Friday, June 28, 2013

The 500th mile: doing The Thing I Never Did

I don’t know when the first time I was I climbed the high dive in a pool. I was young. I grew up in water. Swimming was one of my favorite things to do and I loved the diving boards. I jumped, belly flopped—and even did some real diving with some okay skill as a kid. I was a fish child. Water was my friend. And then it was my enemy. But only when I walked up to the high dive.

I don’t like heights when I am exposed to the outside in them. 30 story building, no problem—unless I go out on the balcony. It’s not a serious fear. I will do it but it makes me a bit cautious—especially like on building ledges (and let’s not discuss how I have even ended up on building ledges but I have). But the high dive was the worst. Climbing a ladder and walking out on a narrow springy board and then standing over water and jumping in—well, it was too much. The height is what got to me.

Every. Single. Time.

I never did it. I think I remember the last time I turned around and walked down the ladder. I did it so many times, though, that it’s hard to be sure. Even with people behind me in line, it never mattered. I just wouldn’t do it. I was too afraid. So fish child was truly a fish and didn’t like leaping too high out of the water.

I can’t recall what made me get the idea—maybe swim lessons this summer? All I know is as I talked about reaching my 500 mile running goal, going off a high dive sounded like a really good way to mark it. So somewhere this summer I asked my coach, who I was meeting with via Skype, if there was a high dive in town. I wanted to jump off of it when I visited.

What made this really ideal was the 500 mile mark. On January 1, I decided, almost impulsively, that the way to guide my running, which I had just returned to doing not long before, was to set a mileage goal for 2013. I didn’t want it to be unrealistic because I wanted to be successful. So I looked at 500 miles—averaging to 1.36 miles a day. There was little doubt in my mind I could pull that off even without heavy running. I had no idea what was to come.

So on January 1, I headed out to iLan park in the Kansas City area, part of the amazing trail system the city says, unmatched by most places with its miles and miles of asphalt trails. It was cold and very icy. I did 1.5 miles that day at a 14:44 pace. I could only go so far because the ice patches were so slippery and I was so new. 1.5 miles down.

And every day after that I went—with a rest day each week. Faithfully. Through work. Sickness. A knee problem. Through grief, pain, rejection, joy, laughter. I went over and over through a crazy, frigid, snowy winter. I didn’t have the right clothes, couldn’t afford the nice stuff to keep me warm. I pilfered hats and gloves from the mud room in the house where I lived. I wore and old sweatshirt very a long sleeved shirt. When the wind blew I was sure my face was forming icicles.

But I ran.

When I knew I was going to Texas, I was glad that I would have the spring to acclimate to warmer weather before being thrown into Hotville. But it never happened. There were snow flurries up until the day before I left Kansas City in late April.

I ran to Texas. I drove to Oklahoma City, adding a day to my trip to run around Lake Hefner. I drove on and ran in cites where I had job interviews, on to Dallas where I ran around Sherman, then Dallas, and on to College Station where the heat and misery assailed me.

Now the goal was to take OFF as many clothes and possible to run comfortably. I had lost some decent weight by then but not enough to run in a sports bra (and make no mistake, in that heat, I absolutely would if I had even close to the shape for it).

By now my mileage was climbing and I was about to run a half marathon. Then I flew off to North Dakota for that. Knocking off 13 miles in one run was sure helpful toward achieving my goal. And back to College Station I went to run another month or so in lows that ran in the mid-to-high 70s with 90-something percent humidity. It was miserable like I could not explain. I was not becoming acclimatized to it. I would cry.

But I would run.  

I kept up with my mileage, sometimes doing creative things like putting a really long run in on a cooler day and doing a second long run late that week, using the next week to even out the mileage. Quitting was not an option.

You see, I didn’t just start running because I wanted to lose weight. I started running because it was my love that got away years before. I started running because I had lost love and hope and wasn’t recovering. I started running to keep myself sane and find some balance in a chaotic world. I started running to conquer the things that ached too much to stand still any longer.

It was by sheer chance that travel would bring me back to Kansas City the very week I was scheduled to hit 500 miles. I did not plan that or do anything to make it happen. I was pretty surprised to see how it fell, but it was meant to be.

I have a home on the trails of this city. I know the nuances, the turns, the duck crossings. I know where to park when I need a 5K run, or how far out to go for a 4 miler or a 10-miler. I have run from Overland Park on one side to Leawood on the other, from Leawood, KS into Kansas City, MO. I learned to run hills in this city. A 300 ft climb in one run wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t always a lot of fun, but it was typical height.

I have left at least 35 pounds on the trails, pounded into asphalt and run over by Pink Magic, then blown away by cold winter winds.

I have processed my life, by myself, with the trees as my only audience. Before I could begin to process anything out loud, as I have recently begun to do, I took it to the trails.

I remember days I ran fending off tears of grief and pain. I remember days I bounced down the trails beaming with joy. I remember days I was distracted, I didn’t want to run, but I did it anyway.

So many cups of frozen yogurt and Ice Cube chocolates. So many Hy-Vee salads and chicken sandwiches. Slowly I made progress, quickly my heart clung to the run.

Through it all, I have run. And this goal is one of many, not the end. I quickly set up my RunKeeper for another 500 mile goal this year. I plan to hit 1000 miles and add a marathon to the mix. I’m in week 2 of training now.

But the high dive was a celebration because if you’re going to live you should live loud. I met my coach at the pool with the high dive—I ran that half mile I had left at my fastest pace. I stripped to swim clothes and walked up the ladder to the high dive and before I could think, I jumped. In a spilt second the haunting fear of The Thing I Never Did was gone. I was in the air. In the water. Deeper than I had ever been. Because I jumped from higher than I had ever jumped.

I’m a runner. A real one. I run every day. I run races, I analyze stats. I work on my time. I recover from bad runs by running more to erase the memory. But I am just a beginner. I don’t know if I will ever feel like a real expert. Running is ever-changing. Every run is different, even if you run exactly the same route. There is always a new race, new weather, new obstacles, new victories. Last night I took  break to conquer a fear and eat pizza with my coach/friend who came to chronicle my victory and cheer me on.

But the week isn’t over and I have a 7-mile long run. Because when you’re running a marathon, you just keep going. 

A pictorial account:

 Before my last half mile... nerves! Once I started I was minutes from the high dive.

 Random scene from the run. I got to do the last half mile at a favorite spot.

 This is an actual shot of me holding up my RunKeeper as it turned to 500 miles and I finished that last step.

Pictures of stats after my RunKeeper turned to 500.

Random pictures of the jump. In the interest of non-traumatic pictures I left bike shorts on :-)

 Had to do some real diving off the low dive too, of course!

 Yes, I did!

Yep. All the way up the ladder and this time I got off on the other side! VICTORY!

This is Jan. She's my coach, a lifelong fitness expert and professional--and a great cheerleader and listener. What a blessing she has been to me on this leg of the journey! I joined a $10 a month gym last November and remain pretty sure I got more out of it than I ever paid into it. The pool attendants took these pictures for us! YAY!

Then we ate pizza and gelato to celebrate. It was good since I never eat such rich stuff!    
500 miles
Over 100 hours of running
53,689 calories burned
Pace per mile difference from first to last run of 500 miles: 4:23 minutes (tonight was my fastest and not multi-mile sustainable yet, but it's still significant).
My stats don't lie. I did it.
And while in the bathroom changing out of my swimsuit after the high dive adventure, I set a new goal: 500 MORE miles before Dec. 31. Complacency is not an option.

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