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On friends, pain and strength: Miami revisited

The good news is that I am starting to feel normal again. My legs are still sore from the half marathon, but I didn't groan when I got out of bed. Of course, shoveling that snow that fell overnight might be another story, but for now, toasty warm with my cup of morning coffee I no longer feel like an old lady.

This is recovery week and yesterday was a pool workout. I swam about 2,600 yards (at least I think did. I lost count during one of my sets) and felt pretty good. Today is an easy 45 minute spin on the bike. I don't even run again until Sunday.

But I think I might be signing up for next year's Miami half marathon. Sue, who was disappointed in her time, is determined to go back and conquer the course. I want to move past the pain and get that 2:05 that I really wanted. Both of us want to enjoy South Florida during January again.

Still, that line of thinking is getting a bit ahead of myself, because for me, recovery week is also process week. I get to take in all that happened and reflect.

First step: Unpack.

I left with two carry-on bags and returned with an overstuffed piece of checked luggage and two carry-ons. I knew on the return I would be bringing back more stuff. The majority of it is swag from the expo and a few things I purchased, like a race beach towel and a new running skirt.

Which brings me to my very exciting expo news: I won a free running skirt. If you've never been to a race expo think "Erie County Fair" buildings only with more free samples and everything health and running related. Nearly every booth has some sort of giveaway for you to sign up for (in order for them to put you on their direct mail or email list). I only participated in one, at Atlanta Athleticwear -- a woman-owned atheltic appearl company where I bought my new running skirt. I received an email saying I won a skirt from their catalogue. All I had to do was go to their website and email them which style and color I would like. I immediately fell in love with this company when I visited the page and noticed their tag line was "Does this skirt make my butt look fast?"

Aside from the swag, I'm remembering parts of the trip. This was my first long-distance trip for a race and my first time with this particular travel posse. I couldn't have asked for three better people to travel with. Granted, it took us until the end of the trip to reduce the time of divving up the restaurant bill to under five minutes, but we did eventually PR in that. While we all had different running backgrounds, different races and different goals, we all understood that the first part of this trip was all about the run. Sleep, rest and eating needs may be quirky but that was OK because we all wanted the entire group to do their best and enjoy the experience. I was the new person in the posse, but I felt included. I felt like I was with good friends, not new ones.

On to the actual running -- I couldn't help but look up my race results from the St. Catharines Run for the Grapes half marathon that I ran in September.

The numbers break down like this: In September I ran a 2:16.26 with an average pace of 10:24.

In Miami on Sunday I ran a 2:09.53 with an average pace of 9:54. And among all women runners at the event, I placed 1,456 out of 5,239. To me, that's pretty darn good.

On race morning, lined up in the corral waiting for the start, Sue and I were chatting. I can't even remember what we were discussing but she told me that I was a runner. Not in the well-duh way since I was lined up at a half marathon start, but in the deeper meaning way. I was a runner in my lifestyle, in my approach and in my soul.

To hear Sue, for whom I hold the deepest respect as an athlete and a person, deem me a runner made me feel somehow official. Like I had been baptised into my athletic persona.

That baptism felt a bit like fire between miles 8 and 9 as my quads started to get tight, to scream and eventually refuse to move any faster. There were plenty of times when I wondered about walking, when I questioned finishing, but the doubt was quickly replaced by positive thoughts.

At one point during the pain, I started to question whether I would be able to handl the 26.2 miles of the Buffalo marathon if I was struggling at Mile 9 of the half.

"NO!" I caught myself. "I am not running Buffalo today. No need to even think about it."

And like that, doubt be gone.

I realized that I can't eliminate the negative thoughts, the doubts, the second-guessing from coming into my brain. They are going to come. They are going to tell me what I can't do. They are going to try to scare me. They want me to be overcome with fear, anxiety and doubt.

Oh most surely, those gremlin thoughts will come.

How I choose to respond to them, though, is totally in my control.

When those thoughts came during the Miami race, I either let them slide from my mind without truly acknowledging them (because I know they're wrong) or I actively countered them with positive thoughts. I would tell myself that I could do this. I told myself I was strong. I made deals with myself that we would get to the next water stop, walk for 30 seconds to take some sips, then start up again. I would tell myself to just get to the next marker, then we'll see what happens. Once I got to that marker, it wasn't so bad and I was one step closer to the finish.

Why stop now?

Just keep going.

I wanted to kick it that last mile, but my legs said no. I pushed it anyway though that final stretch through the finishing chute. I felt like I wasn't moving at all, but I was wrong. I was moving pretty darn good that final mile. I may not have felt like I was finishing strong, but I was.

Sometimes your perception is skewed because you're in the thick of it. You're in the pain. You're battling those negative gremlin voices. You don't feel all that strong. You have no concept of pace or distance.

In that circumstance, you just keep moving forward.

Through all my training and racing, I'm learning how strong I really am.

The strength that came from Miami is knowing that I can quash the mental demons, that I can push through the pain.

That finishing strong is not about finishing pretty, or even feeling strong, but continuing to push forward in spite of those doubts.

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