4 days before my Charles Street 12 (CS12) Charm City Run (CCR) training starts I receive a call. My partner for the CS12 Relay has rolled her ankle in the middle of a trail run. I am calm at first, and then it comes. What if she cannot run the race with me? Or what if I have to run the entire 12 miles by myself? Now is a good time to mention that my relay partner is also my 13-year old daughter. My goal is to run the first half of the Charles Street 12 Relay and reach my daughter before the cutoff time of 1 hour 15 minutes. My sister from Buffalo is also coming to Baltimore to run the first leg of the relay and her partner will be my 13-year old son. I am a single mother of twins and running is one of the things that brings our family together.
I call my sister and confess my selfish mother moment about my daughter’s injury. She understands my reaction. Thank goodness she’s also a runner. I can almost picture her nodding in agreement about the wrench this puts in my plans. After a moment to commiserate, she calmly helps me to think about potential options while expecting that my daughter will be OK by race day.
This is the first year that the Charles Street 12 has a relay option. The first section is approximately 5 miles and has been described to me as the “hilly” portion. My fastest 5K to date is 38:16 on a flat course so with the hills and the heat on race day on August 31, I figure there’s a 50/50 chance I make it by the relay cutoff time.
I volunteered to write about my experience preparing for the race and running it. Before the trail run rolled ankle incident, I asked if I could write a blog for Charm City Run. The response was an enthusiastic “awesome” to the idea to chronicle the experience running the CS12 relay with my daughter.
I figured there would be some twists and turns in the process, but so literal and so soon? I also didn’t fully realize that about 100 people would be in my training group (and might actually read the blog), but I did confess to being slightly afraid of Coach Dawn who would be leading our training group. Dawn has reputation of being tough and encouraging her training groups to run lots of hills.
The information session before official training begins confirms my perceptions. The blog idea already accepted, I feel a little flutter of anxiety and anticipation. Coach Dawn exudes high energy in the way she moves around the space engaging everyone and projecting her voice loudly for everyone to hear. She is no nonsense which I love. She starts on time and doesn’t take attendance. Either we do the training or we don’t. It’s also clear she cares, and some of the group has trained with her before. That’s hopeful, right? They survived. She says one thing that stays with me - at some point she will run with each of us. There’s a part of me that wants a coach and to become a better runner, and there’s another part of me that wants to be invisible and run alone. I have a feeling Coach Dawn won’t let me get away with that.
On CCR’s 17th birthday, we gather for our first training run. We sign in and get our route sheets. It is a glorious morning with clear skies, cool temperatures and low humidity. It is also likely the last such weather of the training cycle given we are training in the summer in Maryland. Dawn points out that all the routes are new this year and that we need to carry some kind of water bottle as the water stop on the route will not have plastic cups. For those returning, they seem to appreciate the “less plastic” new approach to the water, but a bit of nervousness is audible regarding the new routes. This seems to mean more hills in our future from the murmurs. We do some dynamic (arm circles, leg swings, etc.) pre run stretches and we set off a precisely at 7 a.m.
I feel good during the first run. It is 54 degrees outside, but Dawn says we should dress for 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature because we will warm up as we run. I only question my decision to wear a long sleeve shirt for a few moments during the run in direct sun when I seriously contemplate stripping down to my sports bra. I am 54 years old. Maybe my next goal will be to rock that look? I expect both of my children would be horrified. We’ll cross that bridge later. Coach Christin (Dawn’s new coaching partner for the group) joins me for a few moments, but I mostly run alone. Just before the finish, a woman slowly passes me. Something inside me clicks. I am tired of being passed even if it is only a training run. I open up my stride, increase my cadence, and sprint the last stretch fully committed to passing her. It is very satisfying and I am reminded how joyful it feels to run fast - and to win. In telling my son about the final sprint of my run, he reminds me that I am competitive. He’s right.
Talking with Dawn and Christin after the run, Dawn asks what app I use to track my running so that my run details will be available to the coaches. I have not yet provided the coaches access to my run app and it confirms for me, I am not going to be able to be invisible. Basking in the post run glow with my coaches, the first run seems like an auspicious start toward my goal, but there was only one hill on a long, slow incline for about 1/2 mile. The training is going to get harder.
My first week of training is new and harder. I go into every new run fearing that I won’t be able to do it. This isn’t simply in my head. I have a physical reaction to the anxiety. It almost feels like when I have to give a speech. Heart racing, sweating, jaw clenching, stomach on the edge of nausea - and this is before I even start running. I tell myself, “You can’t do this.” Our training consists of 3 major workouts each week: track workout or hills, a tempo run, and the long run each Saturday morning. At our first track workout, I am ready for a timed 1 mile as promised which I have done before on the very same track, but Coach Dawn asks us to run 2 miles consecutively and provide 2 times. “I can’t do this,” pops into my head. It is hot and humid on the track, but then I put one foot in front of the other and finish with times of 12:03 and 12:09. On my first tempo run, again I think “I can’t do this.” Our tempo run is 30 minutes with a 5 minute warm up at the beginning and 5 minute cool down at the end. We are supposed to run faster in the middle. I have never ever tried to run faster in the middle of a run. It’s always about just finishing. I finally get into what I think is a groove and then a deer stands in my path which causes a new kind of anxiety, but we part ways amicably and I laugh.
On the long run, I head out early on my own and again the anxiety starts. I choose an earlier start in order to bring my son to his CCR training later that same morning. This run includes a 2 mile run uphill with 285 feet of elevation gain. In a made-for-tv movie kind of moment, Dawn appears just as I am nearing the top of the hill. She drives by saying, “Way to get it done!” and promising cold water at the top. Dawn gives me just the confidence boost that I need to push through and then promises me, “it’s all downhill now,” as I turn around and head off for the return. I can do this.
In the midst of all the training, I learn more about my daughter’s diagnosis: a probable high ankle sprain. I can almost hear the collective groan when you read this. The doctor tells us that they are notoriously long to rehab and the only thing she can do is rest and wait. My daughter jokingly (hopefully?) asks the doctor if this means that she doesn’t “have to” run the Charles Street 12 with me. I want her to be able to run with me, but realize that I am not running alone. My family, coaches, friends and training group are all with me.
Now you are with me, too. I will share more on my training in the next post and an update on my relay partner’s status after her MRI in July. Stay tuned.