Friday, March 21, 2008

You asked for it! (Actually, no you didn't . . . but too bad. Read it.)

As promised, here it is. Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present to you “Irish Cream, the Prequel!” Brace yourselves—it’s going to be a LONG and crazy ride (and by “crazy,” I actually mean “boring to the point of sedation”).

Let’s start way back at the beginning. I alluded to this in an earlier post, but I was really into sports while growing up. As my mother so eloquently stated in her pre-marathon pep talk, I have always been what you would call “athletic.” Now I was never CRAZY athletic, but I was athletic enough that my heart and verging-on-masochistic work ethic always managed to make up the difference. Thus, I was always competitive with the CRAZY athletic kids. I’ve played soccer since about the time I could walk. I also was pretty serious about basketball during my middle school and high school years. I always wanted to give tennis, volleyball and track & field a try, but apparently there isn’t enough time in the day when you’re on a competitive soccer team (sigh)!

When my senior year of high school rolled around, I decided to give yet another sport a try. A few of my close friends were members of the cross-country team and, after three years of attempting to lure me into their crazy world, they finally made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Kidding, kidding. When it came down to it, I just couldn’t fathom how a sport that involved nothing more than running could possibly be as fun as they claimed it to be! I decided to find out for myself. Now, by this point in time, I had already decided I would be turning down college soccer scholarship offers, and would instead be choosing a school based on academics alone (my dream had always been to attend the University of Notre Dame). Thus, I was far less focused on club soccer and much more focused on enjoying my last year of high school. Besides, at the very least, I figured cross country would be a great way to stay in shape.

I must admit, those girls were seriously onto something! Joining the cross country team was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had so much fun. The cross girls (CC-Ya!) were just so different. Sure, they were competitive . . . but they were competitive with themselves; not each other. We would celebrate every time a runner set a new PR, whether it was our fastest runner or the slowest. By nature, it was less of a team sport than any sport I had ever played, and yet . . . somehow . . . it was the most cohesive team I’d ever been a part of. There were no politics involved. We just went out and ran to the best of our abilities, and whole-heartedly cheered one another on in the process. This team, and specifically our wonderful coaches, truly awoke in me a love for the sport of running and the community surrounding it.

Throughout college, I remained pretty active. My BP girls and I frequented the gym (oh, Rolfs!) quite often, I played on teams in multiple co-recreational soccer leagues and I even joined the women’s boxing team for about a year. Granted, a big part of the motivation for my active lifestyle was the fact that I had to cancel out the effects of all of the pizza and booze I consumed (sorry, Mom!). But still, the one thing I could always count on to clear my head was a nice run around the beautiful lakes on Notre Dame’s campus. It was during my college years that I first began to consider the idea of training for a marathon.

Now, I didn't really understand anything about the mystique of marathoning at the time. My father had run the Chicago Marathon when I was young, and I'd noticed that his accomplishment seemed to forever be a part of him, despite the fact that a good 20 years had passed. I truly respected his accomplishment, and I just felt a strange urge to do it myself! At the time, it seemed like the longest of all long shots to me. I can remember printing out Hal’s Beginner training schedule and attempting a “test run” of it. I had no specific marathon in mind. In fact, what I was doing couldn’t really have been called “training” at all. I was “phantom training,” I guess. I simply wanted to see how long I could stick to the schedule and thereby gauge my chances of someday finishing the schedule (and a marathon). I made it about four weeks in before my knees started aching and I decided that marathons just weren’t for me. I had some pretty bad joints (thanks, genetics!) and I figured I simply wasn’t built to run marathons! It was an easy out. I continued to run, but did so for its therapeutic effects more than anything.

Jump ahead to the summer of 2004. I graduated from college and promptly up-and-moved to NYC to pursue a career in the film biz. As a production/art assistant, I didn’t have much free time to dedicate to past loves such as running and working out (15-20 hour work days tend to make you want to just sleep a lot). Luckily, the nature of my job more than made up for my lack of extracurricular physical activity. At work, I lugged heavy equipment from place to place. I was on my feet ALL. DAY. LONG. I loaded and unloaded trucks (at least) twice a day. Often times, I had to walk/jog/sprint from point A to point B to save time and money (not to mention undue stress on our lovely actors and actresses—we wouldn’t want that, now would we?! yay, sarcasm!). It was an active job, to say the least. I remained in the film industry for just under two years before deciding to call it quits. I was sick of the long hours and crappy pay, and realized that I just wasn’t passionate enough to put up with the BS inherent to the industry. Do I regret my time in film? NOT. AT. ALL. I have some incredible stories (note to self: write said incredible stories down before you get old and forget them!). I got to know the five boroughs of NYC (yes, even Staten Island) better than most New Yorkers ever will. I can parallel park a cube truck (this comes in handy quite often; let me tell you). I got to work with (and socialize with) some pretty talented actors—Robert Downey, Jr.; Robin Wright Penn; Billy Bob Thornton; Shia Labeouf and Jared Leto, to name a handful. I learned some amazing lessons in my two years, including what it means to truly bust you’re A$$. I also made some really unforgettable friends. But in the end, I think I made the decision to leave at the right time.

Moving on from the film biz, I decided to take a temp job as a litigation legal assistant at the law firm of White & Case. I had been contemplating the idea of law school for a while, and figured taking a job at a NYC “big law” firm would help me decide whether or not I wanted to pursue a J.D. Well, let me tell you, transitioning from an active job in the film industry to a desk job was quite a shocker to my body! I gained 15- 20 pounds in just the six months I was at White & Case (GROSS). In October '06, I received word that a handful of the attorneys I was working with had decided to jump ship. One of the partners would be heading over to a firm called Linklaters, and would be bringing the Enron litigation I was working on with him. As luck (or . . . not luck) would have it, the attorneys on the matter wanted to bring a couple of the legal assistants who were familiar with the cases over to the new firm. Although I’d only been at White & Case for six months, they asked if I’d come over with them. Not knowing any better, I said yes (insert over-dramatized declaration of self-pity here)!

Luckily, though, with this new firm came full-time status . . . and benefits! That’s right, folks. For the first time since graduating from college, I would actually be covered by health insurance. I was pretty pumped. One of the other benefits I was very anxious to make use of was that of a corporate gym membership (bye bye, blubber!). I opted to sign up with a gym called Gravity, in the basement of Le Parker Meridien (I have to put a plug in for my gym here . . . everyone there is sooo nice, everything’s really clean and I almost never have to wait for a machine! Oh, and the complimentary fresh fruit/tea/coffee is great too! YAY, GRAVITY!). It was around this time, that the “m word” managed to creep its way back into my mind. Geez, why wouldn't that word go away? I wasn’t sure . . . but one thing I was sure of was that I needed to get back into shape ASAP! I was in seriously awful shape! I started off with the elliptical and some weights, and managed to shed a few pounds. I really dedicated myself to getting back on the gym-wagon (I thought I had made that word up, but I just googled it and found like 238 other "fitness" bloggers who have used it—I’m totally hip!), and by the spring of ’07, I was in decent enough shape that I was ready to test out my running legs again. I can remember the first time I stepped foot back on that dreaded treadmill. I forced myself to run 2 miles at about a 10:45/mile pace, and it was absolutely excruciating. I honestly thought I was going to vomit my lungs up (isn't that pretty to picture?). Despite the fact that I was in pretty good shape overall, I just wasn’t in running shape. Yet.

I kept at it. Everyday I would try to run just a little bit further than I had the day before. I got sick of the dreadmill, so I started running outside in Prospect Park. The beautiful scenery provided a welcome distraction. I started shedding more pounds and soon realized that running was actually getting easier. My friend, AP, helped me to come up with a running goal. She mentioned that she was going to be running the marathon at the Sunburst Races (in South Bend/Notre Dame, IN) in June. I decided I’d sign up for the 10K there. I also made a specific time goal for myself of finishing in under an hour. Could I do it? YES. I was confident that, with hard work, I’d earn the privilege of meeting my goal time. Knowing I’d have to work late most nights, I forced myself to get my runs done in the mornings. I’d be out the door by 6 a.m. almost every weekday. I ran hills. I ran sprints. I trained my little butt off.

The night before the 10K, I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t sleep a wink. I was just so excited to be able to say that I was officially a runner again (I was also scared to death that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my 60 year-old father who was running with me, and had trained entirely on the treadmill—but that’s another story!). Luckily, the race went well. My father and I started out together and ran about the first 4 miles together. We made a point of not going out too fast (okay, I know it was only 10K, but still, it made us feel smart!). We talked to the other runners around us and smiled quite a bit. After mile-4, I somehow managed to lose my old man at a water stop. I don’t remember exactly what happened. I think we failed to communicate properly, as he stopped at the water stop and I continued on. The next thing I knew, he was nowhere to be found. It was shortly after this point that we hit a huge uphill climb. As I made the climb, I was shocked to realize that I was actually passing people (what's up, hill training?)! Once we got to what we thought was the top of the hill, it turned out there was a hidden corkscrew turn that continued even further uphill. Most of the people around me audibly groaned or dropped their heads, but I just kept on booking it up that hill! This was probably my favorite part of the entire race (besides the finish, of course). Shortly thereafter, though, we got slowed down big time, when an emergency vehicle tried to get up the riverside path we were on, to a runner who’d gone down. We were forced to run in a single file line to let the vehicle pass, and it slowed the field down considerably. I was obviously eager to get moving, but I also understood that the runner down was far more important than my time. So I just went with the flow. Around mile-5, I can remember wishing my father was still with me. I was just SO hot and tired, and frankly, I was more than ready to be done running! Luckily, Notre Dame’s campus came into view, and it gave me the boost of energy I needed. The end was near! We made our way onto campus and along the side of the football stadium. We ran to the north end of the stadium and then ran through the tunnel the team runs through at the start of the games. The Victory March was playing in the tunnel, and it was truly a magical moment for me. I was about to finish my first road race ever in the stadium of my alma mater! We made our way onto the field and up to the 50 yard line. I put in a pretty decent kick . . . and just like that, it was over!

I wandered around the finish area for a bit, hoping I would get to see my pops finish. There were plenty of awesome volunteers handing out cold washcloths and popsicles (yay, thank you, volunteers!). But where on earth was my farther? I waited anxiously for him to come across the line . . . and I waited . . . and I waited. I started to get really nervous. Was he okay? Did something happen? Finally, after probably ten minutes, he came walking up to me, cool as a cucumber. Apparently he’d finished just a few minutes after me, but I’d somehow missed him as he came through the crowd. It wasn’t until I saw my father that I realized I had absolutely no clue what my time was! In all the excitement of crossing the finish line, I’d forgotten to look up at the clock to see what the time was (I also wasn’t wearing a watch—good one, newbie!). I knew I was very close to my goal time of sub-60, but had no idea whether I’d actually met it! My father mentioned that, according to his watch (which should have been around chip time), he’d finished around 1:02, so he was thinking I’d definitely met my goal. I was PUMPED! We got some food and drink, hung out on the field, and waited for my mom to finish up with the fun walk. My mom and (shockingly) my sister and her g/f finished up with the fun walk (we didn’t think my sis would get out of bed in time to make it to the fun walk! I thank Anne for getting her there on time!). Then, my fam and I waited for AC , AP, and AP’s bro & sis-in-law to finish up with the marathon. What rockstars! They all did a wonderful job and finished in some seriously hot conditions! Once they’d all crossed the finish line, we hung out some more down on the field. In. Notre. Dame. Stadium. It was seriously awesome. My fam, some of my best friends and I. On the football field. Each having just run great races. It was a sweet combo, to say the least! It wasn’t until we left the stadium to head in the direction of some real food (and beers, obviously) that I realized the cold, hard truth. I’d missed my goal by 47 seconds! They’d posted the official times for the races at the exit, and I could hardly believe my eyes. 1:00:46. Unreal. My father and I had both been convinced I’d nailed it. But alas, ‘twas not so. I bummed over it for a minute, but then remembered the fact that we’d been slowed down by the emergency vehicles between miles 4-5. That thought made me feel slightly better, but still, I wanted to prove my stuff to the racing world (and more importantly, myself)! I figured I would just have to keep racing and get myself some new PR’s!

So after race numero uno, I began running more and more miles . . . and weight training . . . and cross training on the side. I was having a blast, while getting into the best shape of my life. Shortly after my 10K adventure, I decided the time had finally come to try my legs out at the great sport of marathoning. I set my sights on Honolulu in December of the same year (why not get a sweet vacation out of your marathon, right?) But first, I wanted to run a 5K that was being held in late June on the boardwalk at Coney Island (could a course possibly be any flatter? And besides, they promised free hotdogs and beer afterwards—can we say SOLD?!). Wilson and I trained for it together and were all set to go . . . that is, until disaster struck the Friday evening before the race . . .

I was participating in a firm indoor soccer tournament, and let me tell you, my team was kicking some serious A$$ (not that I’m competitive or anything). We made it to the championship game, and with just over two minutes to go, I turned to chase down a player on the other team, and felt a pop in the back of my left leg. OH. CRAP. WHAT THE F*** WAS THAT?! I tried to put weight on it. It was pretty much impossible. OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. NOT GOOD. I looked up at the clock. There was so little time left, maybe I could just like hang out on the field for the rest of the game? I mean, the teams were made so that we didn’t have any substitutes . . . what was my team supposed to do if I went out of the game? So I hung out back by the goal, hoping the pain would just go away. Then a teammate attempted to pass the ball back to me. I planted my (bad) left leg to send it up the field and felt THE. WORST. PAIN. EVER. In my left hamstring. Uh oh. There was just no way I could continue on. I went down, and for some reason, nobody even seemed to notice I was down for almost a full minute! Finally, the referee stopped the game and I was given “medical attention.” Ha. This amounted to some co-workers who were in the know about athletic injuries being like, “did it pop?” “Um, yeah. I think so.” “Oh, sh*t. I think we’d better call an ambulance.” I then proceeded to scream, “But what about my marathon? Can I still run my marathon? I have to run a marathon!” for the next twenty minutes—like a crazy person—until the ambulance arrived (it was totally not overly-dramatic at all . . . especially considering the fact that I hadn’t even STARTED training for the marathon yet or registered, made accommodations, etc.).

The not-so-pleasant verdict? As I figured, I’d torn my poor hammy. But hey, at least my soccer team got to sub someone “of equal or lesser value” into the game for me . . . and the coolest part about that? My sub, Matt, ended up scoring the winning goal for my team with like 20 seconds to go!! Everything happens for a reason, right? Ha. Needless to say, I didn’t end up getting to participate in the Coney Island 5K that weekend (although I did consider racing on my crutches—I figured there’d be at least a couple people I could smoke)! I went and cheered Wilson on and took lots of photos. But there was no running in the cards for Irish Cream that weekend. I was prescribed 12 weeks of physical therapy (which I never actually went to, since my insurance company was being a serious b*tch about it—being as stubborn as I am about paying for crap I shouldn't have to pay for—I finally just gave up on the thought of getting actual PT, and resigned myself to internet researched self-healing). When the time came for marathon training to start (about eight weeks later), I gave it my best shot, but within two weeks of training, realized it was seriously stupid to force my leg through marathon training in its fragile state. It still felt seriously abnormal and unhealthy—like it would snap at any second. Thus, I filed away my training schedule and resolved to run my first marathon in the spring instead. Specifically, I set my sights on the marathon at the Sunburst Races. Until then, I decided to focus on trying to heal my leg up and attempting to slowly build my seriously lacking mileage.

At some point in late October '07 (4 months post- injury), I finally felt like I was pretty much almost back to my pre-injury self. My hammy generally felt relatively normal and I was back in pretty decent running shape. I was even back to doing some light leg presses in the gym. I headed out to the NYC Marathon in early November and made a point of cheering on every single runner. Secretly, though, I was beyond devastated that I wouldn’t be completing my first marathon the following month. While I was originally really pumped about the idea of doing my first ‘thon at Sunburst, seeing those marathoners out there doing their thang made me more than a little bit antsy!

Luckily, in jumped AP, willing and able to feed my impatience! She mentioned that she was thinking about running the L.A. Marathon in early March, and that our friends Jonny and Brent would be running it as well. When she asked if I’d be interested, I immediately pulled out my copy of Hal’s Beginner Marathon training schedule and scribbled in the relevant dates . . . I was three weeks behind, but I felt like I was in good enough shape to catch back up. I wrote AP back that same day and said, “I’ll do it!”

And, as they say . . . the rest is history! Or well, I guess I COULD talk a little about my training period. What's one more paragraph at this point? Training was pretty uneventful, for the most part. Because my "9:30-5:30" job is actually more like "9:30-9/10/11:00," my life pretty much consisted of working, running, eating and sleeping. My weekday runs were done on the treadmill--most of the time--shortly before my gym closed. As Lam mentioned after my last post, running/working out that late at night is kind of hard to do . . . and it was. But not as hard as I thought it would be, to be quite honest. I guess, that's how I know I really love running. There's no way I'd do it so late at night after a hard day of work if I didn't truly love it! My long runs were completed solo (which was definitely, at times, pretty lonesome), outside in the NYC cold. Luckily, I'm from Chicago, so the NYC "cold" really doesn't seem quite so cold to me (although, don't get me wrong--that doesn't stop me from complaining about it!). Plus, I have to admit that I just really lucked out weather-wise. I didn't have to deal with many ice- or snow-covered roads during my 15 weeks of training. I didn't have any big problems with injuries or illness either. The only issues I had were with some exhaustion during the fall-back weeks following my 18- and 20-milers. Both times, I ended up having to cut my long runs short due to some serious fatigue (like, to the point of thinking I was going to collapse). I guess my insane schedule finally started catching up with me somewhere near the end there. I suppose that may have had some effect on my marathon performance as well. Who knows. In the end, AP obviously ended up having to back out, as I’m sure you figured out based on the lack of her name in my race report. But she and AC were definitely there with us in spirit! I’m sure there will be plenty of marathons for us to run together in the future!

So there you have it . . . the prequel that kinda/sorta explains how we got to the present day! Here I am today, a full blown running nerd. Oh, and for a bit more info on the schizo career path, I have ultimately decided against law school (sorry, Dad). Yeah. Instead, I am actually in the planning stages of getting myself back to school for Interior Design. I just feel that Interior Design is where my passion lies. While I could definitely make a great lawyer, I don’t think I’d love it nearly as much as I would Interior Design. When I’d originally thought of law as a career, I always figured I’d just do it until I had kids, and then my kids would be my ticket out. But Interior Design? That is something I can seriously see myself wanting to do forever. I’m currently in the process of sorting out grad programs and am hoping to get my applications submitted in time to enroll next January (weeeee!). ‘Til then? I’m just trying to magically speed up time by training for lots and lots of races (this works, I swear)! Oh, and I’m also trying to subdue (on a daily basis) my burning desire to Q-U-I-T my current job (at least until Nov/Dec rolls around). That’s a good one as well. I’m telling you, you’ve got to have goals, people!

Whew! Feel better? I sure do! That was a looooong one.

Well, I’m off to do a quick 3-miler. It looks absolutely gorgeous out there!


The Laminator said...

Wow, Irish. I feel I know you so much better now after your running autobiography. It seems like your running in a way parallels your working career. Sorry about your torn hammy...sounds like it must have hurt like a B*TCH...depending on what time you were watching, you must have seen me at some point in the NYC marathon last year. It's really a lot of fun and it's the one (and maybe the only day) that you truly appreciate the city and the people...they really make you feel like you're a rock star. I'm saying all this because I think you should consider running it...I think you'll love it. Anyway, thanks for sharing your running story. I hope it is as inspiration for you as it is for us to read.

Irish Cream said...

Thanks, Lam! Funny thing is . . . NYC is the "next, next race" I have been thinking about doing (after my half-marathon in late May). After getting out there and cheering last year, I knew I just had to do it! I'm hoping the lottery works in my favor--but if not, I'm going to go the charity route. One way or another, I'll be running this year!