Monday, December 30, 2013

Brave to Win

Another year has come to an end and a new year is commencing. Like every year, more than I could have ever imagined seemed to have happened in just a mere 365 days. As in years passed, I have accomplished some great things and have made some mistakes along the way. I have gained a greater appreciation for the people and things in life that really matter, and once again, have learned that life can be tough, but that I am tougher!

2013 was indeed quite a year! I am still in awe that I was able to raise over $3,000 for Wigs For Kids, able to speak at the Senior Games at the Cleveland Convention Center about my incredible experience, and that I ran side-by-side with two of the greatest female runners in the world, Shalane Flanagan and Joan Benoit-Samuelson, in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in D.C. Having the blessing of a new nephew, and the privilege of being his Godmother, was just the icing on the 2013 cake. Despite many amazing experiences, it has been a difficult year, too. I have been haunted by my mystery health issue, which was eventually labeled as syncope by migraines, and have had to confront potentially saying good-bye to one of my biggest passions. But, through all of the unimaginable, something truly amazing has happened. I have gained more confidence in myself than ever, and I feel ready to brave whatever 2014 has to bring me. This year has been affirmation that I have the ability to accomplish anything I set my mind to. With that being said, in the short time I have here on Earth, I suppose I better set my mind to do something worthwhile!

In light of this sentiment, my all-encompassing mission for 2014 is to dedicate my energy to things that matter. I am a hard-working, dedicated, caring, and passionate person. Simply put, if I want something, I get it. If I say I’m going to do something, you don’t have to ask me twice. Professionally, I have made some decisions for 2014 to play on these strengths. As for my running, I have also made some decisions. I recently read a quote on Twitter that stated, “You were born to win, although to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, & expect to win.This quote really inspired me and helped shape my personal outlook for the year. My running goal for 2014 is to dedicate my energy on winning. Rather than expecting the worse and setting myself up to be okay with not reaching my goals, I’m making it happen this year. It’s time for me to live out what I was born to be: a winner! When it comes to running, to be a winner means several things. It means planning to win by following my training plan yet letting my body be my ultimate guide. It’s time to stop talking about making it happen, but to go forward, do the work, and prepare to make it happen. I am expecting to break 19 minutes in the 5k, 1:30 in the half marathon, and 3:10 in the marathon. My goals are not lofty and are completely practical, and I am fully confident in my ability. My health issues are not going away, but I’m done with letting them hold me back. I am letting go of the worry, and am choosing to keep going until my goals are reached. Quitting training is not the answer, but it is important that I am highly conscious on how I go about doing it. There is so much that goes into it, as marathon training is not just physical training, but mental training, too. I am anticipating that the mental aspect is going to be my biggest struggle, but I’m ready to fight the fight. There will be days when I will feel great, and days when I will feel awful.  But no matter how daunting it may seem or how hard I may have to work, I know I can reach my goals. It’s time to focus on bringing out the best in who am I. I was born to win. I’m ready to be a winner. And so, it’s time to take some chances. I need to be brave!

Taking a break from marathon training for the majority of 2013 has helped shaped my "winning" mentality. My back seat perspective has shown me how much I have unintentionally taken for granted. Through spectating races and encouraging all of my running friends, so much light has been shed on the glory I find in running. Running for me is not an addiction or an obsession. I don’t “have” to do it. Fortunately, I don’t “need” to do it to stay in shape as there are plenty of sports, fitness classes, and other activities out there that I can participate in. Truth be told, I am an athlete and am good at most things I try. But, nothing else has my heart quite like running. I run simply because I LOVE it. I love the burn of speed training. I love 20 mile long runs. I love all of my running clothes and running shoes; I would wear them all day if I could. I love the exhilarating feeling of the last few meters of a race when I know I’m headed to a P.R. I love the camaraderie of runners throughout training, and even throughout racing! There is just so much greatness that comes from running.

With my birds-eye view this year, I have been able to be more introspective. I have been able see my talent for what it really is. I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of the gift I have, and have gained a deeper perspective of what is still out there for me to do. The most significant part of this gift is more than just my running ability, but my ability to use my experiences to help others. I am so grateful, and simultaneously humbled, that I have been able to inspire so many people. I plan to continue blogging and Tweeting (@PavMP223 ) as my journey carries on, and am happy to continue to dispense advice and encouragement to those who seek it.

My migraine issue is not going away. I recognize that it may take away a few days from my training this spring. But, instead of looking at my migraines as a hindrance, I am going to view them as a barometer of my training. If I’m getting migraines, I am likely overtraining and need to take a break. I will not let this impair my goals, but recognize that this will dictate my ability to complete all of my training. And, that is okay. Everyone has something. This is my “something.” As I previously said, life is tough, but I am tougher. I am choosing to conquer every hurdle. I have faith in me. I will be brave!

My professional goals are in motion, and I will be moving forward with them throughout the year. I am confident I will be an even better teacher and mentor as a result. My running plans thus far are to complete the Snowball 5k in February, the Tow Path Half Marathon in April, and the Glass City Marathon at the end of April. My training begins January 6, and I plan to take my brave “winner” mentality with me throughout each training run and race this spring!

I’m sure this year is going to be just as crazy as any other, but I have faith in the craziness. I know God has a reason for it all. I do not waste prayer hoping that He makes the road easy, but rather that He prepares me to face any challenge that comes my way. I pray that He gives me the strength and courage to be brave. Set your goals for 2014, and settle for nothing better than the best. God has a mission for all of us here on Earth. Decide how you want to make the most of it! Life is all about your perspective. Be brave as you conquer your goals. You, too, were born to be a winner, so make it a great year, because why not?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Feel Again

As I was driving home from work a few days ago, I noticed a burning sensation in my chest. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced in quite some time. There was no pain elicited but rather an extraordinary warm and fuzzy feeling. It felt as if I had butterflies!  I was incredibly confused by this and so, in my usual overly analytical manner, got to thinking. What reason do I have to feel this way? I haven’t accomplished anything of any stand-out significance lately, I don’t have any big trips to look forward to, and there are no boys of interest in the picture. What is my deal?  How can I possibly have butterflies? By the time I rounded the corner of my street and I made it to the drive way, it clicked. I had my answer, and it was pretty simple. For the first time in a long time, I felt exactly what I had been praying for: peace. For months since May, I’d been twisted in mental turmoil over my mystery health issue. I'm happy to say it’s behind me now, and I’m finally at a place where I am able to move forward.

My quest for peace over the past few months has not been easy. Passing out is probably one of the most terrifying experiences I have encountered in my life. Waking up in an ambulance with paramedics in my face trying to explain to me what I couldn’t rationalize if I tried has stuck with me. Just the sound of the vibrations of the motor of a truck brings me back to those memories. My body had failed me, and I lost all faith in its strength and power.  I know it sounds dramatic, but feeling a lack of control over my body is a horrific feeling I can’t exactly put into words. It's like driving a car unsure if the brakes are going to give out. Although it was great relief knowing that I don’t have epilepsy and that the constant worry of breaking into a seizure was over, it did not take the fear away. I became terrified of my migraines. Having confirmation that they were the cause of my passing out while running, and also likely linked to a few other passing out incidents from my past that were not related to running, just had me constantly nervous. I gave into my fear and decided I was going to try to avoid all possible activity that could lead to a migraine, even if that meant sacrificing all of my running goals. I put away my Garmin, completely stopped my running regimen, and contemplated completely closing the door on my running dreams. Additionally, I was shying away from being overly active and was playing it safe in most areas of my life.

Based on my neurologist’s recommendation, I started a detailed headache log. In reflection of my log of the past few months, there are two main triggers of my migraines: exhaustion and anxiety. It does not matter what kind of activity I do, if I’m feeling either of those two triggers, I’m setting myself up for a migraine. Hiding from being active might help prevent migraines, but maybe not. The only guarantee that comes with hiding is that it will make for quite an uneventful, uninspiring, boring life. Unless I plan on doing a whole lot of nothing with the remaining years of my life, I need to get out of this shell of fear. I need to face reality, figure out how to manage my migraines, and let my body feel again.

My goals for this spring are centered on gaining trust back in my body. We all have weaknesses. Greatness comes from our ability to overcome those weaknesses. Some people have hamstring issues, GI issues, or issues of even greater magnitude. My weakness is my migraines. I can’t pretend like migraines won’t happen, and running away from them is not going to make them go away. Rather than succumbing to this weakness, I want to do what I can to work around it. I want to obtain more self-awareness and learn how to better manage my migraines.

As I stated in my previous blog post, my running potential is TBD…to be determined! I am not ready just yet to tap into that potential, nor am I ready to make running a major priority. I just want to gain trust back in my body and go from there. I have been so afraid to feel any kind of pain or discomfort over the past few months, and I am now finally at a place where I am okay with feeling again. Once I can fully gain trust back, I will be ready to find out what my potential really is. I was lucky to win free entry to the Glass City Marathon in Toledo on April 27 and believe this is a positive, guiding sign from above!  Although I won’t be training to break tape over there in western Ohio, I will be taking steps towards reaching my big goals.  Training for this marathon will be a completely different experience from the others. I have accepted that the days of long, solitary runs are over.  All of my training runs will have to be on a treadmill or with running buddies. Although this takes away my favorite part of marathon training, I am now okay with this reality and am just excited to say that I will be starting out the New Year back training on January 6! I will be using the same McMillan Training Plan I used for the Cleveland Marathon last spring, but am hopeful for a much better outcome. Anything better than my messy 3:23 will make me a happy runner! But, the main outcome I want to gain from the marathon this spring is beyond a time goal. I want to gain faith back in the strength and power of my body, and use this to boost the confidence I once had that had become tarnished. I am a work in progress, and recognize that the road ahead of me might be long, hilly, and covered in potholes.  I have never let tough road conditions get in the way of reaching my goals in the past, so I believe in my ability to embark on this new journey. Regardless of the inevitable challenges I will face and length of time it may take to get where I want to go, I will get there. I’m only 31, and have so much time reach my goals.  I would rather take the time to do it right, rather than rush my training to sub-3:00 and potentially crash and burn along the way.  Slow and steady wins the race!

I am enjoying these butterflies and hope they stick around for a while. But I know in time that they will fade away, because that is how life is. I also know that it will be just a matter of time before they come back because THAT is how life is! Life is tumultuous, but it is good. I am in such a great place now and am excited to start my new journey. I am finally ready to feel again.  :-)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Being Thankful

If you follow me on Twitter @PavMP223, you likely noticed my #Thanksgiving Tweets throughout the month of November. If not, I have listed my Tweets at the bottom of this blog post. I stole this idea from Facebook and thought it would be a great thing to share with the Twitterverse. I decided to commit myself to Tweeting daily affirmations of my gratitude of the varying degrees of blessings in my life. Initially, I was hesitant about making these affirmations public. I feared that I would appear pretentious or that I could potentially make others feel insecure. But the more I pondered the idea, I decided to stick with my good intentions, put aside my concerns, and hoped that I could use this as a teachable moment for myself and others. We are often so bogged down by the day-to-day things that it’s hard for us to have a clear view of the good in our lives. Whether it’s good things, people, circumstances, etc, it can get so easily muddled in the chaos of life. It was my hopes that my Thanksgiving Tweets would inspire others to stop for a few minutes each day, reflect, and be thankful. Because the truth is, no matter how difficult things may be, we are ALL blessed in our own individual ways.

Each day leading up to Thanksgiving, I spent time thinking about my blessings. Limiting myself to 140 characters per Tweet helped me to be direct and concise, but the task of putting my gratitude into words wasn’t always easy and at times felt tedious. However, doing so really forced me to be look at my life from a different perspective. I often find myself focusing on all of things I have yet to achieve, dreaming away and thinking of what I need to do reach all of my lofty goals. My prayers are far more often centered on asking God for things rather than thanking Him for all of the great He has already given me. Although it’s important to have dreams and to be goal oriented, it’s very easy to become confined by it all. When we are constantly directing our energy on what we want without taking time to be reflective on all the good that we have, we can get lost, fall into deep holes, and forget how to dig ourselves out.

Although it may seem trite, forcing myself to see my blessings more vividly empowers me! It gives me more hope for the future and more reasons to dream. It inspires me to want to give back to those who may not have my blessings. It shows that life really is about the little things, and these little things are the easiest to overlook. Most importantly, it proves that no matter how difficult things may be, we all have things to be grateful for. God forgets no one!

Thanksgiving is a great day to help us focus on all of our blessings, but we shouldn’t limit our thankfulness to one day. Instead, we should try to find it in ourselves to see the good we are blessed with each and every day. As we embark on the Holiday season, my challenge to you is to focus on being thankful. If we could all take some time to see our lives for the good it has in it, imagine how much greater our world could be. Perhaps the fears of rejection and failure that hold us back could be minimized, freeing us to live out our dreams and give the world our very best!

If you take anything from this blog post, I ask you to consider the most important yet simplest thing to be thankful for:  your life! You were given one for a very special reason. Strive to find out what that reason might be, because if you do so, the best is truly yet to come!


MP’s 28 days of #Thanksgiving Tweets:

Day 1: I'm thankful for the good in social media that connects people and ideas in a positive way!

Day 2: I'm thankful to have a super sweet, loving Mommy that supports me, understands me, & is always my biggest cheerleader!

Day 3: I'm grateful to have a reliable mode of transportation, w/ accessible gas I can afford, to take me anywhere anytime.

Day 4:I have a job I love that energizes me, challenges me, is my passion,& makes me a better person. For this, I'm thankful.

Day 5: I am thankful to have a Dad, 3 brothers, 2 bro-in-laws, and 4 nephews to make my standards high by their example.

Day 6: I'm grateful to have the knowledge, means, and willpower to live a healthy lifestyle.

Day 7: I'm thankful for the painful years of retainers, braces, & oral surgery (8 pulled teeth: 4 adult + 4 impacted wisdom).

Day 8: I'm thankful for my vibrant, healthy hair that can quickly grow and be easily donated to those who need it.

Day 9: I'm grateful for the long talks, laughs, and tears with my sisters and Mom.

Day 10: I'm thankful for a washer and dryer to do laundry whenever I need to in the comfort of my own home.

Day 11: I'm thankful for all the veterans who have sacrificed so much so we can be free.

Day 12: I'm grateful for a cozy, warm, secure bed to sleep in each night. The cold nights always remind of this blessing.

Day 13: I'm grateful for music and all the workouts, loves, heart breaks, long car rides, & fun times it's gotten me through.

Day 14: I'm thankful for all of my education and the endless opportunities that have come with it.

Day 15: I'm thankful for my health.

Day 16: I'm thankful for good-hearted, kind people.

Day 17: I'm thankful for coffee.

Day 18: I'm grateful for all of the strong, courageous women who paved the path so we are free to be whomever we want to be.

Day 19:I'm thankful for running. Began as a simple hobby & led to so many incredible experiences w/ so many invaluable lessons.

Day 20: I'm grateful to have had a childhood that was safe and filled with love. All that I am today is because of this.

Day 21: I'm grateful for my four sweet little nephews that I love so dearly. They make life so much brighter!

Day 22: I'm grateful for every single one of my students. As I have worked hard to teach them, they have taught me so much!

Day 23: After a super busy week, I'm grateful for relaxing Saturdays when there is nothing on the agenda.

Day 24:I'm thankful for being raised with a solid foundation in religion. My faith in the goodness of God is everything to me.

Day 25:I'm thankful for Chipotle. It's fast,customized,affordable deliciousness perfectly portioned. The ultimate fast food!

Day 26: I'm thankful for the treadmill. It ensures that a solid run is possible even in the worst of weather conditions!

Day 27: I'm thankful that my family has the means for a big, delicious Thanksgiving dinner with more food than we can eat.

Day 28: I'm thankful for my fun, crazy,hilarious, loving, big family that gets bigger each year!!! I won the family jackpot!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MP's Pursuit of Happiness :-)

This week, I received an email from a student going through some difficult times. In her email, she said, “you are probably the nicest and happiest person I have ever met.” Her kind words touched my heart and really had me thinking about happiness. Happiness seems so idealistic. With life’s many imperfections it can seem impossible to attain. However, life has taught me that happiness is attainable. It is not circumstantial nor is it something anyone can just be. You have to make the conscious choice to be happy and that is not always an easy task. You have to work towards it every day.  Sometimes it just seems easier to loathe in misery, crawl into a corner, and expect things in life to magically get better. But as we all know, things don’t get better that way. Letting the bumps in the road of life get the better of us is a great deal of time wasted and time is too precious to be wasted in selfish pity. I’m honored that my dear student views my happiness with such high regards. She inspired me to think about my happiness in a bit more depth, and so I have decided to share some of the ways I work towards happiness. These are 15 ways by which I express one of my unalienable rights, the pursuit of Happiness:

1. Smile-

I try to smile as often as I can. Even when everything is falling apart and the last thing I want to do is smile, I do it anyway. It lifts me higher, and does the same thing for all of those around me. Smiles are the most highly contagious methods of spreading happiness. It is very rare when I give a smile and it isn’t returned. A simple smile can make a huge difference in someone’s day. It doesn’t even require you to say one word. So, why not just smile?  

2. Focus on being kind to everyone-

Kindness is also highly contagious. I try to put my judgments to the side and treat all people with kindness. That kindness may not be returned. But, I make a constant effort to be kind anyway and perhaps inspire others to do the same.

3. Forgive-

I’ve learned that it’s much easier to move on from the hurt caused by the behavior of others rather than dwell on it. This can be very challenging, but it has been fundamental to freeing my spirit from the weight that grudges put on it. Often times, I forgive those who haven’t even said sorry. It’s not easy, but I just do it. Some may say I’m a push over. I say I’m happy.

4. Let your guard down-

I truly believe that there are significantly more good people out there than bad. Assuming the worst in everyone brings out the worst in me. I try to keep my guard down and trust in the good in people. This also applies to opportunities. I focus on being open-minded, confident, and fearless when it comes to trying new things. There is so much in life to be discovered when you are open to it!

5. Accept that some people have it better-

There will always be someone who is prettier, with a bigger house, faster race times, etc. Dwelling on the things that others have that I don’t only creates unnecessary animosity, mostly with myself. It’s hard to feel fulfilled when I am constantly comparing what I have to the things that other people have. Instead, I work hard to not compare myself to other people. I focus on myself as a standard of comparison and strive to be a better version of me, not anyone else.

6. Celebrate the successes of others-

Everyone has a natural tendency towards jealousy. I choose to rise above those feelings. I love celebrating in the great moments in other people’s lives. It is awesome seeing the joy in others as they achieve their goals and do great things. I live for inspiration! Plus, when I am happy for other people, I feel happy, too. So, it’s a win-win!

7. Surround yourself by people who lift you higher-

Misery loves company. If I spend time around negative, unmotivated individuals, it brings me down. Instead, I choose to be around uplifting, loving people who are trying to better themselves and the world around them. I also try to be around people who like me. The majority of my free time is spent with my family and close friends. Spending time with people who do not like me for one reason or another is draining and exhausting. When I can control it, I try to avoid my haters!

8. Be honest-

I always tell it like it is. Love it or hate it, you will never have to guess what I’m thinking. Being disingenuous stirs negative feelings and resentment. I think it’s best to be up front rather than passive aggressive and frustrated.

9. Focus on the positive-

This is the most obvious method of being happy! I always choose to dig into the positive in all situations. It’s challenging, but a really important part of being happy. Life isn't perfect and you shouldn't expect it to be. But, with a glass half-full perspective, life is just easier. And, you are just happier.

10. Don’t keep score-

Do good just to do good! If you are always expecting what you put out to be returned, you are setting yourself up to be really disappointed. Most of the good things people do are without recognition or a pay back. It can be hard doing good when it feels unappreciated. But, choose to do good anyway. The great that comes with doing good for others surpasses what any acknowledgement could provide anyway.

11. Have faith-

Whatever your faith might be, I believe having faith in a higher being is so important. My personal faith in God has gotten me through the most challenging and loneliest of times. I am confident in God’s plan for me, and because of Him I strive to be a better person everyday.

12. Dream-

Just about everything I’ve accomplished in my life has been rooted in a dream. Dreams might seem silly at the time, but they are the foundation of greatness. Dreams give us passions, motivation, and reasons to be happy!

13. Be patient-

Most things don’t happen as quickly as we wish. Getting that great job promotion, meeting the perfect guy, having that big house, etc might not come in an instant. Persevere and don’t give up. If you really want it, it will come! Being impatient and taking the quick route may not lead to happiness.  If you are patient, you will get what God has planned for you. It may take more time than you would like, but ultimately you will get what you need…and you will be happy!

14. Give-

There is nothing in my life that has lifted me higher than centering myself on giving back to others. As a teacher, my career provides me with the perfect instrument to carry this out. I try to do this in all of my life’s aspects and as often as I can. Giving my time to be there for a friend, spending time playing my nephews, or giving a $1 to feed the needy when I’m checking out at Giant Eagle, no matter how big or small I try to give anywhere and anyway I can. It is through giving that others are also inspired to give. I believe it’s our responsibly to take care of each other, whether it’s through kindness or monetary donations. Some may say I’m too giving or too nice. I say I’m happy.

15. Just be yourself-

The key to be truly fulfilled is when you are true to being no one else but YOU. We all have something great and exceptional to bring to this world. If we were all the same and did the same thing, from an evolutionary perspective our species would die out! We are meant to be individuals with our own set of unique traits. But, when you are true to being you, it’s only natural that some people won’t like you. It’s just how it is. When you stop trying to please everyone and accept that some people simply don’t like you, that’s when true happiness is all yours! So, own up to all of your weird little quarks. Love yourself, embrace who you are, and give the world all you’ve you got!

That wraps up the 15 ways by which I express my right to the pursuit of Happiness. I am far from perfect. I’m not happy all the time. But, it’s something I strive for and will continue to strive for. Take some time to think about what makes you happy and center your life on pursuing it. It’s your unalienable right to do so. Life is so much more Liberating when we pursue to live it Happily!

Sunday, November 3, 2013


It’s been two months since I’ve laid my Garmin to rest. It’s buried somewhere deep in the mess of my bottom desk drawer. The date by which it will be dug out is TBD--to be determined! I haven’t even entertained the thought of rescuing it from this idle state it has not been victim of since it was taken from its package in 2009. But, the current negligence of my Garmin does not devalue the meaning that this advanced piece of running equipment has for me. It has a bigger place in my running heart than any pair of running shoes I own.  It has been my consistent training buddy for the past four years, by my side through the thick and thin. We have been inseparable and I have the utmost gratitude for the guidance it has provided me. This bulky device, resembling an Inspector Gadget watch, has been there with me through it all, always leaving behind a nice tan line on my right wrist that has served as a constant reminder of the glorious journey. I couldn’t escape the memory of every hard tempo run, blistering speed work session, beautiful long run, and heart-pounding race of every distance that I conquered in the rain, snow, sleet, and bright sunshine thanks to my Garmin. It has challenged me to be the best runner I can be, beeping at me when I’m going to slow and shining at me when I’m coasting to a P.R. But my Garmin has provided me more than just record of my mileage and pace throughout my runs. It has also been a token of the people that have supported me, as it was a gift for my 27th birthday from my dear sister Kristin who has been by my side throughout all of the peaks and valleys of my running career. With this heavy watch weighing on my wrist, I always had this light, uplifting reminder of the good people with me helping me reach my goals. I truly believe my Garmin, for all of these reasons, has transformed me into the runner I am today.  As I have made the decision to take a step back in my marathon training, giving it time to rest has been just as important of a decision as the first time I put it on. It has forced me to take the necessary step back my body has been begging for, and have since fully committed myself to a marathon training break.

Since my marathon journey began in May of 2009, I’ve been a running machine. I’ve been running marathon after marathon, accomplishing some truly amazing things I never sought possible for myself. However, it goes without saying that I’ve hit some bumps in the road (or should I say, the worst potholes imaginable) and have never truly given my body and mind time to heal from those bumps (and potholes!). This inability to step back has been detrimental to me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I had defined myself so much by my running accomplishments that I lost a sense of who I really am and what running really means to me. My committed hiatus has turned out to be the best blessing in my running career. It has helped heal my hidden inner bleeding wounds, appreciate all of the blessings in my life, and to my surprise, helped rekindle the love of running I once had.

I’ve been spending this fall focusing on the positive and moving past the negative, which includes supporting my running friends as they accomplish their big goals. I’ve been spectating races where I can and in some cases hopping onto the course to give a few friends the extra “boost” they needed to get to the finish line. I’ve been following the leaderboards of races at home, watching in awe as my running buddies move their way into the next phases of their phenomenal running careers. What had me most inspired this fall was witnessing my students defy the impossible and put it all on the line to win their local division in Cross Country for the first time. This fall has been awesome. I have not been able to feel anything but excited, happy, and above-and-beyond inspired to turn this hiatus I’m on into something great!

Although I’m not training, my running has not discontinued. But, it’s a different kind of running than what I’ve been committed to for the past four years. It’s running by leisure, enjoyment, and exercise. It’s about clearing my head and staying in shape. It’s about learning how to be okay with getting out there, and not worrying about the potential for passing out. The fear and anxiety I thought would never go away is slipping away, run after run. I’m dreaming again, step-by-step, of the possibilities of the future.  I’m getting myself set up to re-learn the comfort in discomfort so I can I reach the goals God has set out for me. 

In the meantime, the “building the new” as I mentioned in my last blog post isn’t as aggressive as those who know me would expect. I’m focusing on just “being” for a while. I am chilling out from this need for constant accomplishment, and am just “being" the best teacher, sister, daughter, aunt, friend and pseudo-coach I can be. I LOVE sharing my running experiences and knowledge with my friends as they are reaching their running goals and LOVE the extra time I have to just “be.” I feel great, am healthy, and haven’t had a migraine since September! 

As I have been taking the back seat over these past few months, I’ve done a great deal of reflecting on my running accomplishments. Although I have great pride in all that I’ve done, I know in my heart that there is more out there for me. I have successfully conquered the distance, but I believe my lack of recovery in between marathons has left me at a point of mediocrity in my performance. I’m very proud to I have run 9 Boston Qualifying marathons in such a short period of time, but BQing is now an outdated goal for me. In fact, running a sub 3:20 is an outdated goal for me. If I’m going to run another marathon, I want it to be a true challenge. I want to put my potential to the test, because I’m still unsure of exactly what that is. It’s TBD—to be determined!  If I’m going to attempt this true challenge of my potential, I need to be completely prepared. To be completely prepared, I need to stay true to my break until I’m fully ready to give all of myself to the challenge. I need to be healthy, physically and mentally, and cognizant of the mistakes I’ve made in the past that have lead me to the E.R. The days of training alone are over, and if I am going to attempt big goals it’s going to be with a coach or knowledgeable, experienced training partners. I do not believe I can do what I want to without the guidance of others to get me there. And if I’m not going to do it right, there’s no point in doing it all. My Garmin has been a great training buddy, and I plan on wiping off the dust on it when I begin my training journey again, but it can’t be my sole trainer. If I train for another marathon, I am committed to making it a completely different type of experience and doing it right. 

I don’t have a time stamp on my hiatus. I just want to continue to “be” for a while, and when the time feels right I will make my moves. I went from a 4:29 marathoner to a 3:18 marathoner in just one year, and know that I have the potential to do something really awesome if I do it right. The great things that come in life only happen when you are willing to take risks. Risks are so much more worth taking when you know that there will always be people there to catch you when you fall. Thank you to everyone for all of your support throughout the turbulence of my running journey. I couldn’t have done it without you!

The Garmin will stay at rest for the time being. The future is TBD. And for now, I’ll continue on just “being” MP. ;-)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Building the New

I’ve been holding off on blogging for quite a while. This has primarily been a result of being very busy and lacking the time to put all of my thoughts into words. But, this hasn’t been the only reason for my delay. My life has changed more than I expected in ways I didn’t anticipate over the past few months, and I wasn’t sure how much of this experience I wanted to share. If you have been following my blog since it began in the summer of 2011, you know I don’t hesitate when it comes to the truth. The truth about the truth is that it isn’t always pretty and is far from perfect. However, the last thing I ever want to do with my truth is be negative or discourage others and I have been worried that what I write may do so.  But highlighting only the serene peaks of my running career would be painting a dishonest picture. Doing so, I’m not helping anyone and the primary purpose of my blog has been to put my journey out there to help others.  So, upon lots of reflection, I’ve made the decision to continue to share my story. As with all of my blog posts, it is my hope that this most recent experience also motivates others, whether it be to follow their dreams or perhaps take some time to slow down, reflect on their dreams, reassess, and faithfully move forward in a new direction.

Running this summer has been like riding a rollercoaster unsure if I’m strapped in. After my third mystery “seizure” or “passing out” incident that happened last May, the resultant uncertainty forced me to make a personal commitment to stop marathon training. I was to focus on running casually, without any training plan, goal, or extreme intensity. I also made a commitment to run only in safe locations, sticking to the treadmill for the majority of my runs and about once a week on the roads of my local Metroparks. In the early parts of summer, this commitment came with ease. I was happy with the treadmill and, in fact, made a new, incredibly inspiring running buddy along the way! But as the summer progressed, I became restless with the ease. I did not want to completely lose my fitness and wanted the option to perhaps jump into a few races this fall. I knew that I would not be in any shape to run fast, but I at least wanted the option to complete the distances.  So I slowly started adding in speed training to my regimen, and slowly started spending more time outdoors running circles in the hilly Metroparks. However, adding these few things into my routine certainly did not come with ease.  Fear came with every quick stride in my speed training on the treadmill and with every foot strike on the roads of the Metroparks.  There wasn’t one speed training session or Metropark run that wasn’t accompanied with a series of “you can do this…you can do this…you’re not going to pass out…you can do this…”on repeat in my head. It was exhausting. Running was no longer the fun, stress-releasing exercise it was in the past. It was now a huge mountain that took a great deal of mental strength to simply get through, more intense than any physical demand I’ve ever put on my body.  It was a stirring a great deal of anxiety in me, and was not getting easier with time.

I prayed and prayed that running could go back to what it used to be. I was fixated on the memories of the good times and accomplishments. I was missing the feelings that came along with pre-race butterflies, winning ridiculously huge trophies, achieving P.R.’s, collecting race medals, traveling to fun cities, and so much more. Marathon running was a huge part of my life for four years, and letting go of the goals attached to it as a result of an undefined health issue was more of a challenge than I expected.  I felt myself spiraling downwards, and ended the summer feeling lost with a total lack of enthusiasm for just about everything.  Although blessed with a great deal of loving people in my life, I felt very alone. No one really understood what I was going through, it was hard for me to put my experience into words without pity, and so I bottled most of my feelings inside. I was hurting and was just at an all-time low. I was trying hard to smile on the outside, but felt a huge, bleeding hole in my heart on the inside. In the past, a run could quickly ease the pain of those feelings. But now, running was the culprit. No run was going to take away those feelings, and I had no choice but to face them. Change has always been difficult for me, and this difficulty escalated beyond what I felt I could handle at times.  But despite my fear and anxiety, I still was holding on to the hope.  I prayed I could get back to where I was and that I was going to get some answers regarding my health issues.  I was not ready to throw in the towel just yet.  

When Labor Day weekend rolled around, I decided to take a leap of faith. In the past, leaps of faith lent themselves to great success for me. I was eagerly seeking the “high” that came along with feelings of accomplishment, and so I decided to lace up my running shoes for a 5k race on Labor Day Monday. The race was a challenging course that began with a steep, long uphill that winded around and back down to the finish. It was an incredibly hot and humid day following an incredibly hot and humid weekend, but I decided I was going to take the challenge on any way. So I did, and OWNED it. Despite the big hill in the beginning leading into a slow first mile around a 6:40 pace, I crushed the second half of the course. I finish in 19:41, 6:21min/mi and was the 2nd overall female and 6th overall finisher! I was very surprised by my performance and had no idea I still had that kind of speed left in me! The 1st overall female and I ran a cool down post-race together. As we talked throughout our run, she opened up about a chronic illness that she is dealing with that has prevented her from pursuing running distances greater than the 10k.  Her openness helped me immensely, in ways she has no idea. For the first time this entire summer, I felt not alone. I had been feeling “defective” with my own personal chronic illness and like a wimp for consequently putting my running goals to the side. This girl is by no means a wimp but is taking care of her body and playing with the cards she has been dealt in a positive, healthy way. I was incredibly inspired by her great attitude and responsible decision. They say everything happens for a reason, and meeting this phenomenal runner during this difficult time in my life is one of the reasons I can say it certainly does!

After the awards ceremony, I started to feel horrible and became incredibly nervous. I was so wiped, exhausted, dehydrated, and just needed to get home and take a nap. As I was driving home, I evidently took racing to another level. I got my first speeding ticket since 2007. The cop definitely put me in my place and the speeding ticket immediately killed the “high” that came from my run. I felt sick, miserable, and like a complete fool. I felt like God was shouting at me, “What are you doing? Stop. Slow down…and move on!” It was like someone through a bucket of cold water on me. All-around for a multitude of reasons, I just felt ashamed with myself.

The next day, I had an appointment with the neurologist I had been waiting to see for three months. He is said to be the best neurologist in Cleveland, and I was a hybrid of excited and nervous to meet with him. I wasn’t so much scared to hear about what might be wrong. I was more scared to hear that he had no idea what was wrong with me and I was just going to have to deal with the uncertainty for the rest of my life. Upon meeting him, I quickly learned that there was a reason I waited so long to get an appointment with him. He was AMAZING. Upon analyzing my long list of tests, my symptoms from each incident, my health history outside of running, he came to a definitive conclusion. I do NOT have epilepsy and have NOT been having seizures! Instead, I have been having exercise-induced migraines that lead to syncope (which is a big medical word for passing out). He said that extreme migraines cause a decrease in blood pressure, which he believes is what is causing me to go unconscious. He said that migraines cause problems with facial nerves, which explains my slurred speech and droopy eyes. He said the shaking my body endured happens with any kind of syncope, which can be mistaken for seizure. Additionally, confusion and cognitive impairment are also symptomatic of a severe migraine which explains my “out-of-it” state with the paramedics. He said he has studied epilepsy and seizures throughout his entire career and he can say with fair certainty that that is not the issue! It was a relief to hear him say those words. However, although my migraine issue is a diagnosis of much less severity than epilepsy, I am not totally in the clear. I have been cursed with chronic migraines since my early teens and when they strike they are incredibly debilitating. He gave me some suggestions and medication to help mitigate the pain they cause and hopefully prevent any possible syncope episode. He himself is a runner with a respectable 16:00 5k P.R., and was very supportive of me continuing on with my marathon training. However, he informed me that I would have to change my mentality. It is engrained in our running souls (or should I say, “soles”) that mind is always over matter, and that there is no challenge we can’t push our bodies through. He said that this biological challenge I face cannot be overcome with a positive attitude and that there is no pushing through it. When I feel a migraine coming on, I have to stop and let it take its course. He recommended I lie in the grass and put my feet over my head at the onset of the visual disturbances. If an ambulance comes, he recommended letting it drive me home because there is no need to get stuck in an E.R. and spend lots of money on diagnostic tests. Dropping in the grass with my legs in the air is somewhat of a comical idea, but I deeply appreciate his optimism, faith, and support in my running career.

So, did this diagnosis spring me back into marathon training mode? Believe it or not, even to my own surprise, not at all. I took an entire week off of working out after that appointment.  I have been so physically exhausted over the past few weeks. I’m not sure exactly why, but I can hardly even run a few easy miles. Maybe I’m missing some nutrients in my diet? Maybe I’m not getting enough sleep? Maybe it’s stress from work? Or, maybe, this diagnosis is the green light that I can relax…and my body is forcing me to do so.  And, maybe, this is the time for me to truly take a step back and let go of what I’ve been so afraid to step away from.

Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” This is my new mantra. Instead of praying to get back to where I was, I’m saying a new prayer. I’ve decided it’s time to find a new focus and put my energy into “building the new.”  I can’t rationalize putting all of my energy into fighting what has come to make me feel miserable. The potential for syncope on a run does not sit easy for me, and lying in the grass with my feet over my head waiting for a migraine to pass seems like such a waste of precious time. Life is too short. Everyone has a hurdle to jump through in his or her life, and this is mine. It’s time to truly let goal of my running goals. Focusing any more of my energy on running a fast marathon feels foolish for me at this point. I’ve accomplished more than I ever could have imagined since my running adventures began in 2008, and I’m happy to share my knowledge to help others reach their goals. But, for me personally, it’s time to close this door. I’ve put the Garmin away. Running is no longer my focus, but something to do to stay in shape and relax. Running will always be a part of my life, but training will not. It’s time to truly enjoy running to feel not burned out, but to feel refreshed. The intensity of marathon training has taken its toll on my body, and my body is shouting at me that it’s done. I’m not sure yet what my new focus will be. I’m not even sure where to begin! There is so much opportunity in life if you let it in, and sometimes letting go of what was is the only way to have a clear lens of what may be.

In the meantime, I cannot wait to cheer on all of my running friends in their races this fall! I truly love supporting others experiencing all of the greatness that comes from road racing at any distance. Being on the sidelines watching my running buddies, who have worked so hard and dedicated so much time, reach their goals has been the best medicine for me. No matter my personal direction, I will always be everyone’s biggest cheerleader!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

How It All Began- Part 2

On some ordinary winter day during my first year of teaching in 2008, a very sweet, energetic colleague of mine was on a computer in the teacher work room. I greeted her with the typical, “Hey, what ya up to?” She replied, “Oh just taking a minute to register for the Cleveland Half.” I said,“Cleveland Half what?” She said, “Half Marathon.” Upon more inquisition, I learned that Cleveland has a marathon. I also learned that a marathon is 26.2 miles and the half marathon is half that! I’m still unsure where the motivation or the interest came from, but I decided at that exact moment that I was going to do it. I also decided that my partner in crime, my sister Kristin, was going to do it with me. Also in her first year of teaching, she was willing to give it a try with me. We were both absolutely clueless about what we were getting ourselves into, but we registered anyway.

We were the blind leading the blind as always, printed out a training plan from the Cleveland Marathon website, and attempted to follow it. Without a Garmin, or any knowledge that watches of those nature exist, I drove my car around my neighborhood to estimate the distances I would need to run. I attempted to follow the training plan as best as I could, but was not as diligent as I had any idea I should be. I was busy with my first year of teaching, coaching a travelling volleyball league (yes volleyball managed to tweak its way into my adult life, fortunately temporarily), and being a highly social 25 year old. I was confident I could accomplish the distance and had too much on my 20-something mind to worry about being overly anal about my training.

The week leading up to the half marathon, a friend of mine asked me to attend a wedding with him the Saturday before the race. Again, without major concern regarding the race, I said yes. It was a day wedding with minimal alcohol consumption, but I was at no maturity level to say no to champagne!  While at the wedding, my “on-again off-again” flame for the moment texted me to go out that night. Again, I was at no maturity level to turn down that offer either. So we went out, saw a movie, and had a few chuckles over some drinks. By the end of the date, our conversation put us back in the “off-again” phase of our relationship. In the midst of all of this, there was no carbo-loading (well, I guess this could be argued) or resting. I went to bed way past midnight and was up bright and early at 5am. 

As I was overly eager and trying to get my sister out of bed, I realized that it was POURING rain outside. It was probably the worst kind of rain I would encounter in all of my running experiences. But, I wasn’t going to let this ruin our first race experience! Kristin, sporting her high school cheerleading swishy pants, was reluctantly following my lead. We put on what would be our first race bibs along with the little plastic loop timing device in our outdated, totally-not-running Nike tennis shoes. We popped an English muffin in the toaster and were out the door. I’m not sure if we even ate that English muffin, or even had a sip of water before we left. We were just so completely not in touch with what we were getting ourselves into.

Once we got downtown and found parking, we ran as fast as we could to find shelter from the rain. Underneath a tent of some sort, we were greeted by a very nice gentleman. I would learn years down the road that this gentleman was representative of what I call your "typical running guy". We laughed at his crazy enthusiasm, his super short shorts, and his stories of all of the marathons he had run prior to this experience. He did not make us feel like we were out of place and did not belong despite our naivetĂ©. His actions were the like of what I love most about running: runners are truly some of the kindest people there are. For what is considered to be a highly individualized sport, the camaraderie of runners is like nothing I’ve experienced in any team sport. Throughout training, racing, and reflecting on my accomplishments and pitfalls, runners have been an incredible support network beyond my wildest expectation. I love you all!

Eventually we started seeing people move to the start line. We had no idea where the start line was so we just followed the crowd. We stood there on the street as they sang the national anthem and counted down the minutes to the commencement of the race. We continued to chuckle because we just were just totally conceptually void of what was going on and what we were getting ourselves into.  We noticed that people had bibs of different colors, red and blue, signifying the distance they were about to accomplish. With our red half marathon bibs and the annoying “Cleveland Rocks” song blaring over the speakers, we crossed the start line. I had no watch, hadn't hydrated at all, and had no idea what a “pace” was. With my minimal running knowledge, I decided I would just kept moving forward and at no point would I let myself walk. I just wanted to run whatever felt most comfortable to successfully lead me to collecting my first race medal.

I don’t remember much from the race itself, but I do remember feeling too hot for the jacket I wore and so I took it off. I didn’t realize this meant I took my bib number off, and so I ran the majority of the race sans-bib. Such a rebel and I didn’t even know it! I was very observant of other runners as I ran the race, and loved seeing all of the people out there running on the same course trying to accomplish whatever their goals might be. I found it very moving! When the time came for the half marathon course to diverge from the marathon, I was AMAZED that marathoners had the ability to keep going. I watched as those brave souls took on the second portion of the marathon course, doubling what I had accomplished. I NEVER thought that would be me. I was content to turn the corner and head towards the finish line!

When I crossed the finish line, I saw 2:00 plus some change on the clock. I had no idea what that meant or if I ran a good time. It didn’t matter to me at all. I, the girl who never ran cross country or track, finished a half marathon!!! I hung out for a few minutes at the finish line, eagerly waiting for the arrival of my sister. And, soon enough she did the same thing! I was just in awe of our accomplishment, and ready for my post-race beer! We met up with my colleague and her fiancĂ©, hung out at the post-race party, and then the sun finally came out! In retrospect, I’d say the weather was symbolic of the future that would lay ahead of me on many levels. There has inevitably been lots of rain and cloudy days through my running, and in life in general, experiences. But no matter what, at the end of the day, the sun always ends up shining! I've learn to always have faith that the sun will always shine...eventually!

Me and Kristin Post-Race! Yes, we ran the ENTIRE race with those sunglasses!

 I eventually learned my race time was 2:01:18, 9:15min/mi. I was told by many that that was a good time, and was excited I managed to do this without really training. I told myself it would be at least four years of training before I could ever accomplish a marathon, but that I could probably break two hours in the half marathon if I trained. So I trained and ran two half marathons that fall, the Akron ½ Marathon and the River Run ½ Marathon and I accomplished my goal both times! I then decided to make a big leap and attempt the Cleveland Marathon that following spring. And, I did just that in 4:30 in May of 2009! So much for waiting four years!  I was impressed with my achievement, but at that point, never even dreamed of the possibility of running a sub 3:40, which would qualify me for Boston.  But in just a year later, I surprised myself once again. In April and May of 2010, I ran back-to-back sub 3:20s, smashing the Boston Qualifying standard, at the Glass City Marathon and the Cleveland Marathon!  At this point in my running career, 5 years since my first race, I’m 11 marathons, 9 of which are Boston Qualifiers, and 16 half marathons deep. I have run countless 5ks, 10ks, 5milers, and 10milers. I have more bibs, trophies, plaques, and medals than I know what to do with. I even have had the ability to use running to help support a phenomenal charity, Wigs For Kids, in ways I didn't imagine possible. I would say this first race, the Cleveland Half Marathon, shed light on something I didn’t know existed. I suppose you can call it a hidden talent brought to life by a leap of faith. 

My intentions in this blog post are not to gloat about my random and what some may say are exceptional running accomplishments, but to highlight a truth that I didn’t even see for myself. This truth being that anything is possible. Anything! And, who knows what those things may be?!? It’s through leaps of faith that we have the ability to identify those possibilities. This is how we develop passions that enable us to start making significant, life altering goals for ourselves. It's through the multiple attempts at reaching those goals that something deep within us changes. Throughout my running adventures and reaching for what some  may say are lofty goals, I have learned some of my most valuable and significant life lessons. My adventures haven't been easy. Although I have had a great deal of success, there have been plenty of failures and setbacks along the way. I've been on, and am currently on, quite a turbulent journey. But throughout the turbulence, I have taught myself how to love the journey. I've learned that life is much easier lived when it's loved.

Running has put permanent imprints on my soul, shaping me into the woman I am today, and I am eternally grateful. It doesn’t matter what the avenue is that helps you reach your fullest potential, but my suggestion is that you keep yourself open to that potential. The only real road block to living your dreams is you. So live free with your heart open, and you just may accomplish more than you ever knew was possible. I have my colleague and the Cleveland Half Marathon to thank for opening the door for me to one of the greatest passions of my life. But the only person who could truly get me to walk through that door was me.  So, my message is this: believe in yourself, keep an eye open for those doors of opportunity, and take some leaps faith. You just never know what’s on the other side of that door!

And that, my friends, is how it all began. :-)