Category Archives: Running

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Finish Though Your Legs Are Shaking, Finish Though Your Heart is Breaking- the 2018 Boston Marathon

As many of you know, it was a dream of mine to someday run the Boston Marathon. When I first started training for the marathon distance in summer of 2016, I had no clue what to expect and thought my road to Boston would be much longer than it actually was. When I BQed on my first marathon in October 2016 (thanks to my fiancé, you should check out that story), it was only -1:33. It was not enough to get in but enough to give me the confidence to know I could do it. I ran another marathon in May 2017 for a -4:28 to squeak in by just a little over a minute.

I was euphoric when I got that e-mail from the BAA that I was officially registered in the 2018 Boston Marathon. I decided not to do a fall marathon in 2017 and start training earlier than I typically would. Big mistake. I think I put way too much pressure on myself for Boston, and it ultimately lead to too much stress and a decline in my performance.Image may contain: one or more people and text

Throughout most of my training, everything pointed to me being able to hit my goal of sub 3:30. Besides a one-week bout with the flu, I was hitting the right paces on my workouts and my “easy pace” got faster. Five weeks before race day, I did a 20 miler on the course with the last 5 miles at faster than marathon pace and felt like I still had more in the tank. I did not do any other races during the cycle, keeping my sole focus on a PR and BQ at Boston.

March 21- the morning of my dissertation defense- BAM! I was doing a 7 mile tempo run at half-marathon pace, a challenging workout but nothing I had not already done in training. After the tempo portion, I felt a sharp pain in my butt and hobbled home. I passed my defense, officially becoming a PhD, but I was in pain. The next day I woke up crying that “Boston was over.” Not healed by that Saturday, I had to miss my 22 mile long run. To make matters worse, my 22 miler was going to be done with friends and I had been looking forward to it for months. It was hard to not board the bus to Hopkinton that morning.Image may contain: Kate Mroz, smiling, standing and indoor

I was diagnosed with SI joint dysfunction. Both my PT and doctor assured me that I would still run Boston, but it was hard to believe them especially as the healing took longer than even they expected. I was out of running for two weeks, though doing some intense work on the recumbent bike- who know how good of a workout you could get on that thing?

At one appointment, my doctor told me that I could try running again on Easter Sunday. As a theologian, I got excited and joked that the waiting to run part was my Lenten penance. However, I was not really joking. I woke up on Easter Sunday with a lot of hope and went into a very dark place when I was not able to run that morning. To make matters worse, the gym was closed so I had to skip biking that day. My fiancé had to force me to go to church. I was a mess. I felt that God had abandoned me. After all this work, why would I get this freak injury out of the clear blue on the day of my defense of all possible mornings? As some of you may know, I dealt with some pretty bad anxiety and depression while finishing up my dissertation, and marathon training really helped with that. Everything on my Facebook and in my house reminded me of Boston- it felt like the world was mocking me. Every morning when I woke up in my pain, it seemed like I would get another e-mail update about Boston.

Finally, shortly after Easter, the pain did go away and I was able to return to running. My doctor gave me a cortisone shot. Even as he was giving me the shot, he said “You are going to PR this thing!” He insisted that the biking kept up my fitness and that because I was already through two marathons, I would be fine. I was skeptical but decided that if he believed in me, I would not give up. I got in some runs before the marathon. The first two were bit shaky, but I started getting my groove back after that.

I set two goals for myself. 1) Still run the sub 3:30 if possible. 2) If I was not feeling a sub 3:30 and knew it was not going to happen, to just enjoy the race, shake hands with spectators, kiss my fiancé at his viewing spots, take selfies, and just savor the course.

I reached neither goal. But God was in this crazy mess, and I did take something important away from this race.

Race weekend was a lot of fun. On Saturday, my fiancé and I went to the Expo and had an amazing time. We tried so many delicious samples. I ended up buying a Roo pouch to carry my gels and phone during the race (great decision). Bryan also bought me a Spike the Unicorn stuffed animal, which I have wanted for a very very long time!No automatic alt text available.

On Sunday, we went to the Blessing of the Runners at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, which brought me some calm and comfort. When we got home, I spent hours agonizing over what to wear on race day. I tried on about 100 different outfits. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and outdoor

On race morning, I got to take a private bus to the Athlete’s Village, thanks to a running buddy, Mark Sekelsky. I sat next to another running buddy, Erin Cheyenne Staker, on the bus. It was a great group and talking to everyone calmed my nerves. As we kept looking at the weather report, I was more and more at peace with my #2 goal, thinking that would still give me a 3:40ish marathon.Image may contain: 1 person

Walking to the starting line from the Athlete’s Village turned out to be total chaos. Veteran Boston Marathoners assured me this was not normal. We were packed like sardines for 45 minutes, barely moving. When I finally got the starting line, it was after my scheduled 10:50am start time. I kept waiting to line up with my corral but never got the chance. I did not realize I was supposed to start running. I flipped out and a volunteer helped me get off my extra clothes.

The weather was thankfully not so bad in the beginning. I was going pretty fast. I forced myself to slow down to save energy for the later parts of the race. I had to keep pushing through other people since I did not start with my corral and no one around me was running my pace. I kept asking if anyone was doing “7:50-8:00 minute miles” and everyone just looked at me like I was crazy. I felt sad that I had no one to run with, since I normally start marathons talking to the people around me. Slightly before the half way point, I noticed my splits dropping but figured I would make them up on the downhills.

By the half way point, I felt a slight ache in my hips that I at first though was the injury but that my doctor and PT think was just the cold.  I knew a PR was over but I was determined to make goal #2 happen.  Then around mile 15, I just knew something was terribly wrong. The rain got heavier and my clothing was soaked. My splits dropped dramatically. It was incredibly frustrating. I tried to just enjoy the crowds, but I was so cold that I could not even muster a smile or high five for anyone. Cardiovascularly, I was not even tired but my legs were so cold they would just not move any faster.

By the time I saw my fiancé at mile 16, I knew I was going super slow, so I decided to take a few minutes to stop and get a new pair of gloves from him. He caught this on video and watching it again now, it’s pretty funny!  He was standing with a volunteer who was incredibly kind. I was sobbing. The woman he was had a warm smile and kept telling me “we’ve been waiting for you! You are doing great!”

Me: “I don’t feel good. My time is going to be terrible.”

Bryan: “That’s OK. Just take your time.”

Me: “I am going to finish”

Volunteer: “Of course you are!”

Bryan and the volunteer (I wish I knew her name, she was truly an angel) helped put the new gloves on my hands. We were all so cold and disoriented that I noticed when I got back on the course that Bryan had given me two different gloves! Thankfully, my hands were warm. They were the only part of my body that was!

I sped up slightly after seeing Bryan but then slowed down dramatically again right before the Newton Hills. I kept getting text messages from Bryan, who knew something had to be terribly wrong. Even on my easiest easy runs (think like, the day after a 20 miler), I was running at least 1-2 minutes per mile faster than the pace I was now running. During training, I could not even have run this slow if I tried!

“Kate, are you OK?”

“Please drop out, this is not worth it.”

At this point, Bryan started alerting some of the other people tracking me that something was wrong. “Kate dropped to a 9:49 pace. Her last marathon was an 8:00 pace. Something is wrong- I hope she stops.”

I kept going. The Newton Hills were a blur. I stopped looking at my watch. My teeth were chattering and my legs felt frozen, I could not move them any faster. But I refused to walk. I knew that if I walked, I would just feel colder.

When I got to Heartbreak Hill, I cried. I cried because I felt so awful and the medical tent looked so tempting. I also cried because I run up Heartbreak Hill all the time. I was so prepared for this part of the course and my legs would not move. I used to joke all the time during training, “Heartbreak Hill isn’t going to break my heart!” And yet, here I was on race day, the day that mattered and I was literally stuck in that nightmare a lot of runners have where you are at the race and your legs feel like they are moving through quicksand.

I remember being at the top of Heartbreak Hill during training and saying, “Let it rip!” After Heartbreak Hill, the course is mostly downhill. Its where you can let it go and give it your all. Cardiovascularly, I wanted to start sprinting but my legs still wouldn’t move faster even as I went downhill. I could not bear to look at my watch, now registering splits that were so slow they set new records for “personal worsts.”  If this happened on a training run, I totally would have given up. However, before the race, I remember telling my family that if I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I would finish no matter what. I kept saying out loud “I’m gonna finish. I’m gonna finish.”

I knew my running club, the Brighton Bangers, was going to be at mile 22. However, I had thought that perhaps since I was going so much slower than expected, they might have been gone by the time I reached Cleveland Circle. Not the case! As I sobbed, shivering and soaking wet, while running down Chestnut Hill Ave, I heard people yelling “Go Kate!” I turned to my left and they were holding a sign that said “The Wizard of Mroz.” Surprising myself, I managed a big smile and a wave.No automatic alt text available.

By mile 23, I was frightened that I might pass out before reaching the finish line. “I’m so close. I’m so close. 5k. You can run 5k in your sleep.” My teeth could not stop chattering. My heart broke as I saw my watch reach my original goal time, 3:25, only at mile 23.

People still cheered for me like I was a rock star. In the middle of torrential rain, the crowds did not stop. I wished I had the energy to look at their signs and smile at them, but at that point, I could barely think.

At mile 24, I began the Our Father and realized I had forgotten the words. I just counted on God to finish the prayer for me, and to know what was in my heart.

For the entire last two miles, I felt so confused and cold that I kept reminding myself of my name. “You are Kate Mroz and your fiancé is Bryan Weinstein. You are Kate Mroz and your fiancé is Bryan Weinstein.” I figured that if I at least could remember that, it would be OK.

I had dreams of the iconic turn “right on Hereford, left on Bolyston.” It was nothing like what I dreamed. Confused and disoriented, I did not even hear or see my fiancé scream to me right before turning on Hereford.

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When I finally crossed the finish line, I just started crying. My body was shaking uncontrollably. I kept looking behind me to make sure I actually finished- with how bad I felt, I was so afraid I only imagined stepping over the mat. One of the medical volunteers grabbed me immediately and I was put in a wheelchair and moved into one of the medical tents. My legs were shaking violently and my teeth would not stop chattering. The doctor asked if anything hurt and surprisingly, I had no pain or soreness at that point, just immense cold and confusion. They took my temperature and it was 92 degrees. Normal is 98 degrees, and anything under 95 degrees is considered hypothermia.

My hands were so shaking so much that I could not do anything. A few female volunteers helped me get my wet clothes off and texted my fiancé to tell him where I was. They wrapped me in warm blankets and also had me hooked to a heating machine. Even though more runners were constantly being brought in and many were more ill than I was, I never felt neglected. I was really scared, and one of the nurses was sitting with me and holding my arm and telling me that it was going to be OK. When I was feeling slightly better but still shaking, I suddenly got upset asking if I had actually finished and if I would get a medal. One of the nurses went and got my medal for me and put it around my neck.

When my hands stopped shaking and I could maneuver my phone, I checked my official time. 4:02:49. Over 32 minutes slower than my previous marathon. My heart sunk. I remember saying before the race, “if worse comes to worse and I’m not feeling it, I’ll just finish under 4 hours, I can totally do that!” Of course, I would have been under 4 had I not stopped for those gloves, but not by much! My parents called to see that I was OK and I remember crying into the phone, “I didn’t even break 4 hours. We all said that even in the worst conditions, I’d still break 4 hours!”

Unfortunately, after I felt better, it took a while for me to get released. My clothes were in bag check and the BAA did not want to release them to Bryan. It took almost an hour to finally get my clothes to the medical tent. Once I got dressed, one of the physical therapists made me walk around with her holding my arm. Unfortunately, due to the hypothermia, I did not follow proper post marathon protocol, which is 1) walk around after crossing the finish line 2) get some nutrition right away. Thankfully, we had to walk a bit to catch an Uber which helped flush out the lactic acid build up in my legs.

I did not get to go to any post-race parties as I had originally planned. There are a lot of online training buddies that I missed meeting. I am telling myself that I need to get back to Boston another year because I still owe my dad a picture of myself in the Boston Red Sox dugout wearing a Yankee shirt and a medal!

I did not eat any of the snacks Bryan packed for me except for my Muscle Milk Protein shake. It was so late that we decided to just go straight to dinner after showering. We enjoyed some ribs at Stockyard Bar and Grill. I wore my celebration jacket. Due to the hypothermia, I was a lot hungrier after this marathon than previous ones. My metabolism was in an elevated state for the entire week after I finished the race.Image may contain: Kate Mroz, smiling, sitting, table, food and indoor

I am not going to lie and say that I do not feel bad about how this race turned out, I do. My heart is broken. I battle the voices in my head that ask why my body gave out in the cold and other people’s bodies did not, why I was not strong enough.  However, this race tested my strength as an athlete in ways it had never been tested before.

It also made me realize how much support I have, even though I often think I am alone.  When I was struggling with my injury: my fiance, my parents, my doctor, and my physical therapist became “Team Get Kate to Boston Healthy.” I spent a lot of time crying over what I thought would be a DNS, and they comforted me and told me to stay positive. Before the race, I received tons of text messages and Facebook posts (both private and on my timeline) wishing me the best.  Friends and family that I had not heard from in a while contacted me after the race to tell me how proud they were. Lots of people expressed amazement that I finished my PhD and the Boston Marathon in the same year. People could not care less about my time! People have treated me like a rock star, even though I do not feel like one and that is a beautiful thing. I am going to do my best to accept it and enjoy it.

As Edward Schillbeeckx said, “God is new each moment.” I am amazed at how throughout my life, I have often felt like God is absent, and then I have come to feel God’s presence in the most unexpected places and in the most unexpected ways. God was there in the midst of this hypothermia- inducing marathon. It was not the day I dreamed about, but I discovered some beautiful surprises nonetheless.

 

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Stop Fretting: Your Sweaty Grimacing Race Photos Are Beautiful

“Why can’t I look good in race photos?”

Fall racing season is in full gear and I think I have come across this question a billion times over the past few weeks. It breaks my heart. A woman completes a 5k, half-marathon, or marathon and feels tremendously proud of herself, but instead of celebrating, she agonizes over the race pictures.

“I look sweaty and gross.”

“My mouth is hanging open.”

“I’m not smiling.”

“ My legs look weird.”

“ Why can’t I look like the lady next to me? She’s smiling.”

“Why can’t I look good in race photos?”
I’m here to tell you that you can “look good” in race photos. In fact, you already do “look good’ in race photos. It’s just that so many of us women have been socialized to have a very limited of what “looks good.” We associate beauty with happy faces, hair and make-up in place, and an elimination of any pain or struggle in our expression or body language. “Smile.” “Look at the camera.” “Cheer up.” “Don’t slouch.” “Comb your hair.” “Take off your glasses.”  No wonder cameras are sometimes a source of anxiety. Sure, it’s OK to spend extra effort before taking a professional headshot or a formal photo, but sadly, so many of us cringe whenever a camera comes out at a party or race because we are not “picture ready.” But shouldn’t pictures capture “real life” and “real time expressions?”

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Determination. 

 

As a Catholic theologian, I subscribe to a Catholic anthropology that sees the extraordinary in the ordinary, that finds God in the everyday, including the messy and chaotic. Beauty, my friends, is not just smiles and fancy hair dos. Beauty can be sweating, bleeding, crying, and screaming. Beauty is life as it is lived, and that is not always smiling and posing.

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It’s raining and its mile 12 and I’m almost finished! 

One of the best words of wisdom came to me from my mom, who reminded me that the most miraculous things in life often happen when we are struggling, not smiling. Think of childbirth- a woman giving birth is sweaty and bloody and in pain AND SO BEAUTIFUL.

So when you see that race photo of yourself with sweat dripping off your face, your hair all mussed up, and your mouth in a grimace, BE PROUD. It shows a strong woman who is working hard and giving it her all.

So, everybody, here are my race photos. I used to be embarrassed of them, but now I cherish them. They represent some of my greatest memories and accomplishments, and remind me how strong and tough I am.

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Yeah, I totally saw my fiance with the camera, but I was not going to stop to smile. “I’m going to PR and win third place in my age group and I’m going to keep my beautiful mouth open!” 

 

The Spinathon- When Cross-Training Becomes More Than Cross-Training

I love racing. I guess that is obvious.

 

I love the training, the nerves and anticipation of the course, the use of my sport for the benefit of local charities, the bonding with other runners, the sense of accomplishment after a tough finish and the first taste of that protein shake and bagel with peanut butter (my post-long run breakfast of choice).

 

So, when I got an injury 5 weeks before the BAA Half (at which I was hoping and planning to PR), I was quite disappointed. The doctor diagnosed it as Achilles bursitis, which, thankfully, it’s not as bad as Achilles tendonitis. The bursa are thin, lubricated cushions that serve as the points of friction between bone and soft tissue. It’s painful, but not nearly as painful as some other common running injuries.

 

The injury also happened two weeks before the Brighton Bangers 5k- super super important event to me given that it is put on by my running club! My doctor allowed me to do the race provided the pain stayed under a 5. I finished in 21:40, which was slower than my time for that course last year but better than I expected with an injury. This was the first race where I approached the finish line and my fiancé did not cheer for to “hurry up,” since he begged me to take it easy. In retrospect, I should not have raced. Mile one was a great split- 6:47- and I got confident that I could repeat last year’s performance, but then the injury kicked in and I had to slow down – 7:20 for mile 2 and 7:09 for mile 3. The foot hurt so bad afterwards that I could not do a cool down and instead of socializing, I went home to ice it. That being said, I still had fun and the pain subsided on the walk home. But overall, I probably should have just volunteered and stayed out of the race (but NOT RACING when others are running is so so hard :/)

 

So, when the Oak Square YMCA announced a Spinathon to raise money to help local families, I was super excited. For the past two years, spin has been a fun cross-training activity but it’s taken on an even bigger role during this injury. Spin classes have kept up my cardiovascular fitness while I am unable to run much, and in fact, I think they are quite more challenging than a lot of my runs! The sprints and hills mimic running workouts.

 

The Spinathon had an option of doing 1, 2, or all 3 hours. Eager for a new challenge given that I am not running a fall marathon and my half may be out of the picture (still deciding), I decided to try for the 3. My fiancé joined me for the first hour and we had so much fun looking over at each other. Prior to this, an hour had been my maximum for a spin session. After that hour, I took a quick break to say goodbye to Bryan and hopped back on. We switched instructors mid-way and just like a long race, hunger suddenly came on and I grabbed some Powerade and a banana. After the burst of Powerade, I knew I could finish the thing. I seriously need to have more sports drinks during my long runs and races, they help! The instructors were super enthusiastic, and one made us put our hands up and shout “woo!” during various points in the last hour. While my sprints were slower and my resistance lower during the third hour, they were much higher than I expected they would be. I kind of thought I would be barely pedaling toward the end, but that was not the case. As the instructors reminded everyone, our legs are stronger than we think! I also kept thinking of Iron Tony upstairs, attempting to break the world record for an indoor triathlon. If someone can run 26.2 miles on a treadmill, surely I can spin for 3 hours!

 

When I got off the bike, I felt a bit dizzy at first but not nearly as bad as I expected to feel. There were only a few of us who stayed for the whole thing, so we took a picture together. Even though we barely talked (I mean, it’s hard to hold a conversation while spinning), we felt a special bond after our three-hour ordeal.

 

While the soreness and dehydration were not as bad as a marathon (namely because I had constant access to water), the hunger was just as intense. I drank a muscle milk on my walk home, and called my fiancé to make sure he had bagels, peanut butter, and fruit waiting for me. On my walk home, I passed by people running a 5k and instead of feeling upset and angry about not being in it, I shouted “go runners!” It did not even occur to me until the next day that it should have been my last long run before the half-marathon. I had so much fun and felt so accomplished, I barely thought about my injury!

 

Moral of the story- there can be a silver lining in injuries. While I have always cross-trained, I never took the time to really develop a love for one of my cross-training activities or used one of my cross-training activities to benefit a local charity and meet other athletes. Cross-training need not be viewed as “cross-training.” It can become another hobby, another love. Indeed, that’s how I’ve come to see strength training/weight-lifting and spinning. Running is not the only thing I can do to challenge myself, to support a good cause, to stay in shape, and to meet other amazing athletes. While I expect to recover from this injury soon and resume normal training, this was not my last Spinathon!

Big thanks to Emily & Alyson for leading us, and to Bryan, as always, for doing the first hour with me and for feeding me afterwards! 🙂

A Prayer for Squeakers

Hi everyone! It is Squeaker Monday! I’m sub -4:28 here and incredibly nervous, and so many of my running friends are feeling the same.

For those of you who do not know, Squeaker Monday is the day that all persons who are less than 5 minutes faster than their Boston Marathon qualifying time can register for the Boston Marathon. Due to not enough space, in recent years, not all persons who qualify for Boston are able to gain entry. In 2016, entrants had to be 2:28 faster than their qualifying time. In 2017, it was -2:09.

When I am nervous, I like to pray. The communion of saints is one thing I truly love about Catholicism. People who have gone before us are praying for us, encouraging us, and inspiring us. This is true of both, officially recognized saints, like St. Sebastian mentioned below, and all those who have died. Since I am known as “Running Theologian,” I figured I would compose a prayer to the patron saint of athletes, St. Sebastian.

St. Sebastian, often known as the saint who was martyred twice, lived in the third century during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. Sebastian joined the Roman army, disguising himself as a noble pagan, so that he could minister to persecuted Christians. It is said that Sebastian converted many prisoners of the Roman army, and was also a gifted healer. When he was eventually caught, Diocletian ordered that Sebastian be shot with arrows, but miraculously, the arrows did not kill him. The Emperor then ordered that he be beaten to death. His feast day is January 20. Sebastian is known as the patron saint of athletes because of his physical endurance and bravery.

A Prayer for Squeakers

St. Sebastian,

Through strength and perseverance, you endeavored to spread the Gospel message, undeterred even by the threat of death. As the patron saint of athletes, I ask that you pray for us squeakers, as we register for the Boston Marathon so that we get the opportunity to run this April. Pray that we may always run with a purpose, and use our sport to benefit not only our own minds and bodies, but those of others.  Help us never neglect to remember God’s blessings and to use our running as opportunity to see God in new places, people, and things. Amen.

 

Team Mroz Weinstein- Established August 4, 2018

My fiancé, Bryan, and I have officially announced our wedding date. Shortly before the announcement, our friend Sam took engagement photos of us.  We wanted some of our pictures to have a running theme. Our love for working out has shown us that we are better together than we are alone.

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We both enjoy running and weight lifting, but our commitment to each differs. I am an avid runner and like racing distances like the half-marathon and marathon. Bryan is an avid weight lifter, and prefers shorter distance races like the 5k and half-marathon. His main focus is being stronger and lifting heavier, my main focus is running faster and longer. While some would say that I should be focusing on trying to convince Bryan he needs to run a marathon, or that he should convince me to cut back on the races and focus on being a stronger lifter, neither one of us really wants the other to change.

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Bryan’s passion for strength training helps me. Shortly after we started dating, he got me started on a lifting program, something I was never interested in before we met. Because of him, I can now, as a 28 year-old woman, do more pull-ups than I could as a fourteen year old kid! I go to him for advice whenever I need to work on strengthening certain muscles or when I am concerned about a potential injury.

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My love of running has also, I believe, benefitted Bryan. Shortly after we started dating and I started following a weight-lifting program, he completed his first 5k (which was way better than my first 5k- kind of jealous!) and later on, a half-marathon. He won an age group award at his second 5k. He goes to me for advice on racing strategies and good running workouts.

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We are truly a team. I never thought I would ever be strong enough to complete a marathon, but Bryan believed in me. I love to tell the story of when I reached mile 26 of my first marathon. Bryan was running toward me frantically. I expected to hear words like “you’re doing great honey!” but instead I got “Hurry up! Hurry up!” I was kind of angry at first, but when I saw the clock and realized I could qualify for Boston, I understood.

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Team Mroz-Weinstein extends beyond the gym. We are both doctoral students in (hopefully) our last year of studies. I have sat through many physics presentation and proofread many lab reports. Bryan has attended theology conferences and proofread many papers on feminist theology or interreligious dialogue.

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Being graduate students and runners together has given us a greater understanding of what love should be. Love is when your dream becomes his dream, and his dream becomes your dream.

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If you like these photos, check out more of Sam’s work here   or send him an e-mail at photography@hermeneuticlens.com.

Learning to Love My Legs

For many years- I’d say from the age of 8 all the way up until my early 20s- I hated my legs. I mean I really hated them. In my eyes, my legs were disproportionally short, chubby, and weird. Being a runner, I remember the other kids on the track team telling me not to bother ever trying to being a jumper- just wasn’t going to happen! Finding pants could be tough because they were always too long. And given that I hated the shape of my legs, I was super self-conscious about my pants and wouldn’t wear pants that I thought made my legs stand out or that fit tightly…

I was reminded of this today in cycling class. We were doing a really tough sprint interval and the instructor was walking around. Impressed with my pace and those of others around me, she said “you have strong legs.”

I have strong legs. Yes they are kind of short and yes, I’ll probably have to hem my pants for the rest of my life. Yes, my calves are so big that its hard to find knee socks to fit. Yes, I will never be an amazing long jumper. But, damn, these legs have sure been through a lot! They’ve cycled and lifted. They’ve ran thousands of miles. They’ve gotten me across the finish line of two marathons. They’ve been to so many great places and met so many wonderful people. My fiance- before he even knew I had a history of hating my legs- has told me he thinks they’re one of my greatest features. How could I not love my legs? How could I ever mistreat them or make them only wear “certain pants” instead of whatever is most comfortable or whatever I find to be most stylish?

Think of what your body can do instead of what it looks like or what its limitations are. No matter what, no person will ever be 100% happy with how they look or how they feel. But, we can learn to appreciate what our bodies do for us and also realize that oftentimes, the parts of us we see as imperfect are the parts that others find beautiful.

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Marathon #2- Dehydration, Praying the Rosary, and Achieving my Goal in Martha’s Vineyard

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On May 21, 2017, I ran the Martha’s Vineyard Marathon. As many of you know, my first marathon was back in October. I BQed with a 3:33:27 (the qualifying time for my age group is 3:35 or under). However, the cutoff for getting into the 2017 Boston Marathon was -2.09 and even worse in 2016. Running Boston has been a dream of mine, so I wanted to try again to get a faster time so my acceptance would be guaranteed.

My fiancé, who has been very supportive of my Boston 2018 dream, was kind enough to purchase my registration and book a hotel room in Cape Cod the night before the race. He kept saying he believed in me, but also kept reassuring me that he would be happy with his investment even if something went wrong. Nevertheless, I was extremely nervous the week leading up to the race, probably even more nervous than my first marathon, since I now had a goal besides finishing.

Training: I had to start my training plan later than I wanted due to a rib and foot injury that occurred during a tempo run in early February. Thankfully, the sports medicine physicians at Boston College had me healed in time to do a solid 12 weeks training plan. Seriously, big shout out to them- BC Eagles are in good hands! Each week, I made sure to do 1-2 speed sessions, 1-2 strength training sessions, and 1 long run. I decided to peak at 22 miles instead of 20 to give myself a confidence booster in the final miles of the race. I also decided to see a nutritionist so I’d be fueling better.

Pre-Race: Woke up at 3am (which wasn’t really waking up, I was up the whole night anyway) to drink hot tea to ensure I’d go to the bathroom (sorry to be blunt- but its important in a race!) Bryan and I got on a 6:30am ferry to Martha’s Vineyard where a race bus picked us up to bring us to the starting line at Vineyard Haven. I forced a banana and some protein bar bites down my throat on the ferry (yes, literally forced since I tend to work out before breakfast and I am never hungry in the mornings and YOU CANNOT ALWAYS RELY ON YOUR HUNGER ON MARATHON MORNING- past Kate mistake #1). Due to my paranoia, we were at the starting line very early- 7:25 for an 8:30 race.

When the time finally came, I lined up with the 3:30 pace group with my 4 GU gels and salt tablets around my waist. I was convinced the salt was excess but my nutritionist said they were important, and my fiancé made me shove them in my Fit Belt before the race. I debated going for 3:25, but decided it would be best to start conservatively and speed up at the end. My goal was 3:32 or under to be safe for Boston Marathon registration. I instantly made friends with two fellow graduate students from Boston, one from BC and one from BU. For the first 10 miles, we were having a blast talking to each other. There was a huge group of us. The course was scenic and mostly flat, though the few hills located between miles 8-12 had were short but super steep. I did my first GU gel at mile 7- BECAUSE YOU NEED TO DO YOUR GU BEFORE YOU FEEL HUNGRY AND NOT WAIT UNTIL MILE 13- TRUST ME (past Kate mistake #2). I did my next GU at the halfway point. From miles 1-13, I do not notice that the water stations are every 2 miles instead of every mile. I just take one cup at each station and don’t even worry about drinking the whole thing. At mile 14, I actually drank one half and poured the other over my head. Bad move.

At mile 17, everyone stops talking completely. It is now very hot and I am looking forward to every water station like it is my long lost best friend I have not seen in 20 years. Then, I drop a GU. I see it fall and go to pick it up but there are so many feet behind me, it’s not possible. Not wanting to go back and mess up my time, I keep running but I am panicked. I want a gel now, but since I am down to only one, I need to save it for later. No one around me has any extra nutrition to offer.

At mile 19, I suddenly realize I might be in trouble. I feel really dehydrated and weak, yet somehow do a 7:58 split. At the mile 20 water station, I decide to forgo the normal “Don’t try anything new on race day” advice and drink whatever I can get my hands on, as I realize my body needs all the nourishment it can get! I take a cup of Tri-fuel (which I have never even heard of or drank before) and two cups of water and drink them while running, hoping they will get me to mile 22. I also chew two salt tablets. Damn. I have to admit I was wrong about those things!

Feeling a bit better, I then come to a startling realization- it is just me and my BC buddy- no one is visible either ahead of us or behind us. It’s her first marathon, she is flipping out, and she looks to me to help pace her the rest of the way. I tell her, “its going to be OK, you and me are going to BQ, we got this,” but inside my head I am saying, “Its not OK. We’re in trouble. I don’t want to die before I reach the finish line.”

At mile 21, I already need more water, but there is none. My friend and I yell to random spectators that we are dehydrated (yes, its amazing what marathons make you do) and a nice young man comes out with his water bottle and lets us sip from it. “God Bless you young man! May God Bless you!”

I take my last GU but it does nothing. I am trying to continue with my mile dedications, but its getting hard to remember whom each mile is for- sometimes I do not start praying for whomever I am supposed to pray for until the middle of the mile (though I really did manage to get all 26 intentions in- I promise- just some were waayyy shorter than others!)

My friend and I separate. At mile 22, I am all alone and I do not feel like I have 4 more miles in me. It is here that I decide I am going to pray the Rosary for the rest of the race (while stopping quickly mention the names of the people who had the last 4 miles). “Mother Mary, run with me!”

At mile 23, I am still saying my Hail Mary’s, though I am losing count. I look over and see a beautiful view of the beach. “God is with me. I am not alone.”

At mile 24, I pass a young man and he yells, “You go girl! You got this!” He is so passionate and it really cheers me up- how I wish I could hug that stranger now. “God is still with me. I’m so dehydrated and its so hot, but I’m going to do this.” I look at my watch. My pace has dropped to 8:30, I realize I can finish with a 3:32 even if I do 10 minute miles. “I can do 10 minute miles. Well, maybe…” I know I need to take it easy now so I back off for a bit since I know there will now be no more water until I finish.

Still saying the Rosary, I see mile 25 and speed up. Volunteers are being so helpful with their cheering. They can tell by the look on my face that I am uncomfortable and dehydrated. Mile 25 is Bryan’s mile, which is perfect. I want to stop, but I remember the money and time he has sacrificed to get me to the Boston Marathon (not to mention putting up with my nerves the week before the race). There is no way I am leaving this island without a sub 3:32. “Do it for Bryan.” 8:06 split.

Mile 26 marker. Its sooner than I expect to see him but there is Bryan. He looks worried. There is no “I love you honey” or “looking great sweetie,” just “you gotta start sprinting, you gotta sprint, you still have a shot but you gotta sprint.” Exactly what a severely dehydrated girl wants to hear at mile 26, right? 😉

I keep sprinting, thinking that the finish line will appear any minute- but it is not there. “Did I run past it, where is it?” I start cussing. I realize now that it is a circle. The finish line is not right in front of me like I thought. I have to turn and then sprint another 400 meters to the finish. That might not sound far but at this point I feel so sick that I actually wonder if I will make there without collapsing.

I turn and turn again, and there is Bryan at the beginning of the straightaway. He is filming me, here is where I get to hear, “Here comes Kate- she’s gonna do it! Run, Kate, run! Go Kate!” That’s all I need. I’m so afraid to look at the clock, but I know I need to in order to convince myself to keep running. The clock is only at 3:30 or at least that what’s it looks like! I sprint until right before I get to the clock and I walk over the finish line. Oh God, I want Bryan, I want my mom. A woman around my mom’s age is handing out medals and she can tell something is not right. “Are you OK sweetie?” I want to cry. “I don’t feel good!”

The medic grabs me. I see Bryan running toward me with Muscle Milk, so I tell the medic I am fine. Seriously, I know it is hot and I want him to spend his time elsewhere, since I am now confident I am OK. The medic still insists on bringing me to the tent and making me sit in a chair.

As he was instructed to do before the race, Bryan opens the Muscle Milk and brings it to my lips. “No, no! Don’t give me that! Water! Water, I need water first!” Startled, he takes out regular water and Propel Water. Poor guy. I really did tell him to give me a Muscle Milk as soon as I crossed the finish line, but I did not expect to be so dehydrated. The thought of anything but water sickens me.

Bryan is also concerned because I am not saying anything about beating my time goal. I am feeling so sick that I am not really sure what happened. For the next minute , we exchange a hilarious dialogue of

“Did I do it?”

“Yes, Kate?”

“Am I going to Boston?”

“Yes, Kate, I told you that 2 seconds ago.”

“Did I do it?”
“Keep drinking, Kate, keep drinking”

“OK, but slow down, I need time to drink what’s in my hand before you shove more fluids in my face.”

Believe me, it sounds worse than it was. Within 2-3 minutes, I am feeling a lot better and know I am going to be totally fine. The medic brings my BC buddy over, who also got a BQ. We might have gone through hell from mile 20-26, but we did it! The medic has long since forgotten about me. There are lots of people feeling worse. Someone screams for salt tablets for her daughter and I pull out of my belt what I argued four hours earlier that I did not have room for or need. So glad I bought them! Nutritionist and Bryan=1, Me=0.

Back to my normal self (or usual self, I should say, I have never been normal), I feel like the biggest asshole. Bryan is wearing a medal. He ran too. “Oh my God, sweetie, how was your half?”

1:48:34. He crushed it! I am so proud! A 2 minute PR, even though he experienced dehydration at the end too but didn’t have anyone to take care of him like I did.

Bryan then informs me that I have won an age group award. Totally unexpected! I pick up my award and then eat a bagel with peanut butter.

Wearing our medals, I ask someone to take a picture of us. I am too tired to write anything long, so for Facebook, I just post, “I’m running Boston in 2018, I love you Bryan!”

We walk to the ferry very comfortably. Thankfully, after this race, I am not that sore. It’s a great improvement given that after my last marathon, my knees were in agony and I could barely get up the two steps to my apartment. YOU SHOULD WALK FOR A BIT AFTER YOUR FINISH A MARATHON EVEN IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT- TRUST ME (past Kate mistake #3).

We get on the ferry. Medals around my neck, Bryan’s arm around me, I eat BFresh Homemade Peanut Butter right out of the container with a spoon and take in the beauty of the ocean. I’m so glad to be alive and that I have proven to myself that I am stronger than I could ever have imagined. This time, I make a resolution to take two weeks off from working out (as is recommended by most physicians and running experts) to let my body recover. I know I need to take care of my body, and that I am better off when I do so.

“Thank you Mother Mary.”

Overall Race Review (if you are interested):

Taking into consideration that this was its first year, I give lots of kudos to the Martha’s Vineyard Marathon. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. The course was relatively flat, with a few short, steep hills and the views were beautiful. The DJ was a lot of fun, and listening to him calmed me down at the starting line. He was very positive and motivational. The volunteers and spectators were wonderful. Even when I was running alone, I was never afraid of getting lost and always knew what direction to take. There were tons of people cheering for me at the parts of the race where I needed it most. The medals, both for finishing and for the age group award, were very nice. They provided a truck to take our bags safely from the starting line to the finish line. The swag bag was also pretty nice, it included a gym bag, a visor, and a short sleeve athletic shirt.

However, the water stops every two miles was not enough when it got to the later parts of the race. Also, gels were only offered at mile 12 and I really wish they were available at other stations. I believe my time would have been a few minutes faster had there been more water and nutrition on the course. The finish line food was also disappointing, especially considering how many great vendors are in Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod! There were only bars, chips, and water. Thankfully, it was OK for me since I always bring my own bagel. Another complaint was that the Athlete Alerts did not work. My parents and Bryan signed up for them to see when I crossed miles 6, 13, 18, and 22, but never got any messages. However, I could view my splits online and they were e-mailed to me soon after I finished, which was very helpful.

Overall, I would do this marathon again and I would highly recommend it to friends (I am 99% sure they are going to fix the water thing next year!). A lot of people were steered away from this marathon because of the expense of staying in Martha’s Vineyard. Yes, the hotels on the Vineyard are expensive and required a two-night minimum stay. However, Bryan and I saved money by staying in Wood’s Hole. We cannot stop signing the praises of the Sands of Time Motel, which allowed us to stay for just one night. It was clean, comfortable, and a 5 minute walk from the Ferry and Pie in the Sky Bakery (good post-race treats!). The beach was right near by and it was great for walking around the day before the race. The staff could not have been more accommodating. I called ahead the night before and requested a refrigerator for our room so we could store our pre-race food, and they were happy to give us one. They normally start brewing hot water every morning at 6am, but happily started brewing at 5am the morning of the race so we could have coffee and tea before getting on the ferry. They were stocked with maps and tourist booklets, and had ferry tickets available for purchase. We definitely plan on staying there again!