My friend Marc recently texted me: “You inspired this one” with a link to this comic he drew. No, I’m not posting the picture here; you’ll have to click to follow the link. But it’s certainly worth five seconds of your time on a Tuesday.
That really did happen: I dropped my car off at the shop, got a ride to work, then ran a little more than seven miles back after work. The guys at the shop hadn’t believed I was being literal when I told them I would just “run back” in the evening. They also didn’t know what to make of the fact that a girl was dripping sweat all over the place while looking at the ESPN app on her phone to see the World Series score — before she asked if her car was fixed. For the record, the Boston Red Sox went on to win that night and my car was all better. A win all around.
Every single person who finishes a race has a story.
A few weeks ago, I saw thousands of stories at Ironman Arizona (another post is coming about one person in particular). Early yesterday morning, I had coffee with a friend who finished her first 5k. Then I went and worked at the California International Marathon finish line, where the 15-year-old women’s course record was broken by two minutes and the men’s winner shaved half a minute off his personal best time.
But the winners are just two people; I can promise that every one of the 9,000 runners who signed up for CIM had a reason they were trying to cross the finish line. I wish I could capture every single one of them — as well as the stories of those who cheered and waited outside on a December weekend morning. Even now, less than 24 hours after the race, I’m forgetting the stories of friends and strangers. But here are a few, in incomplete sentences, because that’s how the day felt as each person moved in and out of my life.
The man who finished in the 2:20s (that’s under six minutes per mile) and shouted for joy, followed by a man crying for “10 seconds, just 10!” The man who waited a minute for his friend to cross the finish line, held out his arms so his friend could jump into them, and then both collapsed because neither had enough blood in their heads to realize an exhausted runner could not catch another exhausted runner — but they laughed and were fine.
Nicole, the girl I know on Twitter and from her blog, who was seconds away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon when she collapsed mere yards from the finish line. I had seen her husband enter the finish area (he had run it so he gained entrance) and had a medal ready for her, but then she fell and could not get up. The crowds could see the clock, and they realized what it meant to run 26.2 miles and have only a few steps left. She kept fighting to get up, but she could not. Her husband ran back across the finish line, a race official followed, and they helped her across the line as a wheelchair arrived. She missed Boston by 27 seconds.
Michael Wardian, who ran the North Face 50-miler the previous day in crazy mud and hills, then ran CIM in 2:33. He crossed the finish line, greeted some race officials with a grin, then waited for a man who proceeded to break the master’s record. Then when the still-grinning Wardian finally reached us volunteers with the medals, he graciously put up with my “You’re awesome! I saw you break the treadmill half marathon in Pittsburgh!” babbling while I put a medal around his neck and got a sweaty high-five in return. (Only high-five of the day — it caught me off guard, actually.) I later saw on Twitter that he went hiking after the race.
My friend Tricia, who had never seen a race in her entire life but was working and had an all-access pass. She was a few steps away from the winners. She saw all the people in the medical tent. She was amazed and speechless.
One of the pacers who just finished Ironman Cozumel the previous weekend, third in her age group, and still ran a perfect race at CIM.
Jana, my friend who’s had so many ups and downs but finished the race just after a brief stop to hug her 1-year-old miracle of a baby.
Alisa, the friend of a friend who’s now my friend, because of the marvels of social media. She beat her time by more than an hour.
Chris, who set a new personal best five weeks ago, but then did it again yesterday by another five minutes — and qualifyied for Boston.
Leslie and Janet, who run race after race, as “Team Ish,” even when one of them isn’t there.
The man who had a massive banner made reading, “Crystal, will you marry me?” and attached it to PVC pipe so it towered over his head. He coordinated ahead of time with race officials and was allowed into the finish area when his girlfriend’s last update said she had crossed the 20-mile mark. He waited for her with what I can only describe as adorable hope and excitement as other finishers passed by him. One woman said, “Good luck!” Finally, his girlfriend appeared in the finish chute. She crossed the finish line — and didn’t see her boyfriend or his massive sign. Friends stopped her, she turned and shouted, “OH!” And we all laughed so hard at her complete shock. Her boyfriend got down on one knee, and she most definitely said yes.
The girl who did a cartwheel at the finish line.
The woman who collapsed but crawled across the finish line.
The ones who were so excited about qualifying for Boston. And the devastated ones who just missed it. (The thing is, I know they’ll try again. And again. Until they make it. And the victory will be that much sweeter.)
The blind runners who placed their trust in guides to lead them over the 26.2-mile course. The girl with a prosthetic leg who finished before thousands of other two-legged runners, as well as millions of other people who have never tried to run at all.
The fellow volunteer who just did her first Ironman in Arizona, so maybe we saw each other and didn’t know it. CIM was her first marathon in the 1990s. Twenty years older, her Ironman marathon time was faster than her stand-alone marathon time. She raised $15,000 for lymphoma research last year in honor of a family member, and she finds out this month if she gets a charity slot to the Ironman Kona World Championship. To get there, she’d have to raise $75,000 — “Oh, I can do that. It means that much to me,” she said.
And my friend Norman, who’s checked in on me countless times in recent months to make sure I’m OK. He’s also proven to be pretty consistent at thinking he’s going to run slower than he actually does. “I’m not trained; I had the race entry, so I might as well use it,” he kept saying. A PR (personal record) was not in his plan, so he was thinking sub-2:50. But stranger things have happened to all of us… At mile 20, I got his last alert, did the quick math, and said to my volunteer friend, “Um, yeah, he’s on PR pace.” At that point, I calculated around a 2:42 pace. But the big question: Would he slow down like he did in a marathon earlier this year (even though he won the race outright)? No, he did not — he sped up. He appeared as the clock hit 2:40, and my fellow volunteers moved over a bit as I started hollering. Yeah, that “not a PR” became a five-minute PR, qualifying him for the All-Army Marathon Team in the process. Sometimes amazing things happen when you just run.
There are so many more stories. I’ll want to come back and include them — and I may. But for now, I will just click the “Publish” button, because I wanted to write this while the images were fresh in my mind. I wanted to capture the bits of memories and emotions and feelings. I want to run.
I’ve been doing a lot — and, boy, do I mean a lot — of self-analysis lately. Who am I, where am I going, where do I want to be going, and why am I not there yet? Additionally, when did I start becoming more cynical, more narrow-minded, and less determined but at the same time more rigid?
I don’t have all the answers yet, but I do know that at least I’m making a little progress by asking them and confronting myself. I also know that it’s been almost four years since I upended my life because I was stuck in a rut that I did not like. I was stuck in an increasingly unhappy job with no opportunities to move up, I was stuck in a relationship that was destroying my self-esteem, and then I suffered a stress fracture that dashed all running dreams for the next several months. So I set out to find myself.
Four years later, I’ve both succeeded and failed. For a while, I was much happier. I traveled more (Alaska, Ireland, Colorado, New York, Chicago, Hawaii). I ran more (an ultra-marathon, faster times). I explored my new town. I began to dream again.
But somewhere along the way, I got lost again. Some of it started last October, when another injury sidelined all of my running goals, which had gotten bigger and bolder (qualify for Boston). Some of it started this year, when I tried to follow another dream and was repeatedly shot down, sending my self-esteem plummeting. However, I suspect most of it is because I have lifelong dreams that have gone unfulfilled. They eat at me until I’m convinced I’m not good enough, and that if I try to reach them, I’ll fail.
Some of those dreams I cannot reach on my own, but some of them are all up to me. So, how do I make myself pursue them? Yesterday evening, instead of googling for inspirational quotes, I turned instead to Facebook and asked: “What mantras, quotes, rules or experiences do you use to try to better yourself and chase away the ‘I’m afraid I’ll fail’ demons?” As an example, I gave this quote from George Eliot: “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.” I knew that many of my Facebook friends wouldn’t see the post, due to timing and algorithms that limit which posts people see. But in the 10 hours since, I’ve received a number of great quotes.
A good friend texted her response: “Jump and the net will appear.”
Another friend messaged his response, which he’d seen on a poster that same day: “To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime.” The quote was from legendary runner and author Bill Rodgers, and my friend pointed out that it doesn’t just apply to running. This is so true: It’s the big picture of life. If I’ve got these life dreams, each day should prepare me for them, because they won’t suddenly happen immediately.
“Life’s battles don’t always go to the bigger or faster man…but sooner or later, the fellow who wins, is the man who thinks he can.” This was offered by a friend and former colleague, Rick, who is deaf and has faced more than his share of battles. The key there is to think I can do it.
Another former journalist-turned-runner (turned Ironman, which is a whole other level, if you ask me), Theresa, offered this line from a sports journalism professor of hers: “The only way out is through.” Yes, if I want to reach the goals, I have to push through everything standing between me and them.
“I like to tell myself that I’ll definitely fail if I don’t try,” said another writer. I really admire her, because she has worked hard to get to a career she wanted. If she hadn’t tried, she never would have gotten there.
Then there is this Wayne Gretzky quote, offered by an old friend, Dave: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Audrey pointed out that, even if you don’t make that shot, you learn along the way. As another saying goes, practice makes perfect. Similarly, Pam offered this advice: “My dad always has told me that if you fail, pick yourself up and try again. Never give up until you succeed.”
And from another Ironman, Stuart: “You only regret the things you didn’t do.” This resonated, because often I ask myself, when trying to make a decision or do something that’s hard, which option I would regret more. Would I regret trying and not making it, or would I regret never trying at all? That answer is obvious.
Similarly, Brandon offered a line from a Shinedown song: “Long live the day that I decided to fly.” It’s a decision, and I have to truly make that decision before I can go anywhere.
My friend Marc turned it around back at me, with the advice I gave him the day before he ran his first marathon: “One that sticks with me is something a really great friend told me on January 11 of this year. She said there will be a point where I will realize “this is the farthest I’ve ever gone.” And that’s true for everything. It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” He’s right (which I guess means that I was right). I still remember the point when I passed mile 22 of the Tucscon Marathon in December 2008. There, on an Arizona highway, I realized that was the farthest I had even run — and at the same time I realized I was actually going to run a marathon. I did finish that marathon, and then I kept on going to more goals and milestones. The journey continued, and it was a good journey.
And then there was this, from Linda: “Shan’t I be good to thee self, I shan’t be good to another.” She didn’t know it, but that one hit home more than all the rest. I love people, I love helping them and making them happy, and some of my biggest dreams require other people. But I can’t be good for them and help them unless I also do that for myself. That’s actually a realization I reached last week, so Linda’s timing was perfect. I have to be strong enough to stand on my own.
Where does all of this advice go? How do I actually retain it, rather than dumping it all into a blog post and then moving on? Well, one way is through sheer determination, which I’m already working on. I don’t like the way I give up on things I want, just because they’re hard or there are huge obstacles in the way. I fear that I’ll fail, so I stop trying — and that’s no way to live my life.
So I’m going to keep re-reading the quotes offered from friends who have clearly had the strength to keep fighting, and who also took the time to give me some advice. I’m going to try to stand up tall and keep fighting my doubts and insecurity. I’m going to try to be a better, stronger, supportive person to those I care about. And I’m going to tell myself over and over again that I AM good enough to chase my dreams.
After all, as Darleen advised, “If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.” I want more, so I have to do more.
Somehow, it’s February 6, already?! Huh. Anyway, without further ado, I decided to document how badly I have failed so far in my 2014 goals.
Qualify for the Boston Marathon: I’m on the injury list with an angry IT band, and a doctor ordered me to rest it. In the midst of my full-blown endorphin withdrawal, I mentally (and on Twitter, so that counts?) removed this goal from my list. That was a relief.
Set a new personal record in the marathon: That wasn’t planned for January anyway, so no further comments.
Run sub-1:45 in a half-marathon: See above.
Do a century bike ride: I had a spectacular failure of a planned outside ride, in which I gave up less than two miles into the ride and poor Kimra had to do the rest of it by herself. I owe her a drink. However, I did do a 22.8-mile ride outside with Kristen and didn’t fall over, so there’s hope for this goal.
Run 1,500 miles: Since I ran a whopping 10.5 miles in January (see number 1), I really doubt I’ll reach the goal this year.
Bike at least 700 miles: Finally! A goal in which I am not failing! I biked 201 miles in January! 174 of those were inside, but that’s fair game in my rules.
Go to the gym at least 150 times this year: I went to the gym 12 times in January, so I’m barely on track.
Read at least one book a month: Fail! I used to read a book a week! Argh.
Cook dinner more often: I still haven’t settled on a way to quantify this one, though some of you had great ideas. I think “cook a full meal once a week” is certainly reasonable, along with “try two new recipes a month.” I also think this was sort of a fail in January.
Go to bed at 10 p.m.: Hahaha! The running failures had a valid explanation, but this one has NO EXCUSE. I even moved my phone’s “do not disturb” mode to 9:30 p.m., but I think I went to bed at 10 p.m. once in all of January. Why?!
Get down to XXX amount of pounds: Umm, let’s just say that I moved in the opposite direction.
Blog an average of twice a week: I wrote seven blog posts in January. Most were simple Tuesday Time-Waster posts, but hey, it’s my blog so that’s OK. At least my “Finding happiness” blog post was thoughtful and made me actually write something of substance.
Find a cheaper place to live: That didn’t happen, but I didn’t plan on it in January, anyway. I did, however, see this list of the 25 most expensive cities in America and found myself thinking of nearly each one, “Hey, that’s not so bad.” Yeah, this is what happens when I live near the second most expensive city in the U.S.
Over the years, I’ve sometimes set out “beginning of the year” goals for myself. I’ve always been reluctant to call them “resolutions,” because “resolving” to do something sounds so final. What if I don’t complete a resolution, due to circumstances beyond my control? Does that mean I failed? Instead, I like to call them “goals.” Semantics, maybe, but hey, it’s my blog so I’ll call them goals.
Anyway, the thing about goals or resolutions is that you need to be able to measure them. “Get in shape” isn’t quantifiable, so how do you know if you succeeded? Plus, it’s awfully vague. So, I’ve done my best to set out quantifiable goals.
Qualify for the Boston Marathon. Honestly, this is my biggest goal right now, and it’s why I removed my “run another ultra and hopefully a 50-miler” goals for this year. This requires me to run a 3:39:59 marathon by September. I’m currently 7 minutes, 23 seconds from that goal, and I have a leg that’s preventing me from doing much running. In fact, I need to call the doctor… So, we’ll see how that goes.
Set a personal record (PR) in the marathon. This is the “plan b” to No. 1 above. So, run a 3:47:21 or faster. I’d really like to do this at the New Jersey Marathon in late April, if my leg will cooperate.
Run sub-1:45 in a half-marathon. I only need to get faster by 21 seconds in order to meet this goal, but again, I have the grumpy leg. (I’m running a half-marathon in a few weeks, but the PR won’t happen there. Maybe in August?)
Do a century bike ride. A few years ago, I bicycled 45 boring miles. So it’s no small task to more than double that distance, especially since it would be a lot easier on a road bike than on my hybrid bike. Doable? Yes. Will I actually do it? Hmmm. I need cycling companions for this one, I think. Any takers?
Run a total of 1,500 miles. I ran 1,401.91 miles in 2013, so it’s doable IF my body will cooperate.
Bike a total of at LEAST 700 miles (spin classes count). I biked 668.65 miles in 2013, with only 38 of them outside. Both numbers need to improve.
Go to the gym at least 150 times during the year. This would be about three times a week, while I averaged closer to twice a week in 2013, so this will require some vigilance. I need a better way to track this, but at least I can manually count in my training logs.
Read at least one book a month. That’s pathetic when considering that I used to read more than 50 books a year. The Internet is to blame for this. And maybe the TV.
Cook dinner more often. Grapefruit and popcorn (not simultaneously) are not really dinner. I can usually follow a recipe, but the challenge is to plan ahead so I have the ingredients and can try to do some prep on the weekend. I need a way to quantify this one, because “cook more” breaks my own goal-setting guidelines. Any ideas?
Go to bed at 10 p.m. Ideally, go to bed at 9:30 p.m. and read until 10. My phone goes into “do not disturb” mode at 10 p.m., to prevent me from seeing texts and notices after that point — unless I’m still on my phone. That happens all too often, thanks to social media. (I love all of you.)
Get down to [undisclosed number because I’m self-conscious] pounds. It’s about 10 pounds less than what I weigh now. That’s a whole bag of potatoes I wouldn’t have to carry with me when running! No, I don’t have a weight problem or an eating disorder. No, losing about 10 pounds will not harm me.
Blog an average of twice a week. Honestly, the Tuesday Time-Wasters (which I revived last month) are fun and easy. So I really only need to come up with other content once a week in order to meet this goal. That said, this is my blog and I’m not paid for it, so I’m not going to cry if I don’t actually log 104 blog posts this year.
Find a cheaper place to live.
OK, that’s a baker’s dozen list of goals. It will either be a lot of success or a lot of failure. Here goes 2014!
Another year has come to a close, somehow. It went so fast, and suddenly here we are at another winter Olympics. Either I’m old or the world is spinning faster. (No comments from the peanut gallery.) Anyway, because this was a pretty great year for my running world, here’s a bulleted list of those milestones. Because, you know, the world needs another “this is what I ran last year” blog post.
Ran a total of 1,401.91 miles. This beat my previous best year (1,244.2 miles in 2011) by 157.71 miles. Yes, I track to the nearest hundredth. Yes, I am a nerd. Yes, I’m pretty happy about that running total, especially since the last couple months were well below average.
Beat my fastest marathon time not just once but TWICE this year. I’m still not sure how I pulled off a 3:47 on a hilly course, but that’s OK.
Beat my fastest half-marathon time — also not once but twice this year. I didn’t expect to run a 1:45; I guess you could say this was a surprising PR (personal record) year. I also unofficially PR’d the 10k during the first half of this race.
Beat my 5k time, and squeezed under 23 minutes with less than half a second to spare. I actually think I could run faster if my leg was cooperating, but I’m not about to complain at this point.
Ran my first ultra. I didn’t blog about this, which I regret, but here is my running buddy Kristen’s race report. She and I started running together a year ago, and she’s had a big positive impact on my running life. We wound up running the whole Way Too Cool 50k (31.2 miles) together, finishing in 6:25, which was 20 minutes faster than I expected.
Ran my first trail marathon, where friends including Deanne greeted me at the finish. They also had Kona Brewing Co. beer at the finish, so it was pretty much the best day ever. (Bonus: views of the Golden Gate Bridge.)
Logged my highest month of running (169.7 in August 2013) and my highest week of running (48.49 miles, also in August 2013).
Ran more marathons than in any other year (six). I also doubled my marathon country count (to a grand total of, um, two), and reached my 10th state in which I’ve run a marathon.
So, yeah, it was a good year in running. It ended on a deflating note, though, because my right IT band has been unhappy since mid-October. I was able to run through it while trying to rehab it, but the pesky thing gradually got worse. Because 2013’s race results gave me so much excitement and determination, I’m currently desperately hoping my leg gets back on track soon. I have 2014 goals to reach!
On December 8, I ran the California International Marathon, my 16th marathon-or-longer. It was not the stellar race my friends had hoped it would be, but it was instead a farewell/victory lap to my best year of running. It reminded me once again that running is about so much more than times and distances: running is about overcoming obstacles and making friends long the way. And so, rather than give a detailed breakdown of every mile time (they ranged from 7:51 to 16:30) that led to my 4:20 finish, I’m going to make this an ode to friends.
A bit of context: After a pretty fantastic year of setting new personal records in distance and speed, my body needed a break. Since mid-October, I’ve had a cranky IT band in my right leg that stiffens up, aches, and forces me to stop and stretch. I’ve also had two months of unhappy lungs and sinuses for the second year in a row. My training was severely limited and I had to accept it.
Lodi Running Club friends: I made the 1.5-hour drive to Sacramento on a Saturday. I was frazzled and in pre-race stress-out mode, but as soon as I walked in the convention center doors, I ran into half a dozen runners from my old group. I hugged Cindy, Leslie & Co., who cheered me up instantly. An hour later, I ran into Janine, my running mentor who first convinced me I could run a marathon. We hugged and recalled the day exactly five years (to the very day) earlier when she was standing at the finish line of my first marathon.
Twitter friends: I missed a tweetup, but Twitter friends still appeared.
Becca: I left the expo and went to hang out with Becca, one of the two friends who went to Ireland with me in September. She was about to leave on yet another adventure, so the timing was perfect. It was good to catch up with her, and nice to get reassurance that I’m not the only one whose head sometimes plays mind games with her.
Kristen and Karin: I then met up with Kristen at our hotel. She’s been my running buddy for almost a year now, and we’ve had many trail adventures together, including my first 50k. She had to drop down to the relay at CIM, but it is always so nice to have her company. We met up with Karin at Olive Garden for dinner, which was a nice bonus.
Kristin: Race morning found me scraping ice off my car at 4:30 in the morning in 27-degree weather. After last year’s CIM monsoon, I did “no rain, no wind” dances for months (if “dancing” means “thinking”), but I neglected to request “non-Arctic temperatures.” Oops. I hopped onto a bus where Kristin was saving me a seat. We rode the Very Long 26 Miles to the start line and hung out on the bus until the race started. It was so nice to have her company for that wait.
Soon the race started, Kristin and I hugged, and I was on my way, wearing a long-sleeved shirt for my first marathon ever. And capris. And mitten-gloves. And an ear warmer that I thought I would throw away at some point but did not — so I’m horribly mis-matched in all of my equally horrible race photos.
Random runners: In mile two, a guy came up next to me and commented on my Marathon Maniacs shirt. He was wearing a kilt, introduced himself as Bobby, and we chatted about Maniacs. About half a mile later he took off, but that mile wound up being a 7:51 — and I was talking comfortably during it. Oops?
I got to mile 3, looked at my watch, and saw 24:00. Ummm, yeah, I was running WAY TOO FAST. At the 5.9-mile mark, my average pace was 8:11 (including walking through two water stops because the ground was a sheet of ice). Friends tracking online began to think I was going to qualify for Boston, though I knew that was never going to happen due to my lack of training. However, I was actually following my very loose plan: run at any pace that felt good, for as long as I could until my IT band or my lungs went on strike. That’s what I did, and I have no regrets, because now I know what it’s like to be running with 3:30 marathoners. It was inspiring and motivating.
Hometown connection: Around mile 12 I heard, “Layla? Layla Bohm?” It was Heidi from my hometown, who had been friends with my sister when they were in grade school. She recognized me from behind in the middle of a marathon. She also spotted me in the finish area last year at CIM, which was the first time we had seen each other in more than 20 years. How?!
Bay Area friends: Both my leg and my lungs started getting unhappy around mile 8, and I reached the halfway point in 1:51 (8:42 pace). Shortly before that, I rounded a curve and suddenly saw Cate, Mike, their little girl Ellie and Alyssa. That was a nice surprise! Apparently Aron and Naomi were also there, but I had already passed the group.
Michaela: Just after mile 13, my IT band was very unhappy and forcing me to stop and stretch it. And then, at mile 15.5, Michaela appeared. She was screaming her head off, holding a sign, and got so excited when she saw me. I blurted out something like, “Oh my god, I’m dying and you are the best sight ever.” I felt bad for hugging her because I was sweaty, but oh, it was such a wonderful relief to see her. I told her my leg was not happy and that I’d been walking. “I was tracking you online. 8:11 pace for the first six miles?! What the f**k were you doing?!” Michaela said. That was the best, funniest thing she could have said. It was hilarious.
I trudged along, having to stretch in every mile. I saw a corgi, which made me smile. I saw an entire mile of funny poop-related signs. I saw two blind runners who inspired me. I ran through the intersection of Watt and Fair Oaks avenues, marveling at the fact that Sacramento’s busiest intersection was entirely closed for runners.
The last relay exchange point boosted my spirits, because I was hoping to see Kristen. I searched the crowds, thought I’d missed her, then saw her waving and cheering. I ran over to her, leaned against the barricade and said, “This sucks!” Everyone around her burst out laughing, which actually helped me gain some perspective.
And then, going over the one bridge on the course, I stopped yet again to stretch my aching leg, and suddenly the opposite muscle cramped — double-whammy of pain. I found myself crying there at mile 19. The 4:00 pace group surged past me, and I just did not have the heart to go with them. I really wanted to just quit the marathon, but deep down I knew I would regret it. So I willed myself to run, because when have I EVER walked down the other side of a bridge?
Marathon Maniacs: And then I reached mile 21 or 22 and saw two yellow Marathon Maniacs shirts in the distance. I felt new energy and told myself to just catch up to them. They were Chris and Erin, a husband and wife. Erin has qualified for Boston but on this day she was also struggling with her right IT band. Their buddy, Larry, was also a Maniac. I asked if I could hang with them, and they said yes. They were run/walking, doing what Erin could manage.
I’d been doing mental math for a while (to occupy my brain) and knew I had about a 4:05 finish in me. I also knew it would be a mental fight and a battle with my leg. Or I could stay with these Maniacs and stop thinking about the clock. And that’s what I did. We walked. We jogged. We stopped when Erin needed a bathroom break (that was the 16-minute mile, and it involved stretching and eating oranges while we waited). We stopped again so she could kiss her baby in mile 26. We stood out, because Erin was wearing a brightly colored shirt and skirt, tights that have muscle outlines on them and pink paint in her blonde hair. It was great. And I finally stopped thinking about my leg.
We reached the finish line, where the men and women split off for some unknown reason that really annoys spectators and runners alike, so we couldn’t get a group finishing picture. But I did finish with Erin. We both smiled as we crossed the finish line, and I know for certain that I wouldn’t have smiled if I had kept pushing myself for that 4:05 finish. The clock hadn’t mattered; fellow runners were better.
I crossed the finish line, profusely thanked the person who wrapped a heat sheet around me, and promptly lost my Maniac buddies before we could get a picture. I turned on my cell phone and texted one person before my brain shut down, as it normally does between the time I stop running and the time I get some food. My teeth were chattering and I was shivering, and the text replies were the only thing keeping my brain functioning. Then my fingers got so cold that I couldn’t really text, and I was in a sea of people, wondering how and where I could get my warm clothes. I was so incredibly overwhelmed. It didn’t help that I hadn’t even opened the water bottle they gave me at the finish line.
Steve: Then one of my old running buddies, Steve, appeared in front of me. He’d just run a 4:17, two weeks after finishing a 50-miler. We hugged and he took me to get our bags. He pointed to my bag line, went to get his, and told me to wait for him in the sun. My jacket didn’t make me any warmer, but having some direction helped me get my mental bearings. Steve came back, and then I left the poor guy, because he was waiting for other friends while I was walking to my car. He helped so much, though.
I got to the hotel, showered, and continued shivering. I’m not usually thrilled to drive after a marathon, but this time I was so happy to turn on the car heater. I got on the road, made a phone call, and proceeded to analyze/deconstruct the marathon for the next 1.5+ hours. Anyone who listens to me after a marathon, especially if I’ve only eaten some potato chips, deserves a gold star.
In yet another case of “do as I say, not as I do,” here’s how my Thanksgiving turkey trot went down. Spoiler: New personal record of 22:59. (Every second counts!)
1. Ate deep dish pizza and drank beer with my dad on Wednesday night.
2. Figured that since my grumpy leg was feeling “mostly” OK, I might as well race a 5k Thursday morning. Oh, and should I mention the fact that my lungs haven’t been at full capacity for a month now?
3. Drove to the Walnut Creek turkey trot and discovered that, yep, there really were thousands of race participants. (There were 5,700 finishers, between the 5k and 10k.) A lot of them wore costumes. Yep, serious race.
4. Got in line between the 7-minute and 8-minute pace signs. Moved forward around a group of kids. Then noticed that a woman in front of me was wearing a backpack purse and sweat pants; moved up past her (good decision, since she and three friends were all in a row to block everyone behind them; I saw her on the out-and-back in the race, about 10 minutes behind me).
5. Ran the first mile in 7:27. Dodged numerous people and children. People who had an official 23:00 or faster 5k to their name had gotten seeded start placement in front of a barrier. I really wanted to be among them.
6. Ran the second mile in 7:17. Nearly fell when a girl in front of me came to a sudden stop because she was tired.
7. Ran the third mile in 7:24. I wanted to walk because my lungs were aching, but I knew I’d regret it.
8. Ran the last 0.15 miles (by my watch) at 6:05 pace. Allegedly. I do recall looking at my watch at 19 minutes and realizing I might have a shot at breaking 23 minutes. I thought of those people with the preferential start corral.
9. Crossed the finish line, found my dad, and discovered that I hadn’t died of oxygen depletion. Success!
10. Knew that I had a new PR (personal record), but had to wait impatiently for the official results. When they came, it turned out that I had run 22:59.5, a PR of 41 seconds and squeezing in under the 23-minute mark with half a second to spare. To say I was happy is an understatement, especially with placement: 2nd of 274 women in my age group; 21st of 2,512 women; and 128th of 4,042 finishers.
Bonus: For the first time in my history of racing, there were FIVE Bohms at this race. I had seen that ahead of time, and my goal was to beat them all, even though I had no idea who they were. Yep, I nailed that goal, too.
In which I stand on a podium for the first time ever, but have lingering doubts.
One-sentence recap: I set a new personal best time of 1:45:20, placed in my age group, and saw two friends finish their first half-marathons.
In October, I obliterated my half-marathon record that had stood for 18 months. I took four minutes off my best time, and I generally had a ball, finishing with a great feeling of euphoria: “Oh my gosh, I ran a 1:46 half-marathon!!” I still remember that feeling.
The funny thing is, I remember that feeling a lot more than this race that I ran a month later — where I actually ran a faster time. I reached that 1:45 mark I never, ever imagined back when I ran a 2:14 half-marathon. But even now, three weeks after the race, it’s still a blur.
What does stand out in my mind is one word: friends. The friend, Lia, who gave me coffee and stored my dry clothes for me during the race, and even cheered and took a picture when I finished. The friends I used to run with before I moved, who saw me at the start and greeted me with hugs. And my friends, Marc and Melinda, who ran their first half-marathons.
I’ve known Marc for a long time. We worked together, we’ve each helped the other one move, and we’ve stayed in touch through those moves. Marc always said I was crazy for running, and he would usually add, “and I am plenty crazy.” Marc didn’t like running or have any interest in it. But then one day, Marc messaged or emailed or texted or somehow communicated to me that he’d been walking. He was not just walking 10 minutes at lunch; no, he was walking five miles a day. And he wanted to turn that walking into running. I’m pretty sure I replied with a lot of exclamation points.
Marc and his wife, Melinda, had joined Weight Watchers and both lost a bunch of weight. Melinda had quit smoking. They asked if I would come speak to their group about running. I was very honored, and quite excited — I like public speaking, and I like talking about running. So I went and jabbered about running, about how you don’t have to be a natural and how you can defy the odds. I talked about how it’s perfectly fine to walk, and that you just have to start. I took a couple race medals with me, which turned out to be a good thing: I wouldn’t learn until the St. Joseph’s half-marathon that the medals were what got Melinda to start running more — she wanted a medal, too.
I had told Marc that if he ran a half-marathon, I would do my best to be there. My schedule was up in the air until a week before this race, but it ultimately worked out. November 3 found me driving a little over an hour at a dark hour in the morning to Stockton. Yep, I was going to voluntarily run through one of the country’s biggest crime capitals. (Spoiler: I survived.)
I got there with time to spare and discovered that @runcalifornia was there with free coffee. We chatted for a while, and then Marc and Melinda arrived. We hugged, and I think I was just as excited as they were nervous. Along the way, I found myself chatting with the sheriff, the race director, a couple wine makers, and some other people — yep, that’s the norm when a former journalist visits her old stomping grounds.
Anyway, we all lined up at the race start, wished each other luck, and then we took off. I had no idea what to expect, because my IT Band (which connects the hip and knee) had been cranky so my mileage had been a lot less than I’d planned. The crowd thinned out quickly, as there were only 335 half-marathon finishers, and I found myself running in wind on a course with no spectators. There were, however, a few out-and-backs so I saw fellow runners — I saw Marc twice but somehow missed Melinda. There were some unpaved sections, and at one point we had to run down a gravel embankment, which is really fun when you’re running sub-8:00 pace.
Miles 1-6: 7:56, 7:49, 7:55, 8:00, 8:10, 8:12
I reached mile 6.2 in 49 minutes — so that means I had a 10k PR (personal record). That’s not generally a good thing to do when you still have seven miles to run. Oops. That started taking its toll in mile 10, when my lungs were struggling and I was feeling some twinges in my IT band. Shiloh, who I had just finally met in person before the race, caught up to me around mile 10 and we ran together for a while. But she had clearly trained better and run smarter, and she soon took off. Mentally, I was done. I found myself walking. I tried to pull it together when a woman passed me, but I just didn’t have any fight left in me. It’s too bad, because that woman finished only four seconds ahead of me, and the next one was only 18 seconds ahead.
Miles 7-13: 8:16, 8:04, 8:14, 8:18, 8:23, 8:09, 7:47
We had a side wind most of the way, and we had very few spectators. The course was forgettable, and music only went so far in keeping my spirits up when I was not quite at 100 percent physically. However, there was one spectator who did help. I was wearing my crazy colorful shorts, and she started cheering wildly, “I love your shorts, girl!” I smiled and mouthed “thank you” (no breath to talk), and it gave me a little boost. If only that boost could have carried me on for a couple more miles.
I was just really done when I crossed the finish line. My watch said 13.0 miles instead of 13.1, so I didn’t know if I’d set a PR or not. The race officials say the course is 13.1 miles, someone said they also showed 13.0, another showed 13.1, and yet another friend showed 13.08 miles on his watch. Who knows, but since I’ve been robbed of PR’s due to long courses, I suppose I’ll take it.
Time: 1:44:20 (8:02 pace)
3rd of 53 women in my age group (top 5.7%)
9th woman of 190 (top 4.7%)
45th out of 335 finishers (top 13.4%)
Marc crossed the finish line in an impressive 1:50, and I hugged him and then said, “You can never again give me a hard time for running — sorry, you’re one of us now.” He agreed (he may have been delirious, but that’s too bad). Then Melinda finished and I got to do the “you’re a half-marathoner!” cheer all over again. It was all very exciting, especially since those two are now on the marathon track. Honestly, it is just so rewarding to see people reach running milestones, and I got to see two of them that day.
After calming down and getting into some warm clothes, we got our free breakfast burritos from the race — which turned out to be pretty awful. So I had more coffee instead. Marc and Melinda headed home, I talked to Lia a bit more, and then I decided to wait for the awards in case they were deep enough to reach me. Places hadn’t been announced, but I knew there hadn’t been that many women ahead of me. But I was still really stunned when they reached my age group and called, “Third place, Layla Bohm.” I went and collected my medal from Tony the race director, and stepped onto the third block of the podium. I have never in my life stood on a podium, and I must admit that it was a pretty cool feeling.
And that’s a wrap. Well, not quite: While I was still hanging around the finish area, a woman congratulated me. I looked at her, thought she was familiar, and soon figured out that she was the spectator who had complimented me on my shorts. I thanked her profusely for cheering, and told her she really helped lift my spirits. We runners only see spectators for a millisecond, and we rarely get a chance to thank most of them. There, in a city known for its crime and for being the first large city to declare bankruptcy, I was able to thank one of the spectators who stood out on a Stockton street on a Sunday morning, cheering for people running through her city. Stockton, sometimes you’re OK.
I spent this weekend in Arizona with friends, volunteering and losing sleep at the Ironman in Tempe. It was a pretty amazing weekend and deserves a photo-filled blog post, but one five-minute incident basically summed up the way I’ve been trying to live my life for the past three years: “Life is short; live it.” I’d almost forgotten the incident until last night, when I was procrastinating my run (in the dark, on wet roads, with a cranky leg) and I came across this Facebook post I had written exactly two years earlier:
At 6 a.m. Monday, I was one of 30 volunteers who were registering people for next year’s Ironman Arizona. This event is so popular that it sells out 2,500+ spots before registration even opens online. The current year’s athletes can register on Saturday, and then volunteers can register Monday — all 4,200 volunteers. Do the math and you can see that, if every volunteer wanted a spot, they wouldn’t all get one. That doesn’t happen, since many volunteers work multiple shifts (me), don’t register at all (me), are kids, etc. But you never know. And triathletes are notoriously Type A. The result: People camped out hours before registration opened. As in, 10 p.m. the previous night before the race even ended. But then they got kicked out by police who enforced a “no camping” ordinance. People returned as early as 2 a.m., and by 4 a.m. the line was hundreds of people deep.
As a volunteer, I sat behind one of 30 computers, registering people who were funneled through a line to the next open computer. I entered their ID, credit card and basic information into the computer, usually making small talk while I typed and they nervously waited. They were excited, anxious and a bit worried about the task of training for 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running. Many cheered when they obsessively checked their email and saw the confirmation.
But one man was different. He had waited in line for at least an hour, but when he stepped up to my table he became the only person that day to ask me this question: “What if I can’t do it? Is there a refund policy for medical conditions?” I showed him the policy: He could request a partial refund of $150 by a certain date. The actual registration fee is $700, plus a $42 fee. “So it’s basically a $600 loss,” he said.
He told me that he has had respiratory troubles his entire life, and they limit his physical activity, though he did complete a half-Ironman this year. He was still tightly gripping his ID and credit card, rather than eagerly handing them to me.
I looked up at this man who was about my age, looking him straight in the eyes. I didn’t want to make the decision for him, because this was his moment (and his money). But I did ask a couple questions: Had he volunteered in part so he could get a registration spot? Yes, he answered. Had he just stood in line in the dark for over an hour? Yes, he answered. And then I asked him the one question that helps me make decisions: What would he regret more?
The man took a breath, looked at me, and gave me his credit card. I entered the information and told him I was about to click on the registration button. He nodded. And with that, he had made his decision. I congratulated him, and I mentioned that I’ve beaten doctors’ predictions. I told him I have friends with medical problems who have succeeded. I told him that, because he knows he has this trouble, he also knows what to battle. And I wished him luck.
I don’t remember his name, which I really regret, but as he walked away I had a good feeling. I will never know if he makes it to the finish line, or even to the start line, of Ironman Arizona 2014. But I do know that he would have been kicking himself if he hadn’t registered. Now he has the chance to keep moving forward without regrets. We should all be so lucky to be in that position.
“Live your life so that you don’t regret the things that could have been.”