Cloudy skies ahead

We’ve all been there before. It’s the run that takes away nearly all of your hard earned confidence in a matter of minutes. It’s the run that makes you feel like the slowest, sluggish, most out of shape person that has ever attempted to run. In a single word – it’s excruciating. The first question that comes to mind is what’s going on. A runner’s brain tends to be logical, methodical, and usually operates within a definite have a problem, find a solution mentality. But sometimes, into the most logical part of that brain sneaks the black could. The black cloud is powerful; it can overtake even the most self-assured runner if the conditions are just right. It seeks out fear and doubt and amplifies it in your mind. The black cloud makes you feel like a failure before you’re even done trying and before you’ve even had the chance to fail. The black cloud is not above shaming you for every decision you’ve ever made and for every failure (legitimate or not) that you’ve ever tried to bury and forget about. Yes, the black cloud sees it all and uses it all to hand out its harsh judgments without mercy.

Welcome to the deep, dark recesses of my mind just last week. It was Saturday morning and 24 miles were on the schedule. I am training for my very first 100 mile ultra marathon in September. I am not a stranger to the ultra marathon but this 100 mile race will be by far, the longest I’ve ever attempted. Anyhow, back to Saturday morning: less than 2 miles into my 24 mile run and it became clear that this was going to be one of those excruciating runs. The black cloud pushed its poison into my mind immediately and didn’t let up for the next 22 miles. The black cloud wiped out every accomplishment I’ve ever had. The black cloud brought shame and guilt with it and told me if I lost these last 20 pounds, it’d be much easier to run. The black cloud went for the jugular, taunting me for being selfish and for spending so much time on running when I could be at home with my kids and judging me for spending so much money on running shoes when I could be setting it aside for my son’s medical expenses. The black cloud was sure I would never, ever, in a thousand years, be able to finish 100 miles. I mean, I was struggling terribly just to survive these 24 miles and I wasn’t even a quarter of the way there. When my resolve was weakened and I was truly wondering if I’ve gotten in over my head, the black cloud mocked me “Let’s just leave these kinds of feats to the real athletes, shall we?”

I put on my angry face, gritted my teeth, and obsessively watched my Garmin move slower than I thought was even possible. At one point, I took it off and jostled it around a bit, sure that it was broken. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily for me, it wasn’t broken; I was just going that slowly. I scolded myself, I threw myself a big pity party, I got good and mad about not being able to do what I wanted to do, and yet I didn’t give up. I dug deep, I held on, and I pushed through it. As my driveway came into view, I was overcome with emotion. I started to cry from sheer relief at being done and also to be rid of that hateful black cloud. Once I was done running and thinking clearly again, I realized with some embarrassment that the hateful black cloud is me. There is no escaping her. Secretly (or not so secretly anymore), I’m afraid that I can’t do it. I’m afraid that I’m not good enough, not fast enough, not thin enough, and not disciplined enough. And I won’t ever be able to stop that voice in my head until I can give myself some credit for the past and believe that I really can do whatever I set my mind to. A friend gave me a wonderful magnet from Fellow Flowers that says “And when she realized she was brave enough, everything changed.” It’s a great reminder about the power of our own voice.

Running has a way of bringing out the very essence of life in each mile like that. There’s no escape from who you are and what lies beneath the surface. So this is what I want you to do if the black cloud comes for you. Just for right now, just for this run, and just for today, shut down that black cloud. Be proud of yourself even if you are not where you want to be. Be proud of what you can do even if you aspire to do more one day. Remember where you have come from, what you have survived, and what you have done in order to get here. Believe that you have done the best that you could given the circumstances, know that you have made mistakes but learned much from them, and realize you are always progressing towards something better. We choose what the voice in our head has to say to us – make it something worth listening to.

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Who wants to run a marathon?

Turns out, lots of people! Myself included. The Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon is Sunday, October 19th and I just registered! I love a good marathon and I can tell you from experience, this is a good one. This race takes up a lot of figurative space in my sentimental running trunk. It was the first marathon I ever ran. It was the half marathon that I ran almost 6 months pregnant. It was my “comeback” marathon – the first one I trained for and ran post-baby; I was still nursing my 7 month old son and not sleeping at all but I wanted to do something to feel like myself again! This race holds both my BC-PR and AC-PR (That’s before children personal record and after children personal record). Yes, I just made up that distinction and yes, there is a difference! The point of this little trip down memory lane here is that there are just a lot of warm, fuzzy memories that I associate with that race and after missing it the last couple years, I am excited to be doing it again! And I want to encourage you to come run with me, whether it is the full, half, or relay!

Like with almost everything worth doing, the marathon is a lot of hard work. It’s a big commitment to train for and run a marathon; there is no doubt about that. But it can also be fun. Don’t believe me? Ok, fine, maybe not fun in the traditional sense of the word, but new and exciting for sure! It’s an adventure and that can be fun! You’re not sure how it’s going to go, what’s going on with your knee, what’s going to happen next, when and what you should eat or drink, what shoes you should wear, what your first 20 mile training run will be like – that’s all exciting! At least to me it is, but I tend to embrace my inner running nerd.

I think the best piece of advice I have to offer you is this: if you have signed up for your first marathon/half marathon do NOT, I repeat, do NOT worry about what time you will finish in. I know, I know. I’m a runner and I’m telling you the time you finish in doesn’t matter. I know many accomplished runners that completely agree and disagree with me here, so take it with a grain of salt as you would with anything you read on the internet. I personally believe if it is your first race of that distance, it does not matter what time you finish it in. That applies to you whether you are running a 5k or 100 miles for the first time ever. Let off the pressure. Stop freaking out if you are 15 seconds behind your target pace. Just breathe. Enjoy it. Take it all in. Since it’s your first race of that distance, it’s an automatic personal record! Have fun! That’s the way life was meant to be lived!

There are many weeks of training still ahead and if you follow along, I’ll take you with me! If you’ve been thinking about a fall marathon or a half marathon, there is still time. Happy running!

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Emmett’s Endurance Event

It’s not that I ever wanted to run on a treadmill for 7 hours and 26 minutes because honestly, I never really wanted to. It’s that I had to. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love running and I was unbelievably grateful to be able to run on the treadmill to help free my mind on that endlessly long day 2 years ago but I didn’t seek out this long, treadmill run by any means. I did it because I had to. And it became central to my son Emmett’s story and thus became merely a part of who we are, which is why I feel I must continue on with it.

Almost 2 years ago, on June 20th, 2012, I stepped onto a treadmill in a small room on the 10th floor of a Children’s Hospital three hours away from my home. It was a little before 8 a.m. and I had no idea how this day would end. Would my son live? Would my son die? Would I be able to feel it if he died on that operating room table? Would I be able to go on in this life if he did die? Or would I be perpetually stuck on this treadmill willing his life to go on with my very legs, sure that if I just kept running it would all be ok? What if he had a seizure in the middle of the surgery? What was happening right now? Would I be able to run the whole time? What if the surgery took much longer than they thought? What if I couldn’t do it? How would I tell my friends and family that I have failed? I can’t fail, not at this. It’s too important. What am I going to do? There was nothing but a million unanswered questions in front of me and so I did the only thing I could, I started running.

My 15 month old son Emmett was a few floors below me being cut open ear to ear, having his skull broken apart and removed, and reassembled correctly with plates and screws. Emmett was born (unbeknownst to us) with a birth defect of the skull called Craniosynostosis. His skull had formed into a triangle and his brain was running out of room. He had gone undiagnosed for the entire first year of his life. We didn’t even know anything was wrong until he began having tonic clonic (aka grand mal) seizures just a few days after his 1st birthday. Life had blindsided us, veered way off course, buried us in fear and uncertainty, and we were left to pick up the pieces and keep forging ahead somehow.

It came to me during one of our long car rides back and forth to the hospital, what I had to do that is. It was so simple. It was right in front of me the whole time. I had to run for Emmett. I couldn’t just sit in a waiting room to hear if he had lived or died. I had to run. I vowed to run the entire time Emmett would be in for the estimated 7-8 hour surgery and I would not stop until he was out, safe and sound. I made a Facebook event “Emmett’s Endurance Event” for friends and family to follow along and virtually join me while I was running. I wanted to encourage people to do something active with me while raising awareness about Craniosynostosis. It went viral in the running world. Family, friends, coworkers, and strangers alike overwhelmed us with support that day. Pictures, posts, messages, and prayers; it was the most humbling experience of my life seeing thousands of people wear my homemade race bib with my son’s face on it and dedicating their workouts to Emmett. Other families like ours reached out to us, support groups rallied around us, and there was the feeling of community so strong, I could swear these people might as well have been standing right next to me. 7 hours and 26 minutes after I had started running, we got the call. Emmett was out of surgery, he was ok, and in a recovery room. I was exhausted, crying tears of relief, my legs felt like they were going to go out from underneath me, but in that moment, I was invincible. That treadmill run transformed me. It dug deep into my heart and soul and brought out all of the fear, doubt, and uncertainty not just about our future and Emmett’s future but about my ability as a person. I had crushed it, left that baggage behind miles ago; it was with that black dust that had formed in a pile at the back of the treadmill. We were going to be ok, no matter what happened.

We forged ahead, met with more obstacles, more tests, more specialists, a couple more surgeries, and then later, the worst diagnosis for our brave boy to date. The road ahead is still difficult and full of unknowns but Emmett radiates the possibilities in this life and I have kept running using that as fuel. It is both haunting and healing to revisit June 20th. Last year on that day, I ran on the treadmill in my basement for all 7 hours and 26 minutes dedicating each of my miles to other families and people in crisis.

This year, on Friday, June 20th, I will run at Gazelle Sports in Grand Rapids for the full 7 hours and 26 minutes. There will be a second treadmill for you to share in our journey for a few miles. You can sign up for free to run or walk with me for a 15 to 30 minute block of time or you can just watch supportively. I will be collecting donations for Cranio Care Bears, a non profit charity that sends care packages to children in the hospital having this surgery. If you bring in items to donate for care packages (travel size toiletries, individually wrapped snacks, journals, chapstick, gum, little toys, etc) or make a monetary donation to Cranio Care Bears, you will receive a 10% off coupon to Gazelle Sports! Also with your donation, you will also be entered in an awesome raffle! Gazelle Sports is giving away a gift basket including 4 race entries into the Gobble Wobble and the Fifth Third River Bank Run has given 2 race entries to raffle off! You can hear all about what I’m doing, learn more about Craniosynostosis, talk to my awesome husband/support crew, shop at Gazelle Sports with your coupon, or just come and gawk at all of us. Whatever you want to do, please come out and do it and tell your friends! I will start running at approximately 10:30 am and be finished right around 6 pm. Check out our event on Facebook here for more details!

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An ode to my treadmill

Oh treadmill, you get a bad rap. People hate you. And they don’t just hate you; they hate even the thought of you. They don’t even know you and they wrinkle up their nose in disgust. They call you names like dreadmill or hamster wheel. They seem to be offended at your mere existence, that anyone would ever *gasp* consider running on something like a treadmill. I remember a time that I was like them: the haters. I wouldn’t go near a treadmill unless there was some sort of freak lightening storm going on outside. Better to be outside and run free than cooped up inside going nowhere. It didn’t matter the conditions, I was always, always, always going to go outside. But our relationship blossomed out of a mutual need to run and maintain my sanity while being tethered to a single room.

It all started with a pregnancy. I know it wasn’t a great first impression. I was carrying a heavy load of baby, wearing a pair of non-maternity capris that were stretched to near capacity, with a cookie in each hand dropping crumbs all over your new, shiny treadmill belt. I wanted to keep running outside, but my husband began to fear my water would break 4 miles away from the house and there would be no one around to help me. I agreed to run on the treadmill whenever my husband couldn’t run with me outside.  I hated it at first, but then I had to admit, it was kind of nice. It was convenient to be only 12 steps away from the bathroom at all times. No one openly stared or disapproved of me while I was on the treadmill. No one asked me if I needed help (as if that would be the only reason a pregnant woman would be running down the road) and there was a limitless supply of cold water and snacks at the top of the stairs. 

Then my first baby boy came and I relied on you even more. I ran for a few minutes at a time in between flying up and down the stairs to check on a crying baby at nap time. Up and down the steps I’d go with the baby monitor bouncing on my hip. I’d run up the stairs, feed him, lay him down, run back down the stairs, and jump on the treadmill. The screeching cries would start again almost immediately.  I’d run back up the stairs, change him or rock him, lay him down, run back down the stairs and jump back on the treadmill, and so would go those workouts as a new mom: my run interrupted 10 times in 10 minutes. Sometimes I’d give up on running completely and just strap my baby boy to the carrier on my chest. We’d walk slowly on the treadmill together, the familiar movement and hum of the treadmill belt lulling him to sleep. Some of my fondest memories are on a treadmill with a sleeping baby on my chest – the exhaustive daze of newborn parenthood overridden by my overwhelming love and awe at this little person I had made. Looking back, it still wasn’t a real good representation of myself even then, but I  felt like a rock star on that treadmill. I was sporting my maternity yoga pants (that sadly fit much longer after I wished they wouldn’t), my hair hadn’t been brushed in 3 days, and there was baby spit up down the front of my shirt that I’d already changed twice. But I was free to run, even cooped up in the basement and while I was technically not going anywhere, I was surely moving. When another baby came and I began juggling kids, work, and running – I relied on your steady availability even more at all sorts of crazy hours of the day.

Now brace yourself, here is where it gets a little sappy. Sure the treadmill had been convenient before, but I didn’t love it by any means. The first time I ever felt the true depth of my appreciation and near love for a treadmill was on June 20, 2012. It didn’t matter that the conditions outside were perfect, I wasn’t going further than 5 feet away from this building, not even if my life depended on it. I was standing in a tiny windowless room, 3 hours away from home, on the 10th floor of a children’s hospital, teeth gritted, and tears streaming down my face. I wanted to run away. I wanted to throw things and smash them up against the walls. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs until it all went away. I was filled with so much raw, nervous energy that my hands shook as I reached to press the big green start button. And there it was as the treadmill belt began to move – I was free. Even cooped up in that room going nowhere, there was life and hope and freedom. I could run. I could feel my body pull itself together to weather this storm, to absorb the shock, and carry on somehow. I cried tears of relief that I had something so simple and so amazing to cling to. For exactly 7 hours and 26 minutes, I ran and I was free even while chained to that treadmill until the call came that my son Emmett had made it out of surgery. He was ok. He was alive. He was in recovery. I could see him. I stepped off that treadmill full of gratitude and hope. The treadmill kept me grounded and kept me going when I thought it was impossible.

So the moral of the story? I don’t know. Be nice to a treadmill today because you never know when you’ll need one tomorrow. Or something like that. Want to hear about that 7 hour and 26 minute treadmill run? Next week I will tell you all about it and how I will be doing it all over again on June 20 and how you can join me! Stay tuned…

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The End Is The Beginning Is The End

It’s here – the end that is! Race day is officially over. Hopefully you all made your way across that finish line on Saturday! I know a lot of us finished in varying states of both success and distress. The heat was hard on a lot of the un-acclimated runners, myself included. Some didn’t even make it to the starting line, waking up sick or with a nagging injury that just wouldn’t quit. Some stopped mid-race and couldn’t finish for a number of reasons. The finish line is meant to give you a sense of finality and a sense of accomplishment because it’s the end. But it’s not the only end. The end is also the beginning, which is also another end…do you see where I’m going with this? It’s one big open never-ending loop! There are no stops and no final destination points. There is only more to be had. There’s more to do, more to see, and more to experience. There are more miles to be run, more finish lines to stagger across, and more tears to be shed. More, more, more. Billy Idol would agree with me here, I’m sure of it.

I paced for the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25k for the third time this year and had an absolute blast, until the heat got to me around mile 8. My stomach was in full scale rebellion and there I was holding a giant yellow sign gritting my teeth into what I hoped was an encouraging smile and surrounded by people on all 4 sides of me. I focused on my breathing, I focused on my footfalls, I focused on the people next to me, I asked questions, I tried to listen, and I obsessively checked my Garmin to stay on pace and will the miles to go by faster. I struggled, I wondered what on earth I was doing out there, I had an internal pity party, and then I shook it off and started laughing and giving a run down of my most embarrassing race moments to entertain my fellow runners. No, I’ll not share them here, but come run with me sometime and we can laugh at all of the ridiculous situations I have found myself in. And with that distraction, I found myself feeling a bit better, able to focus on the race again, and in good spirits for the finish.

If you did not finish the Fifth Third River Bank Run, do not despair. There is always another race to be run and another year to try again. You can not let your past dictate your future. That is as true in running as it is in life. You pick yourself back up and you try again and again. And again and again if that’s what it takes. If you did finish the race and are in the post race limbo of “now what do I do”, have I got an answer for you! All together now: MORE!

The Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon is this fall. Another awesome, well-put on race right here in our own backyard. How can you say no? It’s already on my calendar and I will be there. There is no time like the present to take on your goals, stare fear down in the face, and answer with a victorious roar that you are stronger than that fear. Ok, maybe it’s just me that does that. I’m enthusiastic, what can I say? You don’t actually have to roar, you just have to try. What will your next step be? What will your next goal be? A life can be wasted with dreams for tomorrow that never get started today. I invite you to join me. Do something radical. Step out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t matter how long the race. It doesn’t matter what it looks like compared to someone else’s goal – do something that you find scary. Life is meant to be lived. Go out and live it!

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