In my quirky little mind I’ve always associated runners’ accomplishments with professional credentials. Instead of PhD, or Esq. my imaginary business card reads: Kathleen Lau. Runner, Half marathoner, Marathoner, Boston finisher. My most recent addition? Mother runner. At first I thought it was just a catchy phrase, something to slap on t-shirts and throw behind a hashtag. But then I started to live it. And although I am just a little over 4 months into this new title, I understand now that it is so much more than a trendy bumper sticker.
It’s that first postpartum run, where your legs resemble Bambi, but your body has more of a Dumbo feel. It’s trying on sports bras in sizes you thought were reserved exclusively for porn stars. Only having to make the mistake once of heading out for a run without emptying the tanks. It’s stuffing your postpartum body into the workout clothes you wore before you got pregnant, and wondering how on earth spandex can feel so restrictive. It’s standing in front of a mirror, trying to drown out those critical voices by reminding yourself over and over again that your body has done a lot of work to grow and nourish a child over the past year.
It’s the feeling you get as you walk in from that first run. The rush of endorphins, the heavy breathing, the taste of sweat above your lip. Suddenly it all comes back to you. Makes you feel whole again, makes you feel like YOU again. In the darkness of those first weeks and months, it’s a beacon of light in the dark ocean that is nursing, soothing, diaper changing. It keeps you from drowning.
It’s passing a screaming baby off to your husband the moment he walks in the door, because you just need 2 miles so that you can be mom again tomorrow. It’s when Friday night becomes “you time”, when you can get in a run without worrying about what you need to do for the next day. It’s pushing through those last 10 seconds because you know that as hard as it is to put one foot in front of the other, it’s one step closer to your old self. That every run will get a little easier. It’s the goosebumps you get as you crawl across your first postpartum finish line. The clock that doesn’t read a painfully slow finish time but instead blinks a subliminal message… “You’ve still got this”.
It’s pointing out all your favorite running routes to your son in the car, when you know he can’t see more than passing images through the window. It’s that first time you head out with the running stroller, when you spend the majority of the time trying to figure out what the heck you’re supposed to do with your hands.
It’s the new and improved Sunday morning run. When it’s just you and him. When instead of plugging in headphones, your run is narrated by the sound of the wheels hitting the pavement and your heavy breathing. When you peer into the stroller to find a sleeping baby. Relaxed and content because somehow even he understands how therapeutic running can be. It’s knowing that even though he may not remember this moment, you know that you are setting an example for the rest of his life. Mom runs, mom is strong, mom can do hard things.
Sunday is my very first Mother’s Day. And of course, I couldn’t imagine starting it with anything other than a run. It will be Riley and I’s first race together (since he’s been on the outside anyway). Something I’ve dreamed about since the day that little line showed up on a pee stick. And for once I won’t be chasing a time clock. I won’t have a playlist in my ears heck, I probably won’t even wear a watch. On Sunday, that finish line is about me and my little guy sharing this special thing. It’s about earning that shiny new title, mother runner.
As my running shoes sat collecting dust by the door (yes, cobwebs can grow in just one dramatic week) I scoured the internet, hungry for my next challenge. Something that I’ve found myself doing after every big accomplishment over the last 3 years, but there was always more to be had. Until now. With a Boston Marathon medal hanging on my wall every race I pulled up on the computer just seemed trivial. I was slightly worried that maybe I had reached my pinnacle; maybe I was done with this training business. I mean it has been one hell of a ride.
And just as I was thinking I would spend the summer kicking back on the couch I got this thought thrown at me: “I’ve always gone bigger, but have I ever tried to get better?” I knew the answer instantly. I’ve been chasing distance after distance, barely finishing one race before I’m training for the next. Running for me had become this challenge of how quickly I could climb to the top, how fast I could prove that I could cover these distances. But challenging myself to do them better? I’ll admit I don’t really know what that’s like. Most of my PR’s have been purely accidental.
Suddenly my answer became clearer. My challenge this summer is not to prove to the world how high I can climb, but to prove to myself that I can give it all I’ve got. I didn’t become the Half Ass Bad Ass because it’s a cute and catchy name – it happened because I far too often half ass myself through things. And I want to know what it’s like to push myself. To get comfortable being uncomfortable. To get better. To become faster. To feel stronger.
After a week off my feet I was finally given the go ahead to head out for a run. I was giddy with excitement as I slipped on my running shoes and turned on my Garmin for the first time since April 20th. With a gorgeous spring afternoon and legs that were well rested I imagined a perfect three miles. Instead my legs felt like they were made of brick, I couldn’t catch my breath. It may in fact have been the shittiest three miles I have ever run. But it was a start. Again. I realized that my journey with running runs parallel to my journey with weight loss: it never ends, it just changes direction. Completing a marathon doesn’t mean I’m done – it means I’m just beginning.
Everyone told me to ride that marathon high and I certainly did. I scooted backwards down the stairs with pride, I didn’t take my jacket off for 7 days straight (Don’t worry on the 7th day I washed it -and then immediately put it back on), beaming every time someone asked me if I had run. I loved that the employee at Ben and Jerry’s gave me half off my order after seeing the medal around my neck. “So this is what finishing the Boston Marathon is like” I thought as I sipped my milkshake.
And then my beautiful bouquets of flowers started to wilt. The temporary “Boston” tattoo on my arm began to wash off. I could walk down the stairs normally. And I was left with this incredible feeling of “What do I do now?”.
I knew that coming down from the Boston Marathon high was going to be hard. I had spent the last 6 months consumed with training for it. Imagining crossing that finish line every single day. My poor friends and family (and whoever is reading this) were breathing a sign of relief that it was finally over. But all I wanted was to go back in time and start again.
It’s funny how the things we dread the most end up being the ones we appreciate in the end, right? Every Saturday night I had this put in my stomach about the next mornings long run and yet all I wanted to do was pack up my bag and leave it by the front door. I longed for jelly beans, the ache after a long run, the excitement of a goal ahead. There should really be a pop-up on road race websites that says “please enter the date of your last race” (kind of like how you have to put in your birthdate to enter a website about alcohol?) because I was tempted to sign up for anything and everything I could get my hands on. Luckily before I could make any rash decisions I just shut my laptop and headed to the pool.
I kept getting the question “Do you think you’ll ever run another marathon?” and I didn’t even have to think for a second about the answer. I don’t want to be a “one and done”. And I definitely feel like I deserve another shot at Boston when it isn’t a freezing cold driving rain. Just not right now. I think my husband would divorce me. 😉
So what do I do now? I’m still not sure. I mean- where DO you go after Boston?! A part of me regrets climbing the race ladder too quickly. I wonder if I should have stuck to 5Ks and 10Ks longer, if I should have done a couple more half marathons before I decided to move onto 26.2. It’s a little disappointing to know there’s no more big distances to climb (Because don’t worry – I have NO drive to ever do anything higher than 26.2. That’s just sick).
One thing I do know is that as exhausting as it was, finishing Boston didn’t leave me hating running. In fact I think it only made me love it more. This week of rest has been pure agony for me because all I wanted was to get back out there. I’ve just got to figure out what I’m heading out there to do.
Three more runs.
I’ve only got three more runs.
A grand total of seven miles.
I only have five days and seven miles until I run 26.2.
This just doesn’t seem real.
Seven more miles feels like nothing compared to what I’ve been doing. My legs are quieter with less miles to run but the thoughts in my brain are so much louder. Questioning everything, going over my training, worrying about aches and pains. All I have left to do is run 7 more miles, pick up my bib and the usual pre-race rituals: a trip to the nail salon, a vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, have my hair french braided. And then it’s go time. One of my favorite tidbits of advice I’ve received (and one that is the most comforting) is that Marathon Monday is just a big celebration – all the hard work was done during the last four cold, snowy months. I keep trying to remind myself that.
I’ve said it several times before, but it takes a village to raise a marathoner – and I could not have made it to these last 5 days without it. But my village is actually more of a bustling metropolis so feel free to grab a fresh cup of coffee and sit back because this might take a while. And there’s a good chance your name is probably somewhere in this blog post.
First of all, I have to thank the countless friends, family, and complete strangers who have helped me raise over $5,000 for Back on My Feet Boston. You ate pizza, you purchased new running shoes and sports bras, you bought raffle tickets from an adorable 7 year old practicing his math skills. Every email that notified me of a new donation came with a message “We believe in you. You’ve got this. I’m so proud of you”. They reminded me that you trust that I can do this, you believe in me. And that means the world to me. (PS it’s not too late to help! To make a donation click here.)
The coolest Chiropractor around, Dr. B. His first words to me during my consultation were “So Beantown’s the goal huh? Let’s make that happen.” and he made it happen. From waiting to close the office during a snowstorm to fit me in, to fist pumping me after every new distance ran, he has been one of my biggest cheerleaders (Even if he does it with his weapon of choice in the other hand).
My other set of parents, “my Goldens” – who are as proud of me as if I were one of theirs, who were waiting anxiously for the text that I finished my first 20 miler, who have been cheering in my corner since the very beginning of my journey. As much as I have loved being the ultimate spectators with you – you have no idea how excited I am to be on the other side of Mr. Smiley Face Balloon guy.
My friends and family who ask how my training is going (even though they could probably care less), who understood why I vanished the entire winter, and who are just so excited to cheer me on on the road from Hopkinton to Boylston – thank you for supporting me through this crazy process.
My crazy co-workers – because if you are going to train for a marathon, this is the place to work while doing it. From understanding why I was overwhelmed by 8 feet of snow, to building me the most beautiful neon countdown paper chain, to keeping me “grounded” – you get it.
My cousin Julie, who right now is doing something even MORE amazing by growing a human life inside of her, and yet still thinks to ask how my long runs go, to cheer me on, to tell me I can do it. Before the Marathon jackets even had time to cool she (and her mother-in-law) had one delivered to my office to make sure that I “looked the part”.
The L Street Running Club – who I could not have made it through all those miserable winter long runs without. From the speedsters who high fived me on their way back, to the incredible water stop volunteers who were always so kind and enthusiastic – your “no pace too slow” motto has made a difference in this slow poke first timer’s life. And especially my “running big brother” whose words of wisdom always come at just the right time.
My mom and dad- I’m pretty sure I saw their jaws hit the floor when I first mentioned that I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. And once they picked them back up, man they are the greatest cheer squad ever. I mean, whose mother orders 2 giant balloons online… just in case one blows away on race day? And whose dad cuts marathon articles out of the paper and mails them to you? As my training runs increased my iPod playlist got longer as well, and I threw on a lot of old songs that remind me of my parents- dancing around the kitchen or singing in the car. When the miles got tough those songs would magically pop on, and I felt their presence with me. For as anyone who was a guest at our wedding can attest, there’s nothing like a little “You Can Call Me Al” to get you moving. 🙂
My incredible husband – who has always been my rock and has proved to be nothing less than amazing during all of this. They say it’s a family commitment when someone decides to train for a marathon and I see why now. He has patiently spent Saturday nights on the couch and Sunday mornings alone waiting for me to come hobbling in the house. He has made sure that my Lush bath bomb stock never dwindles and baked me a cake to celebrate my last 20 miler. He comforts me when runs are tough and every night before we go to bed he tells me how proud he is of me. He is my everything.
And finally Alicia, because when my rockstar husband doesn’t know what to do with me anymore he passes me off to her – and somehow she can fix it. If anyone deserves an extra medal it’s her for all the tears, whining, complaining and second guessing that she has put up with – and is still right by my side. You have taught me that Boston is the epitome of races, and you are the epitome of Boston to me. Never in my life did I dream that I, the chubby rollerblader, would be running the Boston Marathon, but you were the person who saw something inside of me. Although this will technically be our third reunion “on” Boylston Street… something tells me I will never, ever, forget this one.
Dear Half Ass,
The last of the gray snow piles are melting. The days are getting longer, the birds are once again becoming a familiar background noise. Around you everyone’s minds are turning to baseball season, flip flop weather, garden planning. And while these things are on your mind too there’s something else that these chilly spring evenings remind you of. Something even better.
It’s now been three years. Three years since that night you sucked in your breath (and your gut), wiped your sweaty palms, and walked through that door. Three years since you finally admitted that you wanted help, to change, a different lifestyle. In some way the memories of those days seem blurry- it’s hard to imagine life without sweat, burpees, long runs and sore muscles. But sometimes you remember every single detail of how truly hard those days were.
It’s been an incredible journey to watch – highs and lows, weight losses and gains. Training cycles, My Fitness Pal, bedtime stories, egg muffins. I sat back and winced as you struggled through your first mile, watched your face beam as you ran a 5K without stopping, saw you cross the finish line of your first half marathon. I saw you learn how to swim, become a triathlete. Watched your strength and confidence change as your body did. I saw the satisfaction in your face when your jeans slid down your waist, caught you discovering muscles in places you never knew existed. I cheered at the finish line as you cruised into PRs, and comforted you as you learned that not every race goes as planned. I watched you form the most incredible bonds with people you never expected to have anything in common with. At first you were nervous to trust them but you quickly learned how much they cared about you, how much they just want to see you succeed.
It’s hard to believe that three years ago you stood in Kenmore Square, in your tight fitting size 14 shorts, wondering why anyone in their right mind would ever run 26.2 miles … FOR FUN. It’s even harder to believe that in just 16 days you will join thousands of other athletes (which by the way, you are now too!) at the start line in Hopkinton. You will stand there knowing that you have trained just as long and just as hard as everyone else to run the greatest race in the world. You have changed your body, your lifestyle, your mind, all for this. You will make that epic trek from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. And when you cross that finish line you will have proved that you truly can do anything if you set your mind to it.
People like to joke about how you continue to celebrate this day, but you and I both know how important it is to you. Important that you celebrate, that you remember the journey it took to get to this place, and that it doesn’t stop here. I know I’m quick to judge you – to nag you that you run too slow or that your thighs are too big – but the truth is that I couldn’t be more proud of you. I don’t tell you that nearly enough.
The sky is the limit girlfriend. Happy Anniversary.
It’s 4:45am on a Monday morning and my cell phone screen lights up with the alarm. I quickly silence it, swing out of bed, and grab the running clothes I laid out the night before. I change and sneak out into the dark hoping I didn’t wake my fiancee. With my eyes barely open I navigate my way onto the nearly empty Expressway. Mental check to make sure I’m headed to the right location. As I park and make my way towards the small circle forming under a street light I can hear the rumblings of early morning chatter. Our circle grows, the conversation grows with it. We huddle together and recite the Serenity Prayer. “…. the courage to change the things I can…”. And then, we run.
This is the incredible movement that is Back on My Feet. We are a running, walking, and wellness program that works with homeless or at-risk individuals. In joining our teams participants are able to gain a sense of community, of discipline, and of self confidence. With these gains they discover the power they have to take the steps to move their lives forward, to work towards self-sufficiency and independence.
My heartstrings are forever tied to this mission because I understand the transformative power of running. I’ve experienced it myself. I know how it feels to have someone believe in you, to watch your self confidence grow from the ground up. I know what it’s like to take those itty bitty steps forward; afraid to fall but curious if you’ll fly. And to do it without judgement; or fear of rejection.
My job certainly isn’t easy. My days start early and sometimes are incredibly long. Sometimes I spend an entire afternoon sifting through boxes of running shoes, some days I sit quietly listening to the pain of someone who is struggling to stay sober in a world of temptation. Often my job is heartbreaking. But it can also be incredibly inspiring. I’ve witnessed team members who swear they’ll never run go a mile without stopping. I’ve paced guys through their first 5K; which somehow is more exciting than crossing your own first finish line. I’ve heard the pride in someone’s voice as they tell me they haven’t had a cigarette in 2 weeks, that they got the job they wanted, that today marks their first anniversary of being clean. It’s an amazing feeling to get to be a part of moments like that, to know my program has had an impact on their lives.
And so on April 20th I will be running for these individuals. Particularly for 26 individuals who have inspired me, who have challenged me in my job for the better, who have shown me how they push forward despite the challenges they face. On marathon day I will think of each of them, mile by mile, as I push myself towards Boylston Street. If they can do it, so can I.
*housekeeping note – I am headed off on my honeymoon so there will be no blog post for the next two weeks. Catch you all up before Thanksgiving 🙂
I’m still giddy over last week’s post.
While this has been in the works for a while it’s finally now starting to feel real- this is really happening.
I’m going to run a marathon.
I’m going to run THE BOSTON MARATHON!
Sometimes I catch myself saying it out loud to absolutely no one, simply because hearing the words come out of my mouth gives me goosebumps.
I am incredibly honored to be running Boston for my organization, Back on My Feet (more on that coming soon!). I know that some people frown upon charity bibs and feel that you don’t deserve to run unless you qualify. But for someone like me who knows they will never be fast enough – this is the opportunity of a lifetime and I am so appreciative of it.
I know that over the last few weeks I’ve been talking about taking a break. Obviously this break was two fold: yes I’m tired and a bit burnt out from constantly training, but this is also a break to get my body ready for this crazy adventure I’m about to embark on. I know (or I should say I’ve been told a million times by now) that marathon training is going to be like nothing I’ve experienced before. So the next few months are going to be spent getting myself ready both physically and mentally. More time swimming, strength training, rolling, stretching, yoga-ing. I keep reminding myself that everything I do in the next few months is going to make me stronger for training. Make me stronger as a marathoner (Gah! That word!).
Of course I’m still running, but minimal miles and just when I feel like it. The kicker? I’ve been Garmin free for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. (“Father please forgive me, it has been two weeks since my last Garmin paced run”). At first I thought I was going to hate it, but I’m kind of liking running according to how my body feels (I still tap my wrist at every intersection sadly).
I like that I’m going for a run because it’s nice out, because I had a bad day, because I know that I will feel better after those thirty minutes. I like that I can chose my route based on what view I want to see, not how far I have to go. I like that I’m running simply because I want to – not because it’s written on my plan somewhere. Without any goals I’m focusing on how my body feels, my kick ass new playlist, the leaves crunching under my feet. I can’t remember the last time I ran this way, but I like it. I feel stronger.
I know that marathon training is going to get tough, and it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to make me cry (a lot, if I know myself by now). I’ve heard it enough times that I get i – it’s going to suck. But I also know that I want to appreciate every second of this journey, even the sucky parts. I want to take it all in, I want to do it right. This may be my one opportunity to run Boston and I don’t want to look back with any regrets. I’m thankful that I have this blog to help me capture all of the moments of this journey, because I want to remember it all. And I hope that you’re not already sick of hearing “the M word” and that you’ll buckle up and join me for this crazy, crazy ride… errr run. 🙂
We all know I’m a sucker for anniversaries. I’m even more of a sucker for anniversaries where I can attach sappy symbolisms to them and with just 10 days to go to my wedding – I’m a sucker for anything soft and sappy lately.
Two years ago this weekend I ran my very first race, the Diva Dash (no judging). Fast forward two years and this weekend I will be running a 5K alongside the beginner running group I coached over the summer. How’s that for sappy symbolism?
You can’t help but stop here and ask “How the hell did this happen?”. At least I can’t. As I quickly flip through the images and events of the last two years it still comes as a shock to me. Road races, triathlons, half marathons… if you held a crystal ball two years ago I probably would have thrown it back in your face.
There’s so much about that first race that I never want to forget. I never want all that naïve goodness to disappear. It will always remind me where I came from. I knew practically nothing about running- I didn’t know about paces, or where a bib goes on your shirt. I had just gotten my first pair of “real” running shoes (which I didn’t wear for the race because I didn’t want to get them dirty) and I will admit now that I showered and did my hair before it because “I wanted to look cute”. I thought I needed to carb load the night before (truth be told- the fat kid in me just wanted an excuse to have pasta again). and I didn’t have a goal except that I wanted to finish. I was scared shitless.
And while I’m sitting here being all mushy and reminiscent there’s no way I couldn’t write about the person who got me across that first finish line. The one who two years later continues to push me across them- both physically and mentally. She is always a step ahead of me (more like 10 actually), and somehow always sees my potential miles before I can. I know I mention her all the time but she is every reason I’m here writing this today. It may not have taken a village to raise this runner – but it certainly took one hell of an individual.
Sometimes I catch myself saying something I’ve heard her say a million times and I smile. The thing about being a runner is you’ve got to pass on the tips and tricks that you learn along the way. I can only hope that someday I’ll be that person to someone else.
Remember that half marathon I am supposed to run this summer? It’s okay- me neither really. I mean I’ve been running and training and knew it was on the horizon, but I’ve been so busy I hadn’t spent much time really thinking about it. Until the one month mark rolled around. And I started piecing together the details and logistics. And then in true Kathleen/Half Ass fashion, I “freaked the f out”.
I already knew this was going to be a challenge. So far 13.1 and I haven’t had the best time together, and for the first time I’m going to be facing it on my own. And without the comfort of my fiancee there cheering me on. And then I read the Athlete Guide. And I started doing the math and realized how long a Half Ironman actually takes. How early I’m going to have to get up, and then how long I’m going to have to wait for my turn to run. How hot it’s going to be by then. What if I eat my pre-race meal too soon and I have nothing in me? How mentally challenging is a double loop going to be to my unstable mind? Oh and did I mention that I can’t use my iPod? 13.1 miles of just me and the sound of my own irregular breathing?
I wanted out. This felt like too many uncomfortables all at once. Maybe I’m taking on something that’s just out of my league right now. For a quick second I toyed with the possibility of finding a replacement runner.
But then I thought about how it would feel standing on the sidelines watching someone else cross that finish line, and how it would feel knowing it was supposed to be me. Then I thought about how it will feel if I actually finish this thing. It was became obvious that Option B outweighed Option A.
I don’t want to do this race. but I have to do this race. I have to prove that I can conquer my mental games. I have to let my legs show that they are louder than my brain. I have prove to those who believe in me that I can do this. Most importantly- I have to prove to myself that I can do this.
I’m scared out of my mind, but I know that being scared isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being scared means that you are being challenged. Being scared means you have a chance to prove that you are brave. Prove that you have grown. Prove that you have taken in all you have been taught. And as I’ve been shown time and time again- the scarier the challenge, the sweeter the finish line.
So let’s do this.
Since my hip wasn’t feeling that great post Heartbreak I was put into what we like to call “protective custody” for a full week. The good thing about not running for a week is that it gives you a lot of time to think. The bad thing is well, it gives you a lot of time to think (And also you can’t run and that sucks).
I let myself wallow in my self pity for a few days, which included a very childlike ”TERRIBLE!” answer to anyone who asked how the race was. And as what seems to always happen when I most need it- I was reminded by several people how proud I should be of my accomplishment, how proud THEY were of me. As much as I wanted to hide in my embarrassment and disappointment the reality of the situation was that I had just finished my second half marathon in less than a year. To make it even more symbolic that same weekend, exactly one year prior, I had crossed the finish line of my first 10K. Half the distance I ran a year later. Even the most stubborn girl in the world can’t argue that that’s pretty incredible.
I think I need reality checks like this from time to time. I need a little perspective. I need to a slap across the forehead to remind me how far I come. I just finished my second half marathon. A year ago I was pumped that I had run my first 10K. In just over two years I’ve gone from a certified lazy ass to an athlete. In the grand scheme of things, that is no easy task. Consequently, neither is a half marathon. And yet here I sit looking at the medals from two that I have completed. Damn you perspective, sometimes you suck.
At the end of the week I shook off the last of my angry feelings. Wrote down my lessons learned and tucked them into my log book. And then I turned the page. Time to move on. Time for a new page. New week. New goal to write down. Time for something new to strive for and be proud of myself for.