Monthly Archives: November 2013

Being Thankful.

You’d have to be living under a rock to not notice the daily “Today I am thankful for” posts going around on the internet. And while I didn’t make it a point to join in on the daily acknowledgments, it does seem appropriate on the day before Thanksgiving to list some of the things that I am eternally grateful for. I hope this post doesn’t come off in a “Look how perfect my life is” way because it’s not- I promise you. I have just as many bad days and shitty moments as the next person… but I also have had a lot of wonderful things in my life that deserve recognition.

I am thankful for my family- both the one that I was born into and the one that I am marrying into. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a strong and loving group of individuals. They are at my side for every crazy new direction I take and with that are there to either celebrate alongside me or pick me back up when I fall.

I am so thankful for this guy.

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Almost every picture of me running on this blog was taken by him standing patiently at a finish line. Frigid temperatures, blazing sun… he is always there to cheer me on and to tell me how proud he is of me. He doesn’t get the madness behind why I run, but he gets that it makes me so happy. Tomorrow he will run his first 5K not because he loves running, but because he loves me.

I am thankful for my friends, who know all of my imperfections and yet choose to love me anyways. For the ones who I don’t have to clean my house for, the ones I can call for anything, the ones who I giggle with over things no one else would ever find funny. For old friends who have known me through the good times and the bad, and new ones who have jumped in alongside me in my journey almost seamlessly.

I’m thankful for finding a place that gave me the push and the support to make changes in myself that I was to afraid to make on my own. For walls that have seen sweat, tears, and pounds disappear, only to be replaced by confidence, strength and happiness. A place that will forever be my favorite place to be.

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I’m thankful for my job, for finding a career that combines two things that I am so passionate about. My work is hard, but I go to bed at night exhausted in the best way possible, and wake up the next morning anxious to dive right back in.

I’m thankful for kale, chocolate chip cookie dough and everything in between. For ice cream with sprinkles before races. For balance. For a life where food isn’t an enemy. Oh and pancakes! I am so, so thankful for pancakes.

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I’m thankful for my “You’ve got this” and “I knew you could do it”. But I’m even more thankful for “I know you can do better than this”. That’s what motivates me to keep trying, keep pushing myself, to never settle. It keeps me going because I never want to stop making you proud.

I’m thankful for bags to Goodwill, for they symbolize a part of my life that has gone out the door, hopefully to never return again.

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I’m thankful for race bibs and spandex running tights. For foam rollers and PRs. For a never ending supply of safety pins. I’m thankful for swim dates and bagel picnics after group runs. I will never stop being thankful for getting to be a part of this crazy, awesome world. For being accepted right into it, no questions asked. For the people who are ready and willing to teach me. For finally finding my place.

I’m thankful for this blog and for rediscovering my love for writing. For a space that I can use to hold myself accountable, share my feelings, and not feel like I’m being judged. For people who have followed my journey, cheered me on, become part of my story.

I’m thankful for lungs that burn and for muscles that ache the morning after a hard workout. I’m thankful for the way my heart swells with pride after crossing a finish line. And most importantly, I’m thankful for strong legs to run with. I haven’t gone for a run since April 15th and not thought about how lucky I am to have legs to run with. And I promise to never stop being thankful for that- no matter what season it is.

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So… what’s next?

It’s been just about a month since I finished the Chilly Half. In the days and weeks following the first thing everyone asked me naturally was “How did it go?”
And the second question? “So – whats next?”

For the last year of my life I have been chasing down what seemed like an endless supply of new challenges: running a 5k without stopping, my first 10K, my first triathlon, my first half marathon. Before the Sharpie I use to check off my great “To Do List” of life has had a chance to dry I’m already signing up for the next challenge. When I step back and think about it, I realize I’ve been living off the fumes of adrenaline and excitement for quite some time now.

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But suddenly I’ve come to a running halt- literally. The answer to that second question? I don’t quite have one yet. To anyone who finished their first half marathon and immediately signed up for a full – I applaud you. I tip my hat to you. You deserve a red carpet for your entire 26.2 mile journey. Because there is no way in hell I am ready for that. While the coals to the fire of curiosity have been lit deep inside of me I am smart enough to know that I am not there yet physically or mentally. But I still wonder -how and when did I get to a point where I’ve checked off so many milestones? Suddenly the top of the ladder looks a lot closer than where I started at the bottom and it looks like I’ll be hanging out here for a while. Guess I better get used to the view.

The weeks following the half were tough. I had told myself to savor every moment of it, because I knew it was going to be my last big exciting first for a long time. I basked in the glory right up until bedtime (7:30pm) and sure enough- woke up the next morning already itching for a new goal. My “recovery week” was torturous – both mentally and physically. I was pretty sore for a few days and yet all I wanted to do was put on my shoes and run. After so many carefully planned months of training, to see my calendar go completely blank and my log book collecting dust on the coffee table stunk. And when I finally got the okay to run again well, let’s just say I wish that someone had warned me how bad that first time was going to feel because that frustrated me all over again.

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Obviously the aches and pains went away (for the most part) and I’m back out running my familiar routes. My brain however, doesn’t know what to focus on. It’s such a weird feeling that I don’t quite get how to process. I’m trying to remember what it was like to just “go for a run” without a goal or as part of a bigger plan, but it my short time as a runner that’s practically all that I know. Tasks and challenges have been what’s kept me going all these months.

I know there are a thousand immediate goals I want to work on, should work on. Run faster. Do more pushups. Achieve a tricep plank. Get my strength to a higher standard. Work on my mental running. Run better races in general. During my week of “protective custody” I spent a lot of time reflecting on the half. Don’t get me wrong, no one’s prouder of myself than I am for finishing such a challenge- but I also recognize that there’s a lot I can improve on. The next time I go out and run 13.1 miles I want to be proud of every single mile- not just 1-10. So it’s time to focus on quality over quantity for a while. Time to improve what I’ve done instead of just tackling on new challenges. Time to be a better runner.

So I guess that’s my answer – that’s what’s next. Now to get myself excited about it.

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“What makes you a real runner” : the conclusion

It’s a well documented fact that ever since the first time I laced up and went for a run, I have had this inner turmoil of not feeling like a real runner. There have been lists made that declared me a runner, and a few times where I’ve come close to feeling pretty legit. But I always felt like I was an imposter, like someone would call my bluff. Ever since I began running I’ve been trying to figure out what would be the tipping point to making me feel like part of the club. I decided that if ANYTHING, running a half marathon must be it- right? And so for the last few months I’ve been building up this great anticipation for the “Aha!” moment that I would feel as soon as I crossed the finish line. I figured light would shine down from above, confetti would be dumped over my head, and I would have a flashing neon sign on my back that said “Real Runner”. Ok clearly I’m exaggerating- but you get what I’m trying to say.

So imagine my “disappointment” (for lack of better words) when I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon… and none of those things happened. Did I feel proud? Absolutely. Accomplished? Of course. Exhausted? That too. Did I have a shit eating grin on my face? You bet your ass I did. But truth be told- I felt the same as I did the day before. And the day before that. And then the real light shined on me.

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I didn’t feel any different, any more of a “real runner” well… because I am one. I’ve been one. I know this isn’t rocket science. I know this has been said to me enough times to make a person’s head spin- but some things you’ve gotta figure out yourself. I get it now. Finishing a half marathon didn’t make me feel any more of a real runner because that’s who I’ve been all along.
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I was a runner that very first Saturday morning when I huffed and puffed from light pole to light pole on the beach. I was a runner when I forced myself to continue all summer, because I was convinced I would eventually get it. I was a runner when I woke up early every morning on vacation because I craved that peaceful path on the California Coast. I was a runner the first time I ran a mile, 5 miles, double digits, 13.1 miles. The first time I awkwardly tried to pin my bib on straight. When I finally ran a 5K without stopping to walk once. When I got so lost in my thoughts, I forgot I was running.

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I was a runner when I realized I could run and answer yes or no questions. When I was able to run and hold an entire conversation. When running became a way for a friend and I to vent, to decompress, to become closer. When I realized I had a whole group of friends… who were runners too.

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I was a runner when I got my first runner wave. My first (and second, and third, and forth) pair of running shoes. My first blister. My first foam roller. When I stood at Mile 25 of the Boston Marathon, 65 pounds overweight, thinking “there’s no way in hell I could ever do this”… but with a slight pang of jealousy. And then when I stood at the finish line a year later and thought “I will do this someday”.

I was a runner when I ran in the snow, in the rain, in the dark, in a mid-July heat wave. When I ran 3 races in 2 weeks. When the urgent care doctor asked me why I would run if it hurt- and I looked at her like she had asked the dumbest question in the entire world. When I went for a run because I was upset, because I was angry, because I was incredibly happy.
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I’ve been a runner all this time, from day one. I am a runner because I have good runs, bad runs, and in between runs. Because no matter how shitty the run I am ready to give it my all again the next day. I am a runner because running makes me feel alive. Because all I want is to run better, run faster, run further, run harder. I want PRs and new goals. I am a runner because I feel it in my soul- it’s been there long before my legs and lungs could figure out a way to all work together in unison. It didn’t take 13.1 miles for me to be a real runner, it just took 13.1 miles for me to understand it.

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Thirteen point one.

A half marathoner. It still doesn’t feel real. In fact- I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t have a painful reminder every time I tried to move my legs. A feat that at one point seemed so ridiculous, so out of my league, is now a check mark on my great “to do list” of life. Objective completed.

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Leading up to the race I was stuck between this feeling of wanting the week to fly by and praying for it to go slowly. Ready to get this thing done but at the same time, would sell a kidney if it meant I could have more time. As soon as I woke up the morning before there was a countdown in front of my eyes, a virtual ticking time bomb. Luckily the day passed by relatively painlessly. After some mindless errands and shopping my running buddies all met up for a big pasta party. The tears from laughing so hard were almost enough to make me forget about the 13.1 miles looming ahead of me. Back home in bed however- was a different story. I laid staring at the ceiling for what felt like hours feeling frustrated knowing that everyone else in the house was asleep except for me. And almost as soon as I finally nodded off the alarm went off. I woke up to the sound of pouring rain outside and thought to myself “I must be dreaming- today isn’t the day… it’s not going to rain on my half marathon.”

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“To Do List”. Ice cream with sprinkles has now become a pre-race tradition.

I quickly realized that yes it was raining and yes, it was indeed the big day. With shaky hands I got dressed, packed up, managed to shove an English Muffin down my throat (in fear of how I would feel 2 miles in without it) and we headed out. The rain had slowed down to a cold drizzle as we headed to the start, but that made my shaking even worse as I tried to pin on my bib on. The race had a “quiet start” which meant no announcers or music so suddenly I looked up – and people were moving! My heart jumped up my throat and I fumbled with my GPS watch as I tried to get my wobbly legs to find a pattern that I could sustain for 13 miles. I remember looking down at my running shoes and thinking “See you on the other side of 13.1!”. I’m weird like that.

The first mile passed almost effortlessly. I heard the familiar chirp of my watch and took a deep breath. My nerves began to calm down. I smiled. We joked about how hard a mile was for me to run a year and a half ago and yet here I was today, running a half marathon. One mile down, twelve to go. I’ve got this.

In fact, the first several miles were relatively painless. With my faithful trainer by my side we we talked and giggled, pointing out funny things along the course. Sometimes I almost forgot that we were running a half marathon, and not just out for a long weekend run. When I saw the beginning of the hills I got nervous, but I wanted to prove that I could do this. After every up and over my heart swelled, for hills have always been one of my weaknesses. On one of the most challenging of the hills we counted thirteen people that I passed and I smiled so big, it hurt. I felt strong, and even stronger once we passed our cheering squad. I’ve got this, I’m doing this. Somewhere before the start of the 8th mile I even bravely said “We’re almost at 8 miles? I feel great!”

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And with that statement- came my downfall, and where the details begin to get hazy. My “I can do this” attitude quickly turned into “I don’t want to do this anymore”. I was tired, so tired. My magical sport beans weren’t feeling very magical. The Heartbreak Hill Gorilla that was hilarious the first time was annoying the second time around. I know we saw our crew several times, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how many. My legs felt like bricks and when I tried to calculate how much longer I had to run I freaked. I wasn’t about to hit the wall, I was ready to curl up in fetal position at the bottom of it. I just wanted it to be over.

And this is where the tough love came in. The tough love that I hate so much in the moment, but appreciate more than life itself after. The tough love that reminds me how far I’ve come, and what it took to get here. A reminder of how hard I had worked for this moment. To have someone who knows your strengths and weaknesses better than you yourself know them is a an incredible thing. And while so many details of those last few miles are a blur, those tough love moments are what stick out most in my memory of my first half marathon because I know they are what got me through those difficult miles.

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We approached Mile 12 (at least, I think it was somewhere around there because at some point I got my watch taken away from me) and I willed myself forward. I kept thinking about the difference in me running a mile now versus a year ago, and somehow it helped me to keep going. Suddenly I could hear music, I could hear cheering and as I came around a bend I saw it- the glorious finish line. It very well may of been from dehydration but I felt chills all over my body. I, Kathleen Riley, the “former half ass, about to be absolute bad ass” was merely steps away from becoming a half marathoner. I forced the biggest smile onto my face and pushed myself over the finish line. I was breathless- not from running but from the pure awesomeness of what I had just accomplished. The girl who went from not being able to run down the street just finished her first half marathon. You want a “You can do anything you set your mind to” moment? I’ve got one for you right here kids.

It’s been a few days since I ran 13.1 miles and the smile on my face still hurts.

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A Year of Blog Days

It may seem to many of you that lately I have a never ending list of “anniversaries”. And while it may seem over the top (and sometimes annoying) the truth is that each and every one of them is very important to me. They celebrate a year of good things, of better decisions, of personal accomplishments. And today, I celebrate a full year of blog days.

That’s right, for 52 Wednesdays I have been sharing the struggles, accomplishments, highs and lows of this crazy journey that I’ve been on. For anyone not familiar with how I got here, “Blog Day” was the invention of my beloved training studio. The concept was that I would spend 12 weeks using their fitness and nutrition services and in exchange would document my experiences in a weekly blog.

When I was first approached about participating in this program I was immediately taken back. I had been doing my thing relatively quietly throughout the summer. I was smaller, getting stronger, and feeling happier- but I didn’t talk much about my experiences except to my immediate friends and family. To share my story with complete strangers? Document everything I put in my mouth and how I felt about it? To open myself up and share my struggles and fears? Well that just seemed absolutely terrifying.

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That first painful summer of “learning how to be a runner”

But then I began to think about it more. It was obvious to everyone (except me who had been trying to deny it) that I had gained weight, and it was now obvious that I had lost a decent amount. And internally, I was incredibly proud of how far I had come. So why hide that? As I have learned as I mature- the feeling of just letting the truth be told can be incredibly freeing. And although the idea of putting my story out there felt scary and made me shaky- the realization that I had someone backing me up made it seem more doable. There was someone who believed in me. Someone who saw what I was capable of before I could see it for myself. Someone who was willing to take a chance on me. Someone who was willing to stick by me for both the good and bad parts. And as hesitant as I felt I eventually said “Ok I’ll do it”. If only I knew how many more times I would say “Ok I’ll do it” as a result of this.

I still remember the day my first post went live. I sat at my computer trying to control my jittery nerves, refreshing my browser over and over again. And all of a sudden there I was. I began to re-read the post I had already read a hundred times wincing at what I had written. Suddenly it seemed too personal, too emotional, way too embarrassing. And that picture of me I decided to use? GAH! What was I thinking?!

kathleenAnd while I waited for judgment and criticism the response I got was anything but. I was moved to tears by the instantaneous support and love. Suddenly people who I hadn’t even spoken to recently were congratulating me and telling me how I was inspiring them to make changes in their lives. It was the most incredible feeling. And with that first blog day the band-aid was ripped off, I was ready to dive in and get to work.

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The next 12 weeks were a fabulous blur. With everything I was dealing with exposed and the constant support of friends, family, and complete strangers I felt inspired to push myself even further and harder. My life changed more in those 12 weeks than it had in the last 12 months of my life. And by the end I felt like this incredible new person. Stronger, more confident, happier, healthier. Ready to face whatever challenges came my way. And since I contributed these changes to the influence of blog day I decided that I would continue documenting my story on my own. And here we are today.

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep this blog up, I guess at some point even I will get sick of my “Wee, look at me!” attitude. I never started it to become famous, or to make people think I am this amazing person. I am nothing more than an ordinary girl, who was given an incredible opportunity by someone who had faith in me. This blog has been a way for me to keep myself in check and to keep myself moving forward. I often go back and read the posts from those first 12 weeks because sometimes it’s hard to remember that girl from a year ago. The challenges and crises I dealt with then are a worlds difference from what I worry about now (like how to fuel myself for a 12 mile run?)
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For as much as I have said how grateful I am for blog day, I will never find the words to fully describe what it has done for me. Without blog day I never would have become a runner. I wouldn’t have gone from feeling like a chubby girl to an athlete. I never would have become a triathlete and I certainly wouldn’t be putting on the bib for my first half marathon in a few days. I wouldn’t be close to the confident and happy girl that I am today. And until that feeling goes away, blog day will continue 🙂

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