run, run, rudolph!

I started training for my first marathon in 2007. Running was therapy at the time. My life was a bit of a wreck and running gave me something. And I needed something.

Over the years, I’ve continued to run off and on. Last year, I decided to go for marathon #2 here in Tokyo…mostly because my friend won the lottery for it and so I kind of had to do it. I was undertrained and overweight, but I finished.

What I love about running (and I know I’ve written this before), is that no matter how I feel about the way my body looks, I can’t help but appreciate how amazing it is when I’m running. And when I complete 26.2 miles, I can’t do anything but be in awe of it.

So, with the marathon in Tokyo completed, I decided I should probably go ahead an run a marathon on every continent. Africa was meant to be done last summer, but I wasn’t able to finish. I will definitely be going back.

In the past, speed was never really my goal, but as I started to lose weight this past summer, I also decided it was time to change that. I found a great race time predictor that helped me determine how fast I should be able to run different distances based on my marathon time. Since I hadn’t tried increasing my pace ever, this was a good place to start.

So, for the past six months I’ve been working on increasing my pace. My first goal was to see how fast I could run a mile. I used the treadmill to push myself and managed to run a mile in 8m57s. This was achieved after losing about 35 lbs.


So, based on this, I could run a 5K in under 30 minutes. I didn’t believe it, but that’s what the race predictor said, and I decided I might as well try. It took almost two months, another 10 lbs, and a few attempts, but I did it eventually. Again, on a treadmill.


Now, if you were to look at the race predictor, you’d see that I should be able to run a half-marathon in about 2h16m55s. That pace seemed super aggressive considering my PR for a half-marathon was 2h24m22s seven years ago. And actually, until I looked it up just now, I thought it was 2h36m…not sure where I got that. Also, there’s a difference between running on a treadmill and running in a road race. In fact, given my last marathon finish time of 5h58m40s, I thought 2h30m00s would be a pretty good goal. With this goal in mind, I needed to find a half-marathon. The one I found was a little one in Arizona on Dec. 20.

I set off from my sister’s house early that morning to make the hour drive to the west valley. It was too far and too early to drag any of my family members there, so I was on my own. Because my goal was 2h30m, I knew my average mile pace needed to be 11m27s. With my Garmin strapped securely around my wrist, I was ready to go. I took my place at the very back of the pack (I prefer to kill rather than being killed) and waited for the gun to fire. (Except in this case, there was no gun, just a guy who yelled something that signaled for us to start.)

I started out at a pace that felt comfortable, doing my best to stay as comfortable as possible. Having run enough races in my life, especially half-marathons, I know to go out slow and not get caught up in the adrenaline and energy that a race can give you. To my surprise, though, when I looked down at my trusty electronic running buddy for the first time, I was averaging 10m43s. This was both a bit nerve-racking and motivating…which I think is how most people feel when they’re set to hit a goal they thought was beyond their reach.

Thinking about how good I was feeling at that pace, but also knowing that pace probably wasn’t sustainable for the full 13.1 miles, I decided to go for an average pace of under 11m00s, which would put my final race time at 2h24m05s or below, which would have been a PR..even against the PR I didn’t realize I’d actually set. I was kind of excited.

So, I ran. And ran. And ran. I took quick little breaks for water and fueling, that was it. I did slow down a little a mile here and a mile there. At one point, I started to think that maybe I could come in under 2h20m00s. But then I checked myself. Sometimes I get a little crazy in moments like this and think I can accomplish crazy things only to completely blow up and not even accomplish my original goal. So, I calmed down and stuck with the sub 11m mile goal.

And I killed it!


Next up: sub 5h00m00s marathon…and another continent crossed off the list. If anyone wants to join me, I’d love to have a running/travel buddy. Check it out here. It’s sure to be amazing!

and i failed


our cute little hut for the week


sunrise, the morning of the race

South Africa was amazing, but the reality about the marathon was that I was undertrained and unprepared for just how difficult the course was going to be.


before the race

Even had I not rolled my ankle multiple times and fallen twice, I would have been picked up by one of the cars because I wouldn’t have made the first cutoff. I felt better having tripped and fallen. Kind of sad, but true.



In any case, even with the fall at around mile 10, and another one only about a quarter of a mile later, I still managed to complete half and got a medal for it.


anne and me with our half-marathon medals

The trip was still amazing. Now I just have to figure out when to go back so I can conquer that beast. In addition to the amazing game drives and attempting that race, we also went down to Cape Town after where I got to go diving and see more of the country.

No regrets. And now I’ll know better in terms of how to prepare for next time. Yay me.


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failure is a possibility

“You must accept that you might fail; then, if you do your best and still don’t win, at least you can be satisfied that you’ve tried. If you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, you don’t branch out, you don’t try – you don’t take the risk.”
-Rosalynn Carter

I’ve been posting all kinds of stuff on my instagram feed about this upcoming marathon I’m running in South Africa. While running a half marathon in Burma last November, I overheard a number of people talking about it and that it was super hard. I’m not sure why I didn’t actually look at the elevation graphic before agreeing to run this thing. Or, you know, before three weeks ago. But I didn’t. I wasn’t overly worried about it either because, I thought, “I know I’m not fast, but I have endurance and strength on my side.” Well, endurance and strength are great things…but when there’s a time limit, they may not be enough.

big_5_elevationOver the past three weeks, since discovering both the difficulty and the time limit, I’ve seriously contemplated just running the half marathon. And please let me be clear when I use the term “just” accompanied by the words “half marathon.” I realize that a half marathon is still a long distance and I am both blessed and amazed that my body (a body that I often dislike, sometimes loathe, and is between 60 and 80 lbs overweight, depending on the chart you consult) can complete a half marathon. In fact, during the Tokyo Marathon, the body carried me, running, the entire first half without a single walking break. But, the point is, I signed up for a marathon. I set out to run this marathon. So, it would feel like a “just” to me.

But here’s the thing. I do not like to fail. Well, nobody likes to fail. I suppose that’s not news. But I rarely do. And you want to know why? (That’s rhetorical. I don’t actually care if you want to know. I’m going to tell you.) Because I rarely (and I mean, I can probably count on one hand the number of times) try to do anything if I’m not 95% confident that I will be successful.

I was much better about trying things when I was younger, not because I wasn’t afraid to fail, but because I had a mother who would say, in response to my fear, “Well, if you don’t try, you definitely won’t make it (in reference to cheer tryouts, choir auditions, etc), so why not try. Worst case? The outcome is the same as if you hadn’t have tried. Best case? You make it.” This little thought got me to audition for one of my college choirs and I’m so glad I did (incidentally, I almost failed…I have serious audition anxiety), because I made it. But it hasn’t always worked that way. And while my mother was absolutely right, there is pain in failure. More pain, sometimes, than not trying. There’s embarrassment. There’s shame. There’s disappointment. It is not fun.

And the risk, with this marathon, if I can’t finish under the time limit, is that I will not be a “Finisher” of anything. Doesn’t matter that I will have completed at least the half marathon in the process. There’s no medal at the end. And there will be massive amounts of disappointment. So, you can see why the half marathon is tempting. It still is.

In an effort to prepare in what little time we have left before this race, my friend, Anne, and I took to the mountains outside of Tokyo to do some hiking. (For a minute, we thought about “running”…and then we started up the mountain…and laughed heartily at the thought.) It took us 6 hours to go 10 miles. To be fair, we were not racing and we made three longish pitstops. But still. 6 hours. I have 7 to complete 26.2 in Africa. At elevation. With almost a mile long hill (a full mile!) at a 22.3% grade. And before we got up that hill, we have to come down it, which, while easier on the heart, is killer on the knees, ankles, quads, and toes. If you aren’t sure what 22.3% means, to put it in context, most gym treadmills max out at 15%. This is not minor.

Am I building the case for why I should probably opt for the half marathon? Yep. Am I crafting my defense in case of the very real possibility that I don’t finish? You better believe it.

But I am determined to try. I might fail. I really and truly might. And I do not like failing. And I’m actually pretty scared. Everyone I know (basically), knows that I’m going to Africa to run a marathon because I’m completely addicted to social media (I like to justify that it’s how I stay connected to America and my former life, which is true, but I was pretty addicted before I moved to Japan) and have posted a gazillion things about bit. (I’m sorry to those of you who are not at all interested.) And as a slow runner, it’s really hard to know that there are people I know (not talking elite athletes, but people from my normal life whose job is not running) who can finish a marathon in HALF that time, and that I might not make it in 7 hours. Never mind that I’ve not once worried that I couldn’t finish the distance without stopping (which is pretty incredible). The point is, I have a choice.

As I said in an email to my running buddy for this race (race against the clock, that is) in an email last week:

“I’m trying to not be too stressed about this marathon, but I’ve realized that what I decide is really a commentary on the person I want to be…and I want to be the person that’s willing to take the risk when there’s a possibility of failure vs. playing it safe and always wondering. So I’m planning to go for it with this marathon.”

Here’s hoping. Well, more than hoping. In my fear, I’ve created a pretty solid race strategy and, if I can follow it (which is a big “if”), I think I might make it. But if I don’t, I can always try again.

unnamedWill it suck if I don’t finish in time? Yes. But not as much as wondering if I could have finished in time.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
-T.S. Eliot

tokyo marathon 2014


In February (yes, I know it’s April) I ran my second marathon. My friend Caroline came over from New York and we ran it together. If she hadn’t have been coming, I don’t think there’s any way on this earth I would have run. Prior to January, the only training I’d done was the half marathon I ran in Burma/Myanmar…for which I was also incredibly undertrained.

With five weeks to go before the race, I did the best I could to prepare…starting with a 16-miler. Go big or go home, right? My friends, Anne (with whom I’ll be running a marathon this summer in South Africa) and CoyLou joined me for some of my long runs, making them much more enjoyable. And somehow, even with the little training I’d done, I got to the marathon feeling like I was going to survive. And knowing that I’d finish before the cutoff (7 hours from the start time).

It’s an amazing thing to know that your body will be able to complete 26.2 miles, even when you’ve only trained for five weeks. I know I talked about this in my post about running in Burma, but every time I do a long race, I am in awe of what my body can do.


While Caroline had come over to run the marathon with me, we weren’t exactly going to be running together. She’s much faster than I am (she’s a triathlon-ing nut) so we weren’t even starting in the same gates. I’ve never run in such a large race that there were gates, but with approximately 36,000 people running, gates there were. Seriously. 36,000!!!


Caroline and I said goodbye to each other and headed off to our respective gates. The beauty of the Tokyo Marathon is that you have two out and back legs, so there was a chance I’d get to at least say hi to Caroline along the way.

This was the first race I was going to be running with my new toy: a Garmin Forerunner XT. I’d just started to do heart rate training and was excited to try this marathon with a focus not on pace, but on heart rate. Unfortunately, I never got my heart rate monitor working (I was so annoyed…the monitor left me both literally and figuratively chaffed!). Fortunately, I’d done enough HR training that I knew roughly the pace I should be running at the beginning.

I did a pretty good job (I thought) keeping my pacing down so I would burn out. As it turns out, though, while my heart was pretty content, my body was not so much by the end. But the happy news is I had my fastest half split I’ve had in over seven years. And my second fastest ever. I was pretty happy about that, even if the second half was pretty pathetic in terms of pacing.

It was an amazing experience. And what really helped me in those last miles was thinking about how lucky I was, as I saw many, many runners along the way at medical aid stations or stopped along the course nursing calves/shines/ankles/feet, just to be able to finish without having to stop and get medical attention.

The other major help was my darling friend Anne (pictured in the collage below)! When I ran the St. George Marathon almost seven years ago, I was doing it with another darling Anne. She was actually running with me, which was a huge boon! But on top of that, her awesome family had traveled down to St. George to cheer her and, by extension, me on.

If you’ve never run a distance race before, it’s hard to explain the support that comes from those cheering you on…the spectators in Tokyo were awesome, but having Anne there along the way made a HUGE difference! She trekked all over the course and I got to see her four times along the way. Every time was like receiving a little shot of energy! (Unfortunately, I busted my phone in Singapore a few weeks ago and in the transition to a new phone, I lost all of my pictures with Anne. Sad face. )

The last three miles were complete torture. While the marathon course in Tokyo is relatively flat for the most part, the last three miles consist of a series of bridges…bridges that are engineered for strength, and therefore are bowed…which means “hills” for a runner. To add insult to injury (or injury to insult, as it were), somewhere along the way I’d developed what I could tell was a ginormous blister on my right big toe in addition to a shooting pain at the base of my second toe due to the chip being too tightly attached. If I walked, I was okay. If I ran, every step hurt. So, there was a lot of walking.

IMG_1517The last miles of a marathon are also mentally challenging for me because I want so badly to be done that I do my best to force myself to go as fast as I can…but I just can’t go that fast. And it’s so difficult to not just give up. But, somehow I pushed through and the it was over. My goal was to finish under six hours (chip time), which is not fast at all…but was going to be a good finish for me given my lack of training and that I weighed about 20 lbs more than when I ran my last marathon. I came in at 5:58:20.

IMG_1513Of course, with a half split that would have put me in at around 5:30 had I maintained it, I was slightly disappointed, but then I remembered that I had set my goal based on reality and managed to feel pretty awesome about it when I thought, yet again, at how amazing it was that my body could do what it did.

Post marathon, I went through the finishers area and met up with Caroline for the most amazing foot soak ever (I wish every marathon had this!) and then met up with Anne, who was patiently waiting to congratulate me. Because of where the finish is, she wasn’t able to be at the finish line, but it was awesome that she had come all the way out to the end!


Soaking my feet…this might be how my blister got infected and why I had to see a doctor for antibiotics, but at the time, it was worth it.

And that was that. Marathon #2 on continent #2 completed. And now I’ve begun training for marathon #3 on continent #3 which will happen on June 21st. Not sure what I was thinking signing up for two marathon’s in one year, but now the bug has bitten and the goal is to run a marathon on every continent, culminating in Antarctica in 2017! I’m both terrified and super excited!


Elevator selfie with our medals after dinner and a movie.

i want to tear down the walls that hold me inside

race gear

When I first started distance running, it was with the end goal of losing weight. Let’s be honest, 99% of anything I did that was exercise related had always been with weight loss in mind. From the day I got my first gym membership at the way-too-young age of 15 through to when I started training for my first marathon, exercise was about weight loss/control. And, while I’ve gotten much, much better about reframing, it’s still really hard for me to not hate the idea of exercise because I hate when I start to obsess about my weight and then I start to loathe exercising because it will never be disconnected from the years I’ve spent feeling ugly/fat/insecure/etc.

IMGP0042Even today, even though I’ve become much more comfortable in my own skin, every time I get ready to exercise, there’s still that moment when I think, “I shouldn’t have to do this.” It doesn’t matter that at my age, everyone should be doing “this”. And I like to exercise. I like how I feel when I’m doing it. I like how I feel when I’m done. I’m a happier person overall when I do it. But that little voice is still there telling me that the main reason I’m doing it is to try and be pretty/thin/secure enough.

1450828_10153410280635389_546822729_nWhat distance running did for me was to show me just how much my body could do. I’ve written a number of posts about this, in fact. So, even though I hadn’t done any distance running (and almost no running at all, for that matter) since moving to Japan, when my friend, Brittany, asked me if I’d like to join her in running a half-marathon in Burma (aka Myanmar, and yes, I did have to look it up and the only reason I actually recognized the that this was the name of a country was because I’d had two friends go their this past summer), I agreed on the spot, knowing this would force me to do something in the running department.

IMGP0058There are so many things about my trip to Burma that I could talk about (and maybe I will someday if I ever get around to it), but the reason we went there was to run this half-marathon through the temples, so that’s what I want to capture here.

IMGP0025Leading up to the half, I tried to get on the training bandwagon, but the reality was I was super busy. Between the craziness of my job, the responsibility I’ve been given at church, and my inability to say “no” to any invitation and/or to not have a dinner party on any given Sunday, I just wasn’t getting around to running. Before heading to Burma, I got in exactly two runs. One was four miles, the other six. And the latter involved quite a bit of walking. Side note: one of the things I hate about not running for so long is that while mentally, my brain knows that my body is physically capable of doing it, I also know that my body won’t be able to do it right away. And that hurts.

IMGP0046 IMGP0050 IMGP0051 IMGP0052So, by the time we arrived at the starting line Saturday morning, I knew I had no hope of anything but my worst half-marathon time even. And while it shouldn’t be about the time, I’m still always trying to prove something, so it was still about the time. And I hated that I was going to be so slow. Never mind the fact that I never questioned whether I’d be able to finish even though I had basically not trained. Never mind that the terrain and scenery on this route would make it near impossible to not get my slowest time even if I had been trained. I wanted to be able to run faster than my slowest time. I wanted to pace with Brittany who had been training and actually done a 10 mile run prior to the actual race. (Perhaps my boss was right to tell me last week that I might need to start lowering my expectations of myself…)

IMGP0062 IMGP0069But then something amazing happened. The gun went off and I started running and suddenly, I remembered. I remembered how amazing this body is that I’ve been given. That I can run 13.1 miles (or wog, whatever) and not ever question whether I’ll finish. Even in 90F+ weather and humidity. Even though I hadn’t trained. Even if I was going to be slower than I’d ever been. The emotions that evoked combined with the incredible opportunity I had been given to run in this amazing country, in the same race as some of Burma’s top runners, and the sheer beauty of the world in that moment was almost more than I could handle and, had it not been for the fact that I was running, and therefore using my full lung capacity to support that process, I probably would have started bawling right there on the spot.

IMGP0071 IMGP0080 IMGP0081 IMGP0085 IMGP0087While I wasn’t able to kick the feelings of disappointment in myself until almost the end of the race, knowing I wouldn’t PR, I was able to enjoy the scenery around me, stop and take a few photos here and there, and appreciate the experience perhaps more than I’ve appreciated any other race I’ve run.

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Added to the normal feelings of gratitude I have for my body and my health anytime I run any race 10 miles or more, there was the gratitude I had for the sweet Burmese villagers who came out to cheer us on. These people who have almost nothing spent their morning sitting by the side of the road, cheering on foreigners (for the most part) who had paid more to get to their villages and run in this race than they likely make in a year. Talk about a generous culture. This almost brought be to tears for the second time during the race.

Much earlier in the morning during breakfast at the ridiculous hour of 4:30am, I’d been chatting with a woman who was going to run the full marathon. I’d mentioned that I hadn’t trained almost at all and was going to get my slowest time ever. And then, near the end of the race, after Brittany had already finished and I still had about two miles to go, I passed her. She’d ended up switching to the half at the split point because her body wasn’t cooperating in the heat and humidity.

While I had made those comments in defense of myself and what really was going to be my slowest time, in the moment I passed her, I’d wished more than anything that I could have eaten those words instead of the toast I’d had at breakfast. And I wanted more than anything for this woman to flat out beat me. And suddenly, I forgot about my disappointment in myself, and was left with only gratitude. That said, I didn’t hang back and let the woman beat me because she would have known it was intentional and no one enjoys being pitied. But I was able to completely let go and enjoy those last two miles in a different way than the previous 11.



When I finally crossed the finish line, I’d completely let go of time. I was focused on how amazing it was that I was able to be in Burma, running through thousands of temples that had been there for thousands of year and do so with only one blister to show for it. And I was focused on the beautiful medal hanging around my neck indicating that I was a finisher.