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.
In just three days I will put on the white dress I knew was mine from the minute I saw it. In three days I will walk down the grassy aisle, stand in front of my closest friends and family and declare my love for the boy I met eleven years ago this month. It still doesn’t feel real to me.
One would think it should have sunk in by now, since we’ve literally had the longest engagement in history (Ok maybe not the longest – but over two and a half years is a pretty long time). There were many factors in our endless engagement, some of which didn’t surface until after our decision, confirming my belief once again that everything happens for a reason. But the biggest factor was the girl I was on that bitterly cold February night.
I can make the joke now that he didn’t “slip the ring on” – because it was incredibly tight on my pudgy little finger. In the days after we got engaged I would take my ring off and assess the imprint it had left on my skin, the same way my jeans did. And I think that’s when the panic really set in. I couldn’t imagine myself in a white gown. I couldn’t think about standing in front of my closest friends and family, looking the way I did at that moment. The road from Point A to Point B was impossible.
We all know well by now that I did make it from Point A to Point B. And I couldn’t have made it there without this incredible guy by my side the entire journey. When I came home and told him that I had found a local studio that I thought would be the answer to all my problems his response was “Call them up!”. When I cried the first week because I was hungry and too sore to move he carefully portioned out my dinner for me, brought it to the table, and told me he was proud of me. He would leave water bottles in the freezer for when I got home from bootcamp that first summer. He celebrated every pound lost with me, and he reminded me of how far I had come whenever I got frustrated. He came to cheer me on at my first race, and has rarely missed one since. When I finished my first double digit run I crawled into the house to a card and a box of Lush bath supplies because he was so proud of me for sticking with it. I smile when I catch him talking about me to someone because even though he doesn’t know a thing about running, I can hear in his voice just how proud he is.
Sometimes I feel incredibly selfish for the amount of time I absorb in working out, training, running, racing. I feel guilty that I go to bed early on Friday nights because I have a long run on Saturday. I feel bad that sometimes I’m too tired and sore to do anything besides lay on the couch. But I know that at the end of the day I’m not just doing this for me. I’m doing this for us, for our future. Someday I want to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. I’m doing this because someday I want to be that mom whose kids are used to Saturday mornings in their jammies in the running stroller. I’m doing this because I want to show my children what it means to be strong, to face challenges, and to take care of your body. I want to grow old with the love of my life in the best way possible.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to put on that gorgeous white gown on Saturday. I know how much sweat, how many tears, how many miles and inches and pounds I have fought through to get to that dress. But the truth is- I’m more excited for what comes after that white dress. Excited for this new adventure together, excited to see what comes next. Andy has never seen me for anything other than the person he loves, even my worst times. But a relationship is that much stronger when you learn how to love yourself just as much.
And so in just three days I will begin both the shortest- and longest race of my life. A race that isn’t about how fast I get to the finish line, but enjoying it for as long as I possibly can. But just like everything else these days, it’s just right, left, right. 🙂
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.
My birthday is always a bittersweet day because I consider it the last hurrah of summer. I know that right behind it are cool mornings, earlier sunsets and pumpkin everything. This year my birthday symbolizes even more changes: the last few days as a “single” woman, a brand new age group for races, a whole new decade in my life. That’s right – today I turn 30.
I know that a lot of people freak out over the jump from your twenties to your thirties but I actually feel ready for it. I look back at who I was when I turned 20 versus who I am today and all that happened in between – and I am astounded. In my twenties I graduated from college, I went through the growing pains of independence and becoming an adult. I got a little too drunk with my friends, I spent a little too much money on cover charges and bar tabs. I bought my own car. I moved through jobs and career ladders, eventually stumbling into an organization I wake up excited to start my day at. I fell in love, and eventually realized it was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I watched as my friends fell in love, watched as our circle moved from dance floors to kitchen tables in new homes. I discovered fitness, health, happiness, confidence. I became a runner. I ran my first 5K, dozens more road races, my first triathlon, THREE half marathons. Despite the ups and downs of the last ten years I will never look back at my twenties with regret.
So bring on the thirties. Bring on married life and all the love, happiness, and hard shit that comes with a new last name and a wedding band. Bring on real adulthood – mortgage payments, home improvement, and children (that statement is officially petrifying). Bring on more kitchen table parties, for that means our circle of friends is growing older together. Bring on even crazier fitness goals – the ones that make your eyes glisten because you never imagined that they would ever happen to you. Bring on proving that I can get even faster, even stronger, even more confident as I get older.
30, I’m ready for you.
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.
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.
When I signed up for the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon 10 weeks ago I had great plans. I was ready to train hard, push myself, and shave a respectable amount of time off my first half marathon. I survived the first time around, I was ready to thrive. Obviously that plan faded quickly.
What took it’s place was a lot of ups and downs. Days when I felt strong, and days when I felt like I’d never be able to pull it together. Small victories in the form of 3 miles, then 4 miles, followed by 6, 8, 10, 11. Runs when I couldn’t keep going and runs where I finished in total awe of what I had pushed through. Night after night of going through my new “routine” (stretch, foam roll, ice), and mornings where it was clearly obvious that I had forgotten to do it the night before. So much stretching, so much yoga, so much more paying attention to my body than I’ve ever done before.
It took quite a while to accept that this half isn’t going to be a rockstar performance. In fact I still can’t say that I’ve fully come to accept it. I still hop on and off of the “why run it if I can’t race it?” train every now and then. But then I think about that panic stricken moment in the Orthopedic office and I am so greatful that I’m going to get to stand at that start line in. And, god willing, cross the finish line too.
Despite all the tears and frustration it took to get here, there’s a lot to be excited about in 11 days. Excited to be a part of a big, brand new race. Excited for a sweet medal. Excited to have so many familiar faces to look for. Excited to run on part of the most historic (and notorious) course. Excited to run past the iconic Johnny Kelley statue that until now I’ve only seen in pictures. Excited to be the one running past the spot I’ve stood in for two years cheering. Excited that I’ll have some of my favorite supporters to look for. Excited that I get to call myself a half marathoner for a second time. Excited that at the end of the day, I get to go for a 13.1 mile run with one of my best friends.
And no matter what kind of digging, or how long it takes to cross that finish line, I’m already proud of myself. I could have thrown in the towel weeks ago. I could have left the doctor’s office that day in March and passed off my number to another 29 year old female. But I wanted this race. I wanted to prove to myself that I could run 13.1 miles again. I wanted that sense of accomplishment. And in 11 days… I’m going to do just that.
“You can be anywhere when your life begins.
You meet the right person and anything is possible.”
I’ve never been one who can recite dialogues or sputter off movie quotes so it amazes me that a line from a teenage movie has stuck in my head for so long. And when I think back to April 4th, 2012 it immediately comes back to mind. Clearly on that chilly spring night, a part of my life was just beginning.
A year ago today I sat here and told you how I had just climbed my own personal Mount Everest. I had accomplished what was at one point in my mind was the un-thinkable. The evidence could be seen in my face, in my body, in my clothes, in my smile. I had fought a battle, and I had won. I thought I had it all figured out, that from here on out it was all downhill.
And now here I am, a second year gone by. To the eye it appears that not much has changed. In fact- I’ll confess that I haven’t budged out of the same 5 pound weight range for the last 365 days. And while you might consider that a disappointment the truth is it is an even greater victory to celebrate. Losing weight is one thing. Maintaining it is a whole new ballgame. It means this isn’t just a phase anymore. This is my life.
For several months I would wake up in a panic that I would look in the mirror and my old body would be back. That this was just all a big dream. After a year of maintenance I now know… this IS my body. I get to keep it. I get to use it to do all of these amazing things I never dreamed I would be doing. All it asks in return is that I take care of it.
Success in year two can’t be measured in simply pounds or inches. It’s measured in new experiences, in accomplishments. In 10Ks, half marathons, triathlons. It can be seen in my confidence, in my personality, in my happiness.
Maybe some day I’ll stop remembering April 4th. I’ll forget what I was wearing and how nervous I was. Maybe someday it will just be another day out of the year. It’s already getting hard to distinguish between what happened in year one and year two. It’s already difficult to remember what I did before I spent my days running, swimming, downward-dogging. The girl in the “before pictures” is becoming more and more of a distant memory, like someone stuck Kathleen in a fat suit. And while at some point I imagine this will all just be another chapter in the story of my life, for now I will remember. I will remember all those details, and all those milestones. I will celebrate happiness, strength, confidence. I will smile at the fact that on the night of April 4th I had no idea what was in store for me.
My story isn’t a “happily-ever-after”. It’s a “happily-as-you’re-gonna-work-for-it”. It’s not a story of magic tricks but of hard work, and not giving up. My fairy godmother didn’t cast any spells- she simply believes in me. She pushes me, and challenges me, she inspires me to keep going. My story is full of ups and downs, of challenges and successes. Tears of frustration and of pride. And the best part is? It doesn’t end here. My story has still just begun.