May 29, 2015

I'm sold on this early morning stuff

It finally happened!  After trying for weeks to get up early, as in before 9am, I did it, and it was wonderful.  My family has a habit of staying up way late at night, well into the early a.m. hours in fact.  Unfortunately, their late nights have pulled me into a later and later bed time, which has led to me sleeping in later and later.  I like being up earlier in the day, so I decided last night to make myself go to bed early.  Granted, it was still 11:30pm, but still earlier than usual.  And this led to me waking up by 5am.  Hooray!

My goal was to make it to the 5:15am Body Pump class at my gym.  With all the rain and flooding and thunder and lightning and hail we've been getting, outside workouts have proven to be dangerous.  Body Pump is a great alternative.  I got up at 4:30am, and didn't even hit snooze! (also very unlike me, as I hit snooze five or six times usually).

First thing I accomplished this morning was a sincere and intent prayer.  I'd gotten into the habit of rushing through my personal prayers lately, almost just repeating things without putting much thought into them.  I want to get out of that bad habit and make my prayers meaningful.  Sure, I was o my knees longer than usual, but wow I felt amazing afterwards!  I poured my heart out to my Father in Heaven in gratitude for all the blessings He's bestowed upon me this week, for He really has blessed me!  I took the time to pray, by name, for friends and family members and their specific situations.  I put thought into asking Him for the righteous desires of my heart, also specifically.  It was an incredible experience.  If you haven't prayed like this before, I highly encourage you to do so.  Pray to your Heavenly Father as though you were talking to a loving earthly father.  He wants you to talk to Him, to come to Him.

With my mind in the right place, I studied my scriptures after my prayer.  Again, this was an area I had also been slacking on.  I had skipped too many days of personal scripture study, and if I did open them I just skimmed a verse or two.  Not this morning!  I actually studied.  With the Institute student manual opened, I read verse by verse and consulted with the notes of the guide.  I wrote down my own thoughts and impressions as they came to me.  As I did so, it seemed my mind was opened and I received even more insights into the scripture.

With my soul spiritually exercised and fed, I headed off to the gym to do the very same physically.  I both kicked butt in Body Pump this morning at 5:15am, and also got my butt kicked by Body Pump.  I lifted more weight, completed more reps, and really felt the burn.  I love this workout; it's such a great way to get strength training in.  Fun music, a variety of routines, and the motivation that being in a fitness class provides easily makes it a staple in my training.

When I was done with Body Pump, it was only 6:15am, so I grabbed a breakfast bagel from Chick Fil-a.  I haven't woken up early enough to enjoy one of these in a long time.  It was delicious.  And by the time I got home, it was still before 7am.  Not only was I already productive, but this started my day off on the right track.  I made better decisions, was able to think clearer, and I was just overall happier. I think I'll try to make this a habit.  Crossing my fingers that I do just as well tomorrow.

Perfect reward for a winning morning

May 24, 2015

The Marathon of Enduring to the End

Today, I had the opportunity to speak in church, in Sacrament meeting.  I was asked to speak on enduring to the end, which is a fitting topic for me.  You know, enduring...endurance...endurance events...running!  So really, I got to speak about running at church to the whole congregation.  I shared my story of running a marathon and related it almost as a parable to enduring to the end.  As I spoke, I felt my words be guided by the Holy Ghost, to try and speak what most needed to be said.  Here is the text of my talk.  It's not exactly what I said in my talk, but it is close.  I hope that you enjoy it and maybe even learn something new from it.

Enduring is a process that we will be undertaking the rest of our time in mortality.  It is much like running a marathon.  In fact, I just ran my first marathon back in April, the Big Sur Marathon.  This race was breathtakingly beautiful.  The course runs on the scenic Highway 1 in California and it runs parallel and right beside the Pacific Ocean.  To my left were beaches, waves, cliffs, and all manner of coastal beauty.  To my right were glorious majestic mountains.  And in front of me loomed the toughest physical challenge (aside from giving birth) that I was about to face.  They call it a hilly course, but coming from here, the high plains of Texas, it was a mountainous course.  Huge inclines, shooting high into the mountains lay before me, and seemingly never-ending rolling hills taunted me along the way.  I had to overcome all these challenges just to finish. As I covered those 26.2 miles, each mile was a testimony of the importance of enduring to the end no matter what trials lay in wait.

I trained four months for this race, with about two years even before that of just running.  Our training for this mortal marathon began in the preexistence and continued to the day we make out first covenant.  In fact, receiving saving ordinances of the Gospel marks the start of our enduring race.

As runners at the starting line, we tend to be excited and anxious with our new covenants and responsibilities.  We want to do well.  We wonder if we are prepared enough. We envision the finish line and the glorious reception that awaits us once we have earned that coveted finisher’s medal.  But sometimes it seems, shortly thereafter, that things get hard.  Difficult trials try to impede our path, maybe those closest to us are not supportive of the new life we are living.  Temptations arise. 

The first three miles or so of any endurance event hurts.  It’s hard, there’s so much distance still left to cover.  In fact, I remind myself that these first few miles are a warm-up and get me used to this forward movement.  For that is exactly what we are doing once we receive the saving ordinances of baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and all the temple ordinances—moving forward towards Christ.  And with all this work we go through through to get to that point our life, it is only the beginning.  We can only ensure our eternal salvation as long as we endure to the end.  As Elder Robert D. Hales said, “Enduring to the end applies to all of God’s commandments.”  All of them.  After receiving our saving ordinances, enduring to the end in keeping His commandments is what will allow us to achieve exaltation.   “Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.” [3 Ne. 15:9]

Any runner can tell you that the first three miles in any endurance race are hard.  I usually feel stiff, awkward, and heavy.  This was true for the Big Sur Marathon.  Many influences of the world try to get us to just quit, right there, in the first ten minutes.  But never judge a race by the first few miles.  “Be patient in thine afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days” [D&C 24:8].

Now as I’m running, especially in a race, I like to find a running buddy.  Someone I can chat with to help the miles seem not-as-long.  Don’t we have those same people in our own lives?  Our family, our friends, coworkers, acquaintances, ward members, club members; the list goes on.  Some of these people are great running buddies.  They encourage us, they motivate us, they support us and help us do our best and try our hardest in our race.  However, some of them are negative influences.  They may complain, they may demean, they may criticize either ourselves or the race we are undertaking.  They may try to get us to slow, to not try as hard, even to just quit.  They may say something like, “Why are you even doing this?  It’s so hard.  Let’s just enjoy ourselves and quit now.  Most people don’t even run marathons, so why are you even trying?”

If we give in to these people, we have allowed ourselves to be, as Neal A Maxwell said, “persuaded out by companions who insist that they know more about life’s perilous journey than do prophets of the Lord.”  At this point we have put the opinions and approval of these people above that of God.  This can lead to an allowance of vices, pride, friends, and even family to influence us off the covenant path.  Weak commitments to eternal covenants are leading to their loss of eternal consequence (Neal A Maxwell).  We are risking the loss of eternal life for temporary things.  And we are forsaking that finisher medal.

When I found myself running with a person who was bringing me down like this, I realized that if I wanted to finish this marathon, I had to pick up my pace, even if it meant leaving him behind.  In the end, we each run our own marathon.  We can help others on the way, but we cannot carry them, and we cannot allow them to pull us down.  After trying to persuade my running buddy to pick up the pace, met only by murmurings and criticisms, I fought past the guilt he was throwing at me, and kept moving forward. 
After finally hitting my stride, the miles just flew by clear past 13.1--halfway.  Living the gospel can feel easy here, as it should.  I stuck with a fueling and hydration plan during the race to make sure I had enough energy to endure to the finish.  I took with me a water bottle and energy gels that I would consume every four miles.  I also planned on stopping at each aid station for a piece of fruit and a sip of Gatorade.  Just as I had a physical fueling plan; daily intentional scripture study, daily meaningful prayer, regular sincere repentance, weekly Family Home Evening, and church activity help to fuel our spirits to endure to the end.  Each aid station offering fruit, Gatorade, water, and motivation in the form of wonderful volunteers, was akin to renewing my covenant through taking of the sacrament, and even receiving spiritual strength as I serve at the temple.  Those ordinances sustain us, and provide us with so much strength, endurance, and guidance. 

That fueling strategy helped me to keep going, even when faced with that daunting, terrifying mountain-of-a-hill, Hurricane Point. No matter what Satan throws at us, maybe in the form of high winds, or Hurricane type winds, or maybe in the form of a seemingly impassable mountain, we just keep placing one foot in front of the other and stick to that fueling plan, trusting in God and having the eternal perspective in mind.  As we focus on our goal, to cross that finish line, we will find that we can accomplish anything, even cresting Hurricane point. 

Sometimes though, we become complacent, or maybe overconfident.  Thoughts can turn to something like, “I feel so great, I don’t want to waste time by stopping at this aid station for water, I’m just going to fly by.”  Or maybe, “So what if I don’t study my scriptures today, I usually do so I’ll be fine.  I hate the taste of those energy gels, I’ll be okay without one this time.”  And even, “I’ve got too much going on at school/work/recreation, I’ll be okay if I skip church today.  It’s only once.”
This line of thinking gets more precarious with each skipped aid station, with each abandoned energy gel, and with each neglected sip of water.  Without proper nourishment, we can only go so far.  And it’s only so long until we crash.
With each incline, I found it harder and harder to keep moving.  An old injury was flaring up horribly and my legs were hurting something fierce.  I hit the wall hard.  I went from kinda-trying-to-run, to a slow shuffle.  Everything hurt.  Everything was tired.  I was beginning to wonder why I even signed up for this to begin with.

This marathon had a time limit, and as that time loomed closer, I was genuinely concerned I wouldn't make it.  I was worried that I wouldn't even make it to mile 22 before the first checkpoint expired.  My motivation started to wane, and I had just about consigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't finish the marathon.  But hey, at least I would have earned the 21-miler medal.  Sure it’s the 21-miler medal and I set out to run the full marathon, but maybe it’s good enough.  Is it really good enough, though?
We must realize, as Neal A Maxwell goes on to say, “Whenever an undertaking is begun, both the energy and the will to endure are essential. The winner of a five-kilometer race is declared at the end of five kilometers, not at one or two. If you board a bus to Boston, you don’t get off at Burlington. If you want to gain an education, you don’t drop out along the way.”  

It’s in these moments that the words of Robert D. Hale give us guidance, “We cannot expect to learn endurance in our later years if we have developed the habit of quitting when things get difficult now.”  Elder Hales continues, “We cannot endure to the end alone.  It is important that we help by lifting and strengthening one another.”  It was just when I was about to give up, that I could hear my Mother's voice telling me, "Rachel, don't quit!  Just keep going.  If you quit now, you'll be so angry with yourself.  You can do this, and you will have help."  An intense feeling of love filled my heart and I instantly felt comfort and peace.  Don't get me wrong, I was still in a LOT of pain and I was still VERY tired, but all of a sudden I felt like I could endure it.

And right at that moment, a man came alongside me.  He turned and explained that if I could just increase my pace ever so slightly, I could make it.  I could make it to the 22-mile cut off, and even finish before the course cut-off.  He encouraged me to just stick with him, and that I did.  I matched him pace-for-pace.  This was just the help I needed.

Anytime during an endurance event, you can always tweak and adjust how you fuel.  Even though I had skipped taking gels and water, at any time I could readjust my process and start taking in water, fruit, and gels—which my body much needed!  This is exactly what the Atonement does for us!  We can never be off track to the point where we can’t apply the Atonement and reap it’s eternal benefits.  We can never have done too much to lose those blessings.  We can always get back on track and back to progressing.  

So, now with my own fueling plan back on track, hydrating back on track, and positive influences all around, we continued up and down the seemingly endless hills, encouraging all around us to keep pressing forward.  The Lord sends us help when we need it.  He sends people to lift us out of darkness, to help us overcome trials, tribulations, and temptations.  To help us find our way back to the covenant path.  In turn, He will guide us to do the very same for others.  We cannot endure alone, nor should we.  We are stronger and happier together.  As we ran, we encouraged and strengthened each other—and even found more runners to join us—straight through those final miles.  It didn’t matter what pace we were going at as long as we were pressing forward. We cheered on the faster runners who passed us by.  We rooted for the slower runners who were trying their hardest.  We knew that we all were set on a pace and a course that would carry us to that finish line.

You know what happened next?  As I kept up with fueling, as I kept my pace, as I kept encouraging others, I made it! I crossed that finish line victoriously.  I didn’t win the race by any means, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I endured to the end.  Neal A Maxwell said, “Whatever your work may be, endure at the beginning, endure through opposing forces along the way, and endure to the end. Any job must be completed before you can enjoy the result for which you are working.”  And oh did I enjoy that result.  Once I crossed, I about collapsed from fatigue, and also from sheer joy.  Tears came to my eyes.  I was just so happy have completed!  I did it!  I am now officially a marathoner!

I endured to the end and earned this medal!

At that finish line stood my best friend and members from my family holding motivational signs and cheering for me to keep going, to cross that finish line, to complete the marathon.  We have so many people in our lives—both here in mortality and on the other side—that are rooting for us.  As we endure to the end, we too will be greeted as victors by loved ones.  And we will have earned that most precious medal that can never be given, only earned, exaltation and eternal life.  All who have endured to the end will receive this reward.

Elder David Bednar said, “If living the Gospel is hard, then you’re doing it wrong.”  Enduring to the end will take work, but it doesn’t have to be impossible as long as you are putting the Lord and His Gospel first in your life.  As I bore testimony of earlier, by doing so everything will fall into place or fall out.  Life happens, and we aren’t always as vigilant in scripture study, FHE, prayer, temple attendance, or whatever it may be.  The Lord understands this and that is why he gave us the wonderful gift of the Atonement and repentance.  Through the Atonement, we can get back on track.  We can fix our fueling strategy.  We can make it through those rough patches, those lethargic patches, those Hurricane Points, for they do happen!  All we must do is keep our goal of crossing that finish line in our sights, and do our best in keeping all the commandments so that we can endure to end.

As Robert D Hales said, “If we will be obedient and if we are diligent, our prayers will be answered, our problems will diminish, our fears will dissipate, light will come upon us, the darkness of despair will be dispersed, and we will be close to the Lord and feel of His love and the comfort of the Holy Ghost…find the faith, courage, and strength to endure to the end so that we may feel the joy of faithfully returning to the arms of our Heavenly Father.” 

May 21, 2015

My real moment, aka my first DNF (Race Report: Armed Forces Half-Marathon)

I have never not finished a race before.  I've pushed through illness and injury straight to the finish line.  This race, that would not happen, no matter how hard I pushed and I tried.  I've run plenty of half marathons, and after finishing a full, I don't view them as a challenge anymore.  I should though, as covering 13.1 miles is still a major feat of endurance, strength, speed, and stamina.  I should've taken this race more seriously.

As I usually do, I checked the weather for race day to make sure I wear appropriate attire.  My weather app said 58-degrees, 5 mph winds, and chance of some sprinkling.  Sure it was a chance of rain, but still I decided to play it safe and I wore a windbreaker, long capris, and a hat.  I sported my Skirt Sports 261 Fearless outfit.  I love the fit, the comfort, and how it proudly displays the word "Fearless".  This is one of my favorite running outfits.

When I got to the packet pick-up tent, it was a little chilly, in the high 40's, but it really didn't feel bad.  I pinned my bib over the jacket since the sky was a bid overcast and it did start sprinkling.  So the cap was a good idea.

I felt great the first five mile of the race.  The skies cleared, it got warmer, the view was great, and I was keeping a great pace.  I was going a bit faster than normal, but the field was pretty fast.  I started off last, and about at mile 3 I passed one person, but that was all the passing I did.  It looked like the average pace the others were running was  about 8:30-9 minutes a mile.  I was happy with my 10 minute mile pace.  As I said, faster than usual for me.  And the first half of this course was going up an incline towards the mountains with rolling hills.  The view was beautiful!  There wasn't much greenery on the course, but this left the mountain views unobscured.  I love the beauty of the Sandia Mountains.  It felt like I was about to run right up them.

Right after I hit the the turnaround, maybe a mile after, everything changed.  The wind shifted and a storm was blown right on top of us.  The sun disappeared.  Then the temps lowered under 40 degrees and the winds picked up to 20-35mph.  They brought with them rain at first, then sleet and hail, and finally a rain/snow mix.  All within an hour.

It's funny, I felt cold only for maybe half an hour, then I felt fine.  Except I lost feeling in my hands, I felt sluggish, I stopped shivering, and my mind just kept repeating "Just finish.  Just finish.  Just finish."  I don't know how long this went on.  But I do remember passing the mile 12 sign.  And I do remember a car driving up and insisting to take me to the med guys.  In turn, I insisted I was fine and that I was almost there.  But he was more insistent.  Apparently, my lips were blue and my skin was bright red.  Apparently I had hypothermia.  Apparently, the weather was so bad that the finish line crew had packed up and left.  And apparently this was the first time I would DNF (did not finish).

I had so many things working against me.
The medics were great and quick to supply me with warm drinks and blankets.  They helped me get warm enough to the point where I started shivering again.  The red and blue started to fade somewhat, and I got sensation back in my hands.  Once I was feeling cold and had feeling back, they released me to drive back to my hotel and thoroughly warm-up.  I filled my bathtub with the water all the way to hot and just soaked in it until the shivering stopped.  After a quick shower, I then went downstairs to my hotel's hot tub and just relaxed there until I felt warm again.

Now during this whole warming-up/recovering period I was really beating myself up.  I hate not finishing something I've started.  It bothers me.  It taunts me.  I feel like a failure; like a disappointment.  And all these feelings were simmering in my head and my heart as I sat in that hot tub.  I felt like I'd been a marked a quitter.

Once I came to my senses, and after talking with a great friend, I realized that DNF'ing that race was smart and in my best interest health-wise.  After all, I would be so mad if I lost a finger just to finish a race.  I'm also lucky that I didn't get pneumonia afterwards.  Sure I got a pretty awful cold, but it could've been so much worse.

As I write this, about a week later, I've come to terms with my DNF.  In fact, after reading stories about professional runners, I realize that most have a few DNF's under their belt.  Maybe this is another sign that I'm a real runner.  Maybe I should be proud of the fact that I was smart enough to stop, get out of the weather, and get some medical aid before anything truly terrible had happened.

So there it is, my first DNF.  And it wasn't the end of the world.  On the contrary, I feel stronger and wiser because of it.  In light of this race, I've decided to focus on the 10K for a while, until I'm fully recovered from all the injuries I've been fighting.  I think the 10K will help me find my stride in training, and help me find the joy in running again.

May 13, 2015

Race Giveaway: Skirt Sports 13er

In honor of the #REALwomenmove movement, Skirt Sports is donating a free entry for the Skirt Sports 13er/10k/5K Local or Virtual race to one of my readers!  Not only do you get registration to one of their races, but you also receive a Finisher's Skirt, all sorts of sponsor swag, and a $50 gift certificate to use either online or at their store and expo!

Enter here or through my Facebook page. Increase your chances to win by visiting and following The Running Mormon and Skirt Sports on Facebook, following @RunningMormon and @SkirtSports on twitter, and commenting on my blog posts

.a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to just register for the race?  All you have to do is go to the Skirt Sports 13er page.  You pick the distance and you pick the location.  Run with me in Colorado by registering here, or run your own race at home virtually.  When you register, you have three registration options:

$85 Basic Registration  What you get: $50 Skirt Sports gift card, finisher skirt, sponsor swag, race number.  Use your gift card to pick out a sweet top to go with your cute new skirt!

$125 Upgrade 13er Registration.  What you get: $125 Skirt Sports gift certificate, finisher skirt, sponsor swag, and race number.  Why choose this options?  Because you can get a complete Skirt Sports outfit plus additional race gear!

$250 Skirt Lover's Paradise Registration.  What you get: $275 Skirt Sports gift card, finisher skirt, sponsor swag, and race number.  Want to stock up on skirts and gear for a great deal?  Choose this option ladies! Heck, they are giving you $25 in gift card options just to register!

I look forward to seeing you at the race, and to hearing your virtual stories.  Share your race pictures with me on Facebook and Twitter!

How will you be running the Skirt Sports 13er?   Share your stories and race pictures here.

May 7, 2015

Race Report: Big Sur International Marathon

April 26th, I ran and completed my first marathon:  the 30th Big Sur International Marathon.  This specific race meant a lot to me.  Four years ago, when I was pretty much on my death bed because of a grossly untreated and misdiagnosed thyroid condition, an advertisement for Big Sur in Runner's World Magazine encouraged me to find a way to get back into running just so I could run this marathon.  April 26th, I achieved this goal.  First of all, wow!  It was much much MUCH tougher than I anticipated with the mountains I had to run up (the course description called them hills, but I'm telling you they were mountains), and the wind--which is saying a lot since I come from one of the windiest cities in the states.  But all that was balanced by the sheer beauty of the course!  The seaside cliffs, the ocean views to the west, the mountains looming to the East, Bixby Bridge, marine wildlife, lush forests, and even all the bands along the route.  Now, let me start at the beginning before I get too ahead of myself...
I don't usually fly, since it can get pricey when you travel with a child, but since Grandpa wanted some quality granddaughter time, I had the weekend to myself.  Although I missed her dearly, it was nice to not have to drive the 22 hours to get to Monterrey, California.  Traveling still wasn't that easy though.  I get very airsick, so I usually like to break my air travel into the shortest flights possible  This time however, I had a 1-hour flight from Amarillo to Dallas, then a 5.5 hour flight from Dallas to San Jose (it had a stop in Austin).  Ouch that last leg hurt!  Once I landed in San Jose, I still had just over an hour's traveling left.  So I rented a car and drove to Monterrey, with a quick lunch stop on the way at Togo's.  When I travel, I like to eat at places that aren't in the Panhandle of Texas.

Found my name on the marathon banner
After a quick check-in at the hotel, and a quick unpacking, I headed off to the Big Sur race expo at the Portola Hotel.  First stop was the Runner's World Challenge private room to pick up my race packet, bib, and shirt.  Although not the biggest, this expo was by far the most well organized, not to mention stocked with the best gear, that I've visited!  I'm just glad I reigned myself in and kept my purchases within my budget:  a new pair of 2XU compression socks (great for recovery! I wore them after the race and the next day traveling), a Big Sur finisher shirt, a Big Sur Marathon everyday t-shirt, and more Gu's.  I also picked up race brochures a plenty at their respective booths.  I swear, every time I attend a good race and its expo, I end up wishing I lived in the area just so I can run all the races that they advertise!  I might now have my eyes set on Machu Picchu, Antarctica, Marine Corps, Disney, and Dublin.  Guess I need to start saving.

After an hour at the expo, then a couple hours walking around Fisherman's Wharf just outside the hotel, I enjoyed a dinner of leftover Togo's (since I ordered way too big of a sandwich), then I took a long nap so I would be ready to pick up my bestie from the bus stop at midnight.  One of the best things about this racecation was that my best friend Jenna came out as well.  She is the best friend ever--she flew all the way from Tampa to hang out and support me at my first marathon!  It was so good to see her again!  But we were pretty tired, so we passed out shortly after getting back to the hotel.
Jenna and I working the Expo

 The next day, Jenna and I headed back to Portola Hotel for a short and easy shakeout run with the editors of Runner's World.  I had a blast running with these awesome people, but nothing can top running with Jenna on the beach.  Coming from West Texas, which has no mountains, hills, trees, or any type of body of water, this run was spectacular.  Jenna and I stopped a couple times to take some fun shots by the water.  A lot of jumping shots.  Running on sand was a new experience for me, but I was pretty proud of myself for keeping the amount of sand and water in my shoes to a minimum.  Those of you who know me, or have been following this blog, know that I put a lot of thought into my running outfits.  I feel that if I look cute, then I run at my best.  Even with this shakeout run, I wore my 261 Fearless Skirt Sports outfit.  With Fearless scrawled across my chest and on the side of my leg, I felt a surge of courage for the physical task that was waiting for me tomorrow.

Runners ready for the shakeout run
Playing around on the beach feeling #261fearless

#runningbuddies #besties #REALwomenmove
After quick showers, we were back at the expo.  I think I've convinced Jenna to want to do some of those aforementioned races with me, hooray!  Throughout race weekend were scheduled a variety of presentations on everything from a course description to a strategy session to what to expect when running.  Jenna and I attended two of these, which were led by the Runner's World editors.  I'm glad I went, especially to the Big Sur strategy session.  The guidance these runners gave were lifesavers when I ran the course.  During these presentations, I had the pleasure of meeting Bart Yasso from Runner's, and Budd Coates also from Runner's World and former 2:13-marathoner.  You know you're a run-geek when you insist on getting your picture taken with incredible runners such as these.

Me and Bart Yasso
Me and Budd Coates
  For dinner, we decided to eat (surprise surprise) some pasta, so we chose a cute little Italian restaurant right across from the Portola hotel.  While we were waiting for our food, we flipped through the Big Sur Marathon Magazine, when we found my picture!  The editors had chosen me as one of the runners featured in the program!

I made the BSIM Magazine!

Since both Jenna and I were still on Central/East coast time, it was easy for us to fall asleep early so we could make our 3:30am wake-up.  Yes, it was an early morning race day since the buses left at 4:15am, but I made it!  Even considering the time I took to make the all-important decision of what to wear.  I chose my Skirt Sports Jette skirt with capris since it is both super cute, and it has huge pockets to stash a phone for pictures and Gu's.  My top was a very bright colored shirt by Saucony, that also had a pocket in the back for some cash and another Gu.

Another perk with the Runner's World Challenge:  first-class buses with heat, cushioned seats, and even TV.  Us runners were a bit too excited to watch any TV though, as we were trying our best to make out the race course in the early morning darkness.  That bus took just under an hour to get us to the starting area--it was a bit intimidating!  I'm glad that the Runner's World group warned us ahead of time about the trip or it would've psyched me out.  Chatting with my fellow challengers made the ride go by a bit faster as well, and I got to meet some really great people.

Beautiful starting area in the forests of the mountains.  And I love my skirt!
Just as light started peaking out from behind the mountains, we arrived at the Big Sur Marathon starting area.  There were literally thousands and thousands of runners!  Waves of them!  It was chilly still as the sun hadn't yet made its way over the mountains, about 40 degrees or so.  Yet again, the Runner's Word Challenge paid for itself with a private fenced-in area complete with heated tents, a full breakfast spread, fast and efficient bag check, and private porta-potties.  After eating breakfast round 2, I might have made four nervous trips to the porta-johns...You can never be too ready!  And soon enough, the announcers were calling for wave 3 (expected times of 4:30 and higher, aka the party wave) to line up.  I checked my gear and ran toward the starting line to line up with the 5:30 pace group.

Now before I go any further, you should know that the four weeks prior to the race, all sorts of issues arose that negatively affected my training.  I injured my IT band and had to completely rest for a week.  Then when I felt recovered enough to ease back into training, I got the stomach flu which plagued me for the next two weeks.  Upon finally getting over that, I got a cold!  When I should've been running my peak mileage (18-20 milers), I was resting in bed.  I was planning on doing hill repeats at that point as well, and yet again I was sick or injured.  In fact, my longest successful run was 16 flat miles.  I went into this race still not at 100%, and very nervous that I wouldn't finish within the six hour course time limit.  I figured that if I could stick with the 5:30 pace group at least for the first half of the race, I could finish in time.

The 5:30 pace group was full of diverse and fun people!  We were from so many different places around the nation, and we all had an encouraging word to say to each other.  The pace leader Lisa was very motivating as she led us through an alternation of 5 minutes running and one minute walking.  The groups was so wonderful in fact, that at each of the famous Big Sur Marathon Mile Markers, one of them would stop and take a picture of me by the sign.  I really wasn't expecting that to happen; I had planned on just taking pictures of the signs by themselves.  This little act of kindness meant so much to me.  And really, those signs were both hilarious and motivational.  I'll include a few pictures of my favorite ones in this post, and you can view all of them along with a description of each one at this link.  Every two miles or so were live bands playing along the course.  I didn't need my head phones or music at all!

A sampling of the famous Big Sur Marathon mile markers

To quickly interlude, my race fueling strategy consisted of consuming a full Gu or Huma Chia Gel every four miles and taking a couple gulps of the Gatorade at every aid station.  I had five energy gels stashed on my person and I carried a hand-held water bottle that I was able to refill at the Camelbak refill stations.  Additionally, the course offered two Gu stops, and all the aid stations after mile 14 or so handed out orange slices and bananas.  I took advantage of all of  these.  I got so hungry near the end!  Anyway, this fueling strategy worked wonderfully.  I'm going to use it on even my shorter runs from now on.

Now back to the race.  The first five miles of this marathon were blissful.  Coming from West Texas, we don't have much green vegetation or very many trees, and these miles were forested.  The trees were so green and so tall and so magnificent!  And the smell of the lush forest was serene.  The fact that these first five miles were slightly downhill also helped with the blissfulness.  The Runner's World staff advised that we run this course as a negative split (I'm just going to confess right now that I did not achieve this) and to let everyone pass you the first few miles.  They said to not push at all on the downhill, but to let the decline naturally pull you.  "Conserve your energy the first 15 miles, then pick up the pace on the rolling hills" they said.  So what did I do?  Of course I pushed it a bit at first because it did feel so easy.  "I feel so good now, how can this feeling not last?" I thought foolishly to myself.  The 5:30 pace groups was also completing their run minutes at about an 11:30 mile pace so that only fueled my mistaken self confidence in my running abilities.  (Is this enough foreshadowing of the final miles of my marathon?)

BSIM course profile
As we were warned in the presentations, the wind really picks up at mile five when the course turns to run right alongside the cliffs of the coast.  I think it was blowing at a minimum of 20 mph with some serious gusts of 40-50 mph (those got worse later on in the course).  Winds aside, the course was amazing.  From mile five to about mile 24 is proof that the term "ragged edge of the western world" is undeniably accurate.  The coastline is ragged; the cliffs are ragged; heck the mountains to the slight east are ragged!  And all this culminated in awe-inspiring beauty.  Once the course turned out to the coast, I was overwhelmed by this gorgeous scenery.  I almost stopped to try and take it all in.  The views from this marathon are rare as the scenic Highway 1 is closed to vehicle traffic from Big Sur to Monterrey.  Sure, on a normal day you can pull off at one of the viewing areas, but to have all of Highway 1 as your viewing area is another experience entirely.  I felt so blessed to be able to have this opportunity...even if it did mean I had to push through 26.2 miles of wind and mountains (no, I don't consider those inclines just hills).

But then, the incline got steeper--much steeper--as we started the run up Hurricane Point (the highest and steepest climb of the course) from mile 10 to mile 12.  I made the brilliant idea to use the porta-potties at the base of the climb, and then to try and catch up to the pace group the whole incline.  It was so steep and the wind picked up so much that I couldn't even keep up a slow jog.  I ended up doing this awkward walk as I ascended Hurricane Point.  My pace group was so far ahead, I lost sight of them.  I'm just thankful for the drum line was beating away at their drums in a steady rhythm that encouraged me to walk to the beat.  At the very top of Hurricane Point, the wind was so powerful it was hard to breath.  As I tried running, again, the wind kept pushing my left leg into my right one and I nearly tripped a half dozen times.  I was exhausted from the climb!  But then, thank goodness, the course took a sharp turn and all that wind lessened dramatically.  Oh, how wonderful that felt!  I conquered Hurricane Point!  And now I had a nice steady downhill to run, a great recovery for my tired legs and lungs.  Soon enough, I caught up to my pace group again.  And we were coming up on the 13.1 mile halfway point.

Running across Bixby Bridge

Right in the middle of the Big Sur Marathon course stands the famous Bixby Bridge.  This was my favorite part of the whole race (except for the finish line of course).  The views were magnificent, awesome, and breathtaking.  It was the prettiest place I've ever seen in person, absolutely incredible!  Once I crossed the bridge, I was treated to the enchanting music of Michael Martinez who was decked out in a tuxedo playing a grand piano right there on Bixby Bridge.  Now that was an unforgettable experience.

 Views of Bixby Bridge, and piano player Michael Martinez

It was also the last truly enjoyable experience for me on the race.  I felt great the next three miles or so, but then started the rolling hills (or as I referred to them, mountains).  With each incline, I found it harder and harder to stick with the pace group.  My IT band injury started flaring up horribly and my diaphragm was hurting something fierce (it still hurt from all the time I spent throwing up with the stomach flu).  I hit the wall hard and just crashed.  I went from kinda-trying-to-run, to a slow shuffle.
I was dying here, about to quit.

I kept going, but boy, I was hurting bad.  My legs, my chest, my hips, my mouth, everywhere!  With the 6-hour course cut off looming closer, I was genuinely concerned I wouldn't make it.  I was worried that I wouldn't even make it to mile 22 before the 5-hour cut off there.  My motivation started to really wane, and I had just about consigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't finish the marathon.  But hey, at least I would have earned the 21-miler medal.

For the record, I have never not-finished a race before.  I hate quitting and I don't usually entertain ideas of doing so, so this kind of shows the level of pain and fatigue I was enduring.  While I was in this state of thinking, about to just give up, I could hear my Mother's voice telling me, "Rachel, don't quit!  Just keep going.  If you quit now, you'll be so angry with yourself.  You can do this, and I will send you help."  An intense feeling of love filled my heart and I instantly felt comfort and peace.  Don't get me wrong, I was still in a LOT of pain and I was still VERY tired, but all of a sudden I felt like I could endure.
Almost there!

Not minutes later, a man who looked almost exactly like my late Uncle Jimmy, except Asian, walked quickly by me.  He slowed, turned to me, and said, "You know, if you just pick up your pace a little, you can finish the marathon by walking."  After he said that, my head was full of a different type of thinking, "Wait, what?  I can finish and not have to try to run again?  I can do that!  I can walk the last seven miles!"  That was all I needed to keep going.  Just like he said, I increased my walking pace slightly and walked right alongside him.

We passed through mile 22 with eight minutes to spare.  We kept walking up and down those rolling hills to mile 23, the strawberry mile.  The race announcers weren't kidding!  Those strawberries were the best strawberries I've ever had in my entire life.  I'm not sure if that's because I had just endured 23 miles of testing my endurance, or if that's really the case.  I guess it could be both reasons.  Oh, one of the perks of being a back-of-the-packer at Big Sur?  You get more than one strawberry since they have leftovers from other runners who missed that wonderful aid station.  I had six.

Crossing a finish line never felt so good!
 Under a 5K left, and I felt my body fill with energy.  That eight-or-so mile walk break really did me some good.  I was actually catching up to people that had passed me hours ago--and I was still walking.  The hills kept rolling on, but I knew to expect this.  Another helpful course warning, "just assume the hills never end."  Before long, there I was at mile 25 and I knew, I just knew, that I could run the rest of the way.  I could feel my Mom beside me the whole way.

I felt great!  I wasn't running super fast or anything, but I was actually running again.  I felt pretty good, probably because my legs had gone numb a few miles ago.  Still, I kept running and like a glorious vision before my eyes stood the finish line!  I was almost done!  I was almost done.  As I ran through the finisher corrals toward the finish, I saw my friend Jenna cheering for me.  I was so happy to see her!  Usually, I don't have anyone cheering for me at races.  She was holding up a couple signs for me, "Taylor Strong" and "One Hot Marathoner."  I love Jenna.

I tried to kick it up a notch and run faster toward that finish line.  Once I crossed, I about collapsed from fatigue, and also from sheer joy.  Tears came to my eyes.  I was just so happy to be done!  I did it!  I am now officially a marathoner!  I just completed 26.2 grueling miles over hills and into the wind!  Words cannot describe the sheer feeling of elation that came over me, just to be done. You marathoners will understand.  I was pretty emotional.

My best friend Jenna was there for me the entire time.
But there was another surprise waiting for me.  My cousins Michael, Sarah, Jenny, and Jenny's wonderful kids were there cheering for me as well.  I was not expecting that at all and I was overwhelmed by the love I felt from them all.  I don't think they realize how much that small act means to me, even to this day.
My cousins surprised me at the finish!

I staggered past the finish line, the exhaustion finally catching up to me.  When that volunteer came up to me and placed the finisher medal around my neck, it felt like I was just knighted.  I felt like I could accomplish anything!  And I'm not gonna lie, I was totally out of it upon finishing.  My brain was in a runner's fog.  All I knew was that I wanted to spend time with Jenna and my cousins, but I also wanted to eat something.  I was so unfocused I almost forgot to grab my gear check bag...which would've been pretty bad as it contained my ID and debit card.  At least Jenna was there to escort me around, making sure I was taken care of and that I took care of everything I needed to.  We temporarily parted ways with my cousins and Jenna led me to the Runner's World Challenge tent, another private area for challengers and their guests.  There, Jenna made sure I ate a little something.  I had a lot to choose from as the tent was well stocked with an entire spread of food:  sandwiches, pastas, breads, salads, fruits, and even Jamba Juice smoothies.  If I had been in more of a thinking state, I would've taken advantage of the free massages they were giving out!  But, I wanted to get back to my cousins, so I limped over to the gear check and grabbed my bag.  Then, that wonderful numbness in my legs started to wear off and my muscles hurt so bad I had to lean on her to walk up the hill to the car.  She is such a lifesaver!

A medal well earned
I had the presence of mind before the race to pack a pair of 2XU compression sleeves and my Oofos flip flops in my gear bag.  Once I sat down, the first thing I did was to take off my running shoes and socks, then change into those.  Oh they were like walking on a cloud.  The way my calves were supported and my feet were supported felt amazing.  I made myself stretch everything out with a series of 60-second holds stretching my quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, IT band, calves, groin, and glutes.  This I completed in the parking garage before we got lunch.

The rest of my marathon day consisted of a lot more walking than I've ever done after a hard race!  The whole group of us went to Fisherman's Wharf for the best clam chowder I've had--served in a sourdough bread bowl.  Sad thing is, my mouth hurt too much to really enjoy it.  In fact, for the next two days anytime I tried to eat anything, my mouth felt like I had just bit into bubbly burning pizza.  I couldn't figure out what was going on until my cousin Michael, who has a background in fitness, suggested it was due to the tissues in my mouth being dehydrated from breathing in the ocean air hard for so long.  He was right, so I just kept pounding back the water and sucking on ice cubes until I got some relief.

You know, aside from some muscle soreness (which really wasn't that bad), my mouth was really the only place I hurt post-marathon.  I had no blisters or chafing (thank you Body Glide!), my joints and muscles had no lingering pain, and I didn't lose a single toenail, or even have one turn black!  I'd say that was the greatest success of all!  I ran a marathon injury free.  Now I'll always recommend and push a post-race recovery ritual of:  thorough stretching, compression, and easy movement (like my walking).  Even with all the sitting on the long, long flights home I didn't have any trouble.  And here I was earlier, assuming I'd need a wheelchair at the airport. 

My favorite medal.  Ever.

Finishing the Big Sur Marathon was the fulfillment of a dream that sustained me through years of recovering from and learning to live with thyroid disease.  Not only did this goal sustain me, but it motivated me to defy the odds my doctors gave me and not only run again, but run better than I have ever run before.  Now, I feel like a real athlete.  I discovered inner strength and determination I never knew I possessed.  I wore that medal all day, and all the next day.  After all, I just finished something that less than 1% of the world has done.  I finished a marathon!  Sorry, I can't stop saying that.  I'm still in shock about it.  I'm also still in some pain from it.  This was the third most painful thing I've done, only following giving birth and completing the Bataan Memorial Ruck March.  It was also just as rewarding.  While I was running Big Sur, I kept repeating to myself, "Last marathon ever.  Never again.  NEVER!"  But of course, two days later I'm already considering signing up for another full...maybe Marine Corps 2016.  And maybe one day, Big Sur again.


Have you ever had a dream that helped sustain you through a challenging time?