I just needed a minute to take in all that went on the past 6 months of my life before I actually sat down and started writing this post. From major surgery, starting a blog, completing a marathon, and everything else that made this ride quite a challenge, I say a nice break was long overdue!
I am a big planner, and looking back now, I am extremely happy to see how everything fell into place before the marathon. I knew I had to get my umbilical hernia repaired sooner than later. The creature, aka my belly button, coming out of my stomach was only getting bigger and more painful. I could have definitely been an extra in the movie “Aliens”! This and the fact that my stomach muscles looked like the “Parting of the Red Sea”, required an intense invasion of my insides. The 4 little monsters better appreciate what mama bear had to go through to give them life! The pain afterwards was pretty intense and I knew running was out of the question anytime soon. I had a small window before I started marathon training, so I took it. This blog replaced my fitness time until I was well again. I am not the type of person that can just chill and watch the Kardashians all day, not that I would😂. This was the perfect opportunity for me to dive in and start being creative with my new venture.
I began training with my amazing FinKraft coach, Roger Aspholm, in July. I gave myself a good 3 months before I called him and just did some light running before I started my intense training regime. Even until today, I still experience pain in some areas, numbness in others, and bumpy scare tissue along my stomach muscles. I tried my best to strengthen what was lost in those months and hope it would not affect my training.
Now let’s ride up the roller coaster! Everything was going well during my first weeks of training. I discovered a way to stretch which helped my heel and the pain was non-existent. Back down the roller coaster again! Eventually my heel started acting up and I did seek professional help. I went to Dr. Jan Kasprowicz, New Jersey Chiropractic and Sports Recovery specialist. He did a fantastic job alleviating the pain, especially for my 20 mile run.
I knew I had to find out what exactly was going on with my heel and how to remedy this ongoing problem. Roger suggested I see Dr. Richard Braver, a podiatrist in Fair Lawn, NJ. His diagnosis revealed that I have plantar fasciitis and we took a few steps that helped me run my marathon pain-free. I wear a boot for 1 hour everyday that stretches my calf muscle, 3 treatments of EPAT (shockwave therapy), and new orthotics. They all worked well, but the orthotics needed to be adjusted because they gave me a blister on a short run I had one week before the marathon. He also taped my heel before the marathon, which I felt worked well to alleviate any pain!
My sister, who recently got engaged, decided to plan a wedding in 2 months in a not so distant location called Italy 1 month before my marathon! BTW that was a bit of sarcasm😜. Did I mention it was the first week of school for my kids as well? Some of them have not been out of the country yet! There was a lot of planning and coordinating to be made in such a short period of time. I still don’t know how I got everything complete without losing a child along the way or forgetting my wedding attire. I did not miss a run during the training process, but I did miss some fitness classes because I was summoned into the city a few times to help with the wedding arrangements. The trip to Italy was a different story. I did my best to slip in at least one run, but we did have to adjust my training schedule.
Back to reality after a dreamy wedding! Recovering from jet lag, dealing with the 2nd week of school, and trying to have a normal training schedule after returning from paradise was the priority now. At that point, I was really itching for a race! What better way to gauge my fitness level than to run a half marathon. On September 18th, I ran the Newport Liberty Half Marathon and came in 3rd place in my age-group with a PR of 1:35:59. It was definitely a confidence booster and just what I needed to see how my heel, stomach muscles, and knee would handle the speed.
That run put a little too much flame under my fire because I signed up for a local 5k thinking it would be a piece of cake. I ended up pulling my hamstring and missing first place by 3 seconds! What made me think, especially since I have not been training for speed, to take that risk and run all out before a marathon is beyond me. After my faster training run that week, I realized the pain was pretty bad and I went back to Dr. Jan. He worked his magic and I was better in no time. Good thing because the marathon was only 2 weeks away.
Marathon week I had a lot of lovely things to think about while I was running for 3 hours… is my heel going to hurt, will I get a side stitch or a sharp pain in my stomach muscles, will I injure my hamstring again, will my knee start acting up? While my negative thoughts were spiraling out of control I did a bit of packing for the trip which also had my mind spinning. As if that was not enough, I had to figure out if Kid 1 should go to the school’s car wash fundraiser even though he had a terrible cough and how he would get there, Kid 2 and 3 needed a ride to their basketball games, how would 3 out of the 4 kids get to CCD and church…and the list goes on. Fortunately, everything went smoothly this year in that department. Unlike last year where I literally received a call right after I ran the marathon to hurry up and get home to the kids. My mom gets terrible chest pains and she just so happened to get one at her home the day after she watched my kids. She was fine but for some reason I was to blame. My husband and I did not even get a chance to celebrate the fact we just ran a marathon! Family… they love you the most but they can drive you crazy sometimes! I found out a few days later that I received the 4th place award in my age group.
It is hard to believe, but the weekend was finally here where I drove to the great Keystone State for one main reason and that is to push my body and mind beyond my limits for over 3 hours.
Packing for this race looked like we were going on a safari where they did not supply any food or water. I literally brought enough snacks to feed an army.
As we entered the hotel a wave of nervous excitement began to fill my body. Although a year had passed since I stepped foot at that hotel, it was almost as if time stood still. As some of my FinKraft teammates arrived, I felt a sense of comfort knowing that we will all be going through this great challenge together. The connection that brought us here remains strong. I was thrilled to see Steve, Kim and her dad, Gerald, when we arrived. Gerald is 75 years old and has run over 20 marathons. Now if that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is!
RACE WEEK JITTERS
We followed through with our Friday night ritual with a nice nutritious dinner and an attempt for a good night’s sleep. Although most of us are familiar with the course and logistics of the race, it was nice to have some fresh faces to encourage and motivate for the big day.
We shared stories about our training, running experience, and encouraged each other to trust our fitness and coaching. The support of this team is what FinKraft is all about, which will help lead us to great accomplishments.
The next day we met for a not too early run along the final route of the course to the finish line.
It is such a great way to visually feel out the run before the painfully, exhausting stretch to the finish line. We may not be frolicking so happily tomorrow after we have pushed ourselves physically and mentally for over 3 hours!
PRE-RACE RUN – 1 MILE AT RACE PACE
There was a bit of controversy regarding the location of the expo. Bernie Sanders was having a rally that morning at the same location and the possibility of a logistical nightmare was high due to the crowd and lack of parking. Ironically enough, Bernie was staying at the same hotel and we ran into him as we were leaving to go for our pre-race run. After a quick photo op, we were on our merry way.
Staying off our feet was imperative before our race but we still needed to pick up our bibs at the expo. We took it easy before meeting the rest of the gang so we can obtain the final piece to our perfectly assemble wardrobe for the big day… THE BIBS! You were not only differentiated by your ever so distinctive number, they actually placed our first name on the bib. What a treat! What I did not realize at that moment of how much of an impact this would make until I was actually running in the race.
After purchasing a few memorable items we once again attempted to stay off our feet until meeting for “The Last Supper”. This dinner was an important one since the final meal the night before may affect the run the next day. Just a little something more to stress out about during my race!
Last minute preparations were made before we attempted to get a little shut-eye and dream about crossing the finish line. As I tried to relax and calm my nerves, I said a quick prayer that the race would be a big success for myself, my husband, my teammates, and all the runners as I drifted slowly to sleep.
The unnecessary alarm clock buzzed at 4:30am to wake this already woken runner. Why did I get up 45 minutes before it made a sound😫? Every second of sleep counts when you are about to put your body through such strain and exhaustion. As we nervously packed our belongings, I felt a bit of ease from my distress knowing my husband and I are doing this together. We made our way to the lobby to meet some of my teammates as we attempted to calmly stroll over to the bus. The streets were dark and silent with only one line of vehicles and volunteers waiting to escort us into a bus.
The 40 minute ride to the starting line was a great way to get lost in my thoughts. Will this be another failed attempt to once again calm my nerves and trust that my fitness will guide me to the finish line? Fortunately, I find car rides soothing and after eating my oatmeal, I began to suppress the anxiety that was building up within me.
We reached our destination to Forest City Regional High School. As we exited the vehicle, the cold frigid air engulfed us and I was once again awakened from the calm slumber that brought me here. We marched through a group of cheerleaders as we were led to the gymnasium of the building. This is it I thought, no turning back now. I have done this before and can do it again, but can I do it faster this time is the question.
As I glanced at the people sitting around me, they all had a purpose. Whether first time runners or seasoned veterans, we were all there for one reason and that was to run 26.2 miles. But for my teammates and myself, we are not just running to make it to the finish line. We are there to push ourselves to achieve our personal best. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by such competitive runners who share the same feeling. With the guidance from our amazing coach and the support from this team, we are able to reach our potential.
I envied the first time marathoners. The excitement, thrill, and uncertainty of their first race. There is a big difference between wondering what you are capable of accomplishing and knowing what you can accomplish. With that knowledge, there is definitely a lot more pressure after you have experienced the true feel of a 26.2 mile marathon. And if you catch that bug just crossing the finish line doesn’t cut it anymore! Pushing yourself to excel to the next level becomes your focus.
I am so blessed to have this wonderful gift that some may only dream to achieve and I never take a single moment for granted. Running means the world to me and I cannot imagine life without the ability to set myself free as I do when I am on a run. To learn more about my running career here is my Running Story and a few inspirational posts Who Is She… and Where Do You Go… As I glanced over at my husband, who is now running his 2nd marathon, I think about how fortunate we are to be able to share this great accomplishment together. Watching him transform from a person who never ran to an impressive runner has been a dream. Although running is a big part of my life, for some reason, I have never dated a runner. Now I have the perfect package! The best part is that we are both such great examples of strong, dedicated athletes to our children and that makes the time apart from them training worth the sacrifice. We are a racing family and enjoy competing together in our local races!
Before we began our way to the finish line I was still debating on what to wear since the weather was cold. I like to call it the brain battle… a nervous, indecisive habit I have when placed under pressure. Since the temperature was chilly and windy, my brain battle was contemplating whether I should a) wear just the sports bra, gloves, and arm warmers, b) wear the tank top, gloves, and no arm warmers, c) wear a throw away shirt with sports bra, gloves, and arm warmers. I chose c) because I truly despise the feeling of the frigid air working its way to my core!
After several stops to the porta-potty it was time to make our way to the starting line. I have to say the Steamtown Marathon is such a well run race and it helps when everything is going smoothly and you can focus on your goal instead of figuring out where to go. As we found our spot in the corral, I gave my man a quick kiss and said a short prayer for the success for myself and all of the runners out there that day. Please oh please don’t let me have to make a pit stop at the porta-potty or let my heel and knee start acting up!
ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, GO!
The load blast from the cannon was sure to wake anyone within a 10 mile radius. My mind and body were focused as I weaved steadily around the crowded street. Keeping in mind that this marathon is a downhill course the first half, I was determined to not let the adrenaline take control of my pace. The plan was to keep a steady 7:30 pace and gradually increase to 7:20 pace if possible. I felt strong and as I glanced ahead I had the 3:15 pacer in site. As I got closer, I was thrilled to see Jason, owner of Runners’ House, running alongside the pacer. I am not a chatty runner so I said hello and continued gliding steadily along. We had a nice talk the day before the race and I was excited to see him looking strong and confident that he will make his desired time. At that moment I felt good and sticking with the pacer was my goal… I had hoped. I was so happy not to be carrying a water bottle like last year. I made sure to grab some water at every water stop. I also took one GU before the race and had to take another every 45 minutes. Keeping myself hydrated and fueled up was important if I wanted to sustain this pace for 26.2 miles. The salt tabs I was carrying will definitely be put to good use since my perspiration level is higher than average. After a run you cannot tell if I was running or swimming.
It was not long when I started feeling the familiar cramping pain in my stomach. OH NO!!! Please NOOO!!! Ok I can do this I thought. Just don’t think about it right? Mind over matter! No pain, no gain! I was throwing every cliché out in the book but nothing seemed to be working. I thought for sure the urge “to go” would be scared away once I started running, especially since I have never dealt with this during a race. Fortunately, there were a few distractions that kept me moving steadily along with the 3:15 pacer. Kim popped up alongside of me and we silently ran for a bit together. She is always a great motivator and has impeccable form. As I attempted to emulate her effortless stride, I was distracted from the rumbling that was occurring internally. The crowd was also extremely inspiring and they do a fantastic job encouraging the runners to move forward! Like last year the miles were just whizzing by. The only difference was the pain in my belly and I fearfully realized I was losing this battle. As I entered the park the beauty that once captivated my attention was now masked by the overbearing cramping sensation that was consuming me. So I did what maybe most runners would do and that was to speed up a little before finding the next porta-potty. A sad attempt to make up the time😔. A painful experience, but I could see one ahead that had my name written all over it… not literally of course! I stopped my watch, did what desperately needed to be done, and continued back on the course. As I began running again I could see Kim in the distance. The 3:15 pacer was nowhere to be found. At that point, I was not discouraged and I had a slight bit of hope I would be able to see his sign peering through the crowd as it called my name. I was attempting to make up the miles the best I could now and focus on my form and strength to get myself to the finish line. I was now more than halfway through the race and I felt my energy level beginning to decline a bit. I consistently fueled up every 45 minutes and made sure to grab water at every water stop. I knew the real challenge was to come around mile 20 and I had to prepare for the great mental and physical battle that would take place during those finally 6 miles.
The energized cheers from the crowd completely consumed me and as they called out “Go Gabrielle” I had to hold back the tears. Hearing my name while accomplishing this not only physical but mental challenge was such a motivating and well needed push. It also stirred up a whole other range of emotions. Out of the crowd of fans cheered merrily along I was reminded that no one actually knew me. How I wish my parents, siblings but most importantly my kids could watch and support me accomplish this great feat. As my eyes began to swell more and my throat constricted with all this emotion, I realized I had to pull myself together if I am going to get through this race. I thought about my FinKraft running family and how they have always been there for me. Most importantly, I thought about my dear husband who was working on his own mental and physical challenges to get through this race.
I am not going to sugar coat what exactly was going on the last few miles of the race. My body was screaming no more and my legs felt like bricks. Instead of thinking of a positive mantra, I was telling myself this will be my last marathon! Perhaps I should focus on improving my half marathon time instead. They are so much easier and I could do them more often. We train for several months for that one moment and anything can go wrong that day… like stopping to use the bathroom😫! But there I was attempting to complete the last few miles of this race. My coach tells me the first 20 miles are just the run and the last 6 are when the racing begins. Let me tell you, these legs had a different plan in mind after 20 miles and picking up the pace was not part of the equation. I was just praying I could get them moving one right in front of the other at a decent pace. Where was that energy I could conjure up when I need it the most? I think I left it in the porta-potty with the rest of my strength. What next? What should I use to get me through these last few miles? GUILT! There would be nothing worse than for me to walk in the door of my home and tell my kids mommy could not accomplish what she spent so many hours working so hard on for months to complete. Never did I consider stopping but it would tear me apart if I ran much slower than planned. I wanted to make the time away from my family worth every minute. I also did not want to disappoint my coach as well. Working with him through 2 marathons has been such an amazing experience. Being on a team with competitive runners is also inspiring and I tried to use all their encouraging advice as a motivational tool. As I turned the corner to complete the final stretch of the race, I used the last bit of energy I had left to make my way down to the finish line. The music was playing and the crowd was roaring as I sprinted to the end of what was the completion of this 3 1/2 month journey.
POST-RUN BLUES TRANSFORMED
I did not quite run the time I was anticipating… same time as last year. Somewhere in the teens would have been nice. As I glanced at my watch when I crossed the finish line, I realized that if I did not stop I would have Pr’d this race. Every second counts when you are a competitive runner and I lost mine due to the my stomach issues… not my heel or my knee as I feared. That hit me hard and I began bawling like a baby in the middle of the crowd. I ran into Jason, from Runners’ House, and I was thrilled to hear he accomplished his goal. Immediately my disappointment was lifted and his victory became my joy as well.
I prayed Dan and my other teammates reached their desired time and I could live vicariously through them. That I did, as I listened to their triumphs. I was extremely proud of my man who Pr’d with a 3:30!
Later I discovered I received a 3rd place award for my age group and a few of my teammates received awards as well. We all put in a great effort and it showed in the results. Although some of us did not quite hit our mark we were all their for each other with kind and supportive words.
I was still feeling a bit down and I called Roger to discuss all that took place during the race. He told me he was impressed with my results after all the set backs I withstood before the race. A light bulb lite up and I realized he was right. My ongoing heel pain, occasional knee strains, blisters, pulling my hamstring, dislocating my shoulder, dealing with jet lag all occurred only a few weeks before the race. He told me if I can remedy this heel issue I can definitely knock of 4 minutes from my time. He completely reversed my thoughts of failure to hopes of victory. Thank goodness because I have to start training for the Boston Marathon and my heart, mind, and body will be in the right place. Now I am determined to fix my heel and praying for a mild winter.