by Kristin Suvick
One year ago today, I ran my first race in 27 years, the Elorapalooza 5K. I ran it as a test for an upcoming race in my hometown. I was touched by the cause, the camaraderie of the runners and the exhilaration of the run. My initial running inspiration was to compete with my younger sister in my hometown 5K, but after this first experience, I realized that running already meant so much more to me than the sibling rivalry or any one race.
As a teenager, I ran one season of cross-country. I did fairly well in my first invitational considering my level of experience. After the race my coach came to me and said, “If you want to, you can be a great runner.” Maybe he said that to everyone, but I didn’t forget it. I didn’t have an impressive season. When the season ended, I stopped running altogether, until last year. At the age of 43, I decided that I wanted to be a “great runner” or at least the best runner I could be.
I started logging miles on a running website that a friend had suggested. The username I chose was “wannaberunner.” The runners on this site, that I “wannabe” like, became my running family. Thankfully they welcomed me wholeheartedly. I posted lots of questions and complaints as a new runner. One particular member gave me very long answers 😉 to my questions. They were filled with detailed, knowledgeable advice. He was genuine, funny and very informative. If anyone had a sincere desire to improve his or her running, he was always there to offer help. Later, I came to find out that his name was Nobby Hashizume, co-founder of the Lydiard Foundation. He was a gold mine of running information and I admired him.
I had never read a running magazine or used a training plan. I just started running and I loved the way it made me feel. After some modest success in local races, I decided that I wanted to run faster and longer races. My independent training was going fairly well, but I made typical new runner mistakes. I increased my mileage too quickly and developed a stress fracture in the neck of my femur. That’s when I realized that I had to make some changes in my training. Then I had a stroke of luck that I will be always grateful for, Nobby started coaching me in March of ’10.
Nobby encouraged me to dream big, just as I was getting back on my feet. He taught me to “listen to my legs” and run more of my miles “nice and easy”. I started varying my pace and effort. Within a few months, I could see an improvement in my running. I felt stronger and faster than before the stress fracture. Nobby helped me to tweak my performance with Lydiard training and his coaching. Within a short period of time I had set a new 5K PR, 3 minutes and 9 seconds faster than my first!
Nobby is a Lydiard guru but also he has his own personal flair for coaching. He loves to tell a good story. It makes me laugh when he relates a situation that I am experiencing, to one of an elite athlete. Believe it or not, it appears I have things in common with some phenomenal runners! OK, maybe it isn’t speed but his comparisons make me feel like a “real” runner. He simply has coached me as a whole person, not just as a heart, lungs and legs. He made me realize that if you train smart and open your mind to possibilities, you can continue to make gains and reach goals at any age in the sport of running. My eyes were wide and my motivation soared. I began to imagine bigger and more exciting goals than I had ever dreamed of.
In addition to his coaching and training recommendations, Nobby shared with me his friend and Lydiard Foundation co-founder,Lorraine Moller, the silver medalist in the 1992 Olympic women’s marathon. I had the opportunity to listen to a speech that she gave atGrandma’s Marathon in 2008 on CD. She is a pioneer in women’s distance running and a phenomenal motivational speaker. I hope to experience her presentation first hand in the near future. Nobby arranged for me to speak with Lorraine on the phone. I was a star struck by her accomplishments but when I spoke with her, she made me feel at ease. I had wanted to read her autobiography, On the Wings of Mercury and after talking to her, I quickly picked up a copy and couldn’t put it down. Her open, inspiring story and words of encouragement fueled my drive. Like Nobby, she wants to assist runners to reach their goals. (How lucky am I?) I couldn’t be more grateful for her input. She has helped me to understand how my conscious and subconscious thoughts and feelings affect my running. I hope with her input, I can focus my energy and spirit to achieve my true potential.
With all of this aid and inspiration, I set out to achieve my first big goal, a marathon. I was now 44 and had a little over a year of running under my belt. Nobby helped me get focused and develop a training plan. It required me to accomplish time based, key workouts. I am a busy mom of three very active middle and high school age children. As any parent knows, it can be hard to fit everything in. Nobby was able to adjust my workouts to fit my hectic schedule. As I started increasing my mileage, my passion for running and my confidence grew. My goal had evolved from running my first marathon, to qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
I started my marathon training but came upon a new obstacle. My over enthusiasm got the best of me again. After a week of running at the beach on the sand, I had shin splints. I still managed to get in my long runs and other key workouts for my marathon training. We adjusted my training and I had to do some pool running and biking on days that I needed to limit the stress on my legs. I added physical therapy techniques, sports massage, and icing to my workout regimen. The shin splints gave me some reservations about achieving my goal but Nobby told me “The money was in the bank”. All I could think of was a line from the movie Jerry MacGuire, “Show me the money!” Nobby and I are both movie buffs.
Finally, I had done all that I could do to train for my first marathon. During the last week, Nobby gave me thoughtful advice as I made my final preparations. In addition to covering concerns like shoes, hydration, the weather possibilities, resting and basic marathon nutrition, he included an awful lot of honey! Buzz! Buzz! I still don’t know if this was one of Arthur Lydiard’s ideas or his.
Although I knew how hard I had been training, the day before the race my mind filled with worry and self-doubt. I had been struggling with shin pain for some time and they seemed to be flaring up. I decided to go on my last 30-minute jog near the finish line site. I managed only 11 minutes and sat down by the finish line and cried. 26.2 miles is so far and I didn’t think I would ever make it there the next day. Through e-mail and texts, I vented my concerns to Nobby. He listened and responded with more details of preparations and encouragement. He spoke with Lorraine who encouraged me to give myself positive affirmations. He suggested I “have some tea with honey and a peanut butter sandwich with honey.” Not wanting to give up, I simply kept following his instructions, even though I believed I should be heading home. In Nobby’s final pre-race e-mail to me, he said that he was positive I would have “fun.” I had trusted him up until this point. Although this was almost inconceivable, I decided to just keep on trusting his experience, even though “fun” was something I didn’t think I was going to have. Maybe I was just having pre-race jitters. As it turns out, he knew exactly what to say to get me to the starting line the next day.
By morning I could see my dream creeping back into view. At the diner where I went for breakfast, I looked at myself in the mirror. It was 4 am. I told myself that I was ready and that I had done the training. I could see the physical transformation I had made and told myself I COULD do this. I had my last dose of honey on a pancake, along with eggs and coffee. I drove into the parking garage as soon as it opened and started socializing with the other runners. I pinned on my number and pulled on my calf sleeves for a little extra support. It was raining but the temperature was near 60. A little rain never stopped me in my training, and it wouldn’t bother me today.
By the time the gun went off, my legs and the worries became a blur of excitement. I could feel my shins aching but my mind became more focused on the course and runners all around me. The first mile was a gradual downhill and I felt like I was carried on a wave. The rain came down as I jumped and splashed my way around the initial crowd. I usually run with an iPod (shame, shame) and I had it with me, but for the most part I enjoyed chatting with other runners as we went along. I saw a woman wipe out in the mud and I felt a sharp twinge of pain in my shin. I didn’t want to be the next to go down.
The course was a mixture of asphalt, concrete, and gravel road but mostly muddy cinder trail along a canal. At about mile 6, I started having negative thoughts. I had so much farther to go. I started talking to a young man running in his Vibrams. He told me that this was his first marathon in them. I’ve had the urge to try them but I can’t imagine attempting such a long run essentially barefoot. Then I started chatting with another fella, who was familiar with the course, about the gravel roads and rocks coming up. We stuck together for several miles. Around the halfway point he had to make a pit stop. He hollered that he would see me later. I thought to myself, “Hopefully at the finish line.” I didn’t want him to catch up and I wasn’t really sure I would make it there. I felt that this was the hardest 13 miles I’d ever run, even harder than my first half marathon11 months ago. However, I’d already made it farther than I thought I could possibly run today. I never saw the Vibrams runner again. Hmmm…
The next few miles were lonely. I listened to some inspirational music on my iPod but it really wasn’t doing the trick. My leg wasn’t feeling better but then again it wasn’t feeling worse, so, I kept running. I was grateful when another guy caught up with me at about mile 15. He told me that he had been trying to pace with me from mile 8. I took this as a huge compliment because he looked like a great runner. He had run several marathons before and was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, too. We ran together for about 5 miles. I felt lucky to have found another runner to keep me going, as the going was getting tough. I was pleasantly surprised how talkative people can be even at this point in a marathon.
I couldn’t read my Garmin very well between the rain and my 40-something eyes, but I could see that I was at least 18 minutes ahead of my pace to qualify for Boston. I’m used to running negative splits and realized I was not going to at this point. I could see the 20-mile marker and I smiled to myself because I had never run 20 miles before. I downed the last of my 5 gel packs hoping that it would keep me going. This was no easy run and I still wasn’t sure it would be enough.
Shortly after this, I started to see more EMS vehicles and I tried not to look at them. I didn’t want to think about hitting “the wall.” I purposefully looked away as soon as I noticed any medical personnel. I went back and forth with a guy who was moaning, groaning and limping. The third time I ran by him, he said “Not you again!” I asked him if he was OK. He grimaced and said “yeah” weakly. I was relieved to get far enough away that I couldn’t hear him. He was the only person I saw who appeared to be hitting the infamous wall.
I had explored different points along the course the day before and was enthused as I passed by each landmark. I knew the end was near. By mile 23, my calves were shot and my shins felt mostly numb. The rain had stopped and I had peeled away from anyone that I had been chatting with. I was on my own. I know it sounds crazy but this was point I realized I actually was having “fun.” I just knew I was going to make it all the way even if I walked. My dream was alive!
The last mile was a gradual uphill. As I turned the final corner and left the path, I had to “jump” onto a curb. I’m glad I was able to clear it! All I had to do now was cross the bridge and run past the crowd of cheering spectators. I attempted to pick up my pace and I’d like to think I did. I’m pretty sure that I improved my form a little, but I hadn’t left much on the course to spare. I arrived to the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I took my hat off and threw my arms in the air, just like Lorraine said to do after every run. I proudly walked into the crowd. I didn’t feel like bursting into tears, as I had been told I would. I was simply filled with the sense of accomplishment that I had earned. That was all I needed. I had qualified for the Boston Marathon with plenty of time to spare!
My online friends have suggested that I change my username. That isn’t going to happen because I am, and will always be a “wannaberunner”. I know I have a long way to go before I reach my full potential. I have so much to learn but I am off to a good start. I look forward to training for the Boston Marathon and continuing to set new PRs in many distances with the support of my family, friends, my massage therapist, my physical therapist and his staff, Lorraine Moller and of course, Nobby Hashizume. This wannaberunner’s story has only just begun.
Today, on the anniversary of my first 5K, my 12-year-old daughter placed 1st overall female in the Elorapalooza 5K! I hope she realizes that if she wants to, she can be a “great runner!” Maybe wannaberunner2?
Thank you Nobby, a million times for being a spectacular Lydiard advocate and sharing all that you know. I would also like to thank you for sharing the gifts that are innately your own.