I am not fast. Many people think that because I am an Ironman, that I am fast. My fastest marathon was a 4:47 and change, my fastest half 2:05:55, fastest 5k just a little over 27 minutes, fastest IM 14:11:something. I will probably never run the Boston Marathon or qualify for the Kona Ironman unless I am still running in my 70's or I somehow qualify as a special interest story. My "intervals" on the treadmill right now are slower than at least half of what my friends run at for an "ez" pace. I don't know how many times I have. asked people to run/ride/swim with me, only to be told "you are an Ironman, there is no way I could keep up with you!"
My lack of speed is something I have struggled with for a long time. I was fast at one time in my life. I think I was 6 or 7 years old. I could outrun most of the boys in my class and all but one girl. But that was only across the parking lot at recess. Short sprints and I was a short, spry, little girl at that time. As I got older and I grew taller, I seemed to become more awkward and I lost that speed. By highschool I was mediocre at best, it seemed the taller I got, the slower I also got. I struggled to keep up with almost all the girls during soccer practice, especially when we did the longer runs and conditioning. The only person that was slower than me was the goalie and she outweighed me by a good 50-60 lbs and made it very obvious to everyone that she chose to be the goalie so she wouldn't have to run as much.
Mostly it was my breathing that kept me from going faster, I would get to the point that I would have to slow down because I just couldn't breath, and the only way to get over this was to go slower. My coaches friends, etc said I was out of shape and I just needed to try harder, train more, and I would get faster. I, in turn got more frustrated with my lack of speed, despite training, and trying as hard as I could, and eventually I stopped playing soccer my senior year. I was so disappointed with my performance the first week of conditioning that I quit and decided there were other things I could do instead. I did go back to playing soccer but only intramurals while in college and then after college. But that lack of speed still plagued me. In my mid 20's more of my friends started running and training for 5k's, 10k's and even half marathons. They would ask me to join and for awhile I refused. In my mind I was slow, running was hard and I didn't want to do races just to remind me of this. I could do short sprints across the soccer field, but not much beyond that. I ran on my own to keep fit for the soccer leagues I was playing in, but I was very frustrated that I couldn't seem to get past the 2 mile mark without feeling like I was going to die. So to do a 5K? Nope, impossible, I couldn't do it.
I did finally relent and did the Komen 5k with a group of friends and I had to walk at least half of it. I tried to keep up with them for a bit, and as typical I faded and eventually had to stop and walk. Eventually one of my friends asked if I had ever checked my heart rate when running. Why would I do that? I remember thinking. And the concept of pace was born...up to that point I really had no concept of pace. Whenever I ran, it really was all out and I would quite literally run until I really couldn't anymore. When I finally checked my HR on one of those 2 mile runs, I was at my max heart rate most of the run. D'oh! And wouldn't you know it, when I slowed down and kept my heart rate lower I was able to run longer and it felt easier. So when the boy I mentioned in a prior blog asked me to try another 5k, I decided this time I could. My goal was to finish it without having to walk. And I did it. But it was still frustrating because I was so much slower than all of my friends at that time. Fortunately though, I kept at it, tried new things and kept pushing forward. I set goals for myself...for awhile it was just to beat 35 min for a 5k then 30min, etc. Little by little I was getting a smidge faster. And this helped me to build enough confidence to try out longer distances and other events.
The next spring I did another half marathon and did get to experience that wonderful feeling of finally crossing that finish-line. I continued to do more races and train for my first marathon. But I struggled with getting faster and trying to "PR" my half marathon time. My first was still my fastest. Several half marathons in I had another defining moment. I really wanted a PR this race and so I had tried to pick up the pace again. By mile 8 I was walking because I was wheezing. Frustrated, I started crying because I knew this wasn't going to be my PR race. The rest of the run was a combo of run/walking. I tried to pick up the pace again the last half mile. I was so short of breath by the time I finished that I actually thought about stopping at the med tent to ask if they had any oxygen. A fellow runner was chatting with me on the way out of the corrals and I couldn't do anything but nod because I was still very short of breath. It took me quite awhile to calm down my breathing and I was also having difficulty holding onto stuff and I kept dropping things. Fortunately I had come with my boyfriend at the time and he drove me home. I kept telling him I was fine, but I knew deep down that it wasn't. Shortly after this I went to the physician and unloaded about the race, my struggles with racing, speed, etc. She finally suggested I get tested for asthma. Asthma? This had never crossed my mind. Asthma is something that lands you in the hospital, can cause you to die. I had several cousins with asthma and they had to do breathing treatments, etc and couldn't exercise because of the asthma. But my physician suggested that it could be exercise induced and not full blown asthma and pushed me to get tested. So I went to a physician that specializes in Allergies and Asthma and got tested. He expected me to pass that regular testing and explained that when I did, they would send me on to do the additional testing to diagnose exercise induced asthma. Only I didn't pass the regular test, I was only functioning at about 80% and he had me do an albuterol treatment and retest. Diagnosis: Asthma. I was stunned. I went home with a script for two inhalers, a maintenance inhaler that was a steroid that I would do 2 puffs/2 x a day and a rescue inhaler, which my physician suggested I do prior to every aerobic workout. And a weird thing happened, my workouts started to feel a little easier, and I finally was able to do more without feeling so winded.
Through the years, I have obviously been able to conquer alot more than just a half marathon. I have now completed 4 IMs, 4 half IMs, 2 marathons, >25 half marathons and countless other races. I have also been able to successfully improve my asthma scores to the 99% range and am now down to 1 puff 2 x/day on my maintenance inhaler and I no longer need to do my rescue inhaler before every work out. I only use it now prior to a really intense workout or if I actually need it during a workout. My asthma doc has told me I am his favorite patient as I am one of the few success stories. He said what most don't realize is that by continuing to exercise, the asthma can actually get better, I am living proof of that. But, he said, most of his patient's use it as an excuse not to workout instead. I am hoping that one day he can use me to inspire more of his patient's but for now I am just happy that my lungs are improving and each time I go back we continue to monitor and change my medicines. I am by no means cured, and I hope that one day I can get off the meds entirely, but for now I will do what I can do.
Through the years I have also done additional testing for V02 max and HR zones. These tests have been very helpful in preparing me for the longer distance events. I am still slow, but I realized that I can go on for a long time. And I realized I am doing what is safe and what is right for my body. I still struggle with that, but I have to accept that I can only do what my body is capable of doing and these tests have helped to guide me to a much safer approach with my training. I am more accepting now of my body's speed limitations because I have been able to succeed in so many more events and races.
I am what I consider myself to be a middle or back of the packer. But I also see it as an opportunity to get my money's worth. We pay alot for these races...this way I get to spend ample time out on the course enjoying what I pay for these days! I also love it because it allows me to meet other runners. The newbies, especially hold a special spot in my heart. And I love that I can help them, motivate them, give advice, inspire. I think because I am slower, it gives others hope that they can do amazing things too. When I think about my heroes in the endurance world, it is not the leaders of the events but rather the common folk that inspire me. Sure, Chrissie Wellington, Crowie, Ryan Hall, Kara Goucher, etc are all amazing to watch. But they don't inspire me. To me they are gifted athletes that were born with a certain amount of talent, something I will never have. I can't even begin to comprehend what their world is like and although they are amazing athletes, they have never inspired me to do more. The ones that inspire me are the ones that have overcome huge obstacles to complete races: Jon Blais, Rudy Garcia Tolsen, Sarah Reinersten, Team Holt to name a few. Their stories are the ones that I love, that inspire, that bring me to tears, and make me want to do more myself. Each have overcome obstacles in their lives and accomplished amazing things. To me, these are the ones that inspire me to reach out of my comfort zone and try things that I never thought were possible. This past year especially, I have finally started to be at peace with my "slowness." For most of my life my biggest dream has been to inspire people. It wasn't until more recently that I realized that I don't need to be fast to inspire people( which is what I have always thought). In fact, quite the opposite, by being "slow" I think I have the means to inspire more people. I hope that by telling my story, my struggles, my successes, and my failures, that I can help more people to dream bigger, reach further, and be at peace with their "speed demons."