Tuesday, October 30

The challenge of perceived failure

I've been lucky with running so far. I've had good races, finishing in the middle of my age group, the middle of my gender, the middle of the pack of runners. It was nice to feel average especially since I only started running a year ago. Average felt like a real accomplishment. I've never kidded myself into thinking that I could win any of these races--I'm not an elite runner, like these awesome people who have wheels for legs and have been running since they were potty trained. My goal with every race is, as I've said before, to finish.

Well, it seems that just finishing races was enough for me until I started falling towards the back of the pack. Last Saturday's trail race put me in the last 5% of runners. I was happy to finish, but I was feeling bad about my performance. I bucked up and told myself that I was going to run that course two more times and that now I had a time to beat. Yeah. And I am going to beat it... But this Saturday I think I mentally put myself behind the eight ball before I got to the start line and I held myself there throughout the race.

I felt like the race could've been better organized. I'm not usually one to complain about venues or parking for races, but this was a little inconvenient. My boyfriend and I arrived at the park, parked the car where we were told to, and started walking towards the ice rink. When I realized it was about 15 minutes until the race started, I started jogging. I caught up with a few other runners who were having the same problem. We realized as we got closer to the ice rink that we had just jogged about two miles from where we parked.

Here I am as Fitness Barbie.
I got inside, picked up my bib and packet, and hurriedly prepped for the race--pin the bib, tie on the chip, secure the iPod, tie the shoes comfortably. My boyfriend handed me my water bottle, snapped a picture of me in my costume, and I rushed to the start line. I was already tired and feeling a little defeated. I kept wondering what I had missed in the race information about parking and the race start. I felt like it was my fault, even though there were others with the same problem.

The gun went off and we began to climb the first hill. The tagline for this race is "The first hill's a killer." They aren't kidding. I've never run up such a steep incline. Chalk it up to inexperience. I trotted up as long as I could handle and then walked. And walked. The hill just kept going. It felt like it should've been half of the race, for as much effort as it took to scale. I joked with one of the other runners that I had forgotten my rappelling gear.

After that hill, a brief reprieve, then another. And another. Even though these subsequent hills were smaller, they felt gratuitous and cruel. By this point, the pack had thinned out quite a bit and I knew I was in the back 10% without a question. I felt even more defeated.

I trudged along. When I saw the mile markers, they felt like lies. Surely I had run farther than that. I thought about quitting. I was having trouble breathing, my asthma inhaler felt completely useless, and it seemed like my chest couldn't expand enough to take in the air that I craved.

I'm pretty easy to spot in all that pink... I also appear to
dwarf everyone else in the photo.
I wasn't having fun anymore. I was plodding along for the sake of keeping up with other people, trying not to be last, feeling bad for myself because I felt so unqualified to run this race. I was embarrassed when, in the last mile and a half, the police officer at the barricade told me I could to it and I asked where the finish line was. He pointed and I swore aloud. I stopped running and walked till the finish line was a straight shot and pushed myself to jog across the finish line. My boyfriend was there and took a few pictures. I look angry.

Now that it's been a few days since that race, I've had some time to reflect. I'm not going to get all Pollyanna and say that I've learned so much from this experience, blah, blah, blah, but I have learned a few things.
  1. Plan the pre-race stuff better. Parking, bib pickup, and start line location should not be something I'm figuring out on race day. I *thought* I had this figured out for this race, but I should've confirmed this with a map or a phone call to the race organizers. Getting to the start line should not be a gauntlet in itself.
  2. If possible, run the course before the race. This probably wouldn't have been possible for this race, but the second best option would've been to talk to others who have run it and find out what it's like from them so I am a little better prepared for its challenges.
  3. Get out of my head. This is something I'm getting better at elsewhere in my life, but until this point I had felt like coaching myself through a run was helpful... not this time. My inner coach took on a menacing tone and basically berated me for most of the race. That is not helpful. Instead, I need to be mindful of my surroundings, my body, and my goal.
  4. Finish. Just finish. I keep telling myself that my goal is always to just finish, but that wasn't true on Saturday. I did finish, but that wasn't enough. IT IS enough. I did it. I am becoming okay with that. It wasn't my best race (in fact, it was my worst to date), but I still finished. I did NOT give up and quit, even though I felt like quitting several times throughout the race.
That is one ticked off Barbie. 1:15 was only 7 minutes on to
my first 10K time (1:08), but I was really upset.
I also need to work on my asthma maintenance, nutrition, performance apparel selection, and hydration (since I was praying for water stops that simply weren't there). But those will take more time and research. The list above is stuff I can and should do immediately.

The mental run is just as challenging, if not more so, than the physical run. To this point, I have been training my body. Now, I've found, it's time to begin training my mind to match.

Any suggestions? How do you stay focused or positive during a race? How do you avoid feeling defeated?

My dream race, and other potential future races

It's never too soon to think about my next race. I've realized that if I want to run a race every month that I need to plan wisely. Many of my races will need to be local (within 50-100 miles; daytripping!), but I'm okay with planning a few excursions to selected locations. If I have friends to visit nearby who can also house me, so much the better.

I'm also thinking that planning ahead more will help me keep the financial factor under control. Earlier this year when I just started signing up for races, I did so without thinking much about the costs. I'm tallying what I've spent on registration fees (not including fuel/tolls/other transportation costs), and I'm convinced I can budget better than this!

I've decided to set my sights on a dream race. With all the news about the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco, I got interested in the half to be held in DC this spring. It's the weekend before the Pittsburgh Half... so I don't think I'll get to do it this year. But I went to San Francisco last summer with my very best friend and loved it. I would LOVE to work hard, train hard, and run hard to get to the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. It looks like an amazing event.  
I know that realistically I won't be able to make both races that involve travel... My dream race may have to wait until 2014.

Do you have a dream race? Do you have any other suggestions for awesome races that I should check out? Do tell!!

Friday, October 26

Health Holidays Challenge

Looking for someone to hold you accountable for your holiday eats?

Becki over at Fight4Wellness.com is hosting a Healthy Holidays Challenge. It's happening October 31 - December 31. If you want to lose weight or inches, or if you just want to maintain (like me), this might be the thing for you! Plus, Becki has some prizes lined up. (Who doesn't like prizes?) To win all you have to do is take a picture of certain things you're doing for healthy holidays and use these tags: #healthyholidays #proof @Fight4Wellness

I'm signed up and I'm excited to start. Thanks to Becki for holding this awesome event!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know... I know. But, wow, when things get busy, it's easy to start feeling unwell.

This week was a busy one for me in a number of ways. I'll spare you the boring details. Luckily next week I can switch my work schedule back to 9-5 (instead of the 8-4 I've been doing, which puts me in worse morning traffic, and everyone knows that's no way to start a day, no matter how good your attitude!).

Along with my work schedule, my workout schedule should be able to resume too. Earlier on this fall I was getting to the gym five days a week--three days for running, two days for cross training or weight lifting. I felt great! I've had to let this slide so I could take care of (yes, this is hard to believe) more important things.

I know that some of you might want to jump on my case and tell me that getting to the gym IS important... and I think it is too, especially if I'm paying for the membership! But sometimes life gets in the way. And that's what happened. So now that the other pieces of my life are falling into place, I can resume a fulfilling workout routine. Phew!

Monday, October 22

Motivation Monday

Things to motivate me:
  • Finishing 188th out of 206 people in the trail race on Saturday
    • Now I have a time to beat! (I still had fun.)
  •  Scale creep from medication side effects
    • I'm out to maintain--not lose or gain. 
  • New emeals.com membership (via GroupOn)
    • I bought this in hopes that I will follow the shopping list, get better at planning meals, and begin cooking for myself more often. (I cook, but only when I have to. I covet leftovers.)

Things to motivate YOU:
  • People around the country are making a commitment to better health. Join them!

Sunday, October 21

Trail race #1

Trail racing is way more difficult than I thought. I run a few trails in my neighborhood when I can (when it's not 6 p.m. and dark already...), but I know those trails pretty well. On Saturday morning, I rode to Munroe Falls, OH with my brother and I competed in my first ever trail race.

The morning was cool. Clouds threatened rain, which I had driven through all morning. I was really excited to be there. It was my first race out of state. (That, of course, meant waking up at 5 to meet my brother at 6 to then drive a little more than two hours to reach the park where the event was held... but it was worth it.)

OhioOutside.com puts together a nice event. The race packet swag included a solid drinking glass with the race date on it and a hooded sweatshirt. The atmosphere was quite friendly. I enjoyed chatting with a few other runners and learning more about the race scene in eastern Ohio. A few runners had dogs who would be joining us on the course. They were sweet, well-behaved pups.

The trail was challenging. There were some decent inclines, lots of bends and bumps, and the ever-present threat of tripping thanks to roots, rocks, and holes. I struggled with my asthma a little bit and I used my inhaler, but I ended up having to walk for a good portion of the course because I was coughing or couldn't breathe. I found a few people to pace with and kept up with them to keep myself moving. That helped a great deal. I met a nice woman who I chatted with for the remainder of the race. We decided that we should meet up before the second trail race in November.

People cheered for us at the finish line, even though we were far from the first to complete the race. The feeling of camaraderie grew stronger as we sipped cider and clapped for the winners in each age bracket. My unofficial finish time was 1:03:27. Not spectacular, but I finished. Since this race is part of a trail running series, I'll have two chances to improve my time. That excites me.

Today, one day later, I feel like I must have done the crab walk for the entirety of the race. My body is sore. Like I said, I've trained on trails at home... but this was much different. Different parts of my legs hurt, I'm guessing because I used muscles that aren't regularly strained like they were that morning. I'm hoping to run a little later today so I can get my legs stretched out and ready to run again for Saturday's race. For the 27th, I'll be in costume!

Thursday, October 18

Elusive asthma triggers: no allergies

Yesterday's trip to the allergist to talk about my asthma was rather uneventful.

I saw things going differently in my mind: I would walk in and talk with the doctor, get poked and prodded, and--voila!--we would find what I'm allergic to and develop a plan to treat it. I would walk out of the office feeling great that finally my asthma was going to be under my control (instead of it controlling me).

In reality, it went more like this: I walked in and talked with the doctor, he explained that I might not be allergic to anything but, instead, sensitive to environmental allergens. I was poked and prodded (oww!) and I didn't have a single reaction. (Good thing: I'm not allergic to my dog!) Since I didn't react to the allergens he tested, it seemed likely the environmental things--things like smoke, dust, pollens, or molds, things he can't possibly test me for since there are hundreds of pollens and molds--and that I would have to do some hard work.

First, we decided to switch up my daily inhaler. It's an inhaled steroid to help keep my bronchioles happy, open, and not irritated. I had previously tried the inhaler he switched me to, but I hadn't tried it with a spacer...

Let's talk about spacers. I had seen these before and always associated their use with really asthmatic people (I don't have a definition of that outside of the thought of them needing to use a spacer, this extra apparatus, with their inhalers). A spacer is a plastic tube with a rubber end where you plug in your inhaler and a mouthpiece end to, well, put your mouth on. The idea is that, with typical puffer inhalers, when you spray the medication into your mouth, most of the medication ends up in your mouth or throat, instead of being successfully inhaled into the lungs. With the spacer, you spray the medication into this tube where it is suspended in the air, just waiting for you to breathe it in. You get more medication in your lungs because you're breathing in medicated air.

So the doctor's thought was that I had tried this inhaler before and not seen results... but I hadn't tried it with a spacer! Trying the medication with the spacer will get more of each spray into my lungs, putting the medicine to work and (hopefully) showing results.

I've got this new inhaler and a spacer to use with ALL of my inhalers. (Yes, "all" of them; I have three--one everyday inhaler, one to use prior to exercise, and one rescue inhaler.) Sounds like enough to try to change the game plan, right?

Wrong. He also wants me to remove any perfumey things from my life. This is not going to be easy. I love scented lotions, body sprays, and air fresheners (right now I'm using "fall leaves" from Bath & Body Works... it's the best!).

He wants me to reconfigure my bedroom so there is less surface area for dust to settle. Meaning I should remove my bookshelf, my books, and my nightstand.

He also wants me to get a dust mite cover for my mattress and box spring. (Not cheap... but it's super icky to think about dust mites. I hate those enlarged photos they show you to prove that they exist. Microscopic bugs are still bugs and they still freak me out.)

He also wants my dog to not sleep in my bedroom. (She has her own puppy bed on the floor; she's not allowed on the bed, but now he wants her out of the room. I think this has a 0% chance of happening because my little dog won't sleep anywhere else if I'm home.)

He also wants me to thoroughly clean my house every week to keep dust to a minimum. (I'm gonna need a smaller house or a maid. I do not have time to do this... I clean my bathroom twice a week and change my sheets once a week, but outside of that I'm lucky if I get any laundry done in my spare time.)

He mentioned getting rid of carpeting, but then I said that I rent (I do) and that it's not my choice. He suggested vacuuming more often (and to have someone else do it since the dust is likely to bother me when it's stirred up).

At this point, the most do-able thing out of all of these is to use the darn inhaler with a spacer. Getting my environment under control is going to take some work. And that still doesn't address any environmental allergens/irritants OUTSIDE of my house. Pollen? Grass? Leaves? Oh, geez, who even knows. Hopefully (HOPEFULLY) in time I will feel better with the new inhaler and my new found control over my environment.

Asthma: you've met your match.

Tuesday, October 16


It's official! I bought my first domain name today and you're looking at it. Grammarissa.com will host my blog, sugarpacket collection, and running calendar... and anything else I decide to add later.

Give my newly minted URL some love: share with a friend, read some new posts, or leave a comment. Enjoy!

Dermatological hiatus

Dear fellow runners,

If you schedule an appointment with a dermatologist and intend to have a mole or other lesion removed, plan to be very unhappy.

You see, the doctor will tell you that you must cease running for THREE WEEKS in order to be certain that you don't tear out the stitch or bleed unnecessarily. I have two skin items to be examined that I could not have removed today. (Thinking about this is a little icky, but I'm sharing this experience for your benefit, so I'm sucking it up...)

Since I have races scheduled through the middle of December (and obviously the end of December is Official Holiday Crazy Time), I have scheduled my appointment for January. I won't be able to run for three weeks. This really means that I need to schedule my January race before my appointment so that I can be sure I'll even get to run a race in January...

I'm open to cross training activities that I can do while I'm healing... Share, please!


Monday, October 15

Resilience and my first ever group run

Yesterday I enjoyed my very first group run. I have always trained solo and ran races with hundreds of strangers. This was a wonderful change from my ordinary routine.

Because I’m signed up as part of the Animal Rescue Leagueteam for the Pittsburgh Marathon (5K, Half, Relay, and Marathon), I have the opportunity to attend informational training sessions along with the rest of the ARL team. Yesterday we learned about the way to build yourself up to run the half or the full marathon. The lady who spoke gave us a great calendar that included suggested mileage (for beginner and advanced), cross training days, and rest days. I was so happy to have this because I didn’t really know how to go about preparing and I wasn’t sure what advice to trust since the Internet is filled with resources for runners. 

After the info session, we gathered into groups setting out to run different distances—one 3.5 mile group, one 5 mile group, and one 8.3 mile group. My friend and I chose to go for 5 miles.
It was a gorgeous fall day—sunshine, blue skies, warm air, and cool breezes. We took off and the group settled into a line that obviously outlined our pace comfort zone. I know right now that I run about 11 minute miles regularly. I’m proud of this, considering I’ve only got one year of running under my belt, but I’m always looking to improve. I just know that speed isn’t going to come overnight…!

After about a mile and a half, I couldn’t get a deep breath. I started to feel drained as my breathing got worse. I’ve noticed that in the past few weeks that running outside has been really tough. Sadly, I think this has a lot to do with the leaves on the ground. They smell wonderful! It’s an irresistible autumn aroma that I look forward to every year, which now seems to be irritating my lungs. 

I had to slow down. Walk. My friend stayed with me and she jogged as I speed walked along the path. I don’t normally run in the city, so I think it’s possible that exhaust fumes irritated my lungs even more. I stopped to use my rescue inhaler. I was sad that I had to stop. I was ready to run! Why can’t I just run? My breathing was shallow and I gasped for air as we walked along. It took a while for my inhaler to work. I feel like I walked at least two of the five miles, unfortunately. 

I began jogging again when I felt that I could breathe, but each time I began to transition to running I found my cough worse, my throat itchy, and my fingers tingly. The tingle in my fingers is a bad sign—I usually experience that right before I get dizzy and need to sit down or I will blackout. It’s scary. I stopped again and sat down on the side of the road. I took some time to catch my breath, but I caught it nonetheless. When we crested that last hill, I did my best to keep my legs moving at a pace my lungs could handle, but ultimately I walked back to the community center where the rest of the group was waiting. 

My asthma was the worst it’s been in years yesterday. I’m disappointed that it’s bothering me so much. I’m going to meet with an allergist on Wednesday, and I’m hoping he will be able to help me figure out the other triggers for my asthma and what I can do about them. I realize that I might not be able to do anything about some of the triggers, which is frustrating. At the same time, I find myself getting angry about pollution, smoking, and exhaust filling the air that fills my lungs. 

The group run was still fun, despite my minor medical emergency, and I plan to do it again next month. I’ll begin my half marathon training in December like the training program suggests, but in the meantime I’ve pretty much racing every weekend from now till the middle of December. I will work my way through this asthma and I will continue running. No matter what.

Wednesday, October 10

Mantis reprise!

Yesterday morning as I took my dog back into the house, I noticed something (I didn't know what) on the side of my house. Lately I've had to be vigilant about whereabouts of every last stink bug in my neighborhood before opening my door, so I've paid more attention to what, exactly, is on my house.

I came back outside and crept closer. I found, to my delight, a beautiful mantis.

I hadn't seen one of these lovely creatures prior to my birthday last summer when a mantis made a fashionable entrance to my party by landing on my friend Nancy's face. Now it seems that, if I'm careful, I can spot several each year. I must live in a good place for mantises to live...

This little fella was turning orange. I don't have any idea what that means. I thought perhaps it helped him cloak himself in foliage, since that's shifting from green to red-orange-yellow-brown these days too... But I'm not sure. I already read that it's possible that this fella was a male because he was brown or that the color indicates the climate he lives in (?). I'll have to pose this question to my entomologist friend to find out the real deal.

In any case, I loved finding another mantis! They're really beautiful.

Addicted to running

It's now a tradition: on New Year's Eve my boyfriend and I sit down to reflect on the year we're leaving behind and the year we're taking head-on. We each write a list of accomplishments or just general "awesome things" about the year past and, usually after some reminiscing, we turn toward the coming year and write resolutions or goals.

On December 31, 2011, my New Year's resolutions included "Run a 5K." I had started running in November and was beginning to enjoy it (after a few weeks of soreness from using muscles I had long forgotten about), so I thought I would challenge myself.

In January 2012, I joined a gym. The Anytime Fitness near me was a great choice, especially as my work situation changed drastically in March. My new job left me coming and going at odd hours, so the 24-hour possibility of a workout was a relief. Then my company gave me a membership to LA Fitness down the street from the office. 

I couldn't have known what this would turn out to be. I couldn't have predicted that I would become addicted to running. 

I registered for my first 5K in February with a friend. She knew about my goal and was getting back into running too, so we vowed to go together. The race was in April, so we had time to get ready. With zeal and energy, I ran and ran. An outsider not privy to my 5K goal might have thought I was preparing for a marathon. In my mind, this was such an important goal. 

By the time the April 21st race rolled around, I was already registered for my next race--the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K--and knew that running was something I wanted to keep in my life.

I ran my first 5K for a fallen Pennsylvania State Trooper, Trooper Iwaniac, in Latrobe, PA. My time? 32:04. I was beyond thrilled. An average of just over 10 minutes per mile delighted me... and ignited me. I started signing up for more races and by the time I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon 5K on May 5th, I had races planned for June and July.

I've raised money for charity for a few races. I chose only those dearest to my heart--the Animal Rescue League of Pittsburgh in honor of my own rescue mutt (May 5th) and the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Pennsylvania in honor of my sister who has dealt with epilepsy her whole life (July 21st). Those races were meaningful in a different way. Sure, I was meeting my goal of running the race, but I meditated on the reason for the race and that provided a little something extra that I struggle to describe. It's a holistic, peaceful vibe that the world can be good if good people make it so. That's the best I can do with words, without making you come with me to feel it for yourself.

At this point, I've run a race every month since April: April, May, June, July, August, and September. I ran my first 10K in September, which was another milestone I couldn't have predicted. I've also now scheduled more races for October, November, and December that, combined, total more than I ran in the prior six months! Running everything from a 5K to a 5 miler and an 8K to a 10K, the remainder of the year looks bright and fast.

And, for what it's worth, my finishing times are decent. For a novice, for someone who has only trained by running (not lifting or cross training much, if at all), for someone who just put on some shoes and strode for the road, my times are decent. I might not be winning races (yet??), but I am winning in my heart by meeting my goals. I battled my asthma for much of the summer, what with northeastern humidity and heat as it is, and my times were slower, but I am pleased nonetheless because I persevered. 

When December 31, 2012 rolls around (sooner than we realize), I will set my goals and make resolutions once more. This coming year I am registered for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon--the big 13.1 miles--so I will train for that through May 5th. The goal setting is what revs my engine. The achievement is what pushes me onward, covered in sweat, exhausted, and hungry, to run to the next goal. Yes, friends, it is safe to say I am addicted to running.

April  21- Trooper Iwaniac 5k, Latrobe, PA; 32:04 (with Jenny)
May 5 - Pittsburgh Marathon 5k, Pittsburgh, PA; 31:03 (with Jenny)
June 30 - Fearless 5k, Allison Park, PA; 35:17 (solo)
July 21 - Epilepsy Foundation 5k, Pittsburgh, PA; 31:50 (with Caleb, for Katrina)
August 25 - Run Around the Square, Pittsburgh, PA; 34:50 (solo; a respectable time for the asthma problems I had.)
September 30 - The Great Race 10k, Pittsburgh, PA; 1:08:57 (solo; a new PR for my first 10K!)

October 20 - Ohio Outside Trail Series #1 Five Miler, Kent, OH; www.ohiooutside.com/trail-series/index.html; with Eleanor
October 27- Terrifying 10K Costume Run, Allison Park, PA; www.pittsburghmarathon.com/Freaky5K.asp; solo
November 3 - New York Road Runners Dash to the Finish 5k, New York City; www.nyrr.org; with Amanda
November 11 - Marshall Mangler 8K, Allison Park, PA; http://race360.com/15303; solo
November 17 - Ohio Outside Trail Series #2 Five Miler, Kent, OH; www.ohiooutside.com/trail-series/index.html; with Eleanor
December 1 - Ohio Outside Trail Series #3 Five Miler, Kent, OH; www.ohiooutside.com/trail-series/index.html; with Eleanor
December 15 - Doomsday Dash 5K, Columbus, OH; www.doomsdaydash.com; with Eleanor

Tuesday, October 9

Traversing Pittsburgh: The Great Race 10K

I started running a year ago. After trying yoga, Pilates, and other “calmer” forms of exercise, I found the adrenaline rush in running to be just what I needed. And what did I need? A sport pushing me to stay active, motivated, competitive: a challenge. 

Most days I run alone. It’s me and the trail, me and the treadmill, me and the pavement. But on September 30, it was me, 6.2 miles of Pittsburgh pavement, and 10,074 other runners. 

On the last Sunday in September, runners take to the streets of Pittsburgh for what has become the largest 10K in Pennsylvania. This year, in its 35th running, 10,075 people ran The Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race 10K. Add to that the 4,925 registrants for the 5K, and the grand total is 15,000 people, the largest crowd to date.

This was my first Great Race and my first 10K. To this point, my New Year’s resolution motivated me to run a 5K in April, May, June, July, and August. This was my September race. Many people told me that it is the best first 10K for a new runner. I felt welcome, albeit a little intimidated. 

My anxiety fueled my workouts. I would run that 10K and run it well, I told myself. I trained a little harder, diligently hitting the gym at least two days a week and running at least two more. I noticed I was feeling stronger as my distances grew. My legs no longer yielded to an incline.  By race day, I was ready for those hills.

I arrived at the start line much earlier than I needed to, but it was fun to chat with other runners about the course. And their shoes. Oh, the shoes! Brilliant, daring colors combinations with punchy laces forced me to greet people while staring at their shoes. But runners always talk about shoes. Any gear, really, but shoes are a big topic.

The gun went off and suddenly I felt like I was in a cattle drive—we all wanted to move, but we couldn’t until everyone in front of us began to move. After a few seconds of hesitant steps and running in place, we were off. Establishing my pace was relatively easy; I conquered that first incline through Squirrel Hill, hitting the first mile marker at just over nine minutes. 

People in the neighborhoods en route gathered on sidewalks to cheer as we ran past. Some cheered for family or friends; others were indiscriminate with their cheering and heartened the whole of us, telling us to keep going. Music faded in and out as we pushed onward; we were greeted by sound systems blasting “Eye of the Tiger” and collections of instrumentalists playing everything from college fight songs to the Rocky theme song. 

Going down Forbes Avenue into the Carnegie Mellon campus is when the rain began. By the time I was halfway down Fifth Avenue in the Pitt campus, I was soaked. It wasn’t a downpour, but it was steady enough and cold enough to affect me. My hands were numb by the time I passed Carlow University and reached the aid station on the Boulevard of the Allies; I couldn’t grip the cup of water to drink it.

I had been warned about the last hill. It was waiting for me at mile five in the Duquesne University campus. A bystander held a sign: “It’s just a hill: GET OVER IT!” I laughed and pushed forward.
The course literally is downhill from there. I ran cautiously not only because I was tired, but also because the sharp grade of that last hill, leading me down into Point State Park, could hurt me if I let it. With my feet slapping the wet pavement, I cruised down that final hill and reached the festivities in the park. (I have never seen so many umbrellas in one place!) Once I sensed that I was back on semi-level ground, I recognized the urge to run faster and sprinted for the finish line.

There is nothing like finishing a race. Finishing a race—crossing the finish line after enduring the trials of the course—is always my goal. I cross that line in my mind a hundred times because visualizing myself there, doing what I want to do, is what helps me make it a reality. When I crossed the finish line in Point State Park at the 2012 Great Race 10K, I smiled. I was drenched, exhausted, sore, hungry, cold, and desperately in need of a dry pair of socks, but I smiled.