Why I Run – My Running “Story”

I know that everyone has their own “something” that motivates them to power through their workouts, whether it be mental (overcoming some sort of personal obstacle), physical (losing those last five pesky pounds), or emotional (a dire need for the effects of endorphins).  Those motivators can change over time, too.  Many years ago, I was plagued by a lot of negative mental, physical, and emotional motivators to exercise.  I lead a very unhealthy lifestyle growing up– I actually thought that going to the gym was something that only celebrities do (true story).

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I LOL every time I see this picture!  Me at my heaviest (135 lbs); before the break-up.  Obviously I wasn’t in photograph mode.

I started working out at the gym after a really bad break-up with my long-time boyfriend (we are married now, so we eventually made amends – more on that later).  My self esteem was terrible growing up, and my boyfriend had been the only person that ever really made me feel “good enough.”  All of a sudden, I was no longer good enough for even him.  My workouts and my actions were motivated by anger, low self-esteem, revenge, and a desire to change everything about myself entirely.  I wanted to look different.  I wanted to feel different.  I wanted to be different.  I wanted to be unrecognizable to my ex if I ever ran into him at the bar, at the supermarket– anywhere.  I wanted to show him that I was not the girl that he thought I was; that I was a girl that he would come to regret losing.  Proving him wrong became my sole goal in life; everything that I did revolved around him.  It was a completely unhealthy mindset that pervaded my entire lifestyle and sent me into a downward spiral of eating disorders, depression, binge drinking, and cigarette smoking.  All of this while getting “healthier” at the gym.  I exercised daily and furiously, driven by angry thoughts and angry music.  Once the pounds started falling off, I started meticulously counting calories.  I limited myself to 900 calories a day just to make the weight fall off more quickly.  This resulted in a host of other health problems, but that’s another post entirely.

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At 98 pounds, obsessive thoughts about food were taking over my life.

I lost the weight that I wanted to lose and then some, and I became a self-proclaimed “party girl”– quite the opposite of the sweet, reserved, shy, nerdy girl that I was growing up.  I had transformed myself into the exact person that I wanted to become, yet I was the unhappiest I had ever been.

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Binge drinking every weekend became a lifestyle.

Enter: running.  It was the fall of 2010.  I was previously living away but had moved home to be closer to my family, and I started working a new job with my cousin.  She loved running and had run several half marathons.  I had always admired her running skills, but personally viewed distance running as something I had neither the desire nor the ability to do.  I did run for exercise both indoors and outdoors, but always alone and always on a timer– either 30 minutes of steady-state cardio or 30 minutes of intervals.  It wasn’t something that I particularly enjoyed; it was more of a means to an end than anything.

I’ll never forget the first time she invited me to run on a local trail with her.  I hesitantly accepted (in my eyes, she was a “runner” and I was not.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself or hold her back).  She was eager to share her love of running with me, though, so I agreed to run with her.  We ran three miles together and talked the entire time, and I was shocked to find that I actually kinda enjoyed it.  We started hitting the trail after work regularly.  We didn’t run far– we were always chasing daylight, and daylight always won.  But we ran regularly, and each time it became easier and more enjoyable.  Eventually we started running together on the weekends, too, and with more daylight at our disposal, our runs grew longer and longer.  Finally– I was exercising not because I felt like I had to, but because I truly wanted to.  It was very enlightening to me, and I started to feel some sort of invisible weight lift off of my shoulders.  Although I was really starting to like running, but I still viewed it as a great outlet for my anger.  “If only my ex knew I was capable of running xx miles… He wouldn’t even recognize me now!”  I let those thoughts drive me to run faster and to run further.

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The entrance to the trail where my love of running first began.

After a few short months of casual running, my cousin talked me into signing up for a 5K.  “You’ll be addicted, I promise,” she said.  I was growing very fond of my new hobby, so although I was nervous I agreed to sign up.  I’ll never forget that first 5K.  I was inexperienced and started out way too fast in an effort to keep up with the other runners (the crowd was very small and competitive).  The course was tough, and my lack of experience was working against me.  Looking back, it felt like the longest 3.1 miles of my life.  I’ve run countless 5K’s since then, but none have ever seemed as long as that first one.  I can’t say that I was enjoying myself as I was running it, but once I rounded the final bend and caught a glimpse of the finish line I felt a sensation that I had never experienced in my life.  It was a perfect storm of relief, joy, and pride– all wrapped up into one emotion.  The goosebumps raised up on my arms as I pushed even harder to the finish, driven by the cheers of the small group of spectators that showed up to watch the race. Never in my life until that point had I felt so accomplished and so proud.  I felt my self esteem jump just a bit, and I liked it.  And just like that, I was hooked.  Just as my cousin promised that I would be.

I started running more and more after that, more for enjoyment than for exercise but still with an underlying sentiment of revenge and bitterness.  I started seeking out local 5K’s and registering for them– as many of them as I could fit into my calendar.  And, at the urging of my cousin, I did something the “former me” would have found completely crazy– I registered for the 2011 Pittsburgh Half Marathon.  I remember the thrill of clicking the “Register” button, fearing being unable to cover that sort of distance but excited at the thought of trying.  I didn’t have anyone to run it with me, but I didn’t care.  I was used to doing things alone, so this was no exception.

I tried to follow Hal Higdon’s novice half marathon training plan (which I highly recommend, by the way), but the bitter PA winter + my new-found loathing of the treadmill caused me to fall off the training wagon a bit.  I ran as often as the snow-covered roads would permit, but I had no clue if I had trained enough as half marathon day approached.  I didn’t care though– I had committed to running the half, and I wanted to at least try to run it.  I booked myself a room in a cheap hotel in the suburbs for the night before the half.  The only thing I remember from that night was being nervous and being bored– a combination which resulted in me smoking almost an entire pack of cigarettes in my hotel room by myself (which I highly do NOT recommend, by the way).

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The night before my first half marathon– my gear was ready, even if I wasn’t.

On race day, I was a bundle of nerves as I woke up a 4 am and started getting ready for the day.  I had no clue what to expect, and it was very exciting and rattling all at the same time.  I arrived downtown much earlier than necessary, so once again I sat there smoking cigarettes and fearing the journey ahead.

To make a long story {somewhat} short, the half was much harder than I expected it to be.  I hadn’t “respected the distance” in my training.  I was just simply unprepared.  I thoroughly enjoyed the thrill and excitement of the race during the first few miles– if you’ve ever run the Pittsburgh half or full, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The entire city is alive, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the excitement of the crowds of runners and bystanders.  By Mile 10, though, I was struggling.  The cheering of the crowds couldn’t drown out the negative thoughts that were starting to creep up in my head.  My knee began hurting really badly, and I started thinking that maybe I wasn’t going to be able to finish the race.  Maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew.  Maybe I wasn’t cut out for running after all.  The further I ran, the more my knee hurt, and the more I told myself I couldn’t do it.  My emotions were amplified by the rush of endorphins that I was experiencing– but instead of those positive emotions that are fondly known of the “runner’s high,” my emotions were exactly the opposite.  Through all of the trials and tribulations that life had thrown at me until that point, I had never doubted myself as much as I did in that moment.  My rock bottom moment came right before the last water stop of the race– the thought occurred to me that maybe everyone who had ever let me down in my life was right.  Maybe I wasn’t good enough after all.  It was like all of the progress I had made towards bettering my self esteem those past few months went out the window at that very moment.  I felt angry.  I felt totally and completely defeated.  In my mind, I had already given up.

I remember holding back tears as I stopped to get a drink of water.  I didn’t want to go on, and I didn’t know if I could.  With less than two miles left to go, I just wanted to go back to my car and go home.  I realized, though, that the most direct way back to my vehicle was through the race route.  If I wanted to get home, I had to finish the race.  I wanted more than anything to give up, but the circumstances wouldn’t allow it.  Angrily, I started running again.  My knee hurt so bad that I could hardly bend it, but I knew that I had to keep going, even if I didn’t want to.

The closer we got to the the finish line, the more crowd support there was.  I focused on the crowd support and used it to help me continue on despite my physical and mental turmoil.

The greatest epiphany of the race (and arguably of my life) happened during the last mile of the course.  I’ll forever be thankful that I didn’t give up on myself before then.  I was running across the Roberto Clemente bridge and nearing the finish line when the spectators began cheering wildly.  I mean, really wildly.  I had no idea what was going on.  Although I briefly entertained the thought that they were cheering for me (wow, how did they know how hard I struggled to get here?!), I turned around to see if I could figure out what they were really cheering about.  It turns out that the first female finisher of the full marathon (Ethiopian Yihunlish Bekele Delelecha) was crossing the bridge right beside me.

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Yihunlish Bekele Delelecha (Source: http://www.post-gazette.com)

I’ll never forget the chills that came across me while watching her speed past me with so much determination on her face.  I’ll never forget how uplifting it was to hear the crowd roar as she went by.  Five years later, the memory still makes me emotional.

Her determination was contagious.  I realized the magnitude of what she was accomplishing, and I saw firsthand the determination she had to accomplish it.  I was beyond inspired as I watched her gracefully cross the bridge at a speed that I could only hope to run (for a much shorter distance) one day.  I suddenly realized how far I had come, not just in the race but also in life.  Although I was struggling, I knew at that moment that I had overcome the struggle.  Not just in the race, but also in life.  All I had to do was replace my self-doubt with determination.  If I could do that, then I could do anything.  The finish line was in sight, and I decided that nothing would stop me from reaching it; I wanted it too badly.  And nothing did.  I finished my first half marathon in 2 hours and 25 minutes.

Crossing the finish line was the proudest moment of my life up until that point.  It was more than just a physical accomplishment– it was an emotional and mental accomplishment for me as well.  It taught me that I am capable of doing so much more than I ever thought I could do.  It taught me that, with enough determination and persistence, I can achieve anything that I want to achieve.  I actually felt good about myself for a change.  I felt good about myself, and I didn’t need the approval or validation of anyone else to make me feel that way.  Finally, for the first time in a long time, I felt “good enough.”

Since that first half, running has become a regular part of my life.  I’ve run countless races and made a lot of like-minded friends along the way.  Running has allowed me to let go of all the resentment that I used to harbor and to find peace with my past.  It has allowed me to take control of my own life rather than to blame everyone else for my shortcomings.  Running keeps me happy and healthy.  I quit smoking and binge drinking years ago (although I still appreciate a good beer or two, especially after a long run).  I found forgiveness with myself and with my ex, and we are now happily married with a beautiful daughter.  I always say that running saved me from the downward spiral that was my life.  Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to find the peace and forgiveness that allow me to be the person that I am today.

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Finishing a full marathon in 2014 has been one of my biggest running accomplishments.

In short, I run because it teaches me that I can do more than I ever thought possible.  And that’s what motivates me to run and to exercise nowadays– a far cry from all of the negative motivators that used to pervade my thinking when I first started working out.  I used to run to try to change the person that I am; now I run because it helps me to accept the person that I am.      

What about you– why do you run?  What motivates you to exercise?  

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Fit Friday Motivation

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Source: Run U Mother Facebook page

I think everyone has had these runs at one point or another– the ones where your defenses break down and you begin to doubt yourself, your abilities, and your training.  It might be during a race or during a training run.  And as much as I dread having this type of run, I never let it defeat me when it does occur.  I push through to the finish line because I know when I do, I’ll be a stronger person and a better runner.  These are the kinds of races, training runs, workouts that show us what we’re really made of.  They force us to put our heart and soul into them just to get to the finish.  They teach us things about ourselves that we never knew before.  They show us that we’re capable of so much more than we thought possible.  In my opinion, these are the runs that make a runner a runner.  They makes us stronger people and stronger athletes.  I dread the experience, but I love the after-effects.  =)

I hope everyone has a fun, fit weekend!! =) 

Running is More Than Just a Hobby

… It’s a way of life. An identity.

I saw a quote on a Facebook fan page this morning that said “Love the sport. Running is what you do. Runner is who you are. Be good to yourself.” (from Debra Morrow, Runner’s World Challenger of the Week on 6/7/13).  This quote really made me think about the role that running has played in my life.

I was a different person before I started running. Looking back, I really can’t recall my attitudes and viewpoints in life before my running days.  That sounds strange, but it’s true.  What did I look forward to?  What were my personality traits and how were they formed?  How did I face life’s obstacles and challenges– did I have an optimistic, headstrong attitude towards them, or was I cowardly and afraid?  Was I content with never knowing my own abilities and limits?  Was I content with not really knowing myself?  I honestly can’t remember 

Running has given my life a more deep, more profound meaning.  It’s taught me that there’s more to life than we can ever possibly understand, and it did that by teaching me more about myself than I ever knew before.  It taught me that there’s something deep inside all of us that, once tapped, breaks the preconceived limits and barriers than we have set for ourselves.  For me, it takes a good run to be able to tap into that phenomenon.  I’m always amazed at what my body can achieve when I push it further than I believed I ever could.  If you face challenges head on with a positive attitude, you are sure to conquer them.  I’ve signed up for races despite my doubts and fears and discovered that I could do them if I tried.  Running 13.1 miles sounded crazy until I signed up for a half marathon and finished it.  Climbing “The Summit” (a local 1200 foot elevation increase over 3.5 miles) sounded impossible until I signed up for a race to the top and finished.  You can’t be afraid to try, or else you’ll never know where your limits really are (hint: they’re probably not where you think they are).  This is something that has strongly defined my personality since I started running.

Running has taught me to not give up when times get tough.  Because if you don’t give up, you will be rewarded.  You have to want the reward bad enough– whether or not you know what that reward is– to keep on going when you feel like quitting.  I can’t tell you how many races I’ve struggled through just to get to the finish line.  That victorious feeling of crossing the finish after a tumultuous race is the kind of indescribable reward you can’t get elsewhere.  I’ve run races in 90 degree heat & humidity, without proper fuel, with aching legs, without proper training for a <surprise!> hilly course, etc.– and I have never regretted a single one.  I think perseverance is an essential life trait– you can’t survive in a world full of chaos and situations beyond anyone’s control if you don’t have it– and I only have running to thank for giving me that trait.  I didn’t have that ardor before I started running.  Whether it’s in a tough race or in a difficult personal matter, you can’t give up if you want to survive until the turmoil is over.

Running also enriches the emotions, in my opinion.  A good run will summon emotions that don’t surface in everyday activities (I blame the endorphins).  For example, I perceive things on such a deeper level during a long run that I am overwhelmed with joy at the simplest kind act of humanity, or the pure beauty of nature on the hiking trail.  I feel like running allows you to see objects and situations with more clarity, and you respond with more raw emotions than you would on a normal, day-to-day basis.  I’ve cried on my long runs just from the emotional rush (yes, I just admitted that).  I love the feeling of being able to tap into emotions that run deeper than I thought possible.  It’s another natural response from the body that never fail to amaze me, and it only occurs when I’m in the midst of a good run.

Furthermore, my body just doesn’t feel right when I’m not challenging it on a regular basis.  How did I get that kind of satisfaction from my 30-minute bouts of cardio before?  I don’t think that I did.  Again, I can’t really remember…

Simply put, running has molded my personality and has been a major influence on making me the person that I am today.  To those of us that run, it’s more than a hobby– it’s a way of life.  Running is a sport that I love, it’s my sport, and I always look forward to it.  Running is what I do.  It’s who I am.  I think that Ms. Morrow couldn’t have stated it better.

I think this is a blog post that only other runners can understand.  We run because we love the effects that running has on us physically, emotionally, and mentally.  It enriches our lives and makes us who we are.  Until you’ve experienced these effects for yourself, you can never truly understand them.

What has running done for you?  Has it had a profound impact on your life??