Archive for December, 2013


‘TIS THE SEASON

12.20.2013

Christmas in KL

Yep, as I look out the window from my computer station I see a lot more snow than us West Coasters are accustomed to seeing. I also see the Christmas lights I just got put up this afternoon.  I know, I know!  I had STUFF to do.

I pretty much HATE political correctness, so: Merry Christmas! And, since I am not planning on writing another post before 2014, Happy New Year!

Now, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then let me wish you the peace and joy of this season. As I write this, I am reminded of living for nearly two years (2001-2) in Malaysia (in case you haven’t looked or don’t know), a Muslim country. The year we arrived, Ramadan fell just before Christmas. Yes, Christmas. Divali hit near the beginning of Ramadan, then we had Christmas, then New Year, then Chinese New Year! Each one, got its due in turn. It was an amazing time and experience. Not so long ago (2010) we visited Malaysia with some very old friends, and it being not too far ahead of Christmas, were surprised, in tropical heat to see the biggest Christmas tree I’ve seen in a very long time, and SNOW.  OK, it might have been artificial, but it was there! At the appropriate time, when we lived there, everybody wished everybody else the appropriate greeting for the season. It was great!

What has this got to do with running?  Nothing. What does it have to do with the time of year and celebrations? Everything!

One of the things I do love about running is how it evens things out, and maybe, just maybe goes a long way toward the “Peace on earth, good will toward men” thing. As most will know, I was just in Jamaica for the Reggae Marathon weekend. My buddies for the weekend included Christians, Jews and Hindu’s cross-hatched with Americans, Indians, Jamaicans and Canadians; black, white and brown. Had it not been for some serious and unfortunate illness, there would have even been a couple of Rastas! What brought us together is running. What keeps us together as friends is the bond that real people form when they forget all the other stuff. I only use that one example because it is so perfect. The concept and experience is not new to me, but other examples will take a lot more explaining.

As is evident from some of my recent posts, I have been reflecting on our community and its strengths and beauty. I guess, although I will be out running tomorrow and a good many more times before January 1, 2014, I have ‘shut down’ for 2013. I ran my last race in Negril, so I am now just enjoying an easy/quiet time while recharging the battery for the coming year. I think I am far from alone. I will be running in a clinic group a couple more times before the New Year and realized a long time ago that even though the range of abilities is huge, we all share something and that I feel really, really good when I am around those people!

Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year!  Seasons Greetings!

WHAT MAKES A RACE AN EVENT?

12.14.2013

I was just at the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K in Negril, Jamaica. Unless this is the very first of my blog posts that you are reading, you know this race is one of my favourite events. I am not going to start over again and describe all the wonderful aspects of the Reggae Marathon, but while taking part for the third time I pondered the difference between a race and an EVENT. It is not hard to pick out the big ones like New York and Boston, London and Berlin, as well as many others, but smaller races qualify too.

My question relates more to special, not necessarily large, races that have gone beyond putting on a technically sound running contest, to create what I have chosen to describe as an event. In my mind anything that might be called an event goes beyond the basics and has a magic that makes people want to be part of it, and not just once. I want to be careful about naming specific races because I quite frankly have only done a limited number and probably haven’t gone near some very fine ones. Everyone will have their own special races that they would put in my event category. Even so, I will name one particular name, largely because I know more about it than any other race and that is the First Half Half Marathon in Vancouver, BC. It is coming up in February but unless you are an elite runner you may as well forget the 2014 edition as it sold out a couple of months ago, in just a few hours. It is not a small race so a sell-out is a rather significant indication that this is an event in my terms.

Limiting myself to these two specific examples with a wander from time to time into the world of the truly major races, I want to explore what makes some special and others kind of basic. I repeat: not naming certain races with which I am quite familiar is not an indication that I do not think they qualify as events in their own rights. I just don’t want to create an impression that only those I name qualify, at least in my opinion.

So here we go! I would really like to hear feedback on this too.

Staging a race requires a bunch of basic technical stuff. In fact, not paying attention to those core matters probably takes any given contest out of both the event and race category! I fully endorse and applaud the participatory running contest, but if you call it a RACE it better be on a properly measured course with proper timing and results recording. Today, that latter aspect generally means a chip timing system, but need not be that high-tech. If you want to stage a race, you had better offer proper support consistent with the nature and distance of the race (trying not to be too specific re 5Ks vs marathons vs trail ultras) as well as security for runner safety. And, when all is ‘said and run’, there had better be effective results reporting.

Some might think my list is pretty basic and not hard to do, but to deliver all these things in a proper way takes lots of effort and planning.

Getting to ‘event status, as I describe it, requires going to another level, maybe a couple of other levels. As great as a race may be, I’m not sure you can attain this level in the first running. A particular new race might have the indications it will be an event, but the opinion of participants is so much a part of it (in my mind) that the debut running can only be a preview. Following are my thoughts on the elements of what creates an EVENT. They are not in order and it is probably not necessary to have every element in each and every case.

Going back to the Reggae Marathon, the event I just did (in fact, as I start this post, I am actually on my way home), I can say this race is hitting some very high notes. Numbers were up this year quite significantly – some 33% on recent overall finishers and up in each of the three races. To get people to travel all the way to Jamaica (as nice as it is for a vacation) to run one of the three distinct races is a remarkable feat. Why would people do that? Why would they do it more than once? Reputation and delivery of the ‘goods’ are big parts of the answer. Some 34 countries were represented, including 130 people from Canada.

The serious destination aspect of some races, Reggae Marathon being a prime example, certainly gives a leg up. When people travel to, and then can mingle with other participants over a couple of days, you are well on your way to staging an event. On the other hand, notwithstanding that people do come from a range of places for the First Half Half marathon, it is pretty much a local event, but no doubt at all that it does qualify for event status. So, you do not have to start by being a Caribbean island in December. You can be a major city in Canada in February. Location is big, but not necessarily the whole answer. The main point is that people have to really WANT to be part of the event.

Competitor care seems to be a key element. All who participate (I use the word competitor in the broadest sense) must feel that they are being well looked after on every level. Both the two events I am using as examples do this in spades.

Detail is another critical matter. It is hard to define this because it cuts across every aspect of the race or races, as the case may be. No part of the program takes a back seat to any other. The good races do this.

Equal consideration for everyone is so important. Whether it is the elite pointy end of the race, or the person who is doing the race as personal challenge or in an experiential way, all must feel the organizers are looking out for them. I have recently been to an event that disappointed hugely in that it has just decided to be a commercial spectacle, homing in on the biggest possible paying demographic and offering more pizazz and bling than substance, leaving the actual running component to fend for itself.

Speaking of elites, the EVENT may or may not have elite runners, whether that be world level like New York or Boston (did you recognize Kiprop, Goucher and a few of the ‘girls’ from Boston 2009?) or national/regional level, even local level as long as those runners are clearly faster than most of the other competitors in the race. All races will have serious/competitive runners.

The event likely has amazing sponsors and sponsor cooperation and support.

There may be a worthy and well-supported charitable cause, and while I think this is an important aspect of being part of the greater community, I don’t believe it is essential to any given race being considered an event (by me anyway).

The great events stay with the participant needs and maybe get ahead of them. I am skirting around the matter of things like race souvenirs (shirts and such), finisher medals, pre- and post-race activities. The reason for the skirting is that I don’t think there is any particular formula or specific list of musts. The main issue is that whatever any race chooses to include, it is done well. For instance, the pasta party at the Reggae Marathon is billed as “the World’s Best”. Now, it could very well be, but since I haven’t been to all the pre-race pasta parties in the world, I can’t say for sure but I feel pretty safe saying the claim is not without merit. The same with the First Half post-race food spread. It is above and beyond the norm and is remarked upon each year by participants.

Volunteers (and their organization, training etc) are an absolute must in the assessment of the great event. I can say from experience that the Reggae Marathon volunteers are super, and I can say from direct knowledge that the First Half, year after year, gets the greatest number of positive comments on the volunteers; volunteers who stand out on the course regardless of weather (and in February, even on a nice day, it isn’t warm) to make sure participants are well looked after. Volunteers are the world’s best people. We runners would be nowhere without them, but the best events have well trained volunteers that know what their job is and how to do it. All the good will in the world doesn’t help much if the course marshal doesn’t know which way you should go! And, the volunteer has to be in charge when there is an important decision in the balance. That means the individual must have been well instructed so they can be firm and decisive in their direction. In many instances this is a matter of safety for the particular runner and all others around. I could go on and on about the importance of the volunteers and how they make or break a race, but this should suffice for anyone who races regularly. The best Race Director in the world cannot be everywhere on the course or around the event, before during or after. It is the team effort, including and especially the volunteers, that makes it happen in a way the keeps everyone happy and wanting more.

You can run out of some things (you shouldn’t, but sometimes it happens), but there are some things you must never be short of and water is one of them. There is no place where this is more true than at the Reggae Marathon and this is well understood. I have to also give a nod to something specific within that race, which is the form in which water and electrolyte are offered. Both are in pouches in amounts of about 200-250ml. You rip open a corner and can then take either as  you choose, but more importantly, carry it with you for a time if you prefer, sipping as you go. How many times do we get a cup of liquid, half of which gets spilled in the exchange, much of the other half spilled while trying to drink? A sealed pouch isn’t going to spill a drop until I open it with my own teeth. I can slow to a walk or keep running or whatever I choose. I can drink all the water or half and pour the other half over my head. You can do the same with the electrolyte although I prefer not to pour it over me, but whatever works. This is a bit of an aside, but the point is that this system is race appropriate and part of the careful behind the scenes thought that makes a race an event.

Talking about cups and pouches and the fact that at some point they are going to get discarded brings to mind the responsible actions of the race in the community. Any good event has got people ensuring that these materials are cleaned up and properly disposed of or recycled. This is just one aspect of fitting in with the community. Notices must be given where necessary, access to local residents must be considered and managed on race day. Permits must be respected and where restrictive, participants must have clear communication on what those restrictions are. If there is a cut-off time, everyone must know. If that time is going to be strictly adhered to, then the race must start on time so that the organizers keep their side of the bargain.

When participants have something to say, there should be a way for them to say it, either an open forum such as a social media page or via a post-race survey with some open questions where people can comment in any way they wish. We all like to hear nice things but it is just as important to also  hear and be aware of the not so nice things. So much happens during a race that nobody can know everything. Organizers need to know if there is a weak point and what better way than to get runner feedback. I have even seen it that when something has gone not quite right, the matter is diffused by the fact that the individual can tell his or her story. They know somebody cares. If the situation was more than a one-off unfortunate incident, the organizers have the opportunity to fix it for next time and in the races called events, they do.

I have kind of decided that it is getting close to time to bring this to a close. I also know I could go on and on, but I also know that if I did, I would just be providing examples of something I already mentioned and that is great events take care of the smallest details. In the end, that is pretty much what it is about. Big respect for the participants and total attention to detail.  Hey, that sounds easy!

THE MAGIC OF THE DESTINATION EVENT ATTRACTS THE NICEST PEOPLE

12.09.2013

Reggae Marathon Post Race Party

OK, so I admit right off the top that this is another post about the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K in Negril, Jamaica. The title still applies: maybe even more so. Actually, I’m pretty sure there are lots of the kind of people I’m talking about at every race, but because the Reggae Marathon is a destination event with ‘the world’s best pasta party’ the night before, there is more chance for direct encounter, before, during and after the actual race. I suppose the fact that this is my third time increases the chance of seeing some of the participants over a period of time and forming some relationships and bonds.

Social media is helping more than ever in letting us keep in touch between events, too. I belong to a bunch of Facebook groups involved with running, which allows me to keep up on news and with individuals. In any case, this weekend in Negril has been a great chance to meet up with people who are becoming far more than ‘virtual friends’. I also get to observe things going on outside my own personal sphere, all of which just seems to confirm my feelings. It seems that a lot of runners will form groups and travel to specific events, or at least loosely pull together once they know others are planning on going.

Beyond my own ideas as an outsider to the actual organization of the Reggae Marathon, I don’t know why it is happening, but this event is attracting more and more running groups. These groups range from four to five individuals up to something like a group of 160 or so that came into the Capital of Casual (that’s Negril) for this year’s edition of the Reggae Marathon. There is only a loose personal connection among the individual members of some of those groups, yet a huge spirit of togetherness and identification. I belong to Marathon Maniacs. There were several Maniacs officially running the actual marathon but there were others, me included, that were there but not running the marathon. As soon as you see the Maniac gear there is a recognition and a bond. I suppose this is true of a number of other organizations.

All around the resorts it is easy to strike up a conversation with the other runners and I believe there is a genuine interest and concern about how each has done. Quite a few people I encountered were first timers and just a little concerned about a tropical race, and everywhere you wanted to turn, the veterans were sharing assurances about the course support and how it might be out there. Respect, mon! as they say here, but in this case I’m talking about respect for the conditions. That is the key to any warm-weather run. You can tell the race is organized by runners for runners, because that respect is there and goes both ways. I guess that is part of what the title means too.

All of this said, I really don’t want to get into some deep philosophical discussion here. I just want to acknowledge and remind that we are part of a special group of people. I already posted on this recently and my trip to Jamaica just brought all the ‘community’ ideas right back to the fore.  I could list off the names of ‘my’ Reggae Marathon community, but that too is not the point. Just in the small hotel where I am staying there were a LOT of Reggae Marathoners. Runners aren’t that hard to spot and every time I looked around there were animated conversations about the race either specifically or in general. Although not totally unique to this event, I think there is a difference that is at the core of the community of runners and the whole experience.

The Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K is a superbly run event in its own right. That gets people here, or causes them to return. However, a key element of interaction among participants is the Negril is quite small and the Reggae Marathon kind of takes over for a few days that first weekend of December. You can’t just dash in and dash out (and who would want to?) unless you are local. It means people stay at least a few days, thus leading to the opportunity to interact as mentioned already. Frankly, a lot of races want you to enjoy the event, but through necessity, want you to move on fairly soon from the race venue. Long Bay Beach Park is party central as long as people want to stay, to meet and to greet. Once the Reggae music starts it is soooooo hard to head away!

I do love the destination event. The ‘vibe’ is so different when people have come from near and far to be part of something special. As I said, I do know that the Reggae Marathon is not totally unique, but it does give us a fabulous view of the essence of the attraction of the destination race.

Morning Beach Scene - Negril, JA

 

REGGAE MARATHONERS READY TO ROLL

12.06.2013

Easy Skankin'

As I write this, pretty much everything is done but the running. Packages picked up, pasta consumed, beach checked. Some even got in a couple of practice runs. Negril is packed out with eager runners and walkers and supporters. More than ever before (three years for me) there seems to be a presence of Reggae Marathon people. Certainly, the place I am staying is full to the roof with us. I think the few staying at Rondel Village that aren’t part of the run are wondering what they got themselves into (in a good way, of course).  There has probably been fewer drinks consumed (if you don’t count water) on the beach today than any other day of the year. Tomorrow, however, as they say – IS another day!

Some are totally here for the fun of being a part of this great event. So many are returning. That says a lot about an event like this one. Some are here for serious running. That means different things to different people. In my own case this is my last race of 2014 and I am hoping for an improvement on my last year’s half marathon time. We’ll see how that goes. I do know I’m not alone with personal goals.

Chris Morales (That Runnin' Guy), Jetola (Turbojet) Anderson-Blair and Dan Cumming

What has struck me as I meet up with people is how many locations are represented including what I understand to be, more than 30 countries. However, regardless of our differences, we all have similarities as runners. Everyone wants to know what event you will do. The first timers know they are running in a tropical locale and are nervous about the possibility of high temperatures. For them, I am never going to say it isn’t warm in Negril. I mean, if it wasn’t, what would be the charm of a ‘beach’ marathon? What I do say is that you will never experience anything like the start when the air is relatively cool (not arm warmer, long-sleeve T cool) and full of amazing tropical scents from the trees and flowers.  But, the race organizers have never pretended this isn’t a warm event and provide plenty of hydration and cooling options along the way. Runners need to be responsible for making good use of the support, but it is surely there. Pacing is everything. Apart from the one ‘worry’ for newcomers, I think the big question is ‘how many times?’. Also, where are you from?’ ranks right up there. Although not really unique to this race, it is always easy to fall into conversation with other strangers, and one of those starter lines will generally do it.

Pasta Party Dec 6, 2013

So many people seem to have made friendships that get renewed at race time. At package pick-up and at the pasta party you see so many people greeting each other like long lost friends, generally (other than via the internet) they haven’t seen each other since last time. I sure know that to be true in my own case. I have been having a ball re-uniting with the Reggae Marathon ‘family’.

Lawrence Watson and Navin Sadarangani

I wanted to post something tonight before the race because of the vibe. It is so much a part of the charm of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon & 10K. Once the races are over, trophies and ribbons given, coconut water and Red Stripe consumed, talk turns to special outcomes and this pre-race vibe can easily get overlooked. My solution: get the thoughts out now!

It is still early, but with a race start at 5:15am and pre-race preparations to be attended to and shuttling or walking to the actual start to be achieved, it will be an early rise. I imagine those of us from our hotel will hit the road no later than 4:30am (for us it is easier to walk than anything else, and makes a good warm-up). Alarm? I’m thinking 3:30am!?!  Yow!

Over and out until tomorrow!  Sleep tight Reggae Runners.

NOW THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!

12.01.2013

Jetola (Turbojet) Anderson-Blair

Today we have a brand new Guest Blogger, Turbojet by name. Actually, Turbojet by Marathon Maniac ‘handle’, but actually known most of the time as Jetola Anderson-Blair. Although there is some coincidence in the timing with the running of the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, it is mostly because it was at that event in 2012 where your faithful blogger met Ms Jet and because she professes it to be her favorite.

Here’s the formal stuff. Important, I think, because we so often only know each other as runners. Jetola Anderson-Blair was born in London, Enlgand of Jamaican parents.  She grew up in Manchester, Jamaica and Westchester County, New York.  She ran track in high school as a sprinter but did not begin long distance running until she was 48.  She trains with a hybrid Hal Hidgon and Jeff Galloway training plan. She enjoys encouraging and helping other runners achieve their personal goals.  She’s a former ambassador for the Houston Chapter of Black Girls Run!  She’s a member of the National Black Marathon Association, Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.  When she’s not running or engaged in running-related activities, she spends her time taking care of her family and giving back to her community through projects with her sorority and her church, Friendship Community Bible Church.  Her favorite marathon is the Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica.  In addition to running the Boston Marathon, her goal is to run all the world majors and maybe a half marathon in all 50 states.  Her dream job is to be Bart Yasso’s Bag Carrier.  [Ed Note: Bart, are you listening? Bart is a contributor to Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.]

A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step. Lao Tzu

In January 2009, I lost a dear friend to leukemia two days after she was diagnosed.  Her death left a gaping hole in my heart and a raging sense of helplessness.  Sometimes I would start crying abruptly when I thought about how I never got to say goodbye to her.  For months following her death, I just had this sense of sadness and a desire to honor her memory in some meaningful way.  The problem was that I had no idea how to do that. For the next year or so, I just went through the motions of living while hurting so deep inside that I couldn’t even describe my pain.

In the spring of 2010 I noticed that a friend was fundraising on her Facebook page for Team in Training (TNT) as she trained for the Rock N Roll San Diego Half Marathon.  I was unfamiliar with the organization but her posts were so inspiring and it felt good to know that there was an organization dedicated to raising funds for leukemia research.  (TNT is the fund raising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.)  When she posted the pictures from the race, I was smitten and a light bulb went off in my head.  I started thinking that maybe I too, could do a half marathon.  The operative word here is “do” as running was not a part of my lifestyle.  The year before, I had started an exercise regime using Leslie Sansone’s Walk at Home DVD’s in my living room and eventually took it outside. By the time I first considered the notion of a half marathon, I was walking regularly on my neighborhood trail and my longest walk was 8 miles….not exactly 13.1 miles.

I reached out to my friend and shared what I was thinking.  She told me more about the organization and raved about her experience.  Basically, each participant signs a contract to raise a certain amount for TNT.  In exchange, the organization provides a coach, nutritionist and training program with regularly scheduled group runs.  My interest was genuine but I was also intimidated…both by the thought of fundraising under contract and completing 13.1 miles.  I filed the idea in the back of my mind but every now and then it would pop up to the forefront.  One evening when I got home from work, there was a TNT post card in the mail announcing an interest meeting in my area.  I told my friend about it and she encouraged me to attend the event.  She also said, “Don’t think about it.  Go ahead and sign the contract.”  Throwing caution to the wind, I signed the contract to raise $1,900 in exchange for a slot in the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January 2011. 

When we started training, I could only make it to the Saturday morning group runs so I trained by myself during the week.  At the group runs, I was always at the very back of the pack walking as fast as I could, trying to keep up.  The miles were not as intimidating as I initially thought they would be, but the pace was another issue.  In order to count as a finisher in the event, the race required participants to maintain a minimum pace of 13:44 with a finish time of at least 3:00 hours.  My biggest problem was that I could not reach that pace, no matter how hard I tried.  On the few occasions when I did, I could not sustain it and consistently fell back to the 14:10 – 14:14 range.  One morning I voiced my frustration and discouragement to my coach and she uttered these magic words. “Try running for a minute of each mile and that should improve your pace.”  The woman was a genius!  I followed her advice even though it was like climbing Mt. Everest in the beginning. 

By adding the run intervals, my pace increased dramatically; so much so that I ran a 5K at my job and clocked 36:00 with an 11:35 pace.  I was beyond excited!  At last, I felt that I would be a qualified finisher. I found that I really enjoyed running and so the run portions of my intervals were getting longer and longer.   I continued training and fundraising with new zeal.  The fundraising was successful beyond my wildest expectations.  In fact, I raised $8,000 and was recognized as a top fundraiser by TNT.  Race day was fast approaching and I was nervous, scared and excited.

On the morning of January 30th 2011 (two days before my 49th birthday), I stood at the starting line near the back of the pack with my heart pounding like a drum.  It was chilly and drizzling and I was woefully overdressed.  (I had not learned the dress for 20% warmer than start line temperature rule.)  It took about 10 minutes to make it to the starting mat and that was more than enough time to second guess myself.  The start line excitement was electric.  It was equally easy to spot the pros and the nervous newbies like myself.  I was so grateful that a friend who’s a doctor stopped by to check on me, give me last minute advice and pray with me.

The going was very slow at the beginning because of the crowd.  My primary focus was foot placement and making sure that I did not trip and fall in the mass tangle of feet.  I ran for as long as I could and when my breathing became labored, I walked until I felt better.  At mile seven I saw one of my friends who came out to cheer for me.  I ran over to hug her and she told me that I was looking strong.  I wasn’t sure how strong I was feeling, so I was grateful for the encouragement.  I kept going and reminded myself of why I was participating in the madness.  At mile 9, the marathoners split off from the half marathoners and we were now headed in the direction of the finish line.  My friend popped up again at mile 11.  By then, I was hurting and exhausted but my only option was to keep going and I had to tell myself I only had 2 miles to go. 

I was dragging for the last mile but when I entered the finishers’ chute and heard the roar of the cheering crowd, my energy was renewed.  I crossed the finish line in 2:43:01.  When they hung the medal around my neck, I felt like an Olympic champion.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life because I had gone up against a scary monster and prevailed.  By the time I met up with my family and made it to the TNT booth to claim my finisher’s pin, I was hurting all over but I was floating on adrenaline. It was the most difficult yet most exhilarating physical and mental challenge I had ever faced.  I think I fell in love with running and racing at that moment.

Thankfully, I had scheduled two vacation days for recovery because the next day I felt like I had been run over by a truck.  Every inch of my body hurt and I could barely walk but I could not stop grinning.  When I returned to work on Wednesday still walking like a cowboy, I sported a black turtleneck and my medal.  I regaled anyone who dared to comment on it with the endless details of my amazing feat.  One of my clients asked me if I’d do it again and without hesitation, I declared, “Oh, yeah!”  She then told me about another half marathon coming up in a few weeks in one of the area suburbs.  I thought about it for a few days and registered shortly after.

On March 27, 2011, I stood at the start line of the Sugarland Half with my heart pounding but not as badly as it was the first time I attempted such a challenge.  Completing my first race provided an amazing source of self-confidence and greatly reduced the fear of the unknown.  My new mantra was, “You’ve done this before so you can do it again.” That race changed my running life forever.  How? I met a lady who was doing the Galloway Method (i.e. Run/walk intervals with scheduled walk breaks.)  I started running with her at about mile 4 because she was moving at my pace.  We were having a good time chatting and getting to know each other but then she stopped abruptly.  When I asked what she was doing, she explained the technique to me.  I decided that I’d hang with her and see how it went.  We ran/walked the next 9 miles together and I crossed the finish line with a whopping time of 2:18:27!  I was absolutely floored but I did not have time to ponder the miracle that had just occurred.  I hurried to my friend’s house, showered and made it to church before the praise team took the stage.

My bigger surprise was yet to come.  The next day I woke up and nothing hurt!!  I went to work like it was just any other ordinary day.  I wasn’t as obnoxious with the second medal.  I hung it my office and only discussed it if asked about it.  Galloway proved to be the miracle that my running needed.  Instead of running to the point where I felt like collapsing, I started to schedule my walk breaks and take them faithfully, even if I don’t feel like I need them.  It was no longer just about coping with my grief. I was truly having fun.  Both running and racing became a healthy addiction for me. 

Over the summer, I ran several shorter races (including the Peach Tree Road Race in Atlanta) and I was steadily getting faster.  I decided that I wanted to run a marathon before my 50th birthday.  I was on vacation in Italy when the lottery for the Houston Marathon opened so the time difference and limited internet access created a challenge. Things had just gotten real so I had to put my fingers where my mouth was and make the commitment.   In the middle of the night, I used my friend’s laptop to register while praying that I would score one of the coveted spots.  I kept training as if I were already confirmed and at the end of June, I received the e-mail confirming that I was in.   I had 7 months to prepare for my debut in January.    In the fall, I ran 2 more half marathons, a metric marathon (26.2K) and a 30K.  My personal best time for a half was down to 2:02.  While I was impressed with my improved pace, I was fascinated by my fast recovery after each race.  Nothing hurt, so no more Cowboy Stagger for me.

The big day was approaching fast and I was nervous but I had put my heart and sole(s) into my training and I was as ready as I was going to be.  Ironically, I remember having lunch with a runner friend a few weeks before the race and he said, “One day you’re going to qualify for Boston.”  I laughed and told him that Boston was for the Bosa Nova runners, not mere mortals like me.  He did a little Zen Meister smirk and said, “Just wait; you’ll see.”

Race day came and things started off well enough but by mile seven I started to feel a dull pain in my right hip.  With each mile, the pain escalated a little bit more.  By the time I reached the half way mark, my hip felt like it was on fire.  I made a classic rookie mistake and took a Tylenol with codeine which didn’t help very much.  I had fleeting thoughts of quitting but I told myself there was no way I was giving up after working so hard.  The second half was marked by more walking and crying than running.  I was hurting bad and it was hard to miss my agony.  The sag wagon kept hovering by my side like vultures waiting to attack the carcass of a dying animal.  I told them to leave me alone because there was no way I was going home without my medal and finisher’s shirt.  I prevailed and made it to the finish line with a time of 5:00:24 but ended up in the medical tent in distress.  That spring I ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon as a redemption race to see how I would do if I were injury-free.  I finished in 4:42 and felt pretty good about it.  I took home my first age group award at a local half marathon.

 Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2012 and my story changes.  I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with the simple goal of beating Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 (a very popular goal among marathoners) but instead of just beating her, I came within 7 minutes of qualifying for Boston!  I was bug-eyed for days.  That race gave me the confidence to believe that I really could BQ (i.e. qualify for Boston) so I set out on a relentless pursuit of said goal.  On February 24th, 2013, as I approached the finish line at the Rock N Roll Marathon in New Orleans, my knees almost buckled when I saw the clock because I knew that the moment I crossed, I’d have a new identity as a runner….a Boston Qualifier.  Somewhere the Zen Meister was smirking with that knowing twinkle in his eyes.

In September, I endured the agony of the registration process and the ensuing waiting game to see my name on the confirmed entrants list.  When it happened, it was an incredibly surreal moment.  Once again, my running identity had changed.  I was no longer a Boston Qualifier; I was now a Boston Entrant.  I’ve had friends and other loved ones try to discourage me from registering because of the bombing at this year’s race.  I had to explain to them that if I didn’t go, then the bombers would win.  That may be hard for non-runners to understand but I know that the running community understands, even though it seems crazy.

In addition to qualifying for Boston, I had a few other running goals, including reaching Iridium status in Marathon Maniacs, completing a 50K, running a 1:43 half (i.e. shave an hour from my first half) and running 1,013 miles.  I am thrilled to say that I have achieved all these goals.  By the end of 2013, I will have completed a total of 13 marathons (including 5 BQ’s) and 28 half marathons.  What is my motivation for continuing to run? The answer is a combination of different factors.  I still do it in honor of my loved ones who are no longer here so I dedicate every run and every race to them.  I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself physically and mentally to achieve new goals.  I enjoy traveling and spending time with my running friends from all across the country.  I love cupcakes and often reward myself with the delicious treats.  Most importantly, I truly enjoy the mind-clearing physical act of running.  I was recently paired with a running buddy through www.whoirun4.com and she is now a new source of inspiration for me.

To sum it all up, I am glad that I found a technique that helps me to get faster while remaining injury-free and having fun.  How long will I keep running?  When it’s no longer fun, that’s when I’m done.

 

Editor’s Summary. There you have it. A very personal account of something quite amazing. Jetola is a very humble person and while I know she loves and revels in her running, I’m not 100% sure she yet grasps what she has accomplished in just a few short years. It has been a pleasure to be able to present her story. I hope it inspires everyone who stops to read it, especially anyone who has ventured here wondering just as she did, whether a half marathon or marathon, or any other challenge is possible.

 

Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes is now also available in e-book format through Trafford Publishing.