Blindsided

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Sometimes life lets you down easy.  Bad news comes in small doses, giving you time to deal with it as it gradually accumulates.

Other times, it slams into you like a Mack truck.  Your chest tightens as you gasp for air.  You stand frozen as the world spins uncontrollably around you.  No matter how strong your faith is, you are shaken to your very core, and you wonder how you will ever take one more step forward.

As the jumble of thoughts and emotions threatens to cripple you, you fight back.  You lace up your shoes.  And you run.

You runs as the tears stream down your face.  You run as you choke back the sobs.  You run as your brain swirls rapidly with memories of the past and thoughts of futures that will not be.  The churning of your legs mimics the churning of your stomach.  The burning in your lungs matches the burning in your heart.

You run faster and harder, and for a few blissful minutes, your mind is incapable of focusing on anything but the physical effort.  You run … and run … and run …

When you are done, your heart is still broken.  Your arms are still empty.  And yet, somehow, you are stronger than when you began.  You know that you have the strength to press forward, to push through the pain, and that you will survive.  One step at a time.

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  She is currently training for the Flying Pig marathon, and plans to run the Rock ‘N’ Roll Cleveland half marathon while raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  To help her reach her goal, please visit her webpage:  http://pages.teamintraining.org/noh/rnrclevh13/MileageMama

Follow her journey on Twitter @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

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When Pigs Fly

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Three years ago the thought of myself running a marathon was laughable.  The only running I’d done in the past involved forced laps during gym class, which I viewed as torture.  When I started training for my first 5K, I could only jog continuously for about a minute before I stopped to walk.  Completing that 3.1 mile race at a slow jog felt like an epic accomplishment, which made the idea of 26.2 miles seem about as probable as climbing Mount Everest.  If I had to sum up my marathon hopes with three words, “When Pigs Fly” would’ve been quite appropriate.

Well guess what?  Last week I started training for my first marathon and, ironically enough, it’s called the Flying Pig!

Flying Pig Logo

I’m not sure exactly when the thought of running a marathon started rattling around in my brain.  Perhaps when I finished a half marathon and realized it wasn’t SO bad after all?  Plenty of running books and documentaries have added to the inspiration.  (Check out “Spirit of the Marathon” on Hulu or Netflix, one of my faves!)  I would walk around running expos eyeing up the booths from various big-city marathons.  But it was never a solid plan, just a vague idea.

Looking at my 2013 race schedule, I decided to aim for a half marathon in April, and MAYBE (huge MAYBE) run a full marathon in the fall … Until I went to register for the April race and realized that I had a scheduling conflict for that date.  Doh!  Back to the drawing board.

So I started looking for a different half marathon and found a couple of options in early May.  One of them was the Flying Pig weekend in Cincinnati, which I’d always heard great things about.  Like a lot of larger races, it offered the choice of a half or a full marathon.  And that’s when the crazy ideas started to creep in …

What if I run a FULL marathon in May instead?  I’ve already built up a solid two months of base mileage, which would put me at exactly the starting point I need to begin a 16-week marathon training plan.

But it’s January in Cleveland, is this such a good idea?  On the other hand, it’s JANUARY in CLEVELAND and I’ve already done a great job of sticking to my schedule, including running through blizzards and frigid windchills.  It can’t really get a whole lot worse.  Plus if I was training for a fall marathon, I’d be starting in the July heat and humidity instead.  And I really hate running in hot weather.

But do I really want to travel that far for a race, and will I even be able to find somewhere to stay?  A quick check showed that it’s only a four-hour drive, totally doable for a weekend.  And after a little more searching I found a super price on a hotel less than a mile from the expo and the starting line.  And come to think of it, wouldn’t it actually be more worth it to make the trip if I was running a longer race?

And then came the clincher:  As I scrolled through the list of charity groups participating in the Flying Pig,  I came across Team In Training.  Team in Training is a group that supports endurance athletes as they raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  This is a cause that has recently become very personal to me, and I knew it would be great to have that extra motivation pulling me along.  To top it all off, they were running a special with a reduced entry fee.  And everyone knows I love a bargain!Team In Training

The last of my excuses had melted away.  All signs were pointing in the direction of the marathon.  There would always be a million reasons NOT to try it.  If I didn’t take the chance I had in front of me right now, would I ever be willing to make that leap?

So before I could think about it too long, I jumped on the Team In Training website and signed up.  Yes, I’m scared.  Will I be able to put in the mileage?  Can I avoid getting hurt?  Is it possible to raise the money to meet my fundraising requirement?

Time will tell.  It’s going to be an interesting few months.  But if there’s one thing running has taught me, it’s to never say “never” … So watch out for flying pigs!

 

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Updated on 3/17/13 … I’m still training for the Flying Pig on my own, but fundraising issues caused me to switch to running the Rock ‘N’ Roll Cleveland Half Marathon with Team In Training.  If you’d like to help me with my goal, please visit my personal page:  http://pages.teamintraining.org/noh/rnrclevh13/MileageMama

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check her out on Twitter @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Crossing the Line

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I planned on writing a typical year-in-review blog.  You know the type … These were my goals, this is how my training went, blah blah blah.  And if you already posted something like that, please don’t take offense.  I totally understand, and I really do enjoy reading about your accomplishments!

But I had an “aha” moment this week (not surprisingly) during a run.  Not just an ordinary run, either.  I was running through a blizzard.  Yep, I looked outside at the swirling snow, the unplowed street, and said, “Hey, I should go out for a few miles.”

Blizzard Run: Before, During, and After!

Blizzard Run: Before, During, and After!

So I layered-up, laced-up, and headed into a winter wonderland.  As I leaned into 30 mph wind gusts and wobbled my way through six inches of fresh powdery snow, I realized something.  I wasn’t out there because of a training schedule, a weight loss goal, or some other numerical obligation.  I was out running because it was something I wanted to do.

And that’s when it hit me:  What I accomplished in 2012 can’t be summed up by mileage totals, race times, or age group awards.  It can’t be summed up by calories burned or pounds lost.  At some point during the past year I crossed the line and became an athlete.

Some people may reserve the term “athlete” for those that excel at a sport — For example, a runner that meets some arbitrary level of speed or distance.  But now I realize that being an athlete is more about EFFORT than about specific numbers.  So, for what it’s worth, this is MY definition of athlete:  A person who has the strength, ability, and desire to participate in physical pursuits on a regular basis.  And that’s what I have become, although, I’m not sure exactly how or when it happened …

Maybe it was that I didn’t throw in the towel when my IT band forced me to stop running for a few months.  It sounds weird, but I found a strange pride in having a sports-related injury.  I mean, you can’t get one of those while you’re sitting on the couch, right?  I remember one moment when a particularly tough therapy assistant was harrassing me about my sloppy effort by saying, “Come on, you’re an athlete, you can do better than that.”  If she called me an athlete, could it be true?

Or maybe it was when I decided that swimming laps was not enough of a workout on its own.  So I started biking to and from the gym, which is about 9 miles each way.  Those were some of my favorite workouts of the summer!

Or maybe it was when I was able to walk into a running store without feeling like a deer in the headlights.  I had a nice conversation with the owner about running form, new shoe models, and local race courses.  Phrases like “my weekly mileage” and “mid-foot strike” rolled effortlessly off my tongue.

Blog Quote 2Or maybe it was the day that I crashed my bike during a particularly long ride.  I was battered and bruised, but I patched myself up enough to ride the remaining several miles home.  I had a grass-stained shirt, swollen hand, and bleeding leg … but I kept up with the guys for the rest of the ride and felt pretty stinking tough while I did it.

Or maybe it was when I realized how much I look forward to my early morning workouts.  There is something I really enjoy about waking up and heading out the door before most people have started brewing their coffee.  (I know, sick, right?!?)

Maybe it didn’t even happen at one particular moment.  Maybe all of this year’s experiences were like drops in a bucket that collected until it eventually overflowed.

Here is what I do know about 2012:  I didn’t run a certain number of miles or a sub-4:00 marathon.   I can’t do a pullup (yet) and I don’t have six-pack abs.  But I don’t really care.  I crossed the line.  I am an athlete.

 

What about you … How was your 2012?  Do you measure your success by the numbers (distances, race times, etc.) or by something less black-and-white?

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Find her on Twitter, @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Yes, Please, I’ll Take a Dozen

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Some of my favorite things in life come by the dozen.  Long-stemmed roses.  Cupcakes.  Beer.  (12 ounces per bottle, 12 bottles per case!)

In honor of today’s date being 12-12-12, I’d like to present a dozen reasons why I love running:

#1 – I am not good at it.

Some people are naturally good runners.  My name is NOT on that list.  It was a real struggle just to get through my first 5K.  But somehow I felt a glimmer of hope that I could improve, and I kept at it.  Running provides an endless array of challenges, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more.

#2 – It makes my body happy.

I have more energy and endurance now than I ever have before.  I sleep better at night.  And my pants are looser.

#3 – It makes my brain happy.

There’s nothing like a good run to press your brain’s reset button.  Whether it’s mulling over an issue and coming up with a solution, or just taking a mental break to enjoy the scenery, my head always feels clearer when I’m finished.

#4 – It gets me out of the house.

I work from home and take care of two small children.  If I can squeeze in a little time to myself, in the fresh air, while getting a great workout, I’ll take it.

So true!

So true!

#5 – It’s good for my family.

Ok, I just said that I liked running to get AWAY from my family, so how does it HELP them?  Running is my stress relief, so I spend less time being cranky at home.  (You know what they say, “If Mama ain’t happy …”)  It also sets a good example for my children and shows them that exercise can be fun.  My husband and I work toward our own race goals, and every once in a while, we actually get to run TOGETHER.

#6 – I love food.

I know, I know, running is not a green light to eat whatever you want.  Trust me, that’s a lesson I learned the hard way!  But it does torch a large amount of calories, which gives me a little more leeway in my daily calorie budget.  If I’m exercising on a regular basis, it tends to keep me from wanting to throw my hard work down the drain by eating  junk.  Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good pre-race carb fest?

#7 – Races are fun.

You get to hang out with a bunch of people who are just as crazy as you … maybe crazier.  You get to stop traffic as you run right in the middle of the street.  And you get a cool T-shirt to wear, so that you can show off in front of non-runners remember you accomplishment.  What’s not to love?

#8 – It’s guilt-free way to socialize.

So many of the activities we do with friends seem to involve eating out, drinking, or spending money.  But going for a run with your gal-pals costs nothing and actually BURNS calories.

Thanks to @WomensRunning for tweeting this.  I'll take new running shoes over a glass slipper any day!

Thanks to @WomensRunning for tweeting this. I’ll take new running shoes over a glass slipper any day!

#9 – It’s an excuse to buy shoes.

Seriously, do you really need an explanation for this one?

#10 – It’s an excuse to buy clothes.

It only takes a few runs in a heavy, sweat-soaked, cotton t-shirt to realize that you need decent workout gear.  The good news is that running clothes are made of comfy, stretchy fabrics in a wide variety of fun colors and patterns.  Keep running and you might even drop a size or two, and have a great reason to buy new clothes for your “regular” wardrobe too.

#11 – It keeps you young.

I have seen some pretty awesome looking ladies (and gentlemen) in the oldest age groups at pretty much every race I’ve ever entered.  Many times, they’re turning in faster times than I am.  I would love to be that fit in 30 or 40 more years.  I’ll keep running, keep applying sunscreen, and hope for the best!

#12 – It’s a springboard to more adventures.

Running was my “gateway drug” leading to biking and swimming.  Three years ago, if you would’ve told me that I would be competing in triathlons, I would’ve laughed in your face.  I’ve also climbed mountain trails, trekked across a glacier, and completed a muddy obstacle course … all thanks to my newfound fitness.

So many adventures!

So many adventures!

As I was writing this, I realized how hard it was to limit myself to ONLY twelve things that I love about running.  It seems like I discover something new all the time.  So maybe we should make it a baker’s dozen instead, and say that I love running because the journey is just as much fun as the finish!

What about the other runners out there … Which of these reasons is your favorite?  Do you have a different reason of your own?

 

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Just Add Water

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The alarm goes off.  You roll over, rub your eyes, and see your running clothes all laid out, ready for your morning run.  And then you hear it:  The steady sound of rain on the roof.  Moment of truth.  What do you do?

If you are like I was during my first year or so of running, you roll over and go back to sleep.  If you are slightly more motivated than that, you jump on the treadmill or find a different workout for the day.  But I’d like to make a case for Option C:  Go for a run anyway.

It’s true, back then I totally avoided running in the rain.  Imagine my surprise when, the day of one spring 5K rolled around and … gasp … The forecast called for RAIN?!?  What do I wear?  What would happen?  It seems funny now, but at the time I was in a little bit of a panic.  As to what would happen, the answer was simple:  I got wet.  (Oh, and I PR’d along the way.)

From that day on, I realized it was silly to avoid running on rainy days.  In a place like Cleveland, it was a completely impractical way to train.  Juggling my schedule around days that were “nice enough” to run outside totally messed up any semblance of a training plan I tried to follow.

And besides, running in the rain was actually kind of, well, FUN!  It’s a little bit like splashing in puddles when you were a kid.  Even a slow run in nasty weather gives you a sense of accomplishment, a victory in the battle of man vs. nature.  The sound of the rain hitting the leaves is like a round of applause saying, “Good for you!  You got moving when you could’ve stayed in bed!”  And you will probably get nods of mutual respect from any other runners you pass.  A little street cred, if you will.

Want to get in on the action?  Here are my top tips for rainy day runs:

* Dress for the Weather

Plastic Bag

I put the paper with my workout plan inside a plastic bag, so I can review it during my workout without it getting soaked.

Cotton + Water = Miserable.  Now is the time for tech fabrics that wick moisture, and preferably a waterproof outer layer that still breathes.  Don’t forget a hat with a brim or a visor, to keep the rain out of your eyes.  If you tend to chafe, wet clothes will make it worse.  Vaseline or BodyGlide is your friend!

* Adjust Your Goals

You may not be able to go as fast or as far as you’d planned.  Your wet clothes and soggy shoes can weigh you down.  The rain could be accompanied by a lot of wind resistance.  Don’t fret if you don’t quite hit your goal.  Make the best of it, and realize that anything you accomplish is still more than if you’d never gotten out the door in the first place.

* Misery Loves Company

Schedule your workout with a partner or group.  You are less likely to flake out on a run if you have a friend or two waiting for you.  You will definitely find out who in your posse is hard-core by asking them show up “rain or shine” … and you won’t want to be the wimp who begs off!

* Prepare For the Finish

Have a hot beverage ready at the end of your run, perhaps a Thermos in the car.  Get out of your wet clothes as soon as possible.  At the very least have a blanket or towel to wrap up in, plus a dry pair of socks and shoes, for the drive home.

Shoes

My shoes and jacket hanging out by the heat vent after a soggy morning.

* Take Care of Your Shoes

Place some loosely crumpled newspaper inside your damp shoes.  It will help absorb the moisture, and you may need to switch it out for fresh paper a couple of times.  Find a warm, dry place to leave them.  Hopefully you have a couple of pairs of running shoes, so you can take them out of rotation for a day or two until they’re back to normal.  (Not a problem for most runners, who tend to be shoe-a-holics anyway.)

So the next time you hear the pitter patter of rain drops on your window, don’t despair.  Take your usual run and just add water!

 

 

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Redemption, With a Side of Feathers

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There are a lot of different reasons runners flock to their local Turkey Trot.  (Pun completely intended!)  For some, it’s a family tradition.  For others, it’s a chance to burn off some extra holiday calories.  This year for me, it was all about redemption.

Calling all Turkey Trotters

Looking back over the 2012 racing season, I should’ve been happy.  Using a more balanced and consistant training approach kept me injury-free.  I’d checked several goals off my list …  PR a 5K?  Check.  Win an age group award?  Check.  Complete a triathlon?  Check.  (Don’t let the lack of blog entries fool you, it was a great summer!)And yet there was still something bothering me.  One race had gotten under my skin, left a sour taste in my mouth, more than any event ever had:  The Towpath 10K.

I’d run one previous 10K, in July 2011.  It was a tough race back then, when I was just starting to run longer distances, and 6 miles was still a pretty daunting challenge.  Although I was very happy to finish in 59:21, the combination of heat and hills made it tough.  Since that time I’d completed a half marathon, lowered my 5K time by more than a minute, and lost several pounds as I added biking and swimming to my training routine.  Plus the Towpath was a flat route on a cool October day.  All of that should easily translate into a sub-59:00 finish, right?

Wrong.

I’ve never been one to have exact splits pre-calculated, but I usually go into a race with at least a general strategy in mind. Maybe I had gotten complacent after my recent string of successes, but I showed up at the Towpath starting line without a plan. And this time it cost me. I ran the first half a little too conservatively, and by the time I realized it, even a sub-9:00 final mile wasn’t enough to make up the difference. Instead of being the exclamation point at the end of my best-ever summer as a runner, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.

Added to that, I knew last fall’s Turkey Trot had been the nail in the coffin of my IT band struggles, leading to a winter of frustration and physical therapy.  So I showed up to THIS year’s race with a bone to pick.  (Get it?  Turkey … bone … Ok, ok, I’ll stop.)

My Racing Buddies

The Cleveland Turkey Trot typically draws several thousand runners.  It’s a fun and festive atmosphere, and I absolutely love the energy that comes from people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities gathering at the starting line, ready to conquer the 5-mile course.  My primary goal was to break 50 minutes.  Maybe if it was a REALLY good race, 48 minutes … but I didn’t have the guts to admit that anywhere other than in the deep recesses of my own head.  And certainly not out loud.

Determined not to repeat my Towpath mistake, I pushed myself a little more than normal during the first mile.  I let the crowd sweep me along and was pleasantly surprised that my first mile was at a 9:08 pace.  Other than a little tightness in my calves, I was feeling pretty good, so I kicked it up just a tad.  The second mile actually ended up being my fastest, at 8:56, but it really didn’t feel like I was struggling at all.

At this point we were heading downhill, toward the Lake Erie shoreline and Browns stadium.  I prepared myself for the turn back toward downtown and the climb back uphill that would follow.  I focused on shortening my stride slightly and using my arms a little more, and before I knew it, I was at the top.  That hill work this summer paid off!

The next couple of miles felt exactly like I want them to: strong, steady, and under control.  But I was still surprised each time the voice in my headphones broke in to give me an update.  Even though I had slowed down slightly, I was still averaging 9:25/mile or less.  I actually started to think that maybe something was out of whack with my GPS, because there’s no way I felt THIS good while running THAT pace.  It didn’t help that I had somehow missed seeing every mile marker along the course …

Until I finally saw the sign with the giant number 4, and looked down at my watch to see a time of just under 38 minutes.  Despite my race-induced brain fog, which typically prohibits me from doing any type of mathematical calculations in my head, I knew I had a good chance to beat even my best-case-scenario time.  I found another gear, concentrated on keeping my feet as light as possible, and focused my gaze several blocks away on the finish line …

Or what I thought was the finish line.  Turns out I was looking at the trucks that were parked about half a block PAST the finish.  It was a little congested with runners as I neared the end of the race, and I didn’t see the ACTUAL finish line until it was only around 100 feet away.  Too bad, because I probably could’ve started my finishing kick a bit sooner.  Nevertheless, I was still absolutley ecstatic to look down at my watch and realized I’d finished in under 47 minutes.  (46:52, to be exact.)

Love the shirts this year!

It sounds silly, but I actually felt a few tears well up in my eyes.  Instead of limping away from last year’s Turkey Trot, or immediately wanting a “do-over” after the Towpath 10K, I was left with the feeling of pride and accomplishment I’d been searching for.

Sure, I wasn’t even close to being the fastest runner on the course.  But that’s not really what running is about for most of us.  It’s about slaying the internal demons of doubt and pushing past your personal boundaries.  It’s about knowing you finished what you set out to do.  And it’s about waking up the next morning and wanting to do it all over again.

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Just Another Face in the Crowd

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Time to mark down another first as a runner… Or to be more correct, as a non-runner.  For the first time ever, I went to a race as a spectator.  It was marathon weekend in here in Cleveland and because of a pesky IT band issue, I was forced to watch from the sidelines as several friends and family members completed the 10K race. 

The fact that I have had to seriously dial-down my running for the past six months has definitely put me in a funk at times.  (Or maybe you could already tell that from the severe lack of blog posts recently?)   So I assumed  it would be miserable to head to the race as a non-competitor, dressed in street clothes.  I’d be hanging out with my cousin’s daughter and serving duty as the  “race butler” … You know, the person that comes along to hold the bags of those that are actually running … Yippee, right?

Instead, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience.  I woke up bright and early with my husband and was actually able to help him get ready instead of being consumed with my own preparations.  The early morning train heading downtown was filled with runners and their families, the air buzzing with excitement and anticipation.  But instead of being distracted by my own nervousness and a brain busy with a pre-race checklist, I was able to relax and enjoy the view from the window as dawn broke over the city skyline.

Rather than spending time worrying about a warm-up, stretches, and the length of the port-o-pottie line, I was able to watch the start of the full and half marathons.  Let me tell you, if you’ve never seen 15,000 people lined up as they begin an epic journey, you need to get out there and do it!  Totally awe-inspiring.  After watching the start of the 10K, and snapping some photos of the gang as they got on their way, we headed over to stake out a spot near the finish line.

I look JUST like this when I run … right?!?

That was when it occurred to me, out of all of the races I’ve run in, I’ve never actually SEEN the  winners of any of those races.  I’m always somewhere back there on the course, worrying about my splits or some other such detail.  But that day I got to watch elite runners as they approached the finish, marveling at their amazing form and physique.  Seeing a Kenyan glide past you at a sub-5:00/mile pace, making it look almost effortless …  once again, awe-inspiring.

 After the winners came the not-quite-elite-but-still-really-fast runners.  You know, the ones that have everyday jobs and no hope of prize money, yet still manage to squeeze in the training necessary to place at the tops of their age groups.  And then came more and more of the “regular” runners,  those that have no hope of winning any type of award and are just racing their own race.  Whether pursuing a PR or just trying to finish in a vertical position, those are MY people, the Joe Shmo’s of running. 

Through it all I was cheering, applauding, yelling, and doing whatever I could do to help spur each runner that passed.  I think the people next to me were starting to get a little ticked off by my lunacy, because apparently they planned to cheer only for runners that they had a personal relationship with.  Maybe they were non-runners that don’t realize the impact that crowd support and sideline encouragement can be during a race.  Or perhaps they were just cranky because they had to get up before dawn to watch other people achieve something remarkable.  Nevertheless, I was not deterred, and I did not let it hold me back from repeatedly shouting, “Good job!  You can do it!  Finish strong!” to every man, woman, and child that approached the finish line.  The more tired and sweaty they looked, the louder I yelled, and the more fun I had.

In a way, it was like a chance to repay the debt I had accumulated during past races.  In exchange for the cheers, whistles, high-fives, and cow bells that had spurred me on to my own finishes, I could now do the same for other runners.  And seeing the determination on their faces only helped to fuel my own determination to get back out and do it again.

I took that spark and ran with it.  (Pun completely intended!)  Back home with a renewed enthusiasm for the physical therapy, stretching, and strengthening, I started plotting my return to the racing scene.  It may not be fast and it may not be far, but in the words of Ah-nold … “I’ll Be BACK!”