Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Reasons to Smile

I've had a rough year of barely running. I've written a lot about it, and I've tried not to make excuses. I simply haven't done the work, and I haven't been motivated. Period. It's been health issues/grief issues/plain lack of motivation. But somehow this past weekend, in a half marathon I had no business running, I found my motivation in the driving rain on Detroit's Belle Isle.

I registered for the Detroit Domestic Half Marathon on January 11, 2016. I was still in my serious running hiatus after New York, and I thought having races on the calendar would help. Two of our good friends were also running, and it would be my girlfriend's first half marathon. It's always such an awesome thing to share someone's first race with them, so I was really excited to register.

Fast forward ten months and the year has not gone as expected. Instead of my achieving my original goal of breaking 20 minutes in the 5k I ended up in a Crohn's downward spiral punctuated by a week-long hospital stay, months of steroids, and five cycles of antibiotics. Even once I started feeling better my motivation was shot. I ran the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in April and a few 10ks over the summer. That's been it. I haven't done a training run longer than five miles this entire year. I was not ready for Detroit.

I listened to my friend talk about half marathon training for the first time. She was running distances she'd never ran before. I was excited for her but felt disconnected from my own training (or lack thereof). We met on Saturday in downtown Detroit for the race expo, and it still didn't hit me that I was running the following day. I bought some cool swag, we had snacks and cocktails in the afternoon and a pre-race dinner at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Pre-race #WVU125
The domestic half is strange because it doesn't start until 10:30 am. The international half is well over by then, and we joined marathoners on the back part of the 26.2 course. I remember running the full marathon in 2010 and feeling like the last 13.1 miles were so dead. The international half has injected some life in those final 13.1 miles of the marathon. We took off in Cadillac Square promptly at 10:30 and headed toward the Lafayette Park neighborhood. I love Detroit so much, and I was determined to take in the course and crowds and enjoy the race without focusing on my time. I started with the two hour pace group knowing it was unlikely I'd finish there.

Taken by friends at mile 1
As we got into the stunning Indian Village neighborhood the heavens opened and it began pouring rain. It was so muggy the rain felt good. Indian Village houses brought the fun; there was music, beer, fun and frivolity. The first few miles flew by. As we turned onto Jefferson Avenue the rain was pretty significant. My shoes were water logged and squishy. 

The bridge to Belle Isle passed quickly, and as I ran onto the island right before mile seven I got my second wind. I remembered that point vividly during the full: it's where I hit my wall. A volunteer jogged beside me and encouraged me. She told me that if I completed this feat I'd be a marathoner, and I could do anything. I wish I could find that woman and thank her because that advice has helped me so many times. 

As we rounded the back side of the island the rain and wind hit their stride. We were running into nearly sideways rain, but I still felt good approaching mile eight. As we ran toward the riverfront I found myself smiling and continued to smile the last few miles of the race. The rain let up before mile 12, and spectators started commenting on my smile. "Look at her! She's got this with that smile!"  and "You look too happy! It's not supposed to be that easy!"

I felt so, so blessed. I ran down Larned Street and started reflecting on this year. I recalled barely being able to bend down and play with my son because my joints were swollen from steroids. I remember those runs in June and July where my body refused to cooperate. I knew this race was far from a personal best, but I felt great. I felt strong and healthy.

In 18 years of Crohn's (including six surgeries, numerous hospitalizations, about 125 IV infusions, countless CT scans, MRIs and lab work) my body has always bounced back. In my darkest days of the hospital last spring it never occurred to me that I wouldn't run again. I registered for races to motivate myself. I bought cute running clothes. Five months ago in the middle of the night in the hospital I KNEW my body would come through on race day. It would not let me down.

I smiled those last few miles because I have so much to celebrate. I got to see my absolutely amazingly supportive husband and son at the finish. I had a rock star cheering section and got to see my dear friend destroy her first race. In the wind and rain I took on 13.1 miles without training and ran 2:08:33. How can I not smile?

Finishing strong
My friend KILLED her first half. So proud!
Running the Detroit half gave me back my motivation, and I'm so excited for some big goals in 2017 (stay tuned!) I feel emotional for all the blessings I have but particularly for the ability to run. Race day has never let me down.

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