Freedom to Reach Higher

I thought I had the ultimate victory back in April when I beat my husband to the finish line of the Gate River Run. However, that race was only the beginning.  I do attempt to keep the bragging to a minimum, but I have to say that I am proud of what I accomplished today.  Let me share that story with you.

First of all, let us remember that today is Memorial Day.  Please reflect on our heroes who have made sacrifices for our freedom.  These sacrifices range from the loss of life to being apart from family while on deployment for months at a time.  Running is one thing I did today to honor those who fought for my freedom.  One man in particular, Marine Sgt. John Hayes, returned home without legs.  Not only does he have to give up something that I take for granted (running), but he has to work harder to raise his 3 kids.  Fortunately, some of the money from this race was for the benefit of his family.

I thought about those sacrifices as I stood at the starting line.  I also thought about what I could do to find the strength to work harder and not just settle for something less.  I told my family and friends that my goal was to run the 5 miles in 42 minutes.  What I did not tell them is that I had another goal in mind.  My goal was to place in the top 3 of my age division.  So, I had these goals in mind, but I did not follow all of the rules for preparation.  I spent all weekend not sleeping and eating food like hamburgers, chips and smores.  Even the night before I decided to eat greasy Chinese food and birthday cake.  What was I thinking?  Not sure, but it seemed to work for me.

For some reason, my running buddy and I decided to line up right behind the elite runners.  When these folks were introduced, I started feeling a bit nervous.  Let’s just say that words like “Kenyan” and “Olympic Trials” were used.  Even Jeff Galloway was there.  My buddy and I looked at each other and talked about how we could inch our way backwards, but it was already too late.  They announced the start and we were off!

I knew I was going too fast as I always know at the beginning of every race.  I tell myself to slow down, but I just don’t listen.  I see everyone passing me and I feel that I need to keep up.  I say over and over again that I will pass them down the road when they get tired.  I managed to slow down when I looked at my Garmin and saw that I was running a pace under 7 min/mile.  That was definitely a good idea, but I should have slowed down even more.

At around mile 1 I started passing those folks who sprinted from the start.  It was very hot and the sun was beaming down.  I desperately wanted water and shade, but neither appeared to be within sight.  We finally turned a corner at mile 2 and I was relieved to see both water and shade!  I decided to walk and drink, but when I did, I got passed.  I picked it up again and found 2 other women to play the passing game with.  It’s funny, but I think women are way more competitive with each other than men.  When I came up on them, they picked up the pace so I had to speed up just to stay behind them.  At one point I passed one of them.  However, the other one wasn’t budging.  She just looked like a serious runner and I was a bit nervous because she looked like she was within my age group.  However, when we got to an incline, I passed her!  Have I told you how much I love hills?!!

Then, at mile 3.5, I hit a “wall.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I felt like I did at mile 22 of the marathon.  I told myself that I had to keep going and I couldn’t slow down.  I know that most of running is mental, so I had to force myself to think positively so I wouldn’t fade.  I thought about how lucky I was to have both of my legs.  Then, at mile 4, I grabbed some Gatorade and I was good.  Not great, but at least good.  It was the last mile after all.  I knew I was on the home stretch.  I chose not too look behind me for fear that someone was there.  Now I wish I would have.

At around mile 4.5, I passed an older gentlemen and I managed to tell him that we were almost there.  He said something back and I continued on past him.  Then, I started feeling really tired even though I could see the finish line right in front of me.  That man I had just passed ran up beside me and told me to pick up the pace.  That was all I needed to get me motivated.  I started sprinting.   Yet, just then, that woman who I had passed on the hill, breezed right by me and crossed the finish line before I could fight back.  I came in right behind her and right next to the man who provided the push I needed.

Yes, I had made my goal of 42 minutes because my actual time was 39:11.  I couldn’t have been happier. However, I still wasn’t sure about how I placed.  I was worried, but I tried to feel thankful that I had made such good time.  We stood around for the awards ceremony.  When they announced 3rd place, I stood there waiting to hear the time.  It was a woman who ran it in 39:40.  That only meant that I did better than 3rd place!  And they did call my name next.  I had made 2nd place!  And you know who made 1st place?  That woman who crossed the finish line 2 seconds ahead of me!  Was I upset?  Sure, I was a little mad at myself, but I did make my goal of being in the top 3.  I figured that my 2 seconds behind would only be a motivation to do even better next time.  That’s the great thing about freedom… we always have the freedom to reach higher thanks to all of the military members and their families!

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Never Quit

Words cannot express the feeling of sorrow I felt as I stood, braced for running, at the starting line.  The National Anthem only brought tears to my eyes and the pre-race speeches left me wondering why pain seems to always accompany joy.  Standing next to me was a friend.  A new friend, but a friend nonetheless.  A friend who had battled and survived cancer just a few years ago.  A friend who just lost his wife only weeks ago.  That kind of pain is unimaginable.  I understand what it is like to lose a loved one, but I do not understand what it is like to lose a spouse, a soulmate who knows you like no one else.

She knew that he loved to run.  I imagine that it didn’t take long to convince her to join him at the race.  That is the kind of thing we do for the ones we love.  Yet, as we stood at the starting line, she was the one missing in body…. however, she was present in spirit.  I know it took my friend a lot of strength and courage to show up to the race that day.  I deeply respect him for that because I don’t think I would have been able to do it with so much peace and love still in my heart.

We anxiously awaited the firing of the gun along with 6,000 other participants.  It was a great day to be on the beach if you were a runner… not so sure if it was a great day to be lounging in the middle of a race course. When we were given the signal to start, my friend took off with so much determination that I feared I would not be able to keep up.  We ran in silence most of the way, but every once in awhile commented on the distraught beachgoers or complained about the sweat pouring down our backs like a waterfall.  When my friend slowed down I would take the lead to maintain the motivation to keep pushing forward.  However, all of the motivation he needed was found within and above.  When I asked him how he was doing, he would simply state that he was doing good and it was more than convincing.

The finish line was fast approaching and I did not need to reflect too long on what was going through my friend’s mind.  The answer was written all over him.  He glanced up and raised his arm to the sky.  The crossing of the finish line was an emotional passage that I was honored to be a part of.  Even though she was not physically present, I knew that she was there cheering for her husband.  I have no doubt that my friend will never quit for her.  Regardless of how painful the road will be at times, he will continue moving forward.  There is still too much joy remaining.

I thought about all of the things that I often take for granted and I am thankful to my friend for opening my eyes to the world around me.  I will never quit living life no matter what challenges I may face in the future.  We all have the strength within ourselves to pick up the pieces and carry on… it is just a matter of whether or not you will try.

Running with a group

If you are new to running you will find that it is often difficult to drag yourself out of bed, struggle into running clothes, shove down a bit of carbs and protein and trudge out the door.  Then you are left standing there wondering why you got out of bed when it is already hot and humid at 6:00 in the morning.  It takes even more effort to start moving your legs as you meander down the street contemplating about how fast you should go.  As you round the corner, you eye the end of the street and suggest to yourself that it is a great place to turnaround and head back.  However, you manage to convince yourself otherwise and remind yourself that your goal for the morning was 3 miles.  At mile 1 you reconsider the 3 miles and make the final decision to turnaround.  You see your cozy home in the distance as you reach mile 2.  As you walk up the driveway and enter the air-conditioned environment you are relieved, yet disappointed.  You gave up too soon and didn’t reach your goal.  How will you ever finish a half marathon?

All beginning runners have experienced this situation.  As with any task, activity or sport, it takes time and committment to do it better.  Not only that, it takes the “want.”  You have to want to do it.  I know it sounds funny… I mean, who really wants to power through 3 grueling miles?  I guess it is a different kind of “want” that really implies something that we know is hard to get, but feel like we “want” to work through the challenge to reap the rewards.

You do the right thing by signing up for that half marathon and then moments later you wonder what you were thinking.  How will you bring yourself to wake up early enough to beat the heat?  How will you be able to function after expending all your energy?  How will you keep yourself from getting bored on a long run?  At that point it all just seems crazy.  Yet, you try it out.  You run a few times (or at least attempt to run) and then you tell yourself that it isn’t working.  You get mad at yourself for spending money to register for a half-marathon, but that isn’t enough to keep you in the game.  You just quit.

Is that it?  Is that all you have?  Some of us just need a little external motivation.  Yeah, it is hard to start running on your own.  You feel alone out there on the pavement and think that no one else understands how you feel about your attempts to gain confidence in running.  Little do you know that the person you pass along the way is feeling the same way.  Well, they looked like they weren’t struggling to put one foot in the other, but they were.  It looked like they weren’t finding it difficult to breathe, but they were.  It looked like they could go on running for hours, but all they really wanted to do was run straight home.

Running takes committment and sometimes we find it easier if we hold each other accountable for making it work.  A group of people with the same goals in mind can work together to carry you through the rough spots and cheer you on during the victories.  Yet, the group is another kind of committment.  If you want to benefit from the group, then you must join the group.  That means becoming a part of the group and showing others that you are dedicated to the group.  You are an individual, but the group acts like a unit.  You are there to be supported, but you also have a job to be the supporter.  With the group, you will make it to the finish.  We can’t be so sure if you choose the other path that is bare and isolated.  It is possible, but that takes a different kind of dedication.  And why not make lifelong running buddies?  You don’t have to do it alone.

Road Rash

Don’t they call it “road rash” when you fall off your bike and skid along the pavement?  I guess the same description can be applied to a runner who does the same thing.  Well, they obviously don’t fall off of a bike, but they still have momentum which causes them to skid along the pavement.  All the same, “road rash” is the end result.  Maybe I can explain what it feels like because it appears that I have it on both of my palms. I guess it can really only be described as a burning sensation.  And when I look at my hands I see a bit of redness and some skin peeled back.

So, why do I have road rash on my hands?  Well, this time I wanted to make sure I didn’t get it on my knees. The words “this time” obviously implies that this is not the first time I have gotten road rash.  No.  I do still remember that last experience vividly and I can even point out the exact location where it happened (in front of the Red Cross building… ha, too funny I know).  At least I had more of an excuse last time.  You see, my running buddy and I completed a half-marathon last Thanksgiving.  However, we were scheduled to run 16 miles that week.  So the half-marathon left us 3 miles short.  Well, being that my running buddy is slightly OCD, she was not happy with only running 3 miles 2 days later.  No, she wanted to run the full 16 miles 2 days later.  Did I mention that it was 2 days later?  Needless to say, I was kind of tired by the time we were trudging along in front of that Red Cross building.  One mindless misstep and I was had.  I didn’t have time to brace the impact so my knees took the brunt of it.  Yep, it kind of hurt, but I somehow managed to carry on and finish those da!# 16 miles.

What was my excuse tonight?  I didn’t really have one.  We had just finished 2 loops of the bridges and I haven’t done that in over a month.  I was a little tired I suppose.  I did have enough energy to break my fall with my hands so my knees would not have to endure the suffering.  It actually seemed to happen in slow motion and I just remember being very pissed about the whole situation and cursing at myself as my face approached the pavement.  I didn’t cry this time.  I just laughed it off and looked around thankful that only my running buddy witnessed the act.  Funny that is was along the same road as the last time… only about a 1/2 mile down the street.

I forced myself to get up.  Then I told my running buddy that it was her fault that I ate the pavement the last time.  Whose fault was it today?  I don’t know.  She is the one who asked me to go running tonight…

Training Day #1

What an exciting new adventure that awaits us!  I am working with an awesome team of walkers and runners… some of whom have never completed a half or full marathon!  I sure know what that journey is like and now I am excited to help others accomplish this amazing feat!

Last night our team walked or ran 1.5 miles.  It was the furthest distance for a few (but that will very soon change).  I have to admit that I was a little nervous about running the show (no pun intended).  I had my little route mapped out and it should have been simple enough… given that it was an easy loop.  In making myself feel better, I had hoped to drive the route prior to arriving at our meeting location, but that didn’t happen because a last-minute trip to the store was necessary.  If you know me, then you know I get a little freaked out when I am late for something (I think I get that from my dad who is never late for anything and who would ground me if I was ever even a second late for a curfew… seriously).  Nothing ever seems to go smoothly when you arrive late (especially when it is your duty to get things going).   When I was teaching, I would always arrive at least an hour before the students arrived.  I just can’t stand the feeling of being unprepared and unorganized.

So the next thing I knew I was there, in front of the group telling them that it was an easy loop and that I hoped no one would get lost.  If that happened, then the coaches would know who to look out for on the longer and more complicated routes.   It was then time to head out and I took the lead with the group of faster runners.

Yeah, I was originally concerned about the participants getting lost.  Needless to say, I was the one who ended up making two wrong turns.  Sure, it didn’t hurt for the faster, more experienced runners to get some extra mileage, but it didn’t really make me look good.  I said I was great at navigating, but obviously I didn’t prove to be all that great… and it was just an easy loop!  I knew I was a perfectionist for a reason, so missing that vital step of checking out the route really threw me for a loop (once again, no pun intended).  So, all I can do now is to try my best not to let it happen again.  Otherwise, it makes for a fabulous story.  At least I can be humble and say that nobody is perfect… not even the coach.  And we all did make it back (some of us just put in a little extra work).

And you know what was even more humorous about the whole situation?  I was concerned about the other participants taking the wrong turn as well, so I went back to check on them and found out that one of the runners behind us actually made it back before us (yes, he knew where he was going).  No one else seemed to have any doubt about which way to go.

Regardless, I know I am going to enjoy this coaching experience.  I get to meet amazing people who are dedicating themselves to pursue a fitness goal while helping to raise money for cancer research.  I know how much the experience changed my own life and made me a healthier, happier person.  I want to help others succeed in making a difference not just in the lives of others, but in their own life.

Is it selfish to run?

I’m sure you already know the answer to my question.  Unless you totally think I am just a selfish person (gee, I sure hope you don’t feel that way).

Why do I bring this up?  A woman at the gym approached me today and we started talking about the crazy people who take the Cardio Sculpt class right before they participate in the Bodypump class.  Then, she turned towards me and looked me directly in the eye and asked me if it seemed obsessive to work out 2 hours a day, 6 days a week.  I immediately thought about myself and my own addictions and told her “absolutely not.”  She obviously found the right person to ask.

Then she continued by asking if it was selfish to work out so much, especially when you have 3 kids.  Once again, that was my story in a nutshell and I once again told her “absolutely not.”  Of course you can’t just make that kind of statement without backing it up.  So, I said “what about the moms who spend 2 hours a day scrapbooking or the moms who browse the internet for 2 hours?”  (okay, more specifically I am referring to the facebook addicts here).  Oh wait, what about the moms who read the Twilight series over and over again?  There is absolutely nothing wrong with those hobbies (I, myself, have partaken in some of these activities), but the point is that nearly everyone has a hobby that they enjoy.  What’s the difference if you are at the gym or if you are curled up in your bed with a book?

Yet, that wasn’t the end of the conversation.  I proceeded to tell her that she was setting a good example for her kids by staying active.  That is when she told me that she had lost 105 pounds.  That is just amazing and more power to any woman who has lost weight!  We aren’t as lucky as the guys when it comes to that kind of challenge.  She stated that she was worried about not being there enough for her kids and of course, like any parent, she fears they will get mixed up in the wrong crowds.  I told her that her activity would most likely have the opposite effect on her kids.  She is the role model that they need to have in their life and they will hopefully follow in her footsteps by participating in sports or joining local clubs and organizations.  This is what our kids need to do in order to stay busy and out of trouble.  Well, that is my plan anyway (I will let you know how it works out in 20 years).  I know my focus is athletic activities, but it really doesn’t matter how you stay involved (community service, arts & crafts, dance, music, nature expert, etc.), it’s the involvement part that shows you are an active member of society and this sets the good example for your children.

Okay, so that wasn’t my last point to make.  You see, I feel it is truly important to do an activity you enjoy because it makes you feel happy.  When you feel happy, you tend to share that happiness with those around you.  You are improving your own personal well-being as you do so.  So, I might miss out on 2 hours with my kids while I take a class at the gym or go for a run, but I return a much better mommy so that the hours that I do spend with them are extraordinary (okay, not all of the time, but at least I am better able to cope with the downsides to parenting so that I can relish in the upsides :).  Since I started running I noticed that I am less stressed, have more energy and  just feel so much better about myself.

So, is it selfish to run?  Absolutely not.

Treadmill Overload

When I first became serious about exercising during my college years (I won’t tell you how long ago that was), I actually joined a gym down the street from the house I shared with three other crazy girls.  One of those girls also had some interest in exercise, and I now know that exercise can be contagious if you poke and prod enough.  So, my exercise schedule at the time went pretty much like this:  whenever I felt like going to the gym I would go.  I’m not quite sure how often that happened, but I think it was enough to keep me going.  I would walk in and stare at the equipment without any plan in mind.  “Yeah, that stairclimber looks good for today.  Maybe I will do 20 minutes on that”… and then 10 minutes later: “oh, maybe just 10 minutes.”  Then I would move on to the next thing and maybe try out a weight machine or two.  You wouldn’t catch me in the free weights room.  I had no idea what was going on in there and I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the hunky men and ripped ladies.

Every once in a while I would walk in and glance at the treadmill.  Sometimes I would actually get on it and get the conveyor belt moving…. slightly.  “Oh what the heck, lets bump it up to 3 mph!”  I was rockin’ that treadmill!  Or so I thought.  It took some time, but eventually I thought that maybe I could try running on the treadmill.  So I would run and then I would walk and then I would run some more.  All I knew was that if I wanted to run then I had to be on a treadmill.  Okay, once in a great while I would take a run around the little lake near my school.  But I couldn’t bear to run outside when I could actually see my breath.  I just remember the sensation of burning lungs.  That didn’t make any sense to me.  And why would anyone even dare to run in the snow?  That just seemed crazy.  I was fine skiing in the snow, but you wouldn’t catch me falling on my butt while trying to run.  I had enough problems walking to my car when the parking lot would freeze over.

So, to keep this long story short, if I wanted to run then I searched out that treadmill.  For a few years it was all I really knew.  Even when I became interested in running more, my husband and I went out to buy our very own treadmill to keep in our home.  How convenient was that?  I didn’t have to use that jogging stroller that we purchased to push around our new baby.  That just seemed like too much work.  The treadmill was easy and there was less gear required and I didn’t have to worry about the weather conditions outside.  It was usually either too hot, too cold, too windy or too rainy anyway.

All of sudden there was a turning point in this treadmill business.  I found a running buddy and we would often go to the gym to run on the treadmill, but I would get upset if we were unable to locate two empty treadmills that were side by side.  “Hey” I thought “why don’t we try running outside?”  My running buddy could care less if we ran inside on the treadmill of if we ran outside.  Since we were training for our first half-marathon I told her that I couldn’t see us running 11 miles on a treadmill.  It was starting to get boring. There are only so many magazines to read and t.v. shows to watch.

After our first few outdoor excursions, I realized what I was missing out on.  Running outside actually seemed easier than running on a treadmill and I actually felt like I was going somewhere (because I was)!  My story is getting long again, so I will just tell you this:  I am now in love with running outside and I dread running on the treadmill.  I could care less (okay, I do complain sometimes) about whether it is too cold (hey, it gave me an excuse to buy running pants and long-sleeve shirts) or too hot and humid (I am still trying to get used to this, but at least I would rather try this than stay inside with the air conditioning if it means running on the treadmill).  Now the only thing that keeps me inside is…. wait for it…. KIDS!  What about that jogging stroller you say?  Well, I have two little ones to lug around and my jogging stroller only holds one.  I can get away with it sometimes, but I also have to worry about their comfort when I take them along. When I have my husband around, then it isn’t an issue because I can say “here you go” and then run out the door. Yet, this past month has been that of treadmill overload.  I have no choice but to factor in the kids when I plan my trips to the gym or when I decide to jump on the treadmill at home (yes, the same treadmill we have had for about 6 years).   I see people running on the sidewalk through my neighborhood as I drive my daughter to school in the morning and I feel a tad jealous.  Not too much longer and I will be out there again… running the streets like I was meant to.  Did I mention that I miss those darn bridges?!