The morning of Thursday, July 4th is hot, humid and sunny. My son and I are registered for the Towson 4 on the 4th race. I wish for an earlier start to beat the heat, but accept that it’s an 8:15 a.m. start on a mostly sun exposed course. Thursdays are also my tempo run day, and I lower my expectations with the weather. The start line is festive with most everyone dressed in red, white and blue. My son and I spend time warming up a little with some stretches in the shade. When they call us to the start, my son heads directly to the front and I look for my spot somewhere between the slowest runners and the walkers/strollers/dogs. A woman approaches looking for the front of the walkers. She pauses after I tell her I am running really slowly. She looks me up and down and says I look fast and have the body of a runner. I find this amusing, but am secretly proud to receive this compliment. I run the first 2 miles buoyed by her statement, and then the heat takes over and I walk the final 2 miles. My son joins me on the final hill. I love when my children double back after they finish to join me as I near the end of a race. It is an instant boost of energy and I run across the finish line.
I tell people jokingly that I am half as fast as my son. On July 4th, it is almost literally true. He runs 4 miles in 30:32 and I finish in 59:01. By the time I reach the finish, they are handing out slips of paper letting finishers know medals are in short supply asking for volunteers to receive one by mail later which I am happy to do. My son walks toward me after the race as I am stretching. Having finished early, he fingers a medal around his neck holding it out for me to see and says, “This is a really nice medal. It’s different than the usual medal. The drawing is cool.” He notices the paper in my hand and asks what it is. I hand it to him to read without comment. He reads and without pausing he removes the medal from around his neck and drapes it around my neck. I try to give it back saying, “No, you keep it. It’s a special one and I really don’t need it.” But he insists firmly with kindness in his voice and gaze, “I want you to have it.” My eyes sting with tears and I hug him. Later at the awards ceremony, he earns a trophy for 2nd place in his age group and I applaud wildly. I am not last in my age group and I silently applaud this, too.
My daughter is away at field hockey goalie camp during the July 4th holiday. When she returns, an MRI confirms that her high ankle sprain is healing well. We also learn that she has a bony benign growth between her tibia and fibula at the ankle of her other leg that is causing her pain when she runs. We have a longer road ahead of her to understand the issue, potential treatment and recovery. She won’t be ready for the Charles Street 12 (CS12). She is disappointed, but grateful that she can still participate in her first sporting love - field hockey – as an awesome goalie. Interestingly, I learn from Coach Dawn that she started her coaching career with her daughter’s field hockey team.
Providing an update to my sister on my daughter’s MRI, she first asks all the right questions about her niece’s health. Then, she doesn’t hesitate to suggest a new plan for the race. She is training for a fall half marathon and would be happy to run the full 12 miles of the CS12. Then, my son can be my new relay partner. He is also happy to make this switch and begins imagining how much fun it will be to pass a lot of runners after the relay “hand off” since I am slow and he is super fast. I hope the bus gets me to the finish line before he crosses it.
I have my own ups and downs with training during this period. On the upside, at just the time when I start to need connection and motivation to keep going, I get to know more people in the training group. Coach Dawn helps the process along by enthusiastically announcing the first Charm City Run blog post and pointing me out before a long run. Some people comment that I wrote what they think. It helps to know that others struggle, and they keep showing up. The constancy of the faces at each workout is reassuring. There are almost always smiles on the faces of my “teammates” even during the hard hill and track workouts when it feels like we might melt from the heat and humidity. They are kind, thoughtful and generous with a “Good Job!” just when I seem to need it most. Following one long run someone brings frozen ice pops to share with everyone. I choose the lime flavor and the cold, syrupy, sugary goodness takes me back to childhood and reminds me that what we are doing is fun. Coach Dawn brings the fun, too, with a pool party after one long run.
On the downside, my left hip and right ankle begin aching. Could the discomfort be related? I make an appointment with a physical therapist. He confirms the aches likely indicate my body is compensating for some areas lacking in strength and flexibility. As my miles increase with training, my body is trying to find ways to keep up with the effort and struggling a bit. He puts together a plan that I start doing almost every night. My den now has furniture shoved to the side to make room for a yoga mat which is now a permanent fixture so I can watch television while doing my physical therapy. Coach Dawn also recommends intervals. I start with 1/4 mile walking and 1/4 mile running. The interval suggestion makes a big difference in allowing me to cover the longer distances. After a few weeks of physical therapy plus intervals, I tackle a long run along the Baltimore Harbor from Locust Point to Canton walking 1/4 mile and running 3/4 of a mile covering almost 10 miles and feeling mostly great. It is a glorious morning in the city and witnessing a beautiful orangey-red sunrise on the water after a 6 a.m. start is its own special reward.
During this time, I am also rewarded with an increasingly messy house. Running and prepping for running and training take a lot of time. I am happy though and I start to notice small improvements. My right ankle already weak from previous sprains starts to roll mid run and I can straighten it right away without any pain. My shoulders start hunching and I remember quickly to stand up straighter and work on my breathing. My feet and legs don’t feel stiff upon waking every morning. Coach Dawn notices my running improvements before I really understand them. She says that she “stalks” us on our running apps and it’s true. I love it when she likes my workouts, but didn’t realize until recently that she could make comments. She asks how my times on one track workout compare to my half marathon pace. I don’t really understand how to use pacing yet, but according to the McMillan running calculator my goal half marathon pace is 12:43. My average pacing for the workout Dawn is looking at is 12:36. It consists of 10 minutes each of a warm up/cool down plus the same amount of time each at half marathon (twice), 5K, and 10K paces for a total of an hour. Coach Dawn comments that overall I “crushed” my goal and informs me that I now have a new half marathon goal pace. Putting in the work to achieve my goal of reaching the relay point before the cutoff time is helping me to get faster and stronger.
“A goal is just an awesome way to force growth on yourself.” - Deena Kastor
I am a huge fan of American long-distance runner Deena Kastor and her book Let Your Mind Run. The audiobook version is practically on repeat in my car in the morning. In addition to the running inspiration, her focus on the power of optimism helps remind me that I can choose a more positive interpretation of moments, large and small, throughout the day. In the weeks since my daughter’s injury, I let go of the “girl power” moment I expected to have with my daughter on race day reluctantly. Now I am excited that the new plan paves the way for my sister’s next running goal. My daughter is also excited that her grandmother who lives in Connecticut has decided to come to Maryland for race day to spend it with her. And while I never imagined having twins would include the benefit of a “spare” relay partner, I am grateful that my son will join me for the CS12. The July 4th medal he gave me hangs in my bedroom where I see it every morning as a reminder that running continues to bring our family together in new ways.
Thank you for being with me, too. Next up on the blog - race day! The Charles Street 12 on August 31st will be here soon. I can’t wait to tell you all about my race experience in the next, and final, post of the series.