Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Revel Rockies Marathon--Colorado. Comeback Complete.





Revel Rockies Marathon--Colorado
Reflecting on the journey. I had already fought and trained my
way back to the top. It was time to fight my way down
the Rockies.
Three years, three months, and two weeks. That's how long it had been since I ran a sub four hour marathon in a new state. Since my last sub four marathon my life has changed drastically. I sold a house. Bought a new house. Left Peachtree Ridge High School to build another cross country program. Had surgery for a tumor. Discovered I had cancer. Overcame the largest setback of my life. My life has changed drastically since I ran the Ocean Drive Marathon in New Jersey in March of 2012. Since my last sub four hour state--New Jersey I had been unsuccessful in Nebraska by a few seconds of hitting a sub four hour marathon, a DNF in Colorado with a wrong turn, and three minutes short of a sub four hour marathon in South Dakota at Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon. Unknowingly, I was very sick and did not know why my body was working against me. Getting the answers did not make things easier. Getting the news I had a large tumor that looks like cancer on an MRI was one of the most frightening moments of my life.

Needless to say, this comeback marathon in the Rocky Mountains meant a lot to me. I wanted to return with a Boston qualifying time and pick up right where I left off before I started getting really sick in 2012. I wanted a BQ to feel like just another marathon as it did in 2011. However, my body had been through Hell and my ferritin level is still drastically low. It was a long road back to the starting line with 90-100 mile training weeks with low ferritin. This is my last workout before the marathon:



When in Colorado, drive a big, red truck!
After driving the course (in my big red rental truck) I knew that the tangents would be a problem. The race has a lot of corkscrew hills with steep declines the first 5k and last 5k. There are two hills at mile 12 and a long hill at mile 14.

I started out running 7:11 pace with the 3:15 pace group for the first half of the marathon but because of the tangents we were averaging 7:25s based on the mile markers. If I had been running 7:25s I would have been okay. We were .2 off at the half meaning my strategy to hit the tangents did not work running in a pack with the 3:15 pace group. I let the 3:15 pace group go as we hit a long hill at mile 14 and decided to slow down while focusing more on hitting the tangents.

The second half of the marathon I struggled. I could feel my chest tightening and my legs felt really weak by mile 20. The last six miles I forced my legs to move but they were finished. My quads felt worse with each step. The mental battle began. I knew a 7:11 pace was too fast for where I am right now even though it was only about 15 seconds faster per mile than I had planned for the first half of the race. The last three miles had a sharp decline to the finish. I could feel my legs getting weak and unsteady. When I hit the last .2 of the marathon my legs just completely gave out. I finished. I collapsed. The last 10k was harder than I imagined.

Mile 11.5 (7:11 pace but 7:25s by the mile markers)
I never let myself get emotional during my training, the days leading up to the race or even during the race. When I crossed the finish line after winning the mental struggle the last 10k-reality hit me of what I had been through the last several years. The memories came back to me at the finish line as I remembered when I started feeling really sick in 2012, when I began and continued to struggle through 2014 to run sub four hour marathons, and the humbling moments after surgery. I had doubt I would ever make it back to Boston. I missed the 2012 Boston after registering for it. I was just too sick to run Boston after qualifying seven times in 2011. When I realized what I had accomplished after everything I had been through, the emotion was overwhelming. I had been keeping my emotions in check the entire race. At the finish line,  I had nothing left. Physically, I had gone out at a suicide pace for me (7:11s at 10k feet) and ran closer to 27 miles at elevation because of not hitting all the tangents. Mentally, I had fought through pain the last 10k. Emotionally, I allowed myself to take in everything I had been through once I crossed the finish line. I was spent--physically, mentally and emotionally spent. I finished in 3:34 which is my third fastest marathon behind San Francisco and North Central Trail in Baltimore, Maryland.


Thank you to my friend who is like an older brother to me--Ed for coming along to capture the comeback on video. Ed is one of the most respected PR and media professionals in Atlanta. I'm fortunate to have a friend with his impressive resume documenting my comeback journey.


My oxygen level was at an 83% so I not only earned a medal but an oxygen tank. As soon as I was cleared to travel I boarded a plane to take my cross country team to the beach for a week. And so that's how it goes. We must be intrepid and carry on. We must also embrace the journey regardless of where it takes us because in the end it was the journey that made me strong enough to fight the last 10k. As my coach text me the night before my marathon, "Nothing will be as hard as the journey."
Getting some oxygen before my return
flight back to the ATL.

Message from my coach the night before my race.
The journey made me strong!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I am not obsessed with running...okay maybe a little obsessed

"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." -- Bill Gates


It may seem like my entire life revolves around running or perhaps that I don't really have a life outside of running at all. Most would be surprised to know that running is just one small aspect of my life but the one I enjoying sharing with others the most. I am very private about a lot of things but running is not one of them. I want people to know where I come from with sharing on this blog, my constant social media updates with inspirational running post, running pictures and running videos. Here is the Cliff Notes version....



For two years I traded in racing bibs for hospital wrist bands. It was two years of MRIs, blood test, ultrasounds and doctor's visits. I didn't give up on my running goals or my dreams but my body temporarily gave up on me. I pushed through 67 marathons with low ferritin for years, I struggled with the occasional running tweaks from plantar issues to uncooperative IT Bands, I balanced multiple jobs with my training while earning three degrees with little to no energy. These are things we can balance in our lives and overcome. However, sometimes life hits us so hard we have no choice but to take a step back. That is precisely what happened to me from 2012-2014. Unknowingly I had a fast growing tumor and cancer simultaneously.

During those moments over the last couple of years when I was uncertain if I faced death, chemo, or never running again I never questioned God. I never lost my faith. Did I miss running? You bet I did. I was a little lost to be honest. For years, I never trained for marathons because I never had the energy to do it right. Instead, I opted for a fun approach to the sport and set goals that seemed attainable for my ability and health issues. I missed the fun races, the friends I had met during my 50sub4 journey around the US and the traveling through runcations. Surgery not only saved my life but it gave me a chance to be able to not only run but to train harder and more efficiently. It also made me stronger mentally.

Age group award at the Braves Country 5k
When I toe the line at races, I think to myself no one has been through what I've been through. Maybe something else but not exactly what I went through. I never want to forget certain things about the last couple of years...like the time I tried to get out of bed and fell head first into a huge pile of pillows on the floor next to my bed. I  just decided to sleep on the floor because getting up seemed too painful.  That was only six months ago. I have willed myself to get in shape, to race again with a very humble start (my first 5k back was slower than my marathon pace) yet to not loose sight of lofty goals in the process of humble beginnings.  The way I see it, if I can keep the humbleness and humility of that woman who fell head first onto the floor into those pillows and ran that dreadful 5k back in February, the athlete who through determination alone willed herself to win four age group awards in the last two months and set two personal best times, and the Christian who never lost faith in God but that feels His presence with each rainbow that appears during her workout, with each sunbeam that shines down on her and with each sunset she sees on her evening runs then the best is truly yet to come. Success takes all of those things: humbleness and humility, determination and faith.


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light and not our darkness that most frighten us.  We ask ourselves, who am I to be great, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be? Nelson Mandela once said, Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others will not feel small around you. We are all meant to shine. We were born to manifest the glory of God within us; it's in everyone. As we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears our presence automatically liberates others. 
This my friends, is why I share my passion of running and why I coach- to inspire, to encourage, to liberate others from their fears and to teach that humble beginnings can have happy endings.

Hope you enjoyed the Cliff Notes and here is my latest workout video:



Shannon

Friday, June 19, 2015

The 37th Possum Trot 10k In Preperation For 26.2 In Colorado

There were a couple of goals for this Atlanta tradition--The Possum Trot 10k which takes place in the beautiful Chattahoochee Nature Reserve in Roswell, Georgia. I am racing through these shorter distances to prepare my body for 26.2 in Colorado. I "tapered" the day before the race with a 15 mile run. Needless to say, I am training through these shorter races as they are a means to accomplish a marathon goal. I went into this 10k with tired legs that put in 90 miles the week prior to this 10k which has been an Atlanta tradition for 37 years.  I had two goals going into the race: (1) to get my personal best time in the 10k which is still nothing to write home about  and (2) to make the said goal happen over the last three miles with a fast finish. I have been training to finish faster in my races. I am happy to report I got everything I wanted out of this race. With that said, I would have loved to have chased down a few more ponytails but with the two hills the last mile and the humidity taking a toll on my body, it didn't happen. I finished top ten overall which with all things considering (my weekly mileage and that my target training is for 26.2) I will take those results and move forward.  I did manage to win my third age group award post surgery.

Looking ahead to 26.2 in Colorado in July, I would say I am getting close to being able to race a Boston qualifying time again. I had seven Boston qualifying times in 2011 before my health went downhill in 2012. My body knows this Boston qualifying pace as my average pace in 2011 when I ran 24 marathons was only three minutes over the Boston qualifying time. I was registered for the 2012 Boston Marathon but could not run it due to my health. It would be great to return to racing 26.2 with a BQ! The reality is that I am only seven months out from my surgery which took a toll on my body and only a few months into marathon training. My doctor said it would be a complete year until my body was fully recovered. My ferritin levels have increased from a four to a ten. Although I am excited to see double digits for the first time since 2009,  a ten is not close to where I need my ferritin to be for training. To get my iron stores which is stored in bone marrow in the normal range, I am taking iron supplements.

You can watch the race highlights here:




Below is a video of my Workout Wednesday after the 10k on Sunday. The workout started with a seven mile warm-up. I completed five mile repeats. I hit pace on the first four and was 10 seconds slow on the fifth. The goal was to do three and keep going as long as I could hit my target pace.  It was 94 degrees the evening of the workout. I am satisfied I held onto pace for four of the five miles. Summer training in Hotlanta is a challenge when targeting a specific pace!





Thursday, June 11, 2015

Marathon Training: "Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better."


"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." -- Arthur Ashe


An inside look into a few of my workouts as I prepare to return to 26.2 post surgery. 







Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It's Not About Where You Are, But Where You Are Going On Your Journey

It is the end of the school year which is always a time of reflection for me personally and professionally. Our new principal--Mr Young asked us to reflect on three things as a teacher, a coach and as a school (Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going?) at the beginning of the school year.  After all it is about the journey in most everything we do, right?  I now apply this approach to goals in my personal life.  Here is a little insight into my life, a decade of running with a tumor, the year I discovered I had cancer, and where I stand with my 50sub4 journey.

I hope you don't suffer but take the pain. Hope when that moment comes you will say---I swear I lived!


Where I've Been
First of all, it feels great to back to running and blogging about my journey. After a three year hiatus I am finally back into training mode with a marathon on the schedule for 50sub4 in Colorado. I still have nine sub four hour states remaining. I don't want to play the victim but I get asked often about what exactly happened last fall. It was the day before the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th, my doctor sent me to get an ultrasound.  A few days later I was told I had a large tumor.  All fall I did not have the energy to get through the day.  I got called into the principal's office one afternoon.  Just like most students who are in trouble--I knew where this was going.  My athletic director and assistant principal told me to proceed with the surgery now. Why? A recent MRI had shown an abnormal tumor which would not allow me to have a non-invasive surgery. It looked like cancer to each doctor who read the MRI and report. I finished out the cross country season not knowing for an entire month if I was dying or had a long road of chemo ahead of me. I put my heart and soul into coaching last fall. The team finished 5th in 5A which is the best finish for FCHS in our 59 years of existence. We also won our first region championship. The week after the state championship I was scheduled for surgery.
FCHS--Region Champs & 5th At The State Championship

The last thing I remember Dr. Allen saying to me before the anesthesia kicked in and I fell asleep, "Enough is enough. Let's get this tumor so you can get back to running." The surgery went perfect. Dr. Allen called in a second surgeon to do an impromptu surgery on my large intestine as there was reason for concern. The only news we received in the hospital--the tumor was part calcified and also in a state of rapid growth. It took a week for the pathologist to send the final outcome to Dr. Allen. The phone rang. Dr. Allen had finally called to tell me the direction of my life. The tumor was benign! I gave my mom the thumbs up with a smile of relief. She fell to her knees sobbing and giving all thanks to God for our answered prayers. Dr. Allen went on to reveal details which changed the way I look at everything in life from that moment forward. The pathologist found cancer in my uterus. It took Atlanta's top three pathologist to give me the all clear which explains why I had to wait so long for the results. They determined they had clear margins on the cancer I never would have known I had if not for the tumor.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sometimes It's Okay TO Look Back (An excerpt from what I wrote last year) As Our Team Approached The Region Championship

In May of 2013, I found myself sitting in the parking lot at Forsyth Central High School going into a job interview I had not foreseen coming the previous week. Upon parking my car I had a sense of peace and calmness I can’t yet explain as I walked into the front office at Central. I whispered to myself, “This is where God wants me right now.”  Everything inside this high school looked so different than “The Ridge” the name given to a modern, large, and very successful high school established in 2004 in prestigious Suwanee, GA which is known for success in academics and sports. FCHS was much older—established in the 1950s. “God loves humility and humbleness echoed in the back of my mind." There was no wall to wall cherry trophy case that read "The Standard of Excellence" filled with annual state championship trophies. There were no flat screen televisions displayed around the school playing the sport’s highlights and success along with announcements of the week. I did not really care to take a tour of the rest of the campus which is a rather large-two buildings connected across a large field that makes this 5A high school seem more like a college campus. It felt right and that was all that mattered. I was not moving out of my comfort zone because of a building. I was more interested in what went on inside of the building or in this case--campus.  I knew this was where I was called to be. This was not about what was easiest or best for me.  After the interview I felt confident this is where God wanted me to be. A few days later, I got an email followed by a job offer. After building a cross country program and learning from the standard of excellence for nearly a decade, God had called me to Forsyth Central. I had no idea why…

Our Home Meet At FCHS at Mary Alice Park On Lake Lanier
I recall my last luncheon at PRHS. I fought back tears through most of Dr. Tashlein’s speech. I was leaving behind a special place with a lot of cross country and teaching memories. I had poured my heart and soul into building this running program from the ground up beginning in 2005. PRHS was the longest chapter of my life—longer than my high school days, college days (even with my two consecutive degrees from University of Kentucky) and my traveling days in Spain, Mexico and Sydney, Australia. A huge chapter of my life was coming to an end. It was a chapter that molded me into a cross country coach and a teacher but more importantly where I found God’s calling and purpose for me.
Onto Central…

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Preparing For Surgery Is Like Training For A Marathon

When I discovered I had a four inch tumor (the size of an orange) living inside my body I was in shock. This meant surgery. I have never had surgery before and really thought I had escaped the C-section and labor pains most women go through to deliver a beautiful baby. I would get to deliver a tumor and experience surgery. Just great! I wanted this tumor out of my body now. It has caused low iron, fatigue and made racing 26.2 even more challenging then it already is.

I immediately asked my doctor when I should schedule this surgery. He mentioned it was slow growing and I had been living with the side effects for at least five years. He also reluctantly mentioned the three to four day hospital stay with two months of recovery.  This meant I could wait until after cross country season when I will be on winter break. The downside--I have a whole fall to prepare for....surgery. In the summer and fall most runners are preparing to peak for a fall marathon. I will be training this year for surgery.

Knowing I ran two marathon in one weekend in New England with the
 2nd day faster and the following week placing 3rd in Iowa almost hitting
my personal record. I know the better shape you are in the
faster you recover.
Once the initial shock passed and I Googled WEB MD to see the horrific pictures of how they are going to slice my stomach open to remove a large tumor (possibly more smaller tumors ) connected to arteries and blood vessels, I immediately started to pull myself back together. What can you control in this situation. Focus only on what you can control.  You can control your mental and spiritual state. You can gain strength from your faith. Okay, what else? You can control your fitness to a certain degree. You can train for this surgery like a marathon. Go into surgery super fit and lean. You can eat healthy. (Starts researching every healthy food that helps fibroid tumors. Goes to store to buy said food--Brazilian nuts, steel cut oatmeal, beet juice, pears, berries for the oatmeal etc.)

My focus is no longer on the surgery and those awful pictures I saw (do not google them-it's really gross and you've been warned) but on what I do going into surgery and what I will face coming out of surgery. The doctors said for this specific surgery it is usually three months of no exercising but they are estimating it will only take me two months before I can return to training. I recovered for 24 marathons in a year. Although that does not make me superior than the next person it gives me confidence in my ability to recover. Truthfully, when I was beginning to think my racing 26.2 days were in the rear view mirror, I got answers. It puts into perspective that everything I did in 2011 was with a four inch tumor--probably not as big then as it is now but enough to make my ferritin remain a 4-10 from 2010-present. I am thinking my best running days may be ahead of me sans life/iron/ferritin sucking, orange-sized tumor.

Time to focus on my "tumor surgery training."


Friday, May 2, 2014

Class of 2014 Holiday Race Superlatives of The ATL

February-  Run the Reagan Half Marathon-President's Day Weekend
Most Likely To Succeed


Ronald Reagan once said, If you are explaining, you are loosing. I will keep it short--Run The Reagan has been around for 20 years and it is not going anywhere because it is a well organized half marathon and 10k backed by tradition making it Gwinnett County's Premier Road Race.

March-Shamrock n Run 10K St. Patrick's Day Weekend
Best Personality


Irish kilts, bagpipes, and Irish dancers at Atlantic Station makes for a great race ambiance each St. Patrick's Day Weekend. It is how the Irish would host a 10K in Atlantic Station--a party with a race instead of a race with an after party.
.
April-Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon -Easter Weekend
Best Looking



The Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon is a beautiful 13.1 mile run along a river with a canopy of trees landscaping the course. As it is Easter weekend if you have some energy left over you can search for more free race entries into Dirty Spokes events at the Easter egg hunt following the race.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon


The Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon

When I began coaching at Central almost a year ago I was introduced to Fowler Park also known as The Greenway in Forsyth County. I fell in love with Cumming, Georgia and this hidden running Meca 45 minutes northeast of Atlanta. To say I was excited about the endless training and coaching possibilities on The Greenway in Fowler Park would be an understatement.

There are already so many coaching memories of team time trials, mile repeats, hill repeats and finally tapering for the boy's first state appearance in cross country school history at this Greenway in Folwer Park; it seems impossible I was discovering this route only a year ago. When I saw Dirty Spokes Productions was putting on a new half marathon in "my office" where I coach--it was an easy decision,  "Register for this half marathon!" Not only is it a rather fast course with only a few inclines going over small bridges over the river which flows adjacent to the running path but I also know every turn and tangent of this course. It is no surprise (with the scenery and lack of consistent hills typical in Atlanta) this half marathon capped early at 500 runners.

It was another rainy spring morning after coaching two long days in the region meet this past week. It was a successful week with two new school records this week (3200 and 800) and qualifying for sectionals in the 3200 and 1600  for the first time in school history at Central but I was too tired to think about my own serious racing goal for this spring half marathon. My only goal was to drag myself out of bed and get to the starting line instead of sleeping through a cozy and rainy morning. Once the race began I could let my legs tell me what pace they could tolerate today over 13.1 miles through Fowler Park.


Pinning on the bib with a few seconds to spare
at the start of the Georgia Peach Jam Half Marathon
I managed to talk myself into racing just in enough time to pin on the race bib seconds before the start. I didn't have time for nerves or for thinking through race strategy. The first few miles I tried to pace an eight minute mile pace--off of feel as I was not wearing a watch. The course takes runners three miles to a turn around for a total of six miles on this section of the course. The race director was on his bike directing the lead male runner. As I was nearing the turn around he yelled out to the pack of lead ladies going in the opposite direction towards the turn around point calling out-- "seven, eight, nine and ten!"   We were all packed closely together and there were a few women close behind us. When I got word of this top ten news my goals formed as the race unfolded. New goal: top ten overall female which should be good enough for my competitive age group to place for the third time in a half marathon in my division in the last three months.
Fowler Park in Cumming, Georgia
45 minutes northeast of Atlanta.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nothing Says Spring Break Like Two Half Marathons & A 10K PR

Spring Break Races: Run The River 10K, Knoxville Half Marathon, and Chik-fil-A Half Marathon in Athens, Georgia

Spring Break 2014: Personal record in the 10k, running a half marathon, relaxing at the beach and more racing!


Run The River 10K
When runners in Atlanta refer to "running the river" it is in reference to the trails along the famous Chattahoochee River in Roswell (thirty minutes northeast of Atlanta) also locally known as The Hooch. Run The River 10k is a beautiful spring run along the Chattahoochee River. The course is an out and back with the exception of miles three and four which takes a tour off the main road adjacent to the scenic river views onto a dirt side road. This year the dirt road section of the course slowed runners down as it had been raining all morning and was rather muddy. The Run The River 10k course has a few short hills but is mostly flat. As I ran the race I was trying to push myself but not really too focused on splits or pace. There was a course marshal at each mile marker calling out the official time but I was uncertain of my pace until I reached the sharp left turn off the main road which takes us to the final 100 meters into the finish shoot. As I approached the final sharp left turn a man yelled at me to kick to the finish saying,  You can be the last finisher today under 50 minutes. I finished with a PR with a time of 49.52! I missed my age group award coming in 4/ 53 in my age group and 14th overall female with 400 runners running the 10K on a day I really did not want to race. When I woke up to hearing the morning spring rain on my window on the the first day of my spring vacation I almost opted to sleep in for once. However, I got dressed and laced up my running shoes while mostly still asleep for a chance at a new 10K PR. I had been inspired by Central's distance track team who all came in with PRs last Thursday before leaving for their prospective spring vacations. Run The River was a great way to kick off my own spring break.  The race inspired me to drive to Knoxville to register for their highly rated marathon on marathonguide.com taking place on Sunday. 


Hanging out in Knoxville Saturday Night For The Knoxville Half Marathon
Knoxville Half Marathon
What a race! This course offers both gorgeous scenery from the upscale Knoxville neighborhoods to views of the river and city. Knoxville is not only scenic but fun. The course has a well earned hilly reputation. It is the hardest first half of a marathon I have ran. I would love to try the full 26.2 miles when I am rested and not recovering from a 10k PR. The course spectators and volunteers are the most enthusiastic I have seen outside of racing the marathon majors. The first cheering section had a half mile of signs asking what does the (insert any animal you can possibly think of) say with the fox cheering section at the end of the street singing What Does The Fox Say? The fox on this course also says...Run! The next mile takes you through an upscale neighborhood with the most clever signs I have seen in any race making me laugh out loud a few times. I was not alone-everyone was commenting and laughing on the signs even while running uphill. Each sign was original and not the usual signs you see at every single race these days like Why do all the good ones run away? I might also add they are PG 13 at best. One of my favorite 800 runners to follow on twitter is epic blogger Phoebe Wright who hails from Tennessee. The signs made me wonder if the entire city has her same sense of humor.