The Heart of Rock n Roll

Some part of me thought it would be fun to run a half marathon in the month of December in the desert.  The key with this sort of inspiration is to sign up before you can rethink what you're doing.  Which I did.  Then, before I knew it, it was the start of December.  I was fresh off a vacation where I had eaten my way through my target country.  I hadn't been on a treadmill in weeks.  I had run 8 miles at my peak, so I had to cough up another 5 in order to cross a finish line... at night... in the freezing cold.

Well, I did it, and my badge of honor is my ghetto limp.  Just in case you are so inspired, here's my shorthand guide on How to Survive a Race.


1) Pick a race that actually interests you.

I don't mean the distance- pick a course you'll enjoy seeing as you do the run.  This makes all the difference when you're at mile 9 and want to die.  I have done three half marathons- America's Finest City in San Diego, one across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and (now) Rock n Roll Las Vegas.  The key with RnRLV was that they close off the Strip at night and let all 40,000 of you run like madmen down the middle.  It's these little perks, these unusual settings, or views you wouldn't normally get, that will motivate you to keep going.

2)  Get inspired.

You need inspiration.  Actually, what you need is emotional blackmail.

We accomplished this using a technique I had read about somewhere- we dedicated each of the 13 miles to someone or something.  I included people I love dearly who have passed away, family members, friends who are going through tough times, friends who are just really supportive, organizations that inspire me, and of course myself (mile 13).  We wrote our lists on our arms in permanent marker, so as we passed mile markers, we'd roll up our sleeves, look, and chug ahead.

3)  Find someone else who has done it, ie. "the bar setter".

Find someone who has done something similar and use them to remind yourself if they can do it, you can too.  For me, this person was Dawn Dais, author of The Nonrunner's Guide to Marathon Training for Women.  Using herself to set the (self-proclaimed low) bar for fellow runners is completely intentional, and she uses 200+ pages of self-deprecation to remind you of what you're capable of doing if you wipe off the Cheeto dust and stand (for starters).

And it's true, so much of this is mind over matter.  The book is about Dawn's journey from couch potato to marathoner, and is full of hilarious wisdom for how to get yourself over the finish line no matter who you are when you start.  You will need to rehydrate, because you will laugh til you cry while reading it.  The night before our race, we read aloud from it in the hotel room. Yes, it's that funny.

(By the way, the title is a misnomer, because nothing in the book is specifically for women.    It's so good that I bought my brother a copy.  You'll hear about him in a second.)

4)  Find the right attitude.

I was running with two people (my best friend and my brother), neither of whom had run a long-distance race.  They had to go on faith that when I said it's mind over matter, I meant it.  (My brother: "At what point do you admit there is just more matter than mind?")  At the Expo the day before the race, we played into the runner's nerves economy and purchased a number of things we probably didn't need, including some cute moisture-wicking Bondi headbands.

Cyrus picked out one that would become our motto throughout the run, inspiring not just us, but every runner we passed (or, in more cases, passed us), "Suck it up, Cupcake."  For those of you paying close attention, the right attitude is just to have fun with the race.  For the 6 miles that my brother and I ran in lockstep during the race, he continued to keep the right attitude, playing air drums and generally just having the time of his life. So much so that a woman found us after the race, as we were walking back into the hotel, and said that she had followed him, his hair, his headband, and his attitude, and paced herself through the race -- and thanked him. 

5)  Run with people who will keep you going.

My best friend and I handed each other Gu drops, jellybeans, Dixie cups of water, and doses of motivation as we hobbled along the route.  My brother made me laugh with his air drumming and the huge smile across his face as he made it further than he imagined he could.

They key is to run with people who know whether they should stay with you, leave you to run your own pace, stop and stretch with your, and just how to make you feel good about the fact that you're there at all.  In my case it was important to have someone who I can psychically communicate with using minimal additional motion, ie. only eyerolling.  Also important: run with people who will join you in toasting your weight's worth of bacon cheeseburgers when you're done.

In addition to whoever's on the course with you, maybe you'll be lucky and have a tech-savvy satellite supporter.  My sister had no interest in slogging down the Strip, but she might as well have been by my side through the race.  She told me to download an app so she could track where I was and send encouragement.  (as an aside: this app didn't work, and when she contacted customer service, they told her we should both reinstall- because, you know, I was really going to stop at mile 7 and REINSTALL THEIR WONKY APP)

There's something to be said for looking down at your phone (yes, it was attached to my hip. Literally this time) and seeing "woo hoo! go you!" or a picture of an adorable pet holding up motivational posters. 

6)  Make a good playlist.

Mine featured James Brown's Living in America. It's a no-brainer that you should lean heavily on the Rocky theme song, Eye of the Tiger, The Final Countdown, and draw liberally from the Footloose soundtrack.  I have heard more than one story of people's stereos/iPods, etc getting stuck.  In Dawn's book, the weekend she ran the marathon in Hawaii it just happened to be Milkshake weekend. Yikes. On our race, Jessica's iPod limited her songlist during the race to only 30 of the songs.  As a result, she never wants to hear Single Ladies again (fact: I wouldn't have wanted to hear it in the first place).  All I'm saying is: choose carefully.

before you know it, you'll have one of these
7)  Accept what is given.

I'm not trying to be all zen here.  I mean it literally- accept what is given. They don't hand out water and Gu on the course for their own good.  By rehydrating periodically and injecting (not literally) carbs into your system, you will get the bursts of energy that you need when the going gets tough (the tough get going, see #6, above)  Don't leave the volunteer standing there holding a cup like a chump- grab it and say thank you.  Even if all you want to do is swipe the table of cups clear and lie down on it.

8)  Think less, just put one foot in front of the other, press play, and go.