As some of you may remember, I visited a good friend of mine in London a few weeks ago. It was my first visit and I was so excited to jam as much sightseeing, tea drinking, pub crawling, and fit crashing as was possible into the few days we were in town.
Let’s just say I did much more of the first part of that list and much less the latter. I only snuck in two workouts over a total of six days, and this post is about one of them. I could make all sorts of excuses, but the reality of the situation was that we were so busy sightseeing and enjoying ourselves that stopping to workout each day just didn’t fit into the agenda.
But there was one excuse that kept popping up each day. It was freezing cold while we were there. Not kind of nippy or a bit breezy…full on arctic blasts from Old Man Winter himself.
So cold we were forced to shop for cute mittens, hats, and scarves. Shoot! But the real tragedy? My visions of waking up early each morning for a jaunt through Hyde Park were quickly smashed when I realized I packed only one pair of long running tights and only one lightweight pullover. I needed fleece…and lots of it. Thankfully Jenny was way more prepared and shared a pair of gloves and a pullover.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a logical way to run with this sweater, so we had to leave it behind. So, after much contemplation, logistical planning about how much cold we could technically stand without being miserable, and map studying so we wouldn’t get lost…Jenny and I headed out one morning for the one and only dedicated run we did on our trip. We stayed in the local neighborhood of Queen’s Park and settled on a three mile loop. We didn’t have international 3G on our phones, so we had to do it the old fashioned way and hope we didn’t lose our way. #firstworldproblems
The farthest part of our loop was Queen’s Park itself, a beautiful public park complete with a playground, running trail, “quiet” garden (no dogs allowed), pitching mound, and goats.
You read that right: goats. I wish I could tell you why, but it seems Queen’s Park decided to build a little petting zoo area with a bunch of kid goats. They were free to roam in their pen and gathered at the gate to check out the crazy runners. I can’t figure out who was more surprised by who. Let’s just say the feeling was mutual.
The run was a much needed sweat after a few days of eating and sightseeing. Despite the freezing temperatures, we were glad we mustered up the nerve to head out and felt much better when we returned to the warm apartment. And we didn’t get lost! Running is such an awesome way to get your bearings when traveling, and looking back, I wish I had wherewithal to do a bit more while in London. But next time, I’ll be sure to pack my warmest running duds to stave off the London gloom!
What are some of your favorite international runs?
Apologies for the radio silence yesterday. I have been feeling too “plugged in” lately and decided to take 24 hours to detox a bit from blogging and feeding the social media monster. Nom nom nom. Thanks for understanding and hanging in with me. I wanted to share a few photos from my run yesterday, the first since the half-marathon. And boy oh boy, was that obvious. My legs felt like the Tin Man as I jerked forward across Memorial Bridge. I could almost hear them clanking and creaking with each step. I only went about three miles, but it was enough.
It was an incredibly blustery and gray day, definitely not the kind of day you wish for when running across bridges. But something about the short loop from Iwo Jima to the Lincoln Memorial just gets me every time. It’s intoxicating. Hits me in the gut in the best way possible. Reminds me why I love this city and how lucky I am to run all over it.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been so enamored by gray, cold concrete as I was yesterday. Perhaps I was feeling particularly artsy. Or just lucky to be out there soaking it all in.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the distance, the pace, the tempo, or heart rate. But sometimes, you just have to run from the heart. Plain and simple.
Enjoy every step. Take it easy, stop and walk, breathe in deep, and give thanks for the gift. At least that’s how I felt yesterday.
I’ll be flying to London this evening for an adventure. What adventure is that? Oh, any old adventure will do, but I hope it’s a good one. I can’t wait to share the runs, the workout classes, the sightseeing, the icky airplane food, the corgi chasing, and everything else with you all when I return next Monday. Until then, I’m taking the week off to soak in each moment and embrace the vacation.
Saturday was the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. Before I start my recap, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for all of the kind, encouraging comments I received from Friday’s post. I put it all out there and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So thank you – all of you – for making this little blog a safe space for honesty and taking risks. And now…off to the races!
Let’s start with the expo. I waited until the last 15 minutes of the last day to head over to the Stadium Armory to pick up my race packet…and paid for it.
The place was a bit of a mad house with lines out the door and people frantically trying to make their way through as vendors were closing down. Not crazy enough, however, to keep me from taking a shameless selfie amidst the chaos. That’s right, I totally pulled this one off for the sake of the blog. Don’t judge me. I wanted to show you the cool mirror with “here is your inner Kenyan” painted on it. Wonder how I could get one of these in my apartment?
I really have no right to complain about the stress level at the expo because I waited till the last minute. Lesson learned. One real complaint though: why were we emailed digital confirmation sheets but then required to transpose the information onto pointless paper forms before picking up our numbers? Made me wonder if they were going with the DC bureaucracy red tape theme or if it was really supposed to be that inefficient. Mystery.
I drove home and got right down to the business of making my traditional pre-race chow. I have a very finicky stomach, and when it comes to fueling up before a big event, blander is better. In college my go-to dinner before a triathlon was white rice with salt and butter. As you can see, I’ve upgraded to plain pasta, white chicken breast, and sautéed veggies with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. It did the trick and sent me to bed with a full (and happy) stomach.
I laid out every single thing I would need to get ready in the morning, right down to the plastic zip loc bag for my iPhone. Having everything prepared the night before cuts down on time in the morning and calms my nerves about forgetting something. I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m., did a little bit of foam rolling, and called it a night.
When I woke up, I immediately opened my window and checked for the forecasted rain. Nothing! What luck! I got dressed, made a bland breakfast of almond butter toast and banana, and spent a few last blissful minutes on the foam roller to get my muscles ready for the journey ahead. After hopping on the metro to Metro Center, it was just a short walk to the blaring music and huddled masses of the starting line.
Despite the gloomy clouds, the temperatures were perfect for running and there wasn’t a drop of rain falling from the sky. Hooray! I moseyed over to corral three to wait out the final 30 minutes before the start with a few stretches. And then we were off! Well, at least the first corral was off. The Rock ‘n Roll race starts each corral in their own separate wave, so we had to wait for the first two corrals to go before it was our turn. Talk about building up the excitement and suspense!
As I crossed the starting line, I took a deep breath and decided to take the entire race one mile at a time. And as the first mile beeped in at around 7:30, I knew this was going to be an adventure. A few details:
Crazy apparel seen on the course:
- Full suit and tie with “Jesus Saves” taped to the back
- A denim jacket
- Mini Mouse costume
- Green body sock
- Star-spangled full body spandex
- Spectator in a ketchup costume, spectator in a gingerbread man costume, spectator in a Mr. Incredible costume dancing to disco music
- Tiny gold lame shorts
- Tuxedo t-shirt and black shorts
Things I didn’t like about the race:
- My watch clocked the entire course at around 13.5 miles. I can’t tell you how devastating it is to think you are just around the corner from mile 11 and then realize it’s another few tenths away. My watch consistently beeped way before the mile markers. Anyone else have this problem?
- Calvert Hill at mile six
Things I loved about the race:
- Great spacing out of the bands along the route
- The spectator support was incredible (except for the guys offering beer – the smell was atrocious)
- The route was really fun despite Calvert Hill
- I never wondered when the next water/gatorade spot would be because there were plenty
- Runners genuinely seemed to be having a good time
- Lots (and lots) of free food at the finish area. Potato chips, chocolate milk, smoothies, bananas, Gatorade. I was in heaven!
My official finish time was 1:42:20 – about three minutes under my goal. I was so shocked and thrilled and shocked some more! According to my watch, my time at 13.1 was somewhere around 1:39, but since that’s not an official time anywhere other than my head, I’ll have to let it go. But breaking 1:40 is now in the crosshairs for next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time.
An enormous thank you to my parents for coming from Ohio to support me on the course. The original fit crasher is an accomplished marathoner and she has been my chief coach and motivator since I took up running in college. My parents have been my race-day support team from the very beginning and I couldn’t have done it without them. And check out the sign they made – so official! Thanks guys! Another big thank you goes to Bonnie, Jeff, and Heather for spotting me on the course and cheering me on along the way.
This is one of my favorite photos from the day. These are two of my friends from the Georgetown Triathlon Team, Jenny and Michelle. I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve all done a race together, but part of me wants to put it way back to 2008. It was such a fun throwback to have a mini-reunion at the finish line. You ladies are the best!
And what do you do after running 13.1 miles? You eat, of course! Well, you change out of the wet and sweaty clothes from the race and then you eat. I took my parents to Ted’s Bulletin on Capitol Hill for an enormous celebratory breakfast. Mom tried a home-made pop tart and some breakfast classics, dad went with the biscuits and gravy, and I inhaled the ten-grain hot cereal with toasted coconut and dried fruit. Oh, and a bottomless cup of hot coffee.
We walked off breakfast with a trip to Eastern Market, and then it was time to call it a day. Whew! So many months of training and worrying and agonizing over 13.1 miles…and it is finally successfully behind me. What a wonderful sense of relief. This medal will be proudly hanging in my apartment as a reminder that anything is possible with a little chutzpah, faith, and a whole lot of good old fashioned hard work.
Did you run the Rock ‘n Roll? Share your story!
I was honored to write a chapter for Doug Hay of Rock Creek Runner’s new eBook “The Power of a Running Mantra” about a phrase I used to get me through a particularly challenging race last year. Check out the free book for other inspiring stories and mantra ideas from USATF coach Jason Fitzgerald, vegan marathoner and ultrarunner Matt Frazier (No Meat Athlete), marathon-winning writer Greg Strosaker, triathlete and runner Susan Lacke, and Redwoods and Running author Jennifer Heidman.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. The calming words crept into my head as I took my place at the starting line. I looked down at my well-worn shoes as if they would offer some quiet reassurance that all would be well. We had traveled many miles together, those shoes and I, and today was the day we would try to go a few more. Thirteen point one more, to be exact. The number sounded enormous. Daunting. A mistake. I started to hoard questions and doubts into the lump forming at the top of my throat. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I never thought I would see another starting line. After being plagued with one injury to the next, a torn left meniscus was the final shove I needed to realize perhaps long distance running wasn’t for me. The two years of treatment, recovery, and aqua-jogging were confidence crippling – let alone painful. Could I ever run a race again? Should I? Would, “hi, I’m Meaghan, and I’m a runner,” ever come out of my mouth again? Breathe in. Breathe Out.
And yet here I was, one among thousands nervously jittering at the half-marathon starting line. I had signed up in secret, telling only my family members, desperate to show myself that I could still belong. That I could still be that runner. That that runner could still be me.
The doctor had cleared my modest training plan and offered his cautious support. My knee had healed, but whispers of pain still surfaced from time to time. Often enough to make me question my decision to run at all. But as I put on my race number, I reminded myself that this race wasn’t for a qualifying time or for rank or even for a finisher’s medal. This race was about getting over the starting line. And I was terrified. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I don’t even remember the sound of the starting gun, only the silent panic as I saw confetti fill the air and the masses around me begin to lurch forward. I lurched too. One foot in front of the other. One trusty running shoe at a time until the beep of my timing chip was the screaming reality that I had just crossed the start. I felt warm tears well up against the cold wind whipping my face. This was it. This was really happening. Time to believe or back out. I briefly brought a hand to the crinkled 10782 pinned to my stomach and prayed for faith. Breathe in. Breathe out.
The next 13 miles were full of highs and lows of all shapes and sizes. I re-learned how to bob and weave my way through the heavy traffic of lumbering legs and how to efficiently execute a water stop. I struggled up hills, struggled on flats, struggled to find a pit stop, and struggled to keep going. My knee would, from time to time, remind me of why we stopped doing this in the first place. The firestorm of emotions was completely and utterly distracting. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Without fail, those simple words had the power to bring calm, clarity, and a brief sense of control. I had learned them in yoga class – the only form of exercise I could tolerate in the months after hurting my knee. They made me feel better and had the power to part the sea of anxiety welled up inside me. And like a security blanket, they were the first thing I reached for when doubt, panic, and fear surfaced on race day. Breathe in. Breathe out.
If I could just remember to breathe in and breathe out, I knew the rest would fall into place. I continually focused on repeating the words and repeating the action. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in big, deep, juicy breaths to calm my mind and drown out the orchestra of nerves. Breathe out the stress and “what if’s” and “I can’t”s. Breathe in confidence that I trained the best I could and that I’m exactly where I need to be. Breathe out any excuses to stop, get a cab, and forgo the finish line.
It went that way for 13 miles. Breathe in. Breathe out. That little mantra delivered my doubting, tired legs all the way to the end of the race, where all the breathing in the world couldn’t stop me from crying tears of relief and joy. We had done it. My trusty shoes, tender knee, running mantra, and I. We had become runners again.