Friday, May 15, 2015

Discovering Why We Run: Carmel Marathon

I hadn't even gotten onto the plane yet, and already I had some random guy tell me I was crazy.

Standing in line to board the plane, one of my fellow passengers had just noticed my Boston Marathon 2014 jacket, and asked me if I had run Boston.

"Yes, it was amazing," I answered.  "And now I'm headed to Indianapolis to run tomorrow's Carmel, Indiana marathon."

He looked at me as if I were a Kardashian who was about to give up all her worldly goods to follow in Mother Teresa's footsteps in India. 

"You runners are crazy.  Who would want to run a marathon, all those miles, on city streets?  There's nothing," he paused and took a sip of his soda, "nothing that feels as good as sitting on the couch."

I thought:  Running is wonderful!  I feel like a kid again when I run.  I'm free... the everyday worries of my life and the problems of the world melt away.  I feel stronger, happier, healthier.  I love the friends I've met through running.  I feel like a rock star when spectators cheer for me on the sidelines.  I love crossing that finish line, exhausted but thrilled with my accomplishment...

I said:  "Running is a lot of fun for me."

He mumbled again that I was crazy.  The line started moving and I got onto the plane.

My seat mate noticed my jacket, and asked about Boston.  I answered briefly, and explained about Carmel.

"Think you'll win Carmel?" he asked.

What part of 30 year old Kenyan was he seeing in me?  I explained that the winner of the marathon would probably be a man in his 20's or 30's.

"But then you'll win the women's race?"

"Ahhhh... that would be nice, but same thing, usually the woman who wins is in her 20's or 30's."

My seat mate looked shocked, also probably thinking this plane ride was the first leg on my journey to India.

"So why are you running this marathon?"

I adjusted my imaginary nun's habit, and had no other answer but:  "I love running marathons."

I couldn't wait to get to Carmel, where I could be among people who understood my passion.

A few hours later, and for the rest of the weekend, I was with people who got it.  My friends Sue, Ilse, Lesley, Lea Anne, Marie and Brittany were my people, my kind, my tribe.

Sue I met in the wild Pampas region of rural Argentina.  We instantly bonded when we discovered, on our husbands' hunting trip, that we were both running our first Boston marathon in 3 weeks.  Together we trained in the afternoons, running alongside wild animals, and crawling under electric fences.  Boston's Heartbreak Hill?  That sounded easy compared to our Argentina training!

The rest of the gang were Floridians who I met through our running camp, Set Goals Not Limits, in Melbourne.  We had been training for months in 80-90 degree weather, so the forecast for temperatures in the 70's for Saturday's marathon didn't phase us Florida girls one bit.

Carmel is Sue's hometown - that's why we picked this marathon.  We spent time the day before the marathon driving through the streets, seeing where Sue went to school, eyeballing her old neighborhood and her family's home.

At the marathon's expo, Sue and I picked up our bib numbers and posed for our pre marathon photo.

Little did we know that this was the last time our bibs would be displayed correctly.  Due to an error by the staff placing the timing chips on our bibs, we had to wear our bibs vertically instead of horizontally.

On Saturday, we ran Carmel's marathon.  On a warm and beautiful day, we ran through neighborhoods and wooded pathways in one of the prettiest American towns I have ever seen.  It's also very upscale, but never garish.  We ran 26.2 miles through this city and never saw a bad part of town.  Think Beverly Hills meets Midwestern values.  But instead of, well, the Kardashians and their crowd, Indiana families stood on their front lawns and waved and yelled to us as we ran by.  By the end of the race, I felt like Carmel was my hometown, too.

The spectators spent the marathon turning their heads to the side when they called out our names to cheer us on!

But that is one of the charms of a small marathon.  Not everything goes perfectly, but there is so much to enjoy when running a marathon with 700 runners instead of 25,000 - 45,000 runners, like most of the 13 marathons I have run.  People talk to you more.  It's easier to get water at the water stops.  You can see your friends on the course.  I even got to run with Lesley for awhile. 

And it was easy to find a pace group.  I got to run with Pacer Lonnie, which was a really cool experience since he talked to us the entire time.  I felt like I was on a training run instead of a marathon, listening to his stories.  He even let me hold the pace sign for awhile - I felt like an official pacer!  Running with Lonnie's pace group helped me, after a year of running with injuries, get back to my faster times.  Finishing healthy with a time of 4:23:40 felt so good...

And when I finished, I felt as if I were running a race back home.  Ilse was cheering for me at the marathon's finish line.  Brittany and Marie were standing on the sidelines.  And Sue, as she has done before at Boston, Chicago, Marine Corps, and Honolulu, was waiting for me after the finish.

Together my wingman and I traded stories about our race as we made our way back to the hotel.

The post marathon celebration dinner with all my friends truly was a celebration - of finishing the Carmel Marathon, of our friendship, of hilarious and silly running stories from the past.  Running a marathon with friends is so much more fun than running one alone.

Maybe I could have told that to the gentlemen I met as I flew to Indianapolis:  that the friends I've made from running have changed and enhanced my life in so many ways.  Add to that feeling healthy and stronger, and happier, and yes, like a kid again (but with way more expensive running shoes!) - these are incredible benefits I wish everyone could have.

And then there's the sign.  Runners see lots of signs during marathons (Worst Parade Ever, Smile If You Peed Your Pants, Go Random Stranger!) but the one that always brings tears to my eyes is this one, which I've seen at several marathons and also at Carmel...

So I guess that's why I run:  that sign, and all the reasons listed above.  And more reasons that I hope to discover at future marathons.

And then there's what Sue said, when I told her about the man who called me crazy for running marathons.  "He's half right.  Here's the thing.  Nothing feels as good as sitting on the couch - after a long run."

Sue, Ilse, Lesley, Lea Anne, Brittany, Marie and all my running friends - here's to many more long runs.  See you on the road!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Chasing Rainbows": Running the Honolulu Marathon

I saw my first rainbow just a few minutes after I arrived in Honolulu, on the way from the airport to the hotel.

And so began my adventure in the Rainbow State!  Even before I met my friends, I was officially welcomed to Hawaii. 

Sue was the first friend to meet me at the Hale Koa Hotel.  We enjoyed a military briefing at our Armed Forces hotel, complete with hula dancers

 and introductions to other marathoners, including Pam, who has run all 50 states - twice - as well as completing over 200 marathons.  Pam had run Honolulu 32 times previously, and gave us a run down on the course.  Sue and I had never run around a volcano before, and Pam helped put our fears to rest - "Not that hilly," she told us.  Still, we were a bit intimidated...

But we showed no fear at the Expo the next day, showing the world we were ready to run America's 4th largest marathon.

Sue and I headed over to Pearl Harbor, where we met with her friend, Helen Toolan, a Marine General's wife and tour guide extraordinaire.  Helen showed us her historic home, for the commanders of the Pearl Harbor base

and also drove us all around Pearl Harbor's base.  Helen made history come alive for us as she showed us buildings that still have the bullet holes from the tragic attack on December 7, 1941.

When fellow marathoners Abi and Sheri arrived, we took them to Pearl Harbor as well, where we toured the museum and watched the movie about the events of Dec. 7. 

Abi's sister Joko and Sheri's friend Tina joined our group.  Joko and Tina were our photographers, partners in crime (more on that later) and such good sports -  to hang out with marathoners - that they instantly became our little sister and best friend also.  And although they swear they will never run a marathon, a picture they took at the Expo leads me to believe a 26.2 mile run may be in their future plans...

I drove all of us to the Bishop Museum, a very impressive set of buildings that Charles Bishop, a westerner whose family moved to Hawaii to do good (helping the natives) and did well (made a lot of money), dedicated to his wife Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last princess of the Hawaiian islands, as a cultural exhibit of the lives of the Hawaiian natives. 

Next was a harrowing drive through downtown Honolulu.  I was the driver, Tina my wingman, and the 4 others squashed in the back seat that was meant for 3 people.  Not the most confident driver on strange territory, I was weaving back and forth while my friends were calling out: " left turn on Kailiana street, no, right turn on Lianakai street," while I was shouting back, "but I am in the left turn only lane and aren't I already on Kailiakoliana Street or whatever???,"  but we finally made it to our destination.  And let's not bring up my attempts to park the car outside the restaurant where we were to have our pre marathon dinner.  Needless to say, the car was mostly undamaged and we managed to unwind a bit over dinner, as much as marathoners can unwind the night before a marathon. 

Marathon Day was dark, gloomy, rainy and windy.  Very windy!  Later we found out the winds ranged from 20-50 MPH.  And did I mention we were going to run up and down around a volcano?

But we signed up for this, so off we went.  And it was only after a few short miles when we were awed by both the beautiful scenery and the amazing spectators who were out cheering us on not only at 5:00 AM but in near tropical storm conditions.

And that volcano?  Diamond Head was (luckily for us) dormant and spectacularly beautiful.  Not that hard to run around.  We all became honorary Hawaiians as we finished the trip twice around Diamondhead.

Mile 20 of any marathon is a tough mile.  For me it means I have around 1 hour left, and if a runner is running his or her best, by mile 20 there isn't a lot left in the tank.  But at mile 20 of the 2014 Honolulu Marathon, a rainbow appeared. 

It was as if Hawaii was urging us to continue our run, in spite of the weather.  We would all reach the rainbow's end - our finish line.

There are a few really cool things about the Honolulu Marathon. Unlike other large marathons, there is no lottery to enter to run.  A runner can wait until the day before the marathon to sign up.  And not only is there no limit to how many people can run Honolulu, there is also no time limit for this race.  Every year, the marathon stays open until the last person finishes, no matter how long he or she takes.  This year the last runner crossed the finish line in over 14 hours.

Sue, Sheri, Abi, and I all finished the Honolulu Marathon. 

None of us ran as fast as we would have liked, but we all had a race to remember, thanks to the support of the volunteers, the spectators, and the race organizers.  Their help, and the beauty of Hawaii, kept us going.

After the race, it was time to celebrate.  I mean REALLY celebrate.  There was a bit of a problem when some of us - no names listed here on the Internet! - were kicked out of a restaurant and told never to return.  So that was a celebration to remember!  And then there was the post dinner sunset cruise. 

We sang and danced and regaled the other passengers with our marathon stories.  And Sue waved - and waved and waved - at every other passing ship.

 "I'm a Midwesterner," she said as she waved.  "I will wave at any vehicle that passes by me.  We are a friendly people."  "What will you do if they wave back?" I asked, amazed at her continuous waving as a ship went by.  "Bring them a covered dish?"  "I'll make them a pie," Sue said, still waving.  And then - the passengers waved back!  Midwestern spirit reaches Hawaii!

The next morning, before I left, I glanced out my window - and there was another rainbow.

  Another adventure awaits, I thought.  More rainbows to chase.  I hope for many more finish lines.  But it's not the end of the adventure that I look forward to the most.   For me, running is about the happiness I feel when I run, the healthier I feel every day, and the wonderful people I meet along the way.  If life is like a marathon, then the finish line can wait.  I just want to keep chasing the rainbows with my friends.