addition to whatever physical discomfort and fatigue my body was feeling, I had to pee like a mofo. I just kept thinking about that medal, that finish line, and I carried myself to the end.

Andy and I had planned to meet at the New Zealand (our honeymoon destination) kiosk at the Food and Wine Festival after I finished. When I crossed the finish line and got my medal, I was so nauseous, so disoriented, and so unable to take any more steps (I even tried to go to the bathroom and couldn't, that's how wound up I felt after only thinking of finding a bathroom for the past hour) that I sat down next to France, which was just across from the finish. I sat there trying not to throw up next to the nice people enjoying their food and wine until I gathered the wherewithal to text Andy. He made his way over and found me, at which point I promptly burst into hysterical, hyperventilating sobs of relief and happiness.

So happy to see the big white ball:

I tried to get up, but my body just wasn't working. It was the weirdest combination of emotional pleasure and physical pain at the same time. I knew I shouldn't have sat down, I should have walked around, cooled down, stretched. But I was so overcome by the whole thing that none of that occurred to me. Andy mentioned that he had seen medics handing out wheelchairs and asked if I wanted one. All of a sudden, that sounded like the best thing in the entire world.

It was already well after 2 am at this point (the race started at 10), and the party ended at 3 (as did the buses running from Epcot back to our hotel). So if I wanted any chance of seeing the festivities and/or getting back to the hotel that night, a wheelchair was the way to go. While Andy went to find a wheelchair for me (he had run the race too but was feeling fine, such a champ!), I called my mom. It had just started to be her birthday, and I thought I'd share a bit of my elation with her. I was still hyperventilating and sobby but I'm pretty sure she was thrilled that I called, since she kept saying it was the best birthday present ever.

Andy came back with the wheelchair, and after some wobbles I was able to hoist myself from the ground to the chair. We meandered til we found a bathroom, and this time I was successful. I got to see some of the booths and the food and drinks they were serving, but there was no way in hell I wanted to consume anything at that point. I was also freezing. I don't remember if it was actually cold or I was going through a post-race temperature drop, but we found some hot water and it warmed me pretty well. The endorphins kicked in right around then, and catching up with Andy, hearing about his race, and most importantly trying to describe to him how much his gift meant to me made the time fly, and before we knew it, the party was shutting down and it was time to head to the buses. Quickly before we left, we used our food tickets- Andy got a spanakopita from Greece and I got a Nanaimo bar from Canada. The Nanaimo bar was awful, but I didn't care at all, I still hadn't regained any kind of appetite.

Icky Nanaimo Bar: (they're supposed to look like this)
Icky Nanaimo Bar

As we were wheeling around Epcot for those 45 minutes or so, I remember looking over and seeing someone else being pushed in a wheelchair, but this person was slumped over and looking almost like death, while I was chatting animatedly away on my endorphin high. I remember feeling so grateful that I pushed myself just hard enough to finish, and just hard enough to feel like I was at my absolute physical limits, but that my body knew not to go too hard, too far, too fast. My muscles were severely sore, sure. But that's all it was: muscle soreness. I heard murmurings later on about how a lot of athletes pushed themselves too far that night, perhaps because it was at night, who knows. But I was there, I was present, and I was so grateful for that wheelchair and for my husband who would push me anywhere.

The next day, we met up with Jeff and Stella (my friends who surprised me!) at Epcot. I was wearing my medal and my "I Did It!" shirt and a giant smile, still incredulous that I had actually done it. I'm not going to lie, it was really really hard to have fun that day. The whole point of being at Disneyworld is to walk around and see stuff, but walking, even at a snail's pace, was kicking my ass. After Jeff and Stella left us to head back to New York, we had dinner and then went back to Epcot one more time to go on a few more rides and see IllumiNations, the fireworks show.


At that point, I decided that if there was one available, I wanted a wheelchair again. Of course there was one available-- anyone can rent one as long as they're willing to fork over the cash. The nice intern at the rental place saw our medals and comped us the chair, and I was able to really relax and enjoy the rest of the night. I felt sort of silly being pushed around when I was physically capable of walking, but it was just so damn uncomfortable and slow, and Andy was happy to push, so I took him up on it. We stayed at Epcot past closing time that night, strolling around the world and taking it all in.

Feeling awkward and oh-so-comfy:

I think that's all I have on my mind tonight. If I think of anything else as time passes, I'll definitely come back and write it here, and of course I plan on documented my continued fitness efforts here too. To wrap up this post that means so much to me, here are some photos that Andy and I took at IllumiNations that night after the race. These pretty much sum up how I feel about this whole experience. If anyone is actually out there reading this, thank you so much for your support, I couldn't have done this without you.





Sunday, November 7, 2010

Race Against Pulmonary Hypertension 5k

My 10th race was this morning: The 10th Annual Race Against PH on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto.

This race was a first for me: my first race in the rain! It felt familiar, since I was training for months during the never-ending rainy season in the Pacific Northwest last winter, but that didn't necessarily mean that it was the most pleasant.

Fake Starting LIne - Race Against PH
You'd think this was the starting line. You'd be wrong. It's just a giant blowup arch perched on a little hill.

I wasn't trying for a PR today. Just wanted to go out and have fun. Mission (mostly) accomplished. Mile 1 was killer. The course was really narrow, and the fast runners who started at the back of the pack were brutal. I got body slammed from behind by one of them trying to get around a cone. There were also lots of kids on the course. If you know me, you know I'm all for the presence of kids in any context. But these particular kids felt the need to bob and weave around me, and especially to stop dead in their tracks right in front of me. Killed the groove a bit. That, combined with the rain and just feeling sluggish and tired from the start made it a challenge.

Stanford in the Rain
Stanford in the rain. Still beautiful.

Mile 2, though, was amazing. Mostly because I'm 99.9% sure the Mile 2 marker was placed *really* early, resulting in me running an 11-minute mile without even trying. My previous fastest (ever) is/was around 13, so I really don't think it was placed correctly. At the time, though, I wasn't thinking about it, and got a huge boost of energy from my false sense of superwomanhood. I was able to make up some time during the last bit of the course and managed to finish under 45:00, which was the goal I had set for myself today.

Race Against PH
This was the design on the t-shirt. Adding some pastels to the mix finally!

A bunch of Andy's [very fast-running] coworkers also came out for the race, and we ate brunch afterwards together. Food is always my #1 motivator. Most importantly, I got another shirt to add to my collection!

We're trying to decide whether to do a 5k next weekend too. It's in Monterey and sounds like a really fun course. I'm nuts, I know. I just want the damn t-shirt!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley 5k

Another weekend, another race (my 9th!), and a smashing new personal record! The Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley 5k started before the crack of dawn this morning. We took the Lightrail to downtown San Jose at 6 am (owwww) and got there just in time to see the main event, the half and full marathons start.

Look! It's Dean Karnazes, world famous Ultramarathon Man! We've seen his documentary, but it was especially interesting to meet him since I just finished the book Born to Run, which doesn't paint him in the most favorable light.

Amy & Dean

Anyways, we met at the race expo yesterday. Our conversation went something like this:

Amy: I'm still a beginner, but you're quite an inspiration.
Dean: I'm still a beginner too [ha!]
Andy: She made me run a half marathon!
Dean: Oh, so YOU'RE the bad influence, huh? Are you going to run a full now?

This 5k seemed sort of like an afterthought for the race organizers; it was obvious that the full and half were the big deal. Which was totally fine, I'm just happy to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a large local running event. The course was amazingly flat, but the scenery... um... left something to be desired. It weaved through a pretty small section of downtown San Jose, past water reclamation areas, under littered bridges, and down random seedy streets. Again, didn't really mind, it was more about running a race than sightseeing for me this morning.

This part at the very beginning (and end) was nice!

And... wow. I smashed my PR (previously 45:15), and I am so excited about it! I never, ever thought I'd see any numbers like this. I know I claim to not get hung up on times and numbers, but... well.. yeah. I'm really, really happy.

5k PR

For some reason, this race was extremely emotional for me. Watching the half and full runners race past the starting line had me in tears, blubbering to Andy at 7 am about how I love racing and how these people are so brave to take on this challenge and blah blah blah. I don't really know what came over me, but it was there throughout the 5k too. I got teary eyed at least 3 separate times on the course, mostly when a song would come on my playlist that reminded me of our half marathon and trigger some overwhelming emotion. It was the good kind of emotion, though. The kind that made me hold my head up, push myself, and have some crazy fun doing it.


Campbell Oktoberfest 5k

Our first time back at the starting line after the half marathon was the Campbell Oktoberfest 5k. I was a little nervous since it was 2 weeks after Disneyworld and I hadn't done any exercise other than walking from my bed to my car to work and back. I started out way too quickly, something I've always been extra careful not to do. Maybe I was feeling a little too confident after doing 21k? Somehow I recovered and had the best time. Well, figuratively at least (HA!).

My unofficial goal was under-15 minute mile splits using my run/walk interval method, but I was determined to be happy no matter how I did. And guess what! My sprint for the last .1 mile really paid off!

Oktoberfest Results

My endorphin high after this race was incredible. After every other 5k I've done, I've had to will myself to not plop down in the grass and pass out. But I was ready to conquer the world after this one. I think the only other pictures I have of myself looking so genuinely happy are from my wedding day. 5k is my distance.

(photo by official race photographer)

Fun with Race T-Shirts

I'm not quite done writing about the Half, but I have some other fun things to share too! Mostly that I'm hooked on the 5k, I have an ulterior motive, and I'm not afraid to admit that.

A dear family friend of ours makes beautiful t-shirt quilts (you know.. like a patchwork quilt.. made out of old t-shirts). I've always wanted to have her make me one, but have never had a cohesive set of shirts with enough sentimental value to warrant one. I am officially now on a mission to gather enough race shirts to have a quilt made. I have 11 so far (including 3 from Disney) and I probably need at least 20 more (I'm tall, need a big quilt!). Hoping to do that by the end of 2011.

Race Shirts

It's kind of an unusual motivation to keep signing up for races, but it's funny enough and tangible enough that it's genuinely keeping me going. We've done one race since the half marathon, have one tomorrow morning, and another next weekend. I'm certainly not planning on racing every weekend, but it's fun to look forward to one or two per month.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Half Marathon FAQ

I've been stalling. I don't know how to put my experience into words, and I don't quite know where to start recapping the race. I do know that I'm not going to do a linear, mile-by-mile type of recap. I'll most likely just be sharing my thoughts about the race weekend randomly as I think about it.

I thought I'd start with a FAQ. I sent this question and answer series as part of a thank-you email to my friends and family that contributed to Andy's incredible scheme. The most relevant part, for those of you who are curious about how the actual race-running went, is the question about the hardest part of the race. If I was going to tell you one story about the race and how I pulled through (besides, of course, my audio cheering squad), that would be it.

Amy's Half Marathon FAQ

Were you surprised by Andy's scheme?
YES! I had no idea what he was plotting.

How did you find out about the surprise?
Towards the beginning of the race, somewhere in the middle of mile 2. All of a sudden Andy's voice came on in the middle of a song, explaining what he had arranged. From then on, every couple of songs, I was surprised with your messages - he had sprinkled them throughout my playlist without me noticing.

Did you finish?
YES! I crossed the finish line and got a medal that I've been proudly wearing around my neck for about 48 hours straight now. It was one of the most meaningful moments of my life.

A half marathon is HOW long?!
13.1 miles!

How many people ran the half marathon?
A whopping 12,000! About 2/3 did the entire half marathon, and the other 1/3 did the half marathon relay (split the race between 2 people).

What was the hardest part and how did you get through it?
Mile 5-9ish. As most of you know, the race organizers had announced the possibility of being kicked off the course for being too slow, and I had a lot of anxiety about this. I wasn't sure whether that threat was actually going to be enforced until I saw the evil dudes on bikes. At around mile 5, a guy on a bike in an orange safety vest who looked uncannily like John Malkovich rode up to those of us who were towards the back of the pack and informed us that we had 7 minutes to get to the next mile marker to stay on pace. I took my headphones out and asked him if they were really picking the slowest people off. A really sad look came over his face as he told me that, yes, people who fell too far behind would not be permitted to finish.

He also pointed out 2 volunteers just ahead of me who were running with big balloons. These women were the "pacers." In order to maintain a successful pace, I needed to stay at or ahead of their pace for the rest of the race.

From then on, with a determination I had no idea was in me, I made it my mission to keep up with them. For the next 4 or so miles (which were the most boring part of the course - on relatively dark roads/highways between the parks), I ran with them and chatted with them. And listened to your messages. I was far beyond what I believed was my physical capacity at that point, but I refused to let them slip too far ahead of me, and knowing that another message from one of you would be coming soon helped me keep my head up.

Once I hit mile 10, there was plenty of distraction. I felt like the finish line was in sight, and the sights and sounds of Hollywood Studios and the rest of the course carried me through to the end. I stopped caring about how uncomfortable I was because I knew then that I would finish.

Did you run with Disney characters?
They didn't actually run with us, but they were stationed along the course cheering us on. Some highlights included Rafiki, Timon, Woody, Chip & Dale, Goofy, and the old dude from Up! Mickey and Minnie were also at the start and finish lines. I got a high five from Minnie as I crossed the finish! There was also live entertainment throughout the race.

Really?! You didn't know about the messages?!
Really. It was a complete shock. I wish I could have seen the look on my face when I first heard Andy's voice come through my headphones.

What did you eat at the Food & Wine Finish Line Party at Epcot?
When I was planning to run this race, I was sure that the party would be a huge motivation to finish. But for the last few miles, I got more and more nauseous (not surprising considering I was pushing my body much harder and further than it had ever gone), I couldn't fathom eating or drinking. Especially drinking. My hats are off to the atheletes who went straight for the beer & wine. Just before we left, I used my voucher (for 1 food item) for a Nanaimo Bar from the Canada booth. Nanaimo bars are one of my favorite things ever, and I thought I might be able to stomach it, but it was really disappointing in every way. Just wrong. It was just as well, probably shouldn't have been eating anything, but I was sad to see that Epcot didn't do my favorite treat proud. Andy got spanakopita from Greece and we called it a night. We did go back to Epcot the next day and wandered around the festival booths a bit, but this trip wound up being a lot less about food than I expected. In a good way.

How long did it take you?
A long time. Let's just say it was over 3 hours. But I don't care about the time at all. I just wanted to cross that finish line!

I heard you had another surprise this weekend...!
Yes! One of my dearest friends from college, Jeff, flew down from New York to surprise me at Disney World. He and his best friend Stella (who I was also friends with at Cornell) were waiting for me in front of Cinderella's castle on the first day of our trip!! Andy and Jeff spent months coordinating this.

Are you going to do another one? How about a full marathon?
Not in the plans. I'm really excited to continue running, but I plan on sticking with much shorter distances. 5k is much more my speed. We're already signed up for a 5k race next month!