Enjoying the Change

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I’ve gone through one complete training cycle since deciding to not run marathons for the near future. I’ll admit I was anxious, and a bit skeptical, about the change. But with a few months under my belt, I’m a believer and am actually enjoying myself. I wanted to transition away from marathons in order to get faster and be able to spend more time with my family. So far, I’m accomplishing both.

For one thing, this spring has been crazy for us. Milo had 3 double ear infections in a row, which resulted in him needing surgery to have tubes put in. In just 1 week, Nick had 4 funerals. 4 funerals in just 7 days! It was madness. I don’t know how we kept our heads above water, much less if I had needed to go out for a 20 mile run. I definitely felt like I had better home/running balance only training for a half marathon.

But I say only training for a half marathon as if it were easy. Joe kept my workouts challenging and sometimes exhausting. What I had been running in high mileage, Joe was making up for with high intensity. The result: I’ve had 3 really great races so far this year. I’ve been really proud of all 3 races (a 5k, 10k, and half marathon) and not just because I showed up, but because I was fast. Like who-I-used-to-be fast. I feel like I’ve made more progress in the first couple months of this year than I did of all last year.

  
And I still have plenty of time to be wife and mom to my family. I’m not spending as much time running, and I also don’t feel as spent from running. My recovery each day has been better than that of my previous marathons. Which means I still have plenty of energy to chase my son around the yard all day, which is important because he wants to be chased all day.

I’m also finding my mentality is changing. I used to run so aggressively every time I laced up my shoes; there was always an expectation or pace to meet. (It’s important to say that these expectations were false notions in my head, Joe has been trying to reign me in for a long time.) I’m finally slowing down and enjoying my recovery runs. I have days each week where I get to run for running’s sake and not to beat the clock. For the first time, I put together my jogging stroller and took Milo out running. We loved it! It was a moment of motherhood I finally got to see realized. And Milo loves any excuse to be outside. I would strap him into his seat and give him one of his balls (we don’t go anywhere without a ball), then I’d take off. The only peeps he’d make were to talk to the dogs barking at us. He never whined, never cried, never implied we needed to go home.

  
I feel like for the first time in years, I’m getting to have my cake and eat it too. There’s balance and recovery built into each week, but also progress. So I’m going to stay in the half marathon camp a little longer, but I’ll be ready when it’s time to step back into the marathon

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A Weight has been Lifted

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For the first time in years, I look in the mirror and feel confident about what I see. It’s easier to pick out clothes because I’m not worried about concealing my extra weight. It’s gone and so are the feelings I shame I carried for so long.

I can’t blame my weight issues on being pregnant; I had gained it all long before Milo. You can see it in my engagement picture and how round my face was:

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Sure that was before the baby, but I had just had two foot surgeries and was unable to run or workout for several months. It was to be expected that I would have put on weight after all that. Except here I am several months before the foot surgeries and in the midst of marathon training:

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This feels so humiliating. I am a runner. I train for marathons. I was a personal trainer, my job was to help people lose weight and all the while I couldn’t control my own. These pictures make me want to cry. I should have never looked like that. Not when this was me just years before:

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Whatever. That is in the past. I’m healthy again. I’m confident again. I’m running fast again. The old me is gone, never to return.

And she won’t. Because there are lessons I’ve learned. Mistakes I’ve made that I won’t repeat.

My life was unstable. I had no idea where my life was going or what I was doing. The gym where I was working was sucking the life out of me, but I had no idea what to do. So I drifted, I worked at 4 different places in 2 years. That was so much stress on me mentally and emotionally.

I dieted. I feel like there should be a slogan “friends don’t let friends diet.” Honestly, diets are the worst. When I was running my best, I ate some form of grain at every meal. Every meal. Then came the hatred on grains. I hadn’t even started putting on weight yet, but so many voices were saying grains would make you fat and so I cut them out. That was one of the biggest mistakes I made. When the weight did start creeping on, I panicked and tried everything out there. I did the protein shakes, I did the detox, I did the elimination diets. And the only thing that accomplished was adding more pounds. I wasn’t giving my body what it needed (fuel) and so it waged war against me. The more weight I put on, the more I told myself I couldn’t have certain things, and the more often I binged.

I made myself workout more. If I would have stuck to the plan my coach made for me, I would have had time to rest and recover. But I equated resting with getting fat. So I added in extra strength training sessions. I spent my lunch breaks on the elliptical. I tried to keep moving as much as possible because what I was doing wasn’t enough. But just like when you don’t give your body fuel it causes weight gain, when you don’t give your body a break it can lead to weight gain as well. The body uses fat as protection, so when I was giving my body an all out assault and not properly eating, it tried to protect itself with a nice layer of fat.

My pregnancy was actually the best thing that could happen to me in terms of losing that weight and regaining a healthy relationship with food. For one thing, I had to let go of my restrictions on what is acceptable and unacceptable to eat. There were times I was so sick, the only thing that mattered was what I could keep down. So if French fries would stay down, they were the healthiest thing I could eat. And eat them I did.

And of course nothing kickstarts weight loss like breastfeeding. Because breastfeeding is powered by fat, I easily lost all of baby weight and then some in the first couple of months (thank you, Milo).

But now I’m far removed from my pregnancy and the initial postpartum stage. At this point, my body is a reflection of me; of what I put in my body, of how hard I train, and of how well I rest and recover. I can tell you, I eat chocolate on a daily basis. I love a good pub burger and fries. And I eat an average of 3 bowls of cereal a day (for real, I love cereal). And I look great. Food isn’t my enemy, I don’t have to work hard all the time, and my mental and emotional state is so much more stable.

I still can’t look at pictures of myself without feeling awful about what I did to myself. But I’m trying not to dwell on it. Instead I look at this, my present self who is kicking ass and looking great:

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A Step Back to Move Forward

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The marathon has always been my race. From the moment I decided to start competing, I was focused on it. I wanted to not only finish, but immediately had the goal of qualifying for Boston.

The marathon has been good to me. I did qualify for Boston the first time I ran a marathon. I continued getting faster, winning for my age group, and requalifying for Boston. I love being a marathoner and it loves me.

But after this year, I found myself questioning the marathon and whether it really was the distance I should be running right now.

The time to train. It’s not that I don’t have the time; it’s whether it’s worth it. Marathon training requires 3-4 months of work, with long runs that last hours. At the peak of my training, I would lose half a day to the long run and then recovery. That never phased me before, but I didn’t have a husband and child to consider. We make it work and it’s totally worth it when you have a good race, but it’s a huge gamble. I spent hours training last spring, only to get sick the week of the marathon. My fall training went off without a hitch, and we had 20 mph winds the day of the race. I’m struggling to justify all that time training when it can fall apart at the last minute.

I have nothing to prove. I can run a marathon. I have run 12 of them. I ran Chicago in 2007, which was the year we had record heat and they had to close the race down early for some runners. I was able to finish and, even with the extreme temperature, I qualified for Boston. I got a stomach bug the night before I ran Boston in 2009 and still ran the race the next morning. Even with stopping to vomit, I finished in qualifying time. I ran the Quad Cities and finished first for my age group and in the Top Ten women two years in a row. At this point, if I’m going to run a marathon, it won’t be for the accomplishment. I want to run for time, to be the fastest I can.

Can I get faster at the marathon by running marathons? Some people can. With more experience they just get faster, but my body isn’t responding that way. I got really fast for a time, I was average for even longer, and then I slowed way down. It doesn’t seem like I can just keep doing what I’ve been doing and expect to actually get better.

I took these concerns to my coach, Joe. Of course he wasn’t surprised: he’s had the same concerns for a long time. When I first started working with Joe, I had run four marathons but not a single 5k. The first thing he said was that I needed to incorporate shorter distances into my racing, and I was compliant.

But after several years of working with him, Joe started suggesting I take a break from marathons. He said I should give my body and mind a break and a chance to heal from all of the miles. I wouldn’t have it. I’m a marathoner. If I’m not running marathons, who am I? I’ve wrestled with that for a while now, but I think I’m finding peace with it.

I’m not a marathoner, I’m a runner. I don’t need a distance to define me. By allowing myself to be a runner, I don’t lose my identity just because I’m not running marathons. I am who I am at 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons just as much as I am at marathons.

I’m allowing myself to explore my potential. It’s still something I struggle with, but what if I’m actually better at a 10k than I am the marathon? What if all this time I’ve been so fixated on a distance that I’m good at, while there is another one I excel at? While it’s my marathon times I’m the most proud of, I also have impressive PRs for the 5k and half marathon. I need to give myself a chance to try new things and see what’s really the best fit for me.

So I’m not running any marathons in 2015. It will be at least 3 years before I race another marathon, although that’s not to say I won’t run one in that time. My goal is to develop speed and sharpen my mental endurance. I’m going to train harder and shorter. My goal is also to find peace with being a runner. My ultimate goal is to return to the marathon stronger than I’ve ever been. But if I can’t, my goal is to be okay with that too.

So right now I’m training for a half marathon in May. I’ve run numerous half marathons, but always in preparation for a marathon. This is my first time training specifically to race this event. That’s exciting and scary at the same time since I hate change. But it’s all still running and I’m grateful that doesn’t change.

Failed, But Not A Failure

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I failed. My goal was to run a 3:30 marathon in Indy, but I finished in 3:42. I didn’t reach my goal. I failed.

I can make excuses. The weather was pretty terrible; 18 mph winds are not ideal for racing a marathon. When it feels like 30 degrees and your fingers are frozen, it’s difficult to open your GU. Milo had gotten a cold the week prior to the marathon and graciously shared it with me. What if things had been different? What if it wasn’t so windy? What if I hadn’t spent my taper fighting illness? What if it’s not my fault I ran a 3:42?

Who cares? I can imagine a million different scenarios in which maybe I could have gotten the 3:30, but in the end it really doesn’t matter. Sure, I’m disappointed. I was 7 minutes away from qualifying for Boston. That’s frustrating! But that’s life.

When I was studying to be a personal trainer, we learned how to help our clients set goals. One important factor that is often overlooked is that goals should have a 50-50 chance of being reached. You might get it, you might not. This time I did not. Call me crazy, but I think it’s good for a person to fail every once in a while. If you are always hitting your goals, I think you’re not setting good ones. You’re playing it safe, afraid to fail.

Well I failed and I failed big. But you know what? That was one of my best races in years. I shaved 45 minutes off my time from May. That’s impressive in it’s own right. My attitude was also completely different. There wasn’t a moment during the 26.2 miles in which I doubted my ability to finish or quit having fun. I enjoyed the run, which is a lot more than I can say about the last couple marathons I completed. And then there’s the fact that I’ve finished 2 marathons since having Milo, and he’s not even 1 yet. I’m proud of that accomplishment regardless of the times.

I’m okay with my failure because it doesn’t make me a failure. It was one race; there will be others. If I let one time define me and my ability to run, I would have no reason to keep lacing up my shoes and hitting the road. I believe I am only limited by my own persistence and discipline. I may not be the runner I want to be, but I’ll never get there if I don’t keep at it. Sure, there will be more obstacles. But if there is one thing I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that I have the ability to come back from anything. If I put in the work and be patient.

So what’s next for me in terms of racing? I don’t know. That’s a conversation I need to have with my coach. But today I’m supposed to go for a brisk walk and, while it doesn’t seem like much, I’m going to do it. Because each step counts. Because even a brisk walk can make me stronger. Because my failed attempt has not defeated me. And the best is yet to come.

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There’s Still Hope

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The tattoo on my inner bicep says “Love Always Hopes.” It comes from 1 Corinthians and is my daily reminder to not be afraid to keep hoping. That in times of doubt and dismay, hope can still remain.

I’ve had several years of bad running. Three years ago I had gained so much weight I was not in racing shape. Two years ago I had two foot surgeries that kept me from being able to run for 3 months. Last year I was pregnant and sick as a dog. This year I’ve been recovering from labor and deliver, trying to rebuild what was damaged.

Throughout all of this, I’ve kept running. Even though I was overweight, I trained and showed up to the races. The surgeries prevented me from running for months, but 2 weeks after my return to running I ran a half marathon. My pregnancy left me weak and discouraged, I had to take an 8 week break from running at the end of my first trimester and into the second. But that didn’t stop me from running 5k’s at 20 and 26 weeks pregnant, and even a half marathon at 31 weeks. I thought my big break would come once my son was born, but I didn’t realize how much labor and delivery would decimate all of the muscles in my abdomen and surrounding my hips. It was a long, slow, tedious process getting back into running. But that didn’t stop me from completing my 11th marathon at just 5 months postpartum.

I’m proud of those accomplishments. I’m proud that, in the face of struggle and doubt, I showed up. I put in the work to the best of my ability. But I’m tired of just showing up. I want to race; I want to compete.

And so I’ve started training hard again. Getting out to the track and running repeats, logging the miles, signing up for races. And while my body is getting back in shape, I’ve struggled mentally. My mind has been holding me back, telling me to be careful. Saying lies about how I’ll always run, but never be fast again. I’ve believed the lies. I’ve let myself think that the hard years have done me in, that there will just be more setbacks, that I need to just settle for mediocre. But that all changed this weekend.

I ran the We Care Twin Cities Half Marathon in Bloomington on Saturday. It’s the same half marathon I ran last year at 31 weeks pregnant. My goal was 1:45, an hour faster than last year. Granted, 1:45 is still not great for me. But it’s a lot faster than I’ve been in the more recent years. I felt like if I could get out of my head and push myself, I could at least come close to my former self. That’s all I needed, a glimpse of what used to be.

It was a really tough race. I forgot what it’s like to pace myself for such a distance. The course also goes on a bike path and there are other runners using it at the same time. I would find myself trying to race them only to realize they weren’t even participating. By mile 4, my mantra had become “run your race.” Quit worrying about everyone else and just do what you came out here to do.

It was a straight out and back. They had a clock set up at the turn around. As I made my way around it, it read 51 minutes. I could do it. I could reach my goal. A few miles later, back on the bike path, I stepped on some kind of shell and rolled my right ankle. Fortunately I didn’t injure it, but it did leave me more cautious and I slowed down until I got off the path.

When I was down to the last few miles, my mantra was “give it all.” Don’t hold back, don’t doubt, just go. I crossed the finish line at 1:43. It was an amazing feeling to see the clock as I crossed the line. Plenty of runners finished before me and I wasn’t an overall winner for the day, but that didn’t matter. Because for the first time in years, I had hope. I believed in me and I believed my best wasn’t behind me. That I could keep moving forward and improving with every run.

So I’m going to keep heading out there, putting one foot in front of the other. There might be setbacks and I might not ever be as fast as I once was, but there’s still hope. And that’s all I need.

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