The First Race “Back”

On July 4th I crossed a finish line wearing a bib for the first time since… December? November? Whenever it was, it was too damn long ago.

hb finish with mom

momma oual, too! sub 25, a PR, and 2nd AG for that cool lady that made me

What kept me away from racing so long? Well, the nagging hip tendinosis, for one. As I cautiously progressed (and regressed, and progressed again) through the pains of “recovery”* – I was determined not to rush back. I wanted to feel 100% better and put this injury crap behind me before moving forward.

*new doc/treatment in the works

But mostly? When I finally sat down and honestly asked why I was dragging it out so long?

I was scared to be tested.

It was so easy to use the psuedo injury as a scapegoat every time someone asked what I was training for, or if I wanted to go for a run, or why I was still carrying those five extra “zero miles” pounds.

“Oh, I’ve still got this hip thing… trying to be smart, you know!”

“You guys go ahead, I’m just running slow… out of shape from the recovery, you know!”

smith rock fleshman jasyoga

telling LF and jasyoga to seriously please for the love of oxygen depletion go on without my recovering/outofshape ass a few weeks ago at Smith Rock

I wasn’t ready to have something validate just how far away I’d slipped from my old self, and in turn, how much work was in store if I wanted to get back there.

Coming back is tough. You have to accept that the you of old is now a far off goal, that those easy runs you used to breeze through are now going to feel like long runs. Paces you used to run will seem unattainable. And just when you start gaining some momentum and feeling good, an evil little voice in your head will say, “yeah, but remember when you used to run that fast twice as far??”

You always hear that a person should never compare themselves to someone else, only to their own best self.

Well fuck if you think that’s going to help me at all right now.

Going into the 5k – not only my first race in more than half a year but also my first hard-effort run in nearly that long – I had to figure out a way to motivate myself without setting myself up for failure. So many times our we stack up races against past performance, with our obsession of PRs taking the holy grail of success.

So what do you do when that unrelenting neon clock is so eager to quantify your out of shape, on the mend self vs. that Best Self you’re told to/not to compare yourself to?

Well, I don’t have an answer, because I was still pondering it and grasping at secondary goal straws standing in the corral that morning. When the gun went off I said “fuck it” and just ran.

And actually, I ran pretty well. You know, for Current Self.

hb thumbnail

*mental note to replace with full download once they send it <source>

I didn’t wear a watch. Well I mean I did, because security blanket much?, but I didn’t use it. The first mile has a slight decline, and when I saw the split time I let it roll over my head without processing.


(it actually said 7:22 but I was :14 behind gun time and thank god because I’m pretty sure seeing a 708 would’ve made me poop my pants)

The course is out-and-back and the leaders started coming through… I busied myself studying every single one – who looked smooth, who was grimacing, who looked hungry – until lead female passed and I gave her a “GO GIRL!” We made the hairpin turn and I gave myself a gold star for getting to the second half with some life in my legs, air in my lungs, and a few smiles to toss at mom and Tiffany when they ran by. We hit the mile two marker (missed the clock) just as that nice decline from earlier turned into a final mile gradual climb. It’s probably only 40 or 50 feet of climbing, but when it’s stretched out in a straight shot in front of you and your out of shape body has suddenly hit red line, it hurts.

I chugged and chugged and chugged, every time my brain thought “this hurts” I made it think about how my arms were swinging or my footfall. I told myself this is the beauty of the short races – digging deep and gutting out the final stretch when your body’s screaming NO FUCKING MORE YOU LUNATIC! I might have slowed down, but without a watch barking paces at me all I had to judge on was how hard it felt like I was pushing.

It felt pretty damn hard.

Mile three came into view and I realized that this was the win of the race. I was wrung out and completely at my ceiling. I eeked out a “GRANDMA!” between wheezes, made the turn, and begged my legs for one last gear through finish.

They didn’t have it. And actually, that’s fine. Great, even.

HB Surf City Run 5k

HB finish

HB results

Because even though I didn’t run near my fastest time, I know that I ran as fast as I could that day. And maybe that’s the secret. Not comparing yourself to your Best-Ever Self, but your Best-Current Self.

“Just because I’m not in the place I want to be doesn’t mean I can’t race like the champion I am inside… I felt a weight lift off my heart that gave me one more gear. This is who I am. Winning or not.”

-Lauren Fleshman, Peachtree 10k Recap

Yeah, I’d like to get back to PR form and feel like the fit “real runner” I used to claim to be. I don’t know how long it will take to get there, but it makes the mountain seem much more surmountable knowing there’s room to claim a few summit flags up along the way.

hb summit

… ok the analogy has gone a little too far I think. <source>

So, in the spirit of theoretical mountain summiting and literal running, I’ll be running a 10k in Ohio this weekend. One more step in the right direction.

And then the half in Eugene on the 27th.

^^^ damnit, Eugene, I can’t quit you!!!

Sarah OUaL

Carpe Something

Blog posts I’ve written in my head and never got around to pulling to fruition:

  • Why I’m not Racing During Injury Recovery
  • Update on Said Recovery
  • How to Grow Out Your Pixie Cut
  • Good Run Leads to Race Registration Binge, Despite “No Racing” Rule
  • … Not Training for Said Binged Races
  • Day Date Trip to San Francisco (not running related)
  • Shit, All Those Races are Right Around the Corner
  • Day in the Life of a Traveling Sales Rep (not technically running related)
  • Suddenly Remembering How to Long Run!
  • Random Adventures with Three Generations of Conklin Girls (mom + gram in town) ((partly running related))
  • Surf City Run 5K Race Report

Shelf life: EXPIRED.

Maybe I’ll circle back around and touch on them someday – at least a mention of the 5k and some shameless bragging about the long run – but other than that, the desire to share, share, SHARE has been waning. I’m less compelled to grab my phone and live-tweet adventures, update the blog with run progress (or lack thereof), and just generally have found a lot more satisfaction in relishing moments on my own or sharing them with people I’m with-with.

Am I outgrowing the internet? Or just too lazy to write?

san fran pop up beer garden

but where would you show off drinking-under-the-freeway-in-san-fran pics if not for the ‘net, oual??

Oddly, during this digital identity crisis I had two run ins with blog readers at very non-blog’y places: out with girlfriends at a dive bar down the street from my house and at the bar I work at. I was caught off guard having the internet show up in my “safe places” (not that I didn’t enjoy meeting you, Janelle and guy-who’s-name-the-tequila-made-me-forget-sorry!) and blabbed awkwardly about OUaL’s vacillating status as if we were discussing the merits of buying vs leasing a car.

Just let it die or sit your butt down and bang the keyboard till something comes out, doofus.


When I saw this tweet from Sally, it was like finally finding a word that’d been stuck on the tip of your tongue for ages. I turned 28 last month, which in some circles feels OMG ANCIENT (working at a bar, living in Botoxtown, USA), some circles super naively young (dear friends with mortgages and babies), and in the case of my small Midwest hometown, 10 years behind the curve (see a combination of the above).

… and doesn’t necessarily apply to the aforementioned life/death of this blog, but I couldn’t come up with a transition so just roll with me, ok?

I don’t want to call it a quarter-life crisis – yes I optimistically plan to live to 112 – and I don’t want to wane on anymore about leaving Corporate America for patchwork part-time work. But it’s hard not to feel a little unsettled during this time, which I think (/hope!) is normal for your late-20’s. As per Sally’s timeline, I’m running out of ground in the ‘Finding Yourself’ portion of the life race, with ‘Knowing Yourself’ peaking its head over the distant horizon. “What do you want to be when you grow up??” suddenly has URGENT! TIME SENSITIVE! stamps on it after laying harmlessly in the wings for so many years and it’s freaking me the fuck out.

surf city run 5k

I don’t know what I want to be but one more finish line seems metaphorically good enough for now

I’m about 99.2% certain the answer to this is not on the internet (ugh, finally something I can’t Google,) which is maybe why I’ve been spending less and less time there. No offense. You’re all still super special little rays of sunshine in my world, you figments of my internet imagination world.

But with each baby announcement, dire health diagnosis, eulogy of someone gone too soon, engagement/divorce, happy anniversary, another holiday away from home… the magnitude of Life (excuse my dramatics) weighs down. We only get one, you know! Life, that is, not all those other things. Although, hopefully, some apply as well. And while my single small little being is very unlikely to have any substantial meaning to the world, my only job is to make the most of it – however I wish to do so.

I don’t HAVE to qualify for Boston, or have a baby, or move back to Ohio to be near family and friends who get older every day just like I am. I don’t HAVE to seek out an alternative career path, race the local 5K till I puke, or go to the dentist for bi-annual cleanings like they say to. And I don’t HAVE to write about any of it to share with the WWW if I don’t want to. These are all choices I get to make, and all I hope is that I keep making the ones that set me up best for the “Knowing Yourself” and “Being Yourself” phases Sally’s talking about to be supremely kick ass.

And after all that, OUaL’s blog status is even less clear as it was before.

Alright, forget everything I just said and pretend this was just a check in to say hey.

Hey, internet. Carpe fucking diem.


Sarah OUaL

Cleveland Marathon Weekend 2014–Just a Cheerleader

cleveland races

OUaL and the Cleveland Race Trifecta

The Cleveland Marathon has such a big place in my itty bitty heart. My first ever race (half 2009), first marathon (2010), barfy 10k (2013), and I’ve since followed dozens of friends and family members finish their first, fastest, most painful, or happiest races there. Hometown nostalgia, familiar sights, and a top-notch event = swoooon.

This year I attended the race bib-less. I considered registering for the 10k just to participate, but nixed the threat of an out-of-shape slow time in favor of full-on cheer duties. I mapped out a route that would put me all over the course for cheering and pacing, and got excited about everyone else’s races – Mom and Mel’s 3rd(?) 4th(?) halves, and Dan’s first full!

cleveland spectator run route

But as they say, the best laid plans go to shit sometimes. I think that’s how it goes.

Just before 7am I said farewell to the racers as they headed towards the corrals and jogged down Ontario to my first station in front of Progressive (Jacob’s) Field, right at the mile two marker. I watched the African marathoners speed by, caught a glimpse of Volee superstar Heidi running the 10k, and peeled my eyes for my sister, who was planning to run around an 8:00 pace.

cleveland marathon start

A lot of people run an 8:00 pace. A lot of people also wear all black and are 5’6” and completely blend in with the crowd. My sister being one of them.

When the 8:40 pace group went by I knew I’d missed her, but luckily a second later spotted my mom. I jumped in with her, completely interrupting a conversation she was having with some guy, and started jabbering away. Every time she reached for her other earbud I blurted something else out – “oh look that girl’s wearing rogas!” “I wonder who’s throwing for the Indians today?” “So my friend KJ’s sister in law Heidi is running the 10k…”

You don’t get to listen to music when I’m cheer-pacing.

mom cle

“smile! a camera!” are things you shout when you’re high on other peoples’ races

At mile five I peeled off as planned to head towards the finish line, but realized the road I was going to cut through on deadends at the river and I was going to be stuck in a kind of shady part of town. Mom made a comment earlier about how she wished I could be at mile 11 because that’s where she always falls apart, and after studying the course map on my phone I realized that mile six pops out just across from there and it was probably my only way to get back downtown without completely backtracking.

So I sprinted to catch back up (yes I was heaving by the time I go there) and ran another mile with her.

And then we took a selfie.

cleveland mom selfie

“hiiii I’m back! smile!”

The Emergency Plan B Bonus Mile ended up being a good thing, because when we got to mile six Mel was standing there with a police officer. She got arrested for peeing behind a bush and was waiting to be taken to the station…


She was having some IT band/knee issues and had to pull out. She didn’t have her phone, the cop was less than helpful, and she was trying to figure out how to teleport back to the start when we rolled by. I said by to mom and we walked down 45th which intersected the 10k route at mile four. Walking hurt significantly less than running and we made the most of her bummer situation by gabbing and eventually watching the lead half marathoners roll by as we putzed down the shoulder of the bridge. After the 5th person told us “c’mon, you got it!” she ripped off her bib, tired of being mistaken for lead female who decided to slow-walk the last mile of the race.

cleveland john adams

if she’d been running we couldn’t have taken this super excited selfie with the most famous Indians fan, drummer John Adams, at mile 12.9 so I guess it worked out

Anyway, after depositing her at the finish area with Grandma I jogged back over the bridge and surprised mom at mile 11.5. She said she was running on empty, I told her we just had two hills to get through before the downhill finish. We walked up a bit of the first hill, at the top I said it was time to finish strong, “Your brain is saying you’re tired, not your legs!” She wanted to keep walking, I asked if she’d look back at this time and be mad that she gave in. She started running again. I lied three times on the last hill saying we were at the top, as she kept chugging with her head down. When we finally did peak, the downhill brought threats of puking and faceplanting. I told her “just pick up your knees!”, right as a poorly-filled pothole almost sent her somersaulting. We hit the bottom, ready to make the turn into the straightaway and I told her the finish was “just around the corner!”

Actual distance = at least 1/4 mile. Sorry, mom.

I peeled off and watched her cross the line in 1:59.08, a PR and her first time breaking two hours! I turned around to try and find Mel and Gma, wondering if mom ended up puking like she swore she was going to (she didn’t) and if she’d forgive me for telling her to “suck it up” back there (she did.)

cleveland mom

brb shopping for a “my mom’s faster than your mom” bumper sticker

We all reunited and stood at the finish line cheering in the rest of the halfers, and eventually the marathoners started coming through. I did some math according to the runner tracking texts I was getting for Dan, and at 10:30 headed back towards the bridge to meet him at mile 23. With about seven miles already on my legs they were creaky and not super interested in running six more, but the endless curiosity over what state of marathon misery or ecstasy I’d find him in propelled me forward. I clapped and thumbs up’d all the marathoners en route to their finish as I ran the opposite direction down the shoreway (it was plenty wide so I wasn’t in the way) but after a few minutes I saw a cop heading towards me with his hands up.

cop “You can’t go this way”

me “Oh I have a friend at mile 23 that really needs me!”

cop “There are people on bikes and crewmembers for that purpose”

me “No no, he doesn’t need help, he needs a friend! He’s expecting me! It’s his first…”

cop “Are you a participant in this race?”

me (looks down at bib-less shirt) “Not exactly…”

cop “You need to turn around now”

me “What if I run back and get a bib from someone who’s already finished? Then it’ll look like I belong out here”

cop “You can’t run the wrong direction. Anyway we’re clearing the bridge, no one but runners are allowed on the shoreway now”

me “But I AM running, see…??” (starts dramatically slow jogging past him)

cop (grabs my shoulder and turns me towards the finish) “That way, NOW.”

And that’s the story of how I almost got arrested trying to secondhand experience the late Marathon Pain Cave. In hindsight I realize that race security isn’t something I should’ve been arguing with, and I’m grateful they were doing their job. Even if it meant only getting to see them for .1mi, just long enough to scream “you’re a fucking marathoner!” and high five him and Steph to their big finish.

cleveland dan steph 2

cleveland dan steph

Who has that kind of energy and cheer after 26.2 miles? Steph you crazy

So yeah, another Cleveland Marathon in the books and a serious temptation to register for next year’s race while the full is only $75.

Maybe next time the Indians won’t get absolutely trounced at the after-race game again.

cleveland marathon indians game

Sarah OUaL