Eat Pray Run

Hal Higdon half marathon training plan pinned on wall

My 2015 goal is to run a sub-2 hour half marathon. I am over halfway through my training, and feel like I have not done enough. I have phantom knee pains, my pace has not improved as much as I would have liked by this point, and I want to eat all things in sight! This always seems to happen to me. Goal is set, heart is all in, but commitment tends to waver with life’s distractions. Why can’t I just be absolved from all of my adult responsibilities and run — Is that too much to ask?

The first culprit: Phantom pain in my right knee. I call it phantom, because the pain is slight, but just enough to annoy me. With only three weeks left until my race, I decided to suck it up and go see the doc. He took a quick look and prescribed physical therapy for strength training. Unfortunately, I knew deep down that this would be the outcome. A few weeks into training, due to time constraints, I started to slack on my strength training only running the minimum to get by. Not a good idea. Cross training and stretching is such an important supplement to running. But, the devil has a sneaky way of twisting things around in our minds forcing us to settle. Even though I followed my training plan, I was getting weaker. I could feel it when I could not run for more than two miles without stopping. This was a shot to my pride and irritating to no end. How did I run a strong 26.2 miles only five months ago, and now I am struggling to get two miles in? 

The second culprit: Diet. During my marathon training, I adhered to my Paleo meal plans and gave up alcohol. This time around…weeell…I give it an E for effort. I have not been making the best food decisions with Sour Patch Kids and ice cream topped with caramel as my nemesis. And let’s not forget the Sunday Fundays in which I partook. As a result, I have been fighting bloating and GI issues. You may be in the best shape of your life, but running with GI issues is for the birds. It will put a halt on your running real quick. 

In addition to my perceived inadequacies, my mind has been cluttered with a whole bunch of junk AKA life: Homework, keeping up with meal plans, work, decisions, things we are praying for, and change. I inherently and unintentionally try so hard to control all aspects of my life, to always have a plan, and it is exhausting. I stress about having enough time to get things done. I worry about the things I cannot see. I am apprehensive about the things I want and pray for. And I am impatient with having patience. 

This morning, I found peace during my run. I was reminded that I serve a loving and faithful God who knows His plans for me, even when I do not. God spoke to me and the tears started flowing. One of my favorite songs was playing, “No Turning Back” by Brandon Heath. I let everything go during that last mile, as He gave me a verse to silence all the noise in my head:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” ~ Psalm 46:10

He reminded me that I do not need to have it all together, because he is always in the background working for my good. He told me that I am enough, because I am His daughter. He asked if there has ever been a time that my prayers were not answered. We laughed about that time I said I could never run a half marathon. We laughed even harder about the time I said I could never run a full marathon. He reminded me of all the people with whom he has blessed my life. We reminisced about the time when I didn’t know Him, but He still knew me and brought me into the light. 

No, my troubles have not disappeared. I am, however, comforted in being reminded and knowing I serve an almighty God who always has my back even when I am a hot mess. Many times, we face challenges, big and small, that seem impossible at the time. Well, that’s because it’s true…”With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~ Matthew 19:26. Before today, my sub-2 goal was impossible. But now, my sub-2 goal is inevitable and it’s gonna be PR City, baby! Nobody is invincible from worry, but seeking God in everything you do affords you peace from all that fuss in your head. Sometimes, all we need to do is Be Still

My First Marathon

KC Marathon Finisher Becky Lewis

Race: Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon
Day: October 18, 2014
Finish Time: 5:03
Temperature: 40-50 degrees
Outfit: Tech shirt over a tank, shorts with spandex, Brooks Ravenna
Breakfast: Mini bagel with Peanut Butter
Fuel: Mini pretzels, 2 orange slices, 1 date, 1/4 banana, 1 tiny squeeze of a non-caffeinated Gu packet
Mantra: Keep putting one foot in front of the other

I have always wanted to run a marathon — ever since I watched my close friend, Rachel, cross the finish line at the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2009. Being a non-runner, that was the first time I ever experienced the mesmerizing atmosphere of a race. Among thousands of runners, the air is thick and contagious with determination and hope. Runners come in all varieties of shapes, sizes, and age. The streets are packed full of spectators with their blow horns, bells, and signs as they gather together in the cold weather to cheer on loved ones and complete strangers. 

5Ks were my gateway drug into distance running. In 2010, I ran, jogged, and breathed heavily through my first 5k. Many more followed, but mainly just for fun. Nevertheless, when you are born with a competitive bone, “just for fun” does not last long. I eventually went on to run 10Ks, 15Ks, and my first half marathon in 2013. After my brutal first half marathon, I remember distinctly saying that I would never run another half marathon, let alone a full marathon. The thought of running 13.1 miles, only to realize you have another 13.1 miles to go made me sick to my stomach. But as you already know, my sickness also wore off quickly and was replaced with curiosity, a desire to know if I can go further. Two half marathons later, I signed up for a full marathon. 

5Ks were my gateway drug into distance running.

During my training, I did a lot of research for a variety of things related to running a marathon. Some were searches as simple as:

“What type of shoes should I wear for running a marathon?”

“How long before race day should I carb load?”

Others were random questions I would have never thought to ask, such as:

“What should I bring to fuel during the race, and how much?”

“I did more cross-training than actual running, am I going to die on race day?”

Consequently, I want to share all aspects of my marathon experience, in anticipation of future first-timers who may be performing the same searches. I did not find answers to all of my questions, but maybe I can answer some of yours. I understand we are all built differently, but sometimes just knowing you are not alone is comforting enough. 

Training

I did not complete the full training. The Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon provided an 18-week level 1 marathon training schedule, which consisted of 4 runs and 1 long run per week. Because I knew I was already capable of running 13 miles, I did not take the first six weeks of training seriously. I was content with my normal workout routine: Boot Camp, Turbokick, Zumba, weight lifting, Piyo, and yoga. Sometimes I did two a day, sometimes back to back. I thought that these classes were more than enough to satisfy my training demands.

During training, I found strength in my conversations God. I spent much of my long runs praying for strength and endurance, physically and mentally.

The next six weeks of training came during the summer months. I was never a big fan of running, but I was really not a fan of running in the heat and humidity. The air-conditioned gym was much more appealing than running outside. Thus, I remained a gym rat and continued to attend 5-7 Group X classes during the week. Every once in awhile, I would throw in a 2-mile run, or so. 

On September 7, 2014, I ran the Broadway Bridge Half Marathon in Kansas City. I went into this run thinking it was going to be a fairly flat course making for an easy morning jog. WARNING: If you ever sign up for a run that takes place in downtown Kansas City, nothing about it is flat!! During this half marathon, I struggled with hills and fatigue. Humility knocked me flat and hard on my face, as I realized that Group X classes != (that’s geek talk for does NOT equal) running. Don’t get me wrong, strength training, high-impact cardio, and core work are great cross-trainers for running. But, neglecting the running part defeats the purpose. Each type of training works different muscles, and it is important to find a balance.

I learned that whatever your goal, no matter the distance and no matter your experience, there will always be some form of struggle. Running never gets easier, you only get stronger.

With six weeks of training left, I knew I had to dedicate the remainder to running (weird, I know). I panicked as I did calculations in my head. Up to this point, I should have already ran several 20-milers. I did my best to shuffle around long runs to ensure I got close to 20 miles at least twice without exhausting my body, and leaving enough time to taper. Within three weeks, I ran a 14-miler, a 16-miler, and a 20-miler. During the 20-miler, I had to walk the last 3 miles.

With two weeks left, I really started to panic. My daily thoughts were flooded with fear, doubt, and regret, as I toggled between feeling ready and not feeling ready. Gratefully, one of my life vests was a Women Running Club (WRC) group that I follow on Facebook. The advice, Q&As, inspiration, hilarious memes, conversations, and straight real talk kept me calm and optimistic. At the very least, I took comfort in knowing that I was not the only one with fears. I learned that whatever your goal, no matter the distance and no matter your experience, there will always be some form of struggle. Running never gets easier, you only get stronger. I accepted the fact that the turmoil I felt was minuscule compared to the regret of never signing up for the run, and never knowing. 

Carb Loading

I started carb loading 5-3 days prior to my marathon. In the past, I always waited too late, leaving myself bloated the morning of the race. During my training, I found the task of replenishing my carbs somewhat challenging. Consequently, I decided to slacken my Paleo regiment and include some “white” carbs into my diet: pasta, rice, and white breads. Particularly, bagels were my go-to. One mini bagel with a generous serving of nut butter helped my sustainability during long runs. Two days prior to my marathon, I kept my meals light, focusing on protein and good carbs: eggs, chicken, vegetables, and sweet potatoes. On marathon eve, however, I made a brash dinner decision. I wanted a sub sandwich. My husband took me to Firehouse Subs, where I thought it would be a great idea to order a large sandwich. Awful idea! Who knew their larges were actually the size of a small child. I was left painfully full, and ended up bloated all night and the morning of. Nevertheless and thankfully, I burned most of it off within the first 5 miles. 

Race Day

Psalms 26:2 says “Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart…For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes…”

Race day. Surprisingly, I was not nervous. I had ran enough runs to know how to control my nerves on race day. And even though I was still terrified about my lack of training, I felt sheer excitement. I was excited for the opportunity to dream big. I was excited for making my dream a reality by taking that first step to register. I was excited for committing(ish) to the training and making it to race day. I was excited to once again breathe that transcendent marathon air and be among the thousands of people with a dream. And this time, it was I who was filled with determination and hope, and it was I for who spectators would cheer. In fact, as I was chilling on my cloud 9, the only issue I encountered was with my wardrobe. I know, I know — Many people have their outfit planned in advance, and lay out flat _____ the night before. But, the 40-50 degrees weather forecast left me indecisive and with no flat Becky to share. I already committed to wear shorts, but I was at a crossroad between tech shirt or tank. 10 minutes before the race start, I quickly decided to wear both, figuring I could take the shirt off if I got too hot. Fortunately, It was a good decision. The layers helped block out the minimal wind that day, and I ended up leaving the shirt on the entire race.

While I was wrapped up in my wardrobe mini-crisis, the starting line filled up quickly. By the time I got in line, I was far behind the 4:40 pacers, who I planned to follow. I spent the first mile trying to locate the pacers (bad idea), wasting precious energy. Eventually, I found the 4:50 pacers and hung out with them for only a few miles. I ended up running most of it on my own (ahead in the beginning, and behind in the end). The first 20 miles were comfortable. The course took us through all the districts of Kansas City including Crown Center, Power & Light, 18th & Vine, Plaza, Westport, Brookside, and Waldo. I always thought I would want to run a flat course for my first marathon, but the tour of the city was beautiful and worth the challenge. While the course was nowhere near as hilly as the Broadway Bridge Half Marathon or the Hospital Hill Half Marathon that I ran earlier in the year, we did encountered several hills throughout, mostly in the first 12 miles. I was grateful to discover my hill work during training was paying off, as I defeated each hill one at a time. 

I carried a handheld 10 oz water bottle, with a small pouch attached to the handstrap. Although I am usually a minimalist when it comes to running gear, I initially purchased this water bottle only for my long runs during training. However, I decided to carry it on race day for two reasons: (1) To drink whenever I want,  (2) To carry fuel. While there were water stations approximately every 2-3 miles, it was nice to have my own water to drink or just swish around my mouth if needed. I took water from the stations and filled my bottle throughout the run.

During my training, I tried a variety of products for fuel including Gu, Jelly Sport Beans, Clif Shots, Bloks, and Honey Stingers. All of them made me sick. My body could not handle the sugar. As a result, I decided to fuel with simple foods. I carried mini pretzels and dates in my small water bottle pouch, which I ate around miles 8, 13, 18, and 22. My husband met me halfway with a couple orange slices. Additionally, I ate a quarter of a banana, a couple gummy bears, and took a tiny squeeze of non-caffeinated Gu provided during the race. Although I started the run bloated from my bad decision the night before, I thankfully had zero stomach issues on race day.

Focusing on my friends and family during the race really helped to keep my mind off the fact that I was crazy enough to not only run 26.2 miles, but to pay money to run 26.2 miles.

My biggest drive during the race was the love and support shown by family and friends. Seeing familiar faces throughout the course gave me strength and pushed me to keep going. In addition, the support shown by complete strangers was very uplifting, as they handed out high-fives, shouted atta girls, rang cow bells, and waved their ridiculously hilarious race signs. Among some of my favorites: 

“Run faster, the man behind you has Ebola”

“You’ve done dumber things while you were drunk”

“Because 26.3 would be crazy, right?”

“Run now, poop later”

“Run faster, I just farted”

“This is the worst parade ever”

“Do Epic s&*%”

Another motivator during the race was the prayer list I wrote on my arm. A girl in my Womens Running Club on Facebook once posted a picture of writing on her arm, and explained that she was dedicating each mile to someone during her first marathon. I thought this was a fabulous idea. I have always found running, especially distance running, to be a spiritual experience, as strength is gained and limits are slowly removed with each milestone. Like most people, I was not born a long distance runner. But, if a goal is set in front of me — run, walk, or crawl — I will try my hardest to reach it. During training, I found strength in my conversations God. I spent much of my long runs praying for strength and endurance, physically and mentally. I spent the remainder thanking Him for two functioning legs that allow me to run and challenge myself, along with the other blessings in life that are often taken for granted. I eagerly decided to follow in my fellow WRC running sister’s footstep and dedicate each mile to a friend or family member, during which I would pray for that person. Focusing on my friends and family during the race really helped to keep my mind off the fact that I was crazy enough to not only run 26.2 miles, but to pay money to run 26.2 miles. More importantly, there is nothing more soothing to the soul than uplifting another person. And with each mile, I did just that. It helped me to concentrate on positive thoughts, and to use any discomfort I felt to lift those up who are struggling with their own life challenges. Psalms 26:2 says “Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart…For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes…” What a powerful scripture to cling onto in preparation for running 26.2 miles.

Like most people, I was not born a long distance runner. But, if a goal is set in front of me — run, walk, or crawl — I will try my hardest to reach it. 

The Finish

I did not finish the marathon within my goal of under 5 hours, but I finished. The last 6 miles were brutal. Maybe it had something to do with the fact I only made it to 20 miles once in my training, or that I only completed the last third of my training, but who’s keeping track. As spectators began to thin out and runners started to slow down around me, I felt exhaustion setting in and making itself at home in my body. My legs were tired, or numb, or maybe both. They hurt when I ran, they hurt when I walked. I tried to convince them to might as well run, but my mind was going into panic-mode right along with my legs.

Before the run, someone posted on my Facebook to remember to “keep putting one foot in front of the other”. I never thought a concept so simple would be so hard to do. During those last 6 miles, that is what I continued to tell myself. I saw runners around me limping through injuries, stretching through pain, and crying through exhaustion. I also shed a few tears at mile 23, knowing I only had 3 miles left — A distance I was happy to run during training, because it was a short run — the finish line was so close, but felt incredibly far. That was the longest 3 miles of my life. Nevertheless, the last few water stations were heavenly oases providing for a quick rest to catch my breath and refresh my mind. At the last water station, one of the volunteers grabbed my arm, and said to me in a soft and genuine voice, “Have an amazing finish”. It is incredible how powerful the human touch can be. There is not one person placed in your life that God does not use for your good. In that moment, with only a couple miles to go, I realized the finish was within reach.  That simple and timid expression of love and support fueled me through the last couple miles, running when I could, and walking when I needed. As I approached the last stretch, I spotted my husband at the front of the sidelines among hundreds of spectators. The sight of him put a huge smile on my face and gave me one last push to the end. I crushed the last 200 meters with a dead sprint and crossed the finish line. 

At the last water station, one of the volunteers grabbed my arm, and said to me in a soft and genuine voice, “Have an amazing finish”. It is incredible how powerful the human touch can be. There is not one person placed in your life that God does not use for your good.

Running a marathon was one of the biggest physical challenges I have ever faced. From hundreds of training miles, thousands of calories, countless training hours to a few mental breakdowns, too many “I can’ts”, and uncontrollable tears shed, I FINISHED. Will I ever run another one? If you would have asked me a couple weeks ago, the answer was no. I clearly remember at mile 22, cursing myself for signing up and solemnly swearing I would never ever run another marathon. But, when you are born with a competitive bone, you keep trying until you reach your goal.