Thursday, April 19, 2012

Colon Cancer Challenge 15K

Two days before the Colon Cancer Challenge was to take place, I found myself wishing I had selected the 4-mile option instead of the hefty 15K (9.6 miles). Yes, I had run 9 miles two weeks earlier, but I just didn’t feel really ready to tackle the 15K in a race setting. Still, I suited up that Sunday morning and headed out to Central Park.

The option to move to the 4 mile race was still there, and, as I saw, many people had taken that option. I was one of 6 people in my corral! That was scary, to say the least, but it was nice to get closer to the starting line by moving up a few corrals.

The race consisted of nearly two laps around the lower part of the park. Heading up the east side, instead of continuing up into Harlem territory (where the infamous, torturous “Harlem Hill” looms) we cut across the 102nd street transverse, down the west side, back around the bottom, repeated the top, before shooting in the 72nd street transverse to the finish.

I won’t lie, this race was extremely hard for me. Central Park is extremely hilly and even though I have done all of my training there, those hill still get me. 

I didn't have a good start. Could have been nerves, or the fact that the race began at 10:30am (instead of the usual 7:00-8:00 start times) giving me ample time to eat a decent breakfast. I don't run well when there is food in my stomach. This one was not planned well. 

Being in the back, I didn't really have to worry about maneuvering around people, and I didn't have to worry about people needing to go around me, so I was able to focus on keeping my posture upright and breathing deeply through the stomach cramps. The cramping seems to come about when I stop paying attention to what I'm doing (trying the "just run!" philosophy) and I stop breathing correctly. In fact, I actually hold my breath while exercising if I'm not paying attention!  Who does that? Really! Well, apparently, I do that. So I consciously breathe in, breathe out... breathe in, breathe out... repeat. 

It's a strange thing; when you actually have to think about breathing, since it is something that is supposed to come naturally, but I'm getting used to it. Hopefully once it becomes second nature, I can actually "just run" like everyone tells me to.

I had a lot of cramping in the beginning. I think I walked the most during those first three miles! I was getting really discouraged about how poorly I had started, so I took some water, stepped off the road, stretched out my legs a bit and recomposed.

Getting back on the road 10-15 seconds later, I felt better. I decided that no matter the outcome, I was going to finish this race. Sometimes, I wonder why I'm doing this. When it's cold outside, when the wind is blowing, when it's 7:00 in the morning, when everything in my body is telling me it's not worth it.. I wonder. And honestly, I couldn't answer that question during that race. So I 'gave up'. I don't mean that I quit the race, I don't think I would allow myself to do that, but I gave up on trying to do anything than run. I gave up on complaining about how slow I was going, I gave up beating myself up for how many people passed me. I gave up on caring about anything other than keeping my feet moving and air moving through my lungs.

So I started looking around me. I watched dogs play in the park, said hello to a man pushing a jogging stroller, took note of how the cherry blossoms were blooming, and I just kept running.

Around mile 3, I heard a commotion behind me: "Lead runner, coming through! Move aside! Lead runner coming through!" The leader had reached mile 8 in just over 40 minutes. I was on mile 3. Unbelievable.

When I started getting tired, I had to push myself mentally. I took water at every station, making sure I at least stayed hydrated throughout the race. My paced breathing turned into deep breaths in and chanting "don't stop. don't stop. don't stop." while breathing out. I kept moving. 

After the fatigue set in, I took a Gu, busted through "the wall", and kept moving. But, shortly after, comes the pain. Every nerve in my body came alive and I started to feel those individual pains. The bottoms of my feet are suddenly on fire with every step. That sock is rubbing a bit on the left side... and I'm pretty sure there is a rock in my shoe...

After the first loop around the park, I tried to really kick it in to gear. I found a girl that had basically kept my pace and I stuck with her. She'd run ahead, walk a bit, I'd run up, pass her, then I'd stop and walk a bit, then she'd run past me again. 

By mile 7 or 8, I was pretty much done with running altogether and just wanted to quit. My body hurt, bad. I was tired. My stomach was cramping almost continuously and the only thing that kept me moving was the realization that the faster I move, the faster I can stop running. 

The photo to the left was actually taken just before turning onto the transverse just after mile 9. I can't believe I actually mustered a smile at that point! I was still racing "the girl" (photo below) and I think I had run past her and set a pretty wide gap between us.

It wasn't until I had the finish line in sight that she roared past me, sprinting toward the finish. So, I picked it up, I ran as hard as I could, as fast as I could across that line. After I realized that the girl was going to "beat me" I also realized that the finish line was just ahead and I just focused on getting across it.

Craig was on the other side, cheering me on (he had finished well ahead of me) and I was just happy to see that I had achieved my original goal: Finish in under 2 hours.

I came across the finish line at 1:52:43, which gave me a 12:08 pace. Sure, my ultimate goal has always been to get under that 12 minute mile pace, but since I'm still heavily reliant on taking walking breaks due to the cramping, I'm happy that I seemed to walk less than usual during that race.

Crossing the finish line, Craig ran up to me and said "oh God, are you okay??" Apparently, my face was yellow. Like jaundice yellow instead of flushed red like it should be. I mentioned that I was tired, and in some pain, but otherwise okay and hoped it would go down shortly.

I took the Gatorade and bagel and walked for a bit with Craig. It actually took a few hours and a shower to get the yellow color out of my face.  Any one have any ideas what could have caused the yellowing of my face? I don't think it was a "not in sunlight" thing because Craig noticed it immediately and several volunteers at the finish line stopped me to ask if I was okay. I checked it out in a mirror on the way home and it was definitely yellow. So weird.

Edited to add: There WAS a rock in my shoe the whole time and it settled right underneath my big toe on my left foot. I really thought there was going to be a giant, bloody hole in my foot when I took my sock off. But, no, no injury, just a bit of pain!

Anyway, some of you may remember that I dedicated this run to my Grandmother, a colon cancer survivor, and that still holds true.

This race was hard. Really hard. But I think going through Chemotherapy is probably a lot harder than running 9.3 miles - so I am happy to do that in honor of her struggle.

After rolling out with the foam roller (I'll post about that later), icing my knees, and a long, hot shower (where I spent most of it laying in the tub), we ordered some enchiladas and rested for the remainder of the day.

I counted the 15K as one of my long training runs in preparation for the half marathon. 9.3 miles on the books. 2 weeks later, I would run 13.1


Carolyn said...

I really enjoy reading about your runs. It's really inspirational to me because you make it sound so human. (I mean these following comments in a positive way, so my apologies if the internet makes it sound bitchier) It's great to know someone who's not an athlete can run like this. Whenever I'm at a race, I always feel so out of place and embarrassed by my lack of speed/distance. You make it seem possible to be proud of myself. Thanks for that.

Virginia said...

I appreciate your comment! And I understand what you mean - when I started running, I scoured the internet for people like me and couldn't find anyone. Sure, people said they were slow runners, but then they would post about their races and say they ran a slow 9 minute mile pace! To me, that's not slow!! I decided that I needed to write about my experience, so that if there was anyone out there like me, we could relate to each other.

I understand the feeling of being out of place with people running so fast, but I just tell myself that those people might have started just like me. Or maybe they didn't. No way to know. So I keep chugging along, just trying to get better eat time!