I ran a marathon, kind of…, and why this is a big deal for me

Today, I completed-ish one of my life goals: run a marathon.  I’m a little hesitant to post this because I don’t post about my runs.  I’ve had this goal for quite a long time, but I’ve failed at it, a lot…this is marathon attempt #4.  Though I’ll talk about running in person, I try not to post because I’ve realized there’s a prejudice out there against me.  I’m tall-ish.  I’m skinny.  I eat a lot of junk food.  Because of these three things, people assume that I must be athletic and fit.  They assume I can go out on the track and hammer out 4-5 miles.  They assume I can lift heavy things.  The truth is, before I started running, I was probably one of the biggest couch potatoes you could find.  I spent hours in front of screens: TV screens, computer screens, smartphone screens.  Sometimes a few of them at once, too.  I still can’t lift heavy things.

Growing up, I wasn’t the athletic one in the family; my brother and sister were the shining stars in this arena.  I played sports here and there, but coaches put me out there for sympathy, not for competitive advantage.  I ran one season of track in 8th grade, and didn’t like it…why would anyone want to run around in circles? *Also why I never lasted at soccer or basketball.  In high school, I thought the cross country guys were nuts.  I tried out for the volleyball team, but didn’t make the cut.  Aside from hiking, I didn’t get much exercise (read: had a LOT of screen time) until college, when I ran a few days a week for about three months.  I biked the three or so miles to and from campus, and played a few seasons on IM teams.  Nothing big.  When I moved to Seattle, aside from walks with Alissa, I stopped exercising altogether.  There was this one time, while on our walks, that I ran one loop around a high school track.  I felt so nauseous, I put my head between my knees and nearly lost my dinner.

Zoom forward to 2009.  We purchased a house, and there was a track at a nearby school.  My boss had just finished his first marathon, and a coworker was also interested in running with me.  I headed out to the track and told myself I’d run one mile.  The effect, unfortunately, wasn’t much different than the last time I was on a track.  I felt exhausted.  I slogged home, crashed on the couch, and ate probably a 1500 calorie meal that evening (to compensate for all those calories burned, which I now know was about 100).

From there my running went in ups and downs…I’d exercise a few days one week, take the next month off, and on and on.  It was never easy.  I joined Bike to Work challenges in May, and, like running, would have to cajole myself into putting in the effort.  I’d set my gear out the night before, everything in order, set my alarm across the room, and even then, every exercise day was an exercise in willpower.  Even today, I LOVE my rest days.  So when you look at someone who’s tall, skinny, and seemingly fit…they may be healthy, or they may be just like I was!

Once I finally was able to will myself into running a few days every so often, I started setting my sights on 5k’s, halfs, and then the golden calf: the marathon.  I had numerous injuries over this time, some for a few days, some for a few months.  In addition to running injuries, in these five years (though not linked to running, but to show how out of shape I was), I developed two hernias, one which had to be repaired twice (which, by the way, I am pretty sure was first developed trying to lift my new treadmill into the house…the treadmill which I ran about 15 miles on until I sold it on Craigslist).  All of these injuries, over this time, led to failed marathon attempts #1, #2, and #3.

Last August, I signed up for a training plan my boss raved about.  I told myself, no matter what, I was going to stick to it.  Despite hernia #2, fix #3, leading to failed marathon attempt #3 (ran the half instead), I stuck to the plan before and after, and made solid gains.  Through all the injuries over the years, I figured out the ins and outs of running, such as:

  • Getting the right pair of shoes, even if expensive, and changing them every 400-500 miles
  • Stretching
  • Sleeping
  • Hydrating
  • Fueling before and during the run
  • Recovering
  • Running with a partner
  • Wearing the right gear (I never understood why runners loathed cotton)
  • Drills
  • Running different paces different days
  • Not over-doing it: running so I could complete the next scheduled run, too

I finally started calling myself a runner when I realized that I enjoyed running half marathons.  It was something that had seemed so impossible (and crazy) for so long, and here I was running them for training every few weeks.

Speed forward to today.  The funny thing about marathon training is that you run up to 20-22 miles as a long run weeks before the actual marathon.  This, to me, sounds stupid.  If I’m going to run 22 miles, I might as well push the measly 4.2 remaining and call it a marathon.  I know there’s a reason for not pushing it and stopping at 22, such as avoiding injury, having a better race, as my surgeon put it, not “wanting to jab your eyes out with a fork” for those last four miles…but hey, since it’s not a race, I could stop at 22.5, 23, 24, etc.  No need to push it if my legs really start screaming.

Up until a few weeks ago, when I pushed my run to 20 miles, 16 miles was my tops.  16 had always been my fated mileage…it was where my first marathon training gave way to an injury that sidelined me for a few months, and in the next two marathon training bouts, I never made it to 16.  My biggest fear, in training, has always been that I’d spend six months working my way up to get ready for the marathon, and then something would go wrong near/on race day – some injury the week before, not fueling correctly, freak weather event such as torrential rain or heat wave – something that would prevent me from running the marathon and then…forget it.  I always told myself that if I got within striking distance of the marathon in training, I’d do it.

Today was that day.  It looked like it was going to be hot and sunny.  I was ready to test out sunscreen (I loathe sunscreen, but figured I had to do at least one run in it, in case of full sun on race day).  Just before setting out, the clouds rolled in, and it looked perfect.  I set out with my hydration belt (three 8 oz. bottles of water) and four Gu’s.  I had run 13 miles on Tuesday, and 7 on Thursday, which didn’t go badly, but weren’t great…my legs seemed tired.  Today, though, they were holding steady.

What was unfortunate was that I forgot to charge my Garmin, which I ALWAYS run with…it keeps me on track for distance, time, general sanity…so I was only with my phone.  I set the Endomondo running coach to bark my pace every four miles, when I need to fuel.  (In retrospect, this may have been a key of my success, as I didn’t hear the mile-by-mile beep).  Everything went smoothly through mile 19ish.  I was able to plan out water-refills at local parks, and made use of the Y’s water faucet for the first time.  I called Alissa and asked she meet me at a park with a jelly sandwich, as I was all out of gel.  I figured I’d decide there, around mile 22, whether to call it a day or push for it.  Despite some freak thunderstorm and a few bouts of rain leading up to this point, I knew I had to at least try to give it a go.

The last four miles weren’t great, but they weren’t stabbing-fork-in-eye, either.  The thunderstorms held at bay, and the sun came out a bit.  My splits slid well past the 10 minute mark as I had to stop for traffic lights (not that I was complaining about that!) and I broke down and walked for a few paces here and there.  I understand why it’s called a mental game for those last few miles.


As soon as I made it home, I jumped into a cold bath (not yet an ice bath person yet…the cold water is plenty!) and took two Aleve.  I’m not one for medication, but they helped a TON after a recent long run.  Right now, my legs still feel pretty warm, especially both Achilles tendons, which worries me.  I emailed Runcoach to see what my options are from here on out for recovery and training for my marathon, as the race I’m actually training for isn’t for another month.


For this first-ish marathon, I have no photos, no finisher’s medal, no certification other than my phone’s GPS log.  And I’m okay with that, I think.  Unlike a half marathon, where if I get close in my training runs, I’ll push for the 13.1, I don’t think I’ll run a marathon distance in training ever again.  I simply wanted to know I could do it…even if something goes terribly wrong on race day, it won’t really matter, because I’ll know, deep down, I have already gone the distance.  Today, in the bigger picture, was about hitting that goal, to show that person who nearly died running one lap around the track, who sat in front of screens for years of his life, who always wanted to do something but always had difficulty pushing himself to do it, that it COULD be done.

Running a marathon (read: training to run a marathon) has changed me in two key ways.  First, it’s changed my thinking to know that I CAN do whatever I want.  Things don’t seem impossible any more…it’s only a factor of time and stick-with-it-ness.  Second, it’s made me even more grateful for what I do have, especially my wife and kids, who support me both in spirit, including on my down days, and in giving me the time to do this training.

Running has been and continues to be something I struggle with.  I enjoy it much more now at my current level of fitness, but even this morning, it took a fair amount of self-cajoling to get myself out of the house (just think if I decided to stay home!)

In the spirit of Haute Chocolate Runner, What goals do you strive for?


An unexpected lesson

“Life is wonderful…a lovely family, great job…I can only count my blessings.”  These were the words I sent to a good friend who inquired how I was doing.  Despite how good my life was at that moment, however, my mind was set on adding that I felt miserable.  But why?  Everything in my life was, at that point, undeniably picture perfect.

That evening, through a friend’s post, I learned of Kaden, who, at that moment, was being called back to God.  This poor, sweet boy…as I scrolled through his mother’s tweets, past each update, every picture, I cried for Kaden, for @dianawrote, for her daughter and for her husband.


These past few years, I read books and blogs, watched TED talks, searched the internet, and asked others about happiness, trying to figure out how to cultivate more of it in my life.  I’m not going to lie – I do feel happier than I did a few years ago.  I feel more balanced, more appreciative, and I’m more loving to my family.  That said, I still have a long way to go.  I get annoyed at simple things, berate myself in daily actions, and consistently fail to recognize how blessed my life really is.

Reading about that little boy struck a chord deep within me.  I’m not sure exactly what this means or what will result, but I feel like I’m being told that I’ve been going about this happiness thing all wrong.  I feel I am being called to do something – to open my eyes to the struggles of those outside my limited worldview, to reach out and be a servant to others.

A sunny afternoon in Jean’s studio

Jean's WorkspaceI am currently spending a lovely afternoon with my former coworker and dear friend, Jean.  After retiring last year, painting now fills most of her days.  Her studio, once two lamps, an empty workspace, and a lone quote of inspiration on the wall is now overflowing with creativity.  The sunlight warms the space as the children play in the cul-de-sac, gleefully shrieking through their spring break.

I’m not sure where to go with this post, other than to say how invigorating it is to spend time with someone who is truly in love with their work.  Seeing what she has done over the past seven months makes me giddy with excitement…  And I think I’ll leave it at that.

This photo is of her studio during a painting session; though she cleans it to “start again standards” (read: immaculate) at the end of each day, I love the mess of the artist at work.  (Turns out collage days are messier – stay tuned for a future post).

Check out Jean’s work at http://jeanfwagner.blogspot.com.  And tell her to make more children’s art.

First World Problems and Blogging

As an aspiring blogger, there is part of my mind that every now and then thinks, “This would make a great post…I should write about this.”  This blogger-intuition has been ever more active these past few weeks after I gave up Facebook and Twitter for Lent.  Blogs, in my mind apparently, are a higher form of communication and therefore exempt from social media sacrifice.  This being said, I recognize that it’s easy to get caught up in the blogosphere, reading about this, that, and the other, and that there is plenty out there that, although fun to read, really is high-calorie, low-nutrition stuff.  There’s a time and a place for this, of course (I certainly read my fair share).

A few months before my social media sabbatical, I saw a movie going viral on Facebook about First World Problems.  It got to me.  Right then, I told myself that I would never again post about a first world problem.

What I’ve found interesting over these past few weeks is that nearly every time I get an idea or an inkling to post, they all boil down to first world problems (this post is no exception).  It’s made me more grateful, limiting myself in this way, pushing me to reflect on what I do have and if my problem is really a problem to complain about.

On the other hand, I see the internet and the blogosphere as our place to write whatever we feel, to make connections, to share in each others’ pain.  Whilst more grateful for my blessings, there is an equivalent sadness in, essentially, “bottling up” those frustrations.  Perhaps this is only a feeling for those like me who connect with others on this level primarily through social media.

Either way, there is a balance to be struck here – to hold myself to the goal of limiting personal vomitus without feeling like I’ve cut myself off from the world.  I am obviously still figuring this out.

Have you ever deleted a post for a reason such as this?  How do you find that balance?

How do you show love?

Chocolate pot and ice cream for my wife this evening.

Chocolate pot and ice cream for Alissa.

This morning we drove to church in separate cars…nothing bad, just scheduling-wise, I had a prior commitment to attend after mass.  As I followed my wife and family down the freeway, I thought about how the three people in the world I most care about were in that tin can of a vehicle going 60 miles an hour ahead of me.  Despite that this completely vindicated my misgivings in purchasing a new-ish minivan with all the safety features, there is always that accompanying sense of worry when separated…the, “What if something happened to one of us?” that I never want to think about but is always lurking in the back of my mind.

At that moment, I wondered if my family knew I loved them.  I mean, I know they know this, but what examples would they cite?  That I do the dishes every now and again?  That I go to work every day?  That I sometimes bring home dinner?  What would my two-and-a-half year-old daughter say?  What would my wife say?

It seems easy to fall into the trap thinking that I’m doing something well until a reflection like this puts it back into focus.  Though I felt I was doing a fair job at being a good husband by doing all the routine things — being present with the kids, helping clean around the house, etc. — without conscious, purposeful actions, what I think I am communicating may not be what’s being received.

So I ask you this:  How do you make your love for others absolutely clear?  This could be rhetorical, or feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments as this is an area where I obviously have more work to do.

We need a new blog title

To our small handful of ardent followers (hi, Aunt Arline!), thank you for continuing to check our site for over a year.   Hopefully you’ve been following our Flickr site in the interim, as Alissa’s been doing a fantastic job keeping the never-ending photostream organized and up to date.

As you may have noticed, a ton of posts were added today…Alissa and I had a one-year project blog solely focused on living a better story, and upon that blog’s retiring, those posts are now incorporated here.

A year ago we were a family of three, now we are four, so a new blog title is in order.  Nothing’s coming to mind right now…any suggestions?

Of course, here’s the obligatory cute-kids photo.  Happy early morning!

How a second child is born

You may remember that when Emmarie was born, I wrote a post detailing the birth, as I knew at the time that I wouldn’t remember much of anything about it.  It has amazed me how much “parental amnesia” I’ve had since then, forgetting nearly all of the sleepless nights, the ups and the downs of Emmarie’s early years.  So it’s only fitting that I write a post about how Micah came into this world.  It’s going to be shorter – first, because this was the second time and there’s a lot of similarities that don’t need to be repeated, but second, because it it simply was a shorter birth, as you’ll soon see.

Today’s news: 2nd ultrasound estimates he’s at 8 lbs. 14 oz….yikes!  8:43 PM – 25 Sep 12

We were about a week out from the due date and Alissa was ready to have this baby boy out.  We had an ultrasound a few days prior to ensure the baby was going to be able to make his way out (E came early, and was much bigger than expected).  I think both of us were hoping the ultrasound would show that he was really quite big and we’d have to go right into induced labor.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  The ultrasound technician did say that he was a bit on the heavier side…all measurements were normal, except his abdomen was a larger, causing the weight to skew heavy.  (We were okay with this – as long as the head was relatively normal, the rest is easy).   He (the technician) doubted these results, but we found they were pretty much on the mark.

Still no idea when the arrival will be…due date Oct. 6, but based on E’s timeline, we would have been at the hospital by now.  8:43 PM – 25 Sep 12

Word from the doc yesterday is either we schedule C-Section or we wait. So, we wait. And make lasagna.  2:30 PM – 29 Sep 12

So by the time a week out rolled around, we were both hoping this baby would arrive.  We passed the mark when Emmarie was born (“if this were Emmarie’s birth, you were in labor at this point” — in hindsight, probably not the best things to reflect on when you simply want to be done).  I was also feeling the pressure of work, as if the baby did go to his due date, I would be out for three weeks, then returning to go straight into conference week- not exactly my cup of tea.  But I had a plan – lasagna.

Making lasagne tonight. You may remember we ate homemade lasagna the night Alissa’s water broke for E. Coincidence? Time to test the theory.  2:32 PM – 29 Sep 12

If you remember from Emmarie’s birth, she came a week early.  The night Alissa’s waters broke, I had made her lasagna.  I don’t know why exactly we blamed the birth on the lasagna, but it seemed fitting.  So, I decided to make lasagna again.  We invited Alissa’s parents over for a tongue-in-cheek, “Oh ho ho, it worked last time, so of course it would work this time” lasagna dinner.  (In truth, though we were hopeful, we realized it was a pretty superstitious and silly thing to do, but it gave us a bit of humor going into the final week).

Alissa just woke me to say her water broke. On phone to advice nurse. THE LASAGNA WORKS AGAIN! The odds of this happening twice are 1/144!  12:34 AM – 30 Sep 12

Now I don’t know what it was about that lasagna–there is no secret recipe, just the one off the box–but sure enough, I’m wakened from a sleepy stupor to hear Alissa say, “Mark, it worked!”  I believe I replied with something like, “Are you kidding me??”  You have to agree, this seems pretty coincidental, if not causally related.  Not that we’ve decided whether we’re going to go for a third, but I would LOVE to test this hypothesis just one more time.

Alissa’s parents are on their way…heading to the hospital shortly. WE’RE HAVING A BABY BOY!!  1:21 AM – 30 Sep 12

As we had been through this once before, we knew there was no real rush to get to the hospital.  I don’t remember the exact statistic, but it’s something like only one in ten women have their “bags of waters” break before arriving at the hospital – most of the labor is done at home, then finished at the hospital.  This was why, when E was born, we were at the hospital so long before she was out – all the labor was done at the hospital.  Needless to say, we weren’t frantically hurried like we were the first go around.  We called Alissa’s parents, who were also in disbelief, and soon after they arrived, we headed to the hospital.

Admitted and having regular contractions about three mins. apart. IV is in after three attempts…phew!  3:56 AM – 30 Sep 12

For those who don’t know Alissa very well, she doesn’t like needles much.  As in, she doesn’ t like needles at all.  This caused a bit of trouble with Emmarie, as during the pitocin-induced labor, the IV infiltrated, and since it took three attempts to get it back in, we had to restart at square one with the pitocin administration.  There were two strokes of good luck with Micah – 1. Despite that it again took three tries to get the IV placed, the IV never needed to be replaced after that, and 2. Alissa was having regular contractions, so a pitocin drip was not needed.

After wheeling Alissa into the room (there are only so many times you get to ride around the maternity ward in a bed, so why not?), we settled in and prepared for what we hoped would be a straightforward labor.

You’re probably wondering how Alissa is doing…she’s managing the pain well…counting to four about a hundred times now.  4:17 AM – 30 Sep 12

Alissa’s having regular contractions and resting in between, but it looks like this labor may be as long as E’s. Good news, no inducing.  6:15 AM – 30 Sep 12

Doing much better now…50 mg. fentanyl administered and the contractions have slowed a bit. Resting in between contractions.  6:20 AM – 30 Sep 12

On the exercise ball now. Some fog rolling in as sunrise approaches. A’s managing the pain well. New set of nurses for the day shift.  7:17 AM – 30 Sep 12

Within the first few hours, we were pretty sure this boy would take forever to come out.  Around 4am, there was practically no dilation, but by the morning, the boy was showing a fair amount of progress.  During this time, we utilized many of the techniques learned at birthing class, breath counting, hee-hee-hee-whoooo breathing, water, ice chips, rotating from side to side, some “doula hula” – the name just makes me smile, and the exercise ball.  One thing we weren’t able to do this time that I quite enjoyed during E’s labor was being able to walk the halls.  Providence only has a small number of telemetry (wireless) units…if I ever win the lottery (if I ever play the lottery), they’re getting a telemetry unit for every room.

After some touch-and-go contractions, she made it to 6 cm. – what a strong woman! Epidural placed and now we can rest…downhill from here.  9:16 AM – 30 Sep 12

Thus far, it probably sounds to you like this labor was a walk in the park for Alissa.  Some breathing exercises, doula hula, bouncing on a ball…fun, right?  I should note that she was in quite a bit of pain during these.  At our birthing refresher class, the nurse had the moms try holding onto an ice cube for a few minutes, first with the breathing/focusing exercises, and then without them.  The former – tolerable, while the latter – unbearable.  To say Alissa was not in much pain would be quite the understatement, but she did such a good job at holding herself together, focusing on getting that baby boy out so we could finally meet him.

Alissa and I had discussed how we didn’t want to go the epidural route right away – once it’s placed, you’re stuck in bed (your lower half is temporarily paralyzed), and there’s a possibility it could slow the birth.  We were crossing our fingers that there wouldn’t be a need for a c-section, as recovery from that would be more complicated.  (After having my simple hernia surgery the summer previous, I knew I didn’t want her to have to have incisions if there was any way we could avoid it).  Sure enough, Alissa made it to six centimeters, and we soon ordered the epidural to be administered/placed.

I don’t remember exactly when the doctor arrived, but with each measurement from here on, Micah was determined to get out.  When the doctor said she’d be working on paperwork down the hall, we knew we weren’t going to have to wait much longer.

A similar scene shift occurred, as it had during Emmarie’s birthing:  Alissa’s legs were put up, the bed “broken,” the kangaroo unit wheeled in, the doctor getting into sterile “I might get blood splattered all over me” clothes, preparing her tools…all very surreal thinking back to it, so routine yet so special – something big was about to happen.

Micah James BORN!  11:09 AM – 30 Sep 12

When Alissa began pushing, Micah’s head was soon apparent, though it didn’t look much like a head…more like folds and folds of skin.  I remember asking the doctor if that really was  a head or not, but sure enough, it was.  After a paltry three rounds of pushing (one round per contraction), Micah was out, crying, and placed on Alissa’s chest.  Seeing this baby boy come out, I felt a rush of emotion – the relief at being done, that he’s alive and safe, at the simple miracle of birth – this gift of a human given to us.  It really is quite a gift – they come out as full human beings – no assembly required.  As we consistently say with Emmarie, it’s as if we don’t know where she came from – she just appeared, perfect and whole, and now Micah as well.

I cut the cord and he was off to be measured, weighed, poked, and prodded, but all tests showed normal functioning – a sigh of relief.  He was a BIG boy – bigger than his sister, but he felt so small as we were well used to carrying a toddler around.

Emmarie, grandma and grandpa came by later that afternoon, Emmarie overjoyed to meet her baby brother.  She was a bit tentative at first, unfamiliar with the hospital setting, but soon warmed up and just wanted to hold “Baby Micah.”  Micah gave Emmarie a doll, which she named, “Pinky,” and a “Big Sister” t-shirt, which she has already outgrown but still tries to wear.

That evening, a similar scene – the baby swaddled tightly, sleeping in the plastic bassinet next to Alissa, the quiet of the machines no longer beeping with pulse rates and contractions, the soft glow of the computer monitor giving just enough light to see around the room.

We felt much more confident about our parenting abilities this time, and were ready to leave the following day soon after lunch.  We completed the exit paperwork, Doug helped us walk him out, and we headed on home.


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