I don’t even like to run…

“On the 7th day, God decided to rest… He did an easy five.”

Let’s rewind… July 2011— At least 60 lbs overweight and job hunting, I applied for, interviewed (twice) and got a job at a health club. Why they hired me, I have no clue. Granted, previous experience in a fitness club surely helped, but I certainly was not the embodiment of health and fitness. Uncomfortable in my own skin, yet unwilling to do anything about it. When I got the job, I vowed that I was going to start working out. I took one group exercise class, (Power Ex with Meghan), it kicked my ass, and I didn’t work out again a single time after that for the next 3 months.

October 2011— My boss came to my co-worker Jeremy and me and asked what we thought about having a fitness competition between the staff. It would entail each “operations” staff member pairing up with a personal trainer. A strength test. Push ups, sit ups, mountain climbers, kettlebell squats and a medicine ball throw would be measured based on percentage increase over an 8 week time period. In all honesty- I didn’t think anything would come of it. I didn’t think other people would be willing to sign up for it. But I was all for it. It would allow for free personal training sessions- something to encourage me to work out. At least twice a week. If you backed out, you would have to pay your trainer for the sessions they had worked with you. At the end of the 8 weeks, which ever team had the highest percentage increase would win a weekend vacation, all expenses paid. I signed up with vigor with Jeremy as my trainer.  I quickly became discouraged when we did my initial strength test.

Push ups= 0
Sit ups= 0
Mountain climbers= 58
Kettlebell squats= 31
Medicine ball throw= 133″

My stats were less than desirable  and my weight and body fat percentage were not something that I wanted recorded on paper. My trainer did not want to lose. I honestly did not care about the prize, but more about getting myself into shape. Even just a little bit would make a huge difference.

“Instead of running from the pain like a sane person would do, you step into it.”

We started working out together twice a week,  sometimes three and he started coaching me on what/when to eat. After a few weeks, my stats were improving, I had a lot more energy and was feeling ok. Not great, nothing earth moving or life changing, but ok. Which was a definite improvement.

Things hurt, my body was sore, I was tired of training after long days at work and I still couldn’t do a single, qualifying push up. Not to mention, I hadn’t lost a single pound. In fact, some weeks my weight would go up. But I felt stronger and my clothes were starting to fit differently. Members of the club were starting to cheer me on, ask me how my training was going and tell me I was looking good. It was just the little bit of encouragement that I needed to keep going.

At some point, my roommate asked me to run the Turkey Trot with her, an 8k race. I honestly had never considered running. Anywhere or anything. I told her I didn’t think I could but that I would talk to my trainer. He laughed and said he didn’t think I had enough time to train for it, but that he would add some running into my weekly workouts. When I found I could barely run for 3 minutes at a low speed without getting winded, I was disheartened. When I found out that 13-14 minute miles was not a very good time (not at all) I wanted to quit. When my trainer said it wasn’t good enough, I backed out of the race and put running out of my mind completely. I just went back to our usual training.

I don’t remember exactly how many days or weeks into training it was that I did my first push up, but I certainly do remember that day. I did one and then I did 3 and by the time I left the gym that day, I had done a total of 27 and shown anyone that would watch. That was the most amazing feeling. I told everyone. I did push ups in front of my friends, at my apartment to show my roommate, at my parents house, anywhere. It wasn’t the push up, per se, but the fact that I could do something that I previously could not.

Fast forward to the end of the competition- I technically came in 2nd place, but won on a technicality.

My new stats:
Push ups= 19
Sit ups= 28
Mountain climbers= 117
Kettlebell squats= 100
Medicine ball throw= 183″

Competition over—  no more training sessions, kind of burnt out on being at the gym my workouts came to a screeching halt.

Weeks went by and there was no mention of the prize (which I honestly didn’t really want anyway) and there were no workouts to speak of.

At some point my bosses brought up the prize- where did I want to go, when… There were fliers up around the club for a training program for a 10k/half marathon race in April. 12 weeks. It was $200. I hadn’t worked out in over a month. Not once. I was feeling sluggish and guilty. All that work, for nothing. I didn’t even know if I could still do a single push up.

I didn’t put a lot of thought into it- it was a last minute decision- like most things I do. I went to my bosses and asked them if, in lieu of the trip, they would pay my enrollment for the training program for the for the 10k. They agreed and also gave me a credit on my account at work, which eventually ended up paying for a polar heart rate monitor, a pair of Scott running shoes, and my registration for the race in April.

Training started in January. I was nervous and scared. Terrified would be a better description. The training included 2 weekly group runs, online coaching, training with a triathalon coach and tons of support. Somewhere around 12 women were signed up. I was intimidated by every single one of them. Each had run some sort of race previously, whether it was a 5k, 8k or 10k and almost everyone in the group was training for the half marathon except for me. I certainly felt inferior. And embarrassed. I still hadn’t lost much weight (maybe a few pounds since I stopped eating chick-fil-a breakfast every single morning) and I still hadn’t stepped foot on the fitness floor except in a working capacity.

Our first group run was scheduled to be a little over 2 miles. Leave from the club, run to the aquatic center (about a mile away) and then back. I told myself I could do it. I put on my running shoes (the horrible ones that eventually gave me shins splints) and prepared to go out with the #iamone2tri team.

Everyone had a running buddy except for me, so I had to run alongside Coach Nicole.

I think I got 2 blocks (maybe) before I got a crippling side-stitch and had to walk the rest of the way. In a way, it was a relief. I think I hated running. But the surprise in this was, Nicole walked too. She talked to me about ways to get through the cramps and how it would get easier. She didn’t yell at me to start running, she didn’t seem to be judging me for not being able to do it. She was supportive… and encouraging. Those group runs really never got better. I always got terrible side-stitches, probably because they were always right when I got off work, I was poorly hydrated and wasn’t eating properly. But I kept going. And Nicole kept walking with me and encouraging me to keep pushing.

I started doing other workouts on my own because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to run the 10k when the time came. I started taking that Power Ex class I had taken back in July. New instructor (Michelle) but still a butt-kicking workout. Michelle also taught a spin class on Saturday mornings. I hated spin more than I hated running. But much like Nicole, Michelle was encouraging and made me feel like I could do things that I had never thought that I could do before. I started taking Michelle’s Saturday morning spin class religiously and soon developed a love for it, maybe an obsession. At some point I was taking 4 spin classes a week.

About a month into the program, I got shin splints. So bad, that we actually thought I had a stress fracture for a while. It was the shoes. And I had to take 2 weeks off from running to recover. Partially relieved because I was still really struggling with the runs (and sometimes, honestly, not running at all) and partially terrified that I would stop working out all together and not be able to get back on track.

I did struggle. But at some point, and I don’t know what made me do it, I asked my coach if I could switch from the 10k training to the half marathon program. I believe what gave me the confidence was that she didn’t laugh, question me or blink an eye. When I asked her if she thought I could do it, she said- “I know you can.”

Let me rewind shortly to mid to late December, because I believe I would remiss not to mention a very important friendship that developed the month prior to the training start. And again, I don’t recall the exact circumstances surrounding how we became friends, but I do know that it is an incredibly important friendship, especially to this part of my life. Tom. My very dear friend, who has become so important to me. A member of the gym, but very quiet, not like many of the morning people who I know very much about their lives, because let’s face it, my personality spills onto people, I knew nothing about him except that he ran… A lot. Always on the same treadmill and always looking like a machine. So, somehow, Tom and I became friends. I told him that I was going to start training for a 10k.  Tom offered support, coaching advice and friendship throughout the entire process, which is why it’s important to mention him here. Because he may not know it, but some days, when I wanted to quit for good, I didn’t because of Tom. Because he might be disappointed (which I know now not to be true) or because then we would lose that common interest, which in the beginning, running was the extent of our conversations. I had to keep doing it because Tom said that I could. Nicole said that I could. People believed in me and had faith that I could do this if I wanted to, if I put my mind to it.

My running ebbed and flowed. Some weeks I followed the training schedule to a T, some weeks I didn’t log a single mile. Sometimes I ran more than I should, inevitably coming back with some sort of minor injury and using that as an excuse to take the next few days off.

Tom does ultramarathons, which inevitably includes running at night. He organizes a midnight run to help people train for just this— experiencing the differences in running at night. He invited me to attend the next scheduled midnight run, which would be 6 hours (12am-6am) of running the booty loop in Myers Park. It was solely our friendship that brought me out, as I had no desire to be awake, running, in the middle of the night, in February. But again, I suited up and went out. I was terrified to be running with such seasoned runners, people who were training for ultramarathons and 100 mile races. People who has reflective vests and head lamps.

I learned 3 important lessons that night:
1. If you run, you’re a runner.
2. Runners form an odd, family-like community and will not leave you behind.
3. When running with experienced runners- if you need to stop and walk, all you have to do is say so.

I was, at this point, very used to running 3:1 run/walks. I do believe we (our group consisted of Tom, Fin, Jodie, Steve and myself) ran 2 miles before I said something to extent of “If we don’t walk soon, I’m going to vomit.” Tom’s reply: “All you had to do was say so!” and Jodie’s reply: “Thank God!” I thought they would be mad me for slowing them down. That’s what I get for assuming. I only ran 3 miles (1 loop) that night. But it was an experience, to say the least and again, I was proud of my accomplishment and my willingness to step out of my comfort zone for a love of running.

After 2 weeks of not running a single mile (the spin classes, power ex and Henry’s crossfit boot camp were taking over) our coach announced that we were doing a preview run of the half marathon course, 11 miles. And that she wanted everyone to be there. Uh oh… Not sure what made me do it, except for fear that if I didn’t, I surely wouldn’t be prepared for the race, I committed to being there. I signed up to do the run with a pacer. Annabet would be doing a 3:1 pace at 12 minute miles. I told myself I could do it, even though I was pretty sure I could not. We met about a mile from my apartment. We got racing fuel and started out down Providence, the longest stretch of the race course. Annabet told me she didn’t really like to talk while she ran, so I brought my iPod to distract me. She talked the entire first 8 miles. It was welcomed. Her talking was just the coaching that I needed. To avoid side stitches, run with your arms at 90 degree angles and don’t cross your body. Keep your shoulders back and your head up. (I never got a single side-stitch the entire run.) Shuffle your feet, imagine your heels on a wheel. When running uphill, keep your head down, focused on the road rather than getting to the top, and pick up your knees. Again, no doubt expressed, just full confidence that I could in fact complete this run. I don’t remember a whole lot about that run except for Annabet’s advice and the relief I felt every three minutes when her watch would beep and that meant I could walk. And the fact that I made it. And felt mildly ok at the end and incredibly accomplished. I do believe that was the first time I enjoyed a run, even though it was miserable.

What I do know is this, following that run, I had a whole new level of confidence in myself- and I loved running. What?! Shocking, to me. And probably to many people in my life. I started logging regular runs. Not too much, but not less than I should. I started wanting to run. Couldn’t wait to get home from work so that I could run outside. Especially when life felt tough and I had a bad day. A good run (or even a bad one some days) put everything into perspective and cleared my head. I started to experience runner’s high. After a run, I felt like I was on top of the world and could accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Getting dangerously close to race day and still a little terrified. What if I couldn’t do it? What would people think if I backed out? My determination ebbed and flowed. Some days I knew I could do it and others I seriously considered pulling the plug. By this point, I had started working with the nutritionist at our club to assist in the weight loss/fitness goals I had set for myself. I had started receiving tons of compliments from co-workers, members of the club and my friends and family about my weight loss and I could no longer wear any of my pants to work because nothing fit. (In a good way!) From July 2011 to March 2012, I had dropped 37 pounds. A majority of it in the duration of the half marathon training. I could not physically see the difference in myself, but so many people were mentioning it, I knew it must be true. I decided to put together an impromptu before and after shot of myself to see if I could see it that way. The resulting photo brought tears to my eyes. I’m not to my goal yet… but that picture certainly put things into perspective and made my goal seem attainable. I do not even recognize the girl in the before picture. From my heaviest point, nearly 2 years ago, I have lost 48 pounds.

Fast forward— April 7th— Sticks & Bones Trail Race, benefiting the Casper Foundation which is the foundation my coach and her husband (my boss at the club) started after their pup passed away due to complications with epillespy. I registered to volunteer for set up and on a whim, also registered to run the race- a 10k. Never having run a race before, I had no idea what to expect. I showed up early to help set up the registration table and water stations. I helped with race day registration and then got my bib pinned on and started getting ready to run. It was cold and wet. And I was not mentally prepared for what a trail run entailed. Mud and roots and branches and hills. Oh my god, the hills. A good friend of mine, Tiffany, said that she would pace with me, stay with me the whole run and if that had not been the case, I may not have finished. It felt as if there was no end in sight and Annabet was there, but as a volunteer, not as my pacer. I felt overwhelmed and neglected to walk when I needed to for the first 2 miles, which ended up having me walking a lot more in the last 4. My only goals for the race were:
1. Don’t get hurt
2. Don’t quit
3. Don’t be last
2nd to last, fine, but don’t be last.
All three goals were accomplished and I had my first race under my belt. It took me somewhere around an hour and 13 minutes to complete the 6.2 mile course, but I finished. And it felt amazing. Both my coach and my boss were there at the finish line, along with many other friends I’ve met through running.

T-minus 7 days and counting until the 1/2 marathon.

Sunday, rest day after the trail run
Monday, no run
Tuesday, no run
Wednesday, no run

Uh oh… What am I doing ? Will I be ready to run 13.1 miles in 3 days?

Thursday, get your butt up and run!

I drove out to the booty loop and told myself just to gently run it one time- a little less than 3 miles. First loop- 31 minutes. I rested. I felt so good that I set out to run the loop one more time. Second loop- 29 minutes. Immediate runners high. Not only had I completed two loops (which I couldn’t do only a few months earlier at the midnight run) but my 2nd loop had been faster than the first. It was a few too many miles so close to race day, but just the confidence boost I needed to convince myself that I could do this!

Friday was all about rest, hydration and nutrition. And mentally preparing for what tomorrow entailed. I drank water and gatorade all day long. And ate lots of good carbs- which are my favorite! I went to bed too late and woke up only to a text message from Tom. I had slept through all 5 alarms I had set. Thank god Tom was up preparing for his own race and responded to my text from the night before at just the right time. I tried to slow down mentally so that I wouldn’t forget anything. Shoes, socks, pants, shirt, heart rate monitor, phone (for my Strava GPS app and music), headphones, race bib, jacket, hat… FOOD! Energy drink, Gatorade and water. Got everything together and headed out to meet my team and coach for pictures and warm up. Drove halfway to work before I realized I was operating on autopilot and going in the complete wrong direction. Turned around, headed back towards the start line, laughing at myself all the way. Met up with Tiffany and Nicole and Annabet and a few others. While waiting on the rest of the team to show up, Tiff’s mom wants to take a few pictures. “Hold on,” I say, “I’m trying to eat. Coach, dead serious- “EATING TIME IS OVER!” Alrighty then… 🙂

Pictures, warm up. Then a man announces that it’s time to start heading over to the starting line. Nervous and excited, I parted ways with everyone except for Annabet, as everyone was running different paces. Thank god for Annabet.

Starting Line: Everyone is talking to everyone else, stretching, getting their iPods ready. You can feel the excitement in the air, thick. There were over 4,000 people registered to run and we were dead in the middle of them. It was amazing.

Mile One: Annabet coaching on how we weren’t going to let our adrenaline get us out of the gate too fast. There was a moment, when I could see very far ahead of me and felt like I was a part of something huge. I could see nothing but a huge crowd of people in front of and behind me and it was awesome… Something you may only feel in that exact situation. I was incredibly grateful at that moment to be a part of it.

Mile Two: Started to get a bit of a stitch and remembered the advice I had been given to not cross my body and it went away, thankfully.

Mile Three: Bumped into a friend of Annabet’s that was running a 2:1 but at a slightly faster pace than us, we decided to join his group for a few segments, to see how the pace felt and we ended up staying with them for the duration of the race. I felt a little overwhelmed by the faster pace, but was relieved with walking more often.

Miles Four and Five: I had found a pretty good rhythm, my music was pumping and the sun was on my face. I remember feeling incredibly strong and I started praying, thanking God for such a beautiful day, for the ability to do this, and for the amazing people He had put in my life through the course of this new adventure.

Mile Six: An intense feeling of dread. We were not halfway done and I was worn out. The faster pace was wearing on me and while I was grateful for the walks, they felt shorter and shorter each time. The saving grace is that we were only running for 2 minutes at a time.

Miles Seven and Eight: I had resigned myself to the fact that it was going to hurt and I was going to be tired, but that I would not quit.

Mile Nine: I wanted to quit.

Mile Ten: I cried the entire mile. Not sobbing, just tears… pouring down my face. Luckily it was getting pretty warm by then and I could pass it off as sweat. I don’t think many people noticed… 3 more miles seemed impossible. My stomach was cramping. My gatorade was HOT. My music wasn’t working. My toenails hurt. And I told Annabet as much. I had been very careful not to complain the first 9 miles. I think subconsciously I was saving it all up. She coached me some, but mostly stayed silent and ran a little bit behind me, which is exactly what I needed. I WANTED her to tell me it was okay to quit or to stop and let me walk the rest of the way. But she didn’t. She uttered encouragement and kept her pace, even when I fell behind and had to sprint to catch up.

Mile Eleven: Big hill. I wanted to lay down in the grass. I sprinted it. Walked until Annabet caught got to the top and then kept pace as best I could. I was tired.

Mile Twelve: I felt okay, but I knew what was coming and it felt daunting. We had run this part of the course before and I knew that the last mile was a false flat…. all uphill from here. As we rounded the corner and could see the finish line, all the energy drained from me… Annabet kept saying that we were going to run it in on our adrenaline… I didn’t have any. I was done.

Mile Thirteen (point one): I wanted to walk, but knew that I couldn’t. I wanted to throw up. We were so close and I still wanted to quit. And I thought about Anji- Tom’s friend and running partner. And I thought about how she had run a 100 miler only two weeks before. And I thought about Tom and all his encouragement and how he was running right now too, not with me, but with me all the same. And I thought about Nicole and all her coaching and how much I look up to her. And I thought about how my boss and my parents were waiting at the finish line to cheer for me, and honestly, how lame would it look if I walked over the finish line… Annabet gave me 10 seconds of walking and said then we were gonna run it in. And we did. As we came up the hill to the to the finish line, I could hear my coach, my boss, my parents, my teammates yelling my name, cheering me on. And then I crossed the line. And then it was done.

And then I felt fine. I hugged my parents, my coach, my boss, my teammates. I ate an orange. I drank some Gatorade. I took pictures with everyone. I stretched. I walked to my car. I got in. I turned it on. And I cried, all the way home.