Dear Friends and Family,

I'd like to share a bit of my story and the reason why I choose to raise money for the Sharon Timlin Memorial Race to Cure ALS now. My story is likely not unique, but one that I hope gives pause, if nothing else.
 
Who I am:

I am a Brookline resident. I live on mile 24 of the Boston Marathon route, which has been both a tease and a motivation for me to become a marathoner. I've now run four marathons and countless shorter distant road races. I've always rejoiced in Boston's precious Patriot's Day, cheered on the runners who passed by my house and walked away from the course each year wishing I qualified for it myself. I've missed BQing twice by about 10 minutes each time.
 
I am a runner. I've run since I was 12 years old, when I needed a recreational outlet in school and quickly found it in cross-country. I didn't see myself as a potential marathoner until I moved to Boston in 1999, and watched my first Boston Marathon run by my office in Newton. That changed my life.
 
Most importantly, I am a mother, wife and daughter. I thought life couldn't get any happier when I married my husband. Then we met our daughter. We cherish every moment we have with her, and now I understand why my mother cares so much about what I'm up to even though we live on opposite sides of the country. I will never not worry about my daughter, for as long as I live. I hope I never take a second of my time with my family for granted.
 
Where I was:
 
April 15, 2013 was a dark day for Boston, the running community and humanity in general. I was cheering at mile 24 when the bombs hit. I stayed there waiting for a friend to pass, blissfully unaware, for another 20 minutes before the police started directing all spectators away without explanation. When I arrived to my door, a neighbor told me bombs had hit the finish line. 'What?' I had my daughter in my arms. 'Bombs?' All I could think about was protecting her and reaching my husband, who was on his way home from California. I ran into our apartment only to crumble to the floor. I didn't want to turn on the TV. I didn't want to know what happened. Then I did. I saw. I learned. I shook and cried, clutching my daughter the whole time.
 
When I started to process the news, over an hour later, my first reaction was we could have been there. I had been spectating at the finish line in years prior. My office was a block passed the finish line on the same side of the street as the bombs. Had I not been recently laid off, conveniently just for the weeks before and after the bombing, I may have been out there watching the race at that very spot. If I'd run the race, my husband and daughter could have been there waiting for me to cross the finish line. I couldn't think about it. But for others not so lucky - they couldn't escape that reality.
 
Then I became angry and driven. I thought I will run it. I will do everything I can to protect my family and all that I love - the joy of a spring day, the innocence of a wonderful event, the spirit of all the runners and amazing spectators, our ability to just live and enjoy life, precious as it is.
 
Precious as it is.

What I'm running for:

Up until about 2 years ago, when both of my grandparents passed away within weeks of one another, I'd only lost one person I loved and cared for. My godfather Bernie, a close family friend who I affectionately called Uncle Pete, was taken away viciously when I was just a teenager. His killer was ALS.

Uncle Pete was more like family than godfamily. My parents had divorced when I was 5 years old, and my Uncle Pete lived only 10 minutes from my home with my mom. We saw him often. I always loved visiting him because he would talk baseball, make fun fruit juices and let me run loose around the property with his pet dogs.

We saw him even more when I was in high school, when my mom quit her job to take care of him. ALS had begun ravaging his body though his mind stayed sharp as a tack. I remember he used to play Scrabble with my mom. While he played, he would smoke and the cigarettes would burn down and blacken his fingers before he'd let my mom help him put it out. He was stubborn. He didn't want help. He didn't want to give in.

But he lost the battle.

The night he died, I had driven straight to his house in NY from my college in Rhode Island. I had just finished my first semester, and I was leaving in a blizzard. I made it home in time, both to barely beat the worst of the storm and to say goodbye. Once I got inside, tired and terrified of what was to come, I pulled up a cot near his bedside, where my mom and his family had gathered. I fell asleep around 11 pm. Just a couple of hours later, in the darkest hours of the night and the heaviest of the storm, I woke suddenly. I heard my mom crying, saying, "Go, Bernie, go." I ran to his side and watched him take his last breaths. He was suffering. His lungs weren't working any more. His eye lids could no longer blink. He finally took one last breath. The terror was finally over, after more than two years of suffering.

Devastation was immediate and immense. I had not only watched a relative die in front of me, but it was my Uncle Pete. He was closer to me than my own father. I'd never forget this moment. I'd never take life for granted.

Though I know at times I have. Marathon Monday was my cruel, stark reminder.

Life is too short. We have to recognize and fight the terrorists all around us, whether they be cowardly people that shred all that is good, or invisible beasts that ravage our hearts, minds and bodies. We have to cherish all that is good in this world.

So this I promise:

I will love my home.

I will love my community.

I will love my family.

I will love my life.

I will fight to protect and cherish all that is good and right, and one day I will make my daughter proud to call me her mom. With a little luck, some hard work and a lot of hope, just maybe we can all help defeat the terrorists around us and within.

Thank you for supporting my cause.

Love,
Robyn

 
 
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What long distance runner wouldn't want to run a marathon in Rome, Italy? I couldn't imagine a much more interesting or scenic place to run a marathon. I dreamt about it for a year in my sleep and on my long runs, from the time I signed up! But after running the Rome Marathon on March 17, 2013, I think it's got a ways to being considered an undeniably awesome marathon experience.

Before I get into some of the gory details, I have quite a few reasons why the Rome Marathon (Maratona di Roma) IS a marathon to put on your bucket list.


Rome Marathon 2013: The Good

1. The communication: This year's race was to be held under highly unique circumstances - the changing of the Pope. Religious ceremonies in Rome could interfere with the course and start time - pushing it possibly as late as 4pm on race day. The race organizers updated its marathon running community at least once daily, whether news from the Vatican was available or not. They also confirmed the race date as soon as possible. I can't say how much that was appreciated considering my family's travel schedule. In the end, the race went off at 9:30 with a relatively minor course adjustment - not bad at all. My sanity stayed intact all along thanks to the extensive communication. Thank you for that Rome Marathon organizers!

2. The aid stations: Holy cow, the Rome Marathon organizers set a high bar here. Every marathon should follow their lead. The frequency and quality of the aid stations was like none other I'd experienced in any race before. The first few started with water, later to be followed by water with "salts" (gatorade) and "solids" (sliced oranges, bananas, apples and biscuits). Seriously every aid station after the first few miles had that wonderful plethora of food and beverage. In between those stations, you had sponge stations. By the end of the race I was so highly fueled and hydrated that I ran negative splits and my last .2 at a 6:30 pace. I should note I wasn't running this race for anything close to PR - purely a get-back-to-marathoning-after-having-a-baby goal - but still!

3. The starting line, Tiber and last 6 miles of scenery: Wow. That's all I can say. You're running next to the freaking Colloseum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Tiber River, etc. etc. It an awesome place to experience - even cooler to finish the race to the sounds of "Gladiator" music tracks while viewing the Colloseum directly ahead of you. 

Rome Marathon 2013: The Bad

1. The sheer lack of spectators and entertainment: Really, Rome? There's no one in your amazing city that is kind enough or interested enough to cheer on thousands of people who spent hours, days, weeks and months of their lives training to run a marathon? I've never seen such an empty finish line. If not for the music playing over loud speakers it would have been silent! Now, there were quite a few spectators at the start, along the river and at some points around the major tourist sites, which was so greatly appreciated, but overall Rome has to do a much better job of a) supporting its runners or b) adding a lot more entertainment to the course. Organizers, if you read this: Thank you for the two DJs out in the boonies, but please add more!! Many runners need people and/or music to help them along. I personally spend enough time in isolation during training - I look forward to the energy of the crowd to cheer me along, and I didn't get that here for the most part. P.S. Most people who did make the effort to clap or cheer me on (calling out my name on my bib) were American or English tourists, and one Italian marathon volunteer. Do the Romans just not like this marathon or something?

2. The sexism: Yep, I said it. I am no boat-rocker here, but I felt like a second class citizen being part of the 15% female Rome marathon running community. This race has so few women it's no wonder it felt divided to me. But several things happened that made me feel almost uncomfortable running it:
  • Some male runners were aggressive: One grabbed my waist and pushed me aside at the start to get around me. Another trampled a woman at the start - she fell to the ground in the first 100 yards. People, it's a marathon. Where the hell are you sprinting off to that you have to push or stampede people in your path? I hope those all those pushy men cramped up by mile 10.
  • Some male runners were blatant assholes: Waiting in a portapotty line - in two different places - I was cut off by men who didn't seem to care one bit that I was there - and I made it clear I was in line! I tried stepping back in front of them and they just brought more of their buddies in to cut me off. There was no respect shown, and I only wish I had the ability to zap people with my eyes. 
  • The marathon organizers separate male and female bib numbers. So there's a bib #601 (some guy) and then there was mine - bib #F601. Race day bag dropoff/pickup and expo day bib pickup was also separated by gender. I felt this was odd, maybe because of the way I was treated by one of the volunteers during bib pickup in particular. This guy directing people snapped at me to get away from the 601 bib pickup booth and shoed me to the back - apparently I had to go to the far end of the room to find the same numbers for females, which was entirely unclear (my confirmation sheet said nothing about an F before my number - as you can see in my last Maratona di Roma post), and it was impossible to see the women's booth because it was buried in the back. I didn't figure it out right away, so I returned to the first booth to talk to the guy... This time he actually stepped toward me, puffed up his chest and blocked me (do I look intimidating?), and snapped in English "MEN" (points to first booth)" FEMALES" (points to back of room). Thanks, dude. I got it. Step off.

3. Bib pickup: First of all, the bib pickup location is miles from any place I'd want to visit in Rome; it's not near the marathon start or any central tourist destinations. Second, the marathon organizers squeeze bib pickup into a room in a basement which can only hold so many people. So, a long, winding line forms outside this building in the nice, hot sun that you'll endure anywhere from 20-40 minutes if you go the day before the race. This is not what I'd call ideal. I didn't even go to the expo because I ended up being an hour late meeting my family for lunch thanks to these unexpected delays - of course I don't have an international cell phone so I couldn't tell them where I was and I ended up spending more time walking to and from the place I was supposed to meet them - they'd left by the time I arrived. The whole thing was annoying and tiresome. Did I mention I couldn't even bring my husband and daughter into bib pickup with me because of the lack of space down there - maybe if I'd had I wouldn't have had to deal with Brutus the Enforcer of Bib Pickup.

Wrapping up this rant, I don't mean to come off as one-sided (negative). I ran the race for pleasure and Rome is an exhilarating place to run a marathon. If you're a marathoner who enjoys running in unique and interesting spots, you have to run Rome at least once in your life. For me, my days of running in Rome may be over for good. As much as I loved the scenery, fuel stations and great feats of the race organizers to get this race off and running with barely a hiccup, I was very disappointed by the lack of spectators, lack of entertainment and sheer disrespect I seemed to run into repeatedly during this whole experience. Maybe I'd reconsider if my husband ran it with me one day... him and a posse of women.


 
 
Running again! Maratona di Roma, here I come...
 
 
Definitions of "Providence" according to Dictionary.com:

1. The foreseeing care and guidance of god or nature over the creatures of the earth.
2. God, esp. when conceived as omnisciently directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence.
3. A manifestation of divine care or direction.

4. Provident or prudent management of resources; prudence.
5. Foresight; provident care.

I'm not a religious or even a particularly spiritual person, but running the Providence Marathon today, I figured it couldn't hurt to think that maybe the stars would align and this would be my day to qualify for Boston. I've trained more this winter than ever before for a marathon. My half marathon times have been awesome for me. This could be it!

Not the case.

I ran a great race, right on pace give or take a few seconds, through the first 20 miles. 20 miles on pace! I'm very proud of that. Keeping that pace after mile 20... not easy in 80 degree temperatures.

While the rest of Rhode Island was enjoying the lovely sunshine and warm temps in their flip flops and shorts, those of us running the Providence Marathon were cursing. Why, of all days, did we have to have this weather?

You see it's not just the heat that's bad. It's what the heat does to you. Or to me at least. I take water and Gatorade from every fuel station I pass, but I don't drink all of it because I have a sensitive stomach. By mile 21 in 80 degree temperatures, my body was CRAVING fluids. I tried to take more earlier, but I knew it would come down to one problem or another -- stomach pain or dehydration. 

When I passed some waterways in the 20 mile range, I was tempted to jump in. I'm not even kidding. I was overheating. The next aid station I hit, I walked through it and drank several cups of fluids. Another big mistake. I started running just past the last volunteer handing out Gatorade and 30 seconds later thought I was going to throw up everything I just drank. I didn't, but that feeling never went away.

Another issue for me: I absolutely hate long stretches of roads or trails. A long stretch where I can see like 1/2 mile down the road is a nightmare for me. I thrive on courses with lots of scenery, spectators, twists and turns. Providence Marathon did not have a lot that, other than a couple of twists and turns. Very few spectators. A lot of residential streets and bike trails. A lot of boredom for me. Some people may love that. I just can't stand it. Too much time to think about every step.

So, combine the heat, my exhaustion, my nausea, my boredom with the lack of spectators and long stretches of straightaways... And I had a bad race. Or at least worse than I would have hoped.

But even with all that said, all of those excuses, I still think it was a mental battle I should have overcome. I had a few miles early on, including a few on some big hills, when I could have gone a little slower. Not much, but a little. That may have helped stay on pace till mile 22 or 23 at least, so I would have had fewer miles to suffer through in the heat at the end.

I also psyched myself out. Looking back at my Garmin stats, my 8:20ish pace dropped to 8:45 at mile 20. I remember it freaking me out, because I didn't have that much space to play with to qualify for Boston, so I tried to run the next mile fast. My "fast" at that point was only 8:35. Just a half hour earlier my fast was around 8:00 pace. I started really freaking out. I started to think maybe I won't be able to do this... THAT did me in. Once that thought entered my head everything in my body hurt. I started noticing every pain, every blister, my dizziness from the heat, my heavy legs, my heavy clothes from dumping a glass of water on myself... Just awful. I let in that seed of doubt and I let everything get to me.

Not my wisest move.

I honestly don't know that I could have BQed today, even if I overcame all of those mental and physical challenges, but I think I could have done better.

I'll just chalk up this race to more marathon experience. I'm glad I did it. And I'm looking forward to the next one even more.

Final time: 3:51:32 -- 7 seconds behind my NYC Marathon time, 10 minutes and 33 seconds away from Boston qualifying time.
 
 
We're here! I'm writing to you now from the Renaissance Hotel's 24-hour business center. It's quite nice, though these computers are way outdated... But anyway.

We had a great dinner at Andino's in Federal Hill. Now we're off to watch Fire Water. Then to bed early.

I'm excited and nervous about tomorrow. My biggest "dilemma" now is just deciding if I want to wear my headphones or not. I've never worn them for a marathon, and thought I never would, but after a few great training runs and shorter races with them... I'm wondering. I'll probably make a last minute decision about that in the morning.

I just wanted to wish my fellow Providence marathon and half marathon runners great luck in tomorrow's race! Hope we're all celebrating PRs over a beer when it's all over.

See you on the pavement at 8:00 am.
 
 
I can't believe it's marathon weekend.

It's now almost exactly six months since my last marathon. I've had six months to think about all the mistakes I made in NYC. Six months to wish I hadn't gone out too fast then. Six months to prepare for what I have to do this Sunday. Now it's all passed. I've done everything I can do. I just have to wait and see.

In the running coach class I took two weeks ago, i learned a lot about visualization. Visualization is a powerful tool that well trained runners use to prepare for an upcoming event. The thinking is if you are very focused and visualize something from start to finish, even the seemingly impossible, it actually can happen.

Here goes an abbreviated version...

I see myself at that starting line, waiting with anticipation. I hear the starting gun and go -- SLOW! I picture myself running along the water, nice and easy. I visualize myself picking up the speed just a bit, maybe, after a few miles in. I see myself running up a few hills, enjoying the change. I see my family and friends along the route. Reaching the half marathon mark. Starting to run at that threshold of pain, so my hip joints don't explode! Taking my water and fuel. Reaching the 17 mile mark, one of my least favorites. Tuning out the boredom and the pain. Reaching the 20 mile mark! Getting excited now. Just a few more miles. Mile 22, 23, 24... Time to let it all out now! Finally closing in on that 26.2!

Boston Marathon will happen one day, but providence must come first.

All I have left to do now is think.

Oh, and go to the expo tomorrow. Yay running stuff! :)
 
 
Tomorrow is Friday, which means the next day is Saturday and the day after is Marathon Day! YAYAYAYAY!!!

Just a little excited here.

Despite the excitement, it's still hard for me to stay focused and positive all the time. A Boston qualifying time seems like such a tremendous goal to achieve. I'm having difficulty believing it will really happen. I have moments when I think it's in the bag... Like when I finished my last half marathon in 1:40... Then I have moments when I think I'm still far from my goal.

When I finished the NYC Marathon last fall, I was just 11 minutes from a Boston qualifier. And even then, when I didn't have nearly as many miles under my belt, I thought I could have made the time. I went out way too fast. If I hadn't done that I really think I could have finished in 3 hours and 40 precious minutes.

But I'd have to wait to try it again. I'd have to wait till this weekend.

The day is almost here! Must stay positive.
 
 
#620

That's my bib number for the big day. Now I just have to get the rest of me ready, including figuring out which of my sneakers to wear. Kind of a big question. Frees or Equalons? Have to figure this out fast.

Here's a status check otherwise:

* Carboloading is under way. When is it not, though, really?

* Movement is minimal. And I'm losing my mind. Have to run tomorrow. I can't take this.

* Drinking more water. Woohoo! BIG accomplishment for me.

* Marathon outfit picked out. Very important.

* Early dinner reservation booked for Saturday at Andino's on Federal Hill. Bring on the pasta.

Just a few more days..
 
 
One year ago I ran the Big Sur International Marathon -- my first marathon ever.

Some people thought I was nuts for taking on a marathon that's considered one of the world's hardest. Some people thought I was nuts for even trying to run a marathon. But I'd run several half marathons and my times were improving. It was time to take the next step.

So three days after my 32nd birthday, I ran Big Sur.

Here are some highlights from that day:

* Waking up at 2:00 am to get on the 3:30 am bus to the starting line.

* On the bus ride, in the dark, trying to ignore the fact that I was leaning far forward on a long downhill ride toward the start -- a downhill that would later become a monstrous uphill in the middle of the marathon.

* Arriving at the start to the freezing cold morning hours. And waiting. And waiting.

* Spotting the 4:30 pace group and deciding at the last minute to join them.

* The starting gun and all the whooping that followed.

* Sticking close to my pacer -- thank god for her. She kept me laughing and distracted the whole way to the finish.

* Running along the first few miles in the cool woods. And losing that last extra layer of clothing I'd saved for the first few miles.

* Coming to the ocean and getting my first big breaths of the sea breeze.

* Seeing that water and almost having my breath taken away. I intentionally did not drive the route before the race because I wanted to be surprised. I sure was.

* Running alongside a hillside covered with cows that began mooing at us. Our spectators for the morning.

* Starting the climb at mile 10... which would last till mile 12!

* Passing the awesome drummers at the start of that climb. That drumbeat kept me powering up that hill.

* Reaching the top of the hill! Only to be crushed by the wind at the top. I didn't care one bit. I was elated to be done with what was considered scariest part of the race.

* Running slowly down that long hill, into a valley where the sun was pouring in. Again, breathtaking.

* Coming to the halfway point and crossing Bixby bridge. Woohoo!

* Losing my thought in my pacer's story of how she met her husband. That story lasted miles 17-20, when I needed the distraction most.

* Reaching mile 20. MILE 20 of my first marathon!

* My pacer telling me to dedicate each of the next few miles to important people in our lives. One mile for our significant others who miss us while we run. One mile for our relatives who may be too sick to run. One mile for our friends who don't understand why we can't stay out and drink with them...

* Hugging a volunteer and snagging a strawberry at mile 22-23. I loved that volunteer!

* Then mile 24, the pacer said to go. Just -- go. And I did. I picked it up and felt like I was flying.

* The next two miles I felt no pain. No hurt. Only complete and total elation. This must be the runner's high.

* Last 2/10 of a mile. Last 2/10 of my first marathon. Now I'm surrounded by spectators. And my husband is at that finish line.

* Time to RUN.
 
 
Just finished running one of my favorite routes. It goes down Beacon Street, along the Boston Marathon course, passed the reservoir, into Boston College campus, then back.

I like this run because it's not all stuck in traffic. There are quite a few peaceful spots for thought and reflection, especially on a quieter Sunday night like tonight.

As I ran down Beacon Street at an easy pace, I thought about all of my long distance training over the past two years and running my first marathon. It's hard to believe it was just one year ago tomorrow that I ran my first 26.2 in Big Sur. I remembered how I felt in that first race and how well I finished it... which I'll save for tomorrow's blog post.

Today I was just trying to prepare myself for the challenge to come in just a few short days. I kept repeating, 'Get ready, body. Get ready.' My mind is ready. I can only hope the rest of me can handle the challenge.

As I passed the reservoir, I thought about the countless miles I've covered, all the blisters I've suffered through, all the hip and knee pains, all the dehydration and exhaustion, and, most importantly, all the time I've spent away from my husband because I run.

Then I ran into Boston College campus. There I began to think about all the wonderful mornings out on the road alone, the first signs of spring when I heard the birds singing again, the cool breezes on my face, those days that I felt like I could run forever, and the days when I felt like I could fly.

As I started heading back home, I thought it's probably a good thing that I run so much. My husband would have a much crankier wife on his hands if I didn't run! As I ran back toward him, toward our home, I started feeling excited. The big day is coming and I'm on the last two miles of my last longer run.

I am so close to Providence.

So close to providence.

Fitting that this is the race when I go for a Boston qualifier. I can only hope this really is my providence.

Get ready, body. Get ready.