Role versus Real

Definitions are strange, beautiful things.

They break down the most complex of ideas and swirl them around until it becomes a uniform color.  Blues, greens, yellows, all facets of this one thing are thrown into the mixer and are spat out as black.

Definitions help us make sense of the world.  They give security, help with language, and bridge connections.  And, oftentimes, they over-simplify.  Especially when it comes to the definition of ourselves.

I’m a CEO.

I’m a cook.

I’m a mother.

I’m a runner.

I’m a wife.

I’m a libertarian.

I am XYZ- a definition.  Yellows, blues, greens, and pinks swirled around.

All we get out, is one, uniform color.  We all start to look the same and forget what makes us special.  So what do we do?  We start to bash other people’s definitions.

“They are so selfish, taking a job instead of taking care of their kids.  They’re a bad “Mother””.

“What good is a degree if you don’t use it? You’re a feminist.”

“You only graduated WHAT level? You’re stupid.”

“Oh…you support THAT party? You’re a racist.”

When we start to define people and ourselves with one word, we over simplify that person to the point where empathy and understanding is lost.  People feel like they have to be everything at once, or one thing and nothing else.  How often do you hear mothers bashing themselves, because they feel selfish for taking “me” time?  How often do you hear dads feeling weak when they feel sad or alone?  How often do you hear other people tear each other down, because they aren’t doing enough, or aren’t giving it all up to do one thing?

We just can’t win with that mentality.

When we begin to see people as a variety of colors, we start to recognize the beauty of their lives and personalities.  They aren’t just a mother- they like to ride bikes, study statistics, draw, laugh, hug their wife, watch TV, and read poetry.  They aren’t just a financial analyst- they play piano, and sing in the shower, hate peas, love their sister, and hate the smell of gasoline.

People are a variety of colors, and so are you.

When we allow ourselves to be a variety of things, the weight of being “everything” or “one thing” goes away and we give ourselves to be each and every color, at its due time.  How easily does this apply to runners, especially injured ones?

We don’t feel like a runner when we are injured, as we aren’t doing that thing at that moment. We define ourselves as one thing and therefore feel colorless when we can’t do it.  But we are blue, and green and yellow, we are swimmers, and computer scientists, and brothers.  And when that beautiful orange comes back in our lives, at the right time, we can be that color too.

When we stop trying to be everything or just one thing, we allow ourselves to be infinite.

We allow ourselves to see every single color.

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Chicago marathon and beyond

On a previous blog I wrote in 2015, I talked about how it felt to watch the Chicago Marathon and what it meant to see my now husband-then boyfriend, race.  My observations were that the fans, volunteers, and races all provided an incredible race experience that motivated me to run this race one day.

In 9 days, that day will finally be here.

3 years ago, I started running from a standing start – it was incentive to stop drinking and start getting my life together.  It was incentive to impress my boyfriend and have a common connection.  Seeing Chicago, gave me incentive to want more.  To be a part of the big race.  It was a year of physically getting back on my feat and mentally finding motivation to want more for myself.

2 years ago, running took off.  With about a year of solid training under my belt, I was running faster than I ever thought possible, placing higher and running faster splits that was expected of me.  But I was upset with myself constantly, was not supported by a lot of my family, and was chasing worthiness, coming up short time and time again.  It was a year of great physical feats and mentally trying to hide from pain while chasing big dreams.

1 year ago, I was trying to rebuild myself after a tough job and dealing with some emotional/psychological health issues.  It was like I was constantly pushing up against these two things- feeling unworthy and like I was “wrong” to want more for myself, and couldn’t break through.  Some was mental but through time we found out a lot was physical.  I had gotten my cycle back and as a result, got anemic.  It was a year of gritty physical feats and mentally running head first into the much of pain and being brave.

This year, I rebuilt myself even more, finding a way to stay relatively healthy through two cycles and learn the skill of racing to win.  I focused on having integrity and handling as much as I could before burnout, staying true to myself, and trying scary things.  Mentally, I still struggle with the fact my times are not where they were 2 years ago and physically, I feel a different kind of tired.  But irregardless, I am pressing forward to discover something about the me I am faced with today.  It is a year of being smart with my body and being positive with my mind.

Now, I am back where I started – being inspired to run in the city I love, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to dream big.  I have run both fast and slow, being crippled by unworthiness and unable to enjoy the freedom and love I have of running.  I cannot and will not let this old mentality ruin this race for me.  This is the year of heart, and my heart is full and ready to run.

I think the marathon transforms all of us, and I would like to add that the build up does the same.  I have transformed, grown, and used lessons (and will use lessons) that have made me now, made me then, and will make me these things – enough, brave, a believer, and someone with heart.

On the other side of the finish will be another lesson, one that took 3 years to get.  A time, a place, or anything that can be put in a spreadsheet won’t describe everything I became in 26.2 miles.  Or any of us, really.  United, we race, walk, cheer, believe, and dream together of a life where we accept who we are today and believe in who we will be tomorrow.

That to me, is together forward.

Running is Hard

Running is hard.

Well yeah.

Anyway, it is the summer, which means the heat, humidity, and late allergies are here.  For those of us with a fall marathon on our plate, that means we are hitting that point (at least I am) where the grind has become less of a “yeah I feel cool and bad-a** and strong” and more “Good God, why is this happening I don’t wannaaaa”.

Running and life, they can be hard.

Ferris Bueler or however he spells it, makes a quote about how life is too short and fast yada yada look around.  It is everyone’s favorite senior quote and if it wasn’t a caption for an instagram pic, did you even childhood?  Anyhoo, when things are hard, it really is tough to look around and see everything.

I tell myself before races and workouts -okay you are going to look around and be grateful and notice everything.  Same with life  –  it is that allusion that I give myself, saying I am going to notice everything.  But life and running move fast, especially when it is hard.

A lot of my favorite memories from races or workouts, have been split seconds where I notice the things around me and it just sticks in my brain like glue.  Noticing the sunrise, cooling down with my husband, looking at the women I am running with and feeling grateful, the final turn before the finish.

Life and running are hard, and a lot of the times we are left with a supercut of memories, strung together by feelings of gratitude, love, and joy.  A lot of pain in there too, but mostly those other things.  Maybe that is why we keep signing up and keep showing up.

When things get hard, maybe it is about taking pressure off ourselves to make the whole experience wonderful, and just look forward to the flicker of a memory that we will take home.  It is like a race medal –  a small memento for the 1000 miles you ran + 26.2.  Sometimes I look at my medals and feel nothing really, just a slight bit of happiness, because these tokens can’t really capture the feeling I had that day.

I look at my wedding photos and kinda feel sad, because they don’t capture the intense feeling I had that day.  What captures it the best, is the flicker of a memory I have when I was walking down the aisle and saw Mitch.

Things don’t really show the suck or intense feelings or joy or whatever, that we experienced to get to where we are now.  It is a flicker of a memory, one that sustains us through the next mile, that we keep locked in our hearts when we need some encouragement.

Running is hard, and our races are coming.  But look around, maybe you are making flickers of memories right now.

Who knows, maybe you are making memories that will sustain you for the rest of your life.

You won’t get this again

Some of my best races (not always necessarily by time, but by feeling) have been ones where I have been grateful for the mile I was in.

Most of the time, at some point in the race, I have the conversation with myself : “You won’t get this again”.  You won’t get to have another mile 12 of the So-and-so half, April 2018. You won’t get another opportunity to run a race with this exact group of people.  You won’t get this again, so savor it.

It is a state of mind that really came out of no where for me, as I am a ignorer of big moments. I fear that all consuming, post-big event depression that happens after a major life event.  So I just shut off my brain, and try and minimize the impact.

But just like in running, when we try and numb down the hurt or the joy, we never set out to accomplish what we have set out to do.  Transform.

I get married to Mitch Gilbert on Friday August 3, 2018.  Part of me wants to numb down the excitement, fearing the crash of a post-wedding letdown.  Part of me is terrified of not being in control of my emotions and letting myself feel things.  But then, there is part of me that remembers what I tell myself when I have my best races.  You won’t get this again.

The apex of ache or the high of happiness is never remembered correctly or completely.  It is that post marathon forgetfulness where we cannot seem to remember the agony we endured, usually 24 hours prior.  Or that post-happy slump, where we can’t remember what deep joy is without the cocaine-like high we enjoyed the day before.  It is never the same, and that is okay.  You won’t get this again.

Maybe the whole point is to be present and grateful.  Knowing I won’t get these moments again, I need to re-frame my mindset from protection to presentness.  I won’t get this again, and that is the whole point.

Maybe to be present is to recognize the privilege we have- the privilege to experience a moment,  to savor it, learn from it, and share it.

Presence is a privilege, one I don’t plan on squandering.

We Decide

Times of transition are hard.  They are frightening, they’re annoying, and most of all, they make me really pissed off.

Right now is one of those times.  Marriage, potentially moving, potential career change, potential selling of a house, etc, etc. Woah.

Having a lack of control makes me want to scream into my pillow and then take a really aggressive walk with my dog, listening to Folk Rock Pandora and talking to myself.  Most often, in these situations, I try and grasp at straws to control: maybe it is my job, my relationship, my body, or my running.

More often than not, though, the feelings of wrath turn away from external things to control and pivot inwards, tackling my self-worth and confidence to the ground.

When in times of transition, it is really hard to believe in myself.

I get moody, controlling, compare myself to others, demean myself, and lose focus of the important things.  Maybe it is because, bashing myself is easier than letting go.  Maybe it is because I take pride in my ability to “keep everything together” so when I can’t do that, I get hard on myself.  Either way, it’s an ugly place to be and I need to learn to let go.

Kristin Armstrong talks about “letting go” in a way that I think I need to apply to my life right now.

“‘There is a vast difference between giving up and letting go. I’m asking you to look at your life, look into your heart and see where you have confusion or discord between the two. As you examine more closely, you will see that one maintains your integrity and the other does not. Be mindful about this difference today’… Giving up says I quit. Letting go says I release outcomes. The integrity piece has something to do with the ownership”

Beating myself up, comparing myself, and trying to control everything isn’t integrity.  It’s giving up on myself, my values, and my faith.  These days, I need to let go of outcomes, whether it be in races, in my work, in my relationships, how I am perceived, my finances, my looks, and my lovability.

I am not giving up, letting the tide of idleness rush over my entire life.  I am not making excuses for the things I DO have the power to control (my attitude, my effort, my heart, my inner dialogue).  I am not changing who I am.

Instead, I am stepping into my integrity. I am letting go of the outcomes and taking hold of my heart again.

When the pace gets hard in life, in running, in anything, let’s transition to the next mile, saddled into our hearts.  And let’s remember that in any transition, we may not get to choose the outcome, but we get to choose how we respond.  And how we respond, ultimately, becomes who we are.

 

Being there

This weekend, I am pacing a marathon in which I will be leading the 7:05/mile group through the first 13.1 miles of their journey.

This task has been weighing heavily on my mind ever since I signed up, and it has been tough to navigate through the space of my good intentions and my deep fears.  It is like anything in life – our destination is often littered with tests of the ego, the body, and the spirit, forcing us to reckon with our fears.

My fear is that I won’t be “enough”.

It is a fear of not being positive enough; not providing the right words, at the right time, instigating a change of heart and body in my group member.  It is a fear of not being fast or fit enough; not hitting the paces correctly, not having the physical strength to finish, not being “good enough”.  It is a fear of being not mentally tough enough; hitting a hard mile (that always comes in every run, ever, no matter what pace)  and not having the mental stamina to push through.

It would seem that in my quest to be everything to everyone, I am once again hit with the fear of not being “enough” and therefore, nothing at all.

This fear transcends the pacing world, and can bleed into every part of our lives.  Maybe you fear being not “enough” for your children, desperate to be the kind of parent that is on, all the time, providing nothing but a positive childhood for your kid.  Maybe you fear not being “enough” in your job, and you walk in every day in fear you will be fired for a missed assignment, making a bad cup of coffee, or just not having the personality that jives with your boss.  And maybe, you fear not being “enough” for your spouse, that you won’t be able to provide all the emotional, physical, and financial support you think you need to give.

I like to turn to my writer/spiritual/runner inspiration, Kristin Armstrong, for guidance on this one, as she too is driven by faith, sprinkled with a good running metaphor here and there.  In her article “Resilience Realized“, she discusses the sentiment that our own compassion and giving cannot be determined by outcome or by “flipping the light on” for someone, but for simply being there.  It is an article that to this day, brings me to tears.  Here is my favorite part:

“I used to think that made me strong, or wise, or capable, when I flipped on the light for someone else.  Now I see that act more akin to impatience, lacking true compassion, or the unwillingness to enter the apex of ache.  You can flip the switch by standing at a safe distance, on the threshold, and simply reaching in the door, but to enter the dark you actually have to step inside.  That may be real love, right there.  The willingness to be present, knowing there isn’t a damn thing you can do to fix anything.

Some of my most profoundly raw and memorable human moments have been when I have summoned the courage to get over myself and step inside and sit with someone in the dark.  When I have spooned a hiding friend in a bedroom with shades drawn, stroked their dirty hair and said not a word as they wept.  When I have gone to the ICU and prayed with my friend instead of making small talk and pretending he wasn’t dying. When I wrapped Jena in a fleece blanket and brought her a cup of tea. When I have admitted to my children that I did not have an answer and just held them instead, soaking up their tears instead of telling them reasons not to cry.  When I have run beside a shattered sister for many silent miles, matching stride.

Our own resilience is realized somewhere in the offering.”

The fear of not being “enough” coincides with this article, doesn’t it?

Being “enough” most often, involves being everything: the wisest, the most capable, always saying the right thing, being the fittest, being the most intelligent, making the most money.  Enough really doesn’t mean “adequate” anymore when we use it to describe our relationships with people: it starts to mean “everything”.

But what Kristin describes is something deeper, something more difficult that being the sickly-sweet personality of “everything”.  She describes being present, right there in the dark.

On Saturday, my new goal is to be present.  To realize my resilience in the offering, giving exactly what I can that day.  My resilience will lie in the fact that everything I need, is already inside of me, and in order to be my best for others, I simply need to be there, be present, and offer all I have to give.  Perhaps that will involve coaxing a runner through the next mile. Perhaps it will involve feeling the ache of distance and effort, and transcending the “can’t” to “can” threshold with the runners around me.  Perhaps it is offering a prayer for someone’s family member.  Maybe it will involve laughing about the flavor of the Gatorade.  Irregardless, this practice is more important that just for my pacing duties, but for my life as well.

I realize that breathing into this intention on race day, is good practice for the rest of life.  For my daily runs, for my upcoming marriage, for my future children, for my family, for my faith, for my job, for all of it.

And, whether you feel “not enough” in your marriage, your child raising, your friendships, your faith, your job, remember that it is about the offering.

And the offering, is truly “enough”.

I can be brave from here

This weekend we (Mitch and I) ran our 3rd Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago! It is one of my favorite races of the year, as it is a huge block party.  The first time I raced it, I surprised myself and ran incredibly fast (for me) and got to run next to some of my heroes.

The second time, left a taste in my mouth so bitter that I have had anxiety about this years attempt ever since.  I was (according to my symptom tracking) low in iron and overall, had a defeated and warped mindset.  I had a horrible race and a horrible day, as I was heartbroken and moreover, did not recognize myself.

My goal this year was to be more of myself, more happy and grateful, and I accomplished that.  However, I was not FULLY myself.  I still worried about what people thought of me and had an excuse mindset during the race. I was also severely worried about getting my heart broken and having a terrible race.  Though I have a MUCH better attitude this year, I still wasn’t fully present and as a result, the race suffered a bit.  BUT I don’t consider it a failure.  Here is why:

Side story.  This year, Mitch and I went to Disney! I LOVED it and conquered a lot of fears, including roller coasters.  Listen, I am not a wimpy baby (I love horror films and adrenaline) however, my mind operates on a constant highlight reel of Final Destination movies; ones where people get their heads chopped off by roller coasters.  Poor Mickey.

Anyhoo, I had a tough time raising my hand in rides.  Tao Cruz would be disappointed in me.  I did not raise my hands in the air, it was not Dyno-mite. However, ride by ride, I would lift one finger, then one hand, then finally, BOTH HANDS! Though it was brief, I raised them up and when it got to be too much, I put them back down and told Mitch “I can be brave from here”.  And, the more I did it, the more I would have my hands in the air.

Maybe yesterday, I wasn’t fully “in it” but I raised one hand.  I didn’t let a bad race keep me from coming back to a race environment that I love! And though I had bad mental thoughts, I did not let them prevent me from at least trying.  I kept lifting that hand off the belt. And next time, maybe I will get both hands off the belt. And when I practice consistent acts of bravery with my heart in the right place, I become more of myself: more brave, more belief, more heart.

And soon, I will say, with both of my hands in the air: “I can be brave from here”.

Worry!

I am a worrier – I am the type of person that will have anxiety over having children, 10 years before it is supposed to happen.  I will plan, calculate, deduct every inch of every moment of my day and future, until I am swirling around with so much anxiety and so many thoughts, that I just sit there and do nothing.  I think this is pretty common, maybe more-so among women, but nonetheless, I think everyone can relate to this on some level.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone in your head, prior to meeting with them in person, and ended up escalating your heart rate to over 200 over the confrontation that never comes? Or planned and plotted finances to the point of obsession, only to have none of the numbers add up when “real-life” comes into the mix?  I have!  I am in the middle of my over-thinking at the moment.

Getting married and thinking of my future (homes, jobs, kids, racing, life, relationships, finances, vacations, oye!) makes me want to curl up into a hole with a spreadsheet and my email, giving my 2 solid days to get things done and plan my life to the minute.  It never really works like that, does it?

But then I think of running (you thought you would get away with reading this, running-metaphor free, didn’t you? Fool).

This weekend I had a 5k in Naperville and I did pretty well for me!  But time regardless, it was more how I handled it that I am proud of, and I think I need to take a lesson from myself and apply these strategies to life.  Here are the things I did/thought of and how I need to use it now when I worry, over-plan, and generally freak out.

Positive Self Talk:

In running (and life) we can’t get through without positive self talk.  Before, during, and after the race I was OBSESSED with being kind to myself and only saying good things. When a bad thought popped up, I thought about why it was there and why it was illogical.

Maybe now, when I think about how life won’t work out for me because I don’t deserve it, or something like that, I can think of all the ways it CAN work out and how the previous thought is really dumb. (and figure out where that bad thought came from)

Focus on one mile (or step) at a time:

My middle miles are usually my slowest (and this weekend was no exception). However, when I usually slow down, it is because I get too ahead of myself and just give up in the race. This weekend, I was just plain tired.  To help myself through those miles, I would do 12 quick steps, every time I felt tired or felt a bad thought coming on.  Though it didn’t change my fitness, it did change my attitude and that means everything.

Maybe now, when I feel a swirling fear come over me when I think of all the stuff I have to do in life, I can instead focus on the mile I am in and try my best in the moment.  Maybe I won’t have all the adult-life answers right now, but I can take steps to use the knowledge I have now, to do my best today.  It may not be my “fastest” mile, but my fitness will come. So, a work, relationship, finance, home, dog, character mistake now is okay, because when I feel myself sink back, I take 12 strong steps forward to improvement.  It may not change the fact that I am 24 and still learning, but is sure as hell changes my attitude (and the grace I give myself, changes the grace I give others).

Set yourself up for success

Sometimes, I can set myself up for failure in order to protect myself from getting a heartbreak.  I think we have all been there: whether it is a physical manifestation (like, eating a burrito immediately before a race) or psychological one (blaming the weather before the race even started), that is no way to race or live!  Instead, I continued to train hard that week (I don’t taper for races unless it is a marathon) because that works for me, ate what I knew would sit well, and thought of all the ways the weather/my outfit/the course/fellow runners could HELP me.

Maybe now, when I feel overwhelmed by the planning I feel the need to do with my life, instead of avoiding it or setting myself up for failure (or pushing myself too hard for the sake of “success”) I can think of all the ways things can go RIGHT, right now.  I don’t need to worry about kids now, but I can focus on developing good habits for myself as a 24 year old, so I am healthy and happy if the time comes. Or maybe with finances, I need to chillax and worry about saving what I can, pay off the important stuff, and give to those in need.  The rest works itself out.  Maybe if I do the little things now, with gratitude and grit, I can set myself up to be happy and proud of who I am (both right now, and future me!)

Forget past races

Shame! It is a motherf*er.  I think we have all had races where we mentally gave up, had a bad day, or just a race that when we think back to it we go “oh heck”.  But shame about a past race or attitude doesn’t help, because all it does is attack our character.  Instead, I focused on doing what I know brought me a positive race experience in the past, and said that the races I was ashamed of, we just learning experiences and mistakes that EVERYONE makes!  No need to feel shame for being a human and trying!

Maybe now, when I think of things I did wrong or ways I think/thought about myself (whether I came up with them on my own or they were told to me) I can think of all the things, experiences, and words I did/heard that are RIGHT.  The wrong things are all learning experiences that at the end of the day, remind us of why we need God. But the right things are who we truly are, who God intended us to be. Focusing on the blemishes only causes us to miss all the awesome reasons why we are amazing.

Good support

Mitch was there cheering me on (and I had family support from far away) makes all the difference.  Focusing on the good people in your life only makes racing fun, as the good people are the ones that don’t care about the outcome. They only care about you – and you are not the outcome.

Maybe in life, I can continue to focus on all the amazing influences in my life, and be VERY choosy about who I let in my safe space.  Support means everything!

 

Running and life can go hand in hand, only if my heart is in the right place when I consider the connection.  When we think of running in terms of time or place (which are still valuable!), it becomes one dimensional. But when we think of running as a teacher to learn and be the best we can be in life, it can be more than just a peaceful hobby.  It becomes a friend that says the tough stuff we need to hear, builds us up, breaks our hearts, and makes life exciting and colorful.  It becomes the best teacher and friend a person can have, bad times and good.

 

 

Who is a runner, anyway?

On February 22, 2015, Mitch sat me down and gave me a training plan to begin running.  I had been “running” for a few years, whether it was on the treadmill my freshman year at Saint Louis University, unwillingly being thrown into the 4×8 in high school, or running through my town as a grade schooler with my best friend.

However, I never really considered myself a runner until Mitch got to me.  Let me explain.

In 2014, I did a half marathon and in 2013, I did a triathalon.  Both were interesting experiences, as I never really trained for them, at least like I should have.  Those were my introductions into the distance world, as a hurdler that was used to having my races tap out at 400 meters.  I never considered myself a runner during those times, as the triathlon was 2/3 me drowning in the water and/or trying not to fall off a bicycle.  The half was the struggle of all eternity, let’s just say that.  But never during that time, did I ever injest the identity of “runner”. Let’s find out why.

The Brooks CEO had some interesting statements on what constitutes a “runner”; in his statement, he said that there are basically two types of “runners” which are the self-defined and the competitive folks.  Adding to this statement, he went on to say that running isn’t a sport.  Of course, Let’sRun, the running forum, blew up and everyone went nuts.  It was an interesting take, in my opinion, but I think it highlights something I find weird with the running world.

I cannot think of a time when I have not gotten the speech of “running is about an individual race and you don’t need to compare yourself” or “it’s about YOUR best”; in addition, I cannot think of a time where I have not heard at least one person say to me, in a group setting, that “they aren’t a real runner like X, because they aren’t very fast” OR have gotten a speech about their own personal PR’s and why they matter OR gotten an explanation about a race they are doing, but emphasizing that they aren’t racing and doing it “just for fun”  (and this is not to say that I haven’t done these things because I have!).  It is this paradox that I find a weird hurricane of gospels: it isn’t about times, but also it is.  It isn’t about comparing, but if I am slower or faster, that dictates my identity as a runner.  Etc, etc.  Furthermore, I can cite multiple times where someone’s PR was brought into the conversation to shame or demean them, and almost make a comment on their character.  It is all very interesting.

It really is a narrow keyhole in which to fit your worth: a time on the clock.  In my lifetime, I have run 28:26 AND over 42 minutes for an 8k.  17 something and 20 something for a 5k.  Sub 1:20 for a half marathon and 1:40 for a half.  And each time I ran those, I felt pissed off.  Even on the PR days, I would feel happy for a minute and then later on, figure out a way to demean myself based on a time.  Each time someone asks me for a PR, I have a 10 minute story about the PR and why it sucks.  Bummer.

Yet, on each one of those races, I was still the same inner-me I am today.  I may have grown up (as we all do) but those times really don’t paint a picture of who I am, my love of running, or my potential as an athlete, worker, wife, family member, etc.  They are literally numbers.

PRs aren’t demons that should never be mentioned, but are small snippets of success with larger stories behind them.  Maybe your PR is the most painful experience of your life, maybe it was an easy day where you smiled the whole race.  Maybe you suffered tragedy before the race or maybe got proposed to right after.  The number tells a larger story, and it doesn’t necessarily tell the story of how hard you worked.  I think we can all think of a person who worked their ASS off, to not have their race pan out at the end of the day.  Or someone who couldn’t give less of a shit, and somehow managed to run blazing fast.  So how does this all connect to what I am saying about how in February of 2015, I considered myself a runner?

I think a lot of times, our competitive edge or potential take a front seat to our identity, rather than our efforts to grow as a person through running.  A prime example is of bae (Mitch) this weekend: his identity as a runner was not defined by his blazing fast race (15:26 yoooo) but by how he congratulated other runners at the end of the race and took pride in his training, execution, and grit during the run.  Sure, a fast time was definitely a cherry on top, but I bet you if he chickened out during that race and felt like he didn’t try his best or ran like an idiot, he would have been pissed.  I can say for myself, in a half marathon where I averaged 5:59 pace per mile, I was furious because I trained like an idiot, raced like an idiot, and my entire self worth resided inside the ticking numbers of my watch.

What does this mean in terms of “identity as a runner”? As the greats, Deena Kastor and George A. Sheehan say:

Image result for deena kastor quote

Image result for running quote more life

Runners, when we choose to claim this title, really just want more.  We are the kind of people that dig into ourselves, because we know there is more to find.  We learn patience, grow stronger, cultivate grit, build community, find ourselves, encourage passion, and give everything.

Before Mitch sat me down and convinced me there was more, I never thought about digging into who I am.  Finding out the more, and reaching out beyond the little fenced in yard I had built in my head.  It hasn’t been about just running faster or farther than I thought I can (though, those things are nice and all have merit).  It has been about becoming a person I never thought I could, and being excited to see who I can be another 3 years into running.  To me, that is the difference between a “runner” and a “non-runner”.  The hope and the decision to try.

Some people choose to go for “more” by becoming pros to see what they can accomplish with their bodies in a controlled, intense situation.  Some work full time jobs and run when they can, to see what they can do while juggling.  Some want to see how much they can do in a day before calling it a night, to see what they can do while red-lining.  For some, running is a more spiritual experience and their dig for “more” becomes a dig for a happy and refreshing run, 4 days a week.

So, 3 years into running and I am back at the place where I started: wanting more for my life, my spirit, and my loved ones.

But after 3 years, I have learned a new tid-bit about myself and life and running: wanting more, but being grateful for everything and internally happy with who I am.

Wanting more, but happy with who I am seems like my kind of happy.

My kind of “Run Happy”.

Fit or Not

The question of whether or not to race when you are fit.

It feels fitting, post marathon with my incredible and patient fiance.  It was a PR for me, but not a time I would want to run.  We ran it after spending 4 days on our feet in the Disney parks, with 0 marathon training under our belts (the most we had both done in months was 14 miles), and slightly under the weather.

And yet, it is sure to be one of the most memorable races of my life.

I remember when I first fell in love with distance racing.  I was a sophomore in high school, taking part in my hometown’s Turkey Trot.  It was exhilarating, stepping up to the start-line, all by myself, with the hopes of running a four mile course.  I had just come off of my volleyball season, one where the most I had run in a week probably totaled up to one mile.  I was vastly out of shape.

At the start, I found a friend – a local, cross country superstar that was fresh as a daisy coming off a successful freshman cross country season.  She asked if I wanted to run with her, and without reservation, I said “sure”.

In the first mile, I felt our bodies ascend the over 100 ft climb in the first 150 meters of the race.  I could feel my lungs start to go as we reached the top, and I continued to follow her through the streets of the town.  I made it to the one mile marker before I decided to part ways with her, as she was running too fast for my fitness.  But damn, I lasted a mile.  As I continued to weave in and out of the streets, I felt the bubble of suffering pop in my lungs, cold air screeching its way through the narrow tube currently occupied by the gigantic lump in my throat.  The love/hate feeling of suffering was equally exhilarating as it was dreadful, and I counted down the miles until I reached the finish in 30 minutes, at an average pace of 7:30/miles.  For me, it was blazing fast.

As Mitch and I weaved in and out of the streets of Disney this past weekend, I could feel that same bubble in my chest; at first it was panic, the kind that comes when you dread what people are thinking of you.  “Ugh, she used to be fit when she was skinny”, “what a joke” and “quit now” popped into my heads like half-baked popcorn kernels.  I had Mitch talk me through the tough moments, and I continued on, feeling a different kind of bubble as we continued on.  Soon, the bubble turned up through my throat and into my eyeballs.  They were happy tears.  The happy tears you feel when you feel proud of yourself, happy with yourself, and grateful.  I missed that kind of bubble.

The bubble of happy-suffering hasn’t just been in my slowest races, but in some of my fastest as well.  Shamrock 2016, when I was running with some of my biggest heroes, in my favorite city, the bubble felt lighter with happiness, but was still ever present.  Alamo 13.1 in San Antonio, I could feel the bubble as I pressed through the last 5k after being led off course, determined to push for the sake of doing it for myself, as the race was officially “over” for me.

I think about people that don’t get a chance to live past 16, 26, or 56.  With too short of lives, I wonder what they would say about the question of “should I race when I am not fit”.  As I sit here, contemplating that question for myself, I can feel that bubble well into my eye sockets again, with happy tears that press me to say “absolutely” with 100% certainty.

The thing is, memories are rarely sweet based solely on numerical values (though, running fast tends to make the deal sweeter).  Memories are made when our whole hearts are out there, ready to explore everything that life throws at us.  I can feel it when I go down a street I never tried before, and find my heart float up like a light bubble in my chest, as I run through my “new” favorite place.  I can feel it when Mitch and I, on a good or bad day, throw away our pride and run with joy and with grit.  I can feel it when I am running faster than I could have ever imagined; I don’t know I am going fast because of a split, but because I can feel the speed pulse through my feet, making my strides smooth and strong.

Tomorrow is never promised.  It just isn’t.  Neither is fitness.  Sometimes, all the work doesn’t pan out to a positive result.  Sometimes, people that don’t work at all, win the race.  So what does that mean.

For me, it means show up anyway.  It means put yourself out there.  Life is too short to live from the sidelines.  Whether the bubble of suffer pops in my chest and slows me to a pitiful 8 min mile (when I am capable of running 5 min miles) in a 10k, or lightens in my chest and brings me through faster than I could have imagined, I want to hold tight to those emotions, those bubbles of feeling that I can remember to this day.  Because my love of distance running didn’t start in a time – it started in a feeling.  In living life to its fullest on my feet, in the pain cave, being brave as hell.

Should we race when we aren’t at our fittest? Yes.

To try anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift – the try begins, when you show up.

Every. Time.

Ps. Unless you are sick or injured k bye