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I owe a race recap but will prolong the suspense for a few more days.  Usually, during a race, I am formulating what I will write here.  My brain becomes a massive board and I am rearranging sentences, experiences, and stories.  In doing that I decided this story had to be shared before the race recap (although they really belong together).

A few days before the race, my friend M{squared} said she was going to run the half marathon to pace me, her only goal to help me cross the finish line.  I knew she was going to run with me but I had already given her the green light to take off because she is a speed demon.  Being a runner girl who is uber-focused on time, it is almost unfathomable to believe someone would willingly give up a great race pace for moi.

Both of us had similar experiences at the Nike Women’s Marathon (she ran the full, I did the half).  Each of us had an amazing longest run a few weeks before our race.  Both of us were in a total zen state at the starting line.  Rock steady.  And then Nike happened.  (Her story is much more movie of the week inspirational & I haven’t but want to ask her if she wants to guest post her story here … thoughts in my head.)

I was already moved she was running to give me a great race.  But, come race day, my race would have been over long before the finish line if she hadn’t been by my side.

I can only imagine the thoughts going through her head because I tend to get quiet when I’m upset.  And the whole time, she was a ray of sunshine on a gloomy, rainy Seattle morning.  All I could think is she is seeing me at my weakest, at my most vulnerable moments, and at my worst.  (Scary to let someone see that!!)  This is where Nike was different; I was alone at Nike with all my demon thoughts.  At the same time, she was also witnessing me at my strongest, my most courageous and at my best.  Its funny how those two dichotomies go hand in hand when you run.

There I am trudging along in near abysmal conditions (rain, wind, pain) and she was totally present every step.  Not once did she falter.  At times, holding my hand, dragging me along like a little kid.  But always, always, with the biggest smile on her face and the most encouraging words.

I like to think I am a generally happy person.  But I have begun to think I may be a bit of a selfishly happy person.  M{squared} brought JOY to everyone she came into contact with during that race.  She thanked volunteers, police lining the course, and she motivated every single person around us to push that much harder even if she was only talking to me.  I don’t think I have ever met someone with such a selfless heart.

The Amica Seattle half marathon would have been a drastically different race had she not been there.  I cannot return the favor to her next month (because she is fast!) but I will pay it forward one day (hopefully soon) for someone else who needs a ray of sunshine on a challenging day.

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I was not quite sure I would make it to the eve of half marathon numero dos.  More, I wasn’t sure I would be running the Seattle half tomorrow.  A few weeks ago, in my second crossfit class, I overdid it on the dead lifts and have since been babying a hurting hamstring and knee.

Yesterday at the marathon expo, I picked up some kinesio tape and received a short tutorial on how to use it.  Let me tell you: this stuff is gold.  I went for a short shake-out run this morning and only once had the shooting pain up my hamstring.  And my pace continues to improve.  Either crossfit is working wonders or I run better with pain.

Unlike my first half, I have been slacking big time.  I have a playlist for the race and thought it would be a nice touch to only have Seattle musicians in my ear while running the streets of Seattle.  And then thought I could add the songs I loved in college (because this was when I first saw Pearl Jam live).  Instead, I have dropped five hours of songs I could tolerate running to.

No order.  No strategy.  No excel spreadsheet breaking up my miles with fitting songs.  Tomorrow morning it will be shuffle and run.

Goals for tomorrow:

1) Finish the race
2) Beat my time in San Francisco
3) Have a good time (I get to run through a tunnel for crying out loud!!)

I will tell y’all how it shakes out in a few days.  For now, I have to figure out what I’m wearing tomorrow.  It was so much easier when I was given a uniform. (Do I wear a jacket?  What if it gets hot?  Best to wear a base layer & short sleeve on top?  Wear my sleeves and a tee?  Too many options!)


The forecast all week: rain.  Rain.  And more rain.

Wednesday night as I was thinking about leaving work, this sunset graced our skyline.
a

I had forgotten how amazingly awesome the sunset can be in the Pacific Northwest in winter.  A little prayer to keep this same weather throughout Thursday morning for regional Turkey Trots was sent.  Then it could rain through Black Friday in hopes it would finally let up Sunday morning for the half & full marathons in Seattle.

What I woke up to Thursday morning:
a

I have been a bit worried about this Turkey Trot, well, running in general.  I have somehow injured my knee during crossfit (stupid dead lifts) and it seemed to get worse throughout the week.  I ran five miles the past weekend to see how it would hold up & instead of hobbling along, I improved my pace by about 20 seconds.  Throughout this race, my mind traveled between walking and running the half on Sunday.  And then I questioned the state of my guts.  (It wasn’t until the end of the race I moved from the coward end of the spectrum.)

I struggled the first mile of the race & I owe a HUGE apology to the crossfit coach because I said there are no hills along the harbor.  Landscape looks dramatically different depending on your mode of transportation – a huge difference between walking & running.  Jokes on me.  Because there are hills and apparently some pretty big ones on the 10k course.  My first mile, I felt like I was running in molasses.  I believed there was no way I could beat last year’s race time.  I didn’t hear the GPS app in my headset clear me of mile one and didn’t hear it at the halfway point (frustrating).  I was getting no where.  I did stop for this photo op (Mt Rainier to the left):
a

I made it to the halfway mark and turned around to retrace my steps to the finish line.  As we all know, I run with mental baggage.  And on the way back, there were two things I could not let happen.  The first was that I had to look strong when I passed my mom & sister.  And the second was not being passed by any of my TNT teammates or my crossfit coach.  The last mile seemed easy and upon sight of the finish line, I picked up my pace.  (My friend LJ said I looked really strong.  I counter that with “no matter what the beginning or the middle of a race will do to you, you have to cross the finish line strong.”)

I didn’t PR (personal record) but had I not stopped to take several photos, I would have.  {Note to self: don’t take photos if you want to set a PR.}  However, when compared to last year’s Turkey Trot (and first race ever), I shaved 5 1/2 minutes from my time.  I can also officially say I’ve been running for a year.

Last year, as soon as I crossed the finish line, I hightailed it back to my car, drove home and begun peeling potatoes.  This year was totally different (plus I didn’t have to peel potatoes).  It made my favorite holiday that much better to have seen my friends (runner or not) at the finish line.  It was also infinitely cooler to have my mom & sister participate (their first Turkey Trot!) and I will keep pushing to make this a new Thanksgiving tradition.

When blu was originally diagnosed with an abcessed tooth, it was probably the best news I could have heard from the vet.  I’m positive, had I known  a malignant tumor was growing in her nasal cavity, we would not have spent the last four months of her life as we did.  I don’t think I would have pursued the 5k training with her.  I would have wanted to baby her believing her too sick to endure the activity.

Our first three mile walk** left her breathing heavy on the deck.  But even that improved and I would like to believe she enjoyed learning to run with me.  Although, it was more me learning to run with her.  She could have run the three miles easy.  The plan: to make the Turkey Trot our first race, making this Turkey Trot a semi-anniversary run for me.  It was also the catalyst race that started the craziness proceeding it.

Again this year, I will find myself with thousands of other turkey trotters lining their hometown streets for what has become an increasingly popular Thanksgiving event across the nation.  Mostly, I think runners & walkers love the idea of getting their gobble on without guilt.  Or less of it.

Instead of running it alone as I did last year, this race looks vastly different.  Namely, I haven’t slacked in my training and know I can run the entire three miles.  Not only am I a different runner girl this year but I have friends and family who will also be running or walking the course with me.  Running is no longer a solitary event even if I’m running solo.  I feel less like an impostor but still a far cry from being in the category of hardcore.

I am not going to be stuck in my car watching as real runners gear up for the race, trying to find a way to drive off without notice, tail between my legs.  I will not be covered in two layers of pants (one being fleece) and four layers up top plus a down vest.  I will, however, need a rain jacket as rain is predicted.

Most of this change is possible because of you.  You have cheered me on, motivated me when I was hanging out in the mean reds, and asked about my progress.  You have allowed me to talk your ear off about running & upcoming events.  You have donated money to a great cause so I could test my mettle against the half marathon.  (In that case, the half won.)  You have shared your own stories of defeat & triumph.  You have run with me.  You are the strangers who give me high fives or fist bumps or words of encouragement on the road.  You have believed in my ability even when my lizard brain takes my thoughts hostage.

So, this Thanksgiving, after I run my 3.1 miles, as the smells of a delicious feast beckon, I will take a moment of silence and give thanks for you.

**To clarify, we were consistently walking morning & night (unless there was heavy rain) but those walks were slow meandering strolls around the neighborhood.  Couch to 5k training walk/runs became focused and left little time for smelling the flowers or leaves or bushes or…

It’s been exactly one year.  One year since what I remember to be the only winter storm we had in Seattle.  Leaving work at noon (grateful for this small miracle), getting stuck on the off ramp, having to deal with a BMW driver who kept spinning out into the lane I was trying to enter and with my tires finally free, drove home.

Three days before blu & I had met with a veterinary oncologist, the last of many vet visits over the previous year.  Originally, an abcessed tooth and a needed dental cleaning turned to a possible rare but fixable benign cyst a few months later turned to a rapidly growing nasal tumor.  The tumor had already consumed a portion of the bone in her nose.  She would need extensive and aggressive radiation treatments followed by chemo and surgery.  Even if I had taken those measures, it would have prolonged her life 4-8 months.  The state of those 4-8 months, spent alone receiving treatment in Colorado or Minnesota, unpleasant.  Without extensive treatment, the forecast was 1-2 months.

Every sigh, every noise, every movement, I questioned whether it was time.  How are you supposed to know when its time to put your dog to sleep?  Saturday, we went for a short walk on our trail and blu seemed so full of energy, I extended the distance.  I took this as a good sign.  Sunday, we returned to the trail, only to make it half a mile in before we had to turn back.  Whatever good omen I assumed the day before, was replaced by its grim counterpart.

Monday, making it home in the snow, I sat with blu on the floor, her breathing labored.  There were a lot of tears.  Much petting and holding on to her.  I questioned when I would know.  And then she had a bloody nose.  My parents had already dealt with an unstoppable bloody nose the year before when I was on vacation and it was back.  The slight bleeding eventually subsided.  But it was the sign I’d been looking for all weekend.  I called the vet and scheduled an appointment for 5:30.  I spent the next few hours petting her while I read aloud from whatever book I was reading at the time.

I had been present when my mom’s dog was put to sleep; I knew what to expect.  blu went much quicker, the last exhale was quiet – the last body sigh absent.  There she lay, with her nose between her paws, as if it was like any other nap she had ever taken.  I would have stayed with her longer but the weather & the road conditions were abysmal.  Not only did the veterinary staff have to drive home, my mom who kindly drove me to the vet had to drop me off, then drive the 30 minutes (in normal conditions) home.

The vet, who had originally diagnosed the dead tooth & abcess said he would pay the additional amount to have her cremated alone and he would spread her ashes in Commencement Bay.  I am not sure I would ever have paid for that courtesy but I am so thankful he did.  Every time I run along Ruston and every time I see the bay from downtown, I-5 or Point Defiance, I think of blu.

My big, furry, beautiful blu.

Just a few random blu stories…

  • A week after I brought blu home, she went to stay with a friend.  I still had no clue how blu dealt with people in general, kids, and other pets.  The first few days of the holiday week, my boss went to work leaving blu with a neighbor & her three young daughters during the day.  Apparently blu LOVED kids.  Loved them.  So much, that I felt bad I didn’t have any.  On the second day, as my friend walked blu back to her house, she realized blu had a stuffed grinch (who stole Christmas) in her mouth.  blu stole the grinch from the little girls – but it also became her favorite toy.  Until she destroyed it.  People – check.  Kids – check.  Other pets – check.

  •  blu, who I decided (after much discussion with others) was really an Alaskan Malamute, greeted people she had met with a big WOO WOO howl.  We would cross paths with other people on our walks and they always wanted to meet her (because she was gorgeous).  The next time we would run into them, she would let out this big WOO WOO as if she was saying “hello friend.  It’s nice to see you again.”  I only got the WOO WOO when I did not do what she wanted.
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  • My boss became blu’s dog sitter when I was out of town for volleyball tournaments.  Her husband was not a huge fan of pets in general.  But, blu who loved men like crazy, turned him.  She would wake him up in the morning with her woo woo’s and every time we went to visit, they would do their little dance.  blu had that way with people.
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  • One of my volleyball players gave blu a stuffed polar bear for Christmas my last season in Charlotte.  This became her favorite toy.  It took exactly one year for her to destroy it.  She would eat the stuffing out of the nose but then would let the bear live for exactly one year.  She carried the bear everywhere.  She would carry it from room to room; wherever blu was, the bear followed.  Her buddy Sue gave her a new bear each year – even after we moved to Seattle.  The same pattern: eat the nose, carry it around with her, a year later, all the stuffing was removed.  When it was time to go for a walk, the bear was dropped at the front door – as if she wanted it to be the first thing she would see coming home.

 

  • I had switched to the gentle leader (not the nose one – the under/around the chest leader).  While playing with a neighbor dog on our nightly walk, she got out of it and ran off.  My neighbor went to get her car to track her down and I took her dog and stormed after blu.  Walking along Johnston Road, I watched as she tried to walk across the street but eventually made it back to  my side of the street.  I followed her for the two miles it took to reach the South Carolina border.  At one point, she ran into someone’s garage but she was a large dog and they were more scared to grab her then listen to me.  She ran down a dark two lane country road.  I believed it was going to be the last time I saw her.  Cars were flying down the road.  There were no street lights.  I sat on the curb with the other dog & cried.  Miraculously, she came back but I couldn’t get a hold on her and she dashed off again.  I walked back home.  I drove around a few hours that night: no dog.  I drove everywhere the next morning: no dog.  I was in the process of making signs when I received a phone call from a vet saying they had my dog.  Apparently, she had started to follow me home because she was found somewhere between where I left her & my house.  She curled up in someone’s backyard.  The next morning she was still there and the kind stranger brought her to the vet to see if she had been microchipped.  (PLEASE MICROCHIP YOUR ANIMALS!!  It costs about $10 & totally worth it.)  After that, the gentle leader was stashed away & her punishment was to walk with a backpack or a choke chain at all times.
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  •  People get annoying when you spend too many consecutive hours with them.  Also true of dogs.  Whoda thunk?  Driving cross country together, she hardly slept.  Driving through Tennessee, it became a game to see if she would lay down longer than the last time.  The first day, she wouldn’t sleep more than 5 minutes at one time.  As we made our way through Oklahoma and Colorado, she was laying down longer.  In Denver, we stayed in a nice hotel: I felt a bit like a celebrity, walking through the lobby with this furry beast and riding the elevator to our room.  Usually, you see small dogs, but here was this massive white dog who was sometimes mistaken for a wolf.  By the fourth day, driving through Idaho and into Oregon, I could not handle the incessant breathing in my ear.  There were many words – mostly “why can’t you just sleep like a normal dog?”
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  • My nephew T was about two when he met blu and they immediately became best friends.  He loved to rub ears & blu had the softest ears.  While my nieces were clamming, T ran up and down the beach with blu.  For Christmas, she gave him stuffed polar bears.  (She finally had her kid!)  After she died, I gave him the new polar bear Sue sent for blu.  He still sleeps with them.
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A big WOO WOO to all blu’s friends.  There were a lot of you!

There are certain questions you should ask when you are interested in a getting a dog.  I thought I covered them all but the one I didn’t ask was her weight.  The shelter said she was a husky mix: a little research via wikipedia stated a female husky is between 35-55 pounds.  Waiting in the vet lobby to meet blu, I was completely overwhelmed when they brought her out.  She was a bit rambunctious – as any dog who has been holed up in a crate all week would be.  She gave out a big “WOO WOO” howl and as I approached she jumped up on me.

This was no 35 pound dog.  This wasn’t a 55 pound dog.  This was a beast weighing in at 73 pounds!  As I walked to my car to get her leash, I thought about making a mad dash for it.

Collared and leashed, I asked the vet where I could find a park because Cesar Milan says you should walk a dog as soon as you adopt them.  Hardest walk of my life.  Calm assertive energy …barely.  There was a lot of chanting “I am the pack leader.”  Which probably sounded more like this in my head “I AM the pack leader.”  There was a lot of pulling – on her end.  There was a lot of correcting on my end.  After about 30 minutes, we walked back to the car where I had a little chat with blu.  Something along the lines of total frustration.  I was positive I was in over my head.  Calm assertive.  Sure.

We drove the 2.5 hours home where she eventually slept in the back of the car.  Before we went inside, there was another walk (a la Cesar Milan advice).  This walk was a bit easier.  There was less pulling.  And because the fear of the dog whisperer was in my brain, we had another walk before going to sleep.  And this walk was even better.

My life was in a major upheavel: figuring out how to care for the dog plus work and volleyball practice.  A routine set in with early morning walks (5 a.m. early!), work, volleyball practice and another late night walk before bed.  On non-practice nights, we would walk four miles plus our morning walks.  We were like the postman: snow, rain, sleet, hail… we were outside walking.  My only reprieve on Wednesday when she spent the day at doggie daycare.

Our first month together, I lost 14 pounds; blu lost nine.  I was determined to have a good, happy dog.  Happy (not rambunctious) dog = happy owner.

chillaxin' at petsmart...

The summer of 2007, I was on the prowl for a dog.  I checked out a neighborhood pet store: played with the $3500 english bulldog puppy and the drool happy $3000 dogue de bordeaux (a la Turner & Hooch).  Yes, those dogs were way out of my budget but when does a girl pass up the chance to play with puppies?  I searched the humane society websites and searched breeders.  I took endless “what is the right dog for you?” quizzes.  I decided what I wanted was the ever lazy but snore heavy english bulldog.  Who didn’t love their pudgy puppy legs and wrinkly fat faces?

I also decided the perfect time to get this new dog was after the volleyball season was over.  In the meantime, I would keep searching for rescue english  bulldogs (of which I was told there were few to be rescued because everyone loved how lazy the dogs are).

And then one morning in November, I received an email touting the awesomeness of a rescue website.  I immediately clicked through to the website, searched for the dogs in North Carolina and fell in love with one face.

Fell in love with THIS face...

Seriously, how could you not fall in love with this face.  And how could anyone give up this face?

I headed into a weekly executive team meeting, thinking of nothing but this furry white creature.  At the end of the meeting, our director asked what everyone’s weekend plans were.  I blurted out “I want to get this dog.  But in two weeks I am on vacation for a week and it will be too late to have her boarded the week of Thanksgiving.”  The director said she would dog sit for me if I adopted the dog.

That was all it took.  I called the rescue and learned in four days, this beautiful girl would be euthanized.  Because I had try-outs the next day (all day), I wouldn’t be able to drive the 2.5 hours to meet her.  And they wouldn’t be able to hold the euthanization if I didn’t adopt her.  In an impulsive moment, I decided to adopt her without meeting her.  Five months before planned, I would pick up my new dog the following weekend.

That week I picked up Cesar Milan’s book to read all about being the pack leader, purchased those new dog supplies and fretted over the most important part – her name.  I could only come up with one name but decided to wait until I met her before I made any decision final.  As a kid, I was going to name various pets after all the characters in the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.  I settled on Baloo.  But Baloo was a bit awkward to say, especially if you had to say it multiple times.  I settled on naming her blu; blu was the perfect fit.

A few months ago a friend told me to check out the movie “Spirit of the Marathon” – free to watch on hulu.  Part of me wishes I watched it before San Francisco.  Part of me is also a believer in things (books, movies, people, etc) finding you when you need to be found.

I recommended the movie to a runner friend who is all about the short distances – likes to run them fast.  After watching this movie, he is inspired to qualify for Boston.  Which means he not only has to cover 26.2 miles, he has to do them quickly.  His calculation: run faster than a 7:15 pace over 26 miles to qualify.

And still, I didn’t watch this movie.

Until tonight.  (And only about half way through the movie.)

Watching the first half tonight, it reminded me running is supposed to be fun.  I think I’ve been far too focused on other things to simply enjoy the activity.

Thanks to buttahcup (everyone needs a buttahcup in their life to give them a swift kick in the pants every now & then), I also realized all training runs post San Francisco have been to the same playlist.  And say what you will about the brain (and maybe my over-thinking one), I have cut out about the same place in my training runs as I did in San Francisco.

Coincidence?  Perhaps.  But this superstitious girl is making a new playlist to try out on her long run this weekend.

The past few weekends my long runs have been near unbearable feats of running.  The eight mile run over the bridge in the rain started off good but by mile seven, I was completely finished.  (Also soaking wet.)  Last weekend, the ten mile long run through most of Gig Harbor was a lesson in doubt and distraction; both of whom are poor teachers.  I am not sure I ran more than seven miles.

I am starting to wonder if running a second half marathon so soon is smart.  If I don’t, it messes with my Half Fanatics eligibility (3 half marathons in 90 days) & that is not something I can let happen.  I am not even sure I will be prepared except for having done one a month ago.  But this half is about redemption and improving my time.  I cannot NOT do it.

Does anyone know if there is an off switch for the brain?  Maybe I need to change up my routes.  Maybe run with a buddy?  Or maybe I need to start every run with a hard problem and spend the miles solving it instead of thinking about running.

Your biggest challenge isn’t someone else.  It’s the ache in your lungs & the burning in your legs.  And the voice inside you that says CAN’T.  But you don’t listen.  You push harder.  And then you hear the voice whisper can.  And you discover the person you thought you were is no match for the one you really are. (anonymous)

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on the road