Friday, May 10, 2019

Boston Marathon 2019: Race Recap!

Finally, my Boston Marathon 2019 race report! This was obviously a very different kind of race for me with all of my real-life stuff going on -- most notably having surgery just 3 weeks before. A post with that background, my feelings leading up to the race, and the race morning recap is here.

And IG posts about the race are here: Finish | Post-Race | Mother Runner Moment. MmK, onto the show! The last post left off on the bus ride to Hopkinton, so:


We arrived to a muddy athlete’s village, but the rain had stopped! It was nice to not worry about getting wet before the race started. It was also nice to not worry about getting our race shoes muddy – those shoe covers were worth every penny.

Heather and I hopped off the bus and headed straight to the potty lines. We were planning on meeting up with our friend Kristen before the start, and conveniently bumped into her and her friend Stacey shortly after arriving. (I actually tried to find one of my athletes for a solid ten minutes to no avail, so finding Kristen so easily was helpful.) The four of us hung out in the century-long line and made it out of the potties right when it was time to shed the layers and start walking over to the corrals. In 2017, Kindal and I left late and totally missed our corral (almost our whole wave!) so it was nice to walk over in a more relaxed fashion.

We ditched our shoe covers and layers at a drop spot along the way and had a good laugh with some of the residents. As we got closer to the start, Heather started to tear up. She’d been working toward this moment for so long! It had been so special for me to be part of that journey with her as both a friend and a coach, and it was really special to be experiencing the race with her now. We slotted into our corral with a couple minutes to spare, and then the Wave 2 gun sounded and everyone started jogging toward the start. I got out my camera to capture the moment for Heather as we stepped over the yellow line:

“Heather, you’re running the Boston Marathon!”

Ashley, you’re really running the Boston Marathon.

Hopkinton to Wellesley (The first half)

Here we go. Just try to hang on. The downhill will help. The muscle memory is in there. Your legs know how to do this.

I wanted to run with my friends as long as possible for the fun of it, yes. But I also wanted to stay up with them because I wanted to feel like a Boston Marathoner for as long as I could.

It’s easy to lose sight of yourself while doing the whole military wife/mom/secondary infertility thing. For years, I haven’t been able to get pregnant and I haven’t had the chance to race fast, and I was busy transplanting my family and our lives across the country and back anyway, and it’s all kind of hit a peak recently. But running in this race meant I could tap into feeling normal. I knew the pace would be fleeting, but I wanted to stay “in it” as long as I could: in the mile, in the race, in that semblance of the regular, old, ME.

My resting heart rate that morning was still 59, which is crazy high for me. For reference, it was 43 the morning I ran the Kulia Marathon. So it wasn’t surprising when I checked my watch a half mile in and my heart rate was already in the 160s. No miracles happening today, folks! Haha. This was going to be a long one. But adrenaline was doing its thing and I was hanging with my girls just fine. So when Heather asked, “How are you feeling?” I just responded, “I’m in it.” Right now, I’m running the Boston Marathon and I’m in it and that’s all I could hope for at this point.

The street was crowded but the sardines were moving more smoothly than in 2017. We stayed to the left and were able to stick together pretty well without much effort, and stick to the pace without much weaving. So far, so good. One mile down, and then two. Still with them after two! Let’s see if I can hang for 4 miles. That’d be about 1/6th of the race done. That’d be good. Another benefit to staying on the side = catching lots of high fives! The crowds are a little more sparse in the beginning miles, which makes it easy to hit up every little group of kids with their hands out! Meanwhile, thanks to our awesome custom Hyperthreads tanks, the adults would cheer for us by name. I heard “Go Ash!” more than I ever have in my entire life.
Heather was clearly feeling good so I made sure to keep reigning her in when her legs started to go faster than planned. We were right on her ideal pace through Ashland. Four miles down! Entering unknown territory mileage-wise, but Heather asked how I was again, and my answer was the same: “Right now I’m in it.” Just stay in it for one more mile, I told myself.

You know that feeling when you’re at Disney World and it’s about to rain but is holding off, so the air is just super heavy? Yes, welcome to the 2019 Boston Marathon Wave 2 (the weather was different for every wave!). I stated the obvious: “It’s muggy.” Then I reached for an extra water cup at the mile 4 aid station to cool off my arms and told Heather to do the same. Having to cool off at mile 4 is never a great sign when you’re racing for time! And even now, I figured there were precisely two things I could do to help me through that day: fuel properly and manage the heat. (Wait, was this an Ironman marathon? Ha.)

We made it to Framingham and hit the 5-mile mark. I can make it to six!, I thought. And then I did. A whole 10K done!!! With my friends and at a respectable pace, too. It felt like such a huge win. The aid stations were crowded and I lost some time to Heather and Kristen around here, so I used a match to catch back up. Goodness knows I only had a few pennies to spend that day, but putting in a little push here to hopefully have another mile or so with friends was worth it. I was working so much harder than I’d ever even consider at that point in a marathon, but it was going to end with walking the back half either way so why not? This was fun.

Mile 7 clicked over and they were still on pace. And I was still with them. I knew this couldn’t last much longer, but I was enjoying it while I could. If I can make it to mile 8, that’s almost a full third of the race done. Gosh, that’d be nice. Just try to hang with them ‘till mile 8.

Nothing about my body felt good. But the Hamilton soundtrack was playing in my ears and I heard: “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” And I just felt so overwhelmingly lucky to look around and be running the Boston Marathon right now. It was such a wonderful day already. Mile 8 down. 7:35 average. I can’t believe I’ve held on for this long.

Some random alarm went off on my phone shortly after the mile 8 sign (whhhy do I do this to myself?) so I pulled it out to turn it off -– and then dropped my phone while trying to put it away. Insert ALL the face palm emojis here. I stopped and stepped back to grab it. With my phone in hand, I looked ahead and realized I didn’t have another match to catch back up. Before the race, I told Heather I’d only drop back to her corral if she promised to never wait for me. “There will be no drama when I wave you ahead,” I demanded. I’d thought it might happen at mile 2, and had hoped it could happen at mile 4. So for the wave to come after mile 8 was such a huge victory for me, and I felt content.
I was still focused on getting to Kindal and Charlie as quickly as possible, so I still wanted to make decent time. For the first time, I was able to wrap my head around the remaining race and come up with a plan. I figured I could run to mile 13.5, and run/walk from there. I could use that downhill into Newton Falls to get to mile 16. On the other side of 16 miles, I’d have cheering crowds stacked and single-digit miles left for the remainder of the race. A marathon still felt daunting, but I was 1/3rd of the way done, with the majority of the crowds awaiting ahead. “Boston will be louder,” I reminded myself. You’ve got this, Ash.

As I passed the lake, I whipped out my phone (in a more controlled manner this time, ha) and took a little video to save the memory. It’s a quiet part of the race, but it’s pretty and I was happy to be there. I stepped across a timing mat and immediately thought about Matt and my family -- and the fact that these tracker times were giving them terribly false hopes about my day, ha. I should call Matt soon.I kept on trucking to the city center in Natick, which is full of awesome spectators. Lots of high fives, lots of fun, and I still felt like I was running fairly strong despite it all.
On the other side of town, there are some little rolling hills through the woods. I pulled off to the side there and walked while I made my phone call. “I know it looks like I’m doing well, but really I’m just running to Kindal and then my pace is going to drop way off and I don’t want you to be worried. I’m fine, it’s just going to be a lot longer of a day than the tracker is saying. Tell my mom.” He gave me a little pep talk and told me to be smart and that he was proud of me. During that phone call, a familiar face from Utah came over and gave me a hug. So, happy thoughts all around and then I was back to running again. For the past few miles and from this point on, my running pace was between 8:00-8:30 and I was walking through aid stations (plus a lot more walking to come!).

Finally, I could hear the cheers coming from Wellesley College and knew I was getting close to that half marathon point! I started getting SO excited to see my friends!!!
Kindal and Charlie said they’d be somewhere between 13.1 and 13.5, but I started scanning the crowds anxiously a little ahead of the timing mat just in case. I hit the halfway mark at 1:45, which just feels unreal to me knowing the actual state of my body that day. I’m going to positive split this thing like a boss, I laughed to myself. And I'm going to love every second of it.

I continued frantically scanning the crowds through downtown Wellesley – the anticipation was killing me! And then there they were!!! I ran over with my arms open and gave Kindal the biggest hug. Again, I’ll tell this story later because GEEZ this is long enough already! But my Garmin shows that I stood there for a full, literal 3 minutes talking to them while the Boston Marathon continued on past me. I didn’t care one bit about the passing time – it was just a happy little visit with Kindal and Charlie, and one that I’ll remember forever!

I’m going to walk the rest of this thing, I told them as I got ready to leave. See you in two hours!

(Which is funny, because spoiler alert – I finished the race just seconds under 2 hours after I left them. Ha!)

Wellesley to Boston (The Second Half)

This is where the race started to get really, really hard physically. And interesting mentally. And really, really fun with all the crowds!

The endless spectators really start once you get to the Newton Hills, so I wanted to be able to keep moving well through those next couple miles that are maybe a little harder mentally, but that also gift you a downhill. I walked through an aid station around mile 15 but still clocked an 8:48 and 8:20 for 15 & 16. It probably seems backward from a pride standpoint, but I wanted to save the walking for when there were crowds and use up my energy during the more desolate and therefore mentally harder parts of the course. After all, I only had so much energy to use that day, and surely it would be easier to borrow some from humans than from freeways or trees. ;)

As I dropped down into Newton Falls and hit the 16.2-mile mark, I was grateful to know I only had single-digit miles left – but I also knew that they would be the toughest miles of the day, by far. With the overwhelming desire to walk but also the desire to not be walking on the course for-absolutely-ever, the Finding Nemo scene with Marlin frantically making up rules for Dory and the jellyfish popped into my head: “Rules! Rules! Rules!” You need rules for these things or it gets out of hand. πŸ˜‚

I decided on the simple rule that I could walk up hills, through aid stations/at a mile marker, but nowhere else. Seemed fair enough. Coincidentally, I was about to discover just how much flat and downhill are really hiding in those final miles hahaha. I’ve never wished for an uphill so much in my life!

The Newton hills were so fun and full of high-fives and cheers. I grabbed a popsicle, and I also grabbed some friends along the way – I’d find someone walking between the hills and encourage them to run with me for a bit. More enjoyable for everyone that way, right? I literally walked up every hill, running up just a bit here and there where the crowds were extra fun (hi Lululemon up Heartbreak!). And then I ran down every hill, and along every flat as planned. It turns out there really are a lot of downhills and flats in that back half! I was so sick in 2017 that I didn’t really notice one way or another, but I reaaally noticed them this time. And I think I’ll bank on them a bit for the next round in Boston!
One of my most favorite parts this year was Boston College. They were *screaming* loud! I veered right and stuck my hand out for the entirety of the B.C. and got caught up in the cheers on that high-energy, high-five-filled stretch downhill. Adrenaline is crazy and those college kids were fun!

The crowds everywhere were amazing and I felt almost guilty when I was walking – and planned on continuing to walk – and they’d cheer for me by name. But my body was increasingly exhausted and I definitely didn’t have pennies to spare for climbing lots of hills, so I’d smile and wave and say thanks and continue on with my power walk. I loved finding the little kid hands that were sticking out closer to the ground (and therefore passed over more by all the tired runners) – they’re always extra excited to get that high-five in return! And in a way, it’s kind of like a proxy to having my own kids there. They’ll love cheering in Boston someday. And for now, I just kept replaying their sweet little voices saying “Go Mommy!” before the race.
Time was irrelevant so I didn’t pay attention to my watch on that back half, other than peeking once on an uphill and giving myself a gold sticker for walking “so fast” haha! Post-race analysis says I went 8:00-8:30 pace while running and 12:30-14:00 pace while walking. Frankly, it was the best-case scenario for that day.

I think about those last 10 miles now, and I tear up thinking about how right Carolyn was. It was hot and muggy and nothing about my body felt good and inside it was screaming. But Boston? Boston was SO. LOUD. The power from the cheers was louder than any exhaustion or pain or doubt. I didn’t have to worry about making it to the end, because the crowds carried me there. My memories from this race aren’t of staring at long roads or never-ending hills, but of smiling back at the long lines of never-ending smiling faces with signs and outstretched hands. The Boston Marathon is indeed magical. But it’s not the streets that make it so – it’s the people.

So again, to every volunteer who handed me water, every policeman and National Guard member who kept me safe, every runner who inspired me, every friend who ran with me, and every spectator who buoyed me up – from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for carrying me on Marathon Monday.

Kindal and Charlie were waiting again near the Citgo sign. One final hug, one last quick walk up the little blip of a hill at mile 25.5, and then my longest running-only segment of the back half. Zero-point-seven miles. I’ve got this.
I took a right on Hereford and then a left on Boylston.

I couldn’t hold back the tears as I ran toward that yellow line. This had been so massively hard, all of it. The two months before and the weeks preceding and every step of every mile that day. And yet the past few hours had been so incredibly uplifting and fulfilling. I couldn’t believe that after all of this, I really got to be here, right now, running down a tunnel of deafening cheers on Boylston. And with my body feeling the way it did, I couldn’t believe I’d really done it.

Before the race, I expected it to take me around five hours. I finished in 3:49.

With only a few steps left, I happily threw up my hands – with a 2 and a 3 on my fingers. Because this race was for my two kids, to show them that we can adapt and make the most of a situation and do hard things -- even when it's not how we hoped it would be. And it was for that baby #3 we’re fighting for, because that’s what made this race so challenging to being with – and what will hopefully make it such a victory in the end.

Boston Marathon 2019: Pre-Race Recap

The Background

I didn’t actually know if I’d be able to run the 2019 Boston Marathon. I had an infertility-related surgery just 3.5 weeks before, which came with two abdominal incisions and the deep fatigue that comes from your body being poked and prodded from the inside. When we scheduled this surgery, I knew it meant I most certainly wouldn’t get to “race” Boston, and that I might not even be able to participate. But I sure hoped I could still chase that unicorn.

(Here’s a few IG posts if you want the details. Explanation | Surgery | Recovery | Cleared | Doubts | Race Morning)

With 11 days to go before the race, I was cleared to run again. Normally, this means slowly building back the mileage and most definitely does not included running 26.2 soon. But my doctor said everything looked good from her end and therefore gave her blessing – along with her condolences for my legs.

I was thrilled to get the green light! Running the Boston Marathon is always a privilege, but I felt extra grateful to have that opportunity now.

The time leading up to Boston was exceptionally busy, so I didn’t have much time to think about the actual race. It was all logistics – ordering this, packing that, looking over things for my athletes, planning the social aspects and being excited for my friends. Plus, the optimist in me just kept hoping that I’d magically feel exponentially better, so how I felt on any given day had no bearing on how I’d feel race day, right? No need to worry. Until the day before.

The Sunday before the race was a bit of a wake-up call. I hadn't magically bounced back, and this was the body that would be running the Boston Marathon this year. I was excited, yes – but I was also terrified. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how I could actually cover 26.2 miles with my own legs at that point. My resting heart rate was still crazy high, which just shows that my 3.5-week post-op body was far from recovered. On our tiny 2-mile shake out run, my heart rate skyrocketed, my incision sites cramped, and my atrophied legs felt exhausted. How on earth am I going to do 24 more miles of this?

And how do you mentally prepare for a race th
at you’re not ready for and just hope to complete, anyway? I can pump myself up to push my body to its limits to reach a goal time. But I wasn’t even supposed to push myself for 26.2 miles. Completion was going to be hard enough on my body! And there weren’t constant character stops to plan around in a princess dress ala the Disney Marathon, either. So… A marathon is a long way to go without any idea how to actually get there, you know?

I’ve run a marathon with a tired body before. Three times, following a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike. And once in Disney, off insanely minimal sleep all week, on terribly low mileage post-bike crash, and having run all the Dopey miles *and* walked the parks in all the days leading up to it. I flashed back to me and Kindal at 3 a.m., lying on the asphalt by the porta-potties next to our WDW Marathon corral, with tiaras on our heads and a Red Bull in my hand, wondering how we were going to do that thing. But I was tired for those. This was different. My body was so deeply exhausted. And it didn't have the training miles on it, either, because I had a surgery instead. My legs and I were going to be winging this thing.

I just kept going back to two thoughts from friends. My athlete Lauren gave me a sweet keychain with a note: “One mile at a time.” And my friend Carolyn wrote a note to remind me that even though my doubts were valid and seemed loud, BOSTON would be louder. One mile at a time, and the crowds would help me do it. That’s the only way this could possibly work.

Boston to Hopkinton

HUGE thanks to HYPERTHREADS for our amazing custom tanks!!!

We woke up to lightning, thunder, and pouring rain. The forecast still looked undecided as to whether we’d have a wet or dry race, but the forecasted temperatures just continued to rise so we actually hoped for rain to keep it cool. Either way, nothing to do but make the most of it! I pulled up “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons and we had a little dance party in the bathroom as we got ready to head out the door.

Heather and I layered up in our rain gear and hit the road. I was grateful that we came prepared! It poured on our way to the busses, and the tiny part of my leg that wasn’t covered (by my umbrella + poncho + rain shoe covers) got drenched. We laughed as we splashed through the puddles, but were happy to get onto the dry bus!

We sat on the bus for what felt like a long time before it was actually ready to go. Listening to people around me talk about their goals for the race made my task seem all the more daunting. “One mile at a time,” yes – but that’s still a lot of “one miles” to have to go! As the bus started driving out of the city, I tried not to notice how long it was taking or just how far away we were going. The bus route is different than the course, but it still underscores how terribly far Hopkinton really is from Boston.

How on earth am I going to do this?

I really didn’t know.

There were precisely two things that I did know: 1- My body was capable of running at least four miles because I’d done it the week prior and 2- I was going to have to walk a good portion of this marathon. The pragmatic approach would be to run/walk from the beginning. However, it’s so crowded in the beginning that walking is almost hazardous. And frankly, that’s just a reaaalllly long time to be run/walking. 26 whole miles?

This was going to be a very long, very hard day. I wasn’t magically going to feel amazing for the final 10K, which meant there was really no use in taking the pragmatic approach. So I had decided to opt for the fun approach, which was to run fast with my friends as long as I could! Aaaand then run/walk the rest. I figured I could hang for two miles, but the longer, the better. Maybe I could even run fast for four miles. I was certainly going to try. But then after that? I still couldn’t wrap my head around somehow getting through the final 22.2 miles of the race.

How on earth am I going to do this?

I wondered again, and again. (It’s a long bus ride, after all. πŸ˜‚) 
And then my phone rang.

It was Kindal. We’d been texting about where she and Charlie were going to be during the race – just after the 13.1 mark, and then somewhere between 23 and Citgo – so I didn’t expect a call. It’s a long story that I’ll explain later (surely this post will be long enough without it, ha), but that girl said probably the one thing in the world that could have inspired me to really RUN that first half marathon as quickly as I could that day.

Suddenly I went from hoping I could run a 5th mile to knowing for dang sure I was going to run the first 13.1, as fast as I could, whatever that meant. And then I’d run/walk and figure it out after that.

Yeah, I could do this. Finally, mentally, I had a plan. I can really do this. I’m going to finish the Boston Marathon today.

The fear was pushed to the bottom of the pile and now I was really, truly excited. Let’s do this!!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Kulia Marathon 2019: Race Recap

The alarm went off at 3:31 a.m. and suddenly it was real! No going back now. Carolyn and I ate breakfast, got dressed, and grabbed our drop bags to head to the busses. She was doing the half marathon and it was her first race *ever* so I tried to focus on being excited for her rather than terrified for myself!

This still felt crazy. I obviously didn’t have anything that remotely resembled a proper marathon training cycle for this. BUT I do have years of running underneath me now, had built up some solid Ironman fitness last fall (pre-crash), had run/walked the Dopey Challenge in January, got a few decent long runs in for Boston, and felt like I had just finally tapped back into “my” legs. And I’ve been in marathon shape enough times over the past few years (whether I’ve actually been able to materialize that into a race or not) that I knew how to do this. It was FAR from perfect, but there was enough rusty fitness somewhere in there and I had enough determination in me to dig for the bottom of that well. At least, that's what I told myself on the long bus ride to the start.

It was already 76 humid degrees in Waikoloa Village by 6 a.m. The wind advisory (up to 30 mph constant, 50 mph gusts) was slated to end right then, and it had indeed calmed down a little. It was still plenty windy, though, and the wind was only going to pick back up through the course of the marathon. Temperatures were cooler at the start, but I found that I didn’t actually need the jacket or gloves that I had brought. It was going to be a hot one! And I realized that I had left two important things in the hotel: sunscreen and my tube of BASE salt – a necessity for racing in the heat. Shoot.

This was the inaugural Kulia Marathon, which normally might have caused some pause for me from an organizational standpoint. But it was hosted by Revel, which has a reputation for putting on quality races. I wasn’t disappointed – the morning logistics were smooth and easy, there were plenty of amenities at the start line, the course was well-marked and well-monitored, and the aid stations were consistent and well-stocked. A huge high-five to their company for a job well done! One nice touch was a Hawaiian blessing with singing and conch shells for good luck before the start. Then the National Anthem and it was time to go!

The sunrise was beautiful and I had to pinch myself that I was actually running in Kona. I tried to keep the whole “running A MARATHON” thing out of my consciousness at the beginning, because geeze, 26.2 miles is daunting! So instead I enjoyed the sunrise as those first two miles clicked by. Around then, I naturally fell into step with two Hawaiian locals, Mele and Ben. We chatted about the race and our backgrounds and living in Hawaii, and it was nice to have the company for a few miles! An owl flew right over us, and they both were excited: it was a pueo – a good omen in Hawaii. This was going to be a good day.

I’d made the decision beforehand to not babysit my watch during the race. I wanted it for reference, but I was going to run by feel and not let the Garmin dictate my pace. Plus, with the sun getting hotter (temperatures stayed similar but the “real feel” increased) and the wind forecasted to just get stronger, I was happy to take the good miles when they came. That first 10K had the most downhill of the entire race (which actually sucks to start the race with that kind of muscular damage), but having a conversation with Mele and Ben kept the effort in check.

I hung with them for a couple more miles as the course started to flatten out, but knew that couldn’t last. My 40-degree dry desert runs this winter hadn’t exactly adapted me for humid-high-70s and it was showing! I started tasting salt by mile 5 and pouring water on myself at aid stations at mile 7. Meanwhile, my Hawaiian running partners were just chillin’. So the mental battle ensued: I knew I had no business running those paces in those conditions, but I also knew that running *with* people has both psychological and physical benefits (hey Ben, want to block some of that wind for me?). Ultimately, I was responsible and made the decision to pull back while I still had matches to spare – I was going to need those later.

After just a few minutes, my running partners were still in view, but I was “alone” as I came upon a ranch. About a dozen horses were there by the fence, standing majestically against a gorgeous Kona backdrop, watching the runners pass by. I smiled and waved at them as I approached – and then as I began to run past them, they turned and ran alongside me. And I smiled at the beauty of it all, running free with the horses on an island that I love. This entire trip was worth it just for that moment. I took that memory – the one that is too perfect for even Hollywood to believe – and bottled it up for safe keeping in my lifetime running highlight reel.

Magical moments aside, there was still a marathon to run! So, there I was, alone in the lava fields, clicking the miles by. My lungs were feeling fine, my heart rate was in check, and I was almost in Ironman mode – robotically doing my heat management routine at every aid station. It takes some extra time at each aid station, but I’m convinced it saves time in the long haul. When I made the big turn toward Waikoloa Village at mile 15, it was noticeably hotter, and the winds were noticeably stronger.

It was now 78 degrees, with Hawaiian humidity, Waikoloa winds, and nothing to spare you in the barren lava fields. The wind was relentless, forcing you to steady yourself to stay upright with it at your side, and pushing you back when you turned into it.

I know this island so the conditions weren’t a surprise. In fact, it was just a few miles from the finish line that a semi ran me off the road by the shipyard last fall. That left me with scars up and down my left side, post-concussion syndrome, and a big hematoma on my left hip that had taken two months to go away. In its place, I’d developed some high hamstring issues on that side that I’m generally able to keep under control – but that “locks up” with hills of any kind. (My hamstring and this course did not get along well.)

My watch beeped mile 20, and I had just stopped to “pop” my hamstring before heading uphill. I looked around for the mile marker to see how I was doing on tangents. There it was, a few feet ahead, lying flat in the brush after being knocked over by the wind -- the 20+mph wind that I was now facing head-on as I climbed the hill. My legs were screaming in rebellion and I couldn’t help but think that this was crazy and I should just pull off the gas and jog it in.

But there it was, clear as day in the distance: the shipyard. I had thought it could be poetic to stake my comeback so close to the setback, but now it felt almost masochistic. Then again, I’ve always believed in facing your demons head on – and here I was, literally staring at mine in the midst of my struggle. And I felt that fire.

“I get to win this time,” I said aloud.

I wasn’t sure what that would mean in terms of race time. Normally at this point, I’m constantly doing math in my head: If I can hold X pace for the remaining X miles, then… But I was too far gone even for that. Besides, who knew how many times I’d have to pause to unlock my hamstring? (Answer: 7.)

The time didn’t really matter anyway, though. This was me, claiming some control over my body and my life for just these few hours. I got to choose how this would end.

Winning this one meant never stopping the fight. Just keep pushing. One foot in front of the other.

For those last few miles, I didn’t look at my watch. I hardly even looked for the blown-over mile marker signs. I kept my hamstring unlock breaks quick and ignored the mounting cramps elsewhere. I just kept moving, almost mechanically. And any time I wanted to pull off the gas, I glanced over toward the shipyard and then down at the bracelet on my wrist: “Never Stop.” Just keep pushing, I’d tell myself. It will be worth it.

At last, I saw the finish line, like a mirage in the desert. I finally looked at my watch and realized I might actually make it. See, I didn’t have a goal time for this race – I just wanted to do my best that day. I was realistic in understanding the situation and knowing that could mean a wide range of finish times.

But I did have a goal time for Boston 2017. I had run a 19:10 5K and could tempo for up to 8 miles in the 6:40s leading up to that race. I’d felt like a NYC qualifier – sub-3:13 – was in my wheelhouse. But then I was really, really sick with acute bronchitis that Marathon Monday, so goal times went out the window. I put myself in the med tent just securing a BQ that day. I also hurt my foot during that race, and thus commenced a long string of bad luck! I’ve been wanting to go back to Boston and get that 3:12 ever since, so that would have been my goal had I been able to target and “race” Boston this year. But I can’t – which is why I was here, in Hawaii, running a last-minute marathon. And hitting 25.2 miles at 3:04:55.

I scraped to the very bottom of my well for that final mile. My left hamstring pain and my legs were done miles ago. But my heart wasn’t, and it was all out on the line right here, right now.

I crossed that finish line at 3:12:20.

They gave me a medal and a lei, and kept handing me more Gatorade for the cramps while pouring ice cold water over me to cool my body temperature. And I cried some happy, painful, complicated tears.

Carolyn was a life saver. She came back into the finishers area and massaged my legs (especially that high hamstring) with cold washcloths to help me recover. Finally, a half hour later, I felt human again (at least, as human as one can feel after running a marathon). We took finisher photos and hobbled to the bus… And then spent the rest of the day at the beach!!!

I’d been looking forward to swimming in those Waikoloa waters with sea turtles since March of 2018, when we decided to add some extra days to our Ironman World Championship trip that fall. I would honestly daydream about it to get me through those crazy months of solo parenting and solo house renovating and finding a tenant and moving across the country. Then I crashed on our first morning in Waikoloa and never got the chance.

But now, I could celebrate a marathon on that same beach I’ve been craving for a year – and what do you know? We were immediately greeted by a sea turtle. I put on my goggles and dove right in. My soul was rejuvenated.

I took the red-eye home that night and was happy to be back with my family for breakfast. All of those hard things that lie ahead? We’ve got this.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

How I Ended Up Running a Last-minute Marathon in Hawaii

It’s been a week since the Kulia Marathon and it still hasn’t set in that I ran the dang thing. Last-minute marathons will do that to you!

Let’s go to the beginning of how this came to be.

BACKGROUND: We’ve been struggling with secondary infertility since 2016 (we also dealt with primary infertility back in the day). We’re finally at the place where we’re moving forward more aggressively with a doctor I love and plan that I trust. This trumps everything running related. It also makes planning for races, etc. really difficult. And adds a certain sense of YOLO to the situation – throw caution to the wind and get it done now because who knows when I’ll get the chance again! Ha.

OCTOBER: Last fall, on the first day of my taper for Ironman Florida, a semi ran me off the road in Kona. Although I walked away without any serious injuries, I still had a lot of road rash, a big hematoma on my hip, and post-concussion syndrome – which made it so I couldn’t exercise very much for a couple months. I had been swimming and biking faster than ever, and my run was strong, too. And then suddenly, I didn’t get to race. Not getting to do Ironman Florida was a major disappointment anyway, but it was especially hard to swallow with the knowledge that it will be a LONG time before I’ll train for 140.6 again (due to infertility treatments and hopefully pregnancy and a future baby). This is problematic because being on the cusp of a big PR only to DNS leaves you hungry!

JANUARY: Last summer, I went on a spree of signing up for back-up races to look forward to “if I don’t get pregnant.” Ironman Florida in November was the first, allll of the WDW Marathon weekend races were the second via the Dopey Challenge in January, followed by Boston in April. The Dopey Challenge became more, well, *challenging* in the wake of the bike crash. I was careful with my post-concussion syndrome as I did a quick build for Dopey – just enough run/walking that I’d be able to complete it. My legs held up much better than I expected, though, so I was very encouraged heading into Boston training! The hope for Boston was still, of course, to be pregnant and take it easy. But if I can’t have that, then I want to race well.

FEBRUARY: Back to the baby talk. In February, we scheduled a surgery for said infertility on March 21st. Typical recovery would be taking 2-3 weeks off running and then building back, but my doctor thinks my fitness could help me bounce back faster. Hopefully, since Boston is just 3.5 weeks later!

I immediately realized that scheduling a surgery in late March meant I won’t be able to “race” Boston, and might not even make it to Hopkinton. But I wasn’t even remotely interested in postponing the surgery until after the race. When you’re crushed by every passing month – and the age gap between your current and future babies just keeps growing – actually choosing to “lose” a month is unfathomable. No, Boston will always be there. This can’t wait.

With “racing” off the table, then, I decided to do all I could now to improve my chances of still collecting that unicorn medal if my doctor gives me the green light post-surgery (no matter how long that run/walk will take!). So I went out and did an 18-miler that afternoon. And then a 20-miler the next week. Things weren’t clicking like I’d normally expect a couple months into the comeback, and I still felt like I was clawing at that pre-crash fitness. But I got the miles in anyway. (And the planks, because abdominal surgery and all.)

The next week, though, I set out for a 16-miler – and it just. felt. normal. (!!!) I even kicked it in with the final 1.7 miles <6:35 pace. Finally! This is the run I was waiting for. My legs were finally “mine” again!

And I had a crazy idea.

Maybe I could squeeze in a marathon before my surgery. One last chance (hopefully) to race my heart out. After all, that Ironman fitness wasn’t TOO far behind me. Maybe I could pull it off.

Matt was TDY (military business trip) through the next weekend, and he had his annual camp for the Every Man Jack triathlon team the weekend before my surgery. That left me with one option: Saturday, March 9th. And what do you know? There was the Kulia Marathon that day – in Kona, a few miles away from where I crashed in mid-October. It seemed almost meant to be.

That is crazy talk!!! Clearly, if we are talking crazy, I was at least going to need a wingman.

Enter my Air Force wife BFF of nearly a decade, Carolyn. She has been there for me at so many pivotal times in my life. And she has never been a runner… until now. I’d just started training her for a spring half marathon and she was doing so well! So well, in fact, that I thought she could do a, um, late-winter half marathon instead. You know, in Hawaii. On March 9th. Her husband is now a commercial pilot, which means she gets to fly standby for free… Maybe this could work!

Except. Have y’all seen the Ironman World Championships on TV? The weather in Kona is no joke.
The heat, the oppressive humidity, the relentless wind out by Waikoloa… This is *not* marathon-friendly. I don’t care how much elevation you lose; it cannot possibly negate Kona conditions. I dream of running a cold, flat marathon (here's looking at you, Indy Monumental). This does not fit that bill!

Then again… the conditions would at least make the marathon honest. And I’ve raced in the heat enough times to know how to handle it. Yeah, this might work. Think about it, Ash.

Except. I didn’t want it to actually work.
You see, there was a chance I wouldn’t have to have the surgery! That is, the 1-3% chance that I could get pregnant on my own before then. And when I type it out, it’s so brutally obvious that the odds are not in my favor. But I’m nothing if not an optimist, and I really felt like I’d put it all out on the line. See, Universe? I’m willing to sacrifice even the chance to line up at the Boston Marathon. The one where I've dreamt of redemption since I was sick the first go-around. Surely that is enough after all this time? Despite my best attempts to manage hope with reality, I could feel the impending heartbreak that was sure to come if the answer was no. This was going to be THE “no” – our final Hail Mary before invading my body and emptying our savings account. It wasn’t going to feel good.

My dear best friend since college, Liz, could see it coming, too. She told me that my heart would be best served by a fight and a beach that weekend. I knew she was right.

Except. Was she really? Because what if I got all the way out there only to experience massive failure?
Wouldn't that just make things worse? She said I wouldn’t fail, because I know how to do this. Matt and Kindal, my running BFF, agreed. Because I always gut it out. “But can we stop pretending that I have some superhuman racing powers and just look at my training log for crying out loud?” If anyone can do it, it’s you, they said.

Someday I’d like to apply that grit to a full marathon training cycle and see what happens. That would be fun.

So, there we were, a week before the Kulia Marathon. Two questions remained at that point: Would Carolyn be able to come? There would have to be enough standby seats available and she’d have to have childcare set up for her three kids. And would my 1-3% win? Because goodness knows I’m not going to BS a last-minute marathon if I don’t “have” to. Things were looking good enough for Carolyn and bad enough for me (you know, 97-99% chance it was a no and all) that I did a short run that Saturday instead of a long run... just in case. But I was FAR from convinced.

Then Tuesday came, and with it came the “no” I’d been dreading. No amount of logical self-talk can provide a buffer against the devastation of infertility sometimes. It certainly didn’t help that Tuesday. I was broken. “It’s not just that the Hail Mary didn’t work,” I explained. “It’s that they intercepted it in the endzone and then burned down the stadium. At home. During the playoffs.” No more chances.

I texted Carolyn.

Let’s just do the dang thing.

It wasn't official until she took the last available seat on the flight from Utah and made it to California on Wednesday afternoon. She met me at the train station with a hug, and oh, how I needed that support right then. We signed up for the Kulia Marathon and Half Marathon on Wednesday night. Then we hopped on a plane to Kona on Thursday.

And that is how my last-minute marathon came to be.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

IMFL 2018: DNS

The long post in which I tell you that I’ve decided to be a responsible adult and won’t be racing Ironman Florida next weekend:

First of all, I’m sorry for the lack of instagram updates post-bike crash, but the truth is there hasn’t been much of an update. You know how microwave minutes are the longest minutes? When you just stand there and watch, impatiently waiting for time to go faster, for something to change? That’s how the past couple weeks have felt. Just waiting and waiting for the extensive road rash to heal and the hematoma to shrink and the headache to go away. (Still waiting on all three, but doing significantly better!)

That sounds kind of dramatic when I write it out, so let me make it clear that this was by no means a serious, dramatic bike crash! It was just a dumb, unavoidable situation (a semi forced me off the road onto gravel and the bike slid right out) and I walked away in great shape overall. In fact, those first couple hours afterward, full of adrenaline and sheer denial and pretending like everything was totally fine? Those were nice. (The next few hours, however, were much less "nice.") I'd rate it about a 4/10 on the bike crash scale. The only problem is the rotten timing in relation to Ironman Florida. That said, I did have a concussion to the point where I couldn’t spell my address, and from a healing perspective, I’ve needed to remind myself to respect that.

As for Ironman Florida... I wanted this one. It was a short training cycle, yes. But I’ve been open water swimming better than ever before. On the bike, I’m holding higher watts and sustaining faster speeds than ever before. My run still isn’t back to “19:10 5K Ashley” level, but it’s definitely strong enough for an Ironman. I was fully anticipating a big PR at IMFL.

As I’ve gone back and forth with this decision, I’ve had those expectations in my head. “How could I *not* race when I’m swim-bike-running so well?” was basically the question I posed to Matt. The poor guy had been nicely playing the “I support whatever you decide” card on repeat, but finally teased in his response, “So, was that before or after the crash? Because right now, you’re limping.” 🀣 TouchΓ©. The reality is that these things (and the missed training that accompanies them) have an effect that you can’t just wish away. So then the realization set in that this wouldn’t be THE race... and yet, I still wanted to get out there and fight for a decent race anyway.

I’m the kind of person that likes hard things, for better or worse. I ran my first marathon with a fracture in my hip (that was stupid), I delivered my babies without any meds, I BQ’d in Boston with acute bronchitis, and I set my Ironman PR while puking throughout the day. For me, the decision to race Ironman Florida despite the high potential for bonus pain would actually feel easier than the decision to step away and not race. I hate feeling like a quitter, even though my rational side understands that’s not what this is.

I’m also the first person to say, “There’s always another race!” And most of the time, that’s true. But sometimes, we hope it isn’t. And we hope that maybe, just maybe, our body will be doing something else for the next two years. So there WON’T be another full Ironman for at least that long. There already wasn’t a full Ironman for the past two years because I was hoping the same. And this was meant to be a reset button of sorts, to wipe the slate clean after those couple years and start the clock again. And oh, that makes it that much harder to let go. These things are just silly races, of course, but sometimes they’re emotionally intertwined with other, bigger things in our lives.

Anyway, I’m sure you can see where this is going. (Well, I suppose I told you at the beginning of this post. πŸ˜‰) The first "I might actually have to pull out" punch to the gut was feeling so uncomfortable just walking around Disneyland for a few hours, and realizing that twice as many hours of racing Ironman wouldn’t magically feel better in a week. Then I attempted an easy run (on day 10 post-crash), only to turn back after 1 mile because I felt awful, had a limp in my stride, had road rash dripping down my leg, and proceeded to have a worsened headache for the remainder of the night. But the moment that made me actually hop on the computer and book my "spectator" plane ticket (as opposed to keeping my earlier "racing" flight) was actually concussion-related. I had to make cookies yesterday afternoon, so I got out the ingredients... and then just stared at them. For the life of me, I could not recall my favorite recipe that I've had memorized for half my life. I had to look it up for the first time in 16 years. So just a little thing, but enough to make me recognize that my brain isn't fully healed yet, and certainly not ready to race 140.6 miles. I'll push through pain any day, but I kind of like my brain, so that was that. My ER doctor in Hawaii (an Ironman himself) had advised that I’d probably be able to run a few miles come race weekend, but "racing an Ironman is a different story." And he was right; it just wouldn’t be wise.

So, here I am, being a grown-up and pulling out of my dreamed-for race. It seems like another drop in the hat in a series of crappy race situations for the past couple years, but sometimes that is just how it goes. The really great thing is that I genuinely enjoy the training, so I don’t regret any of the hard work put into this race prep. It was fun!!! (Minus the freezing pool with a broken heater for an entire month.) And it was nice to feel like myself again. Hopefully I’ll bounce back quickly. 😊

For those of you heading to Ironman Florida, I’ll still be there!!! I still have friends racing and wouldn’t miss the opportunity to cheer. So please say hi! πŸ€—

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Family Hike to the Hollywood Sign!

Sponsored by Zappos

Our new base is in the middle of nowhere, but that middle of nowhere is conveniently located 90 miles outside of LA. So the weekend possibilities are endless! The back-to-school shopping possibilities, not so much. Ha! Thank goodness for the internet. It was SO easy doing the back-to-school shopping online that I don't think I'll go back to the drag-the-kids-to-the-mall plan ever. Hallelujah! New "gym shoes" were on the list for the new school year, and Jake & Summer were SO excited to hop on Zappos and pick out their own Saucony Kids shoes! Jake picked the "coolest and fastest" pair, while Summer set out to pick a pair that was "really cute and still fast." (I can't imagine where they get this from...)

The delivery trucks may as well have been Santa's sleigh! Jake brought the Zappos box in and they ripped it open right away. It made my mother runner heart happy to see them so excited about their new running shoes! Jake picked the Saucony Kids Voxel and Summer picked the Saucony Kids Jazz (click the names to check them out!). They immediately put them on and as soon as Daddy walked in the door, we were off to the park for races. Since then, they've worn them to school, to Disney, and on Saturday, to the Hollywood Sign!
This little lady fits RIGHT in to that LA scene. ;)
This hike has been high on our list of must-do's after arriving in Southern California. The kids saw the Hollywood Sign in a movie awhile ago, and we told them that we took Jake up to the sign when he was a baby... and they've been asking (and asking) to go to it ever since. We penciled it in for our family outing last weekend and had a blast! It is by far the best way to see the sign, and there are pretty awesome views of the city, too!

Last time we did this hike, it was more like a little nature walk -- maybe 3 miles at most, and we wore flip flops (along with other questionable 2011-era attire) (proof at the end of this post). But apparently that route was closed due to a lawsuit, so all of the new popular routes are longer! We picked the 6-mile round-trip and it was just right for a family hike. The kids did such a great job!!! We gave them piggy back rides here and there, but they did most of it on their own. And they kept running up ahead, so I suppose this counts as their first trail run, too? :) Zero complaints about tired feet, so the Saucony Kids shoes have officially passed all family tests. It was such a fun afternoon!

Teaching the kids how to tourist.

Hahahaha. Also, Baby Jake is adorable.