Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Running in Circles.....or Should I Say Ovals?

My January half marathon is in the books....another 13.1 miles down.....173.8 miles to go.

For those of you that haven't been keeping up, I am running a half or full each month for a total of 200 miles raced in 2011 to raise funds for LIVESTRONG.   It is my RunningSTRONG for Hope Coast to Coast Tour.   The number of miles is significant.  They represent the total number of years my father, mother, sister and husband all lived before cancer stole each of them from my life.

My December race in Vegas was a PR (that's a personal record for those non-runners following my adventure)....and this past weekend was also a PR.....a PR for an indoor half marathon.  Of course, it is the ONLY indoor half marathon I have ever competed in....but hey, a PR is a PR. 

This also marked my 16th half marathon....and was by far the most difficult.  Yep, it even beat out Nashville which to date I always considered my toughest.  Nashville = hills, IceBreaker = flat.  So, hills vs flat....flat should win every time right?  Well, Nashville had some scenery.  The IceBreaker had an ice rink.  Yes, there was some scenery.  There were a few Olympic speed skaters in spandex flying by from time to time (I will admit....they were a nice view....but variety does count over the course of 2 hours).

This was hands down the most unique experience I have ever encountered in a race.....well, with the exception of the Muddy Buddy.  47.7 laps around a speed skating rink on a makeshift track in Milwaukee, WI, in January.

Note the speed skaters on the rink.   This is NOT me by the way.

Wondering how I kept track of those laps?  Well, thank goodness I didn't have to count them myself.  Each runner wears a chip that tracks the number of laps, which are then posted on a large screen.  If you are lucky, you may see your name and number of laps completed flash up while running by.  I unfortunately - or maybe fortunately - was never so lucky.  Turns out there was a glitch of some sort with my chip and the computer...but thankfully the chip was counting the laps.  Mix some very diligent race staff with a a little elbow grease and my laps were identified.  It was very odd to be running a 13 mile race and have no idea how far along I was.  By the time it was all straightened out, I was 11 miles in.  It was pretty exciting to realize I only had two remaining....8 more laps.  Although at times it was nice not knowing how many dreaded laps remained, it did make it more difficult mentally to not know what pace I was running, when to take my gels, hydrate, etc.   But, I just went with feel.....which is probably a better approach to take - but just a different approach than I normally use.

This was a very well run event.  There was a 5K, 2 half marathons, a marathon relay and a full marathon over the course of 3 days.  About 200 people competed in the half but the group was split into two races.  The start was crowded but thinned out rather quickly.  Slower runners stayed to the right and faster runners passed on the left.    Each runner provided their own water bottle labeled with their bib number as cups were not allowed on the track.  A wonderful, enthusiastic - and organized - volunteer group manned the table and handed off bottles as requested by the runners. Great concept and it worked remarkably well.  I cannot say enough about the volunteers and race staff....they were awesome....cheering us along the entire time.

A few other highlights:
  • Although it was single digits outside with snow and wind, the temperatures inside were perfect for running.... about 50 degrees.
  • No head phones allowed (I don't run races with my I-pod anyways but the monotony of a track workout does require some music) but the race officials were prepared and had a great selection of songs cranked up for the endurance of the race. 
  • Interesting facts about some of the runners were shared by the announcer; such as, first time dad, Black Hawk season ticket holder, running with their spouse/mother/sibling.....and running a half marathon every month to raise money for LIVESTRONG.  Yes....they announced me - VERY exciting.  
  • The other runners.....in most races you pass by someone, notice a funny or inspiring  t-shirt, talk to a few along the way.....but never see them again.  It was great to see everyone for the entire race - and provide encouragement....and receive encouragement.  There was a "bond" among the runners....similar to that bond that exists on the bike rides at the LIVESTRONG Challenges.  
    But the BEST part of this race?  Well hands down, no competition.....the BEST part was seeing my daughter - that 7-year old "Cancer is Bad" spitfire of mine.
    Making the turn and seeing her standing along the wall, giving me a thumbs up, holding up her handmade "Go Mom" and "Go Packers" signs (not sure how she became a Packers fan living in Illinois but I suspect there is a 2nd grade boy responsible for that), and the occasional high five.  Yes, that was the BEST part of this race.

    Nothing better than seeing one of my inspirations for embarking on this adventure standing there cheering me on.  This is the same little girl that I shared on an earlier post about her views on cancer..." Cancer is bad" and "Cancer hurts families."  Although this race was difficult, it most certainly wasn't as difficult as the pain her father felt or the emptiness she feels for her father.  Nor was it as difficult as the battle those 28 million living with cancer deal with on a daily basis....including a amazing and inspiring LIVESTRONG friend that was recently diagnosed with yet another round of cancer.  This race I ran in her honor....and in honor of the 28 million....and in memory of those that we have all lost.

    Another 173.8 miles to go....please consider supporting me along the way....over 80 cents of every dollar donated is given back to organizations in our communities to help those with cancer SURVIVE!  Any amount helps!
    Click here to support Barbara's efforts for LIVESTRONG 

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    RunningSTRONG for Hope Kick-Off!

    This weekend I am heading off to Milwaukee.  No, I am not a Green Bay Packer fan, nor am I a Chicago Bears fan....although I'd cheer for either if the drinks were cold, plentiful and served in frosted mugs.  I may be the only one that will be in Wisconsin this weekend that isn't there to partake in any football festivities.

    I am headed to Milwaukee to run my first half marathon of 2011.....the first "official" race of the Running Strong for Hope Coast to Coast Tour.

    Yes, you read that correctly.....racing 13.1 miles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (just in clarify in case there is another Milwaukee in a warmer climate)....home of Laverne & Shirley.....in January.  That is not a typo....I did not intend to say June.....January is correct.

    Crazy huh?  Here's a quick look at the weather forecast for Saturday:


    Few Snow Showers


    Wind: From SW at 5 mph

    Yep....quite a unseasonably balmy day for Wisconsin.  Double digits!  Woo-whoo!!

    Don't worry.  I am not that crazy.  I will run in the cold but never again in temps below 20 degrees with wind chills.  Did that a few times before and once icicles started forming on my eye lashes....and threatened to freeze my eyes together, I stopped doing that.

    I am actually running in an indoor half marathon....The InStep IceBreaker Indoor Half Marathon at the Pettit National Ice Rink (there is a running track along the rink).  A very comfortable 50 degrees.

    47 laps = 13.1 miles....to raise funds for LIVESTRONG.

    Again, crazy huh?  Not really.  There is also a full marathon.....and because they are on separate days, you can actually run the half and full.....those people are crazy!

     As I start my Running Strong for Hope Coast to Coast Tour - 200 miles to Kick Cancer's Ass....how about considering making a donation to kick this baby off:

    • $47 for the number of laps I'm running
    • $67 for the total temps indoors & out
    • $200 for the total miles I am racing this year
    • $126 for the number of laps I ran last weekend for my 14 mile training run
    • $47 for the number of high fives I hope to get from my daughter
    • Or any amount you feel is appropriate....I'll even match the most creative explanation for their donation amount
    On-line donations can be made at http://run.livestrong.org/teamls2011/barbarasimmons

    The coolest part of this race?  I get to have my own "pit crew" to hand me drinks, etc as I round those laps.  My crew includes my "Cancer is Bad" 7-year old red headed spitfire (I can't wait to get 47 high fives from her!) and a great friend....a fellow LIVESTRONG Chic that has no connection to cancer and has willingly jumped into a dirty murky lake as the swimmer on my LIVESTRONG Chics Triathlon Relay team.

    So looking forward to this experience - a new race, a new venue, a race completely different than the other 15 half marathons I have raced prior....and most importantly, getting the Running Strong for Hope tour moving!

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    A Glimpse of a 7-year old's Thoughts on Cancer

    My 7 year old daughter has a 2nd grade project which involves writing a book.  As I recently tucked her into bed, she began sharing some details with me.

    This week in school they were asked to choose a topic they were very knowledgeable about.  Rachel asked me to start guessing her topic.  Our conversation proceeded like this:

    "That's easy, cats."  (She writes about cats a lot)

     "Nope, try again."

    "Hmmm, Julie - your new American Girl doll." 

    "Wrong again. Guess again."

    "Ok, singing and dancing?" (I mean she does sing and dance around the house A LOT).

    "Wrong again Mom."

    "I give up....what did you pick?"

    "Cancer is BAD."

    I was stunned.....speechless.....choked up....fighting back the tears that threatened to swell up.

    This just isn't fair....and yes, I realize life isn't fair.  But, my little baby girl, who celebrates every birthday with the anniversary of her dad's passing the day before, shouldn't even know about cancer, let alone that it is bad.

    She should be thinking about Hannah Montana, riding her bike, doing cart wheels, playing make believe with her dolls.

    Cancer shouldn't even be in her vocabulary.

    I was curious....exactly what is going on in that little head of hers.  So I had to ask, "Why is cancer bad?"

    Her response was, "It hurts families.  It kills daddies.  It makes girls and boys miss their daddies."

    Again, choking up, I replied, "I miss your daddy too."

    She said, "I am so glad I have my mommy though."  And with that, she reached up and gave me a big hug.  Then said, :"I love you mommy.  You aren't alone."  WOW!  A 7 year old!

    And to that, I say to cancer.....WATCH OUT.  Not only am I coming to kick your ass - but there is a fireball red-headed 7 year old also looking to take you down.  You can hurt me, you can hurt my husband, my sister, my parents.....but NO ONE hurts my kids.

    Rachel before her 5K

    This is why I am so passionate about raising funds for LiveSTRONG.  Why I log the miles, why I ask for donations, why I talk about the amazing things this great organization does to provide hope and support to those fighting cancer.

    I do not want other children to grow-up without a parent.  I did it myself (my mom passed away from Leukemia when I was 3) and now my own children are being raised without one parent.  They are different from their friends.  They have been forced to face reality and worry about things their friends have never even thought about.  

    The picture on the left is of Rachel on her 7th birthday honoring her father's memory (and giving cancer her own notice) by running her first 5K at the Philadelphia LiveSTRONG Challenge (she ran it in 42 minutes!).

    I have seen firsthand how cancer has "changed" my children.

    My oldest son is VERY driven.....VERY.   He is extremely serious and focused on being successful in life.  Great news for a teenager, right?  As a parent, I should be thrilled about this, except part of this focus is for the wrong reasons.  He wants to be successful because he does not believe he will live beyond 40; he thinks cancer will shorten his life as it did his dad at 38, my mom at 39 and my sister at 46.  He sees the glass half empty.  The carnage cancer has left behind in our family drives many of his decisions.

    I hate...
    that my boys don't have their dad there to coach them like all their friends do;
    that often times there is no one cheering them on at a game because I can only be in one place at a time;
    that I can't volunteer at all the school events because I have to work;
    that I have to work....that I don't work because it is a nice option.....not working isn't an option;
    that my kids have seen their mother cry numerous times at the drop of a hat because at some point, trying to manage it all becomes overwhelming.

    There has been some some opportunities (this is me trying to find positives in this awful mess cancer handed us).  My kids will eventually leave the nest and know how to...
    do laundry;
    do the dishes;
    make a meal or two;
    unclog a toilet;
    put up a Christmas tree;
    fix a garbage disposal;
    take out the trash;
    clean up after the sump pump fails;
    jump a battery when the car door is left ajar in single digit temps;
    change a furnace filter.

    When it comes right down to it though, I am sure my kids would still prefer to have a lifetime with their father than the ability to successfully complete a check-list of household chores.

    Rachel is right.....CANCER IS BAD!

    Please join me in kicking cancer's ass!  Maybe join me in a Team LiveSTRONG event - run, walk or bike....or even volunteer.  Join Team LiveSTRONG

    To make a donation in support of my 200 miles to beat cancer, you can do so online at the link below:
    Donate to Support Barbara's LiveSTRONG efforts...Cancer is BAD

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Rediscovering My Mental Toughness

    Where did my mental toughness go? 

    Some of you may be surprised by that statement because at first glance, given the experiences I have been handed over my lifetime, you would think I was tough.  I will admit that I am pretty strong - not as physically as I would like to be as my recent venture into CrossFit classes has reminded me - but mentally, yes, I am strong.   I don't think this has always been the case; in fact, I believe the opposite was true when I was younger - much younger.

    Strong - yes, mentally tough - not so much. 

    What I am referring to is the mental toughness required to push yourself to the limits.  Yep, I'm pretty much a wimp.  When the tough kick it up a notch, most days I stay comfortably right where I am.  108 laps around a track today for a 12 mile run gave me a lot of time to think about this.

    I have run a lot of races, but most have been half marathons.  I am not a fan of 5Ks because they require you to go fast....which means push myself for 20 minutes or so.  Yuck....all that effort to feel like puking at the end.  No thank you.  I start out going fast then have to rely on my mental toughness to get me through that last mile still going really fast.  And no surprise here, but it usually doesn't appear and I have to play a lot of "games" to keep going.

    Most would say a half marathon requires some mental toughness - and I agree.  But, for me, not nearly as much as one would expect.  Once I can get past that wall at mile eight, I'm golden.  And, because I've run so many of them - 15 to be exact - I've finally got that wall figured out.  I know exactly what I need to do to run right through that wall....the pace, the timing of gels...and it has been awhile since I've run into that wall.

    Then there is the marathon.  Yes, these really require mental toughness - and I've struggled along the way - in the training and the races themselves.  I have only completed two and that in itself is a feat since I always vowed that I would never run one...period.  But my older son told me it would be cool if I did a marathon.  I have a rather interesting relationship with him.  He was nine years old when his father passed away, and he had a very close bond with his dad.  It has been tough for the two of us over the years and for him to think anything I would do was cool, was worth me pushing aside that "never" statement.

    The training for a marathon was a struggle for me.  Trying to fit in those long runs was difficult.  I had never gone further than 12 miles when training for my halves.  The time required for 12 miles fits into my single working mother schedule - it fits perfectly between baseball games, swim meets, basketball practice.  16, 18 & 20 mile runs do not.  And, I don't like running alone, so I had to find others that would be interested in running that far and on my crazy schedule.  Thankfully, I was able to find solutions to these hurdles.  But, it was a struggle.  Not physically but mentally.  The actual marathon went surprisingly well.   The excitement surrounding the Chicago Marathon, sticking with a training partner and friend the first 18 miles, and most importantly, running for LiveSTRONG propelled me through it.

    Then I signed on to run Chicago again.  Was I crazy?  No.  It was an amazing experience and I loved running for Team LiveSTRONG - a charity very near and dear to me.  This summer was much more difficult though.  I was plagued with injuries and some really tough emotional struggles.  Somehow, I got through it.  Not my finest race - but again, the idea of running for LiveSTRONG kept me going.

    As I pondered today when exactly I lost my mental toughness, I realized I had actually regained it without knowing it.  Mental toughness is what got me through that race on a very unseasonably warm day this past October.  A race that seven days earlier my ortho told me I could certainly show up to the race, but doubted I would make it beyond the 10 mile mark....and really shouldn't attempt to do so.  I decided I would at least go to the start - I raised $10,000 for LiveSTRONG because I was running this race, and I wasn't going to not run.  I shared with others that I'd see them at the end but I wasn't likely to go beyond 12 miles - and in my mind wondering if I'd even make it 3.

    Instead of lining up in my correct corral positioning, I headed to the back, doubting my abilities before the race even started.  So I trudged along and came across the LiveSTRONG crew at mile 3, where originally I thought I would stop but I felt pretty good - no pain - so on I went.  Although, I didn't really think I would see them again until our gathering that evening.  Suddenly, somehow, mile 14 came along and there the LiveSTRONG crew was there handing out encouragement...fueling me to keep on going.

    What I recognize now that I hadn't at the time is that I wasn't playing any mental games in my head - those doubts that start making me even consider stopping.  I just kept providing myself challenges and remembering my younger son telling me the evening before "I don't care if you walk 26.2 miles, I want to be able to say my mom completed 2 marathons and do it for LiveSTRONG."  That was my mantra that day.....along with keeping my legs moving forward....slowly but surely.  Then mile 24 came along, and the LiveSTRONG crew.  Their energy and excitement to see me is just what I needed to get to the end.

    So, as I ran in circles - or I guess I should say ovals - today, I realized I do have mental toughness.  Somehow while living my life, I had lost it, but I have rediscovered it.

    Just as that realization hit me, I was done with 108 laps - 12 tedious miles on an indoor track.  Runners had come and gone - I was apparently the only one doing a long run today.  At no point today did I play those games that keep me going - "so many laps and I can stop for a drink" or "so many songs then I'll stop for a drink."  At no point today did I ever need to motivate myself to keep going.  I just kept going and stopped when I needed hydration.  Running on the track is a challenge.  It's boring....going round and round and round.....so completing this without doubts and head games was a huge accomplishment.  Sounds silly, I know.

    Today's run turned out to be more than another long run.  It was the moment I realized I regained my mental toughness.  And I'll definitely need that this year as I tackle a race each month.  But, I'm all that more certain that I'll achieve this goal, without any mind games!

    Did I mention that I kept hearing that Dead or Alive song in my head as I was running today?
    "You spin me right round, baby
    right round like a record, baby
    Right round round round"

    LiveSTRONG friends!

    Support my fundraising efforts for Team LiveSTRONG

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Running into 2011.....and Keep on Running, and Running, and Running......

    "What you do today can improve all your tomorrows."  ~ Ralph Marston

    Hard to believe that 2010 is behind us.  Time to reflect on the past and make some resolutions to improve the future.  Then comes the hard part.....following through.

    2010 was a year of personal highs and lows.....challenges, injuries and accomplishments.  The one common thread throughout the year was my running.  Although I may not have logged as many miles in 2010 as years past, my runs helped me get through the lows of the year and contributed to many of the highs of the year.

    Running hasn't always been a part of my life.  As a matter of fact, my start in running began with a New Year's Resolution 6 years ago.  I've never been a big "resolution" person.....yes, I'd make them but rarely followed through on them beyond the first week of January.  But, 7 years ago I was faced with the biggest life challenge I'd ever been faced with - the passing of my husband to cancer - and I had spent the previous year focusing on helping my children adjust.

    As I reflected on 2006, I realized I had not taken care of myself.  It was at that point I decided my New Year Resolution for 2007 was to focus on me....and that included taking time to exercise.  I had no idea the far-reaching changes in my life that little "conversation" with myself would have.  I have since ran numerous 5 and 10K's, 2 full marathons and 15 half marathons, as well as running to raise over $20,000 for LiveSTRONG and as a 3 year participant on a relay run to benefit the St. Jude Children's Hospital.  I have big plans in place for 2011 - to run a half marathon each month with the exception of March and November, when I'm running full marathons - to continue my fundraising efforts for LiveSTRONG.  A lofty goal for a busy working mom but one I plan to make reality...and the running helps me keep my sanity so that's a great benefit right off the bat! 

    It wasn't easy way back in January 2007.  There were definitely periods (and still are) when it was tough to stay focused and keep motivated.  So, how did I accomplish that original resolution and how will I continue to do so in 2011?
    • Start slow and set realistic obtainable goals.  Meeting goals provide motivation and allows you to attempt another goal.  Make them somewhat easy to start with.....a little bit of accomplishment provides a lot of satisfaction.   
      • Carve out 10 minutes to workout each day for 1 week
      • Run/walk 2 miles each morning
    • Invest in your exercise plan.   Wasting money is frustrating, so making a monetary investment may make you more likely to follow through.  Obviously this is different for everyone but my personal situation as single working mom with three children under the age of 10 didn't allow me much flexibility.  So, I invested in a quality treadmill, bought some workout dvds and  weights.  This allowed me to workout in the basement while my kids were playing nearby and when I had free time.  I eventually also joined a gym that provided free childcare.
    • Create opportunities that will not allow excuses.  Again, working out at home did not provide me with the excuse that I couldn't workout because I didn't have a sitter for the kids.  Finding a gym with free childcare was another option.
    • Share your plan with family, friends and co-workers.  It's amazing how "honest" my friends keep me.  Once I let the cat out of the bag, friends and co-workers began asking me how my plan was going.  I still use this as a motivator.....I always share what I'm training for and when I do so, people are always curious about my training.  Definitely nice to be able to share results with them.  Just last month I posted on Facebook that I was going to the gym the next morning and when I woke up, instead of rolling over, I got up because I knew people would ask about my workout.  And they sure did!
    • Sign up for a race....any race.  I chose to sign up for a half marathon in September of that year to give myself plenty of time to train.....and I made sure I shared with others that I did so.....again, it kept me on track.  Having a race on the calendar that requires training has always kept me focused on working out.  Any race...a local 5K to a full marathon.  Whatever fits your goals.
    • Create a training plan.  There are plenty available on the internet....and a lot of the larger races provide information on training.  Having a plan keeps you on track and there is no question in regard to what you should do on any particular day.
    • Log your workouts.  Keep track of how long you worked out, what you did, how many miles, pace, etc.  Tracking this allows you to reflect back on your hard work and accomplishments.  It doesn't need to be fancy.  A simple calendar on your refrigerator will work, or check out the numerous on-line logs with all the bells and whistles.
    • Join a local running club or create a running group.  I joined our local running club - primarily so I'd meet other runners.  In doing so, I became friends with some other runners that live near me and we began running together every Saturday morning.  That grew into weekday morning runs and eventually we began training for half marathons together.  This group is so supportive that some trained with me while I was preparing to run the Chicago Marathon in 2009. 
    • Make plans to meet others for runs or workouts.  There is no better way to get me out of bed at 4:45 am than the thought of others waiting for me in the dark to run.  I'm more likely to hit the snooze button and pull the covers over my head if it were only myself running.
    • Get fitted in the correct shoes.  Visit your local running shop.  Not all running shoes nor runners are the same.  Wearing the wrong pair can be a huge hurdle in your training.  Make sure the clerk knows you are new to running or setting some new goals.  I was having some trouble with my arch after wearing the same style for several years, they put me in a new shoe immediately and my pain disappeared.  Without the staffs' vast knowledge, I may have been sidelined from the pain or changed my goals.  
    • Join on-line running sites like the Daily Mile or Tribal Running.  You can "friend" other runners and share your training, ask questions, share stories, motivate one another, etc.  
    • Consider running for a cause.  Another key to my success has been tying my running to philanthropic goals.  Knowing that I had raised money to benefit LiveSTRONG  helped me stay focused training for the Chicago Marathon this past summer as I dealt with some of those personal lows in 2010. 
    • Exercise provides a natural positive boost. Endorphins....that right there says it all.   I can't always fit in a morning workout but when I do, I have a great start to my day!  I arrive at work knowing I have already accomplished something, I have an extra bounce to my step from the endorphins running through my blood, AND best of all, I have no obligation to workout looming over me after work.  I can just go home and relax for the evening.

    Of course, the first step of all is to make the decision to create a resolution.  So, start dreaming away....and keep in mind......no one ever regrets going for a run.