Monday, March 2, 2015

Found My Stride

It's been nine months since I last wrote.  A very active nine months - both physically and psychologically.  Then, I was a wreck, forcing myself to sit down and write as a means to compel myself to move forward.  I'd not run since the disaster that was my marathon experience, but I swore to myself that I would run at least 30 miles a week anyway

I did, and I hated it.  There was no joy, no passion in my steps... Just constant reminder of what had been.  I knew that if I were to rebuild myself I would first have to rediscover running.  So I pressed forward grudgingly.  All of June sucked.  My whole life was a disaster, so I took a bold step.  I left the country for five weeks.  Yeah, it's a line that's been overplayed, but I left to find myself... Or more accurately rediscover myself

After a brief day in London, I landed in Bucharest.  I would spend a full month in Romania, changing my plans mid trip to double my stay.  It was an incredible month, where (despite seemingly 'everything' going wrong [health, lodging, money, weather, etc]) I very quickly accomplished my goal.  My first week, running in Constanta, along the Black Sea, past the old casino, covering the length of Mamaia, and through the local parks I covered over 40 miles and upped the ante from there.  Most importantly though I fell in love again: With life, with nature, with running... Every step was something new.  Every step was magical.   Despite it all, I was happy and that was what mattered.  I was supposed to be there for two weeks. One on the Black Sea, the other in Transylvania.  But I decided to stay, to run some more, to explore some more and see as much of Romania as I could.  Constanta, Mamaia, Brasov, Bran, Cluj-Napoca, Turda, Iasi, Suceava, Galati, Tulcea, Bucharest, Sighisoara, Vama Veche.  I met some incredibly wonderful people.  I ran along the coast, through the hills and (sometimes haunted) forests, along the river delta, through parks and city streets.  The terrain was varied but the joy was constant.  I lived modestly - Sleeping in hostels, cheap hotels, on strangers couches, busses and trains and even spending a night under the stars.  I barely ate, opting to spend my limited funds in other ways.  I lost 10lbs while there, but I felt great.  I very seriously thought about not coming back

But I did.  Even though I may sometimes need a break from the norm, I don't run away from problems.  That's just not me, new or old.  So I began my journey home, stopping in Berlin and Brussels along the way.  In Berlin I made a point of running through the park on the old airfield, sprinting down the runway to see if I could fly.  In Brussels where time was short, I gave myself a running tour.  Then I got back to Miami, and knew I needed to keep running or risk losing the progress I'd made during my trip.  I looked at my mileage from the prior month and realized I could hit 500 miles for the summer if I made my last couple of weeks 50 mile weeks.  Conveniently, that meant if I ran with Raven a lot I could do it.  Raven is a legend in these parts.  His eight miles everyday on the sands of South Beach for upwards of 40 years has drawn thousands of runners to run with him.  I'd done so a few times, but now I needed to step it up.  His unwavering consistency was exactly what I knew I needed.  In Romania, I ran alone.  Now back in Miami I ran mostly with the Raven runners, rediscovering the joy of social running

Labor Day passed, and I had managed that 500 mile summer for the first time since the Prep Cross Country days - a feat I would have scoffed at as impossible in June.  What was lost had been found.  I swore to myself that I could never again take running for granted.  I kept going, setting goals and blowing them away.  First 1000 miles for the year (another first since high school), then notching that up to 1250.  Now I'm right on target for my 2015 goal of 2500 miles

In September I decided to try racing again.  I used to love that.  But after Boston it had become... well it wasn't the same.  I ran slower even though I was physically more fit.  Psychological demons haunted my every step, and I had averaged 30-60 seconds slower per mile than what I had before everything changed.  The frustration this created tortured me and dragged me deeper into the darkness.  Last January after a very disappointing Miami Half Marathon, I broke down completely when several emergency vehicles rushed by sirens wailing - I'd been *here* before and it was not good.  I knew I needed this past years Boston to get over all of this, but then the silence and lack of support from nearly everyone leading up to that ever so important race was essentially my death knell.  Had I found that healing elsewhere?  I enjoyed my time in Romania and running on the beach with Raven, so I decided to try my luck at racing again, to see if I could expel those demons.  I needed to take that next step.  Plus I hadn't gone anywhere yet in September...

So I took off to Orlando and ran a 15 K.  And I rocked it.  I felt pretty good running, and when it started to hurt (both body and mind) I found a way to beat it.  For the first time since Boston I ran a distance race at sub 7 pace.  A few weeks later in a 5K I did the same.  Now I was anxious for mid December to roll around.  Thats when the racing season started here

After suffering a minor injury and just jogging my one race in December (part my fault for putting too many miles on my running shoes and part the result of a bike crash), I got ready for some great races in January.  The first never materialized as I was unfortunately physically unable to attend.  Then a week later I ran my first three international races in Bermuda.  Awesome trip but my races weren't quite what I wanted.  The course was beautiful, but I was still just learning to cope with the shoulder injury suffered a week earlier.  The balance issues this created resulted in significant cramping in my neck and much slower times than I was capable of.  I wasn't too concerned though - I had fun

Then the next week the opportunity presented itself to run the Miami half.  Now a bit more acclimated to the shoulder injury I was better able to compensate.  Plus, since it was a last minute opportunity there was no pressure.  Whatever happened happened.  Despite starting at the back and weaving in and out of the hordes of runners I still managed to run a 7 minute pace with mostly negative splits.  Most importantly I felt great doing so.  And when it did hurt, the trick I learned in September worked perfectly to push me through it.  Now, finally, 21 months later I was back

So I set a new goal.  I had at least two more half marathon opportunities before returning to Boston - I wanted to break 1:30 in one of them.  I did even better.  I broke 1:29 two weeks later in Naples.  Next up was the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa.  I would be running a 15K and a 5K on Saturday morning, then a half marathon and 8K on Sunday morning.  Over 30 miles of racing in about 27 hours. I'd told myself for many years that I could qualify for Boston if I was willing to run another marathon, and running these four races in close to BQ time would be a great opportunity to prove that.  Split into 4 races this would be easier than a typical marathon in some ways, harder in others.  I did great in the 15K, good in the 5K and great again in the half (running my second best half marathon of all time).  Then in the 90 minutes between races I cramped up bad.  I just ran the 8K with a don't injure yourself mentality.  My first two miles were nearly a 10 minute pace, but then I loosened up a bit and continually picked up the pace for the rest of the race.  Even with the slow 8K I still averaged under 7 minute pace for the 30.4 miles.  And most importantly (with the exception of the 8K) I felt great doing it

In Romania, I remembered how much I had once loved running, and that was all I needed.  My life was and still is a disaster (my business has yet to recover from my post Boston '13 doldrums [and recent events derailed much of the progress I'd made], plus I've got a few unrelated lingering health/injury issues) - but I DON'T CARE!  I have found myself, my happiness and my strength.  And with that I can begin to pick up the pieces and finally LIVE life!  And now more than ever, running is a crucial part of that

In September, running the Miracle Miles 15K, I had finally found a way to beat back the demons that had been haunting my racing and my life.  A simple and effective rallying cry that will always give me the strength to push forward no matter what.  Four simple statements and their two word summary reminding me why I cannot stop, and why I must run Boston again 49 days from today:

For Sean.  For Krystle,  For Lingzi.  For Martin


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