Race Recap: The Athens Classic Marathon

Lets do this Memento style: start with the ending and then go from the beginning.

The giant marble stadium was overwhelming. As I neared it on the last of my energy reserves, I tried to pick up the pace but it was just unbearable. But, as my right foot landed on the soft track, I was somehow lifted by a spirit outside of me and began running towards the finish line. As I crossed the timing mat and archway I couldn’t help but think about the incredible journey I had just been on, both mentally and physically.

The morning of the marathon started as most other race mornings. I slept fitfully, waking up ten times in five hours. Most of my dreams were about the marathon, making mistakes, forgetting things, etc. I woke up sometime after 2:30am and couldn’t go back to bed so I began preparing for the race. I pulled on my running skirt, tech tank, arm warmers, socks. After that I began piling on the layers: long sleeved shirts, sweaters, scarves, anything that would shield me from the cold. I pulled my hair into a mid-ponytail, alternating between headbands before settling on the skinny one. (The other one I had was already immortalized in another race photo.)

I turned on my phone and called my boyfriend. We had said that we’d video chat before I left for the race since I wouldn’t be broadcasting my run live. A few quick exchanges were made and then I was off.

At five in the morning, the city of Athens is unseemingly quiet. The entire city was asleep. I neared the ticketing machines since I had misplaced my 7 day metro pass. As I fumbled with my 50 euro bill in between different machines that lacked change, I began to get worried that I might miss my shuttle to the city of Marathon. As I began punching buttons out of frustration, a kind British gentleman offered to pay the 2 euros or so for me since he was on his way to the marathon too.

We boarded the shuttle together among the hundreds of other runners. We talked about running, triathlons, work, traveling, global crises, the age skew in the shuttle. Eventually the conversation dwindled down to silence as we kept going on this windy road to Marathon. I muttered something about how far we had driven and he referenced something about not training enough for hills. The windshield wipers were clearing a thin layer of water from the morning’s drizzle and the driver kept pressing on.

We reached the stadium of Marathon and headed towards shelter. On our way there, I noted the rather large number of portapotties. As we tried to make headway, the wind was resisting us. Volunteers were passing out large plastic bags to help keep us warm. By the time we reached the waiting room, we made our way to the corner to take advantage of the body heat and to eat some breakfast.

I can never handle solid food before a race so I broke open some Clif gel blocks. We chatted a bit more when I asked him for some first timer tips. All he gave me was, “Don’t start off too fast.” Point taken. He asked me about some of the apps I had worked on at work so I pulled them up on my phone. Soon enough the girl next to us began joining in on the conversation. She was training for an ultramarathon and was currently working at the US embassy in England. The three of us eventually made our way to drop off our gear bags. In between trying to stay warm, we moved between different locations, eventually finding a nice hideaway with about a hundred other runners behind the torch.

We made it to our starting block. I marveled at the sheer numbers of the race. Next to me were two runners from California as well: San Francisco and San Diego. I thought back to the two other runners I had met at the Acropolis a few days before, Alexander from Ukraine and Andrew from the Philippines. They called the waves one by one, and before I knew it we were off.

The first few kilometers I had to get used to the fact that they were indeed going by kilometers. The marathon course is 26.2 miles, but when converted into metric measurements, it comes out to something more like 42.195 kilometers. Mile markers come less frequently than kilometer markers naturally, so it was important to do math on the go. As we circled the tomb of Marathon at around 5k, I was feeling good since the hard part was over…or so I thought.

As we entered small cities and villages, crowds were cheering us on. People of all ages were clapping, handing out olive branches, and taking photos. I saw a few warriors running in costume, some old, some young, some barefoot. Some power walkers were older than runners. Some looked like they were in agonizing pain and some looked lost in the moment.

There’s this thing I do when I run. I think of my swimming and my biking. When I swim, to help me count my laps, I think of the lap number and try to remember what happened to me when I was that old. I begin thinking of the people that entered my life and what I was doing. By the time I pass 27 I begin projecting into the future. So, naturally, I started down that rabbit hole. I began thinking of everything and everyone I had met and experience that led me up to this moment. I thought of all the good things that had happened to me. I thought of all the friends I had made over the years. I thought of all the times I was sad. I thought about the continuous abuse I had suffered at the hands of my brother 20 years ago and the violence I endured 10 years ago. I thought back to a time when I preferred to end it all, I thought of the time I felt like the people I loved most were turning their backs on me, and I started tearing up…and somewhere before the 20 kilometer mark I snapped out of it. Somewhere in my mind I had recounted events and people up to around age 23 or 24, and then things began looking up.

I thought about art school and my art school friends. I thought about how my parents finally came around during that time. I thought about how I began understanding the world a little differently after studying nursing and anthropology. I thought about how excited I was to begin working at the ad agency full time. I remembered how much I wanted to design for mobile. I remember getting filmed for my university, gushing about how much I wanted to start my own design business and travel the world with it. I began thinking of my friends, old and new. I thought of my supportive boyfriend, my gassy cat, the guy who sold me my running shoes. I thought of all the kind people I had met on this marathon and triathlon journey and about what cause I wanted to fundraise for when I begin my 70.3 training.

As the kilometers ticked off one by one, I was getting increasingly sore and tired. I thought of my fundraising efforts and all the women who needed the help of Dress for Success to transition from welfare to work. As the run got harder and harder — theres a 13 mile hill climb, if you didn’t know — I thought of those mornings where Shant would lead a run on his bike and I would try to keep up. I played that game a bit in my head. When I ran out, I switched it to my first 6 mile run around Lady Bird lake with my friend Barce. When that was over, I began thinking of my group training runs with my friends at work, who always managed to head out for a post-work jaunt around the neighborhood with me. I can remember days where I felt like slacking but everyone got me out of the door.

Somewhere along kilometer 35, it became quiet in my head. I had finally emptied it of all thought and ideas. It was just silence for awhile. I was actively ignoring the music blaring in my ears. I had passed a beautiful Greek countryside with rolling hills and small villages. I passed a small industrial area and now was in the suburbs. The buildings began getting closer together and the rain and wind became significantly stronger. I pulled out the plastic bag I had neatly tied away at kilometer 5. My fingers were tingling, my legs were numb, and I was shivering. Thinking it was dehydration I took some sips out of my hydration pack and concluded that it was really because I was cold. Running in 40 degree weather with wind chill, drizzling rain, and California summer weather running gear will do that to you.

At around kilometer 39 or 40, I was met with a foil blanket from a nice emergency guard who had lauded my accomplishment thus far. As he wrapped the shiny blanket around me, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Now, go finish the race you started.” I was finally in downtown Athens and it looked similar to the morning after a rainstorm in Bangkok. The roads were closed, and people were on the sidelines clapping their hands and yelling “Bravo!”. To my recollection, the only other person to have ever said that to me in that way was Shant’s mother.

I neared a familiar sight, the Syntagma Square and the House of Parliament. I ran under the first inflatable arch right after kilometer 42. I tried to pick up the pace as I saw the next arch and was only able to pull off a small trot. As I passed the second metal arch, what came into view was absolutely beautiful: the giant Panathenaikon Stadium, in full marble, in full glory. By that time, I could feel the pain leaving my body — if only temporarily — as I sped up to a run. Volunteers were cheering us on and as I crossed the finish line, I could not believe the journey I had just gone on. My energy was spent, I was shivering, but I finished the marathon with a smile on my face. After months of planning and training, it was all I could ask for.

Motivation Monday: Cross It Off Your Bucket List

Again and again, I’ve found a way to stay motivated in my fairly new running habit…

Work at crossing off my bucket list races!

There’s a very distinct formula I follow for this. I pair a race distance I haven’t yet tried with a city I’ve been meaning to visit. What I ended up with was an awesome bucket list of races. Planning for and setting personal and running PRs has never been more rewarding.

I recommend taking races in increments: I started off with 5Ks, moved up to 10Ks, then started registering for half marathons and sprint triathlons. Then I put a few marathons on the horizon to keep me focused each and every week. Here’s a general guideline you can consider following:

  • If you’re just starting out, think about signing up for a 5K or 10K race.
  • If you’ve been running 3-5 miles a few times a week, consider signing up for a half marathon.
  • If you’re looking for the ultimate challenge, consider signing up for a marathon.
Now that I’ve put together a pretty comprehensive bucket list of runs I want to do in cities I’ve wanted to visit, I’m working on my next list: a list of charities I want to raise money for. Some that I’ve considered:

  • Dress for Success (in progress!)
  • RAINN
  • Team in Training/Lymphoma and Leukemia Society
  • AIDS Project Los Angeles
  • Give Your Sole
  • Meals on Wheels
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America
  • Best Friends Animal Society
  • Special Olympics
  • Operation Smile
  • Children International
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Vitamin Angels

My first major bucket list item was going to Europe and running a marathon, so I naturally combined the two and registered for the Athens Classic Marathon. It’s coming up in November! By putting in my goals into a bucket list, I’ve found that they have been much easier to attain, mainly because I hold myself accountable to achieving them.

What will you put on your bucket list?

Fitness Fridays: Set Your Intention

It’s that time of week again! I wrapped up an awesome Team Dress for Success orientation last night (hey, it’s not too late to join!) and it was super motivating. To top it off, I had an amazing run this morning as my ever-loyal boyfriend decided that he’d bike alongside me for the entire 10K trek. When I came in to the office today I was admittedly a little tired from the bike ride to work but I tried to stay focus amidst all of the work I still have ahead for a successful season. Check out my vlog below or keep reading…it’s your choice!

What really started setting my day on fire was an amazing call I got from one of Dress for Success’ past clients. (If you don’t already know, Dress for Success helps women transition from unemployment to work by providing them with career development services and work-appropriate attire for their interviews and eventual employment.) Her story: she used to have an amazing job and fell on hard times. (Sounds familiar.) Hard times ended up escalating and she started living out of her car. Her family eventually took her back in while she is trying to get back on her feet…and she is trying…trying VERY hard. Interview after interview, application after application, she remains diligent and focused. She has set an intention of being able to land a new job here in the city, preferably in an office-type environment. Her goals are clear and as she called to give thanks for what we’ve provided to her, she very tearfully unloaded her story. I was touched that we were able to give her the help she needed and invited her back in to take advantage of our other resources so that she can give herself even more of an edge.

So, you may ask, what does finding a job have to do with Fitness Friday? Well, it’s not too far removed actually. Setting an intention is necessary whenever you are trying to achieve any goal, no matter how large or small or insurmountable it may seem. The next time you head out for a workout or for lunch, ask yourself what you are trying to achieve. If you’re heading out to lunch, are you looking to stuff down whatever you can find at the closest fast food joint? Or, are you really looking to nourish your starving body and tired mind? Set your intention, change the way you look at things, and you might be surprised at your results!

Want to Join a Charity Marathon Team?

I’m hosting a public video chat today to give you information on joining Team Dress for Success. If you’ve been wanting to get into running, this is a great opportunity! I will be hosting group runs on weekends as a volunteer and (hopefully) helping everyone reach their running and fundraising goals.

I’ll also be available after the info session to go over any questions or concerns you may have about joining the team or embarking on a marathon-training journey. Good opportunity to pick my brain on everything running.

No excuses…Join me tonight! 6:30pm PST

Recent Read: Teach Yourself How to Run a Marathon

This was one of my most favorite marathon books to read.

It was very snappy, straight forward, and to the point. The content is well structured and the information is poignant. It’s a fantastic resource for the newbie runner and marathoner (like myself).

The content helps get you acquainted with…

  • The time, mental energy, and commitment required for someone to take on such an endeavor
  • How to choose a marathon
  • How to run for a charity
  • How to make the time to train
  • How to keep a training log
  • The importance of rest
  • Gear
  • Stretching
  • Events, clubs, training with others
  • The importance of cross training
  • Nutrition
  • How to fundraise for a charity
  • Race countdown
  • What to do the day of
I would wholly recommend this book to anybody and everybody looking to run their first marathon! What I especially loved about this book was all of the information it provided me in regards to fundraising for charity, and how important it is to use this sport to give back to the community.
Pick it up! My rating: 10/10

 

Dress for Success Named an Official Charity of the 2012 Honda LA Marathon

I hurriedly spent the month of April planning the inaugural Dress for Success Worldwide-West 5K/Power Walk here in LA. It was a great experience and I had a lot of fun! Planning a 5K is much more different than running a 5K, that’s for sure. And, if I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would.

So, imagine how thrilled I was when I got wind that we were chosen to be one of the official charities of the Honda LA Marathon? Really?! The marathon of the city that I’m so proud to have been born and raised in? Dress for Success means so much to me that it was a great honor to be able to bridge that gap!

I’m incredibly excited about the possibilities to bring some much needed dollars to this fantastic organization while helping a group of people reach their fitness and fundraising goals. There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to gently help people reach their goals. NOTHING. This experience is going to require a lot of patience and learning on my behalf but I am a willing student.

The news of the marathon comes right on the cusp of Dress for Success’ Worldwide West office (here in Los Angeles) helping their 1000th woman in a little over one year. It was an absolutely amazing feat and would not have been made possible without the amazing leadership at the office and the devotion of our volunteers. If you are interested in running for an awesome charity that is helping women transition from welfare-to-work in Los Angeles, definitely consider joining Team Dress for Success! Give back to your community while doing something you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Finally Wrapped the Triple Crown Race Series!

Today I wrapped up a three-part race series in Orange County called the Triple Crown. It was a sequence of three back-to-back races that all benefited different charities: Miles 4 Melanoma, Project YES, and the Villa Park Library. For my stick-to-it-iveness I got some nifty, long awaited medals for my efforts:

  • Triple Crown Race Series medal for having ran all three races
  • A 10K finishers medal (even after my cramp/side stitch in mile 2)
  • A progressive marathon medal (for having completed 20 miles prior to my 6.2 this morning)

Pretty neat idea and the proceeds benefit charity…everything I like in life! (Well, almost.) I would definitely recommend this race series for anyone local to LA/Orange County, who is looking to test their limits and train consistently, and to also give back to the community. The 5k/5k/10k series every other weekend is pretty manageable if you build up a decent running schedule about three-four months beforehand. I’ll be looking forward to it next year for sure!

I also finally came across Be The Match, the national bone marrow donor registry program. Got my cheeks swabbed and I’m hoping to be entered into the database in the case that my bones can offer any sort of help to someone in need. Ever since I’ve heard of the program I’ve been wanting to add myself to the list but just haven’t had the chance. It was a great idea to have them table at this race.

Adding some photos courtesy of Shant Kiraz, whom I dragged out of bed at 6am to join me. What a trooper! I think I also might have convinced him to do a duathlon with me but I suppose we will see. Enjoy the pics! I finally got some shots of me that don’t look like I’m dying. Awesome!

Also, I’ve managed to improve quite a bit from my first 10K race in April. Nice to see that in two months time you can see an improvement with consistent training and eating right.

 

 

A Few Observations From Today

 

On my run:

  • I ran the Miles for Melanoma 5K this morning in Fullerton. Along the run route they had volunteers hold signs of people whom have passed from cancer. It was also very nice to see families and teams working together to fundraise for a cause that was so close to them.
  • The run route was pretty — a short trail to a small fishing lake. It looped around and on the run back I felt like I was going to either trip and fall over rocks or walkers. Both would have been equally painful in my opinion.

Regarding my timing:

  • I really do need to leave a bit earlier. I have a tendency to drill everything down until the last minute. I had the map to the race venue months in advance and still didn’t bother routing my drive there since I knew where the city was. I arrived with just enough time to check-in late and head to the start line!
  • In regards to actual timing of my run, I did pretty well compared to my last 5K. I ran a 9:23 mile compared to my 10:20 mile at the LA Big5K at the end of March.

On my bike ride:

  • It is easier to maintain momentum than it is to fight inertia. (I think that applies to a lot of areas of life.)
  • I’m having a difficult time turning and braking…pretty much anything that deviates from riding in a straight line. And even that I don’t do very well yet.
  • I get skittish with people around. I get especially nervous when there are cars around.
  • Nonetheless I’ve somewhat mastered staying on for continuous blocks and dips in the road.

In my personal relationships:

  • It’s easier to just speak your mind than it is to wallow in doubt.
  • Time spent with friends is time well spent.

In my work:

  • Spent the better part of the afternoon working on a visual overhaul for a friend’s website. It’s always difficult removing myself from the equation and making sure I design for someone else’s preference and their audience than for my own taste. I think that’s a challenge all designers face whether or not they choose to own up to that responsibility.
  • When working on weekends it is best to apply the law of diminishing marginal returns.

The Victim vs. Survivor Mentality

Depending on how closely you stalk me on the interwebs, you have have gathered that I’ve been running a lot lately. I’ve been consistently running at least 5 days a week since the first week of February. In late March I ran my first 5K and this Sunday I will be running my first 10K. I’m crazy excited about it… not to mention sore.

My first 10K holds a near and dear place to my heart for a few reasons. One, it’s my first 10K (duh!). Second, it’s a fundraiser for sexual assault victims — specifically the Center for Assault Treatment Services. (CATS) at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. This center is the only 24/7 program for victims of sexual assault and abuse in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. CATS provides medical evidentiary exams, forensic interviews, case management and referrals to victims of all ages.

The race was aptly named “Victory for Victims.” While I appreciate the sentiment, the label “victim” wrongly shines a negative light on the person’s disposition. From someone who has fallen prey to sexual assault, I find that the label “survivor” is much more fitting — you’ve lived through it, you’ve experienced it, and it’s time to pick up the pieces and move on.

 

Throughout my childhood and into my young adult years I oscillated between positivity and negativity. I received a lot of love and care from friends and family but the most important part of my recovery was the self-healing process: learning to be comfortable with myself again, being able to look in the mirror without being hypercritical, knowing that it wasn’t my fault, and understanding that I was a thousand times a survivor than I was a victim.

I truly believe that the victim vs. survivor mentality can be applied to a host of mental and physical conditions, but whether or not you choose to heal actually comes from within. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on the psychology of change and healing and the consensus is out — it seems like if you can visualize yourself healed from whatever ails you, it’s possible to make it a reality.

How have you managed to turn your life around? When have you changed the paradigm and manifested your own version of reality?