Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Runner Giving Thanks

Just four days before Thanksgiving and five days before my 32nd birthday and I am asking myself, where did this year go? It is hard to believe that 2010 is coming to a close in 41 more days. While many folks love this time of the year, I have to be honest and say that I am not really exhilarated by it all. I often think that holidays are so overrated...full of unnecessary stress, countless parties that have no real meaning and purpose, pressure to buy meaningless gifts for everyone from the co-worker to the long-lost cousin, a frantic shopping day called Black Friday full of crazy shoppers, long lines at all my favorite stores, and an overdose of cookies, cakes, pies, and all things sugary...just not my cup of tea.

Call me Scrooge, but I just don't get all hyped up about presents, stockings, Christmas music, lights, egg nog, collard greens, and turkey. Well, I don't discriminate against Thanksgiving or Christmas, I treat all of the holidays the same. My husband and I don't get too worked up over any of the holidays because they all seem superficial and too commercialized, often losing their true meaning. We also believe it is fundamental to give thanks, express our love and admiration, show care and concern, and give to others all year round not just on February 14th or December 25th. Okay, so I am digressing and you probably don't care how I feel about the holidays.

Well, despite my apathy towards this time of the year, I do like to use this time to take an inventory of my life and to count my blessings. I try my best to do this on a regular and consistent basis. However, Thanksgiving reminds me of the value of doing so.

Reflecting on 2010, I must give thanks for all of my blessings. I became engaged and married to the most wonderful man in a matter of just eight months. (That sounds like I just met him in February, we had been dating for almost four years when we became engaged.) I also ran three of the biggest races in my life this year which included two half marathons and a full marathon. Overall, I have been blessed with a year full of love, peace, health, and happiness.

While this has been a phenomenal year, I am not going to lie and say that it hasn't brought challenges and obstacles. It most certainly has. It has included illnesses and sudden deaths resulting in the lost of close family and friends which were devastating. Nonetheless, I have tried to remain optimistic and I feel beyond blessed at this point in my life. I have a phenomenal husband, an amazing family, wonderful friends, three jobs that I really love, good health, a roof over my head, and enough clothes for a family of six. What more could I ask for? Well, I would like a warmer pair of running gloves for the pending freezing temperatures and I would really like another North Face full-zip fleece for lounging around the house but really, NOTHING!!

Well, I was inspired by a fellow athlete on Dailymile who shared her post about a runner giving thanks. Well, I thought it was awesome and I wanted to follow suit. So, what particular things make my life more enjoyable as a runner? Well, here is a list of a few things that I am thankful for, in no particular order:

-My Garmin 405: It is simply amazing. I have only had it for about 6 months but it is hard to believe that I have been running for all these years without it. It helps keep me focused on my runs and it tracks my pace, distance, and heart rate providing me with motivation to push myself farther and faster.

-Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews: They taste fabulous! They are great for my long runs and quite honestly, they are just good when you want something sweet and fruity! Love them!!!

-Fat Free Chocolate Syrup: It makes my post-run protein shakes taste amazing.

-My Ipod: It truly is a wonderful invention. Don't you remember those days of trying to run with a Discman? Don't act like you didn't! You remember going to the gym trying to decide which one or two CDs you wanted to workout with. Well, thank goodness for the Ipod. Just last night, I was creating a new playlist to serve as my motivation for my run this morning. I never run with my Ipod during races but it is my lifeline for my training runs! Thank you, Apple!

-Dri-Fit Clothing: Again, another incredible invention that makes running so much more enjoyable in all four seasons. I am particular thankful for the Nike Dri-Fit line because their shirts and pants are actually long enough for my tall body!! My running tights don't look like running capris!

-My Health: I am beyond thankful to be blessed with good health that allows me to put two feet on the ground each morning and keep going. We often take our physical (and emotional) health for granted, not realizing that it could be gone in an instant. Some days I run simply because I can and I am thankful for that.

-My Husband: I am thankful to have such a wonderful and supporting husband who allows me to neglect some of my responsibilities to pursue my love of running. I work ALOT and he helps reduce the burden by helping out at home and with my work. He also understands when I sacrifice our time together in order to get a good night sleep or a long run in. He is also the best cheerleader, photographer, and my number one fan. He believes in me when I don't even believe in myself. He has been to almost every race that I have done, often waking up at 4:00a.m. to drive to the race. I heart him!!

-My Friends and Family: I don't run with a running group and all of my runs are done solo. Thus, I am thankful for my family and friends who allow me to vent and listen to my crazy running stories. They always offer their love and support even when they don't quite understand why I get up at 6:00a.m. to run 15 miles. For those that are runners, I am particularly grateful for their mentoring and advice over the years. For those who are not, I am appreciative of their compassion and empathy as I share my joys and pains of running. Bless your heart for even listening to me rant and rave about all of my races, buying new running shoes, black toenails, runner's knee, achy back, hip pain, and the list goes on!!

-Dailymile: Another incredible invention that allows me to track every workout! I use to write down every single workout in a notebook trying to determine my pace and calories burned, it is no longer necessary with Dailymile. Not only it is a great tracking tool, it is also an awesome social network of athletes who provide me with inspiration to continue to pursue my goals and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Thank you for all of your support!! You help to get me out of bed some days!!

-Considerate Drivers: I truly appreciate those drivers who take the time to look both ways and allow me to cross the street. Running can be dangerous anytime of the day and I am thankful for those drivers who express concern about my safety and are willing to wait a few seconds for me to cross the street.

-Sunny and Calm Weather: As a runner, the weather obviously plays a fundamental part in every determines what I wear, when I run, and sometimes, even my mood. While it is nice to wake up to sunny weather during my training runs, it is truly awesome to be blessed with great weather on race day. I am still thanking God that I didn't have to run 26.2 miles in the rain on October 17th = )

-Races: I love every aspect of races. I love the camaraderie of the fellow runners who provide their support, I love the amazing spectators who cheer us on, I love the volunteers who sacrifice their time, and I love the sense of accomplishment that I feel from completing a race. I also don't mind the free t-shirts, medals, and post-race food!!

So, for all these things, big and small, I give thanks!! I am thankful for an awesome year thus far and I look forward to the years to come!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reflecting on the Big M's: My Five Cents

Almost one month after my first marathon and 13 days into marriage, I am still wondering if it is day or night. The past few weeks have disappeared like a thief in the night and I have been frantically searching for this time bandit. Consequently, I feel as though I've had minimal time to reflect on these monumental experiences of completing a marathon and entering matrimonial bliss. The past week my husband and I spent our honeymoon in Jamaica and it was the first opportunity that we had in a long time to simply rest, relax, and rejuvenate. Days of jerk chicken, "no problem man," feeling irie, pina coladas, walks along the beach, and warm weather were just what the doctor ordered for both of us.

During those days in the Caribbean as we lounged at the beach, chilled at the poolside bar, drank a glass of wine at dinner; my husband and I contemplated the past few months and took stock of our lives. I recall sitting at dinner, my eyes flooded with tears of joy, telling my husband, "I feel so very blessed." Thinking back on that moment, there are no better words that can describe how I feel about my life right now. Feelings of gratitude and appreciation disable me and I am frozen in this very moment. I feel beyond fortunate to have completed my first marathon, one of the most mentally and physically challenging experiences in my life. I am thankful to have had the strength, courage, determination, will-power, health, and support to finish the race. Additionally, I feel so privileged to have married my best friend in the company of my family and closest friends. I am thankful to have found such a loving and committed partner to share the rest of my life with. What more could I ask for?

As previously noted, it has been almost one month since the marathon, but the day remains etched in my mind like it was yesterday. My first marathon was remarkable... The weather was incredible, the course was beautiful, the spectators were amazing, and the fellow runners were supportive and encouraging. I can recall the first couple of miles of the race as we crossed the Ambassador Bridge at sunrise and I was in awe of the beauty that surrounded awe of the complete experience amidst thousands of runners. As we ran through Canada, Corktown, Indian Village, Belle Isle, and downtown Detroit; I thought about the months of training leading up to the race but I ultimately allowed myself to get lost in the moment. I thanked each volunteer every time I grabbed a cup of water or Gatorade. I took the time to "high five" the spectators along the course and even sang along with some of the bands. I appreciated the high school students who had sacrificed their Sunday morning to entertain and motivate all of the runners. I chatted with other marathoners who were also seeking to finish their first marathon. I allowed myself to enjoy each and every moment...

While I sing praises for such a wonderful marathon day, I have to admit that it was full of its challenges and obstacles. As I shared before, I have struggled with several cases of runner's knee and you guessed it, this race experience would be no different. I had been experiencing knee discomfort the week preceding the marathon and started race day with the same level of discomfort. However, I loaded my knee up with KT tape and was determined to put two feet on the ground. I started the race just hoping to finish and manage whatever pain came my way. Well, it was quite possible until mile 17. At that moment, the pain became unbearable. I stopped in my tracks and headed to the sidewalk. I attempted to massage the knee, stretch out my muscles, and began praying that I could manage the next nine miles. Well, to keep a long story short, the next nine miles were atrocious, consisting of stints of walking, jogging, and running. While I was determined to cross the finish line, there were moments that I felt defeated and wanted to quit. However, the support and encouragement that I received from the fellow runners and the spectators along with my stubbornness, transported me to the finish line. The last mile was just brutal but I was invincible... As I came to the last tenth of a mile, the tears rolled down my face and I threw up my hands feeling proud, ecstatic, humble, and thankful to finish the race. My final time was 4:50:53. While it wasn't the time I had been anticipating, nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment that I felt for achieving this goal of mine.

So our wedding day came and went and I've been wondering if I was even present..but I have the video and my signature on the marriage certificate to verify my attendance. I was forewarned that the day would whiz by, but I wasn't prepared for this kind of swiftness. I couldn't believe how rapidly both the ceremony and reception began and ended. I've already watched the video just so I can relive the day. Despite the fleeting time, it was an amazing day, my feelings indescribable. Tears streamed down my face as my brothers walked me down the aisle and I met my soon-to-be husband. My mother offered an impromptu speech at the reception expressing her love for my husband and her support for our marriage while paying homage to my was simply beautiful...Overall, it was a wonderful day bursting with love, joy, and happiness.

Thirteen days into marriage and my life is transforming. While I am surely a spring chicken when it comes to marriage experience and any matrimonial advice for that matter. Although, I must share that I have already learned many invaluable lessons in less than two weeks. I am learning how to be a wife, to love more deeply, and to completely share my life with someone else...I am thrilled with every moment. I am amazed at the revolution that has occurred within our relationship and I am truly looking forward to the days, weeks, months, and years to come...

So, at the end of it all, a marathon and a marriage was a phenomenal way to end my October! Yes, I am hoping for more marathons but praying for just one long, happy marriage! = )

Monday, October 4, 2010

Runner's High

Just 12 days before the Detroit Free Press Marathon and I have to say that I am truly ecstatic. For the first time in months, I am truly looking forward to this experience. I am feeling more confident than ever that I CAN tackle this goal of mine.

Experiencing numerous peaks and valleys during the past four months of training, my enthusiasm for running my first marathon has slightly wavered. Some moments I am bursting at the seams with excitement for October 17th, while other times, I think I just want to throw in the towel. Well, I apologize now for my oscillation. Suffering a knee injury for the second time in a row during my marathon quest has really put a damper on my self-confidence and my overall zest for this endeavor. Okay, call me a quitter but there have been times when I simply want to give up. The sacrifices have appeared to outweigh the benefits. My training regime has been overwhelming and even annoying at times. Running, stretching, strengthening, eating, resting; running stretching, strengthening, eating, resting; and running, stretching...!!! Do you see the monotony of it all? Can you understand my plight?!?! Despite this fluctuation between love and hate for running my first marathon, I have continued the journey. Okay, okay!! I times, it has been with indifference.

Thankfully, this past weekend changed my apathetic attitude. One race put it all into perspective. On Sunday, October 3rd, I ran my 2nd half marathon, the Brooksie Way. It had been over three months since I had run any races and almost four months since I ran my first half marathon. Like any race, I was feeling quite anxious the night before and concerned about the pending weather conditions predicting rain with cold temperatures in the low 40's. Nonetheless, I followed my pre-race routine of veggie deep dish pizza for dinner, stretching, meditation, and checking all of my race gear. On the morning of race day, my fiance and I woke up around 4:30a.m. to head to the race site. We arrived at the race shortly after 7:00a.m. to gloom and chilly temperatures. In case you were wondering, cold and dark doesn't make for ideal race conditions. However, I fought the negativity and tried to stay optimistic about my second attempt at a half marathon. While there was a small part of me hoping to reach a PR, the larger part of me simply wanted to finish the race and gain confidence about running the Detroit marathon in just two weeks. As we got closer to the start of the race, the clouds faded and the sun appeared. My fiance and our Yorkie, Sylvester, provided their usual hugs and kisses for good luck and I headed to the start line.

The race began and I took off with the crowd. The temperature was chilly and the winds were blowing. However, the sun was still shimmering and I was merely thankful for no rain. Within the first mile, I felt a sudden urge to go to the bathroom even though I had gone twice in the last 50 minutes. I fought off the urge and continued running, managing to avoid bathroom breaks for the entire run. (I realize now that this must be nervous energy.) So, the first six miles I felt pretty good as I ran through the streets and some trails. Around mile seven, I encountered the infamous hills of the course. I felt myself slowing down slightly, but I still managed to maintain a fairly decent pace. The next three miles were challenging as I continued to face hills and even a dirt road. Through it all, I felt confident about my running ability and I carried the torch all the way to the finish line...

Throughout the race, I reminisced about my last half marathon and the struggles that I experienced during that event. The last three miles seemed unbearable and I hardly had the strength to carry on. I even stopped to walk a couple of times along with a pause for a bathroom break. However, the Brooksie was atypical. The last three miles I felt stronger and faster than ever. I was amazed at my endurance, speed, and more importantly my confidence in running. I felt like a runner. I believed that I could do it...

As I faced the obstacles of the course, I thought about the months of training preceding this race, all of the early mornings logging in miles when I rather be sleeping, all of the strength training workouts at the gym and at home when I rather be spending time with my family and friends, all of the stretching before bed each night when I really just want to curl up with a good book, and all of my attempts to follow a well-rounded diet when really I just want to indulge in Mike and Ikes and all of my favorite treats. So when it was all said and done, the benefits did outweigh the sacrifices...

Just earlier that week, I had hit a running milestone of running 150 miles in one month, a feat I had yet to accomplish. Consequently, I was already on a runner's high as I started the race. This enhanced my confidence and elevated my overall positivity for that day. I also knew that after this race, I would be achieving another landmark of running 45 miles in one week...

Yes, I have been running for years but sometimes I simply doubt myself and my capabilities as a runner. I become overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and fear and I lose sight of my goal. I simply give up rather than finding the tenacity to push through and carry on. These past months, I held on and I refused to let go...I was amazed at the outcome.

Well, to kill the anticipation and to end the story, I finished the race with negative splits and a final time of 1:47:58. Five minutes faster than my last half marathon, I set a PR for this event. I wish I could provide adequate descriptors to illustrate how I felt as I crossed the finish line. I reckon there are some moments that you just have to experience...

To sum it all up, I walked away feeling more confident than ever about running my first marathon and my overall ability as a runner. Feelings of pride, modesty, self-assurance, and gratitude overcame me. I thought to myself, "this is what running is all about." I was extremely thankful for the experience. I was thankful for my health and strength. I was also thankful for my wonderful partner who supports my goals unconditionally and allows me to make so many running sacrifices...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Caught Up in the Numbers?

Just 43 days until our wedding and 30 days until my first marathon, I can't help but to be obsessed with counting, right? Over three months ago, I began the journey of training once again for my first marathon. So throughout my training, I am constantly counting and feeling a tad bit obsessed with numbers. I track my miles, pace, calories, carbs, protein, and fat and try to ensure that I am following my training schedule. How many miles did I run? What was my pace? What were my splits? How many days did I run this week? What was my carb, protein, and fat intake for the day? How many reps did I do for stretching and strengthening? I am constantly logging my miles in Dailymile and tracking all of my workouts. Numbers, numbers, numbers!!!

Also, during the last two months, my fiance and I made the decision to change our wedding date from June 25, 2011 to October 30, 2010. No, I am not pregnant and yes, we are a little crazy. The bottom line is that we are both beyond ready to say our "I do's." Next summer just seemed too far away. As I plan all of the wedding details, it's back to numbers. How many are on the guest list? How many have sent their RSVP? What's our budget? How much is that cake topper? How much are those flowers? How many tables will be in the reception hall? How many centerpieces do we need? What are the measurements for the sweetheart table? So, here we are in the midst of it all, fanatical about numbers and of course, I can't help but count down the days to two of the most epic events in my life.

As I've become obsessive compulsive with counting, I can't help but wonder if I am missing the bigger picture. Fixated on the details, am I forgetting to enjoy the moment?? Yes, I am thrilled that we are becoming husband and wife. I look forward to the day that we express our love and commitment among our family and friends and truly began our lives together. I also can not wait to cross the finish line of my first marathon, a lifelong goal of mine. I am beyond excited to reach this running milestone. Yes, let's be honest here, there are days that I simply want to fast forward to October 17th and October 30th because the anticipation is torturing me. However, shouldn't I be savoring each day?? Well, absolutely. It reminds me that life is a journey not a destination. It is essential to live in the present and cherish each and every moment. Time is not promised to anyone...

Over Labor Day weekend, we planned a trip home to visit my mother. We spent a few days at home helping my mother around the house and just enjoying our time together. As we plan for my bridal shower and the wedding, we have been going through old photos of when I was younger. As my mother was searching for photos, she found a bag of old pictures of my father when he was in the military and stationed in Vietnam. Some of the pictures were dated from 1966 and 1969. It was so nostalgic and sentimental to get a closer look at my father's life. These were pictures that neither my mother or I had ever seen before. It was an opportunity to not only learn more about my father's life but to also honor his life and legacy. His time on earth seemed to end so suddenly and I often wonder why I didn't treasure more of the time we shared together. We often think we simply have more time but so often we don't.

Within the past week, we lost a close friend of ours who was 34 years old and married with 3 children. She went in for a minor surgery and later suffered a seizure, went into a coma, and abruptly passed away. We were shocked and saddened by such a tragic loss. Once again, we realized that time waits for no one and tomorrow is never promised.

This past week, I spent a couple of days on the southeastern coast of NC for a work trip. I oddly enough brought two right shoes and decided not to join the barefoot running craze so I didn't run while in NC. I have to admit that I was angry about my oversight but it truly was a blessing in disguise. I spent two days with 3 fabulous ladies and spent my "running" time just walking on the beach enjoying conversations with women I came to appreciate and admire. While I did wear my Garmin to track our miles during our walk, I had to remind myself that it wasn't about numbers. I wasn't counting down to anything, I wasn't training, I wasn't racing. I was merely enjoying the moment as we watched the sun rise above the ocean. As I walked down the beach, I felt the sand in between my toes and the waves crash upon my feet. I smelled the salt water and collected a few seashells while taking pleasure in the companionship of some remarkable women. This is what life is all about...

With all of this rambling, what's my point you ask?

Well, I wholeheartedly believe that life is about setting and achieving our goals, believing in ourselves, and accomplishing our dreams. It's often about transitioning to the next phase of our lives. There is always something to get to...there are details each step of the way that we must tend to. However, when it is all said and done, life is about letting go of it all. Forget the numbers and merely take delight in this very moment...remembering the true meaning of it all.

On October 17th, I hope to run my first marathon. While numbers are an essential part of training, on that day nothing matters more to me than crossing that finish line and accomplishing my goal. It will be a moment of strength, humility, gratefulness, honor, and pride. On October 30th, I hope to marry my best friend. On that day, it won't be about cupcakes, centerpieces, programs, flowers, and all of the crazy details that we get caught up with. That moment will be about our love, admiration, commitment, and partnership.

So as you contemplate the next chapter in your life, remember that life truly is a journey not a destination...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Definition of a Runner

After I finished the half-marathon, I knew it was just a matter of weeks before I would have to begin my official marathon training. I wanted a slight break from my training regime but I knew I needed to maintain my running base. Thus, I continued to run about 4 days a week but turned the mileage down a few notches. During these weeks, I assessed my most recent accomplishment, feeling proud and victorious while simultaneously anticipating my next running journey. As I begun to share with my family and friends that I was once again training for a marathon, some questioned my reasons for doing so. Quite frankly, I began to wonder as well. What is this relentless force that always drives me back to this goal? Why am I so compelled to run a marathon? What if I never run one? Does it really matter when it is all said and done?

For many years, I have defined myself as a runner; yet, underneath it all, I don't feel as though I can wholeheartedly claim that title. While I have been a "serious" runner for years, something has always felt like it was missing. I have tracked every single run for the past 8 years. I have increased my mileage over time and occasionally focused on speed work, challenging myself to go farther and faster. I've even ran some races (several 5ks, a 10k, and now a half-marathon.) However, no matter what running milestone I reach, there's always a craving for something more...

I often hear people designate themselves as runners while their running routine consists of merely a few miles every few months. There are even those people who might occasionally run a 5k or two for a good cause, but otherwise they allocate minimal time for running. They have not accrued enough miles to experience the ultimate highs and lows of a runner. So, are these folks truly runners? Well, who I am to judge? However, this does bring up the question of what is a runner. Is the title based upon quantity or even quality of miles? Is there a specific requirement to compete in races? Is there some type of running checklist that one should reference before placing "runner" in their biography on Twitter or Facebook? Or, is it simply based upon our own personal experiences and feelings as it relates to running? I don't know what the answer is. I like to think that this is based upon our own personal assessments and calculations but this is merely my opinion.

For me, I feel as though I am not worthy of this title until I run a marathon. Some may say this is complete nonsense and that might be the case. However, there's no denying that something is missing in my running memoirs. I truly believe that there is a certain level of satisfaction and delight derived from this accomplishment that one can not find elsewhere. Again, why am I yearning for such fulfillment? Maybe it's the perfectionist in me that is never quite happy with the status quo or that part of me that is always driven to do more. Let's be honest here, how many people can say that they successfully ran a marathon? So, I am just being narcissistic by wanting this triumph?

As I contemplated this next chapter of running, I couldn't help but ask myself, why must I run a marathon and will this be enough? Yes, I can not wait to cross the finish line and obtain that medal that verifies that I completed 26.2 miles and adds substance to my running chronicles. Although, the truth of the matter is that this goal of mine is bigger than any T-shirt, medal, title, or label.

This goal of mine brings invaluable lessons that have not only enlightened but redefined my existence. This goal of mine reminds me that life is way too short. We often live and ultimately die with so many regrets and tomorrow is never promised. Thus, we must truly seize each moment and follow our dreams.

This goal of mine reminds me that life is about pushing ourselves farther than we ever thought was possible. It is through these trials that fundamental self-discovery and analysis can occur. There have been moments in my training that I simply want to give up, but somehow I find the courage and the tenacity to carry on. This perseverance has also transferred into many other aspects of my life.

This goal of mine reminds me that optimal health is not always guaranteed. My father struggled with Prostate Cancer for nine years until his untimely death; my fiance has faced numerous health challenges that resulted in surgeries; my best friend has underwent two surgeries for back problems before the age of 30; all reminding me to be thankful and grateful for my health. Thus, I savor the fact that I can simply put two feet on the ground and run each morning.

This goal of mine strengthens that voice inside me that says "I can do this." Struggling with issues of insecurity, self-doubt, and lack of self-confidence for many years, this goal challenges me to believe in myself no matter what obstacle I might face. This goal reminds me of the importance of faith and believing in my ability to accomplish phenomenal things.

So as I venture into this marathon journey, I remind myself that this experience is greater than one might initially perceive. It is a chapter in my book that simply put, allows me to become a better and stronger person with each step that I take...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mission Accomplished

...and we're off. The half-marathon began and I took off with the crowd. I had placed myself with the 9-minute pacing group at the start line since I was hoping to finish the half-marathon in about 2 hours. Within the first two miles, I felt a sudden urge to use the bathroom. I played it off as just nervousness and anxiety and I refused to make a bathroom stop. Despite the persistent urge to go to the bathroom, the first 9 miles were surprisingly wonderful. I had found a group of runners that I could pace myself with and I was unexpectedly averaging about 8:15-8:20 minute miles. I approached a few hills during the race and I could feel my pace slow down a little but I immediately checked my Garmin and kept up with "my group." During these initial miles, I took stock of the moment. It was the largest and the farthest race that I had ran thus far. I observed all the runners- young, old, small, large, male, and female. Some were running in solitude as I was while others were running in groups. I was simply in awe at that moment. There is a certain level of camaraderie and fellowship that is felt among all runners, whether we personally know each other or not. Without any words spoken, we understand both the joys and pains of running. Thus, I relished in the moment and felt proud and thankful to be present.

Along the way, there were several checkpoints where fans where cheering us on. I noticed small children holding signs honoring and encouraging their parents and loved ones to keep running. I observed residents along the course sitting with lawn chairs and applauding us for our efforts. It was my motivation and inspiration to keep it moving...but then it happened. Around mile 10, I lost the thrill of the moment and my legs seemed to be confused. They must have thought I was running a 10-mile race because they were hastily telling me to stop. My legs literally didn't want to move. I had to fight the urge to stop and walk. In addition, my need to use the bathroom had become stronger and even more prevalent, so I realized that this wasn't just nervousness.

At mile 11, I listened to my body and I had to make the much dreaded bathroom break. I also listened to my legs and the voice of doubt and began walking. My "running group" had left behind so I felt comfortable with taking a brief break from running. (They couldn't see me.) About 45 seconds later as the runners sprinted past me, that other voice of will and determination yelled loud and clear, "you can do this." So, I started running once again, I told myself that there was less than two miles to go. I checked my Garmin and I was back at my 8:20 pace and feeling good. As I approached the last mile, I saw the upcoming hill. My voice of doubt and fear whispered in my ear, "You're exhausted, just walk for a few seconds." So, I did. As the band was playing and the fans were cheering us on, I started to walk. The runners were passing me by with less than a mile to go. Then, I remembered the old mantra that my brother use to tell me, "just 3 steps." He would tell me to just focus on the next 3 steps when I would want to give up during our runs. He said that this would help me perservere through the difficult times and convince myself that I could do it. So, that's what I did. I counted, "1,2,3,1,2,3,1,2,3..." And there it was...the moment of truth, what I had been anxiously awaiting for, what I had spent the last four months training for, what I had sacrificed for...the finish line. I ran as fast as I could, thinking "you're there." As I crossed the finish line, I thought, "mission accomplished." With a final time of 1:53:13, I had not only survived my first half marathon but I had finished under two hours. Once again, I knew that I had made my father proud...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Keeping the Faith

(Sylvester and I before the race!)

As race day was approaching, I was becoming increasingly anxious for the half-marathon. Memories of my failed marathon attempt began to surface along with feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. Despite my years of running and my most recent four months of training, I was beginnning to question if I could even run the half-marathon. Have I trained enough? Am I really prepared? What if I get sick? What if I trip and fall? What if I can't make it to the finish line? All these questions lingered in my mind.

The week of the race I started to check the weather forecast, secretly hoping for inclement weather so I might have a cop out. I was so afraid of failing once again and I didn't know if I had the courage to make it to the starting line, yet alone the finish line. Suddenly, I was reminded of that voice that lives inside me that always loses the faith. It's the part of me that wants to give up, the part of me that is afraid to take a chance and simply afraid of the unknown. I have struggled with this inner voice for years and I vowed that I would never let this voice of fear discourage me from obtaining my goals. Thus, I knew I had to do it. Even it turned out to be the worst race ever, I still had to give it a try.

The morning of the race, my fiance and I along with our Yorkie, Sylvester (named after my father), woke up bright and early and drove to Dexter for the race. The forecast was calling for a slight chance of rain and the sky was full of clouds. Upon arrival, I saw hundreds, even thousands of runners stretching, jogging, and preparing for the course. I was terrified. The weather was a bit chilly that morning, so the three of us sat in the car for a few minutes while I tried to mentally prepare for the race. Sylvester gave me a few kisses telling me, "You can do it, Mommy." My fiance gave me his vote of support and encouragement and took a few pictures to capture the moment. I finally told myself that I had to get out of the car in order to run the race, so I did. We headed to the start line and patiently waited for the race to commence. My fiance took a few more pictures and we casually conversated with a few fellow runners. Within a few minutes, the race officials told us that there was going to be a 30 minute delay to the race due to a fallen tree along the course. Covertly, I was hoping that the race would get cancelled. At least this way, I wouldn't be a quitter. Hey, I can't run a race if it gets cancelled, right? (I would later find out that come hell or high water, most races don't get cancelled.) So, about 25 minutes later we head back to the starting point, much to my dismay. The butterflies were still flying around in my stomach and I felt a sudden urge to vomit. I fought the feelings of anxiety and I reminded myself of the importance of faith. I had to believe that I could do this. I had physically and mentally prepared for this day and I was willing to give it my best effort...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Here We Go Again

With a renewed perspective on life, I was gradually rebuilding my relationship with running. My admiration and love for the sport was beginning to surface once again. I was starting to remember just what running meant to me. It's a fundamental part of who I am. I can't describe myself without including the designation of runner. It's a part of my being. It's a feeling that I can't always translate into words, but it's felt every time I put on my running shoes and put my feet on the ground (despite whether or not that run is good, bad, or indifferent.)

With the commencement of the spring season and a much needed interruption from the horrendous Michigan winters, I was running more outside. As I stepped out each morning in the brisk air, I thought to myself, "Running, I do love you." I had fallen in love with running again and this time, I was determined that nothing would come between us. As we restored our relationship, I decided that we would work on our communication, remain committed despite our occasional disagreements, and focus on some long-term goals. I was still determined to obtain my ultimate goal of running a marathon and I thought we would begin the voyage by completing my first half.

Without much hesitation, I signed up for the Ann Arbor-Dexter Half-Marathon and began my training regime. As my mileage increased, my body started to experience some aches and pains but nothing that shouldn't be expected as one trains for longer races. As the weeks progressed, I was having doubts about this whole half-marathon thing. However, still bursting with motivation and perseverance, there was no question that I would carry on. As I got closer to the race date, I decided to register for the Detroit Free Press Marathon. My initial thought was to wait to uncover the results of my half-marathon, but I decided against it. What if the race was a complete failure? I couldn't allow that to deter me from my dreams of running the full...So I did it. I registered for the race and continued my journey to the half. Just a few weeks from race day, I was experiencing more bumps and hiccups with my training (both physical and mental.) Calf pain, knee pain, fatigue, anxiety, and skepticism all seem to resurface but I couldn't let it hinder me...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life Must Go On

While I was proud of my accomplishment, the months, weeks, and days that followed the race would be the most challenging times in my life. Each day seemed overwhelming with feelings of hopelessness and despair. Many nights, I experienced nightmares that relived my father's most feeble moments and reminded me of my helpnessness in it all. A place, a person, a picture, a song and even just a word would remind me of him. A constant void remained in my life that no man, woman, object, or experience could fulfill.

See, I have always been a Daddy’s girl. From infancy to adulthood, I have always had a special bond with my father. Maybe because I was adopted, maybe because I was the youngest, or maybe because I have always been so emotional. For whatever reason, my father has always been in my corner, my biggest cheerleader if you will. Even through the darkest hours in my life, when even I had lost faith and hope in myself, he never underestimated my potential to transform into something so beautiful. He always believed in me. He encouraged, inspired, and championed me to make the most of my life. He never let me down and he taught me the meaning of unconditional love. I would be lying if I said that his undying love and admiration for me has always been transparent. It took me years to really begin to fathom how much my father truly loved me. I often confused his words of wisdom and guidance as attempts to control my life and repress my independence. As I grew older, clarity and understanding of his love emerged along with a stronger love and admiration for my father. Even during his last few breaths of life, he never stopped loving me. While his physical strength subsided and his health rapidly declined, he continued to show his love for me through his words, thoughts, and actions; displaying to all, his devotion to not only me but to his entire family.

Well, it's been over 15 months since my father's passing and while the pain is not as profound it is still present. I believe the hardest part of my father's passing, is learning to live life again. For the longest, I felt guilty about exepriencing and enjoying life. It just didn't seem fair because my father wasn't present to experience it with me. Through it all, I have learned that life must go on.

Thus, each day, I recall the value of our health and the importance of making the most of my life. I have continued to run races and this year, I participated in the Annual Run for the Ribbon Prostate Cancer Event, again in honor of my father. I raised almost $600 and I actually took first place overall female in the 5k in a time of 22:06. Again, not my personal best, but a fabulous race nonetheless. It was awesome to run for my father and all those who have been impacted by prostate cancer.

As I prepare for my first marathon in October and my wedding just 13 days after the race, my only wish is for my father to be present. I realize that I can not turn back the hands of time, so I try to seize each moment and live my life to the fullest, honoring my father each step of the way...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Is For You

The donations poured in and the preparation for the race began. I had begun increasing my mileage the previous weeks so I didn't feel the need for much physical preparation for a 5k. However, mentally I didn't know if I was ready to run such an emotional race on my first Father's Day without my Daddy. Nonetheless, I was determined to carry on.

A few weeks later, I had raised close to $400 and it was time to get my feet moving. On race day, I turned in my donations and picked up my packet including my blue ribbon symbolizing Prostate Cancer. I wrote "In memory of Delbert Beard" on the ribbon and pinned it to my shorts. It was a reminder of what this race was all about. It would serve as my cheerleader, my supporter, and even my partner for the next 3.1 miles. As I stood among hundreds of runners and walkers who were survivors of Prostate Cancer and supporters for this cause, it all felt surreal. Never did I imagine that my father would pass away so soon and so suddenly. Losing him only a month ago, the wound hadn't even begun to heal...

Mixed feelings of sadness, excitement, and nervousness began to take surface. I was beyond anxious to start the race. My palms were sweaty, my stomach was turning, and my feet were antsy. I stood among the crowd thinking about my father and his war with cancer. Once again, I recognized the fraility of our lives and how abruptly our health can simply be taken away. I looked above and spoke softly to my Daddy, "This is for you."

When the gun was shot, I took off running. It had been almost 8 years since I ran a 5k and the thought of pacing myself somehow elapsed my mind. The adrenaline kicked in and I ran off with the crowd thinking about those last few days with my father and his illness over the past 9 years. I thought about his numerous fights with cancer (his constant trips to the doctor's office for chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatment; his numerous hospital stays; his loss of coordination and body movement; and his inability to care for himself.) Despite these struggles, his will and determination to stay alive never subsided. While he lost many battles, he never gave up.

As I finished the first mile in rapid time, my breaths became shorter and my legs began to burn. I told myself to slow down, take it easy, don't push yourself too hard. By the time I reached mile two, I simply wanted to quit. The shortness of breath returned, my body was aching and my feet were telling me to stop. I thought about my father and his fortitude. He never gave up, he kept on going. So I continued as fast as I could thinking only 1.1 miles to go. As I crossed the finish line at 23:48, this wasn't my best time but this was definitely my best race. I had ran with a purpose and let me tell you that nothing can quite compare to how I felt as I crossed that finish line with a smile on my face saying "Daddy, this is for you."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Running with a New Purpose

After my father's passing, I returned home feeling ambigous about my future and what the next steps would be. My world had been demolished and I didn't know how to put the pieces back together. I soon discovered that nothing can adequately prepare you for such an enormous loss. There are no words that can be spoken, gestures that can be shared, or gifts that can be given that can rectify the feelings of anger, sadness and despair that you experience from losing a loved one. Nonetheless, I immediately returned to work and back to my "normal" life, hoping to find some solace, anticipating that a return to normalcy would help ease the pain. It would be months before I would learn that nothing would fill that void that had been etched in my heart and soul.

After many sleepless nights and endless days, I slowly began to find refuge in both writing and running. They both served as opportunities for self-analysis, discovery, and reflection. As I attempted to find acceptance and peace, I was determined that my father's passing would not be in vain. I have always been a firm believer that each experience in life can bring valuable lessons. This time would be no different. It is through this pain and loss, I realized just how fragile and temporary our lives can be. I was reminded to never take anything or anyone for granted and to truly seize each moment. I rediscovered the significance of love, understanding, compassion, and giving to others. Beyond that, I recognized the strength and depth of my love for my father. I wanted him to know that he would not be forgotten, his life and legacy would live on.

So, I decided that running would be my avenue for commemorating the most important man in my life. I had run several races before simply out of pleasure, but never for any true purpose. I decided that my running would have new meaning. I would run for my father and for all those who could not run. I would run to make a difference.

Shortly after his passing, I decided to look for races that supported Prostate Cancer, the disease that took my father's life. I thought it would be the perfect way to honor and remember his life while also raising money for a personal and valuable cause. So after a few days of searching, I found the Run for the Ribbon Prostate Cancer Event which included a 5k race. This event was held on Father's Day and raised money to support Prostate Cancer awareness, education, treatment, and research opportunities. It was absolutely perfect. I would spend my first Father's Day without my Daddy running a race in his honor. I immediately registered for the race and began collecting donations....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Finding My Motivation Again

After the failed marathon attempt, I focused on recovery. I spent about one month going to physical therapy and spent the following months continuing the strengthening exercises at home. I continued to workout at the gym, but I took a much needed break from running. It was hard to go back to the gym because many of my fellow workout and running partners knew that I had been training for a marathon. So, I told my injury story over and over again, feeling defeated each time the words came out of my mouth. Who trains for a marathon but doesn't run it?

As the months turned into years, I continued to exercise and slowly began to run again. I didn't have the same motivation as I did when I signed up for the marathon in the spring of 2006 but I still valued my health and fitness so I kept chugging along. However, I had no desire to race, not even a 5k. I put in a few miles here and there, but my on and off relationship with running would continue for the next three years. And then it happened. I will never forget the day. I received a phone call from my mother that my father's prostate cancer had spread to his liver. The doctor was estimating that he only had a few more weeks to live. He had been battling prostate cancer for over 9 years. On this day, he was told that the war was coming to an end and that he no longer had to fight.

My fiance and I (who was my boyfriend at the time) immediately drove the 8-hour drive to my parents. We joined my father and my mother at the hospital that night. My father and I hugged, kissed, laughed, cried, and began to say our goodbyes. My father knew it was his time. I didn't want to believe it, but he knew it and he wanted us to have our time together. He came home a day and a half later to savor his last days of life and to try to find some peace and comfort. For the next eight and a half days, I stayed by his side (along with my family) and watched his health rapidly deteriorate until he left this earth on May 18th, 2009. My world shattered right before my eyes. I had loss the most important man in my life and it all happened so quickly. I had never before witnessed someone die. I couldn't believe how quickly his body could betray him and simply fall apart. I was truly astonished. Words can not fully describe the grief and loss that both my family and I felt and continue to feel from the loss of my father. However, it is through this loss that my life was transformed.

During my father's last few days, my urge for running suddenly emerged, much stronger and persistent than ever before. I was hesitant to leave his side, but my family convinced me that I needed to get away, even if only for a few moments. So, I managed to get in a few short runs during his last days. During those runs, I thought about every moment that my father and I shared. I thought about our joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. I played the same song over and over on my Ipod, Stay with Me. I didn't want to let him go; I couldn't imagine my life without him. It was during these moments that not only did I fall in love with my father all over again but I also rediscovered my love for running. I was determined to run again and this time, it wasn't about me, it was about my father...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Through the Storm

It has been too long since my first post. My hope was to share my thoughts much more frequently, but just 81 days until our wedding and unfortunately, my time to write has been limited. Nonetheless, I continue this journey.

I have been in love with running for many years, at times, it has been all a girl could want or need. However, I must admit, at times we just don't get along. Maybe it's our inability to effectively communicate or maybe we let too many things come between us. Whatever the case might be, we have gone our separate ways...temporarily ending our relationship but always managing to mend it back together.

In 2006, I decided to follow my dream and train for my first marathon. I have always envisioned that one day I would endure the 26.2 miles and cross the finish line of a marathon. I finally had the courage and audacity to sign up for the Chicago Marathon. I had no idea of what this experience would entail but I took a leap of faith and jumped right in. Little did I know that the leap of faith should have included a subscription to Runner's World, extensive research in marathon training, frequent visits to the library, interviews and focus groups with marathon runners, and probably even a visit with my PCP. Okay, so I wasn't preparing for a dissertation but you get the point. While I wasn't completely oblivious to the necessary requirements of this endeavor, I was unware of what my body would have to endure for 16 weeks. I did take the time to visit the library on a couple of occasions. I examined a few training schedules and I found one that seemed like the right fit, but again, I had no idea of what was in store for me.

As I began the training, I was enthusiastic about my increase in mileage. I was becoming fitter and faster and it felt so good. It was truly amazing to see my body transform and truly adapt to running despite the internal and external conditions. I found both the physical and emotional strength to follow my training schedule and I was seeing so much progress, but shut the front door!! No one told me my toe nails would fall off, they forgot to mention (or maybe I just didn't ask) about this minor detail!?!?! I surely was not informed that I would forfeit my whole summer to early nights for much needed rest and early mornings for long runs. Did I mention no weekends? You spend one day of your weekend running for hours and the rest of the time you are just trying to get it back together. I sware that no one mentioned the significance of ongoing stretching, weight lifting, and cross training. I thought my job was to run!! Oh, and new shoes every 250-300 miles?? Really? Okay, so maybe I did receive some friendly suggestions along the way and I just failed to heed the advice. I guess I simply minimized the experience or maybe I was in denial. Either way, the more I was immersed into training, the more I learned how overwhelming this experience could be. No worries, I wasn't giving up. I held on. I was determined to achieve this goal, but then it happened. Three weeks before the marathon, I was running my last long run before the race at Gallup Park. It was mile 18 of mile 20. My knee gave out. I didn't want to believe it, so I attempted to carry on. Not possible, the knee was done and I was terrified that I was done. I took a couple of days off, hoping I could get right back on the "running horse." I just couldn't. I finally visited my PCP and even a Sports Medicine doctor. They confirmed that I had a case of "runner's knee." My genetics, lack of proper stretching and strength training, and my bad shoes all contributed to my injury. They felt as though that maybe it was not too late to still run the marathon. They encouraged me to rest and to see how I felt. It was ultimately up to my body. I spent the next week trying to relax and recuperate, but I knew it was over. I finally made the decision that my body just couldn't handle the marathon. I had failed. I let go of the dream and I let go of running...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Love Affair

It's my first post, where do I begin?? It seems appropriate to begin by describing my love affair with running. Well, it all began about 12 years ago when I was in college. I was on quest to stay in shape and become healthier. I had been consumed with food since I was a pre-teen, focused on the calories that I was consuming and how much weight I did or did not gain. I had yet to move beyond the food and discover the underlying issues that were slowly killing me. Gradually, I began to examine my relationship with food and incorporate a comprehensive, healthy lifestyle that entailed healthy eating, exercising, and just taking good care of my body and mind. It would take several years of self-analysis and discovery and many attempts at therapy before I was able to fully understand the depth and width of my "food" issues.

Nonetheless, while in college, I began working out on a regular basis and I slowly added running to the mix. Over the past 12 years, I have fallen in and out of love with running. Like most runners, I have had my fair share of ups and downs. Through it all, I have remained a loyal lover and I have always came back to running. It provides my body and soul with something that I can't always describe... Running is my calm within the storm. Running is my escape from the madness. Running is my time of self-analysis and reflection. Running is my inspiration to get through another day. Running is my strength to push myself farther that I thought was possible. Running is my confidence that I can accomplish any goal that I set. Running is my opportunity to experience the awe and beauty of nature. Running is simply my reminder that I am alive...