Race Recap: Middlebury Maple Run

13 May

It’s been hard to write this post (a week overdue) mainly because I’m not sure what to say. But also because other priorities: Mother’s Day, a lot of work, getting ready to take a vacation, a nasty cold, long runs with friends, birthday presents to wrap and errands to run have gotten in the way.

There is a sense of relief now that April is over. May is a new month. A good month.

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I find myself finally able to handle the mail that all seems to revolve around the Boston bombings.  The day of the marathon, I began reading my favorite bimonthly magazine (Marathon & Beyond). This issue focused on the Boston Marathon – on the race director retiring, on the women who have run it, on the various monuments and statues all along the course (and in various other states) commemorating the Boston Marathon.  It had been fun, the morning of the Marathon, after a long bike ride, and before the race began, to read up on the history of this race I love.  When I got home that evening, I was no longer interested in reading it.

And Sports Illustrated? When the first magazine talking about Boston arrived in my mailbox that Wednesday, I was unprepared for how I felt. I did not want to view pictures of Boston (for other people, a tourist destination, for me, my neighborhood). I could not distance myself in order to read a somewhat-detached magazine article about it.

In May, I finally sat down and read them. There were some very good articles. With some very great sentiments. And I felt that if I was able to sit and read about it, I would finally be ready to run another race.

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Choosing what to wear for the half marathon in early May was also an issue.  I have Boston clothing but none of it was appropriate for a very hot and humid half marathon in Vermont. We finally decided on Boston Strong headbands which made a nice statement without being in your face. (And which didn’t require me to wear cotton clothing.)

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The place we stayed in Middlebury was gorgeous. Possibly the nicest Inn I’ve ever been to. I felt myself breathing deeply (as deeply as one can breathe when they have 2 fractured ribs and everything hurts) when we hiked around near the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks, when we visited the local town co-op and the bike store and passed idyllic country roads with farms.  “Make sure to lock your car at Snake Mountain” said the inn owner apologetically “we’ve had a few problems with break-ins lately. Obviously, we are pretty embarrassed and upset about this.”  I understood how she felt but it also seemed quaint – the concern of someone stealing my wallet versus what we left behind in Boston.

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And then the race happened.  Picking up the bibs took less than 2 minutes on Saturday afternoon before dinner.  Whether I was wiped out from 85 degree temperatures or hiking in the sun or breathing thru fractured ribs, I felt pretty disassociated from the process. The next morning was more of the same – I ate breakfast (more than usual before a race) and put my race clothes on and sat on the bus that dropped us at the start line and still I didn’t quite believe that we would be racing.  I think my mind knew what I was unwilling to dwell on – this was going to be a painful race – and that it was best to not think about it.

My friend ran with me for 3 miles before deciding to go on ahead. She’s a faster runner anyway and not hampered by fractured ribs, it didn’t make sense to stick together. I brought music but didn’t end up using it until the last few miles when I needed some extra distraction from the pain.

It was actually a very good half marathon for me. It was my 2nd fastest one (by 22 seconds) despite the injury. Which proves that my Crossfit workouts and my hill running are making me stronger – both mentally and physically.  There were moments when I had “dead leg syndrome” and there were many moments when my lungs burned but overall, it did not feel as hard as many of my races have felt. It was hilly, more so than I anticipated, but I found myself enjoying the hills – I never felt the urge to walk but tackled each one as they came.  Running on a new route, with farms and hills and bridges and mountains to look at makes me happy. Not knowing where I am going also makes it easier.

It was only at mile 8, when we looped back by the finish line, that I found myself anxious.  Usually, miles 7-9 are my least favorite.  But this time, I saw the finish line off to my left and realized I was not ready for it yet. Not ready to see a finish line and a race clock and people cheering yet. Even though I was never worried about another bombing, I was also not ready to finish. I probably looked strange, smiling at the huge hill ahead of me, relieved that I didn’t have to finish yet. It was hot and humid and sunny and my ribs were whining and I wanted to keep running.

My pace had picked up significantly over the past few miles and I considered speeding up but I also knew that the ribs were causing me to run sloppily – my shoulders were bearing the brunt and hurt a lot. A friend had suggested I do a few planks or downward dogs to loosen them up. Instead, I ran into a Crossfit coach/friend who mentioned that he had done 4 Burpees for the 4 victims at each mile marker and was going to do 264 push-ups at mile 11 (the high point of the race) for each wounded survivor.  I agreed to join him.  Not sure why…except that it seemed appropriate to do something hard…and because I am actually quite good at pushups so it wouldn’t take more than 6 minutes…and due to no race clocks, I assumed I was running pretty slow. Since I know some of the survivors and have ready many of their bios since, I tried to think and pray for each one that I remembered as I pushed up and down.

So we did push-ups. And I think that extra energy burst helped me run the last 2 (mostly downhill) miles.  My ribs and shoulders felt fine and I was unemotional at the finish line (although I cleared away from it immediately).

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The sweetest race medal (a container of maple syrup) was given out at the finish line.  I met up with my friend and we headed back to the Inn to shower and change. “Thank you for running” said a few women during the race. There were other Boston clothing and other Boston runners on the course and we acknowledged each other each time we passed.

A few days later, in the  midst of a large work wellness event, a nurse that I’ve worked with several times over the past few years offered to take my blood pressure.  “As usual, it’s incredibly low,” she said “but its higher than it has been in the past. Do you think its due to being at work and in charge of this event and all the stress that comes with that?”

“Actually, the whole time you’ve taken my blood pressure, you’ve been talking about the Boston bombings…” I carefully replied. (I assumed correctly she wasn’t doing that with others, we just know each other well enough to chat about things.)

One good run through adversity in New England does nothing to erase what happened.  264 push-ups are pretty meaningless, other than as a symbol to myself that hard things can be overcome. Reading magazines and articles about April 2013 will probably never be easy for me and I will probably never stop pushing myself to keep reading them.

If we race to discover ourselves, to prove ourselves, to push ourselves, then this race was a success.  And driving back from Vermont to Boston – seeing the runners on the river and bunched at the crosswalks and sprinting the bridge – seeing far more runners than I’ve ever seen before – makes me proud to live in Boston and proud to run another day.

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