Monday, May 9, 2011

Heartbreak Hill....for a Band Geek Athlete

With the Boston Marathon just finishing up a few weeks ago, it made me think about the famous Heartbreak Hill. As much as I would love to give my own personal account of how the course is, I unfortunately haven't quite made that qualifying time yet! However, The stories I've heard from other runners regarding this hill range anywhere from "not so bad" to complete misery. According to Wikipedia  the hill itself is actually only an 88 foot climb (I use the term "only" very loosely)…. but, the thing about this hill is that it comes between miles 20 and 21, when the muscles are totally depleted and runners are hitting the terrifying “wall” – you feel as though you can’t go on any further, and would rather eat dirt than take one more step.

Now I'll take a step back-- About two months ago, I was going along on my weekly Sunday long run. The morning was beautiful, and I was feeling awesome. If you take out the summer humidity, I live in a runners dream world. I am surrounded by large bodies of water, and can see a sunrise and a sunset every day. There are wide sidewalks and large trees for shade throughout the many downtown parks. There is always some sort of nice gentle breeze, and everything is flat. On a typical long run on Sunday, I will be running right along the water 9 out of 13 miles. It's incredible. 

I took this with my iPhone during one of my morning long runs!

So on this fateful day, around mile 10, my left hip begins to feel tight and a little painful. For me, I had run through little aches before, and they just went away. So at this point in my run, I just kept going. I went about another half mile, and realized the pain was fairly serious. I stopped, stretched it out, shook it off, and tried to continue. It got worse and worse, and finally I could go no further.

I had never NOT finished a run before, so numerous emotions came over me: failure, defeat, anger, sadness, fear, pain. It’s a lot like what I would imagine feeling after trying to climb Heartbreak Hill I suppose. Running to me was my meditation time. It was my time to enjoy music that I love blasting through my headphones. I could eat whatever I wanted and still fit into my jeans. It made me feel revitalized and alive.
Was this going to be taken away from me now?!

Me, getting in the zone before my first half marathon ever-- Disney Wine and Dine 2010

When Prateek got to the side of the road where I was to pick me up, he said that athletes get hurt all the time, and that all I need to do is rehab it and take some time off, and I’d be fine. Athlete?! I’ve been called many things in my life – everything from nerdy to band geek  to stuck up sorority girl, but have never been called an athlete. Was it true? Is that what I am now? What a bizarre and interesting thought.

I picked my pathetic self up off the sidewalk and went home to a bag of ice and bottle of ibuprofen, pondering the athlete comment. I took what seems like an entire bottle of Advil, tortured myself in the gym with boring strength training, and put my knee and hip through the anguish of countless bags of ice (one time I actually burned my skin the ice pack was so cold!!). I felt like if I couldn't hit the pavement again soon I was going to go mental.

Then, an unexpected surprise: an email from Nike Women’s Marathon – My random lottery registration was accepted! OH. MAH. GAH. Y’all, not only is this marathon the real 26.2 mile deal, and not only is it hilly and challenging…you get a Tiffany&Co necklace handed to you at the finish line instead of a medal. And they’re handed out by the tuxedo-clad San Francisco Fire Department. I am scared out of my mind but thrilled at the opportunity. 

So yesterday I decided was D-Day. It was time to find out whether or not I was ready to run pain free. I didn't want to do anything over the top just in case I was still in some pain, so I went out for a two mile run. The entire first mile I'm thinking to myself: Does it hurt? Am I going too fast?  How is my heart rate? Have I gotten completely out of shape? Do I need to slow down? Is my form OK?
After 8 minutes of driving myself crazy with questions, I relaxed and enjoyed the rest. 
And guess what?? No pain!  

In Boston, after you’ve climbed the hill, and you’re at the top, the marathoners get their first glimpse of the Downtown Boston skyline where the finish line is located. Runners that can make it through the agony of that one last hill of the race get that reassurance that the finish is only a few more miles ahead. Could I be at the crest of my own personal Heartbreak Hill? I pray to the sweet baby Jesus that I am. 

Crossing the finish line after my last race in February 2011, Gasparilla Half Marathon - I PR'd in this one!

I am wishing/hoping/thinking/praying that the marathon registration, along with the continued rehab and slow introduction of long distances over the next few months, will help me get to the finish line injury-free in San Francisco on October 16th, as a true athlete, where I will be greeted with a blue box and a little white bow. 

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