Friday, April 16, 2010

Hills, Like White Elephants: GA ING 2010 Marathon Race Report

This is my third time sitting down to write my 2010 GA marathon story. It has been 3 weeks since I ran ING and I think I can finally write what I have long wanted to say. This is not to say that I am so full of myself that I really think anyone cares or wants to know-- or doesn't already know for that matter-- how the marathon went. But I need to tell it.

Just so I can move on.

For me a good story is one that first and foremost entertains. Second, I like a story I can chew on, taste. You know, one that may not necessarily inspire--though that is the ideal-- but at the very least beg a thought. So when I come to write at my blog those are my intentions: first to entertain, second to leave the reader with something to think about.

My favorite compliment, well favorite after being told I am thin or pretty or funny, is when someone brings up something I wrote. Even if they didn't agree with it, like it, say something nice or whatever, I know--just by them remembering it and mentioning it-- that something I had to say stuck with them beyond words on a page, (or screen if you are the hair splitting type.) That is huge. And it let's me know that. Me? I. Was in your brain-- whether you liked it or not. And well, that's a little bit of power, don't you think? (Hmmm, maybe THAT is the hurricane I am looking for . . .)

So, the first time I started writing my race story I was bored by the second paragraph. And surely if I was bored writing it I was fairly certain you would be bored reading it. So I quit on it. Set it aside.

Now, I like to tell stories. Anyone who has ever met me will be the first to say they are not all good. And if you are long time reader of this blog you know first hand that I am not afraid to tell a long ass boring story. Sometimes, okay a lot of times, it is just Nat wanting to hear herself talk about herself. And I will warn you, this is a little bit of that.

The marathon story though, I think we all know that is always one of my favorite stories to tell. I want to do it justice. I want to tell it right and if I am being honest, I do want my little 26.2 mile journey to inspire because, well, the marathon does inspire me. It is always a story and that story, no matter how it plays out does have a viable end. It is up to you, the runner, to reach that end--the finish line-- and live to tell that story and all the delicious details. And I have to say that one of the very things that motivated me during the marathon three Sundays ago when I was most ready and so desperate to quit, was that I really wanted to see how the story that day ended. That kept me going. Well, one of many things that kept me going. And that day, I needed a lot of things to keep me going.

Let me tell you. That was one hell of a "story" I ran. But trying to tell about it has some how been harder, even more painful that the 3 hours and forty one minutes and some odd seconds it took to run the damn thing.

On my second writing I thought for sure I could do it. Ryan was out of town, the kids were occupied--Carmella with a play date and Beau with a 250 piece Lego Star Wars model. There were no excuses! I had time to write. . .

As I sat down to write I found myself going down the same path as before and not exactly telling the story. I was frustrated. Beau, next to me with his gazillion Lego pieces spread out around him, was also frustrated. He wanted my help. I told him that putting a gazillion tiny puzzle pieces together to form a rocket ship was too frustrating for me and would just make me cranky, okay, crankier. I tried to tell him that doing the hard work himself would make him feel good-- proud in the end. But even as I said that I knew that wasn't exactly true.

Hadn't I worked my ass off these past months through injury, illness and training? Pushing myself through long training runs in subfreezing temperatures. Running even when I didn't always want to. Didn't I do the hard thing? Hadn't I earned myself a good race? Wasn't I due? And while I will I admit that finishing did feel good--mostly because it was over-- it wasn't what I expected. It was not the catharsis that I was looking for, the denouement that I really, really needed.

How in the hell was I going to write a feel good race report about a race that left me feeling not so good, still so un, undone?

So for awhile I decided the answer was that I wasn't going to write about it. I mean really, couldn't we just leave it that it sucked, it hurt and I am just fat, old and slow.

The problem of course is that writing is a little like running for me. I always feel guilty that I am not writing. For some reason, and I have had this in my head at least since I was in middle school is that I am suppose to be writing. I promise you, no one ever told me that I needed to or should be writing. Just like no one ever told that I should be a runner. But not doing those two things causes me a great of deal of guilt and inner turmoil when I don't do them. And most of the time, I just live with it. I get by.

So the not writing has nibbled at me to no end. The other day I went out for my first long run since the marathon and I realized that problem was not about me having to write about a bad race but rather one of me trying to write what I didn't know about. Funny how the simplest answer is often the right answer. I know. I've heard it a thousand times over. You know it, don't you?

Say it with me now: write what you know. . .

And that is when I realized that I needed to write about the elephant in the room. The one that has been hanging out with me for the past 8 months . That I need to write about my white elephant and say the things I that haven't said. Because that is my story. The story that has been hurting me, troubling me and has kept me away from blogging. And for certain, if you have made it this far you've probably figured out that the only thing I am borrowing from Hemingway is his title.

The Race: Ga ING Marathon 2010. Marathon #11 for me

I had gone to the expo Friday afternoon. The kids and I chilled at home and went to bed early. Ryan was turkey hunting and had taken the dog with him. Saturday I was to drop the kids off after lunch at Bubbles and Poppy's to spend the night. Ryan would be picking the kids up Sunday when he got back in town. So the next 2 days were mine to think only about me and my little race and of course, the best part, the after race festivities.

Saturday morning I did wake up with a new and weird pain/sensation in my left hamstring. I stretched and jumped up and down and figured that it was not a muscular injury but something nerve related. I even thought it was most likely just in my head, you know, pre race nerves. So I did a little yoga and while I felt off and had some issues with the left side I figured again, just in my head.

After lunch I dropped the kids at my in law's. Pulling in the driveway I grabbed the mail and the first thing I noticed was a big yellow enveloped addressed to the Parent's of Beau Fischer with "confidential" stamped across the front. Though surprised to have it so soon I knew exactly what it was.

In January I had demanded that the school evaluate Beau for a learning disability. Bet you didn't know you could do that. I didn't either until his teacher, in brief passing, mentioned that he "might be a candidate for retention." When she said that I was at first devastated and then I was very, very angry.

Had I not asked repeatedly in kindergarten if Beau should repeat kindergarten?
Yes, I had.
And had I not told them that both Ryan and I had been retained in 3rd grade and I did not want to hold my child back after kindergarten?
Had I not asked all.the.damn.time. if they saw signs of ADHD or dyslexia?
Since these things tend to run in families and Ryan, his mother and his brother all have Dyslexia and I was diagnosed at age 6 with ADHD? Never mind the fact that children with phonological processing disorders, like Beau has, almost always have some other disability that impacts their learning wouldn't it make sense to assume that rather than he was just "young".

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I do think I mentioned all of these things -- all.the.time.

But until January I was always assured that he was fine, just a little behind in reading-- but because of his speech issues this was somewhat expected. They felt with some extra help he would just catch up. All the while I had been working with Beau nearly an hour everyday after school and riding Beau's ass to straighten up his act.

I have to wonder, if the intention was always to retain him why was he, why were we, bothering to work so hard? I mean if your going waste someones time and make them do it all over again why ask them to bust their asses like it is going to make one damn bit of a difference?

So I insisted that before I would even consider him to be retained they must evaluate him to see if ADHD or some other language based learning disability was impacting his progress at school. I could see the writing on the wall and the "he is immature" crap wasn't flying with me. This MY child we are talking about and you are not going to rob him of a year of his life even if he is just 6 years old. I do not care that his birthday is July 28th and the cut off is September 1st. I know the immature story well having both the luck of having ADHD and also a July birthday. It doesn't matter. If you have a learning disability that is not being addressed you are not going to outgrow it and waiting another year to figure it out and address it just a waste of time. Beau's time. Why set him up to under achieve his entire life when what he needs is some special intervention, instruction or so be it, medication? You think repeating a year is going to cure that?

They tried the "well he is making progress, why don't we wait six weeks and then re evaluate?" spiel but I was having none of it and insisted on the evaluation. They told me the evaluation would be complete by mid April.

So I was not expecting it in mid March. And certainly not in a yellow envelope on the Saturday the day before my marathon when I was home all alone. I contemplated opening it. Knowing that what I might read might me a little sad. It occurred to me that it might be better to wait until after my marathon, in case the evaluation was really upsetting. But I just couldn't not open it. I told myself that no matter what Beau would still be the Beau I know and whatever the evaluation said would not change that.

So of course I read it and while I didn't understand all of it I did get the gist. Beau is ADHD and it is severely impacting his life at every facet. I knew this. I've always known this. But of course, I didn't want it and seeing it made no more denying or wondering if I was wrong after all. What I really wanted was it say that Beau had been pretending. That he is so smart that this is all trick he is playing on everyone for his own entertainment. That really, he is a genius. So gifted that we are all a joke to him. But no. That is not what it said.

Unfortunately, Beau is like me. And I think, I can safely say, that as parents we only want our children to inherit our gifts not our baggage. And certainly not the very thing that has burdened us our entire lives, making us question our validity as a person. If life is an uphill battle then having ADHD is a life spent trying to shortcut that hill but finding that instead you always, always run the longest zigzagged tangent to reach the top. That is if you even make it to the top. And if you do? The downhill slope is even longer, even steeper and more treacherous.

I was six when I was diagnosed with ADHD. Apparently, as my mother tells the story, she was called in on my 3rd day of first grade and pretty much told that if I was not medicated I would not be able to make it through school. So, to me, it is ironic that I had to jump through hoops and beg to get Beau's diagnosis which is, apparently, equally as obvious.

I hated, even at age 6, Ritalin. I often would pretend not to take it and would, of course, always be figured out no matter how hard I tried to fake it. My personality was so different on/off medication. My parents tried some of the alternative methods but the only thing that ever worked for me was Ritalin. It was, literally, the difference between flunking out of school or making honor roll. There was no in between for me.

I even had F's in behavior without it. God bless the patience of my sixth grade English teacher Mr. Wright. My parents tried the first quarter without Ritalin and Mr. Wright, determined to make it okay for me, tried so many different things. The final straw was when he moved me to a place in the classroom where no one was sitting next to me because there was no one I wouldn't talk to. So, I made up an imaginary friend: Fred. Mr. Wright was so obliging of my imaginary friend that he would even grade Fred's tests and answer all the questions that "Fred" would ask. Of course, Fred and I both got F's because I was rushing through not only my work but Fred's as well. Finally, Mr. Wright had a chat with me about maybe it was time for Fred to stay home and by that point Fred was already gone and I was back on the Ritalin and did well the rest of the year. And so it went, for 15+ years of my life--all the way until I finished (finally) undergraduate school--I would try school without the aid of Ritalin. And the results went like this, always: fail classes, go back on Ritalin, catch up and make straight As. My first quarter of high school I failed 3 classes and got d's and c's in the other classes. It took Ritalin and making A's and B's and taking extra classes to get my GPA up to a 3.0 by the time I graduated. Only thing I can say for myself is thank God I can take a standardized test like nobody's business or I would have never gotten into college. And I will say I am most proud that I made it through graduate school and made a 3.7 GPA without ANY medication. But like I said, only took me 15 or so years of being medicated to figure out how to do that.

And obviously, somehow I survived but I am hardly a success story. And of course, why would I want this for my child? Why would anyone?

After reading the evaluation and before I let myself completely lose my shit I did the one thing I always do when I need answers: I Google and go look at books. I sat for an hour in Borders on the floor in front of the learning disability shelf glancing through every book they had on ADHD. I don't know what I was looking for. I've lived with the disorder my entire life. I don't think there is a single book out there is going to tell me anything that I don't already know.

Okay, I do know what I was looking for. I was looking for the chapter where it would tell me that Beau is going to be okay. That my child is not going to have a life long struggle. That he won't be running zigzag uphill forever his life too. I wanted to read the sentence that said your child will lead a blessed existence.

But where, for anyone, is that ever written?

And I did realize that enough in the bookstore to collect myself and made it to my car before I lost myself to a sea of tears and blubbering hiccups as I drove myself home. I cried til I had no more tears and I finally decided I was done with it. I drank 2 beers, wrote a wistful blog about hoping for a hurricane, ate my dinner, set 3 alarms and crawled into bed at 8:30.

Of course I didn't sleep. And at midnight I got up and took a Tylenol. My hamstring still felt funny and because of all my crying I had a raging headache. Then I commenced laying in bed waiting for 4 am to come. I was eager to run. Hopeful even. Thinking, ridiculously, that if I could conquer all the hills that ING threw at me and run a good race, - then Beau could too. My mind is simple and confused and sometimes the equation x +y equals whatever the fuck I want it to. Okay?

So on to the race! I know, finally, huh? It is a marathon. . .
I was up at 3:58 am because oversleeping is something I rarely do and I hate to be awakened by alarms. I might have some problems with my attention span but my body has time nailed down. I went about my routine and since I had packed two days prior it was a pretty effortless morning. Especially since I had no kids, husband or dog to worry about. I was in the car at 5:15 am headed to my sister's. Pulling out of the driveway I wrote HTFU on my arm, deciding that today, if there was ever a day, I was gonna need a motto.

I arrived at my sister's as planned at 6 am. Pookie was again running the half--I have yet to convince her of the awesomeness of the marathon. Her bff from childhood, Leah, was also running the half--her first, and new girl Caroline was running the half as well. Oddly, Pookie and I were dressed exactly alike in our black skirts and white singlets. It was not planned but alas, how it often happens.
Here is me and the other girlies: Caroline, Leah, Me and Pookie.

Wes, as usual was our handler. He was tired (read hungover) from his race the day before. He is crit dude.Not so sure about his outfit here. I think he was confused and thought by marathon we meant safari. Nice compression socks!

On the ride to the start we discussed finish line plans. It was suppose to rain so I didn't count on anyone staying to see me finish; especially since they were all doing the half. Even on my best day and their worst an hour is still too long to ask people to wait for you in the rain and cold. I told them that I wasn't feeling it and I would be lucky to go under 4. They laughed at me and said don't you always run under 4? Yes, most times I do but I've learned, when it comes to the marathon, expectations are not your friend. Anything can happen. So we left it with I would text when I finished and we would figure out a meeting spot then. I wasn't worried. I figured I would find away home somehow--assuming, I could get myself to the finish line.

Wes dropped us in front of CNN with about 35 minutes until start time. I still had to drop my bag at gear check so I decided to jog the bazillion miles to the park. Okay it was like one but geez could they have made any more of maze at the start . . .

I made it to bag check and then scoped out the potty lines. Uhm, yeah I wasn't waiting in that. I popped a squat behind a dumpster near some guys and not far where I saw some rent-a-cops chatting. Renegade am I!!! This is the beauty of wearing a skirt. I can almost make it look like I am tying my shoe but really? I am peeing! I had similar talent in 6th grade when I was like the only girl who didn't wear a bra and could completely change for gym without anyone seeing my underwear or rather, lack there of. My talents? Many and varied.

I pushed through the ridiculous crowd up to corral c. Then I excused and pardoned myself to the front of the corral. I spotted the 1:40 half pace sign and fell in near it. At the same time I saw my friend Greg. I pinched his ass as a way to say hello. He startled but then rolled his eyes when he saw it was me. Then I realized I was standing next to Nora. All happy! My biking riding peeps. Actually, Greg is also my 5am swim buddy too. I tried to be hopeful but really I was not. I tried the it is going to be an AWESOME day self talk! Which by this point, I have to say is total bullshit. Sometimes I think it is going to be an awesome day and it is and other times I will still think this and it totally sucks big giant ass.

The night before I had printed out a bunch of pace bands: 3:25, 3:30 3:35 and even, insanely, for shits and giggles: 3:19. I threw them all in the trash on the way out the door to the race. So I had all these splits bouncing around in my head. I do, after all these marathons of going for 3:30 have the 8 min mile splits by heart. For whatever reason this year the only marathon pace groups were 3:40, 4 hours and I think 4:15. Since I, of course wanted to PR and having run 3 times sub 3:45 (my BQ time) on this course I felt the pace groups were not of much help and that my best bet was to not see any of them.

I decided my best game plan (if you can call 3 minutes before the gun formulating your game day plan a plan) was to stay behind the 1:40 pace group until they went off around 7 miles and try to hit the half in under 1:45. I figured I can always hobble out a 2 hour half for a BQ at worst case (or you know, just quit) but under 1:45 for the first half would still give me the opportunity to possibly PR.

As we waited for the start I bemoaned that I wasn't cold. I had trained happily all winter in the freezing temps and have come to realize that my body performs much better in the freezing and dry than in the cool and humid. At the start it was around mid 50's and humid. I was, quite frankly, a little warm in my singlet, skirt and calf compression sleeves. I was glad I left the arm warmers behind but I knew I was going to be hot anyway.

I never remember how it starts; whether there is gun or someone just tells us to go. In bigger races it really doesn't matter since I am never on the front of the line. I just know to go when the crowd goes. You move forward like cattle trying to get out of the holding fence to a greener pasture. And it is funny--not haha funny, but funny peculiar-- because there is always a bit of congestion. Again, borrowing the cattle analogy, everyone tries to push through the gate opening; all wanting to be the first cow out. Only in a race it is just the start line and the road hasn't narrowed like a gate opening would but nevertheless everyone still gets all jacked up on each other trying to get across the line and hit their watch at the same time. And I would guess, considering the congestion, that most runners when asked this question: Can you run and chew gum at the same time? Would have to say no since most of them can't seem to start their watch as they cross the start line without slowing or stopping. And yes, since I have ADHD I can run and start my watch at the same time without slowing down at all. Small gifts people, there are small gifts associated with ADHD and multitasking stupid stuff is one of them.

I always feel like I am holding my breath until I get across --and maybe I am-- but there is always a freeing, even relaxing moment when you find yourself finally on the race course; on the other side of that line.

I love that the ING marathon starts in the dark. You can still see because of all the street and building lights but I love running, at least in my mind, into the light. It doesn't happen all at once but as those first miles go by you are getting into the day little by little and leaving the night, the darkness behind. And I just think that is a very optimistic way to start a race. That is good race chi; even if you aren't feeling the good race chi yourself.

But I don't worry too much about how terrible I feel in the first mile. I try never to think about running for at least the first few miles ever because they are almost always terrible. If I can get to the place in my mind where I can forget that I am running by the time I need to actually think about running I am already in a rhythm and feeling the good vibrations. Unfortunately though during the first mile I immediately knew I was off. Something just wasn't right. I tried hard to ignore it. Tried to tell myself that my body would loosen up and it would all be good.

So I ignored the ache in my left hip, the tingling in my lower back where I had injured it two weeks before and my always argumentative and tight left Achilles. I wanted to think about other things, positive things and disassociate from the uncomfortableness but I was just sad and I couldn't let my mind think about the thing that was heavy on it.

Everyone always talks about how 90% of running is mental and I absolutely believe that. And never is this more true than in the marathon. Your greatest competition in a marathon is not the people you run against or the time on the clock but it is yourself. Ultimately, in the marathon, it comes down to how well you can argue against the negative self talk that will arise as the race progresses. Unfortunately for me during ING, not only was I having the internal battle in the first 10k but I was on the losing end of the argument.

I kept my eye on Greg who was going for sub 1:40 and tried to stay behind him and the dudes with the 1:40 pace sign. My first split was okay, about like last year around 7: 30. In fact I think I pretty much ran exactly has I had last year until about mile 8 or 9. At least that is what I remember thinking at the time.

I should say that I don't have a Garmin or even a traditional runner's watch. I have a watch I found around the house bought at some drugstore with unfortunately large start/stop/reset buttons that apparently I hit and reset or pause the time on. This leads me to believe that I must run like how Phoebe did in the Friend's episode that made Rachel too embarrassed to run with her. I also have a knack, because of this spastic style, for hitting the emergency stop button on the treadmill in the middle of my interval sprints. That is always awesome too.

Some what luckily, and also later unluckily, the course had clocks at about every split. So I got to spend the first few miles trying to reconcile the time on my watch with the time on the clock. I figured that I was about 20 or seconds behind the clock but I was never too sure of this. What would have probably helped me most was if I had just noted the actual time of day on my watch when I started. But I didn't do that. Instead I got to have fun doing math for my marathon.

Around 4 miles I usually feel good. Like my body finally gets on board with the program of running a marathon-- or maybe that is just when the endorphins kick in. Either way this was not the case that day. Even still, I was maintaining a good pace. From my calculations I was running around a 3:23 marathon finish time. This is of course, probably, too fast for me but really, nothing that I haven't done in many marathons. So at this point I am still entertaining that a PR, which would be sub 3:28, might actually happen . . .

Problem was that around 4 miles I was NOT feeling good. In fact, I was feeling worse. I had this new sensation in my right thigh along with my achy left hip and tight lower back. After struggling last fall with ITBS in my left leg I knew the pain well. Only I have never had in my right leg. I kept my pace and puzzled over the next 2 miles over what it meant. Yay! Something new to think about. Bad news is that it never works well for me to think about me while running.

My guess was that my stride was off. I wondered if it would correct itself or would it get worse, as ITBS pain usually does. There wasn't much I could do about it and decided I would still stick to my plan of getting to the half in under 1:45. I was able to maintain my pace but I knew that unlike last year it felt much harder to do this pace. It wasn't a heart rate thing so I didn't think I was going to eat the paste but it just wasn't comfortable. And if I have learned anything from the marathon-- no matter what your pace is-- that first half shouldn't feel hard or uncomfortable.

Sometime after 6 miles and before the half split I came to an aid station. My mom was working it and I was really happy to see someone I knew. I yelled out hi! And told her I felt awful and she said I looked good. Lies I am sure but I was glad that my misery wasn't apparent.

I will say I was doing very well with my nutrition. This was my 11th marathon and countless run over 20 miles so if nothing else I have my nutrition for running down. I had had a GU along miles 5-6 ( I divide it up, little bits over the span of a mile) and had hit every aid station I had come to with water and a little Gatorade. I was feeling hot but nothing I couldn't handle. But my body was not comfortable. Mostly that pain in my right thigh was most bothersome. I felt like my right leg was slapping the ground hard. My left Achilles, which had bothered me at the start, though was loose and was feeling better. My left hip still ached and my lower back would spasm every now and again. But most of all my heart, it just wasn't with me. It was heavy with self pity, mommy worry, and ultimately, failure--for me and for Beau.

It was then that I picked a new mantra--do the hard thing. Thinking about Beau and knowing that having ADHD, while not the most devastating diagnosis in the world, does mean that you have to make yourself do things all the time that hard for you and seemingly effortless for others--you know, like sitting still, paying attention, maintaining focus (long enough to get through a ridiculously long blog post. . .)

So even though I wanted to NOT run, and wanted to quit right then--in mile 8--I knew that I couldn't. For one thing I had no more marathons on my schedule until late next fall. I could not let myself go through another year of training without seeing one to completion even if it meant not PRing or even meeting my B goal of getting another Boston Qualifier.

While I had been okay about having taken a DNF at the Atlanta marathon in November I knew that ING was sort of my last stop. I had to finish. Also, I just wasn't at the point where the pain and discomfort really warranted quitting. My stride was off and I was quite uncomfortable but I still entertained that it could get better. My pace, though uncomfortable and harder than it should have been, was still good--I was still running sub 3:28 pace. I knew I wouldn't be able to hold it forever but honestly, 26.2 miles is a long way to go. Over that sort of distance a lot can change; nothing, especially only 8 miles in, is certain. Quitting then would have been giving up too early. Besides I had done a 13 mile run the week before( longest run since my back injury) so I KNEW I could run at least that far. Beyond that though . . .

So I became committed to doing the hard thing, for Beau. At some point I reasoned that I will have to explain everything to Beau. And by way of that I will tell him (sagely so, I am sure) that everyone in this world has obstacles, things they must overcome. I will tell him that some of us wait our whole lives to find out what our obstacle is, but some us, like me, like Beau-- get find out earlier. We get the gift of knowing what we are fighting against. We have the upper hand in that regard. And, I figure, if I want my child to do the hard thing everyday then I better have at least one specific example of where I did the hard thing and saw something through to the end.

In mile 8 I also realized I had stopped my watch since it had read 52 minutes for at least the last mile. This was sort of a downer because just having a running clock to go by gives me a distraction. Now I had to depend solely on the clocks placed at the splits and extrapolate the math from there. This meant that I would not have a constant math distraction but one that would only show up every 8-9 minutes or in some cases when there wasn't a clock even longer.

It was somewhere in mile 10 when I realized I had to let the PR pace go. It just wasn't going to happen.The pace was just too hard. I don't train by heart rate but I do have a pretty good idea of how my marathon pace should feel. And it was just feeling too hard. It shouldn't have, my training ( I think) was solid. Whether it was the warmer temperature, my recent back injury or because the pain I was feeling was causing my heart rate to be higher than it usually is-- it was just not going to be my day to have my race. You know, the hurricane in my pocket race. It wasn't going to happen--no matter how much I wanted it to be my day.

The next few miles were a total blur. I think it started to rain but I hardly noticed it other than that it made me feel a little cooler. I was mostly absorbed on not walking and just getting to the half split. I had another GU and did my best to try and fix my stride. By this point my right quad felt like it had a knot the size of a tennis ball in it. Periodically I would reach down and push hard on the spot, which did absolutely nothing.

As much as I would like to say I managed to keep my shit together I didn't. I was just running along--through I guess Decatur at that point-- and was totally miserable and crying. Thank goodness it was raining so no one could tell I was crying because for me the absolute worst thing that can happen to me when I am crying is for someone to ask me what is wrong. It always makes me feel even worse because then I have to add embarrassment to my litany of whatever reasons of why I am crying.

I was so happy to hit the half point. The clock said 1:42 and while I didn't know what I was going to about the next 13.1 miles I still had to run I was just so happy to have finished the first 13.1 and met my time goal. If nothing else, I thought, at least I ran a pretty good 13.1 miles for the day. And even met part of my plan.

And like last year when I hit the half I ducked into the open porto potty. I didn't really have to go but I just needed to be alone for second. Away from the marathon. I have no idea how long I was in that porto potty but it was enough time that I talked myself out quitting for the 100th time in the past hour and tried to stretch out my right quad that was in a complete knot. Stretching proved yet another pointless endeavor because the ankle over knee stretch sent my back muscles into a spasm. Frustrated, I started crying again which was immediately replaced by a string of cuss words because of the glance at the HTFU on my arm and Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer that was playing on my shuffle:
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev'ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
"I am leaving, I am leaving"
But the fighter still remains

So, it wasn't a clearing but a porto potty and I am not a boxer by any means but at that second I was sure feeling like I had had the shit kicked out me as if I had gone head to head with Ali. I was angry but I am a fighter. I am a fighter I told myself and I ran back out onto the course to continue to fight for more than what was just a silly race. Sometimes, if you want to do something-- finish something-- you have to figure out a way make it more important that in reality it is.

And so, with the ideals of Pr and sub 3:30 gone I headed into the Druid Hills section of the course. It is rollers. Up and down. And I ran when it didn't hurt so horribly to run. I did have some good moments. Some fleeting periods where I thought I could maybe recoup my race but then the pain would be horrible and I would have to walk. Walking is the absolute worst! You not only get passed by people you passed a few minutes before but because they are running and you are walking you feel almost like you are going backwards. And the walking is even worse when you have to walk up a hill. And there is a reason why this area of Atlanta is named Druid Hills. I've yet to see a Druid in there but hills? Oh yeah. In past years I have loved this section and actually have run it really well.

Not this year. I did not love it but I did make it my best effort to run the uphill if I was able and save my walking for other areas. I also tried to be encouraging to others in this section.

I personally felt like a lost cause and was just set on somehow finishing. My discomfort increased the more I ran and while I was in total misery I was somewhat in awe at how horrible it all was. A part of me, okay a big part of me, really wanted to see how it played out. I entertained a few different versions in my head: there is of course the obvious crawling across the finish line scenario. Then there was the collapsing on the course. In that scenario I wondered if people would just run by and ignore me or maybe I would get lots of sympathy and attention. You know me, I hoped for the latter.

Yet I still ran on and finally found myself at Piedmont Park but I was absolutely dismayed upon the scene running into the park. I knew there had been course adjustments so that the full marathoners wouldn't have to run with the half marathoners but I was very unhappy about the methodology in the park to make that happen. There was this crazy out and back loop. You could see it--it was like a maze of white temporary fences with orange tape. This is also the portion the first winner of the marathon left out. He, of course got DQ'd. He says it was because he followed the pace car but really I bet he just didn't want to run that part. I know I didn't.

But I did and it was at that point that both my feet went completely numb. I was pissed. I thought: this is the final straw. My back hurts, my hip huts, my right quad is useless, I have a headache and now I can't feel my feet. I ripped my headphones out of my ears because everything was just irritating more than I could stand for that second. I slowed again to walk and just went a long cussing in my head, hating on the world more than I even thought was possible. I thought: That's it. I'm gonna call Wes to come get me. I pulled out my phone and looked along the park to see where I could tell him to come get me. And it hit me. That if I wanted to quit I was going to have to walk at least a mile to even get to a place where Wes could pick me up. Then I would probably have to wait another 20 to 30 minutes. And who quits a marathon at 22.5 miles with HTFU on their arms?

So I put my ear buds back in my ears. Staying Alive by the Bee Gee's was playing and I figured at least that much was true. Then I saw the the leader of the 3:40 pace group. That was not happiness for me. That meant that I had to really really HTFU if I wanted my Boston Qualifier. And that is when I told myself that really, I was doing the best I could that day. I wasn't flaking out, as I have done in the past. It wasn't success but if I was being honest with myself, it was the best I could do that day. I was doing the hard thing. Sadly I was getting my ass kicked by a course that I have run much more successfully in the two years prior but on that day I was giving the best I could. And really, that is all anyone can ever ask of themselves. And I told myself, next year would be a better year. Oddly it made me happy that as miserable as I was and as much as I was hating my race that I still wasn't giving up on the marathon.

Running up some hill in mile 23 I came up on my friend Kirk. He was looped out and while he said hi to me and seemed to listen as I prattled on alongside him as we inched painfully up the last of the slow hill hell to the finish line it was a few minutes before he realized that he really did know me. I felt again a little surge of getting 'er done and I picked up the pace, leaving Kirk behind.

I leap frogged those last miles with a variety of runners and mostly tried to stay ahead of the 3:40 pacer I had seen in the park on that out and back portion. I knew at that point that I was over a 3:40 finish but still under 3:45. Doing math at that point proved impossible. And even though I was running I felt like I might as well have been crawling for how slowly those last miles were passing. I know it took me about 35 --give or take minutes to go from Piedmont Park to the finish line but it felt longer than the whole first half of the race had taken me to run. Time was just moving ridiculously slow. It was Twisted Ankle all over.

In the last mile and half the 3:40 pacer finally caught me. We chatted and he tried to encourage me, thinking I was part of his group, that I would go under 3:40. I was too tired and hurt too much to try to explain any of it to him. He surged on and I was in the middle of the pace group but at that point I couldn't tell who was a part of it and who wasn't. I did make me feel better that everyone, except that pacers, looked pretty miserable. At one point a girl, in the last mile, stopped and started walking. I had been doing the exact same thing since the half point but I snapped her to "Get moving! You are almost done! You have this!" She looked at me in absolute shock so I must have had my mean Nat voice on. I had meant to be encouraging but from her expression I could tell it did not come across that way. So I decided no more talking, just get it done.

Around this point I recognized one of the runners I had been leap frogging with as Christian from Run 100 miles. We have never met personally but I know of him because we have lots of mutual friends and I have read his blog. He seemed pretty focused and my back was killing me so I didn't say anything. I have always run the last mile of every marathon I have run but about a half mile from the finish my back started spasming and I had to walk. I had the talk again and checked my arm, HTFU, and told myself less than 5 minutes if I would just run. I could see Christian up ahead, since he was running and I was walking he had manged to put some distance between us. He became my focal point. I chased him down. In the end he still beat me, crossing the finish line a second before me but he reeled me in. I introduced myself to and congratulated him on a great race. It was a PR day for him. So congrats!

I was happy to finish but it was not that same "I did it!" feeling I usually have. But I guess they can't all be great. While I wasn't proud of my time or at all how I ran I was proud of myself for doing the hard thing. I guess the life lesson here is sometimes you work your ass off, you can cry a bazillion tears and sweat like you deserve it and the result can still be a let down. The way I am choosing to see things is that even if I fail I am still better for having tried. It is still more than a lot of people ever do. And that's right, everything is a competition. And if it is a race for who tries and fails the most, I might very well have the gold in that race.

I left the finish area and headed towards the very far away bag check. It was nice, albeit still quite uncomfortable, to not have to run anymore. I could see where the bag check was and mentally navigated from my vantage point the shortest route to it. However a volunteer informed me that this was the exit to the park. I could not go this way. The shortest way. She explained, that I had to go further down the sidewalk to the entrance. At first I thought she was kidding so I just stood there. She again explained where I had to go and I said "but then I have to walk up a hill to get where I want to go." She seemed not to understand how terrible that was for me so I sighed and shuffled towards the entrance turning down the bananas that were being offered to me the whole way to the bag check. I must have looked pretty awful or exactly like a monkey for the number of times someone tried to give me a banana in the span of the 10 minutes it took to walk to bag check.

I managed to get my bag and then realized that I wasn't going to be able to put my pants on without twisting into a pretzel from cramping. (Right, but I hate bananas.) Bending over just was not something I was capable of. Being cold would just be easier. Finally, I reconciled misery and easy. Better than hard and miserable, right?

Wes texted me to meet him in the Tabernacle's parking lot. Oh, hell. I looked over the grassy field of the park, past the black wrought iron fence to yet another hill to walk up. I like hills, really I do but I was just done with them. I wanted at that second as I tin man walked towards Luckie Street to my waiting ride at the top of the hill, was to pull the fabric of Atlanta and straighten her crooked ass out. Then fold her up neatly in a prefect square that would fit in my pocket. Like a map. A simple, flat, easy to read-- even easier to traverse--map.

Regarding that white elephant. Wikapedia says this:
To possess a white elephant was regarded (and is still regarded in Thailand and Burma) as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. The tradition derives from tales which associate a white elephant with the birth of Buddha, as his mother was reputed to have dreamed of a white elephant presenting her with a lotus flower, a symbol of wisdom and purity, on the eve of giving birth. Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a gift of a white elephant from a monarch was simultaneously both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the animal was sacred and a sign of the monarch's favour, and a curse because the animal had to be retained and could not be put to much practical use, at least to offset the cost of maintaining it.

Similarly, some people say that ADHD is both blessing and curse. I definitely agree. I do enjoy having more natural energy and having a mind that jumps the tracks allows for some pretty cool out of the box ideas to pop in my head. The trouble lies in harnessing all that energy and those wild lightening thoughts. So I think it is a fair analogy to compare the struggles that come with living with ADHD as to being the owner of a white elephant. It is a gift but until you figure out exactly how to use that gift, make it work for you-- it will remain a curse. Unfortunately, I am still working on that part.

And to tie this back to the marathon and take a parallel step to about a fellow runner who has a white elephant of his own and always impresses me. My friend Jon Obst is a fantastic ultra runner who happens to have type 1 diabetes. He finished 7th at this year's ING running 2:45. It is knowing people like Jon and others who have the odds stacked against them and see them come out triumphant tells me that the white elephant is really what you make of it: burden or just a decoration that makes you a little more sparkly than everyone else. I think it really is a choice and a matter of perception.

I know that this was a ridiculously long race report and probably one of the least entertaining to read. I apologize because I feel I may have misled in my earlier assertion that I think a story should be entertaining. Certainly, I am a person that likes to laugh and strives to be funny but it has been hard to find humor in something that just hasn't always been so funny to me. I have spent a huge portion of my life trying to hide my ADHD, even being ashamed of it and often flat out denying it. And I am not saying I am all the sudden flag waving proud and ready to shout it out at every opportunity: I just don't want my son to grow up questioning his intelligence, his value as a human being like I did. So I had to put it out there. And it just seemed easiest to cushion it in between the hills of the GA ING marathon. Thanks for reading.

Some after race pictures:
This is Shannon. She is a chiropractor. I went to see her after the race and she took an x-ray of my pelvis. And guess what? The left one side was higher and forward. So I was crooked after all. My stride really was off. She fixed me up. I am still a bit crooked but it has all been better.
Leah celebrating after her first half marathon:

Alexis is going to be a marathon runner when she grows up.
Caroline and Pookie
I gave Wes the best wedgie ever. That's what happens when your underwear is hanging out of your pants.

Beer really does make everything better, even a not so great race.


  1. Thank you for having the balls to write this, to put it all out there as a mom and a runner. The idea that you think you failed, baffles me though.

    Imagine if Beau had just been thru one of his hardest days and times and he came to you with those thoughts. That he finished but failed. I bet you would deny his logic and tell him all the ways he overcame something. Which to me overcoming is the opposite of failing. They are so lucky to have such a fearless mama!

  2. well you did it again. All these disparate elements were spiraled together and brought into focus to form something quite elegant.

  3. This is such an inspiring race report, Natalie. Congrats on toughing it out through a bad day race when you had so many other things on your plate at the same time. I'm impressed that you ran all of those uphills, especially that brutal Stillwood Road section, and finished with a great time by my standards or by anyone else's. Well done!

  4. you are so right about the battling negative self talk. congratulations on doing the hard thing, both during your race and in sticking up for your son.

  5. I'm reading this again hoping for some courage to run later this am with Beau. My toe seems to be better; Dad's still asleep so I don't know about his knee. Now how sad is it that I'm worried that I can't keep up in a 3 mi race with a 6 yr old? BTW comment from anon. up above was me. See ya later by the river. Smut.

  6. Wow... I see why it took over 3 weeks to post, you had a lot to say!! I think my ADHD was kicking in being impatient reading this novel, LOL.

    There's always another race, not every race is going to be a "A" race, especially when you got a lot on your mind. Good job gutting it out anyways!!

  7. I read this yesterday, and really wanted to comment, but didn't know if it would be appropriate. I am never one to dog out another teacher, but here goes...

    It is terrible that the school/ Beau's teacher has made you feel this way. And yes, she HAS made you feel this way, whether you realize it or not. ADHD (in AL) is recognized under a special plan (504). It is NOT "special education" as you might think. So, the fact that he is not passing reflects more on the teacher than on Beau, in my opinion. If his school is anything like mine, the teacher is supposed to providing documented interventions when a child is reading below grade level. You should've been informed about these interventions as soon as they started.

    I wish Beau's teacher would've had one of my favorite professors in college. He taught me some really important things. Here are 2 lessons I use daily. Feel free to enlighten Beau's teacher.

    1. A child is his/her parents' prized possession. A child is a gem and should be treated as the most valuable piece of gold on Earth.

    2. Teachers and parents SHOULD want the same thing- for the child to be successful. Sometimes it might be hard, but when lines of communication are open, things will go the way they are supposed to.

    I currently have 2 students in my class with ADHD and one with ADD. All 3 are Honor Roll students. This is not something I'm bragging about, just trying to give you hope. The key to making it happen was working with the child (and parents) to find what was best to make that child successful. Beau is NOT doomed, nor will he always have an uphill battle. Thousands of children have ADHD and many grow up to be extremely successful adults.

    Also, in Alabama (probably in GA, too) the parent has the right to refuse retention. That's just food for thought.

    I really wish you all the best with this. I hope you and Beau's teacher can get on the same page and find what's best for HIM. It sounds like she's kept you in the dark and, frankly, doesn't feel like going above and beyond to help him.

    Hope you don't think this is out of line. I just really, really hate to see hard-working parents feel like they are failing. More than that, I HATE seeing children feel unsuccessful at school.


  8. La Runner
    Thank you for your comment. I do think Beau's teacher has helped him and tried what she thought was the best avenue. But ultimately I think she felt that avenue was retention. She did enroll him in Nov in the RTI program. The problem was she would say "he is making progress" And then would say: But he is doing fine other areas--meeting the standard (like math, science and LArts etc). And then she would say but I think he should be retained.

    I guess I was mostly unhappy with the process when I knew what the problem was. Even his doctor was shocked that I had to ask for the evaluation.
    And if I hadn't asked for the evaluation then what would have happened most likely is that Beau would still be far behind in reading, repeat first grade and maybe get to the average reading level yet be bored out of his mind with everything else and have behavior issues, er more behavior issues. They may or may not ever get to the point where he would be evaluated and he would always struggle, always be behind and also be under performing.

    Beau is not going to be retained. Only his teacher has that opinion. The psychologist and others that evaluated him agreed that retention would be detrimental since he is not behind in the other ares. Because he is in speech he has always had an IEP and not also has one for the ADHD since he has a medical diagnosis of it. He will be pulled for Special Ed for reading in hopes to catch him up. It is small group that will use the Orton-Gillingham method of instruction. He will also be retested/evaluated next spring to ensure that he does not also have a language based disability since the severity of the ADHD impacted his ability to do many of the tests. In some cases he would just write anything down so he didn't have to do it. The psychologist said "he was a bit of a puzzle" as she wasn't sure all the time what she was getting since he wouldn't/couldn't always cooperate.

  9. Continued

    We started him on medication this week and already are seeing a dramatic difference. Even Beau is happy about it because he can actually sit still long enough to complete a task.

    I suppose this year had to happen and hopefully next year will be better. I do feel we are on the right road. My only regret is that I didn't know until Jan of this year that I could demand an evaluation be done. It was like a hidden secret.Which is one of the reasons I wrote this. You can always have your child privately evaluated and it will cost you around 3,000-5000 dollars out of pocket. I am sure this is why the state doesn't want to do it since it will cost you nothing. I have to admit that I was quite relieved to find that the state covers this cost (which I am sure that is why it isn't advertised) because we would have had to use Beau's college fund to pay for it. And at the time I was thinking I was going to need every penny to pay for the 20-30k it costs around here to send kids with ADHD or Dyslexia to private school. And no, I had no idea how I was going to make that happen.

    I do think the public schools can be a great place for kids with learning challenges but you really have to know and be willing to ask for them. The services are there but, and guess it is a money issue, they are not made as available as you might think.

    Lastly, FWIW, Beau loves his school, his teacher and his friends. He is aware that he can't sit still, focus and is easily distracted. This year I have noticed some behaviors cropping up: chewing on sleeves and shirt collar, faking an illness to get out of class during time that require sitting quietly and listening. These were his coping mechanisms and it seemed as the months progressed new ones would appear. But this week, since he started his medication, they have all disappeared.

    It seems that his medication doesn't make him feel as terrible as Ritalin made me feel. So I am hopeful. It is crazy because until very recently, I thought medicating a child was the worst thing you could ever and should be a very very last resort option because of my own experience.

    Every child does deserve to love school and to do well and I am making damn sure that is what happens for Beau. Well, for both my kids. Carmella, is clearly, an example of some recessive genes at work.

  10. Wow. One of your best posts ever.

    Just so you know, coming from someone who has known you long enough to have seen the ADHD kid and teen you were (although at the time, of course, i didn't know what that was), and then to see you succeed in college and then blossom into a wonderful mother (and someone I consider a dear and great friend), I have never thought you failed, or let anyone down, or let yourself down, in any way.

    I think you are amazing, and the fact that you can understand where Beau is coming from, and that you are strong enough to advocate for him getting what he needs educationally will get him through the bumps.

    You are a wonderful role model for him, in the way that you always make the best of things thrown at you (a quality I admire in you) and i think you will find that when he is an adult, he will recognize how lucky he was to have you for a mom.

    Anyway, wonderful writing, interesting things to chew on here. And I hope that writing this was cathartic for you - i always feel better after I get a big one off my chest.

    You obviously owe me a beer, after all this nice stuff I was forced to say here.

  11. Howdy! Congrats on ANOTHER BQ! Many runners are lucky to get one BQ, but you knock them off even when you're in obvious pain (many different levels of pain too)

    I'm flabbergasted when you say, "couldn't we just leave it that it sucked, it hurt and I am just fat, old and slow." You are NOT fat, and just look at those photos, you don't look a year over 30!! Slow? Geez, you're downright fast, this race wasn't a PR...BUT, we both know you still have many PR's inside your yet!

    This race could be a metaphor for your life, many difficulties, pains and challenges, yet you conquered them all and came out the victor.

    Don't be so darn tough on yourself, life is suppose to be a trail of tears, the best we can do is accept those challenges and make life a little less painful as possible.

    You are so fortunate in so many ways, you have a loving husband, GREAT children, and you're a fantastic role model for those of us who are not as fast, intelligent, or simply have your high level of guts! It's been an honor to know you through those years of reading your blog. Don't ever stop.

  12. You write a GREAT blog! I was scouting out race reports about the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon (which I'm running tomorrow) and found yours! Thanks for the great race report and the inspiration.

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