I was 11 years old when I decided I wanted to be a runner. I was at cheerleading practice and saw the local cross country team running a hill workout. I was intrigued. As luck would have it, that week the junior high announced that they would be setting up a race for the sixth graders (who were in elementary school at the time). I wanted in. I don’t remember much about the race itself (other than the fact I’m pretty sure I ran it in Airwalk shoes) but it was the start of my longtime love affair with running.
Many of the most defining moments of my life have included running. I grew up playing sports of all kinds (soccer, basketball, softball) but none of the lessons learned have transcended the sport in the way that running has. Looking back at nearly 19 years of running endeavors, I have chosen the following 10 experiences as those that have had the greatest impact on me as both a runner and a person.
1. 1999 – Eight Grade Conference Track Meet
I am not a naturally gifted runner. While I know that I have some degree of natural ability, it will not manifest without putting forth extraordinary training efforts. I wasn’t particularly fast throughout middle school. However, by the end of eight grade, I wanted nothing else than to run in the conference meet. I worked harder that season than I ever had before and ultimately earned myself a slot for the mile run. About a week before conference, I fractured my elbow during a soccer game and was advised by my doctor that I couldn’t run. I was incredibly disappointed. I cried and complained about how unfair it was. But ultimately, this motivated me to work even harder to earn my spot on the high school team.
Life Lesson: No matter how hard you work, there are no guarantees. You can choose to give up or choose to push even harder.
|The famous blue track at State|
2. 2001- State Track Meet
After the disappointing end to my “middle school career,” I became determined to make up for it in high school. The summer before freshman year I ran more miles than I ever had in my life. I was determined to keep up with the more experienced runners. For the most part I was able to. By track season, I was in great shape and was lucky enough to be slotted in the slow leg of the varsity 4×800 meter relay team. Our team unexpectedly broke a school record at sections and qualified for the state track meet. This experience validated all of my hard work – and taught me the importance of using my disappointment as fuel.
Life Lesson: Believe in yourself. Always.
|Because who doesn’t drink grape soda after a track meet?|
3. 2002- Mile PR
I have always loved the mile run. There is just something about it that is absolutely poetic to me. I feel the way about the mile the way I imagine that artists feel about certain pieces of artwork. Building off of the confidence established my freshman year, I poured myself into track and cross-country my sophomore year. By sectionals, I ran a 5:34, which was a massive PR for me and reassurance that even though I may not have a ton of natural talent, grit and hard work would get me to where I wanted to be.
Life Lesson: (Mantra of my high school track and cross-country coach) Everything you do affects everything you do.
4. 2003- Letting My Anxiety Get the Best of Me
|Typical pre-race expression.
No smiles here.
From the outside looking in, it probably looked like I was on an upward trajectory with my running. However, on the inside, I was becoming crippled by anxiety.
I have always put a lot of pressure on myself and running was no exception. I would get so nervous before races that I would completely shut down. I would be sick to my stomach days before races. By the end of the summer before my senior year, I had enough. I decided that I couldn’t handle that feeling anymore. I wanted to have a “normal” high school experience and be able to relax and go out with friends – not spend every waking moment worrying about running. I didn’t run at all my senior year. I decided not to run in college. In fact, other than a brief attempt my freshman year of college and another attempt at the end of college, I barely ran at all for the next 8 years.
Life Lesson: (Another pearl of wisdom from my coach) I am often more afraid of success than I am of failure. I can also be my own worst enemy.
5. 2011- Chicago Marathon and My Real Return to Running
|Obligatory race expo pic|
Even though I didn’t run for the better part of 8 years, I still always identified myself as a runner. From an early age, it became entwined with my identity. 2011 marked my official return to running. It started when a fellow high school alum was putting together a charity team for the Chicago Marathon. I was hesitant at taking on the challenge at that time – I was a month away from graduating law school, 3 months away from taking the bar, and 6 months away from my wedding. I started a new job and moved to another state. Basically, I took on this challenge amidst a number of major life stressors.
The race itself was far from perfect. I went out too fast. It was hot. I was overdressed. I didn’t hydrate. I hit the wall. Hard. I did everything wrong. But I did accomplish the one thing that I set out to do – I finished a marathon.
Life Lesson: Be happy with what you can do in the moment that you are in.
6. 2012 – Chicago Marathon, Injury, and Close But No Cigar
|All smiles (after) the race|
After my first marathon in 2011, I was hooked. I took a few months off due to a nagging IT band but by spring I was ready to go. As I started integrating speed work and racing into my training I started to see my paces drop. In 2011 I thought there was no way in my lifetime I would ever qualify for Boston. By 2012 I started believing that there could be a chance.
By the end of summer, my IT band injuries flared up again and I went from dreaming to survival mode. I scrapped all time goals and decided I just needed to finish. On race day I ran the race having no idea what my pace was and went out very conservative (I had my watch on but it got so messed up in the beginning from the buildings it was hardly accurate). By the time I hit the latter part of the race I realized I was actually feeling good and decided to just go. I ended up finishing in a 3:35:23 (23 seconds off of the time I needed to qualify). I was disappointed (of course) but it provided me with new found confidence.
7. 2013 – Schaumburg Marathon and the Ever Unpredictable Race Day
|Don’t let the smile fool you – things went quickly downhill|
Following the Chicago Marathon in 2012, I became Boston obsessed. My quest for a BQ dominated my training. My last long run was approximately 30 degrees. The spring marathon that I signed up for happened to fall on a particularly hot and humid day (somewhere in the upper 80s if I recall and nearly 100% humidity). I held my pace until about mile 16 and then the heat started getting the best of me. It started with my whole body becoming chilled and covered in goosebumps. By about mile 18 I got scared and realized that something was incredibly wrong. I stopped and walked for a few minutes while my teammates who were pacing me retrieved water. I tried to start back up again and as soon as I started running the cold and goosebumps feeling set back in. In my state of delirium I saw my dreams slowly slipping away. I ended up (slowly) jogging/walking for the remainder of the race. It felt like hell. The course was never ending. By mile 26 I ended up on the ground and my teammates helped me up to get me through the last .2 miles. I collapsed at the finish and ended up in an ambulance to get checked out. (I was okay – just heat exhaustion and dehydration).
Life Lessons: Sometimes you can do everything right and be 100% prepared, but there are no guarantees things will go the way you want. Friends (and teammates) are important when the going gets tough.
(Also – in the future it’s okay to throw in the towel when you don’t feel right!!! There is a difference between giving up when things get hard and giving up because your body needs it.)
8. 2013 – Chicago Marathon – Persistence and Patience Pays Off
I decided to give my BQ dream another attempt. I ran my butt of all summer and managed to keep myself healthy (no IT band issues this time)! I knew my fitness level was well beyond that what I needed to qualify, but knowing how unpredictable race day could be, I was afraid that if I went out too fast I would “hit the wall” and end up missing my goal yet again. I was fortunate enough to have my running friends (who knew my fitness level first hand) talk me into going out with the 3:25 group. I decided to go for it. (You can read the race reap here).
Ultimately, after a somewhat rocky start, I finally hit my stride and ended up with a 3:24:02 (which was an 11 minute BQ)!
Life Lesson: Patience and persistence pays off!
9. 2014-2015 – Down, But Not Out
Of course, life is full of highs and lows. After my obligatory rest after the marathon I started training harder than I ever had before. I hired a coach and had my sights set on running a 3:15 in 2014 (which my workouts were proving could be a very real possibility). I was confident and motivated and nothing could stop me.
|An all too familiar sight|
Until it did.
My right leg started feeling “off” in the early winter months and by early spring I couldn’t run without my gait completely breaking down. I was eventually diagnosed with FAI impingement and quickly realized that surgery would be my best hope of returning to the level of running that I wanted to. Ironically, my surgery fell on registration day for the Boston Marathon and I had my husband register me while I was under the knife just in case (wishful thinking). The recovery after surgery was long and hard, but by fall of 2015 (nearly a year after the surgery) I finally started seeing hints of my old running self again.
|Back at it|
10. [The Present]
Running. For Myself. For Friendship. For Fun. To be continued…
Life Lesson: I still long to run the Boston Marathon and to get my body back in the shape it was in 2013/2014 (and I know that I can and I will). While running is a huge part of who I am and who I always will be, for now I am appreciating it for what it is and what I can do now. Right now I am concentrating on returning to the basics and learning how to be more intuitive with my running and attuned to my body. I believe that once I can do this my training will be stronger and smarter.