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Race Recap: Iron Girl Half Marathon, Columbia MD (2012)

April 30, 2012

What a weekend! I met a legend – Jean Benoit Samuelson, PRed a half by nine minutes (yes, nine), ran in another state and made it home for brunch at the Royal Tavern on Sunday.  I’d say it was a success.

Race Schwag - Iron Girl Half Marathon

Due to a logistical snafu, my husband also booked a dj gig the day before I planned to run the half marathon so I traveled to Maryland by myself.  (We have one of those dry erase calendars that was used mainly for our business at first, but now we use it for our personal life.  I’m not sure how we lived without it.  But we both neglected to mark our events on the calendar, and thus we had a conflict.)  Truth be told, I had a wonderful 24-hour Carrie-vacation full of me-time, hand-sewing, reading, writing, walks in the rain and relaxation.  (And after his gig he spent all night playing video games.  Score for both of us!)

View from my room... Catching up on some sewing.

I opted to stay at the race hotel (Sheraton), since this was the first out-of-town race other than Ragnar that I’ve ever done.  (And we all know there’s not much sleeping for Ragnar races – who needs a hotel?)  When we travel, we normally opt for independent B&B’s or hostels, but it was really nice to park the car on arrival and not have to use it again until I left.  When I needed to pick up my packet, I simply walked downstairs.  Ditto for dinner.  Ditto to see Jean Benoit Samueleson speak.  And the starting area was a two minute walk from the lobby.  While it lacked the charm of a family run establishment, it was handy and convenient.

Easy race access - The Sheraton, Columbia MD

After I picked up my packet, I made sure to arrive early to see Joan Benoit Samuelson speak.  Yeah, I was the girl who sat in the front row.  Why sit a few rows back when you can be so close to a legend?  She was everything I thought she would be and more.  (I’m going to devote an entire post to Joan-isms and things I learned during the meet-and-greet.  Let’s just say I called my husband and said, “In 20 years I want to be just like her!  Ok, I probably won’t have a gold medal, but she’s awesome!”)

Meeting Joan Benoit Samuelson

A few weeks ago I started to float the idea of running without a watch for this race after a I PRed a 5K, naked.  Just in case I lost my nerve, I brought my Garmin to Maryland.  I didn’t want to wake up on race day and have a freak-out:  “OMG!  I can’t do this without GPS! How will I know when to push it, and when to pull back?”  Enter Joan.  She told a story about meeting a running buddy who was struggling with a marathon goal.  She said to him, “Throw out your watch and run by feel.  Run your own race and you’ll run faster.”  And who am I to argue with the first female gold medalist and a woman who’s still running sub-3 hour marathons?  She answered my question before I even asked it!

A surprisingly tasty dinner in the hotel restaurant...

After dinner I went back to my room to jot down some Joan-isms so I would not forget them.  I sewed for a while, read for a while, and while I was perfectly content with my day, I started to get really antsy in the hotel room.  It was raining outside, but I’m a big fan of running/walking/hiking in the rain, so I grabbed my rain jacket and headed out to explore the lake.  Downtown Columbia is actually a very cool suburb.  The city has done a smashing job with their outdoor space. Trails and paths dominate the entire town (something you don’t often see in the car-crazy ‘burbs) and it seems that outdoor-living was a big part of the town’s planning.  A path ran right past the hotel so I walked along the lake for a while, saw some turtles and tons of ducks (I’m like a kid when it comes to that kind of thing), took some photos and enjoyed the fact that I was out and exploring.  Once it started to get a bit dark, I headed back to the room for, yes, some more sewing and set out everything for the next morning.

A sweet outdoor space in Colombia, MD

I didn’t get to bed as early as I hoped due to a VERY loud wedding a few floors down.  (Dear Sheraton:  It’s not so awesome for guests at the official race hotel, who need to be up at the butt-crack of dawn for an endurance event, to be kept awake due to a party downstairs.  My room was vibrating with bass from the DJ for four hours.)  So, after not much sleep, I woke up in the AM feeling a little bit groggy, but mostly pumped and ready to go.  I gobbled a half PB and banana sandwich and chugged some water.  I looked at the Garmin and said, “Not today sweetie.”  Because I was doing this thing solo, I didn’t bring a camera to the start/finish and snapped a quick mirror-shot before heading down to the festivities.  (Classic)

Forever in a running skirt!

Everything was really well placed at the starting area.  Even though this was the inaugural event, I could tell that Tricolumbia was an experienced race group.  The MCs were great at giving handy directions and I easily checked my gear, found the starting line and got ready for the race.  Now the fun begins, right?  As my Ragnar race proved, I’m not very good at reading elevation maps.  When I see a little hump I think “small, rolling hill.”  No big deal.  I saw a semi-severe hill on the map at mile six so I figured that I had some work to do but it shouldn’t be that hard.  I should have learned my lesson at Ragnar.  The second the gun went off we headed up a modest hill.  Then down.  Then up.  Then down.  Then up.  Then down.  Then up.  Then down.  At around mile four, I just told myself, “Carrie – chances are that the hills are not going to cease.  We must be in hill-country.  Just go with it.  Run your hardest.  Use gravity on the downhills and make the hills your bitch.”

One of these days I'll learn to pay attention to elevation maps...

So how about that mile 6 hill?  It was one of those hills where you simply lift your foot and it hits the ground long before it should.  I was practically tip-toe running, jogging, crawling up it.  Someone had a sign about halfway up that said, “Make this hill your bitch.”  Thanks.  Do they have any idea how much I needed that?  Yep.  I saw the “end” and kept telling myself, “OK one more minute.  30 more seconds.  10 more seconds.”  I got to what I thought was the top and realized that my legs weren’t feeling much relief.  Why?  Because we didn’t get to the top, we just got to the “not super steep” part of the bitch-hill.  I kept slogging for a few more minutes.  (Dear Philadelphia:  We need more hills.  The Ben Franklin Bridge is great, but not good enough.  Cheers!)

Once I conquered “the bitch” I came to the halfway point and I saw my first glimpse at the time.  I was nearly delirious from that hill, so I don’t remember the exact time but it was 58-minutes-something.  And then it hit me – a sub two-hour half marathon was doable if I could keep my splits semi-even.  (Something I ALWAYS struggle with, even while wearing a watch.  And I haven’t been able to break the 2-hour mark.)  Due to all of the hills, I really had no idea what kind of miles I was churning out.  My effort level was definitely up and I was pushing myself with every step, but I wasn’t sure if it was pace related or non-stop hill related.  I actually laughed out loud and thought, “Joan – you are a legend!  Throw out your watch.  You’ll run faster!  I am running faster!”

I wish I could say the second half was less hilly than the first, but it wasn’t, so I just settled in for it.  I actually came to grips with it and started to enjoy the challenge.  The race turned into endless hill mini-challenges.  I did have my earphones in (gasp!) but I always keep the volume really low so I can thank volunteers and chat to other runners.  It was great to have that camaraderie with the other women, especially after nearly an hour and a half of non-stop hills.   I really started to feel my sciatic nerve flare up at around mile 8 (dreaming of my foam roller kept me going) so I just ran at a pace that felt right.  I mean let’s face it – if I listened to my muscles I probably would have just collapsed on someone’s lawn, so at that point I ran what I “felt” I could run without seriously injuring myself.

The homestretch was pretty epic.  When I came around the final corner I could see the clock, but barely.  This was what was going through my head: “Downhill to the finish!  Come on legs!  Gravity is your friend.  Just let loose.  Wait, what’s that?  Under two hours?  Awesome, but I can’t see the minute.  Who cares!  Sub-two-hours!  Oh crap, what if it’s reading 1:59:52?  I might not make it!  Who cares, still a PR unless I collapse right now.  No way.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  1:55?  I can’t have PRed it by that much.  That’s six minutes.  Is that possible?  On hills?  No.  No.  I can’t believe it.  1:52 – is that right?  That can’t be right.  I need to get new contacts.  It is.  It is right.  That’s a PR.  THAT’S A NINE MINUTE PR!  Take that bitch hill!  Take that GPS!  PR!!!!!”  I have not cried at a finish line, but I came real close with this one.  Real close.  One of my goals was to run a sub-2-hr half this year.  It wasn’t in my wildest dreams to come in 1:52:40.

I was walking on air.  Food and beverages were plentiful after the race so I grabbed some goodies along with my finisher’s charm bracelet (love all-women races) and headed back to the hotel for some foam rolling BLISS and a lovely shower.  I was checked out by 10AM and home by noon for brunch, a beer, and a nap.  This entire experience has been surprisingly inspirational.  From meeting Joan, to really pushing what I thought was possible, to just enjoying 24-hours of me-time – this was a not a race I’ll soon forget.  And now I have entirely new goal:  Sub 1:50 half.

Iron Girl Half Marathon Medal - sweet bling!

Final Time:  1:52:40 (8:36 Pace)

Overall: 197/1617

Age Group: 33/272

For the record – nearly 30 years after her Gold Medal in the marathon, Joan Benoit Samuelson came in 6th.  Yes.  She is my hero.  She churned out miles at a 6:33 pace.  I can’t even fathom that kind of speed.  Congrats to the winner: Askale Merachi of Washington DC who crossed at 1:17:06.  Estrogen power!

What’s your half marathon goal?  Leave me a comment!

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Running naked at my next Half Marathon?

April 9, 2012

Back in February I ran “naked” (no watch) at a local 5K – The Pickle Run and PRed it.  (The Pickle’s are watch-free races…) Normally my eyes are glued to my watch.  (“Am I starting too fast?  Pull back Carrie, don’t burn yourself out.  I’m only going a 9min mile pace?  It feels much faster.  I wonder if I’m dehydrated or something.  Can I hold this pace for another five miles? Pick it up!”)  My races become a non-stop pace pace check-in and mental calculation of finishing times.  I swear sometimes I see more of my Garmin than the race course.

Realizing I PRed, with no watch on.

The Pickle Run was one of the easiest 5K’s (“feeling” wise) that I’ve ever run AND it was also the hilliest.  So how does a girl PR a 5K with serious elevation change when she’s used to running around a fairly flat city?  I’m beginning to think it has to do with the fact that I ran it without the constant inner monolog about my pace.  (Speed up, slow down, hold steady!)  I simply ran.  When I felt like I could push it, I did.  When I felt like my lungs were at their capacity, I reeled it in.  And at the end when I felt I had enough energy to break for the finish line and pass another runner, I did it.  Because I felt like it.  And damn it was a thrill to check the clock at the finish.

Leave the Garmin behind? Inspired or crazy?

So, I have a half marathon (Iron Girl Half) coming up one week before Broad Street (and two weeks before Ragnar Cape Cod – yes, I have a busy race calendar for three weeks).   I’m more excited about a PR at Broad Street than I am with the half because I love Broad Street.  I also don’t want to end up injured, so I’m pondering the idea of leaving the Garmin in my hotel room during the Iron Girl for 13.1 miles of running by feel.  Maybe I’ll just run it for fun – use it as a training run for Broad Street in a new city.  Check out the sites and parks along the course.  Enjoy the breeze.   Yada, yada, yada.  Sure, there will be clocks along the course and I’ll be able to calculate my splits, but I won’t be able to check my wrist every 30 seconds to see how I’m doing.  I really have no idea how this will play out time-wise.  I could add 10 minutes to my time, or I could slash five minutes from my time.  Heck, maybe I’ll finish around the same time, but enjoy the race a heck of a lot more than if I spent two hours stressing about how fast I was running.  I’m going to get a medal regardless, right?  (Priorities!)

This race will also be my first out of town race that I will be traveling to solo.  This was purely by accident.  My husband planned to travel down to Maryland with me and we were going to use it as a mini-vacation of sorts.   I booked this half after I pulled out of the Caesar Rodney Half in Wilmington.  We semi-unexpectedly put our dog to sleep six days prior to Caesar Rodney and I was simply too physically and emotionally exhausted to run, let alone run a half marathon.  It was disappointing because I trained for it.  I decided to search for another semi-close-to-Philly half in April.  I was thrilled when I found Iron Girl.  It was in a small town (Columbia, Maryland), women only, only two hours away, and included sweet finishers medal!  (I’m not going to lie – I run for bling.) We booked the hotel immediately.  Then a few days later my husband was talking about a gig and we had one of these conversations:

“Cool.  The gig sounds awesome.  Wait, when is the gig again?”

“Saturday the 28th from 1-5PM.”

“Like the day we were supposed to leave for Maryland for my half marathon?  Oh snap.”

No one was to blame, we both booked an event on the same weekend.  Since we live in the city we only have one (very under-used) car, so he can’t meet me down there.  We pondered the logistics of him taking a bus to Baltimore Saturday night but decided it would be more beneficial for me to be relaxing in the hotel (rather than trying to find the bus station in a city I don’t know the night before a race.)  So, I’m going to use it as a forced Carrie-vacation.  I’m going to read my book by the pool on Saturday afternoon.  I’ll go to the “Meet & Greet w/ Joan Benoit Samuelson” on Saturday (which I never would have put my husband through).  I’ll spend way too much time at the expo.  I’ll jump in bed at 9PM and wake up at 4AM without worrying about waking him up, and so on.  It’s actually going to be kind of nice.  But I’ll miss having someone waiting for me at the finish line.  He better have a beer waiting for me when I get back to Philly…

So runners – thoughts on leaving my watch behind?  Have you ever done a naked half marathon?  Do you run races naked often?  Should I do it?  Leave me a comment!  Help me decide…

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It gets better…

March 29, 2012

It gets better guys…

I’m not feeling so bland.  Life has come back.  (And I’ve gone on two runs since my last post.)  I don’t think I’ve cried today.  I got choked up reading some comments on my last post (my readers are wonderful), but I was able to go through pictures today and just smile.  I can close my eyes and remember the way his fur felt.  I can hear his snore.  I can remember the day I first met him.  These memories can never be taken away from me.  I’m no where near being done with my grief but the outpouring of support has been amazing.

Quite a few people have sent me emails saying, “It’s great to know I’m not alone.”  You’re not.  Trust me, you’re not.  And you are not crazy.  There is support out there.  Don’t let anyone tell you, “He was just a dog.”  He wasn’t.  If you want to laugh, laugh.  If you want to cry, cry.  If you want to eat ice cream, get me a bowl too.  Let the emotions come.  They’re going to need to come out at some point.  Obviously, make sure you’re nurturing yourself, (eat, rest, go for a walk, find someone to talk to, hold onto small blessings, plant some flowers, watch your favorite movie) but don’t deny any emotions.

One of my most embarrassing emotions (I can’t believe I’m sharing this) happened during the first few days after we lost him.  I remember thinking, “Wow.  Feeding time is really easy when you have a healthy dog.”  And then I felt like a huge jerk for even thinking that.  For the past three months feeding was a stressful routine of “did he eat everything?” and “did he swallow all of the pills?”  Lola just eats her food, no questions asked.  No pills.  No fuss.  Feeding time is a snap now.  I remember feeling so guilty for feeling that.  But it was an emotion and I felt it.  I also remember thinking, “Carrie, he was just a dog.  There are people who have lost family members to war.  People don’t have running water and electricity, and you’re worried about missing your dog?”  I let myself wallow in that for a while and then said, “Screw that.  Yes.  I miss him and I’m not ashamed.  Pain is pain.  I’m not competing with anyone for validity of emotions.”

What has helped me?  I found one of the most cathartic things for me has been to write, write, write.  Some of you may not know this, but I own a large dog walking service.  So naturally, all of my clients are dog-fanatics.  Many of them have been where I am right now, and if they haven’t, they know what it’s like to love an animal deeply.  The day after we put him to sleep we started getting emails and cards from our clients and colleagues.  They shared what they felt when they went through it.  I wrote back.  In the three days following his death we received over 100 emails of support.  And I replied to all of them.  Writing about how I was feeling helped me to understand what I was feeling.  Understanding what I was feeling helped me to realize that my grief is evolving DAILY.  And one day, I’ll be able to say, “He was a damn good dog,” without the raw pain of missing him.

So maybe you don’t have hundreds of dog-crazy clients to share your thoughts with?  Just write.  Keep a journal.  Start a blog.  It really helped me to write about the event.  It was as if getting it out of my memory and onto the screen helped me work through what actually happened.  “It” was a major event in my life.  I held my dog in my arms as he died.  I felt his last breath on my hand and I was the one who authorized the injection that took away his heartbeat.  To pretend this isn’t monumental and life-changing event is ridiculous.  In many ways, death is all around us, but I’m beginning to think many people feel alone in their grief.  I think even more so for pet owners – people expect deep grief when you lose a human family member, but what about when you lose an animal family member?  I wonder how many people are embarrassed by just how devastating the loss of an animal can be.  If you feel alone, write, contact a pet loss support group, and rest in the knowledge that it will get better.

On Tuesday (after I wrote the previous post) and with some encouraging comments of Facebookand DailyMile, I decided to go for a run.  I did a quite a few “pick-ups” (sprinting bursts) and I ran hard when I felt like it, and jogged when I was tired.  I ran the way my emotions have been for the last nine days.  Fast, slow, up, down, high, low.  I just went with what felt right.  I ran with a smile on my face.  I ran with a grimace on my face because my legs felt like they were pumping battery acid.  I ran like an emotional wild-woman.  And it helped so much.  At one point I just stopped and closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face.   A feeling of peace washed over me and I reveled in it.  I honestly gave myself over to it.  (People must have thought I had lost it.  Sprinting down the sidewalk one minute, slamming on the breaks the next to close my eyes…)

One of the things I’ve learned from this event is to cherish every moment.  If the sun feels good on your face, soak it up.  If your dog is by your side, tell her she’s the best in the world.  If you want to sprint, fly.  If you have sneakers and you’re feeling antsy, lace them up and open the door.  Even if everything has been turned upside down, hold onto the beautiful moments.  They might be fleeting at first, and that should make you cherish them that much more.  Because let’s face it, you might go home and end up crying in your dog’s bed twenty minutes later – so enjoy the beauty when you find it.

On Wednesday I really wanted some consistency so I ran a fast 5-miler.  I just kept moving.  When I wanted to slow down I told myself, “Carrie, you got through losing Max.  You can keep this pace up for another few miles.  This is nothing.”  I came home sweaty and with a mean blister on my heel from new shoes, but I felt like I accomplished something.  And then I singed up for a half marathon in four weeks.  I’ve started to crawl back to normal.  (Or run back to normal.)

Just getting out there helped me.  It took nearly every ounce of strength I had, but it reminded me that life will go on.  My husband and I were talking about how we were feeling today and both of us mentioned that we’re starting to feel “normal.”  And it frightened both of us because the “new normal” is a life without Max.  I did catch myself opening the front door today an expected to see him, but that’s happening less and less.  And part of me wants to hold onto that.  I want to remember what it’s like to see him when I open the door.  But at the same time there is nothing I can do about it.  He is gone.  Life. has. changed.

But the sun still shines.  Lola is still by my side.  Spring has arrived.  I still need to cherish each day.  He would have wanted that.

He will always be with me…

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Saying goodbye to my best friend…

March 26, 2012

It happened.  The day I have been fearing for years.  And I’m OK.  We’re OK.  We’re not good, but we’re getting by.

Last Sunday we made the decision to put our older dog, Max to sleep.  In some ways it was one of the most peaceful and touching moments of my life.  We opted to do it in-home (his wonderful acupuncturist came to our home to usher him over to his final bliss) so he was on “his couch” surrounded by us and Lola and Ned (our other dog and cat-who-thinks-he’s a dog.)    It was nothing like what I had envisioned it being like.  I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t it.  In someways it was profoundly more peaceful and deeply more devastating.  Can something be beautiful and horrible at the same time?

About a year ago when we had a cancer scare with Max, I took his head in my hands and I said, “You let me know old man.  When you’re ready you let me know and I promise I’ll do good by you.”  We knew we were not going to let him lose mobility or bladder control.  We weren’t going to put him through endless procedures that made his last few months a living hell of vet visits and treatments.  At 13 he wasn’t a candidate for surgery anyway so we told the vets, “There is no point in testing for what we already know.   He’s winding down and we just want him to be comfortable until the end.”

We woke up on Sunday thinking it would be any normal day.  But after a particularly bad walk with him we got to discussing “it.”  We knew it was coming in the upcoming months but something just clicked on Sunday morning.  Maybe we just finally admitted to ourselves what he had been trying to tell us for a few weeks.  Max was no longer happy.  He no longer wagged his tail on walks.  He wasn’t interested in food unless we coaxed him.  He started to refuse his pills.  His sleep got very restless.  His already large spleen got visibly larger in a week.  He was at risk of falling down the stairs.  His walks became difficult.  His last two acupuncture treatments did not seem to perk him up.  And the reality of it all flooded us on Sunday.  It hit us like a ton of bricks.  Max was telling us.  We needed to keep our promise.

We cried.  A lot.  We drank whiskey.  (Too much.)  We had previously spoken with his acupuncturist about “it” but it was in a future-kind of way.  Sending her the email asking if she was available for “it” on Monday or Tuesday was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.  I hit the “Send” button and immediately collapsed in sobs.  It was out there.  It was planned.  It was real.  She was available Monday.  It was set.  It was happening.  Sunday was a a blur of tears and confusion.  Was this really our last night with him?  What do you do?  What do you say?  How do you spend it?

Our other dog knew something was up.  It’s not normal that we’re collapsing in heaps on the floor, crying over Max.  Though I believe she new long before us that he was in pain.  They have ways of communicating…  I hardly slept on Sunday night.  And neither did Max.  He panted and changed positions all night.  Yes, he was ready.  For a dog who loved to sleep, he could not sleep a wink.  When the birds started to chirp I firmly remember thinking, “No.  It cannot be morning. This is the day I put my best friend to sleep.  This is my last morning with him.”

Monday morning was like a dream.  We went for his last walk (surreal).  We fed him his last meal (surreal). We skipped his meds because why bother?  We spent the entire morning telling him how much we loved him (surreal.)  About an hour before “it” we gave him a very large dose of a powerful sedative that our vet prescribed.  In minutes he was blissed out on the couch.  It was such a relief to us and  it was then that we realized, “This is right.”  There was no doubt at that point, which is a blessing.  We held him and hugged him.   He got more and more peaceful.  At one point he started to lick my hand as if to say, “Mama, it’s OK now.  You can let me go.  You’ll be OK.”  And Max never gave out kisses.  He simply wasn’t a kisser.  To me, it was clear communication from him.  Clearer than anything he’s ever tried to tell me.  Then Megan arrived.  (His acupuncturist.)

I will say this – if you are considering euthanasia for your pet, talk to your vet about doing it in-home.  While our main vet didn’t offer in-home euthanasia services (and I don’t hold this against her at all), we had it lined up with Megan for the last six months.  It was beautiful.  It was in our home.  It was in comfort.  He had no idea it was coming.  Megan knew him.  He loved her.  She visited him weekly for the last year and a half.  When she put the IV in his leg he probably just figured she was doing a crazy new acupuncture technique.  He briefly looked at her as if to say, “What are you up to Megan?  Ah well… I trust you.  I feel better when you’re done.”

You know how everyone says, “They simply fall asleep?”  It really happens like that.  When it happened I remember thinking, “It was like he fell asleep, just like they say.”  Before his heart stopped, he started to snore.  And let me tell you something about Max.  He had a world class snore.  It was so comforting – we used to joke that it was like the sound of ocean waves to us.  Just a deep, easy snore.  It wasn’t annoying and was an instant sleep aid for us.  To us it symbolized comfort, love and home.  I can still hear it in my head.  But for the week prior to “it” he did not snore.  He was not at peace.  When we heard him snore for those glorious and utterly heartbreaking seconds, it was yet another confirmation that we were right to honor our promise to him.  He was finally at rest.

We cried with Megan for a few minutes before she left us to be alone with him.  (She really is an angel and took his body to the vet to be cremated so we didn’t have to leave the house.)  Hanging out with him after he was gone was yet another surreal, but crucial part of this story.  It was such closure.  I remember opening up his mouth just to see what would happen.  (I’ll spare you.)  We picked up his leg and watched it fall.  We cried into his fur and stroked his ears.  And when we were done, we wrapped his beautful body in a blanket and we carried him to Megan’s car which was waiting just steps from our front door. We hugged her, thanked her again.  I remember shutting the door and thinking, “My Max is leaving in the backseat of a car.”

And then the pain.

The peace.

The anger.

The expecting to see him on the couch and being hit with the lack of him.

The frustration.

The acceptance.

The not being able to sleep because we couldn’t hear him snore.

The devestation.

The collapsing on his bed in the fetal position, trying to sniff the bed for a wiff of him.  God just to smell his fur again!

The blooms bursting the day he died and allowing ourselves to read into it as a divine and beautiful gift, even if it was just caused by a insanely mild Winter and an early Spring.

Nearly breaking down in the supermarket because I didn’t need to buy him cream cheese for his pills.

Feeling guilty that we were excited that we could plan longer hiking trips with our younger dog.  We haven’t been able to hike much longer than 30 minutes for the last two years.  Then the realization that no hiking trip would be the same without him.

Realizing we really need to vacuum, but I don’t really want his fur completely gone from our house.

The incredible, incredible support from friends and family.

The meals we didn’t have to cook because they were cooked for us.

The flowers.  The cards.  The emails.  The love.  The memories.

The tears.

The dreamlike feeling that I was losing touch with time.  Everything became 12 hours after he died.  One day after he died.  Two days after he died.  Our calendar became a Max calendar.

The feeling that we could wake up and find out it was all a bad dream and see him on the couch again.  It really could happen right?

Then when our younger dog Lola figured it out.  Watching her grieve.  Watching her watch the front door.  No Lola, Max isn’t coming home.  I know it hurts sweetie and there’s nothing I can do about it.  I’m sorry I’m crying so much.  I’ll try to be stronger for you.

Feeling like we can’t go in public because we don’t know what’s going to make us cry.

Seeing Ned in Max’s bed.  One of the cutest daily scenes of our life was waking up and seeing Max and Ned, curled up together.  (They ignored each other by day, but by night they were dream-buddies.)  The bed looks so huge with just Ned in it.

Seeing sheer beauty in his life and his memories.  Knowing with every ounce of my soul that we made the right decision, but still missing the hell out of him.

The feeling of just wanting a few more minutes with him.  Just a few.  To tell him again that I will always love him.

I’ve been holding onto this Dr. Seuss quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  I feel that in my heart deeply at this point, but I’m waiting for the day that I don’t cry.

We took our younger dog camping this past weekend to help her cope.  We wanted to let her know that life goes on, and we’re still going to make sure she lives a damn good life.  It was a spectacular trip full of campfires, foggy mornings snuggling for warmth, reflection and hiking.  (Don’t worry – we had our manager come in and hang out with Ned while we were gone.)

And then – the dullness.  After about four days of insane highs and lows, everything got dull.  Very dull.  Blah.  Beyond blah.  Straight up depression-type dull.  It is as if I would welcome back the intense pain so I could find the intense peace after a sob-session.  I’m actually surprised I’m writing this post.  I haven’t had much motivation to do anything other than eat, sleep, go through the motions, etc.  In many ways I feel more normal than I have in the last week, but I’m completely exhausted.  Like I’m about to come down with the worst flu of my life. Like I’m waking up from a dream and I don’t quite know what day it is.  Am I still dreaming?

Today his ashes were delivered.  When I heard the doorbell ring I raced down the stairs expecting another package.  When I saw the box I instantly knew.  I actually started to shake.  I took the box out of the UPS man’s hands and I know he saw the return address.  It was clear what was in the box (Paws to Heaven Pet Crematorium) and I froze and simply said, “Oh my god.”  He looked at me with understanding. I looked at him with shock.  I closed the door and wept.  Max has come home.

That is where I am right now.  I have no motivation to run.  I think I only found the strength to hike this weekend because I knew it would make Lola’s tail wag.  I feel dull.  I feel like a shell.  I feel like all of my emotions have been depleted and I have nothing left to give.  I’ve been told this is normal.  This is a part of grieving and I realize I’ve lived a very blessed life to learn this at the age of 30.  But dammit, I’d love to go for a run if nothing more than for the endorphins.

There is one thing that people keep saying about Max.  It popped up in cards, in messages left on our phones, on Facebook posts, in photos they posted of him.  These words, “He was a legend.”  He really was.  He was that dog.  Everyone knew it.  People who didn’t like dogs, loved Max.  He was lazy and downright aloof in his old age, but everyone we knew craved a connection with him.  I’m not the same person I was before I met him, and I’m a different person now that he has left my life.  I know one thing – I’m better for knowing and loving him deeply.  I’m not going to go into my feelings about the afterlife, but Max lives on in our hearts and memories.  He’s gone, but I still feel him.  And now he truly is a legend.  I’m holding onto that.

My Max, the legend.

Max and I in a field of daisies on Beaver Island, Michigan. (2007)

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For the love of dog…

March 17, 2012

It’s been an emotional week for us when it comes to our canines.  Our eldest pooch, Max is starting to slow down.  He’s always been slow, in fact he’s one of the laziest dogs I know, and I work with dogs for a living.  But the past few weeks we seen a marked change in him.  He’s 13 and we’ve already determined we’re not going do do anything heroic medically for him.  Max has been getting weekly acupuncture for over a year for his arthritis, but walking is getting more and more difficult, he’s eating less and less, he’s on a laundry list of medications to stay comfortable, and he has an enlarged spleen (vets never really figured it out and it’s not bothering him…)  Regardless, there are enough factors going on that we decided about a year ago to keep him comfortable until it was time.  We’re not going to test, operate, and put him through tons of vet visits just to keep him alive for an extra three months.  He’s too wonderful for that.

Max...

So.  Here we are.  We’re near the end.  And I’m terrified.  I’ve cried almost every day this week.  I simply collapse in a heap and weep silently into his fur.  Max came into our lives when he was six years old, so we’ve only had seven years with him – but it feels like a lifetime.  I can’t imagine life without him, and I can hardly imagine it before him.  When we look back on him, we know he’s going to be that “majestic” dog that everyone should have in their memory.  You know, the one that you tell stories about.  All dogs are special, but Max is going to be a legend.  He already is.

The decision is coming in the upcoming weeks, we just don’t know when. What we do know is that we don’t want to end up in the vet ER at 3AM one morning and have his last few hours be traumatic and painful.  So we’re put in that horrible position of coming to peace with the decision to end his life sooner than later.  I’ve never had so many conflicting emotions in my entire life.  Guilt. Relief. Anger. Denial. Hope. Acceptance. Fear.

Our other dog Lola (AKA my running partner) knows something is up.  Aside from the fact that she finds me on the floor next to him crying on a daily basis, she just knows.  Dogs sense this type of thing.  She’s being more attentive and gentle with him, snuggling with him, grooming him.  It’s too cute for words and utterly heartbreaking at the same time.

Lola and I, running this week - in shadow.

I seem to get a bit more upbeat about things after a run, so I’ve been making sure I get out there at least every other day, even though I’m emotionally drained.  I know the running helps with her endorphins and stress as much as it does for me, so I owe it to her to put in some miles with her. Lola smiles non-stop when she’s by my side on a run.  I know she’s experiecning similar emotions as we are, even though she does not necessarily comprehend what exactly is going to happen in the upcoming month.

To even say “upcoming month” is a slap in the face with reality.  This moment has always been somewhere in the distance.  Far away that we’d think about it, but we weren’t planning for it.  Now we’re watching the calendar for possible “dates,” consulting our vet/acupuncturist (who is going to do an in-home euthanasia for us), lining up our managers if we need to take a day off of work to grieve, reviewing cremation options, wondering if we should refill his medications when they run out.  It’s realer than it’s ever been.  Surreal. Terrifying. Infuriating even.  But I wouldn’t take back the last seven years, not for anything.  I hope I have the strength to get through this.  I owe it to him for all he has given to me.  We need to be stronger than we’ve ever been.

Collecting Race Safety Pins

March 15, 2012

Safety pins.  To non-runners they’re something that one might find in their mother’s sewing kit or on new jackets to attach a tiny plastic bag with single spare button in it.  (Who actually keeps those buttons?  Maybe I will now that I’m sewing…)  Safety pins seem handy, but they’re not all that important in everyday life.  Heck, if you were to go look for a safety pin in your own house, could you find one? When was the last time you even needed one?

Pins are always “around” my house, but never really in one spot.  They’re normally found in groups of four in random places.  Sometimes in a drawer, or on the coffee table, or perhaps in the medicine cabinet.  After a race I simply like seeing them so I leave them cluttering up my house for way too long.  They’re evidence of my trials and triumphs.  When I see them they remind me who I am:  a runner.

Little groups of four...

What separates the casual runners from the competitors?  Not much.  Four safety pins and a bib.  Boom.  Runner + pins + bib = Competitor.  Like most nostalgic runners, I like to keep my old racing bibs.  Recently I got to thinking about those safety pins that I like to leave lingering around the house weeks after a race.  If the bib is what makes me a competitor, what about the pins that keep the bib on my chest?  I always get nervous fuzzies when I’m pinning on my bib.  (Because I’m neurotic about race day, I normally do it the night before.)  Usually my mind is a flutter as I make sure my bib is straight and secure, “Race day is tomorrow!  All of my training will pay off.  Here I go!  I’m never going to be able to fall asleep tonight!”

After a few very decent races in February, I decided to keep those pins in one spot – in a jar.  Good idea right?

Hold the bus.  I had a problem.  Over the last two years I have not kept all of my pins.  (Inevitably my various piles of four were whisked away in the name of household-tidiness. Or my cat decided they’d be awesome toys and and has a stash of them under the basement stairs.  Or they were used to pin something else.)   So I went out and bought a pack of pins and I added four to my jar for each race.  Is this cheating?  They aren’t the actual pins I wore on race day.  Am I a cheater?  Hell no.  I didn’t cheat when I woke up at the crack of dawn on race morning to wait in line at portapotties in the freezing cold.  (“Yes, honey.  I need to wake up at 4:30AM to get ready.  I need to get there that early so I can get in line to pee and check my bag.”)  I didn’t cheat when I sacrificed my weekend nights to the “long run” the next morning.  (“Sorry guys, I can’t have another glass of wine.  I have a long run in the morning.”)  I certainly didn’t cheat during the races when I gave my all, mile after mile after mile.  (“This is so worth it!” or “God, when will it end?”)

Some for my jar, some for my sewing kit. Score.

The pins are a reminder of what I’ve accomplished.  Isn’t that what all mementos are?

Momento:  1. an object or item that serves to remind one of a person, past event, etc.; keepsake; souvenir.  2. anything serving as a reminder or warning.

(But for the record, all of my subsequent race pins will be added to this jar.)

Little reminders...

How do you keep track of your running momentos? Leave me a comment!  I love hearing how folks keep track of their memories…

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Another week gone…

March 9, 2012

Don’t worry world – I haven’t fallen off a cliff or anything.  I’ve just been taking a blog-break.  Over the past month, I’ve been thinking about where I want to go with this blog (more on that in another post) but I know where I don’t want to go.  I don’t want to be one of those folks who is glued to my cell phone because I have to tweet every five minutes.  I don’t want to feel like I need to post every day.  I don’t want to nurture an online community more than I nurture my family.  I don’t want to check my stats three times a day.

Does that make me a slack blogger?  Perhaps.  But I think that makes me a super awesome real-world lifer!  Enjoying life, being present in the here and now, soaking up the physical, paying attention to my senses and emotions – now that is where I need to be. Balance in everything yada, yada, yada.   What have I been up to?  This week in review:

  • A whole lot of running… (Banged out 11 miles before work this AM.  And now it’s 6:40 at night and I’m ready for bed.)

Happy mid-run face!

  • Went to the Philadelphia Flower Show with my mom for her birthday.  It’s a tradition for us.  I want to live at the flower show.  How can I fit more hours into the day so I can become a horticulturalist?  Please email me any rational ideas about time expansion.

    LOVE. LOVE. LOVE.

  • Sewing.  Sewing.  Sewing.  I think I have a problem.  Thankfully (or not so thankfully) fabric is expensive so I can’t spend all of my time sewing because I can’t afford it.  I need to budget this addiction!  (This week I’ve made a sewing machine cozy, a bag for my mom, a pillowcase and I’m starting curtains tomorrow.  I am a domestic goddess!  And will soon be out of fabric.)

Ned takes a nap on my new pillowcases! Sweet!

  • Work.  But not in a bad way.  I’ve been working a lot, but it’s been fruitful and fulfilling.  We lost one of our managers (moved into another career field) and spent a lot of last week prepping for a new weekend manager to step up.  She managed “the biz” last weekend and hit the ground running.  We also got our staff together for a huge dinner at a local Mexican joint and it was amazing to sit back and take it in – I have 20 employees.  And I think I’m an OK boss.  That’s beyond rewarding emotionally and professionally.

    Again, how did I become an entrepreneur?

  • Just been spending quality time with the people who matter.

    Hubbie busts a move with our nieces. We get skooled on "how to dance" courtesy of the Wii. (Little do they know that we were actually out dancing until 3:30AM the night before, but we can't let them know that...)

    • And the dog who is getting older.  I love him more than I thought I could ever love an animal.  Watching him grow old has been one of the hardest and emotionally draining experiences of my life.  (For those of you non-dog people, I’m not kidding.)  This week, I had a lot of Max-time.

      My old man Max...

      More posts to follow.  Just needed some down time.  I mean seriously, look at that dog.  How can I spend time in front of the computer when I have that face looking at me?  Sheesh.