Fail Better

Group photo of LA Leggers 12 min/mile pace group

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Enough.

As of last week on Sunday, I had raised a whopping total of $330 for Camp Kesem, the charity I set out to raise $2000 for. I wrote the previous blog post, emailed its text to a targeted list of friends, and posted a link to the post on facebook.

Throughout the week, I received emails from the donation site each time a friend or family member sent money. The steady stream of generosity wore me down to the point that each new email was like seeing a new set of ducks swim for the first time ever. My cold heart was melting a little bit! By Friday afternoon I was just $305 short of my goal, so I promised on Facebook that I would jump in the ocean if I made it to $2k by Sunday morning.

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, I surpassed the goal by $30!

And then the time came to be ready for the next big challenge: 26.2 miles.

One of the things I’ve heard quite frequently in my training with the LA Leggers is that you shouldn’t do anything new or different on the day of the race. While that advice sounds great, the simple fact of the matter is that I didn’t get up at 3am for a single training run throughout the entire training season. Not once during all of my training did I park my car at 3:30am, walk a half mile to the Doubletree hotel, drink a cup of coffee, eat a banana and an orange, and then catch a shuttle bus across town to Dodger Stadium. There was no training run – long or short – before which I ate a bagel and sat in the third base seats buzzing with nervous anticipation for over 2.5 hours before lining up to run.

In all of my training to be a distance runner, I typically climbed out of bed precisely 45 minutes before the run was set to begin, ate no food (except a gulp of caffeine-infused protein shake on occasion, earlier in the season), and showed up to the starting point just minutes before the run began. I drank nothing during my training runs over than one squirt from my water bottle every five minutes. The one time I added a splash of gatorade to my water at mile 13 of an 18-mile run, I found that I felt much more thirsty at the finish than usual.

On the morning of the LA Marathon, I did so many things different. But I felt confident, and I showed up at the starting line with a plan in mind to perform better on race day than my training had prepared me for. I knew that my projected finishing time if I stayed with my Leggers pace group through the end of the race would be 5 hours 15 minutes. This would mean remaining disciplined with a 1-minute walking break at the end of every 5-minute running segment. I was confident I could do this, as I had done it twice for 20-mile runs with the the group. It was old hat for me by now.

Mile 7

If we could do 5:15, why not try to shave a measly 15 minutes off and break the 5 hour mark? I knew it would be incredibly foolish to try to shave those 15 minutes off the front end of the race by going faster than I’m trained to do. Doing so would carry a huge risk of burning myself out and being unable to finish the race at all. But the last half of the race is a different story. With the enthusiasm of the crowds, the buzz of endorphins, maybe a little adrenaline, it seemed like a realistic possibility to stop talking walking breaks around mile 17 or 18 (based on my math) and shave off that pesky 15 minutes. The beautiful thing about this ambitious plan is that if I discovered along the way that it was just not possible, I could resume taking walking breaks at any given point and still finish in 5:15 or less.

At race time, things turned out differently than expected.

Continue reading “Fail Better”

Why I Run

A meal with Mom before moving to LA
A meal with Mom before moving to LA

As you know, I’ve been training for the LA Marathon since October 2012. One of my motivating factors has been a charity project a friend told me about, Camp Kesem, which provides children whose parents have cancer or who have lost a parent to cancer with an opportunity to participate in summer camp with others who have suffered the same loss.

I am an adult who lost a parent to cancer. Mom’s passing was a shocking reminder of how fragile life is and how truly valuable and precious our moments with loved ones are. The lingering sadness and sense of loss—which comes with each day I can’t call her, each holiday or birthday, each trip back home that no longer feels like home—has only been made bearable by a renewed resolve to savor life, and to live in a way that I would be proud to tell her about if I could call her just one last time.

This is why I run.

Few children of cancer victims probably have the luxuries I’ve been afforded by simple virtue of growing up and enduring my 20s. I had the privilege of developing loving supportive relationships with countless true friends with whom I’m able to freely share the pain of my loss, knowing from experience that I can expect empathy and support.

Children of cancer victims have their greatest sources of empathy and support taken from them. As much as adult family members want to help and offer kindness to these children, no adult can replace a parent. The compassion shared by peers who know and share the pain of this loss, on the other hand, can be the only thing that helps a child to truly understand that he or she is not alone in the world.

Camp Kesem offers children of cancer victims this opportunity. You can help support Camp Kesem by following this link and contributing what you are able. Even $5 will make a difference.

I’m running 26.2 miles this Sunday to remember that, even though I’ve suffered a loss, there’s still a long road ahead of me. Show your support for Camp Kesem by making a donation, and these children might be able to see that there’s hope ahead for them, too.

The Finish Line

Live Ultimate

On the 10th of February, I ran my second 10K. As I mentioned back in early January, my goal for this 10K was to beat a one-hour finishing time. In January, I had completed both an 18-mile and a 20-mile run with my training group, the LA Leggers, and so I was feeling pretty good. But going into February, I knew I had an event to attend on Groundhog Day that was going to prevent me from meeting up with the Leggers, which somehow made it seem more acceptable in my mind to miss out on mid-week runs that week, meaning an entire missed week of training a week out from the 10K!

I was worried that the missed week might mean I wouldn’t be in good shape for the 10K. But when I did my mid-week runs during the week of the 10K, I was feeling pretty good. I did a 3.14 mile run (Pi! And about a 5K) on that Thursday in 28 minutes, which is a quick enough pace to finish the 10K in under an hour, provided I could sustain it for twice the distance. That made me feel much more confident.

On the morning of the race, I made my way into the horde of runners at the starting line, all set to get started on the run. The starting gun sounded (not an actual gun) and the horde lurched forward gradually to cross the starting line. Each individual runner is given a timing chip prior to the race, which is attached to the shoe using twist-ties. Electronic sensors under the starting line and the finish line make it possible for each runner to get his or her exact time for the race based on the timing chip. This was how I determined my running time for the 10K in December, and how I could be sure I would know my actual time for the 10K in February in spite of the fact that it took a while in that big crowd to make it over the starting line once the clock was started.

I felt pretty good through the first half of the race or so, which took us through some Santa Monica streets up through the corner of Ocean and San Vicente. The route then turned East, heading up San Vicente a couple miles before turning around and looping back to finish on Ocean Avenue. Going East on San Vicente was an uphill climb, and the further up I got the more convinced I became that I wasn’t going to meet my sub-hour aspirations. I was moving to slow, I thought, and I didn’t feel very strong. At each mile, volunteers with synchronized timers called out the current time, and when I passed the five mile mark (1.2 miles left to run), the time was 52 minutes and change. Knowing that it takes better than a 10-minute mile pace to break an hour on a 10K, having less than 8 minutes to clear the last 1.2 miles seemed impossible.

The impulse to slow down—to give in to the sense of defeat I was already feeling—weighed heavy on my torso, my knees, and my feet, even though coming back down San Vicente was a nice, gradual downhill stride.

But I didn’t slow down. I did, however, fail to find the energy to push harder. I kept running, thinking maybe I’ll still beat my time from December, even if I don’t break the hour mark.

And I crossed the finish line. The clock at the finish said something like 1 hour, 1 minute, and 40-some seconds. This was better than my time in December. And it still wasn’t my personal chip time, from when my shoe crossed the sensor at the finish. Had it taken me a full minute and forty-some seconds to get across the starting line? I had no idea. It could have been 30 seconds or 3 minutes, for all I knew.

So I went home and found the page online where I’d be able to view my official time. And I spent my entire afternoon clicking “refresh,” waiting on the numbers to be posted.

Finally, they came in.

My time: 59:57.0. Hooray! Goal achieved!

In less than 2 weeks, I will be running the LA Marathon. It’s like running a 10K and then keeping going for another 20 miles. The race will finish by taking San Vicente down to Ocean Avenue, turning left, and crossing the finish line.

I’ve done this.

I can do this.