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. :-)

How It All Began- Part 1

A question that arises often when talking with people about my running adventures is regarding how it all began. I usually receive a quizzical look with my answer followed by, “Are you serious?” Having had this experience recently, I decided it would make for a motivational, and simultaneously comical and at times gloomy, blog post. So here it is. How it all began. :-)

It wasn’t until May of 2008 at the Cleveland Half Marathon that I ever set foot in a race. That is correct. I never so much as pinned on a bib, let alone stretched before a run, until that moment. Truth be told, I’m not sure if I even stretched. I pretty much just showed up. I never ran cross country at any point in my life and the thought of running circles on a track gave me motion sickness. I knew absolutely nothing about running, but gave it a shot anyway. This leap of faith, if you will, was by fluke one of the most significant, life changing jumps of my life. Okay, so how did I make it to the start line of the Cleveland Half Marathon? Let’s just say it wasn’t in any customized fashion.

I would be deceitful to deny any running experiences before this first race. As a kid, I was ALWAYS running. The neighborhood kids and I came up with so many versions of the game “tag” that I probably logged 50 miles a week easy. Time in between games of tag were spent at the pool, so it’s fair to say I had my share of cross training. When time came to play CYO sports, I played every possible sport I could. I loved being active, and was driven to hard work. Even in fifth grade as an underdeveloped munchkin years behind puberty, I was determined to serve the volleyball overhand. And I did, eventually. The roof of my parents' garage can attest to all of that hard work. Nothing would stop me from reaching my goals, not even exercised-induced asthma. 

Volleyball carried me into high school. I still vividly remember showing up to conditioning my freshmen year and loving the “loop” we ran every morning. I’m sure it wasn’t more than two miles, but I was always up with the upperclassmen and soccer girls. It made me feel great about myself and I loved it! However, I never viewed this as a “talent” and was more focused on becoming a better volleyball player.  A few years into high school volleyball and my passion for it died. My volleyball heart EKG straight up flat-lined. It was a slow and painful death, driven by many issues that I don’t want to waste blog space on.  I stuck it out gracefully, but my heart was gone. I was team captain every year, and knew this would look great on my college resume. But beyond that, I counted down the games until the volleyball season was over. It just wasn’t a particularly positive experience for me. Sometimes I wish a cross-country coach would have seen my talent. Or, better yet, that I had the ability to be introspective enough to identify my true passion. But, four years of high school went by and I never saw it. I wasn’t the happiest teenager and definitely could have used running to get me through some pretty challenging years. 

Upon entering college, running slowly started to seep its way into my life. Freshmen year, my dear little friend Natalie and I used to get ourselves lost in the beautiful neighborhoods of University Heights and Cleveland Heights. I continued to run casually throughout college. Initially, its purpose was to help maintain my girlish figure. However, I quickly learned that running was so much more for me. It was an escape. It helped me clear my head and most importantly made me feel good about myself. There were many nights at 2am when I would throw on some tennis shoes and just go for a run. It helped eased some of the pain of the complications of my late-adolescent life. Many of these late night runs weren’t particularly safe and totally foolish. But, I loved them. Sometimes I long for those moments of inappropriate spontaneity! :-)

I stuck with my casual running routine throughout graduate school. Despite my insanely busy schedule, I always made time a few days a week to get in a run. For the same reasons as throughout college, it became an important part of my routine. However even up to this point, I never considered running something I was good at and never EVER contemplated running in as much as a 5k race. It wasn’t until my first year teaching, in the spring of 2008 that I would take into consideration running my first race. be continued... :-)