My first “Blog Day” fell on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012. I sat at my desk at work, manically refreshing my web browser until suddenly, there it was. I held my breath, cringing at my name, at that god awful picture of myself in a coral sundress resembling a muumuu. I started to imagine all the ex-boyfriends, ex-best friends, family friends, co-workers who could be reading what suddenly felt far too personal to be sharing out loud. Too late.
And before I could fire off the text saying that I changed my mind about this whole ordeal, people responded. Old friends.(Soon to be) new friends. Family members. High school classmates. Saying they were proud of me, they were inspired by me, that they too felt these things. And although it was sometimes downright embarrassing to lay it all out there, it was these encouraging words that helped me continue to share my story.
Once my Rockstar journey wrapped up I moved my musings to this little site. My space to write, vent, share goals, fears, accomplishments. I’ve always felt like I was just talking to you, my friend, instead of posting off into the wide open interwebs. And because I love routine, I continued to write my weekly post for the next 119 Wednesdays (give or take a few schedule changes).
Last week was the first week there was no Blog Day.
I had been thinking about it for a while, going back and forth on how long I would continue this. The decision didn’t come easily. Running is my outlet. Writing is too. Together they have helped me on this long, hard, absolutely incredible journey of self discovery. I never started blogging to become famous, or because I wanted it to become my career (Sponsored posts and giveaways just aren’t my cup of tea). I wrote with two purposes.
In a world where thigh gaps are given more praise than powerful quads and wedding dresses are sized to make us feel like bridal hippopotamuses, I wanted to put it all out there. I wanted to tell the girls who are sausaged into their size 14 jeans that I’ve been there, that I know what it’s like to feel trapped in a body you don’t want. That some days you tell yourself you’re going to start skipping lunch to lose weight, only to end up eating everything in sight at 9pm. That I’ve cried in front of a mirror and a pile of clothes that just don’t fit. I wanted to tell anyone who’s ever felt these feelings that it’s okay to ask for help. To want to live a healthier life, even if it currently seems impossible. That teaching yourself to run is hands down the shittiest and most empowering experience of your life. That finding people who love, encourage, and support you can open you up to a world you never thought possible. That learning to love your body for what it can do instead of how it compares to others is a breath of fresh air you’ve just never felt before.
Ever since I dove into this adventure (come on now- I’m a swimmer and we all know I love a good analogy) I’ve had so many supports to keep me afloat. Nutrition, personal training sessions, triathlon swim classes… my version of Swimmies and Noodles. And while I’ll never stop appreciating the support they’ve provided- I’ve known when it was time to try and swim a few strokes on my own. In a way, this blog has been another form of support. In the beginning I needed it to keep me on track, to keep me from chickening out on these big scary goals. I don’t know that I need that anymore. This little slice of the internet has become my very own virtual scrapbook. Anytime I’m in doubt, anytime I feel like I can’t do something, I have all of these experiences to go back to. I can go back to what it was like the day I lost 50 pounds. What running 3 miles without stopping felt like. The unbelievable experience of my first triathlon. The mental struggle of my first half marathon. The fact that I ran the BOSTON F’ING MARATHON. All of those accomplishments live here, along with the feelings, bad days, and hard work that went into them. And just like all the other supports I’ve had along the way, I know that in the off chance I start to panic and sink on my own, I can reach right back out for help.
So maybe this isn’t a goodbye, maybe it’s just a see you later. Maybe after a few weeks without Wednesday morning posts I will realize that I miss my little piece of the world. And because I don’t want to say goodbye and I love a good quote- I want to end today’s post with one of my favorites. I found it on a card at the end of my Rockstar sessions and it so appropriately fit that time in my life. It does again now.
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That is the beginning” – Louis L’Amour
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.
At what point do you figure you’ve learned everything there is to know about running? Is there a certain amount of time that passes – or a specific milestone? In the last two and a half years I feel like I’ve learned a lot, even enough at times. At first it was the basics: put on a pair of shoes, head out the door, left, right, left. Then I started learned about paces, types of shoes, fueling, distance. You’re all set to go.
Ah except for this thing called mental toughness. Which it turns out- is not as simple as left, right, left. Mental toughness takes time to develop, mental toughness takes technique, practice, strength. I’ve seen a glimmer of it from time to time- when I finished Timberman completely on my own or just last week in that shit show of a triathlon.
But more often that not lack of mental toughness gets the best of me. I actually really suck at it. It gets lost in my brain, overpowered by this nagging voice that says I can’t do it.
It reared it’s ugly head this weekend – somewhere between miles 8 and 13. That’s usually where the wall hits for me. There’s nothing worse than cruising along on a beautiful fall day, visions of a PR on the time clock in your head when suddenly – there it is. It has the effect of a migraine, coming on fast and furious and you pray that if you try not to think about it it will just go away. These miles get blurry, your legs get heavy, and it’s hard to remember much except the feeling of wanting to stop. Of reaching out to the person closest to you begging them to make IT stop.
But the feeling that comes after that? It’s even worse, and it remains clear in your memory long after your feet stop moving. It’s the feeling of knowing you gave in, of disappointment, of regret. The feeling that you let the voice win again.
Despite the mental battles I crossed the finish with just :34 seconds to spare. A PR by the skin of my teeth, but a PR nonetheless. I’m proud of that, I know that I put in some decent work out there. I just can’t help but wish I could go back in time and change those seconds and minutes I wasted. It could have been so much more than :34 seconds.
And so I’ve answered my own question – there is so much more to learn. Mental toughness remains a mystery to me. I can’t grasp my brain around it. I’m hoping this break will help me figure out some motivations and methods to tackle it so that at some point I can jump far over that wall – and never look back.
“What motivates you?” It’s a question that I’ve been asked quite a few times over the last few years. People are always curious as to what made me wake up and decide I wanted to lose the weight, change my lifestyle, and become one of those crazy runner people. And I’m realizing lately, it’s a question that doesn’t hurt to ask yourself every now and then.
The week leading up to the wedding happened to also be a pretty high mileage week for me- with a sprint tri just two weeks after the big day and a half marathon the week after I had a long run, some bricks, and some pool time to get in. No problem. With the week off from work I figured I would pencil them in as a break from table assignments and sign painting.
Except that when the time came for my workouts I kicked, screamed, whined, half assed, and even ditched some of them completely. What I thought would be a welcome distraction was just another to-do… that I didn’t want anything “to-do” with. I got the bare minimum accomplished and told myself that once the wedding was over I would be back to normal.
Until the workouts after the big day felt just the same as the week before. I got really good at talking myself out of getting out the door and staying on the couch. I’d kick myself after, but that didn’t stop me from not getting it done or not trying as hard as I could have. And every time I complained about not wanting to go for a run that same question was always asked of me “Why are you doing this?”
Obviously I can’t use the “white dress” excuse anymore – but we all know by now it was always more than that. So what is it? What makes me want to get up on a Saturday morning and run 10 miles alone? Why do I come home from work, change, and head out on the bike? What motivates me to sign up for races, to run new distances, to challenge myself? While I know there’s an answer inside of me, at this very moment I don’t have a clear view of it. I’m just so tired.
I’ve been running long enough now to recognize a burnout coming. And after a summer of wedding planning, training, Run Club, and the rest of my life- it’s no surprise I’m tired. So I’m pulling myself together and rallying through the next two weeks, because that’s what a true bad ass would do. And then I’m ready for a well deserved break when I can sit back and remember all those reasons I love what I do…. from the comfort of my couch.
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.
This little old journey of mine has been made up of hundreds of moments. Some of them good, some of them bad, all of them teaching me invaluable lessons along the way. Timberman this past weekend was no exception. I think it’s safe to say I felt almost every emotion possible in a 12 hour span.
Race day started far beyond bright and early, with a wake up of 4am. I put on the clothes I had laid out the night before, checked my backpack one last time, and we headed out into the dark. Because I knew there was practically half a day before I would have to run I was nervous, but more nervous for my buddy (who was doing the full 70.3) than I was for myself. I was preoccupied for the first few hours as I watched people set up their transition areas, adjusted wetsuits, and hugged my friends goodbye as they made their way to the start. Every time I heard the air horn send a wave into the water my stomach did a flip. That sound meant the day had officially begun.
I cheered as the swimmers crawled back to shore and made their way to transition. The cyclist in our relay team headed out and I said goodbye to my friend as she took off on her bike. That’s when I realized how many hours I had to kill. And that I was alone. And that’s when the panic set in.
I wrapped my legs up in a sweatshirt (Wish I had thought to put comfy sweats over my running shorts) and curled into a ball at a picnic table. I glanced at my watch and couldn’t believe how slow time was moving. I felt my breathing get more and more panicked as I tried to envision 13.1 miles. And then in true half ass fashion, I put my head down and started to cry. I wanted it to be over, I wanted my fiancee there, I wanted my comfort beside me telling me I could do it. I wanted anything but to be sitting alone at that table staring at a war-zone transition area.
Luckily before I became an all out disaster our relay swimmer found me and snapped me out of it. We spent some time watching the elite athletes and then found a shady spot near the relay corral to wait for the bike to come in. Bless her soul for allowing me to ramble on about stupid things to calm my nerves. With no exact way of knowing how soon I could start running I paced in the corral until it was time. We exchanged the chip, high- fived each other, and I took a deep breath as I headed out. Show time.
Originally I thought that the “double loop, out and back” course would mess with my head, but I ended up appreciating it. In my mind breaking the race up into 4 5Ks seemed manageable so I forced myself to only think about one leg at a time. I took in the scenery (the spectators and signs were awesome!), kept my pace steady, and even made a friend for a while. Towards the end of the first leg I heard someone yell my name and looked up to see my buddy on her bike across the street. I smiled and felt a little piece of the alone-ness melt away.
I proudly stomped on the timing mat as I ran around the first loop. 1 down, 3 to go. On the way back I timed my water/beans perfectly, and was even able to take them down without having to stop running for the first time in my life. I’m sure the water stop volunteer appreciated my jig as I ran by. Shortly before the halfway point I heard my name again and looked up to see my buddy smiling as she ran towards me. As always, she yelled exactly what I needed to hear and I made myself run a little taller. If she could swim 1.2 miles, bike 56, be in the middle of a half marathon and STILL have the energy to yell at me – I could do this. She is my all star, always.
The turn around was the worst. All of the runners made their way down the same grassy path, with crowds on either side and the music blasting. A woman stood in the middle directing traffic: finishers to the left, 2nd lap runners to the right. I growled at her as I ran by, but tried to remind myself that the faster I ran the faster I would be there too.
5K #3 was tough. Limbs started to get heavy and tired and the realization that I was only half way done set in. The mind games rolled around my head until I crossed the timing mat again. One lap to go and I would be done. Time to dig in. Time to prove myself.
I was slow but determined those last few miles. No matter how much I wanted to stop I reminded myself how close I was, I visualized the finish line. I started going through the list of things in my head that I said I’d never be able to do- and have done. I passed my buddy one last time and as we slapped hands she yelled “GO GET THAT MEDAL!”. I smiled as I felt the tears come on again. But this time, they were warm and happy.
As I rounded the last few bends I started to hear the music again, noticed the crowd getting thicker. My smile grew bigger and bigger and as I passed the woman directing traffic I yelled “STAYING TO THE LEFT!”. She just laughed. I heard people cheering. I heard my name being yelled by my friends parents. I passed by the other two members of my relay team who were jumping up and down and cheering. I don’t think my smile could have gotten any bigger. My face actually hurt more than my legs as I crossed the finish line.
With my medal around my neck and a bottle of water in my hand I stopped, despite the crowd still around me. I only noticed two people in that park: the girl I used to be and the girl who had just finished a half marathon of a Half Ironman. The thing that seemed impossible was over. And I had done it. All on my own. I smiled, I laughed, I cried big, fat, happy tears. I was just so proud.
Despite my “speedy” long runs the last few weeks sadly I didn’t pull off an impressive PR on Sunday. I am still a very slow half marathoner. But I am starting to understand distance running. I am starting to learn what it means to dig deep and push yourself to the finish line. Starting to learn that your legs can out run your mind. Starting to believe in myself. And you know what? All of those things are worth far more than any PR.
I can’t quite put my finger on when it happened. Or how it happened. Or even why it happened. But all of a sudden, I’m starting to see some changes.
It all began with my hip. For a decent amount of time I was putting in the bare minimum, doing exercises only when I was reprimanded about them. Essentially I had regressed to the student who does as little homework as possible to get through class. When I started getting sick of this on-again-off-again pain I realized that the rehab activities were there for a reason. So I started spending more time stretching post run. Setting an alarm on my phone to remind myself to do my band walks. Taking the extra 15 minutes at night to go through my routine because believe it or not… this shit actually works! There are still times the pain comes back (I have an ice pack glued to my hip as I type this due to an intense 10 miler this weekend) but I’m starting to get back to higher mileage and more importantly, a happier runner. Lesson learned.
It’s only taken two years and god knows how many near death instances- but I’ve also finally started to get a handle on nutrition when it comes to fueling myself for workouts. I started paying attention to what I’m eating the night before long runs because I know it will affect how I feel mid run. I’m hydrating throughout the day. My days this summer are long and full and I was discovering that by the time I get home I could eat nearly the entire fridge. I started paying attention to what I was eating mid-day, and making sure that I wasn’t heading out on my evening workouts already starving. Sometimes this means eating a PB & Banana sandwich in traffic but if it keeps me from eating both mine and my fiancees dinner at 8:30pm- I’ll gladly take the extra time to pack it.
The combination of all of these things have slowly but surely been showing me that I can become a better runner. But something even more crucial, even more exciting, even more important? There’s something different going on in my head.
As my mileage started increasing a few weeks ago I decided that I needed a change of scenery for my long runs. I remembered being told about a nearby bike path/trail and decided it just might be worth the earlier wake up call. So I set the alarm a little earlier, packed myself up and headed to the park. The sun was just coming up, the air was still cool, and as I ran I felt this energy I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I was shocked and how much easier the miles passed, how much faster I ran. I returned week after week, only to find the same magic in my miles. I was convinced that the running fairies were sprinkling dust in the path over night. Negative splits during a long run? 10 miles with an average pace 2 seconds faster than my 8 mile run? Reminding myself that I’m stronger than I think I am? That shit doesn’t happen to me…. EVER.
I don’t know why I’m suddenly doing all of these things. Maybe watching all these other talented runners around me is finally getting to me. Maybe all the lessons I’ve been taught are finally sinking into my thick little skull. Or maybe, just MAYBE – I’m finally starting to see the potential in myself. We’ll see how long this lasts.
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.
As I’ve learned over the last year or so, part of what makes me a runner is my thirst for a new goal. No matter how much I declare I hate running in the thick of the miserable, it doesn’t take long before I want to find something new to work towards. So once I had worked out all my angries and lessons learned it was time to plan what to do with my summer. My hip is finally at a place where it doesn’t hurt more than it does, and I’m ready to work on getting back some “speed”. My break plus an injury really derailed any and all progress I had made from my fat days. It makes me want to cry when I think about my 26:41 5K PR (which I understand isn’t breathtaking but to me that was FAST guys!) and how now I’m applauding a pace that’s anything under a 10 minute mile. I keep telling myself that I’ll get back there- it’s just going to take some time and some hard work.
It’s crazy to think that a year ago I was deeply consumed in triathlon training (and nightmares when I woke up in the middle of the night in a panic). Unfortunately I can’t do Iron Girl this year, but I’m almost okay with it because I know that it would never compare to what I experienced last year. I’m happy with those memories for now. And while I’m not spending a large amount of my summer swimming, biking, and running I have the sprint I did last Labor Day Weekend to look forward too – hopefully faster & better this time around.
On the topic of triathlons there’s a new twist to my summer… a Half Ironman!
Well, kinda. I’m doing the run portion of a relay team… in other words, another half marathon! I’m excited because I really want to try the whole thing next summer (did I really just type that so nonchalantly? WHO AM I?) so it’s a good way for me to see what it’s like. I’m nervous at the same time. This is the first big race I have to do on my own and also without my cheerleader fiancee waiting for me every few miles. It’s going to be me and only me pushing myself for 13.1 miles. I want this to be the race where I defeat my fears and doubts and crazies. I want to prove that I CAN do it. If nothing else I’m banking on the fact that a DNF would let the rest of my team down- so hopefully that will keep me going.
If you weren’t getting tired from following my calendar … let me throw another half marathon in there.This one isn’t until October, but I’m using it as a redemption race for Chilly and Heartbreak – and I want to PR the pants off that baby.
And there you have it. A triathlon, 2 half marathons, a few other road races thrown in… oh and remember that I’m getting married in 2.5 months? Let’s just say I like to stay busy!