Friday, September 30, 2011

Random Friday

* During the six months I trained to run a marathon, the only illness I ever had was a tiny bit of a cold that lasted for one day. Running is a huge boost to the immune system. I haven't been running (tried a couple times but my knee wasn't healed, so I'm giving it some time) much since the marathon, though I'm still exercising. And last weekend, I got a cold that completely knocked me flat. It's been a week and it's still hanging around. I could do with some immunity boosters now!

* What are the chances that I get sick the same week I have seven dentist appointments, playgroup at my house (canceled it), an ultrasound, five parent-teacher conferences, early-out days at school, and my husband's gone for four days? When I went to get pizza last night for dinner (it's called coping!) the lady asked, "Are you having a party?" Nope, just eight kids and (almost) enough pizza to last for two meals!

* I'm really, really, really excited to have another girl. Really. I wasn't secretly hoping for a boy at all, though I'm still pretty sure there will be a boy joining us sometime in the future. We think her name will be Camilla Eowyn (DH's first choice for middle name!), and I think our family is so blessed to have so many girls in a row. We have two boys, and they're blessed to be close together, just 18 months apart and a year apart in school, and when I said I'd be happy with either gender, I really meant it.

* It's interesting how people tend to get the challenges and trials that are the hardest for them to deal with. It reminds me of this quote: Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges, it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal—almost laser guided to our particular needs or weaknesses. I was talking with a friend last night about the dangers of comparing our trials -- "You can't understand this because I have more kids" or "Why is this thing so hard for me when so-and-so does it beautifully?"

Sometimes we are less than compassionate with people who struggle with things we are strong in. The example I shared was when I read a book about a woman who gave birth to a son with Down Syndrome. She was devastated for a long time by the diagnosis, angry and frustrated. As I read, I found myself really bothered by her attitude and unsympathetic to her difficulties adjusting to the news. I realized later, however, that in large part that was because I taught special education. I had experience and understanding of the diagnosis and if such a thing were to happen to me, it would likely not be devastating. However, to this woman, who had never even talked to a person with Down Syndrome, the trial was overwhelming. It was one of those "laser guided" trials that shook her to the core. In the same way, I've had trials that have brought me low that might be no big deal to someone with different experience and talents.

* A related thought is that just because someone has more kids or seemingly bigger trials than another doesn't mean there is no way for them to relate and sympathize with one another. When training for a marathon, the person running her first seven-miler has a lot in common with one who is running their first eighteen-miler. Just because one has run more miles than another does not make that experience harder for them to bear. (In fact, I was more sore and exhausted after my first seven-miler than I was the eighteen). Both of them are stretching their muscles to the limits of what they can endure. Both of them are attempting something difficult, and both will gain and grow from that experience. They are both runners working on building their endurance, and that should allow them to unite over their common experiences rather than quibble over whose experience is more difficult.

I've said this before, but people often say things like, "Wow, I can't imagine eight kids! I'm having a tough time with my (two, three, five) kids." I often respond, "Well, it was hard for me when I had (two, three, five) kids, too." We may be at different stages in our motherhood "training" but that doesn't mean we don't have a lot in common. (And once again, NO, after three, it's not all the same anyway. Each child is a sacrifice, a challenge, and a blessing)

* Fall at our house means there's more critters for my girls to catch. I'm not too fond of the snakes, and we still have our "two days and then you let them go" rule in regards to the critters, but I do enjoy seeing some of the lovely things these girls find, including dragonflies!

* Tomorrow and Sunday is General Conference, where in our Church we get to hear from the leaders we sustain as modern prophets (prophets, yes, just like the ones in the Old and New Testament). Last Saturday was a special session for the women of the Church, and there were some amazingly tender talks. My favorite had to be this one, with gems like this:

Dear sisters, many of you are endlessly compassionate and patient with the weaknesses of others. Please remember also to be compassionate and patient with yourself.

In the meantime, be thankful for all the small successes in your home, your family relationships, your education and livelihood, your Church participation and personal improvement. Like the forget-me-nots, these successes may seem tiny to you and they may go unnoticed by others, but God notices them and they are not small to Him. If you consider success to be only the most perfect rose or dazzling orchid, you may miss some of life’s sweetest experiences.

I love how many posts have gone up on various blogs about preparing for conference, with ideas for helping children participate and learn. Here are a few posts I've found that summarize some of the great resources out there to prepare:
Unique General Conference Ideas at We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ
Preparing children for General Conference at Diapers and Divinity
and I love the ideas that Cheryl uses for her kids (picnic tables sound awesome!)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's a . . .

We had an ultrasound tonight!

Before I make any announcements, let me give you a hint
(or in other words, an excuse to show off some cute pictures).

I can't believe Katie was ever that little:


I love watching my little girls grow up together and I'm so excited to add to their number. When this one's born, that will make six girls born in a span of 7.5 years! Can't you just imagine the fun when they're teenagers?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thirty Minutes to a More Balanced Life (Friday Favorites)

I loved listening to this question and answer program with Julie B. Beck on the subject of Finding Balance. It's only about thirty minutes long, and I guarantee you'll learn something that applies in your life!

If you're interested in learning more on my thoughts about balance, see my three-part post on the subject here, here and here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Perfection pending: the message of the marathon

Two days before I ran my marathon, I was feeling very low. I was filled with anxiety about managing 26.2 miles on a injured knee, overwhelmed with some private struggles, and discouraged by the workload of raising a large family and caring for my other responsibilities. I woke up in the early hours of the morning and couldn't go back to sleep. After a few hours of tears and prayers and seeking peace, I went out for a run to see how my knee was doing.

It wasn't good. I hobbled through a couple of miles, and then headed home feeling worse than ever. "Why can't anything be easy for me?" I wondered. "I've done everything I can do. I've pushed through the training when all I wanted to do was curl up and feel sorry for myself and let the morning sickness take over. I've slowed down at the very time I wanted most to speed up. Why can't I just have a normal marathon experience? Why does it have to be THIS way -- what can I possibly learn about pushing through pain that I haven't learned already from my life as a mother?" I had faith that somehow, I'd complete the goal, as I'd been promised in a blessing, but as my mind went through how hard the last few months had been, I was caught up in how unfair it all was.

And it wasn't just the running; it was so many other areas in my life. The other burdens I carried felt very heavy that day. How much responsibility for our home, our yard, our family's routines, my children's development were on my shoulders. How much I had sacrificed to be a good mother to so many children. How hard it was sometimes to continue to add to our family in the face of opposition. How much I had given in exhaustion, in pain, in sleep, in the giving up of other things I wanted to do. How I had worked so hard to get my health in order and lose weight and then had those goals interrupted by this pregnancy. How hurtful some comments I had received had been. How lonely and misunderstood I felt at times. And on and on.

It just felt too heavy that the one thing I'd worked so hard for this year, to run a marathon successfully, seemed destined for disaster. Didn't I deserve a little bit of a break? Couldn't just this one thing go right for me?

I worked through that discouragement, sought for peace throughout that day, and felt more serenity and comfort on Friday.

Then Saturday, I ran the marathon. It wasn't the way I'd wanted it to be. It was more painful than I had hoped, I went much slower than I know I'm capable of (uninjured, that is) but the fact is, I RAN that marathon -- injured & pregnant -- and I loved the experience. I felt so blessed that I was able to do what I did, even without the tidy, perfect ending I'd pictured.

I knew I'd been blessed with tender mercies that day, and I've thought on that experience many times since, wondering if there was a deeper meaning in it for me.

I'm convinced there was. In the beauty of that day and the joy of completing something was a larger message for me, and it goes something like this:

You are not alone. God will carry you and allow you to do amazing things, if you only have the eyes to see them for what they are. You are doing all right. You have been so worried for so long about living up to your standards for yourself and your family that you have not been able to see past your imperfections to what you are accomplishing. You thought this was about fitness and strength and running at your full capacity. It's not. It's about adjusting to life as it comes and finding joy in the journey. It's about forgetting those impossible standards you've set for yourself and allowing yourself to walk when necessary without worrying about those who will judge you for being weak. It's about hobbling through pain at times. It's about feeling content with whatever progress you can make.

And most of all, it's about moving forward towards a far-off finish line, doing what you know you've been asked to without worrying so much about whether your efforts measure up to whatever standard you set for yourself.
You'll get there. Not in the way you want nor with the ease and flow and consistency you desire, but you'll get there.

Don't give up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finding Joy in Mothering (Nearly Wordless Wednesday)

(First, another reminder that voting is on-going. I'm in 12th place or so right now and could use a few votes! -- just click on this badge, and scroll down to my blog to vote.)

After spending a few weeks feeling overwhelmed and as if I was drowning in the work around here, I've been determined to find more joy in my life, even if it means ignoring some of the messes. (It helps that I have made some progress in cleaning out and organizing lately).

* We had a campfire in our backyard for family home evening on Monday.

* I've been walking several times with a friend -- it's amazing how a good conversation uplifts and helps put things in perspective.

* I've been doing a few photoshoots and enjoying the chance to develop those talents further.

* I cleaned out a few hot spots in my house that were really bothering me -- and yes, having order does help me find joy. A few things rearranged in the kitchen make it much easier to bake cookies (I did that too), find bowls, and make oatmeal nearly every day for breakfast (I'm SO tired of paying for cereal).

* I gave up on making bread for my family every Wednesday. They weren't appreciating it much and I decided it wasn't worth my time for now. They ARE appreciating the homemade zuchinni bread, cookies, and brownies I've made instead. (Amazing what the addition of a bit of sugar does to gratitude levels).

* I am now (FINALLY) past the morning-sickness stage of pregnancy. It hung around a little too long! The baby's moving a bit, I've had some Braxton Hicks, and I'm trying to ignore the scale when it tells me I've gained ten pounds since June. I'm getting more and more excited about my ultrasound in just a week -- my husband's got this great idea that it would be fun to not find out (thanks a lot, Rebecca!), but I think I've convinced him I need to know. I'm feeling more and more as if it's a girl, but I've been wrong before!

* I kept a positive attitude even when some mysterious bug caused six of my children to throw up in the middle of the night, a different child (or two) each night. Not a single one of them made it to the bathroom, so there's been a lot of laundry.

* When Eliza wanted to go to the duck pond the other day, I brought my camera. I've been neglecting to photograph my own children lately, and adding that back into my life was thrilling, especially when with very little effort, I got shots like these:

This has got to be my favorite shot of Harmony ever -- her personality is larger than life:

What have you found that brings you joy?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Q&A Thursday: Mother's Guild Meetings

(First -- a shameless plea for votes -- just click on this badge if you like my blog.)

Now, today's question is about my mother's group:
I know that you host a mother's group. I'd like to do one here. Can you tell me more about how you make it work?
I've been hosting The Amazing Mother's Guild for going on three years now. Once a month, we have a discussion on a Friday morning at my house (You can read through the notes from some of the meetings we'd have in the past here). I'm blessed with a large home that's built to handle lots of kids, so it works out well. Usually, we have between 6 and 10 moms come, and my house is filled with the noise of between 15 and 30 kids happily playing while we visit. Last year, we had a nearby home-schooled teenager come a few times to help play with the kids, but usually, the kids get along amazingly well. I've tried at times to get out things like playdough or coloring for the kids, but I find they mostly abandon those things in favor of our slide and downstairs playroom with its toys. I also get out a bin of toys for babies and toddlers, who stay close by while we discuss.

Since the kids often play downstairs while we are upstairs discussing, I do cull the toys down to just a few bins and I also lock the doors to all the rooms so they aren't wandering through bedrooms. Other than that simple preparation, and making sure the house is reasonably clean, the groups is very easy to host.

(our slide is a big hit with small visitors)

For the first two years, we also planned field trips once a month, to places like Pumpkinland, local museums, and the fire station. While some of the field trips would have a decent turn-out, others were very sparsely attended and I decided not to do them this year. It seemed that the need for the recreation together was never as strong as the need for education and discussion.

We've had some wonderful discussions over the years, from mothers of all ages and expertise. I love to ask my older neighbors who have raised their families successfully to come in and share their ideas on keeping marriages strong, building family unity, and teaching children responsibility. It's also wonderful to hear from the older generation as well as my peers.

The group goes from September to May, and I try to schedule the discussion leader at the beginning of the year to cut down on my stress. I emphasize that they don't need to be experts, just willing to share what they've learned and invite discussion on the topic. We're all learning together, and I love the synergy of ideas as we discuss various topics.

All reminders for the group are via email. I usually send out two emails, one a week in advance and one a day or two before. I've created a group distribution list in Outlook that simplifies things. Last year, I also figured out how to schedule my emails so that I could do write and set up a bunch of emails in advance and then just allow Outlook to send them for me at the appropriate time. Since I also send out the email reminders for our Book Club, this has been a life-saver!

The first year, we tried to have a book discussion every few months, but I found that very few read the book, some stayed away because they hadn't read it, and since many of us already belonged to a book club, we decided to just drop that part.

Last year, I added a short Conference Moment to each month's discussion. Every six months, the leaders of my Church address gospel topics in a series of meetings called General Conference. The topics covered by the many speakers are diverse, but there are always some that apply specifically to motherhood and family life. I went through and pick out those talks, assign them to a different mother each time, and they'd spend a few minutes reviewing the talk and what they've learned from it.

The main discussion usually lasts for about an hour and then we spend another half hour or so visiting before people drift away to pick up kindergartners or make lunch. It's been a great experience for me to learn from other moms I admire and love, both those who prepare the discussion and those who participate in it.

Here are the topics we discussed our first year:
  • Finding Joy in the Journey
  • What to Expect in the Delivery Room
  • Book Discussion: Contentment by Maria Covey Cole
  • Effective Family Home Evening and Scripture Study
  • Girl's Hairstyles
  • Book Discussion: A Mother's Book of Secrets by Linda Eyre and Shawna Porthier
  • Home Organization & Cleaning
  • Improving Your Marriage (notes are here)
  • Planning Your Summer Schedule and Local Outings

And the second year:
  • Finding Joy in the Journey
  • Strengthening Marriages (notes are here)
  • Teaching Children Responsibility (notes are here)
  • Family Traditions
  • Effective Family Home Evening and Scripture Study
  • Finding Balance in Our Many Responsibilities (Since I led this one, notes are in three parts: part one, part two, and part three)
  • Steps to Better Home Organization
  • Preparing Future Missionaries
  • Raising Siblings Who Love Each Other (notes are here)

And here is what is on the schedule for this year. A few of us met in May to come up with topics to discuss and ideas for discussion leaders. Having that all decided a few months ago made it easy to get this together:
  • Understanding and Coping with Depression
  • Maintaining Your Health and Fitness
  • Making Your Spouse a Priority
  • Creative Discipline: Getting Kids to Mind without Losing Your Mind
  • Improving Family Home Evenings
  • Keeping Romance Alive
  • Embracing Your Little Helpers: Child Development in the Preschool Years
  • Maintaining Positive Relationships with your Children as they Age
Do you participate in any groups with other moms? How is your group organized? Any ideas to add to what I've shared here?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Growing into a Toddler (Wordless Wednesday)

By the way, it's still not too late to vote for me (you can even vote once a day if you really, really like me) -- just click on this badge:

Katie's 16 months now, and so much fun!

We think she's a little goofy-looking -- cute & adorable, sure, but also goofy-looking! But we've got confidence she'll grow into her looks and end up a beauty. After all, we had one other goofy-looking child in Eliza:
And she's one of our prettiest little girls now!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vote for me -- please?

I've been nominated for one of the Top 25 Large Family Blogs over at Circle of Moms.

Click on the badge to vote for me!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years Ago

Yesterday, the world was in turmoil and commotion. The evil wrought by a few destroyed many innocent lives and shattered others. It was hard to feel peace on that day.

Ten Years Ago Today, this crazy little guy, my first son, took his first steps.
And I felt peace again. They were more than first steps to me; they were the promise of good things to come, the reassurance that life's most important values continued on. They were the proof that God was still in His Heaven, watching over His children.

* * *

The leader of our Church, President Thomas S. Monson, wrote a piece about 9/11 for the Washington Post On Faith blog. I found it moving and am posting it in its entirety here, bolding the parts that I loved the most:

The calamity of September 11th, 2001 has cast a long shadow. Ten years later, many of us are still haunted by its terrible tragedy of lost lives and broken hearts. It is an episode of anguish that has become a defining moment in the history of the American nation and the world. This week, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, along with Tom Brokaw, will pay its own homage to the unforgettable events of September 11, 2001.

There was, as many have noted, a remarkable surge of faith following the tragedy. People across the United States rediscovered the need for God and turned to Him for solace and understanding. Comfortable times were shattered. We felt the great unsteadiness of life and reached for the great steadiness of our Father in Heaven. And, as ever, we found it. Americans of all faiths came together in a remarkable way.

Sadly, it seems that much of that renewal of faith has waned in the years that have followed. Healing has come with time, but so has indifference. We forget how vulnerable and sorrowful we felt. Our sorrow moved us to remember the deep purposes of our lives. The darkness of our despair brought us a moment of enlightenment. But we are forgetful. When the depth of grief has passed, its lessons often pass from our minds and hearts as well.

Our Father’s commitment to us, His children, is unwavering. Indeed He softens the winters of our lives, but He also brightens our summers. Whether it is the best of times or the worst, He is with us. He has promised us that this will never change.

But we are less faithful than He is. By nature we are vain, frail, and foolish. We sometimes neglect God. Sometimes we fail to keep the commandments that He gives us to make us happy. Sometimes we fail to commune with Him in prayer. Sometimes we forget to succor the poor and the downtrodden who are also His children. And our forgetfulness is very much to our detriment.

If there is a spiritual lesson to be learned from our experience of that fateful day, it may be that we owe to God the same faithfulness that He gives to us. We should strive for steadiness, and for a commitment to God that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives. It should not require tragedy for us to remember Him, and we should not be compelled to humility before giving Him our faith and trust. We too should be with Him in every season.

The way to be with God in every season is to strive to be near Him every week and each day. We truly “need Him every hour,” not just in hours of devastation. We must speak to Him, listen to Him, and serve Him. If we wish to serve Him, we should serve our fellow men. We will mourn the lives we lose, but we should also fix the lives that can be mended and heal the hearts that may yet be healed.

It is constancy that God would have from us. Tragedies are not merely opportunities to give Him a fleeting thought, or for momentary insight to His plan for our happiness. Destruction allows us to rebuild our lives in the way He teaches us, and to become something different than we were. We can make Him the center of our thoughts and His Son, Jesus Christ, the pattern for our behavior. We may not only find faith in God in our sorrow. We may also become faithful to Him in times of calm.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

I RAN A MARATHON! (The long version)

I'm getting such a thrill saying that to myself: "I ran a marathon." I get even more thrilled to add, "and I loved it!" And the little braggart in me wants to go on with, "And I did it 15 weeks pregnant and with a knee injury!" Maybe I'll be more humble later on, but right now, I'm really proud of myself.

A Little Running Background:
A little over two years ago, I had never run a mile in my life. I'd exercised in other ways, but running? That was for someone else. Then I gradually started to run and built up some stamina, culminating in running my first 5K when I was 12 weeks pregnant with my 8th child. I continued to run until I was about 6 months along, then just walked the last few months of pregnancy. After Katie was born in May of 2010, I did a bit of running, including another 5K when she was two months old, but nothing really serious.

In January I decided this was the year I was finally going to tackle my fitness in a big way. I thought I'd have a little break before our next baby was born (ha ha, joke's on me!), so I filled in the year with races -- a 10K in March, my first half marathon in June, and then, with a lot of trepidation and fear, I signed up for the St. George marathon lottery and got in!

I was running off and on, but my longest distance was still only about 3.5 miles when I started training in January. I gradually built that up, training first for the Utah Valley Half, and feeling so proud of myself. Along the way, I learned a lot of life lessons and really discovered why I was doing this.

With the half marathon successfully completed, I jumped halfway into a marathon training plan, gearing up for the St. George marathon on October 1st. A week later, I found out that baby #9 was anxious to arrive around Valentines Day. I decided to continue training, with some modifications, and I was all set to run. My doctor, however, wasn't so sure about running the St. George marathon when I was 20 weeks along. She's run four marathons herself, so I had to take her advice seriously. With that in mind, I chose the Mesa Falls Marathon, five weeks earlier, and my doctor said she felt much better about my running one at 15 weeks. She counseled me to avoid dehydration and training too hard and told me I was amazing.

Things were going pretty well in the training, and my 18-miler was a huge success. Then came my 21-miler, and horrible hip pain that kept me from running at all after the first nine miles. I was determined to finish the distance anyway, so I walked. It wasn't so bad the first few miles, but by the time I finished out the full 21, my feet were two masses of blisters, my right hip and knee were killing me, and I could barely move. I'd thought running 21 miles would be hard, but I discovered that walking the last 12 miles were worse! The recovery from that "run" was my worst ever.

The hip pain subsided over the next week, but the knee pain didn't go away. I struggled with it through the Provo River Half Marathon the next Saturday and I was panicked when it recurred during my 8 mile run the week before the marathon. I went to a physical therapist twice the week of the marathon, hoping to speed up the healing and get through the marathon in one piece.

I went out for one run on Thursday morning, but the knee was still really sore and I didn't run enough of it to see how bad it would get. Needless to say, I went into the marathon last weekend with very low expectations. If it hadn't been for the pregnancy, I would have canceled the race and focused instead on one a bit further out, giving my leg a chance to really heal beforehand. But I knew this was my only chance and I determined to make the best of it. If I could just somehow get through the miles, then I had plenty of time to take a long running break and get things working better afterwards.

But I needed to get through those miles first, and while I trusted in the assurance I felt from Heavenly Father that I'd be able to see success in my goals, I didn't quite know what that "success" would look like. I determined in my mind beforehand that if I could run for most of the first ten miles, then I knew I would finish, even if I had to walk the last sixteen. Every mile I could run after the first ten would just decrease the time spent walking. Make no mistake, however -- I knew walking that kind of distance on an injured leg was no piece of cake, either, and I dreaded the extra time it would take and the blisters that would surely form.
Nevertheless, I determined to make the best of it if necessary and try to enjoy the marathon.

Marathon: Day Before

Friday afternoon, DH, Joey, Katie and I left the other kids in the care of my wonderful mother-in-law Carolyn, and headed up to Ashton, Idaho, a five hour drive away. It has been years since I've been on the part of I-15 that goes into Idaho. It was a lovely, soothing drive. I'd gotten most of my anxiety about the race worked through earlier in the week, so I felt calm and relaxed, saying to myself, "Come what may!" The lovely farmland, rolling hills, and beautiful sky were wonderful to drive through. I was amazed by the fields and fields full of sunflowers all along the route.

In Ashton, we stopped first at the elementary school to pick up my packet and enjoy the pre-race dinner. The packets were in Idaho Potato sacks, and I loved that little touch.

The volunteers at the race were so friendly and helpful all the way along. I talked briefly to the race director, reminding him I was doing the early start. He said there were two others who were doing it and reminded me it would be dark. He told me to be at the school at 4:00 and that his driver would leave at 4:15. I was happy to hear I'd still get to enjoy the free runner's breakfast that started at 4:00.

We'd paid $5 each for three tickets to the pre-race pasta dinner that night and ate in the school cafeteria. The pasta dinner was pretty simple -- spaghetti with two kinds of sauce, garlic bread, baked potatoes and salad. We talked to an older couple nearby from Boise who had both run many, many races. With only about two hundred runners doing the full, and around three hundred doing the half, it seemed that most of the marathoners were veterans. It's not a big or well-known race (St. George, for example, attracts 7,000 runners!), and there’s not a lot of downhill, so it seems to attract more veterans, especially those who want to do a marathon in every state and are attracted to one that starts just an hour from Yellowstone. At breakfast in the morning, I sat by several people who had on "marathon maniac" shirts and they were swapping stories about this race or that one and I could see that for some, marathons are addicting!

We stayed at a hotel about a mile north of the elementary school. Katie seemed to know just what her pack-n-play was for, and insisted on getting in it right after we set it up. We got her out a short time later because she wasn't ready for sleep, and she pleasantly ran around the room, climbed on the beds, and ripped up a magazine. DH took Joey out for shakes at the FrosTop drive-in while I stayed back to help Katie to sleep. She hardly whimpered as I put her down, rolling around a lot to get comfortable, sucking on her ring finger as usual, and going to sleep after about a half an hour.

When DH got back, he had to work on his laptop while Joey and I went to sleep. I slept pretty soundly, though I still woke up several times in the night (darn pregnancy hormones!).

Marathon Day

I woke up at 3:15, took a quick shower and braided my hair, got dressed and made sure all my gear was in order, then woke up DH to drive me over. I was really worried about my knee, which was feeling more out of whack, and we said a prayer together in the car just before I left. I got a quick breakfast -- there was a huge spread of fruit, bagels, donuts, juice, milk, and cereal to choose from, all free for the runners and just $3 for others who wanted to tag along -- and then a volunteer named Robert asked who would be doing the early start. It was me and a very fit empty-nester named Doug Calder doing it. The others had decided to start at the regular time, Robert said, and Doug had chosen the early start because he'd found out the night before he was supposed to pick up his daughter at the SLC airport at 3:30. He was using this run as a training run for the Top of Utah marathon in Logan in three weeks and was quite a runner, having done several ultra-marathons in addition to many marathons. Robert told us he would drive behind the slower of us to scare any cows off the course and to illuminate the run for us. That was a nice surprise and a great courtesy. I'd been told I needed to provide my own water until the aid stations opened and that I'd need to provide my own light as well. I'd brought a headlamp, but it was great not to need it.

We started around 5:15 a.m. The first nine and a half miles were on a mostly-level gravel road in the Targhee National Forest. It was very dark when we began and slightly chilly. The stars were stunning and there was the teeniest sliver of a moon. It was a lovely place and I couldn't help but feel it was a great privilege to be out enjoying such a stunning landscape. We startled an owl nearby at one point, but the only other animals we saw were cows.

Doug was kind enough to run alongside me for the first five miles. I really enjoyed having someone to talk to, and felt great through the first three miles. I skipped a lot of walk breaks because the pace we were going was easy enough. At around mile three, however, the knee started acting up and I had to adjust accordingly. Doug was great to walk with me when the pain got too intense for running and with a few more walk breaks than I wanted to take, we got through the first five miles in about seventy minutes. About that time, the sun had come up enough to distinguish the path. Doug went on ahead, and I told Robert I'd be fine. He'd been great to follow after us all that time. He filled up my water bottle and then went on ahead.

I was on my own then, and though I was really worried about the knee, and some additional hip pain I now experienced, I felt like I'd gotten a great start. My goal at this point was just to focus on getting through the first ten miles, running as much as possible. Each mile that passed brought greater confidence, though the pain got worse. The gravel road was surprisingly easy to run on. I'd been worried since I've trained exclusively on asphalt, but though at times there were larger rocks to watch out for, there was plenty of packed dirt mixed with the gravel and it was easy to get footing. I loved the solo running, just me and the lovely landscape, with evergreen forest, open range, and some patches of aspen trees to enjoy. Watching the sun rise over the Tetons in the distance was just icing on the cake.

At around 6:30, I passed my first aid station. I told the volunteers I was pretty sure I was winning, but they pointed out that there was another runner (Doug) ahead of me. I was impressed with the offerings at this and every aid station I passed. Not only was there water and several varieties of Gatorade, but there was a good variety of fruit, in this case, bananas, grapes, and orange slices. Some of the aid stations had a variety of granola bars, power bars, Gu, and gel, and every single one was staffed by nice people. Even towards the end, when I was more towards the back of the pack, the aid stations didn't seem to change. They were still just as well-stocked for the slower runners as for the faster ones. My last two races had been really poor in that way, with aid stations virtually empty for the slower runners -- at the Hobble Creek Half, when I'd deliberately walked the last five miles in order to taper for this marathon, there weren't any volunteers at all, no sign of any food or gel, and some aid "stations" had just a few cups of water left on the ground. So well-stocked and staffed aid stations every other mile or so was not something I took for granted!

After nine and half miles on the gravel road, the course turned south onto the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway. At mile marker eleven, we turned and got to run on the path overlooking the falls. Just before the turn, I started to get passed by the fastest of the male marathoners (the "real" runners!). It was an awesome experience to be an early starter, because I got to see and cheer on individually most of the other marathoners one at a time. The back of my shirt (which read "Mother of 8, Baby #9 on board”) got some comments and accolades from "Should you be out here?" to "You're an inspiration!" and I really enjoyed handing the compliments right back. Dane Rauschenberg, an author who ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 2006, was especially encouraging, which I thought was kind (I even got a mention on his blog later on).

There was a photographer near the falls and she got a picture of both the front and back of my shirt.

This picture doesn't do the falls justice:DH was going to meet me at the falls, but it took him a little more time to get the pain medicine I was begging him for (I'd passed an aid station at mile ten and took a half dose of pain pills, hoping they'd help, and knowing DH would have more for me if I needed it). My hip and knee were getting worse and I was hobbling through both the running and walking at this point, but feeling great that I'd gotten through my goal of running the first ten miles and that I was nearing the halfway point.

I met my husband, Joey, and Katie at around mile twelve and a half. Joey ran with me for just a bit.
Then I got to say hi to this cute face!
I braced myself for a lot of walking as the pain was overpowering at this point. I prepared myself mentally to be walking most of the rest of the way. I switched my socks to cut down on blistering, and handed my watch and water belt to my husband. "The aid stations are well-stocked, so I think I can do without this stuff now, " I said. "Don't you need the watch?" he asked. "I'm in so much pain I think I'm going to be walking the rest," I told him. "At this point, all that will tell me is how slow I'm going, and I don't need that!" I tucked another half dose of pain medication into my pocket (I used it around mile 17).

I walked for about another quarter of a mile after meeting DH, but blessedly, the pain started to subside – maybe because the the pain medicine started to work, and certainly the result of all the prayers said on my behalf. I began to run again just before the half-way point. The half-marathoners were gathered at the side of the road waiting for their race to start. It was somewhere around 8:30, because not long after I passed, they started to pass me. They were a great cheering section. They cheered me as I went by, and then I heard the exclamations as they read the back of my shirt. "Mother of eight! My word!" One half marathoner told me later that I was famous among them. Another told me, "I heard about you." Still another, later on in the race, told me that after I'd gone by, she couldn't decide if I was crazy or amazing. We were in the last few miles by that point, and I told her I couldn't figure that out myself.

The pain was still present, but not enough to keep me from running. After I passed the half-marathoners, we turned onto a dirt running trail for three and a half miles that overlooked the Warm River.

There were wildflowers along the path. The sun glistening along the river below brightened my spirits. Best of all, I could run!

The next four miles were just fabulous. I figured as long as the pain wasn't too bad, and I was able to do it, I would just keep running. I took no breaks and just ran and ran and ran, all the while being passed by the pack of half-marathoners (remember, I’m a slow runner!). It felt amazing. I felt strong and healthy, and I told myself, "THIS is what I've trained for, and THIS is how I want to run all of my next marathon." I figured every mile I got through was another one I wouldn't have to walk, and that felt great.

I felt as though I could go on forever, and I didn't take a walk break until I was nearly at the end of the dirt path. We passed a campground, along with mile marker 17, and headed into the hardest part of the course -- a two-mile hill that curved around and up to the farmlands that would make up the rest of the run. It was starting to get hot, but most of the hill was shaded by trees. It seemed to last forever and I ran a lot of the first part of it, but then decided that with eight or nine miles still to go, I should conserve my strength. I enjoyed talking to some of the other people walking the hill and cheering on the runners who passed us. At mile 18, I still felt strong and great and anxious to tackle the last eight miles. Mile 19 saw the end of most of the hills, though there were a few more in the rolling farmlands we followed the rest of the way.

About this point, the heat started to bother all of us. I heard from an EMT at mile 22 that it was already 83 degrees, and that was before 11:00. Usually the weather is much cooler at this time of year, but the day before had reached 96, so the heat was to be expected. Most of the earlier miles had lots of shade, but now we were in open farmland with none. Still, it was beautiful to see the wheat and potato fields and the aid stations were manned by friendly townspeople, some of them with sprinklers!

I dropped cups of water on my head every chance I got and it seemed that every time the heat really started to bother me, there'd be a nice kid with a sprinkler ready to spray us off or an aid station with cups of water at hand. My husband drove by once just in time with a water bottle I poured on myself.

While at mile 18, I felt on top of the world and stronger than ever before, by mile 20, I began to feel the effects of the long run. I started to understand better why a couple of the runners wore shirts that said "A marathon is a 10K with a 20-mile warm-up." My legs felt like jello and I felt like I was moving through mud. I was slowing down -- I knew I was going pretty slow when a half-marathoner passed me while I was running, and she was walking! Still, I felt fabulous and on top of the world. In my mind, the race was already won and the miles between me and the finish were just details. I passed or was passed by a couple of people who had hit the wall and the discouragement on their faces was evident. I tried to cheer them up and remind them how close we were, or when that didn't work, distract them with conversation if they wanted to talk.
Every mile that brought me closer to the finish line felt wonderful and I cheered at every mile marker (earning me some smiles from my fellow runners). My knee and hip bothered me more and more, but so did every other part of my body. Still, it was awesome to move closer and closer to the finish line. Mile 21, with just five miles to go, was great. Mile 23 was even better, though by then the mile markers seemed to stretch further and further apart.

With three miles to go, I mentally ran my regular three mile training route in my head, trying to judge where I was by comparing the distances. "Just to the river path and the foot bridge will be another half mile. Then another half mile to the road, another half mile to the bridge, across the river and then I'm turned back heading for home!" I found that when I tried to estimate the miles this way, I underestimated how much distance I'd covered and mile 24 appeared out of nowhere.

Mile 25 took a lot longer to appear, and that last mile was the longest of the run. My hip was bothering me a lot, but I fell into place beside a half-marathoner who was using telephone poles to push herself -- run to one pole, then walk to the next. I figured I could handle that, and we enjoyed a brief conversation. With a quarter mile or so to go, I left my run-walk friend and tried to run as much as I could. There were many finishers walking along the main street by now, some of them enjoying their free huckleberry shakes. "The finish line is just around the corner," they called out, but I couldn't see the corner, nor even judge how far the finish line might be from it. It felt like it might never arrive. But the corner did finally appear, and I ran around it with a huge smile on my face.

I crossed the finish line feeling great. I wore my medal proudly and celebrated for a few moments with my husband (Joey was watching Katie at the hotel). They had fruit and pizza there, and I felt as though I could eat three or four full pizzas and still not be satisfied. I settled for three or four slices. My jacket was waiting for me, along with things the other runners had dropped at the aid stations (no buying throw-away clothes for this race -- we were spoiled!). After just a few minutes of standing around, it was torture to move again, but DH had walked the mile from our hotel and I knew it was good for my legs to walk that distance to prevent cramping.
It took me over six and a half hours to finish, but considering I'm slow to begin with, I'm 15 weeks pregnant, I'm still 25 lbs overweight (can't safely lose that until after the baby's born!), and that I was running injured, I'm so thrilled and proud. The best part is that I know that next time, it should be a piece of cake to beat that time, and there won't be any pressure.

And about that next marathon? I know many first-time marathoners have such a poor experience that they vow right after the race never to run again. I didn't feel any of that. I loved almost all of the race. The middle part, when I was convinced I'd be walking, was the worst. Being able to run and run and run after that point, from miles 13 to 17, were the best. And the last six miles, when I was so tired and my entire body begged me to stop, were the most rewarding. I'll certainly be back, and I hope that I get to run the Mesa Falls one again. The course was lovely, the volunteers were wonderful, the aid stations full of wonderful goodies, and I'm so grateful for farmers and their families for their sprinklers! It was a wonderful experience and I loved it.

I'm a marathoner now.
I'm going to savor that title for a little while.


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