With the beginning of the running club and Pig training in full swing, I began to break out of my previous training routine. I was now posting runs that would begin at 5:30 a.m. in hopes of gaining a little company. Let me tell you, this time was not popular a year ago. At least not for members of the Harrison Running Club. On most occasions (and for the first part of training), only Ryan would show up in the Kroger parking lot to run with me. When I say "with", I really mean "ahead". Don't get me wrong. This was good for my training. We'd start out together, but Ryan had much loftier finishing goals than I did. I wanted a qualifier, he wanted a sub 3 hour marathon. Even the most positive of attitudes could not have gotten me that time (Ok, yes, since I always say you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to, I'll say this... sure I could get a sub 3 hour marathon if I move to Oregon and join the Nike Oregon Project Team and eat, drink and sleep running and training. But it ain't gonna happen). I would usually trail Ryan closely for roughly 2 miles and then he'd just smoke me. Often times I'd get back to the parking lot and he'd be gone already. Ok, to some that sounds rude. But it wasn't. Ryan is married with 5 young boys. His wife is a nurse that works day shift. He had to be back home early! The other thing I made clear, and I think is very important to make clear when training with someone, is that we each have different goals. If we all run the same pace during every run, we could hurt our aspirations. If that pace is consistently too fast, we risk burnout and injury. Too slow, we risk not meeting our goals. When running with Ryan, my goal would be to see how long I could keep up and how close I could stay. It pushed me and since it wasn't on every single run, it wasn't risky. It was beneficial.
At the end of January, my brother invited me to run with the Westside group on Wednesdays. The group met at 5:15 a.m. at the Gamble Nippert YMCA for what was described in their schedule as a "hard hill run". Now knowing that this group always ran hills, then seeing them describe this as "hard", made me a bit hesitant to join them. BUT, I was training for the Pig (hilly) and I knew I had to break out of my comfort zone to get, well, comfortable running hills. So I agreed. I pitched the idea to Ryan and Sarah about joining me. Ryan was on board, Sarah laughed at the idea of getting up so ridiculously early (which she does daily now). That first Wednesday, Ryan and I left Harrison at 4:45 and headed to Western Hills. When we got there, there were about 6 or 7 runners that day. My brother Jack was one of them. I also remember Hal and Sarah (Kessler) and a couple of others. Hal and Sarah stick out because they were there pretty consistently during the weeks that followed and because they always led the pack. I learned they weren't kidding when they described the run as "hard". I took the short 5.5 mile route with my brother, who, thank God, had to be back to get ready for work. Ryan opted for the additional 3 miles that continued on. I waited inside the warm YMCA waiting until he was done. That run took me 5 plus miles of short, steep hills... both up and down. It was crazy exhausting and I was in the back. It's never fun to be last, but I knew it was a means to better my running. So I kept at it. Every week I got up at 3:45 (Yes, I need an hour to wake up and prepare my mind and body for the torture) to meet the group. For the first several weeks, Ryan joined me. Unfortunately, Ryan developed a calf injury and could not continue training (STUPID CALVES!!). I would drive out there alone and run, mostly alone, as I trailed behind. I always dreaded Tuesday nights and tried to think of excuses not to go. Fortunately, I had none good enough to stop going.
These Wednesday runs were very difficult. Both mentally and physically. But I believe them to be the key to my improvement during training. They toughened me. My ego took some pretty big blows on many of those runs as I trailed the group. But week after week, I was getting closer and staying with them a bit longer. Sarah and I were meeting for our long runs on Sundays. We would usually meet for a pretty hilly run... in prep for our races. She for Boston, me for the Pig. We were not very successful in recruiting our new running club members to join us on these runs... particularly one that took us on Strimple Road in Harrison (very hilly... but great for training). On one occasion, we had three very good runners meet us for part of a 17 or 18 mile Strimple Road run. They were Amy Ritter, Barbara Walker and Amy Engel. Amy R. met us for the first part.. the run to Strimple, then back tracked to get less mileage. Barbara and Amy Engel met us after Strimple (smart ladies). I had met Barbara at a 10k benefitting her kids' school that previous Labor Day. I had won first in my age group and she in hers and while waiting for the awards, I noticed she was from Harrison. So I approached her (runners are a very bold and friendly bunch by the way... I think they are drawn to people who also "get it") and we chatted for awhile. It wasn't until later that I learned Barbara (as well as Amy E.) had not only completed marathons, but also Ironman triathlons.
On a few occasions, I did meet other group members, whom I already knew through the kids' school, for some 5:30 runs. They included Nickke, Kim, Nancy, Rose and Angie. None of them were training for the full marathon, but Kim and Nancy were training for half. Because our mileage differed, I'd sometimes run the first part of my run alone and then meet them for the rest. It worked nicely. Rose and Angie were just beginning to test out the running world. Nickke was returning after having a baby and Kim and Nancy were not beginners. We had quite the mix and it was great fun and good company. I really enjoyed running with a group without having the hour round trip.
One morning, Nancy, Kim and I were running early. As we were getting close to finishing, a runner came up behind us and stopped to ask if we ran together often and if we were training for something. Now I had passed this runner for years during many early morning alone runs. She was a tiny little "girl" with a distinct stride because she ran on her toes. She always seemed to wear a ball cap and I always noticed that she was pretty darn quick. I wondered who she was, but never did more than smile, wave and pass by. That morning, the cute little mystery runner was revealed. Her name was Suttan and she was training for her first Boston Marathon. Suttan had qualified that fall in Columbus, the same race of my first attempt. She always ran alone, but was hoping to connect with others in her training. I let her know that I had a friend (Sarah) also training for Boston and that I was training for the Pig and that she was welcome to join us anytime. I let her know about the running club Facebook group and told her I'd hoped to meet up soon.
I didn't see Suttan much that spring. She had to cater to an injury that was risking her Boston race (which, by the way, she beat her Columbus time and qualified again in Boston), but I did keep in touch were her through Facebook. It wasn't really until this summer, when I lured her out to a couple of those Wednesday hill runs in Western Hills, that we started running together. Suttan is an awesome runner and an equally awesome person. I am very lucky to have met her!
What I have yet to mention in this rambling post is what was happening in my head. Again, the beginning of training was filled with optimism, hope and excitement. But old habits die hard. As the weeks clicked by I knew I had to rein in the nerves, but I didn't know how. I would constantly check my Garmin stats on my computer and say "You are fine. Your times are better than the last training cycle. You are running on hills, you are busting your ass. You are going to do this." It would calm me... until the next time, which was soon after. And I'd look it all over again and tell myself all the same things. I made myself believe I was confident this time. I actually tricked myself into thinking it. You can make yourself believe many things. Even lies. And unfortunately, that was happening. I was stronger, better and faster. I was also much better at covering up my fear as the days to the marathon drew near. I began to obsess over the weather. Why? I love running in the rain. I ran in snow, ice, and rain during the spring. Why was the weather bothering me so much? Because the fear that I denied existed needed to be channeled somewhere and the weather became the perfect scapegoat.