Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Big Kahuna in Honolulu

It was a dark and stormy night...and so began my preparations for the longest run of my life, the Honolulu Marathon. I'm in paradise and the wind is whipping around, the rain is coming down in sheets, and it's scary to drive the streets of Wikiki. Pedestrians are darting in and out of traffic, and when we finally found the restaurant at which we were to meet our group, there was no parking ANYWHERE. Knowing 3:00am would come early, my plan had been to get back and get to bed by 8:30 or 9:00 at the latest. We finally decided that we would go to Whole Foods for dinner and blow off the fun party. Sleep and staying alive were more important. I did grab a latte that I promptly put in the fridge for the next morning. We arrived back at the hotel room at about8:30 and I immediately began laying out my clothes, nutrition, body glide, etc. for the next day. Then I packed up all I could because we had to be out of our room when we left for the race at 3:40 in the morning. Our breakfast was laid out waiting for the bagels to be toasted. I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes and went to bed amidst howling wind and what would soon become thunder and lightning! Pumped up, it was a little hard to settle in and sleep, and I began thinking about what strategy I would use to get through the last 8 miles for which I hadn't trained and ideas formed, but at least I fell asleep before the thunder and lightning began. My roommates both either weren't asleep yet or the thunder woke them up. When my alarm went off at 3:00am, I'd already been awake for about 45 minutes, having gotten up to use the bathroom after my extreme hydrating! I covered myself in body glide (including my toes, something I'd never done before), pulled on my new running skirt and top, prayed they wouldn't chafe too badly, worked on the compression socks, and put on my running shoes, hat, watch, and mp3 player. Heated up that latte and drank most of it and then I started to eat, but it was time to go, so I brought my peanut butter covered bagel and banana in the cab, and headed to the closest drop off point we could reach. I was still eating my bagel when we reached Ala Moana Park, but was feeling I would be sick if I finished it. I threw the last bite or two plus my banana in the garbage and prayed again that I wouldn't feel hungry on the run. Checked to make sure my mp3 player was working properly and turned it off so I'd have a full battery for the race. Jeff had put my music on there for me the night before I flew in, so I wanted to be sure it was going to keep me company. Once at the park, where it was not raining, thank goodness, because I had no way to stay dry, we began looking for our group (really a group of friends that my friend trained with). Once a place was established to meet, I went to get in a very long, slow line for the restroom, or port-a-potty, more accurately. My friend and her group went off to seed themselves in the sea of 22,000 runners. My other friend waited for me and walked with me to the start, and I seeded myself in the 5-6 hour finisher area, which I knew might be a bit of wishful thinking. I really did not know what those last 8 miles held for me, but I went in with the optimism of President Reagan. Sylvia and I prayed together and she went to line up with the 10k walkers. I chatted with a woman who seemed to be alone and running in memory of a young woman with ovarian cancer, wished each other well, and soon the fireworks were lighting the otherwise very dark sky. The temperature was around 69 or 70 degrees, which was wonderfully pleasant start to the race. I spent the first three miles at least, weaving in and out around slower runners (can you believe THAT?) and listening to my music. 6 miles was over in no time. I suddenly became aware that my music was gone and i grieved for that loss! I knew Diamondhead was coming and geared up for the climb. I watched the multitude in front of me rise and just rose with them. The incline was much MUCH easier than I anticipated and as we crested Diamondhead, I think we were at about 9 miles and I think I may have let out an audible sigh of relief. I felt fantastic as the dawn began to break and a rooster crowed announcing the start of the day. I had maintained a 10:50 mile up until that point, and just was thrilled at how it was going so far.

I had decided that my strategy for the last 8 miles would be to dedicate/pray for some important people in my life and for friends and family that had battled or were battling cancer or other diseases. Mile 17 for Andrew, a friend's son who battles muscular dystrophy. Mille 18 for Dave, a young father currently battling colon cancer. Mile 19 for my husband and for our marriage. Mile 20 for our oldest, Ally, a cancer survivor, and for whom this very race was run 16 years ago, and for her new marriage. Miles 21-23 for my other three children. Mile 24 for my sister, Robin, gone after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Mile 25 for my dad, who had been here in Hawaii in the second world war, and lost his battle with bone cancer in 2004. Finally, the last mile would be dedicated to my brother, Dan, an amazing marathon runner, cyclist, baseball player, professor of exercise physiology, and all around fantastic man, who we lost to brain cancer last March. The hope was for these memories and important people to carry me through uncharted territory.

When I expressed sheer terror to a friend's husband about this race, he said, "What's to worry about? Just put one foot in front of the other". So I guess that's what I did. I had my walking strategy given to me by Lisa, and I know that worked for me well. I stopped to try to figure out the mp3 player around mile 15, thinking it would be considerable help in the ensuing miles, but apparently the Lord wanted me to concentrate on "the list" and I took off a few minutes later without it working. I took water at every water stop but the last one and religiously took my Gu every 5 miles until 25 when i just didn't want to stop. Of course, I walked a bit with each of those, and that ended up in addition to my planned walks of 30, okay at least 60 step walks....they sometimes got significantly longer as the race wore on, but each time I started again, I felt a renewed sense of energy and strength. Mile left mile behind and soon I was at 18, feeling fatigued, but otherwise fine. Then 19 and 20, when I said out loud, "just a 10k left". To myself I said, "At this point, it doesn't matter what kind of pain you find yourself in. You'll survive. You've protected yourself from injury for this moment. This is the fat lady singing". (And I wasn't referring to myself or the lady singing LOUDLY and BADLY, I might add, to her music!) In the ensuing miles, now and then I got tears in my eyes remembering and being inspired by those special people to whom I was dedicating them. The weather had stayed cloudy and in the 70's and I know I breathed more than one prayer of thanks for that, and I remembered my motto from my first event in Kona four and a half years ago, "Hana ho hele" which means "just keep moving."

As I began the blessed descent in the last mile and a half, I wondered why no one seemed to be taking advantage of the downhill as I passed them up one by one. The last half mile, I'd say, was flat and when finally I saw the long-awaited FINISH sign, I started to slow down, thinking that I just couldn't run anymore. How stupid is that? Then I told myself to shut up and RUN! I picked up my pace and finished as strong as I've finished any race. It felt amazing; I couldn't believe it was already over and that I'd done it with no major hurdles, although I did have my customary asthma attack post race. I finished slightly longer than I'd hoped, but I'm totally happy with my5:08 time, in the top 25% of my age group. You know that's the beauty of doing a "first": it's always a personal best!

By the way, I dreamed about going to see Dr. Scott that night!

I'm on the plane on my way home and feeling the stiffness, for sure, but otherwise unscathed by this event. Much mahalo to Lisa for her wise and seasoned counsel throughout my training. The call mid-run, feeling crummy not yet fully recovered from illness, she reiterated that undertrained is better than overtrained. The sitting down and looking over my plan, telling me how to split up my longest runs into two runs to avoid injury. The encouragement when I only got to 18 and not the full 20 miles in training. Telling me to use planned walks as a strategy, and giving me hydration/acclimation advice for once I got to Hawaii. It was all key to my successful (by my standards) run. Ironman here I come! (in a few years...)

Mele Kalekemaka! (There's no "Happy Holidays" in Hawaii!)

Paula Popp
Puget Sound Doula Care

Sent from my iPad

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