The exhilaration and challenges of Twin Cities Marathon are still fresh in my head. There are some mental images that I want to be able to recall in an instant for the rest of my life. I’ve been taking it easy this week, which has given me time to think and reflect over the past few years. Four years ago, I ran my first marathon on October 2, 2011. Now, four years later, I have four marathons under my belt (even though I skipped 2012 when I had foot surgery). Go figure. I certainly would not have predicted that a few years ago.
Every runner has a reason. Every runner has a story. Mine started a little more than eight years ago. My baby has her 7th birthday coming up soon, and many times when I look at her, it hits me how different life is before and after Hannah. I’m a different person than I was eight years ago. Back then, I was carrying around some extra weight (two kids and working full time with no time for yourself will do that to a girl) – not a ton – but enough so that it affected me both physically and mentally. I wasn’t very active. My husband didn’t find me attractive – and often my attempts for intimacy were met with excuses and rejection. My self esteem was…well…let’s just say there was room for improvement. Lots of room. Add to that the toll that coping with my parents’ deaths (9 months apart in July 2007 and April 2008) and a miscarriage in between took on me. It was a dark time. Looking back, I’m not sure how I got out of bed every day, but somehow I did. It was after my Mom’s death that something really snapped. My Mom had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and diabetes that caused kidney failure. Her body was falling apart before she turned 60, and she died just weeks shy of her 68th birthday. She never took very good care of herself (but she did a lot of taking care of others!) – her nutrition and exercise habits were horrendous. She had a sweet tooth that she didn’t do a whole lot to curb (and there were always so many sweets around, I haven’t really learned how to control mine either!), and I don’t remember her walking to the mailbox, much less taking any time to exercise. After she died, I was upset. I was mad. I was mad at her for not taking care of herself – not that her MS was preventable (which limited a lot of her mobility), and maybe her diabetes wasn’t either – but she certainly could have done a better job of managing her diet and exercise. Instead, I had learned by observation some of the worst habits that I had to break so that my path would be different. I was 33 when I buried my Mom. That’s too young. My oldest has a few memories of her grandparents (when they were sick – not of the people they truly were), but my kids never knew their grandparents. It’s not right. So wrong. While my Mom was dealing with limited mobility (thanks to MS) and kidney failure (thanks to diabetes) at the end of her life, my Dad was sliding into the unrecognizable person that his Alzheimer’s Disease left him. I was ticked at the cards that my parents were dealt. So unfair. Everyone grieves differently. Part of my grieving process after losing my Mom was to rebel by taking control of the things that I could – I made some radical changes in my diet and exercise patterns. I joined Weight Watchers (online). I lost 30 pounds. I dropped 4 sizes. But I couldn’t run. My knees were bad and couldn’t handle the excess weight. I also had no support other than my own determination and will. Looking back, I have no idea how I stuck it out without a tribe like I have now. I lost the weight by changing eating habits and religious dates with my elliptical, bike, and lap swim at the nearest pool. I didn’t even have the desire to run. It definitely wasn’t fun, and it held absolutely no allure for me. (Those of you who know me now, you may be laughing or shaking your heads. It’s OK – I am too.) But – I have never looked back.
After Hannah was born, I decided (with a little encouragement from my college-aged niece) that I could train for a sprint triathlon. Most people would probably start with a 5k, but I didn’t like running, but I did like swimming and biking, so it made sense to me. I trained for that race entirely by myself, and I hated every step of the running training. I very clearly remember stumbling into the kitchen after a 3 mile run and proclaiming to my husband that “I will never run farther than these 3 miles I have to run for the tri.” But when I finished that race on my baby’s 6 month birthday, that sense of accomplishment was real. The endorphins were real. And there was a new sense of amazement at being able to achieve a goal that I had previously thought impossible. That meant that the goals could be bigger. The next year, my niece and I trained for and completed our first half marathons. The following year, it was the big kahuna – we both trained for and completed our first marathons. Being accountable to Johanna and going through training with her (from a distance) was my first window into the importance of people to support, encourage, and share your dreams with.
Turns out I love running. Turns out I’m also pretty good at it. Who knew?!
It has taken me almost a thousand words to get to what I really wanted to say. And it will probably take me about a thousand more words to say it. I had no idea how important a running community was. I had no idea how inspiring, motivating, positive, and life changing a running community was. When I was training for my first marathon in 2011, I stumbled across a group that has completely changed my life – for the better. I am so thankful that Karissa Johnson took a leap of faith with me and offered me the opportunity to be a volunteer coach with Moms on the Run, and that Stephanie VanHeel always believed in me, and also gave me permission to allow myself grace – or push myself – or both!
In the past four and a half years, I have become part of a running community. A part of a group of strong and amazing women, who…even when they’re sometimes not sure if they believe in themselves (which they should!), inspire others to set goals, work hard, have fun, and believe. It’s so much more than a running group – it’s a positive support group. We challenge each other, we celebrate together, but we also support each other through the ups and downs of life and whether it’s a miscarriage, rough time at school for our kids, loss of a parent, cancer, new babies, injuries, or periods of self-doubt. I have grown close to people who have changed my life – for the better. I have found positive ways to cope with stress. I have pushed myself to accomplish goals that I thought might be impossible. I have helped others accomplish goals that they thought were out of reach. Together, we have learned about pushing ourselves, allowing ourselves grace, and knitting ourselves together as a community – an inclusive community that always has room for more.
I’ve also learned that focusing on others – whether it’s runners I’m coaching, friends who I’m encouraging to believe in themselves when they’re not sure if they believe in themselves, my family, or fundraising and running on a charity team for a cause near and dear to my heart – allows me to push myself faster and farther when I know that the cause is bigger than just little old me. My first marathon was on the MS Society charity team – and now I’ve been part of that movement three times. I’ve met more people who are strong and determined and kind and generous and just so good. Sometimes the gratitude and emotion wash over me. I don’t know what I did to be so lucky to have the opportunities that I’ve had. Who knew that ages ago when I decided to take a leap of faith and train for a marathon…so many things in my life would change for the better. Certainly not me. But I sure am thankful.
I’ve seen time and time again how runners support each other. I’ve seen it at races. I’ve seen it in the neighborhood. I’ve seen it while we’re running together. I’ve seen it while we’re celebrating together. I’ve seen it when we cry together. We are human beings. We were created to be in relationship with one another and to help each other. To provide and derive strength from one another. There are so many things I could not have accomplished on my own (like four marathons). But – I have BRFs. I have cheerleaders. I get to be a BRF. I get to be a cheerleader. There are so many people who play such an important role in my story. I’m counting myself lucky to be a part of others’ running stories too. Together we can accomplish so much more than on our own.