Monday, December 17, 2012

Why I Run

Disclaimer: This is EXTREMELY personal, but I feel it's important to share, maybe it'll help someone else, but if anything it's my release.

I've always wanted to be a runner, but it's hard! I truly believe that no matter your sport you have to work and practice to be better, but there are some people who are naturally more athletic than others. I am not a natural athlete. I've played sports throughout my life and my favorite was always basketball.  In high school many of my friends were cross country runners. I admired them and so longed to be like them. They could just go out and run for miles and it seemed so easy. I always struggled with the one mile endurance test in P.E. and assumed I couldn't do it. Fast forward 12 years later, I can call myself a runner. I'm certainly not a fast one, but I'm a runner.  I know people who would disagree with me and say that you have to be fast to be a runner, but I wholeheartedly disagree.

The moment I saw the finish line at
the Marine Corps Marathon
My journey to running, which still continues, started around February 2011. I was 27 years old and seemingly in a good place in my life. I was in grad school (I still am and feel like I always will be), in a career and single. Decisions were mine to be made and mine alone.  The world was mine for the taking. However, I was miserable on the inside. I was unhappy with myself, insecure and unable to understand why anyone would ever want to love me. I felt fat, ugly, and unloveable. I stayed in an emotionally abusive relationship with a guy for over two years and it did a number on my self-esteem. Logically speaking, I knew it was silly to think all these negative thoughts because I had a good job, I was working on a Ph.D., I'd traveled all over the world and certainly wasn't ugly, but for some reason I still felt unloveable. The truly sad part is I was in a new relationship with a man who did love me, who was ready to move across the country and marry me, yet I just couldn't enjoy it. On a side note, I have no regrets for either of those failed relationships because I know it all worked how it was supposed to and I learned just what I needed to from them. I guess it really is true that you can't be in a good, healthy relationship unless you are happy with yourself.

Okay, back to running. At the time I was getting my nails done every two weeks (oh how I miss that!) and was very good friends with Zoey, the woman who did my nails. At that point, I think I went to get my nails done just to spend time with her and have girl bonding time. She was truly a life saver for me. She let me vent and share my pitiful feelings about myself and was always there to support me.  She offered just the right amount of tough love and encouragement. In fact, one say she suggested we start running together. I thought, "what the hell?" and we met every Sunday morning to run together. I missed being able to sleep in, but it was worth it.

Zoey and I before our first 10k
I definitely started off super slow and had to walk a lot. I got better, but I didn't really run during the week so progress was definitely stalled. Either way, we decided to sign up for a 10k to help motivate us and give us something to work for. Ideally we would have liked to have months to prepare, but we found a great local race that was only 5 weeks away from the time we decided to sign up.  The race also happened to be on my 28th birthday. It was definitely scary to think about running a race, but I also thought to myself, "I'm almost 28 and if I don't start now I never will."  I'd always admired my running friends and felt envious when they posted race stories or pictures on Facebook and I wanted to do be able to do that too.

Zoey and I trained as best we could and went out and did our best on race day.  It was the best birthday I've ever had.  Not only was I turning 28 years old on the 28th of the best month of the year (May), but a remarkable thing happened during the race.  I was at around mile 4 and I just had this overwhelming thought/feeling of you are worth it!  It was so overwhelming that I started crying.  I'm sure the race crew thought I was in pain, but I didn't care.  They were happy tears of course.   In that moment, I felt a new love for myself.  I was so happy I was finally doing something I always wanted to do.  I was trying something that always seemed so hard.  It was hard, but it felt great.  I was literally almost in last place and I could have cared less.  I was so happy to cross that finish line.  Being the great friend that Zoey is, she had the announcer wish me a happy birthday when I crossed the line.  It was one of the greatest moments in my life, which I know I'll always cherish.  I hadn't really anticipated what I would do after that race, but I loved crossing that line and knew it wouldn't be my last race. 

Since then, I've still struggled with my running progress.  Life is busy and if you aren't persistent, it's so easy to get side tracked from training.  I didn't consistently run each week.  Life got in the way of meeting with Zoey regularly so running was just something I did from time to time.  I still have days where I have a hard time seeing the good in me and how people (mainly guys) can love me.  Those feelings got so bad that I even developed an eating disorder.  It was my lowest moment.  At the age of 28, I had an eating disorder.  I struggled with bulimia for a short period of time.  I think for me at that time, it was more an issue of self-control and less about body image.  Yes, I would love to be thinner and in better shape, but I would feel disappointed that I didn't have more will power to eat less and would purge.  I'm not, nor have I ever been obese, but the mental struggle and disappointment got to me for a couple months.  It didn't happen every day, but enough that I recognized it wasn't right.  The beauty in it all (if there is any) is that I was an adult and knew I was struggling so I reached out to a couple friends and was able to get the support and help I needed.  During this process, running was still a huge part of life. Although I didn't run regularly, I did a few races and tried to become consistent.  Each time I ran, those feelings of self-worth would return.  Running became not only a physical thing for me, but a spiritual experience too.  Anyone who's attempted to start exercising knows it's hard to do alone, so I got lucky and found a few crazy people that would wake up at the crack of dawn to run with me before work.  You really do need a support system to keep at it. 
Crossing the finish line at the MCM, I
had just given the Marine a high five.
It was clearly an emotional moment (a
very happy one...tears of joy).
My support system is growing and helps me so much.  Another great supporter for me in my running journey is my aunt Carolyn.  Her and her husband have always been very active.  I remember her running every day when I would stay with them in the summers as a kid, although she would say she wasn't a runner.  For her 50th birthday she decided to tackle the New York City Marathon.  My Mom and I went to cheer her on and it was amazing to see.  I was so proud of her and looked up to her for that accomplishment.  I told myself I wanted to run a marathon one day too.  Thankfully, Carolyn was able to convince me, another aunt of mine, Debbie and my brother, Chris, to run the Myrtle Beach half marathon with her in February 2012.  We all signed up and trained.  We checked in from time to time with each other and it was great to have that support.  Unfortunately, my brother faced an injury and couldn't run it, but the rest of us did.  Again, my training was so inconsistent and even though I finished and was happy for that accomplishment, it was painful and hard for me.  Anyone reading this needs to realize (if you don't already know) that you're not going to be a better runner if you don't run at least 3 times a week.  TRUST ME!  I did not stick with my half training schedule and ran 1-2 times a week if I was lucky.  It was terrible.  Despite the pain and soreness, I was able to convince Carolyn to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon in December 2012 with me.  I wanted to keep setting goals so I had something to be accountable for.  She had only wanted to do one marathon, but it's addictive so I can't blame her for wanting another go at it.  I'm so grateful she did because during my training, all the times I told myself it was hard and wanted to quit, I thought of her and how much time and money she invested to be there for me.  I knew I couldn't quit.  Sadly, I have no pictures of us on race day :(

This certainly isn't the most flattering
picture of me, but it's a glimpse of the
pain I was in.  Marathons are no joke!
My marathon training was spotty because I didn't run a lot during the week.  I did manage to get my long runs in, but I learned the hard way that if you don't have those base miles built up you're going to hurt, bad!  I'm super happy that I was able to complete the marathon.  I really wasn't sure if I was going to make it because I was over the time limit in every single one of my training runs.  Yikes!  I was so close to not making the time limit, but I did!  I literally only had minutes to spare.  Around mile 13 I started having serious IT Band pain that shot up to my hip.  It was the worst running pain I've ever had, but I stuck it out and finished.  The crowd support was a huge adrenaline boost as well as other runners.  It truly is amazing how runners (and I'm sure other sports have this as well) look out for each other.  I was also able to join an awesome running club the week before the race and they set up a support team at mile 20.  Knowing they were going to be there was another key part in being able to suck up the pain and keep going.  My family also came and saw me at mile 17.5 and mile 19.5.  It was awesome to see them and really gave me a boost.  

It's been a year and a half since my running journey started.  My race times are certainly not going to win me first place, but I'm very proud of them and what they mean to me.  They are my accomplishments and I've earned them.  Since starting, I've done five 5k's, one 4-miler, four 10k's, one half marathon and one full marathon.  

My MCM metal and finisher certificate.  Yes, my time is
slow, but slow miles is better than no miles!
In the beginning of my story I mentioned how I admired my high school runner friends and how easy their runs seemed to be.  I can't speak for them or say that it actually was easy for them, but what I can say for me is that every single time I run, it's hard.  I'm still waiting for the day when I can go out and easily run 3 miles, maybe even 6 miles and not think about every single minute, but I'm not there yet.  I hope it will happen, but maybe I'm delusional.  Up until last month all of my runs included walk breaks, even if I was just going 2 miles.  I've learned that running is more of a mental sport than it is physical and most of the time my head got the best of me.  I told myself I was tired and needed a break and would start walking.  I had an interval timer and would control my walk breaks, but still, even for short distances I took breaks thinking I needed it.  A couple weeks ago I was on a short run (3 miles) and said to myself you did a marathon, you CAN run 3 miles with no breaks.  That day I didn't let myself stop and since then I've been on a roll.  I rarely take walk breaks now on my short runs and have gone up to 5 miles with no breaks.  It was a huge milestone and mental barrier to overcome.  The physical aspect is still hard for me, but the one thing that has become easier is now I know I can run for a few miles without stopping.  Each run is becoming easier to fight the inner voice that says, "I'm tired."  Maybe my the running was never easy for my high school friends, but they were just good at the mental game.  I know that as I fight my inconsistency, which I have to say has been improving lately, and continue my running journey I am only going to get better.  I may never win first place, but I'll be the best runner that I can be.  I know I will get better.  

So, why do I run?  I run because during my runs I feel special, I feel strong, and I feel confident.  I run to overcome physical challenges.  I run because it's fun (well, maybe only once it's over with).  I run because I love the feeling of crossing that finish line.  I run because I like making, working toward and accomplishing goals.  I run because it's allowed me to meet and befriend some pretty awesome people.  I run because it makes me feel better about myself.    I run because I know that as I continue to do it, my confidence will grow.  Most importantly, I run because it makes me happy to know that I am doing something that is hard.  

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