Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Big One

This is going to be long. You might actually feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time you finish reading.
I always swore I would never run a marathon. First of all, I really like my toenails. (spoiler alert: my toenails are all still intact.) Second of all, that is a really, really long time to run. I love half marathons because the training isn’t too intensive, but you still feel a sense of accomplishment. Except that my last half time was 2:06, which made me feel the push shoot for a sub-2. And THAT definitely seemed intensive.
Then my good friend Barb ran a marathon, and I absolutely loved watching her embrace the training. Shortly thereafter, Shane and I spent a whole day wine tasting, I broached the subject with him, then we got home and I registered for a marathon. It should probably be said that making decisions after a day of wine tasting is not highly recommended.
I also signed up for a training program through our local Fleet Feet. This made Shane feel better because I wouldn’t be running eleven billion miles on my own, and it made me feel better because I am sometimes REALLY bad at the mental part of running. If I’m out there alone and tired, I will walk and I will struggle to get started running again. I knew that a group would hopefully help with this.

As a side note before I actually start talking about race day, if you’re considering something like this and you have a training program or group near you, sign up! In many ways, this made all the difference for me. I learned a lot about running slow to build slow twitch muscles and how to run down hills and in talking to other people, I was able to figure out how to fuel. I was amazed at how the long runs were not the easiest thing I’d ever done, but they weren’t as hard as I thought and my body definitely didn’t feel as beat up as I thought. Plus, I trained in zero temperatures and once during a whiteout--both situations would fall under “misery loves company.” Was I tired about a month before the race? GOOD GOD, YES. My training plan was killing me, but I was doing it, and there’s definitely something to be said for the strength of the program and the plan.

So, my plan for race day was to run most--if not all--of the race with another girl in my group. We’d done all the training runs together and had the same goal pace of 11 mi/mi. The thought of having someone by my side through the race honestly made it much less stressful. So much less stressful that aside from the weather and my randomly sore muscles, I wasn’t really worried about much. My muscles were straightened out by race day, so my only fear was the weather. While the day promised to be sunny and perfect temps for running, it also showed winds of 15mph with gusts of 30mph. Ever since running a half with 50mph wind gusts and coming out of it with a horrible foot injury, I am not a fan of the wind--especially because I knew that this course, like that half course, would be wide open and mostly fields. Still, I told myself I would handle whatever came on race day.

It seemed like race day would never get here, then suddenly, here it was. I warmed up with my group, hugged my dad, then it was time to start. The beginning miles were pretty fun. I’m running a marathon! I have someone by my side! These rolling hills will not be fun on the return, but they’re so fun now! WHEEE. At about mile 4, I heard a loud spectator up ahead. With such a small course and field (only 62 people finished the full), spectators were few and far between and this one seemed extra enthusiastic. A few feet later, I realized I recognized the voice and saw Barb and her daughter. It was exciting to see the first of many familiar faces along the course, and this truly did help. Shortly after, my running coach and two of the mentors (both of whom had just run their marathons) drove past, honking the horn and cheering. I should mention that it was such a small course that spectators could drive on the course--and other random people. At one point, I was passed by a delivery truck, another time by a tractor.

At mile 6, we passed a whole bunch of cows standing in front of the fence spectating. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen--just standing there calmly watching the runners.

Shortly after this, the girl running with me admitted that her stomach hurt. I offered her a Hammer electrolyte pill that has ginger for anti-nausea, but she said that she didn’t feel like she could put anything in her body without losing it. At mile 8, she dry heaved once, shortly after we turned onto the gravel. At mile 10, she said she couldn’t do it because the pain in her stomach was so intense and she turned to head back to the last water stop.

I had to do some quick mental adjusting here. I’d planned on running the race with someone by my side, and now I was facing 16 miles alone. This definitely through me for a loop. I was also struggling with the wind, though I seemed to be mostly maintaining my pace. The gravel was not the easiest surface, especially with the wind. Still, I was feeling pretty good, especially because everyone kept assuring me that the wind would be at my back on the return trip. This was a huge help.

At the turn around point, I saw Barb, my family, and two of my coworkers. Again, this was such a huge mood booster, even though the thought of 13 more miles was starting to get daunting. I headed toward the river for the official turn around point and saw my running coach and mentors standing at the turn around point by my parents and Tommy. Tommy was shouting, MAMA, and my coach laughed and yelled, “Marathon mama!” I high fived everyone, turned around and thought, “Okay, this is the part where the wind will be at my back.” I had to run west for awhile, so I didn’t notice the wind. Then I turned north, still on gravel, and realized… the wind switched. THE WIND SWITCHED.

I walked for the first time because I needed to seriously regroup and consider that I was running into a gusting wind and on gravel and still had 11 miles left and could I do this? At the end of the gravel (mile 16), my cheering section was there, and I stopped to refill my water bottle.

I was miserable this point, but that’s my dad walking behind me. He walked out on the gravel road to meet me as I ran past and to offer encouragement.
Barb came over and told me I was doing good and looked so strong, and I don’t remember what I said, but it was probably a huge whine. I’d thought that asphalt would feel so much better after the gravel, but the gravel to asphalt adjustment was actually really tough. My gait changed, so my legs seized up around mile 18 and this was probably a huge low point. Shane was driving next to me, shouting encouragement and asking what I needed. I screamed at him that I needed him to leave me alone. Then he drove ahead, and I instantly regretted it and convinced myself he wouldn’t stop. I started walking angrily, so he stopped, then when I caught up with him, I used the stick to roll out my legs and took aspirin. The roller felt better, but then I turned into the wind, and it was seriously unrelenting. I also realized around this time that I didn’t remember taking any kind of gel or anything since mile 13, which was probably part of what was going on with me. The other part was most definitely mental. I was mad and sad and tired. I saw my pace slipping away, and I could not make myself push any harder than I already felt I was. Luke ran part of mile 19 with me, and this was such a huge help. We walked up a big hill, and he held my hand and said he was so proud of me and that no other mom in our neighborhood could do what I was doing.
Then we ran some more, until Tommy insisted on a turn. Although my parents and Shane and kids stuck near me at all times, never more than half a mile ahead, there were a lot of long, lonely miles in the middle of the race where I didn't see any runners in front of me or behind me and that definitely played with my head somewhat.

At mile 20, a shadow fell over my head and I looked up and saw a bald eagle. Except that bald eagles aren’t exactly all over the place in Indiana, so my next thought was, “Oh my God, I’m hallucinating and thinking that seagulls are bald eagles.” There was a woman and her son at the end of their driveway cheering, despite the fact that the runners in front of or behind me weren’t even visible. I thanked them profusely for still being out there, and the woman said, “Did you see the bald eagles?” Then I almost hugged her because I wasn’t hallucinating and turned to watch two bald eagles soar across the sky and dive over and over into a pond to catch fish. From mile 20, I felt a little better. My mom shouted that my pace and form looked better. Mainly, the aspirin kicked in, but also, I regained perspective. Mainly, that if I wasn’t out there running this race, I would miss things like the cows lined up at a fence or the bald eagles soaring like the wind was hardly even a thing.

The next few miles were on rolling hills and into the wind. I gave up running the hills, but I would start running as soon as I got to the top. There was a girl in black in front of me who just kept steadily making her way up the hills with her head down, and I wanted so badly to catch her, but I couldn’t. She was making me irrationally angry because she just kept running at this slow, steady pace, and I couldn’t. I passed one guy who looked like he was hurting and told him he was doing a good job. He breathed out, “This is really tough.” I know, dude. Then I saw Barb and Emily for the last time, gave out hugs and tried so hard to dig deep and find the will to finish. I was still walking hills, but running the rest and realizing that I would be mostly into the wind for the last two miles. Of course! I passed a guy doubled over, dry heaving and comforted myself by thinking that I was doing better than him. When I was almost to mile 24, I looked up and saw someone coming at me over a hill. I realized it was my running coach and shouted, “I was just thinking… what dumbass is running the course backward?!” He laughed, pointed at himself, and told me he was there to run me in. I am pretty sure I told him I couldn’t do it, and he told me I could. Then he pushed me to a 10:15 pace and I shouted at him, but I was running it. At mile 25, he told me there were even some people I could pick off ahead of me. I told him that simply wasn’t possible because I was too tired, and I may have asked him for a piggy-back ride. We passed two people, then he told me to look down because we were at mile 26. I can’t even tell you how difficult it was to conceptualize running .2, but he assured me that the finish line was just around the corner. Then he nodded his head at the girl in black, and we passed her. I was pretty proud of finally passing this poor girl who became my arch-nemesis starting at mile 22.

Tommy and my dad were standing just around the corner from the finish line, and I told Tommy to jump in and run with me. He took off sprinting, but then he fell back next to me, and the finish line was in it! The race director said, “Bib 501, you’re a marathoner!” and my family and friends were cheering, and it was all kind of a crazy blur because omg, I DID IT.

I don’t know those people, but they were clapping for me and it was very appreciated!
Then my coach asked if I’d be signing up for the fall program. Runners are crazy (but awesome). I hugged my friends and family, while my mom forced me into a jacket so I wouldn’t get cold. Because Tommy crossed the finish line with me, they very nicely gave him a medal, too, and an extra for Luke who ran the middle with me (I love small races). The boys were both so proud of their medals--Luke even wore his to school on Monday.

I realize this is so long, but I am pretty happy--and proud of myself. Four years ago yesterday, I started my journey with Couch to 5k. I remember thinking that I could never run for thirty minutes straight. And now? I ran a marathon. Sure, it took me five hours and parts of it were lonely and mind-breaking, but I did it. Four days later, I feel great. I was able to take the stairs at work on Tuesday and yesterday, I ran three miles. It is absolutely amazing and inspiring what your body can do. Above my own self-pride is how incredibly grateful I am to have the people who surround me. To Shane and Luke and Tommy supporting me through this whole training, my parents being there the whole race, Barb and Emily staying as long as they could to cheer me on, my coworkers Megan and Celeste for spending their whole Sunday cheering me on, my running group, Shelli being at the finish line and coming out to eat afterward, Keli taking a picture of her kids with a sign, Sarah texting her support to Barb to offer up along the way, all the supportive messages and texts received… it feels like running a marathon was more than just a marathon, but rather, a chance to find out how very loved and how very lucky I am. It might not have been the day I wanted, in terms of the weather and running alone, but it exceeded my expectations in ways I could never have dreamed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I definitely needed some easy, turn off my brain books this week.

I Was Here
Cody's best friend Meg is found dead in a hotel room, an apparent suicide by way of drinking cleaner. Meg's parents ask Cody to go to Meg's college and pack up her belongings, where Cody discovers there was an entire side to Meg that she never knew. What follows is a journey to find out exactly what led Meg to die in that hotel room and how and why Cody never really knew her best friend the way she thought she did. I enjoyed this story. It had some pretty strong themes about depression and not sweeping it under the rug or being afraid to talk about it, which I think every young adult (and adult, really) needs to consider.

Crash and Burn
Steven Crashinsky, mostly known as Crash, gains fame when he stops classmate David Burnett (or Burn) from blowing up the school. This story is told from Steven's point-of-view as he writes a tell all book about what David said to him the day he attempted to blow up the school. It fluctuates between the past and the present. I enjoyed this book, which could be heavy at times. The character of Steven annoyed me because he was so over the top that he sometimes came across as a teenage Wolf of Wall Street. I believe the author was trying to portray him as a flippant rich kid, which he did well, but it was a little too much at times. Still, I was drawn into Crash and how his life intersected with David's from elementary school, up to the fateful day that David showed up at school with an explosive timer strapped to his belt.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie
Steven plays drums in the jazz band and is writing a journal for English. Only, in the midst of complaining about having to write his journal entries, his little brother is diagnosed with leukemia and the journal becomes a way for Steven to cope. Watching Steven try to navigate between being a teenage boy, a parent to his parents and a caring big brother is engaging. While this book was a little too glossy for me, it still was a good, easy read.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

I really need to read a book that grabs me. Everything has been pretty okay lately. Not bad, just not fabulous.

I Refuse: A Novel
Jim and Tommy were childhood friends, even after Tommy was separated from his sisters following the disappearance of his abusive father. They drift apart after one night and remain separated, until years later when Tommy--in a luxury car--drives past Jim fishing on the bridge. This book was just really honestly pretty depressing. I don't know if either man ever found happiness.

All the Rage
This book was pretty good, but it was a very heavy topic and I shouldn't have finished reading it right before bed. Romy is raped by Kellan Turner, who happens to be the golden boy sheriff's son. As a result, no one believes her, and she spends the aftermath with insults and brutal bullying hurled her away by both girls and boys alike. Romy tries to hide behind her red nails and her red lipstick, until a former friend of Romy's disappears after a party. Then Romy is faced to meet everyone head on. There was a lot frustrating about this book. The way the adults seemed to ignore the derision being thrown at Romy, the way Romy would make decisions without thinking, but it was powerful.

Vanishing Girls
I love psychological thrillers, although this one was not overly surprising in that the ending seemed pretty clear from the beginning. That said, this book still set my teeth on edge. Dara and Nick are sisters. Dara is the wild one, Nick is the good one, until the night that Nick crashes the car with Dara in the passenger seat. Nick is relatively unscathed, but Dara ends up in the ICU with a long road to recovery. After this, Dara won't talk to Nick and Nick spends the summer trying to win back her sister's good graces, only to bet with constant silence. In the midst of this, a nine-year-old girl disappears and Nick devotes herself to the rescue efforts, finding a connection between the girl's older sister and her sister. Although the tie-in with the little girl threw me, I really did like this book. It kept me hooked!

A Fall of Marigolds
This book bounces between Clara in September 1911 and Taryn in September 2011. Clara lost a man she thought she might love in a business fire, while Taryn lost her husband in the World Trade Center. The two women are tied together by a piece of fabric and unbelievable emotional struggles. I enjoyed their stories, but I felt like the balance between the two women's stories was off--the first half was heavy on Clara, while the second half was heavy on Taryn, but I felt like I wanted more of each. Otherwise, this book was interesting and I actually learned quite a bit about Ellis Island that I didn't previously know.

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things
Sage is the queen of bright and shiny things. A bright, bubbly girl, she leaves post-it notes on the lockers of her fellow classmates--sometimes a compliment on shoes, or hair, or a smile. Sage tries hard to be the perfect girl, otherwise she's afraid her other self, Shadow Sage, will come to the surface. In the midst of this, Sage meets and falls in love with Shane, who has his own shadows to hide. Although this was one of those YA books where the characters talked like Dawson's Creek characters, it was still an easy to read, engaging story.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

The Stranger She Loved: A Mormon Doctor, His Beautiful Wife, and an Almost Perfect Murder
I don’t read a great deal of true crime books because humanity is depressing enough without reminding myself of how awful people can be. However, this case came up to my attention, and I wanted to learn more about it. Michele MacNeill was discovered dead in a bathtub by her husband, Dr. Martin MacNeill, shortly after what seemed to be a successful face lift. Martin immediately acted in a way that seemed suspicious to first responders; however, her death was ultimately deemed natural. It was only through the insistence of Michele and Martin’s children and Michele’s family that the case was eventually re-evaluated and Martin was charged with her murder. I did find this book fascinating, if not unsettling due to Martin’s sociopathic behavior. I don’t think I’ll read any true crime any time soon because it took a bit to forget this one!

The Animals: A Novel
Bill Reed manages a wildlife sanctuary, although outside of legal limits. At first glance, Bill seems a stand-up guy, but the layers of this story peel away like onions. It seems Bill had a criminal past and this book alternates between the present Bill and the Bill of the past, along with his sins and crimes. I really enjoyed this book. I was bothered by the lack of quotation marks (I know, I know, prose… still, it’s not my favorite style), but I was drawn into Bill’s life and Bill’s past and present betrayals.

The Children's Crusade: A Novel
I struggle with lack of character development and while I felt this book characterized the children well, there was a distinctive lack of character development with Penny—the mother—and somewhat with Bill—the father. If the book had just been about the children and their relationships, that would have been okay, but it wasn’t entirely. The book began with a glimpse at Bill and Penny’s early married life, and then skipped ahead to where, inexplicably, Penny is an absentee mother and wife, far more interested in her art than her family. I had such a struggle with the jump that I actually looked back to the beginning to see if I missed something, but I didn’t. I understand that people can change over time and sometimes that’s all it is, but I still had a tough time with the leap. Other than that, I enjoyed the story told from the point-of-view of each of the four children. I did feel that since so much of the focus was on Penny’s mothering, or lack thereof, the story needed to be told from her, as well, or with less focus placed on it. I was disappointed because I felt that if it wasn’t for that gaping plot hole, I would have really enjoyed the book.

Black Dove, White Raven
I tried and failed to finish Code Name Verify by this same author. I finished this book, but I truly pushed through. Teo and Emilia are siblings, but of another manner. Teo and Emilia’s mothers perform stunt airshows together, until Teo’s mother dies during a stunt. Emilia’s mother takes Teo and Emilia to Ethiopia (the country of Teo’s father) and goes through the trials of raising children of two different races in the midst of Mussolini invading Africa. I felt that the pacing of this book was off. It was slow. Whole chapters were devoted to inconsequential things, while other important things (like Theo grieving his mother?) were entirely left out of the book. Definitely not the best book I’ve ever read.

The Last Flight of Poxl West: A Novel
Maybe I’m in a mood, but I wasn’t really awed by much of what I read this week. Poxl West is Eli’s de facto uncle, a war hero who writes a memoir of his time as a Jewish man in the RAF during WWII. After Poxl becomes critically acclaimed for his life, he drifts further from Eli’s life--though he still remains Eli’s hero. This book alternates between Poxl’s memoir and Eli’s thoughts at the time. As time goes on, it becomes evident to the literature world that Poxl’s memoir is not entirely truthful, and Eli is forced to recognize that his hero maybe isn’t quite the hero he claims to be. I found Eli’s reaction to Poxl’s lies to be utterly truthful and without any glossing over natural reaction, but I found the parts that were to be Poxl’s memoir slow and not overly engaging. I understand the author had to tell the story of Poxl to balance out Eli’s life, but it didn’t grab me like I thought it would.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

Better late than never with my Wednesday post! This week got away from me.

Apron Strings
Disclaimer: I received this book free to review, but I receive all of my books for free from the library, so clearly all opinions are my own. This book is told by two characters: Sallee, a young girl, and Sallee's mom's maid, Ethel. Ethel has been a part of Sallee's mom's life since her mom, Ginny, was a young girl. Through Ethel's eyes we learn the past that surrounds Ginny and through Sallee's eyes, we learn the present surrounding her family and the prejudice surrounding her community. Life in the 1950s south was a tumultuous time and this novel captured it well. My only complaint was that I felt some of the characters needed more depth, BUT I also had to take into account that part of the story was being told by Sallee, a child. From a child's perspective, the characters were developed as deeply as a child could. This story grabbed me in and I definitely fell in love with the characters. It was a very well-done period piece, in that it's difficult to characterize pre-Civil Rights south without relying on too many stereotypes.

Hausfrau: A Novel
Anna grabbed me from the very beginning of this story by disclosing that she's a good wife. Mostly. Anna fits the very nature of a desperate housewife. An ex-pat living in Sweden, Anna struggles to fit in despite living there for many years. She seems almost adrift in her life, finding stability in, of all things, extramarital affairs. Anna finds herself in a web of her own making, clinically depressed and trying to find something. What I loved about this story is that it was sad and it rolled itself out easily and even though I saw the ending coming, it still grabbed me to the point where I read it twice--because it was that good.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
I don't read much non-fiction, but I really enjoy Erik Larson so I had to check this one out. Surprisingly, I loved it. This book balances history with personal accounts. I didn't know much about the Luthistania, other than it was sunk by a German submarine. What I learned is that there were multiple warnings that this was an unsafe voyage, that despite the recent wreck of the Titanic, the lifeboat situation wasn't where it should be, and that the survivor accounts were chilling. The history angle was fascinating, but the personal accounts really pulled me in. One woman spoke of her daughter napping above deck and her son being below deck when the boat was hit, so she had to make the decision which child to go to first. She grabbed her daughter above deck, then handed her daughter off to an unknown man and ran down below to get her son. The next time she saw the man, his arms were empty and her daughter was eventually found among the dead. The thought of this was overwhelming--how do you make those choices and survive? I definitely breezed through this one much quicker than I thought I would.

The Harder They Come: A Novel
There is not a character within this book who I would label as sane or normal. Sten, the father, is an ex-Marine and retired school administrator who overcomes and kills a man while on vacation. Adam, Sten's son, is schizophrenic, paranoid and violent. Sara, Adam's girlfriend, believes the government is out to infringe upon all of her rights. This was not an easy book to read. All of the characters were deeply flawed, Adam becoming more clearly dangerous as the book went on. I spent most of the book wishing that someone, anyone, would change the path of destruction all the characters seemed to be following, but no one did. The end was fitting, but also not an easy read. Still, I really enjoyed this book.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What I Read Wednesday

This book took me a very long time to read. It was not an easy read, but it was still a very good read. Caitlin and her mom have only each other in this world. Her mother works long hours to support them, leaving Caitlin with nowhere to go after school. Caitlin loves fish, though, and has found a comfortable home in the aquarium every day until her mother gets off work. One day, Caitlin meets an older gentleman and from this point on, it's unclear whether his intentions are good or malicious, but it sparks a change in the dynamic between Caitlin and her mother that is incredibly uncomfortable to follow. Despite this book not being an easy read, it was heavily thematic on forgiveness and just when it's okay to forgive and when it isn't.

All the Old Knives: A Novel
Henry and Celia were CIA agents in Vienna when a hostage situation went horribly wrong. On this night, Celia left the agency, moved to California, started a family and never looked back. Or so Celia would have you believe. Henry is still with the CIA and determined to find out just who was on the inside of the hostage situation, the night everything fell apart. Celia and Henry meet over dinner, during which secrets and lies are revealed. The two characters verbally dance around each other, but in the end, the element of betrayal is strong. Although this is not your typical fast-paced spy novel, it was still brilliantly written and left me with many questions.

What are you reading?