Training with a Purpose

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Khakis, beer shirt, jingling keys in his pocket, and a huge smile!

It’s official; Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon training season is in full swing! This is my 7th year as an ambassador, and I am doing something different that makes me so incredibly proud. This year’s training cycle won’t be about me because instead of training myself for the big day, I’m going to be training my dad, Steve, to run his first half marathon!!!!!!! YES, my dad, the guy who formerly ran in khaki shorts, is signed up to run the RACM half. Actually, he did one better than that; he signed up for the 8K and half Challenge Series!!!!! This runner’s heart is bursting at the seams.

Dad first mentioned something about taking the distance plunge about 2 months ago when I was talking about the race. For the past few years, he’s run the Saturday race with me, but he never really trained. After last year’s race, he really started to get into running more, was heading out the door on his own and increasing his speed and mileage. Now, he talks about his “Nike Run Club” and rocks a Garmin. As you can imagine, I effing love it. He asked about my plan for May. I said I wanted marathon redemption but couldn’t pass up the Challenge Series, so my plan was the 8K and full. He said he wanted to participate in the Challenge Series also by running the 8K and 10K, but the only problem, as I explained to him, was they didn’t offer that option. “Well, I will just run the half.” I think my eyes about popped out of my head. This guy was serious! I told him if he wanted to make that commitment, there was no way I was running the full and missing out of this (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime experience. I just had to cross that finish line with my dad. Less than a week ago, I sat down at the computer, completed my dad’s 8K and half Challenge Series registration, and smiled while a tear rolled down my face. WE ARE DOING THIS! (which is also my little motto for life at this particular moment)

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One of my biggest running supporters is now my half marathon training partner!

As a start to our training season, Dad, Cael, and I attended the RACM Kick-Off Run at Fleet Feet in Pepper Pike this weekend. It was cold, but we had a great time. The Kick-Off runs always breathe new life into my running, and this year was no exception. Dad’s getting a membership to the new Planet Fitness in Painesville, and I plan to go out there on weekend the kids are with their dad to help him train. Once it warms up a bit, you’ll see us hitting the streets of Painesville and the bike path, one of my personal fave places to run in my hometown. We’re going to work on a training plan, which will undoubtedly include rewards with a cold beverage, because we intend to work hard and celebrate the efforts. Enjoying the journey will be our theme. I can’t wait to see how this all unfolds, and I am looking forward to sharing our training with you.

If you’re sitting here reading this and feel inspired, I encourage you to give running a try if you aren’t already a runner, and if you are, push yourself to go a little farther, a little faster. Sign up for the damn race that scares you. Add an extra speed session to your current training. Get outside and walk the neighborhood. Whatever it is and whatever your fitness level, just do something. Your body and mind will thank you. If you want to run CLE with Dad and me, sign up now before the next price increase and save 10% using the code SL2019. We hope to see you there!

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Best wishes!

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Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Weekend Recap

 

Best. Marathon. Weekend. Ever! That’s the super short recap of my 2018 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Weekend, which is basically my Christmas. I wait for it all year, and now that it’s over, I’m bummed and already dreaming of next year. This is going to be a long post, so if you’re planning to read it all, get comfy.

For the past 6 years, my Marathon Weekend kicked off on Friday. I take the day off work and spend it enjoying the Expo and VIP Reception. This year, I did something a little different and worked the Information Booth, which was intimidating for me because talking with strangers stresses me out (hello, introvert here!). I have to admit it was much more fun that I envisioned and would definitely sign up again next year. Thanks, people, for being super friendly and understanding when I didn’t have all of the answers!

After grabbing race packets, I did a once-around through the Expo, with the plan of spending more time on Saturday after the 8K (more on that later). Every single time I go to the Expo, I always think to myself, “Why didn’t you bring more money?!” Seriously, just take it all. I want everything!

After making my way back to the hotel, it was time to get fancy for the VIP Reception. This year, the other ambassadors and I decided to up our outfit game because why the hell not!? I felt bad for my dad, who was waiting down at the bar, because I took FOREVER, no thanks to my straightener that wanted to crap out in the middle of curling my hair (yes, I actually did my hair and did not wear a side braid). We arrived fashionably late but had time to grab some delicious food and drinks before it was time for the annual ambassador picture. Cheese! My only wish for the night was having more time to visit with the other ambassadors. Sorry, guys, I wasn’t being snooty or trying to ignore you. Dad and I got wrapped up smashing food, or, more specifically, I got wrapped up smashing desserts. Those little strawberry shortcake things were delish!

The night wasn’t over after the VIP Reception. Dad doesn’t get much of a chance to go out, and I definitely wanted to make sure he had a good time. Seriously, the poor guy needed it badly! A group of us went to Flannery’s and made friends with some of the people from the Pittsburg Marathon and Running USA. Shout out to Brian (who my dad kept calling Ryan), who was so friendly and absolutely awesome. After Flannery’s, Dad and I weren’t ready to call it a night, so we stopped at The Butcher and the Brewer for the fabulous Albino Stout, one of my top 5 favorite beers, and Corner Alley. When in CLE…

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Saturday morning came very early. Oh yeah, we were running an 8K! I love that the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon moved the Saturday races to downtown because we were able to walk a few hundred yards to the start line at Public Square. There, we met up with my friends Dan and Cory, who were also planning to run the 8K. Of course, I was also happy to see Andrew and Debbie, who are ambassadors with me. An unexpected surprise was seeing my college friend and ZTA sister, Tisha, and her wonderful daughter when we lined up for the race!

Our race strategy is 1. Have fun and 2. Do a combination of running and walking. I was so proud of my dad because we ran .65 mile before starting to walk, the farthest we’ve gone during this race. Along the course, we saw Melissa and her family. Melissa, another wonderful ambassador friend, is ready to have a baby any freaking second! I loved that she was out there racing!

For me, the race flew by. I loved having this time by myself with my dad to talk and enjoy each other’s company. Living an hour away and with busy schedules, we don’t usually get time together. Dad, I look forward to this every year. And you rocked that race! Way to finish strong!

Afterward, we celebrated our accomplishment at the JACK Casino, followed by lunch at Winking Lizard. It’s a good thing we stopped there because we made friends with Don, who came with his running group from Wisconsin to run CLE! I love that people travel for my hometown race! I sometimes take that for granted because of living so close and always participating.

Saturday came and went with me sleeping for most of it. The week before the race was crazy busy, and we kicked it pretty hard Friday night and Saturday morning and afternoon. I was bummed I didn’t have a chance to hit up the Expo again AND I missed out on my pre-race ritual – food court chicken teriyaki from Tower City. Don’t judge my food choices. At least I had fun watching the Cavs! Then it was time to lay out my flat Steph, start packing up my stuff, and get some sleep, which didn’t happen because CLE was hoppin’ after the Cavs win.

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I was up early Sunday morning to get prepped for the race. I was honestly a little nervous because I knew I wasn’t as well-trained as I had been for past races. Damn broken back and C. diff! I reminded myself this year was all about having fun and enjoying the experience with no time expectations. Walking to the Q, I tried filling my head with all my positive mantras, most importantly, “And though she be but little, she is fierce!” (which is also my newest tattoo).

Seeing the other ambassadors and race staff really got me excited. We are like a little family, and I can’t say how much I have appreciated their motivation and support these past few months. We snapped our annual pre-race pic, and then it was time to line up. This race was happening whether I was ready or not. As I stood shivering in the rain and cold, I again thought to myself how much of an accomplishment it was to even be here lining up.

Then, we were off! The plan was to go out easy for the first mile or so, which is pretty much what you have to do anyway until the crowd thins out. In the past, I would get annoyed with having to run slower and dodge other runners, but this year, I couldn’t care less. I was more worried about dodging puddles because the thought of running a half in soggy shoes sounded less than appealing.

The first few miles were a blur and went by so quickly. I felt great where I wasn’t overexerting myself but still respectable time-wise. I can’t exactly remember the mile, but I met up with my sons’ former wrestling coach, Brian, and chatted it up with him. He was running the same pace as me, so I asked if I could hang. I prefer to train alone, but having someone to race with is always fun for me. The miles clicked by with a steady pace, and I felt incredibly strong. Since this race was all about fun, I high-fived the kids cheering us on along the street, commented to spectators about their awesome signs (the Kluber one was my fave #swoon), drank a Dixie cup of Summer Shandy around mile 9ish, and tried to soak in the entire race experience. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun along the course and felt no pressure.

Before I knew it, we were at the bridge heading back to the city, and I could hear the spectators cheering at the finish. I kicked it in and crossed the line with the biggest smile and a time of 1:48:53! I did it, my first significant race post-injury and illness! I got a little emotional when Brittany, my friend Andrew’s wife and RACM volunteer extraordinaire, hung the medal around my neck. While this wasn’t a PR for me, it was my third fastest half and my fastest CLE half. Now it was time to celebrate post-race with a well-earned beer and friends!

I was still riding the race weekend high on Monday when my family shared something awesome with me. I had no clue the media was taking pictures after the race, but yours truly was printed in The News Herald and The Morning Journal and in the online photo gallery for the Journal. The look on my face says it all about my entire Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon experience.

As I sit here writing my recap, I’m sad this year’s race is over. The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon has my heart. It is and will always be my favorite race. I am already looking forward to next year. I plan on working my ass off during the rest of this year and next, and I will be back in racing shape for the full, my favorite distance.

Before I end this lengthy post, I want to thank Jack Staph, Ralph Staph, Joan Freese, Kayla Henderson, and the rest of the absolutely fabulous people who worked tirelessly to make the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon great. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to promote your race for the past six years. You have become family to me, and I have so much love and respect for you. Ambassador friends – I loved being on this journey with you! I’m happy to have shared this experience with some of you for the past few years and equally as happy to have made some new friendships this year. Family and, specifically, Dad – I know you think all of my running is slightly crazy, but I love your unconditional support. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you. And Dad, this half was for you. We have all had a challenging year, and with taking on the Challenge Series, I ran this half in your honor. I hope you are proud. I love you. And I think you are turning into one kick-ass runner!

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Another Setback and a Decision

I have been a little quiet on the blog over the past few weeks, and here’s the reason why. Just when I thought marathon training was back on track, I was dealt another big setback with training. In December, I was put on an antibiotic but went back to the doctor in January with the same issues. The doctor I saw put me on two stronger antibiotic. I took the meds as directed, and the original issue was better. Yay!

This brings us to the end of January. I’m done with my medicine but experiencing GI issues, which were a side effect of the meds. Another two weeks came and went , and the issues were getting worse. Anything I ate came right out, and I was nauseated on a regular basis. This made running nearly unbearable. Any time I tried to run, I had to hop off the treadmill at least 3 times. I dropped 3 pounds in two weeks, which for me is a good amount of weight. I was tired, and I felt like my body was rebelling against me.

I thought back to the info I received when I started the second rounds of meds. When I was reading the pamphlets from the pharmacy about potential side effects, the one came with the serious but uncommon complication of Clostridium difficile or C. diff. As I kept reading, I thought to myself, “Wow, that would really suck!” If you haven’t heard about C. diff, it’s some pretty nasty stuff that lands people in the hospital and can kill them. I started to get worried, but when I brought my fears up to others, the reaction I got was there is no way you would have C. diff because you would be sicker. Fair assumption because I didn’t have all of the symptoms.

It got to the point I knew something was really wrong with my body and needed to see a doctor…yet again. The diagnosis was not good; I was positive for C. diff. It was another crushing blow to marathon training that was already derailed for months due to the compression fracture I sustained in November 2017. I was thankful I was able to see my normal family doctor who prescribed new meds and helped to calm my fears. Unfortunately, the newest meds I am taking now, while kicking C. diff’s butt, leave me with a constant state of nausea, which makes it nearly as impossible as before to train. She also told me I needed to slow down, that I was running myself into the ground, and you know what, she’s right.

In some sick sort of way, I prided myself on the fact I could “do it all” – work full time, raise a family, take care of a house, get the kids to their practices and appointments, train for a marathon – and loved it when people would question how I kept it together. I thrived off that shit, wearing it like a badge of honor that I was supermom or something. But I’m not. I’m human, like every other person out there, and I’m at my limit. I. Can’t. Do. Everything. I need to heal and breathe and slow down.

As much as it hurts my pride to write this, I just can’t run the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon in May. I mean, I could, but at what cost? My stubbornness is not worth getting myself sicker or worse. The plan is to relax a bit and run the 8K/half marathon Challenge Series. I know my body will be healed and trained for a half, and coming to that decision has alleviated a great deal of stress for me. Will it be a PR half? Umm…no, but isn’t crossing the finish line a victory in itself? This will be my first significant race post back fracture, and I want it to be an enjoyable one. The RACM events are the ones I love most in the city I love. Sounds like a pretty great deal.

New Year, Same Race, So Happy

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Now that the champagne has been popped and glitter has settled, it’s time to focus on moving forward in 2018, and one thing on my New Year’s list is the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon in May. I am both honored and humbled to say I was welcomed back as an ambassador for 2018! After last year’s race, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run it again or how the staff would feel about having me back. Without going into details, there was this big thing at the end of the race, a proposal. Ultimately, it wasn’t the right decision, and the engagement ended shortly after. I had very mixed thoughts about returning to the race I called my favorite, and I thought for sure I wouldn’t be asked to return as an ambassador. I didn’t want my friends on the race staff who had grown to be like a family to me to be embarrassed or have this reflect poorly on the race. It was almost time to submit ambassador applications, and at that moment, I didn’t have a blog. I closed the one I blogged under for many years (stephplusfour) because it was filled with memories and a life I wasn’t living anymore. I wanted a fresh start and was kicking around the idea of starting a new one. After talking with the staff and getting their opinions on last year’s ordeal, I decided to start that new blog and throw my name in the mix to be an ambassador. I was so excited when I received confirmation that I was welcomed back! Jack, Joan, Ralph, Kayla, and the rest of the amazing RACM crew – I don’t think you understand how much this meant to me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. This will not only be a physical comeback for me, it will be a mental one, too.

As many of you know, I am not able to run at the present time. If you don’t know what happened, check this out. I still have about 1-2 weeks before I can even think of lacing up my running shoes, and IT IS KILLING ME! For the last few years, I have been trained up to a half by this point and have started off the year knowing I only need to focus on adding another 13.1 miles. Before I got hurt, I was running speeds for distances I never thought possible. I had huge goals for Cleveland. When I am back to running, I will be happy to run a 5K without having to walk, and in May instead of getting that PR, I will be happy to cross the finish line without destroying my body in the process.

I will admit that although I am excited to get back to running, the thought of it scares me. I am not worried about physical pain. I don’t think anything I would experience could be worse than breaking my back. Hell, all 3 rounds of childbirth were easier than that. I am more worried about the mental part of it. The disappointment of lost gains I made over the summer and fall. Getting accustomed to what will be the new normal for this training cycle. Training to cross the finish line instead of setting a PR. Feeling like I failed myself somehow. Scared that I won’t get back to where I was. I know how this sounds, and I as I read it, I am thinking, “Wow, what a snobby running bitch. ” But part of writing this blog is being real, and this is how it is right now. I suppose you could say I am still feeling sad and bitter about the whole injury and not running. It’s been a long 6+ weeks, the longest I have taken off running in 9 years. I see my friends kicking ass on the roads, trails, and treadmills while I have been sitting on mine. Social media is a great connector and motivator, but it is also a killer of self-esteem, the source of unrealistic comparisons of ourselves to friends and even complete strangers by breeding the “I’m not good enough” mentality. (Side note: if you are looking for an interesting episode on Netflix, I highly recommend checking out Black Mirror “Nosedive.” Is this where social media will eventually take us?! And before you ask, the answer is yes, I have been watching a TON of Netflix during this injury cycle.)

So…moving forward. My goal is still to complete the 8K/Marathon Challenge Series on May 19-20. Before you laugh and tell me that is not going to be possible, save your breath. Although I feel defeated at the moment, I am incredibly stubborn when it comes to running. I will complete this even if I have to crawl to the finish. Maybe on second thought, tell me I can’t. I will just use it as fuel to keep working harder.

AND…if you haven’t already registered, rates have been extended until January 9, so if you like saving money, register now! Also, starting soon, the Marathon will feature an ambassador of the week who will be giving away a free entry. If you’re hoping to win instead of registering now, may the odds be ever in your favor.