Sunday, November 18, 2007

A week of Thanks

Here comes Thanksgiving!
Although who would know it, with all the ho-ho-ho-liday advertisements, catalogs and merchandise in the stores?

Our mailbox is jammed every day with catalogs, the bell-ringin' folks are already positioned outside stores and offices collecting money in red kettles, and pretty much every elevator I've gotten in to lately is playing some version of some holiday song -- traditional Jingle Bells; Techo-Jingle Bells; Alvin and the Chipmunks Jingle Bells...

I certainly can understand that retailers are a little worried about their sales this year. What, with gas over $3.00 a gallon and the adjustable rate mortgage problems, there is a whole lot less money available for cool presents to give / receive this year.

But the merchandisers and marketers are really pushing the calendar this year, in my opinion.

Heck, there was holiday stuff out in some stores as early as September.

Can we just slow down a little? Can we enjoy the moment and season we are in? Puleeze???

Let's give a little time and respect to the November holidays: my birthday (okay, so it isn't an official holiday, it is a day that is special to me....) and Thanksgiving.

This year, Hubby and I will be traveling to San Francisco to spend time with my brother, his wife, one of my nieces, my older sister, my sister-in-law's mom and who knows who else. My younger sister and her husband will stay here this year, and Hubby's kids spend the day with their mom. Sabrina has to work on Friday, so after she spend some time with her mom and family, she'll be back at our house with the cats.

I'm very much looking forward to seeing my family, hanging out for a few days, being relaxed and having some fun.

Why else do I love Thanksgiving? You mean besides the food (yum) and the fact I can sleep in pretty much as long as I want to?

I love the whole concept of taking some time this week to be conscious about giving thanks and being grateful.

During my "normal" life, I sometimes forget to practice gratitude. I try to remember to list the things I'm grateful for every night -- at least in my head, but sometimes I fall asleep too fast to get through the list.

I also find that running or just being outside allows me some space to say a little "thank you" to the gods above for my life, my health, my friends and my family.

This week, though, is the time of year where being grateful "out loud" comes easier:

1) I'm grateful for my health. I spent years abusing my body with too much alcohol and too much food. It hung in there with me until I could get it together. Now I try to treat it with some respect by eating better (not perfectly but much better), not drinking at all, and embracing physical activity. It's my little way of saying "thanks for not giving up on me".

2) I'm grateful for my Hubby. A man who makes me laugh every day, who is kind and loving and handsome. He is caring, interesting and very smart -- plus, he puts up with my shenanigans on a daily basis. I love him with my whole heart.

3) I'm grateful for my friends: my sister and probably my best friend, Tina, Mary K, Marcia, Nat, Adrienne, Cheryl, Dori, Bev, Liz, Cindy, Ginna, Kathy T, Bea, Nancy, Mary B, Amy P, Luis, Gary, Adam, David, Marty, Tom, Derek. These are people I've know forever or for just a short time and each has taught me many important things either through experience or by example or both.

4) I'm grateful for my family. I miss my parents more than I can express, but I'm very glad that I have good relationships with my siblings, with Hubby's children (although I'm pretty sure they both sometimes consider me to be the Evil Step Mom), his parents and his siblings.

5) I'm grateful for having a ROCKING year running and doing tri's. I PR'd in every event but one this year. For an middle-aged broad, that is pretty darn good.

6) I'm grateful for my cats. Gorby, Callie, Lefty and Kirby are all bundles of joy that I could not live with out.

I'm grateful for dinner, which Hubby just made for me and is hot and waiting for me on the table. He is calling, so I've got to run for now....

If I don't get back to post before Thursday, I hope you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 9, 2007

One one-thousand, Two two-thousand,

Three three-thousand....

That is all it would have taken for me to set a PR at New York City marathon last Sunday: three tiny seconds.

(For all you non-runners PR is runner lingo for "personal record").


Not having a PR is really the only disappointment that happened over the weekend though. All in all, the trip was great, the marathon was wonderful, even if challenging. Hubby, Sabrina and I all had a very good time in the Big Apple.

Besides participating in the event, we got a chance to see the city and to spend some time with one of my very close friends, Adrienne, who lives in NYC. The other sad thing for me was that we did not get a chance to connect with my niece, Chelesa, who is also a New Yorker.

We flew in to LaGuardia on Saturday morning. The weather in NYC was not so wonderful -- Hurricane Noel was in its last throes, causing cloud cover and a lot of wind. Fortunately all of this was to die out during the course of the day and Marathon Sunday was expected to be perfect marathon weather: cool and partly cloudy.

We went to the Marathon Expo and I found the Toyota people. I got my entry in to NYC Marathon as part of the Engines of Change team. The rest of the team that was picked for the event had met earlier in the day for a photo op so I was not able to meet other athletes. I did get a chance to meet some of the Toyota people and representatives from Active who work with Toyota on the Engines of Changecampaign.

There was a film crew there that was filming the hubbub at the booth. They spent a little time interviewing me -- which was kind of fun. Watch for the video on YouTube. (Ha ha).

After the Expo, we checked in to our hotel, which was very close to the center of Times Square. Then we wandered around looking for dinner. My entry included a ticket for the Marathon pasta party, but I felt that Hubby and Sabrina -- good troopers that they are -- had had enough Marathon fun for the day and it was time to do something nice for them.

We found a little deli near our hotel and had a nice, relaxing dinner. I went back to the hotel and hit the hay while Hubby and Sabrina hit the streets to people watch and have some fun.

I had to be up at the crack o'dawn to catch one of the race buses over to the start line in Staten Island. At 5:15 am, Hubby and Sabrina walked with me from the hotel to the Public Library, where scores of buses were lined up waiting for anxious marathoners to board.

I waved goodbye to Hubby and Sabrina, boarded a bus and the adventure was underway.

NYC Marathon requires that all runners arrive at the start, which is at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, well before the 10:10 am general corral start. My bus arrived at 6:15 am. The early arrival results in a lot of "hurry up and wait" activities: go to the portapotty; find some water; go to the portapotty again; find some tea and a bagel; chat with some people; go to the portapotty again; and repeat.

Fortunately, there were some great bands playing music and I got a chance to chat with other runners from Norway, Germany and the UK.

Finally, finally, finally it was time to line up for the start. As I was looking for the 5:00 hour New Balance Pace team, I got a call from my friends Mary K and Dori, who had both just finished a run back in Minneapolis. They called to wish me good luck. That was a very special call to me.

I finally found Larry the Pacer and positioned myself with his team. Larry, by the by, is a veteran of 80 marathons. That is pretty darn impressive. As I lined up with the pace group, I was feeling pretty confident that I could make a 5:00 or 5:15 goal time. (HA!)

The cannon went off, the crowd cheered and we were off! The Verrazano is a double-decked bridge and I was in one of the Corrals that got to run on the top of the Verrazano. This is good for two reasons: 1) the view, which was spectacular and 2) if anyone pees over the side of the bridge -- and people did -- you avoided the sprinkle.

The bridge covers the first two miles of the course: a little more than one mile is UP the bridge, which is made of concrete. My legs, not exactly "peak training fresh" felt both the incline and the unforgiving concrete. The bridge was my introduction to the many challenges of the course.

The route winds through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and then back in to Manhattan for a big finish in Central Park.

The crowds along the course were absolutely amazing. Lots of people cheering, clapping, encouraging. I don't think I've heard crowds so loud for so much of the coures. It was actually kind of nice when I hit a couple of the quiet patches. I could regain some concentration.

The course also employed over 100 bands sprinkled along various places on the route, which was also great. I heard some great music, which also took my mind off my quivering legs.

I also got to see parts of the city I had never seen before, which in all, it was all wonderful.

The not-so-great parts involved:

Losing Larry the Pacer early in the game. (My fault: I took off ahead of him on the Verrazano (like an idiot).

I also got off my "run 7/ walk 1" routine early because I couldn't hear the beep of my watch signaling the switch from run to walk.

I also had to use the portapotty right before the 5K mark, which is never a good thing. The line wasn't so bad, but the woman in line before me took F O R E V E R to do her business. I lost no less than 5 minutes waiting for her to wrap it up so I could do my thing.

My legs really had not been feeling fresh during the stretch of time between Chicago and NYC. Chicago's course is pretty flat; NYCs is very hilly between the bridges and the inclines of the streets. I got fatigued pretty early and had only glimpses of a second wind or two during the event.

I finally got to see Hubby and Sabrina at mile 16, at a spot right after the route crosses the Queensboro Bridge (aka the "Torture Bridge from Hell") in to Manhattan. It was a great pick-me-up to see them for a nanosecond before I trotted up 1st Avenue and in to the Bronx.

At a couple of different spots, I ran in to a couple other of the Engines of Change runners: Megan from Chicago and Dennis from L.A. We chatted for a bit and then went our own paces to the finish.

The final push from the Bronx, over one last *)%#(% bridge in to Manhattan was very cool. A sound system was playing Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York" -- the crowds were very encouraging and I knew I only had that last -- very long -- stretch down 5th Avenue to Central Park and the finish.

Unfortunately, I was very tired by this time. I was doing my best to just concentrate on moving forward. I would run seven minutes, take a minute walk break and then run until I hit the water stop, which were located at each mile marker. I'd walk through the water stop and then run again. I did this for the last five miles of the event.

I was also very disappointed in myself because I was pretty sure that I would NOT have that illusive PR...I just was not sure how bad my time would actually be.

That last turn in to Central Park was a godsend. There were still thick crowds lining the course and that helped. Apparently Hubby and Sabrina were part of the crowd at mile 26. I didn't see or hear them as I passed. I was way too in the "I just wanna finish this thing" mode.

There were also lots of hills in the park, which did not help. I just kept going and going and going until I could finally see the signs that marked the last 400 yards, then 300 yards, then 200 yards, then the finish.

I crossed the finish and was THRILLED to have done the race and to be DONE. I got my medal (yeah!) Got through the finish corral and went to the Runner Reunite area to find Hubby and Sabrina waiting for me. Hubby snapped this picture of me -- I think I look pretty pathetic and spent.

The next day, Hubby, Sabrina and I walked -- (okay, I hobbled) around the city. We went to Ground Zero and Wall Street. Ground Zero is quite sobering, even so many years after the horrific event.

We also went to 5th Avenue and looked around Tiffany's, F.A.O. Schwartz and the biggest Apple Store on the planet.

The Apple Store was jam-packed with people testing out all the cool gizmos. I finally got a chance to look up my race results on a MAC at the store:

Final time: 5:36:45. My second best marathon time.
Best time recorded for me: 5:36:43 -- Grandma's Marathon, 2003.

So, PR'd on a flatter course, when I was much younger.... I suppose there is something to be said for that!

Give me a second -- or three -- and I'll come up with cool thing to say...