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and so the training begins…

For as long as I can remember I have never been a fast runner. On average my training runs range in the 10:30s-12’s min/mile pace. Sometimes if I was having a good day I would get under a 10 minute mile, but rarely.

The focus of my training this time around is to not only become faster, but stronger. After Atlantic City I took several weeks off of running and working out entirely. Knowing that come January 1st – I wouldn’t be able to take a break, I took a chance and gave myself one.  Between Atlantic City and January 1st what happened was incredible. I shifted my entire focus to me, myself and I. I finally let myself be a little selfish and do what I needed to do for myself instead of constantly worrying about other people.  I came into the new year, truly a new me.

What I didn’t realize was how my mental state truly affected my training. After my marathon I decided to let go of EVERYTHING negative remaining in my life, making peace with the past, and manifesting how I wanted my life to be. It is truly amazing how much lighter I felt, how happy I was, and how positively my life started to change once I started doing that. This included my training. My runs started to get faster little by little and I realized that it was because I could breathe without hesitation. I could run without anything truly holding me back.

The race is now a little over 9 weeks away and I couldn’t be happier with my training. So far I’ve had more PR’s than I’ve ever gotten in my race career just in training.  To top it all off what excites me the most is the fact every time I run 3 miles I can now run it in under 30 minutes. In fact – I did what I never thought was possible, for me, and ran a 5K in 27 minutes. Or – how about the fact that I ran 12 miles in 2 hours! I didn’t want to stop! People at the gym think I’m crazy being on the treadmill for that long but when you’re not a cold weather runner you gotta do what you gotta do.

Needless to say my training has been anything but dreadful, even with having to do all of my runs on a treadmill. Yes – training for a marathon I can say is actually becoming fun for once. The coming weeks is what will be the toughest though but I’m ready to tackle it. Soon my 30 miles in a week will start as well as a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training. Yup- I decided to add one more thing to my list this spring so come June I will be a Yoga Teacher.

Also – after seeing many inspiring speakers in the last few months, Mel Robbins, Paul Cummings, Jack Daly… to name a few. Be on the look out for my next blog post which will be my bucket list and 2018 goals.  For the first time in my life, I’m in love with myself. I’m genuinely happy. I’m focused and optimistic. I’m grounded and ready to take on life and make shit happen.

P.S. I’m about half way to my goal of raising $1,500 for the Lymphoma Research Foundation! Want to help me reach my goal? Click here to donate now. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far!

Atlantic City Marathon

October 21, 2017

We arrive in Atlantic City and the emotions start to hit me. I can’t believe I am about to run my second full marathon! I was more excited than nervous this time. Even though the last few weeks my training runs sucked, I felt more prepared since I had done this before.

We checked into the Claridge hotel and I walked in with my 20 bags for just two nights. One for my race day gear, one for other clothes, all of my food, my gallon water jug, and the elevated leg machine. I could barely stand up straight I was carrying so much.  Yet- even with all of the commotion and seeing the others here for the race check in, I still felt oddly calm.

I can do this.

October 22, 2017

We walked out of the hotel onto the boardwalk and the excitement started to fill me. The sun started to come out and the weather was beautiful. Smelling the ocean breeze calmed the nervousness that was starting.  This time I felt more comfortable since I had done this before but also to be running with so many. My Dad and a few of his buddies were doing it, my aunt, and my mom was doing the half. We snapped a few pictures and then headed to the start line.

The gun went off and little did I know that this was about to be a life changing journey.

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Miles 1-5 were easy.  I ran at a comfortable pace making sure I didn’t burn out too quickly. Running through places I don’t know is completely distracting and makes it easier. We even ran through a tunnel which was pretty cool. I was running next to the 4:30 pacer, a guy with the cutest kid in a stroller, and people of all ages just having a great time.

Mile 6 is where hell started. My right foot started to bother me. I recognized this feeling – it was the feeling of blisters forming. Although it was already humid, I was surprised that my feet were sweating that bad already. Every step I then took the pain proceeded. I needed to find an aid station.

By Mile 8 I already started to slow down. The pain proceeded and by this point I could taste the salt. Despite following my nutrition and hydration, and drinking over a gallon the day before, somehow I was already dehydrated.  Knowing this was the first fight my mind battled. How could I have this issue so soon and so early on into the race? Do I drink more water? More gatorade? I was torn.

Mile 9 I ran past the start line and through where I would finish 17.2 miles later. 17 miles seemed so far away.  I passed my uncle and little cousins and tried so hard to keep a smile on my face and act like I was having a good time, despite already feeling awful.

Mile 11 I was approaching the point where I could turn around and just finish the half-marathon. This was something I deeply considered. Stumbling upon an hydration station with volunteers, I begged someone to find me a band aid. I sat down and put bandaids on my blisters, drank some water and hoped that would help.  Before I got up – I considered again just turning around at this point. But I couldn’t. I didn’t train to just finish a half. So I continued on.

Mile 14 I was off the boardwalk again – hoping to find some shade. Running along the boardwalk for those 5 miles with the sun beating down made everything worse. At this point I started to run/walk. Walking more than running. I was still on track to finish before five hours (my goal) but my body began to get weaker and weaker. I could no longer run. It was somewhere along this mile I ran into my Dad who was finishing mile 17. He gave me a high five with a huge smile on his face and all I could say back was that I was feeling terrible already.

Miles 15-18 somehow along these miles I managed to keep my run/walk pace under 15:00 min/miles. I started to run along next to this guy who looked about my age. I could tell he was suffering too. We chatted for a bit and for the next few miles I used him as my visual. He would run past me and when he started to walk again, I’d start running to pass him. It was back and forth like this for miles – but it made it easier. Easier meaning I could still put one foot in front of the other. By this point my whole body ached and I was praying to go back to Mile 6 where the only pain I felt was my foot.

I made a few more friends during these miles. All of which felt like crap too which made me feel better about how I was feeling. Despite how shitty of a day it was turning out to be – there is nothing better than the running community. The other runners on the course all continued to cheer each other on, taking out of the equation how they were feeling.

Mile 19 it was all downhill from here. I could no longer run. Every limb in my body hurt physically. But at this point it was no longer about the physical pain, it was about the mental battle now.

Every intersection there were cops. Every intersection I contemplated stopping and asking them to pull me out of the race. I couldn’t fathom getting through another 7 miles feeling this way.  My hydration plan was completely thrown off since I couldn’t stomach anymore gels or blocks. I tried to take in more Gatorade to fight the dehydration, but now my stomach was bothering me. My head pounded, my arms hurt, my back ached, my legs – I honestly could hardly feel that pain anymore. I was numb.

Mile 20-23 This is when I met Jessica.  Jessica and I power walked (slowly) the next four miles together until we reached the boardwalk. If it weren’t for her – I would have stopped. I even asked the volunteers at the hydration stations to walk with me to bring me water knowing if I stoped for even a split second I would be done. I wouldn’t have been able to start again.

Mile 24 We reached the boardwalk. The heat was overpowering. At this point the boardwalk was open to the public. There weren’t many racers left or so I thought. Jessica took off toward the finish and then it was just me. Me, my pain, and my thoughts.

My Mom called me to see where I was and it took everything in me not to burst out crying when I answered the phone. I was so embarrassed and ashamed of how badly I was doing and it wasn’t only that. By now my body and mind were so exhausted I could hardly control any emotion. I hung up the phone quickly as I couldn’t even open my mouth any more. I started to scout out the nearest trash can feeling like I was going to vomit.

How was I going to make it to the finish? It seemed impossible. I started to think about life. If I could do this- if I can make it to the finish line, I can do anything. These thoughts kept me going, it helped me put one foot in front of the other.

Then I started to pray.  I talked to God more than I talked to myself. I prayed that I wouldn’t vomit. I prayed that He would get me through this. I prayed hard that all of this pain would go away.

I looked down at my watch and saw I was averaging a 17:41 min/mile. Then I looked at my overall time. If I went any slower, I could potentially miss the cut off time. Tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t have put myself through all of this to not finish.  So I somehow picked my feet up a little bit faster and started to jog 20 seconds for every minute.

Mile 25 

I was so close I could see the finish line. I searched hard for water – there wasn’t much left out on the course.  I was also determined to not let anyone else pass me. I knew there were a few more people behind me but there was no way I was going to come in last. As I got closer to mile 26, there were more people all over the boardwalk. It got frustrating having to weave in and out of them feeling so crappy. Some cheered me on, some didn’t even look twice.

Then I saw a group of women who I saw so many times out on the course. They yelled so loudly for me and started dancing. It gave me my last burst of energy that carried me to mile 26.

Mile 26

.2 miles left. .2. That was it. I could see the people lining the stretch to the finish line. Seeing how close I was, my lip started to quiver. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I kept telling myself – do not cry.  Don’t cry Nicole, you are stronger than that. Make it past the finish line with a smile on.

I looked up from my feet and saw the finish line. At first I thought I was hallucinating, because I had been during some of the race but when I looked up again, what I thought I saw was true and I could no longer hold back the tears. I let out a loud sob. I mean loud. It was embarrassing. the tears streamed down my face and I tried to hold the rest of it in until I crossed. But seeing my Dad standing there holding my medal for me was the most unexpected perfect end to the day I had just had.

I crossed the finish line at exactly 6 hours. It was a very emotional day to say the least.  It took me at least ten minutes to stop crying. My family was there waiting for me and so was Jessica. I couldn’t believe I had finished. There were so many times during those last 16 miles that I thought about quitting and getting a DNF.  But now I know I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined.

Every time I look at the medal from this race, I’ll see the power of what can happen when you don’t give up and the strength you acquire mentally and physically when you test your body and push yourself beyond the excruciating pain. Although I wish I had a better race like my first one, the journey and the outcome was worth more than quitting and I am certainly a different person today because of this journey.

 

 

 

Wineglass Marathon

At exactly 12:00 A.M. on December 1st, 2015, I typed in my debit card number and pressed “register”. I signed up for my first full marathon. “What in the world was I about to get myself into,” I thought. I was excited, nervous, and anxious. What I didn’t realize was how much training for a marathon would change my life…for the better.

October 2, 2016, 5:30 A.M.

I rose out of bed, changed into my race outfit, slid on my compression sleeves, and looked in the mirror. I looked at the girl in front of me and smiled. I was a different person 23 weeks ago. ” That girl in the mirror is about to run 26.2 miles and she IS ready,” I thought. I gathered all of my things and headed down to the hotel lobby to meet my dad for breakfast before we journeyed out to the start.

If it weren’t for my dad, I wouldn’t have even thought of running my first marathon. It meant a lot to me to run my first marathon sharing the course with him, especially on his birthday weekend. He encouraged me throughout my training, gave me great advice, and gave me the motivation I needed. Having the support from my dad, my mom, my aunt, the rest of my family, co-workers, friends, and many other people, is one of the reasons I had made it to the start. I couldn’t have done it without them.

My Dad and I walked onto the bus to bring us to the start line, number 33 my lucky number, I looked at my Dad and said, “This is going to be a great day, let’s do this.” Arriving at the start, we had almost an hour before the gun went off and I was surprisingly calm. I knew I was ready. I knew I was ready to tackle this next challenge before me. But, when we got the call to line up, my stomach dropped. I thought I was going to puke. “How was I going to run 26.2 miles when I’ve only run 20? What if I get hurt? What if I can’t do this?” were the thoughts running through my mind. I continued to smile though and when the air horn blew and we started to run, all of the nerves went away.

I was loving every second of it. The weather couldn’t have been any more perfect. At some points I even caught myself singing or humming out loud to the music playing through my headphones. I looked around at all of the scenery—the beautiful barns, lakes, the fall foliage, the mountains, and the horses. The only time I slowed down was through the hydration stations and then continued on. Next thing I knew I was finishing mile 17. My legs still felt amazing and so fresh.

“I can do this, I AM doing this.”

Then came mile 21. The slowest mile I had during the race. I stopped to get water and when I tried to get going again I couldn’t. I thought my feet were bleeding. They hurt horribly. I decided I would walk most of this mile and then run again the next mile. But, running again had become a challenge because my legs still felt great but it hurt too much to put my feet on the ground. I knew at this point my feet were definitely bleeding and/or I had huge blisters.

I continued to put one foot in front of the other and when I finished mile 23, something happened. I realized I only had 3 miles to go and started to reflect back on my training and the challenges I had to face.

The first fifteen weeks provided all different types of challenges. As my mileage increased I had to learn how to fit in my runs on top of everything else I had going on, even if that meant getting up before 5 A.M. I needed to train my body to be able to handle the gels and energy blocks on long runs. I learned how to properly hydrate to run over ten miles in 100% humidity. After injuries to my knees, shins, and feet, I figured out I needed insoles which meant I needed to cut back on my miles, go off of my training plan and let my body heal. I sacrificed time with my friends or a night out just so I could get the proper rest before a 16-mile run.

Physical challenges weren’t the only obstacles I needed to face. Mentally, I had no clue what I would need to overcome each day. Some weeks it was just the simple struggle of saying “I can do this” when another voice in my head would say “I don’t want to do this.” Other weeks it was learning how to deal with one of the greatest challenges life puts before us, death. At week 15 of my training, the tragic death of a great young man close to my family took a toll on me emotionally and physically. It pained me to see so many people around me that I loved and cared for hurting. For me, being strong for my sister and brother, who had never grieved an unexpected loss of someone this close to them, for my parents who were hurting for their friends and for their employees, and being strong for his family, was more important than getting a run in. So for a while, I used my training runs as my time to grieve instead of working on speed or endurance. I used it as a time to reflect on my life and a time to pray.

My last “long run” my 20-miler had been the most fun run I had during my whole training. Upon finishing I realized that I had made it this far and that I could really do this. Then I thought back to just two weeks before race day, after being rear ended, I was faced with yet another challenge. I suffered from whiplash and needed to take almost my first full taper week off from running. Being so close to the race, I worried how this would change things. But, going back out for my first run since the accident I looked down at my wrist where I wore the wristbands that were made up in memory of Sean with his favorite quote, “Live The Life You Love,” and it reminded me that if I gave up now, I wouldn’t be living my life to the fullest.

At this point, I actually started to cry. My throat hurt trying to choke back the tears thinking of how far I had come and that I was almost to the finish line. I started to pass one runner after the next after getting a sudden burst of energy. The tears fell down my cheeks but my smile was definitely hard to miss. Kids along the road reached their hands out to give me a high five, people were shouting that we were almost there, and at that point, I had completely forgotten about the pain I was in ten minutes prior.

Then came the last mile. Mile 26. I had slowed down but I didn’t want to stop. The pain started again and it seemed as if I would never get to the finish line. At this point, I took my headphones off and started to run with another runner who was also running her first marathon. We talked about our training and started to give each other the push we both needed to keep going. Before I knew it I took my last left turn and headed down the final stretch. People were clapping, cheering loudly and waving us through. When I saw that finish line, the picture that had been the background on my phone for the last 10 months, I looked down at my feet and watched them cross the finish line and started to cry again. I knew right then that I was capable of more than I ever thought possible. I did it, I really did it.

23 weeks of pain, time, dedication, willpower, patience, and sacrifice. 5 hours and 26 minutes and 26.2 miles of the most amazing and most difficult physical & mental challenge I’ve ever endured but it was one of the best experiences of my life.