Guest Blog: Why I Run

I haven’t done guest posts here on the blog before, but when my friend Jimmy reached out about wanting to share his experience with running, I jumped on the opportunity. Jimmy and I work together, but more importantly, we share a love of working out, Star Wars and all things pop culture – seriously, when he was cleaning his desk one day he gifted me with a little Darth Vader Funko Pop and his set of Kylo and Rey figures to keep watch of my stuff when I’m not there. A few months ago we had a nice chat about how running helps us both, and now he’s sharing his story with you guys. I hope you enjoy!

It all started around New Year’s Eve. I felt like I had been hit by a ton of bricks. Work had been very hectic for the final 6 weeks of the year. It was non-stop. I felt like I didn’t have a chance to come up for air. I kept telling myself, “All you have to do is make it until the 24th & you’ll have a whole week off for yourself.” Well, when that day came, I felt like I couldn’t get out of that gear that had kept me going through those final weeks of 2019. I couldn’t relax. It felt like my heart was going to beat through my chest.

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After a few days of dealing with this uncomfortable feeling, I decided to go to the doctor to see if it was an underlying condition. I explained to the doctor what I was going through & if I should be worried. She was very upfront with me & explained it was stress-related anxiety. Me? With anxiety? That can’t be the case! I thought I was invincible. No one is invincible & that’s OK! We discussed a plan of action that included changes to my diet & exercise regimen. I have always been self-conscious about my weight. That certainly was not helping the situation.

I organized a schedule. Thanks to the hospitality of my girlfriend’s mother, I was able to prepare chicken on their grill each Sunday for the upcoming week. I am a creature of habit, so getting into a groove was not an issue. During this time, I discovered how much easier it was to go to the gym after dinner than it was heading over right after work. You need a little bit of a recharge. It was an excellent way to get the blood flowing. I was sleeping much better at night. Everything was going great; work had calmed down a bit after the new year & my new diet was helping me reach numbers on the scale (not that it was the ONLY goal of this endeavor), I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I was feeling FANTASTIC. Then we were all hit with a right upper cut.

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This pandemic arrived like Thanos in Wakanda. It was very difficult to adjust at first. How was I going to get all the right ingredients for my diet with the stores being ransacked? How was I going to exercise without being able to go to the gym? Workout like I had been for the first 3 months of the year. I was knocked down on the mat & I didn’t know how I was going to reach for that turnbuckle. Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Well, I had to take a stand. I was not going to let this situation consume me. I was able to find healthy alternatives.

I have been very lucky all my life. My grandparents live right next door in a tiny, brick house. It was always great for birthdays & anniversaries. Just a few paces across the lawn. They have this small weight room set-up in their basement that my father & I use from time to time. It has become a good friend of mine since quarantine began a month ago.

I began a new workout schedule. Just happy that I had a place to let my frustration out after a long day at work(ing from home). Something was missing, though. When I found out what it was, I couldn’t believe it.

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I pulled the cover off the treadmill in the basement like it was the DeLorean & decided that I was going to start running. As a younger boy, I DESPISED distance running. I’d rather play a game of pick-up basketball or football. Times have changed. I decided that I was just going to go for it. I’ve got to tell you; it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My mind feels so clear when I’m on the treadmill or just on a jog around the block. Each time I strap up my shoes, I want to reach a new milestone.

It does not feel like I am running AWAY from my problems, rather running TOWARDS them. I have been feeling much more confident. I feel more comfortable walking around the house with my shirt off (sorry, Mom & Dad). Yes, I am still dealing with anxiety & the other facets of everyday life, but running & working out regularly have helped me control them. Another thing I did notice that required correction was the incline setting on the treadmill. I kept hitting my head on the basement ceiling. Oh, well, a tiny roadblock that was easily fixed with the flip of a switch.

Everyone handles issues in their life differently than their neighbor. There is no instruction sheet. We must find ways to cope, either on our own or with some help. It is OK to get some help. There is no shame in that! Running has become the sword that I fight these battles with every day.

We are going to get through this pandemic. There are good days & there are bad days, such is life. My hope is that when we come out on the other end, we’ll be better off. I certainly will not take the little things for granted just like how I used to view running as a chore, I now see it as a hobby.

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Until then, I hope everyone stays safe & healthy. We’ve got this!

Sweating Through Health Scares and Pandemics

My last post in October was about how I was excited to be in the middle of a strength training plan that helped me drop some weight and get back into fighting mode. At the end of it all, it really did work: I lost about 15 lbs and a handful of inches and it was just the kickstart I needed to get through the holidays with a healthy mindset.

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we even threw a hell of a roaring 20’s themed NYE party!

Then January brought a health scare that I talked about a bit on Instagram, when I found a lump in my breast and went through a month of testing before finding it was benign. That month brought new levels of anxiety that I wouldn’t wish on anyone: migraines so bad that I ended up in the ER one morning at 3am, a pinched nerve in my back/chest that my doctor had me get an Xray for, and itchy hives all over my body. Working out took a backseat, so yes, I dropped off the face of this blog, and gained some of the weight back. But once the anxiety cleared and the results were in, I returned to working out pretty regularly.

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Then the coronavirus showed up.

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I’m not going to clog up your feed with any hot takes on this bullshit, but I’m also not going to sugarcoat how I’m handling it. We’re blessed in that my husband and I both still have our jobs, and we’re working pretty much 8-5 every day, just to maintain some kind of schedule, and to KEEP those jobs. It’s been a struggle here, much like I’ve heard from other people. I’m not glad it’s happening, but I am glad that it’s shining a light on the importance of being aware of your own mental health and taking care of yourself when anxiety is at an all-time high. It’s a shame that it took locking us all up in our houses to realize it, but here we are.

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I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the next day. But I’ve been working out to maintain my sanity, whether by shutting my laptop off in the middle of the day and going for a run around town (while I’m still allowed to) or by carrying handweights around the house every hour when my watch tells me to stand up (while I wish I’d gotten a treadmill before all this happened, I sure am glad I got an Apple Watch for Christmas). I’m also still doing my good old DVD and playing Just Dance on the PS4, and using my watch’s 7-Minute-Workout app a few times a day just to get my heart pumping.

If I can laugh at anything about this whole thing, it’s the fact that suffering from extreme OCD in college – to the point where I washed my hands 50-60 times a day and bled from cracked skin on my knuckles for months at a time – has prepared me for the contamination fears we’re all experiencing today: I can track what needs to be disinfected and know exactly how to open every kind of door without using my hands. Score one for living with an acute anxiety disorder for 3 years.

But I just figured I’d pop on here and share what’s going on over here in the hopes that it reaches someone – anyone – who might need a little pick me up. I know it seems dark right now, but trust me. We’ll get through this.

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Hitting the Reset Button

Running and I were not best friends there for nearly 2 years. We weren’t even like… friends you ask to pick you up from the airport or help you move a couch.

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But that’s because I was doing it for the wrong reasons.

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Is this wildly-popular-on-instagram sweatshirt one of those reasons? Maybe.

I was running because that was what I thought I should be doing, as a “runner”. And I’m not using quotes because I don’t consider myself a runner – I am. But that’s not all I am.

After the NYC Marathon, I took time off from running, lost my job, and then injured myself when I tried to get back into running just for the sake of running. I stopped paying attention to what I ate. I ran races I didn’t want to run, just because other people wanted me to. And by forcing myself to push through it and run all the miles for appearances’ sake, I neglected everything else and my body and mind paid the price. Instead of running to feel better, it made me feel worse.

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I ran from one Instagram-worthy photo to the next, while behind the scenes, my body and mind were being held together with duct tape and crossed fingers. And I can’t ignore the fact that I behaved the way I did in part because I felt the pressure of nearly 16,000 people on Instagram “watching” my feed. To ignore that would be irresponsible.

So instead of ignoring it – or imploding like I’ve seen others do – I quietly worked on myself. Behind the scenes, in fits and starts, for nearly a year now. I stopped taking photos and posting about every workout on social media. I ran. I didn’t run. I tried yoga. I gave up yoga. I turned off all social media notifications on my phone. I connected with therapists and people who could help me get stronger physically and mentally.

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With the false sense of wisdom that only time can provide, I’m comfortable saying the Fifth Avenue Mile was a turning point for me. It was the first time in a long time that I felt confident and ready, in mind and body, to race. My unexpectedly stellar performance is the proof I needed to know that my work is paying off.

Don’t get me wrong: the work to get back to 100% is ongoing, and always will be. I know that now. But this is the first time since the 2017 NYC Marathon that I’m enjoying the work. And while I don’t have any race plans on the horizon, I’ve got other plans.

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I’m currently 2 weeks into a 6-week program that is already paying dividends in terms of how I feel. I’m less bloated and have more energy. The goal is to get back down to my pre-marathon weight and strengthen my body top to bottom so that when I do race, I’ll be as strong as I can be in that moment. At age 36, that’s not an easy task, and 6 weeks is just the beginning. But it’s refreshing to think that you can always hit the Reset Button.

Race Recap: 2019 FRNY/NYRR Pride Run

Just like we’ve done in years past, my good friend Kevin and I hopped on the 5:37AM train into midtown for the FRNY/NYRR Pride Run 5 Miler and let me say before I go any further: I was SO unprepared.

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Not unprepared in terms of forgetting sneakers or gels… I mean I had been in physical therapy since May for an Achilles issue and nerve problems that make my leg give out on me, and I’d only run about 4 miles in the lead up to this race.

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Per my therapist’s orders, this was going to be a fun run (no sh*t), and it was also going to be my first run in the heat, which made for a pretty miserable time once I hit mile 2.5-3. BUT ANYWAY…

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We arrived at the start area at around 7:30 or so and killed time by posing for photos and covering ourselves in sunscreen until our other running buddy, Stephen (aka Lady Champagne Bubbles), arrived.

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We ran into a few other friends doing the race while we made our way into the corrals and hung out waiting for the starting gun, and the sweat we’d broken into before even starting the run should have told me what I had to look forward to. I say again: I was not prepared.

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As we crossed the starting line, we took off at a pretty solid 12:00-ish/mile pace. Stephen cantered off ahead because he’s in MUCH better shape than me, but thankfully Kevin hung back and took it easy with me. Every quarter mile or so we’d catch up with Stephen who waited for us, but by about mile 2.5 I realized I had pretty much used up all I had in the tank.

It was a miserable feeling. I’d run these hills dozens of times before. In much worse conditions. Hell, I ran the goddamn 2017 NYC Marathon in rain for more than 6 hours!! I really should just listen to the universe and pack it in. Why should I bother when all I do is finish after all my friends and get injured anyway?

All those negative thoughts you get in the middle of a race? I had them.

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I mentioned my insecurities to Kevin at one point and he talked me through them – saint that he is – but while he helped my mental game, my physical game was just too far gone. My therapy had been focused on isolating the muscles that were causing me pain, working them gently and slowly strengthening them. The lack of running while focusing on those smaller, foundational things really sucked a lot of conditioning out of me.

Thankfully, I wasn’t SO far gone, and we made it to mile 4 relatively soon. Kevin made deals with me to get to the next light post, the next stop sign, the next tree. It worked, sort of. There was a lot of walking. But once we got to the final half mile or so, I realized I’d done it. Kevin asked if I was OK with he and Stephen taking off and finishing strong, and I said go for it. The only thing that makes a miserable race worse is knowing you held people back.

So off they went and I hunkered down for the final sweaty, breathless half mile. The nice thing about the Pride Run is that in the final mile, all of the local running clubs come out to cheer you on in the final mile or so. And because it’s Pride, the music is bumping, the energy is high, and the love is on full blast. All I had to do was shift to the side of the course and hold my hand out as I ran, and I was rewarded with high fives and screams and cheerleaders galore.

All that excitement was just what I needed to get down the last hill and over the finish line – and for Kevin to snap this hysterical picture of me thanking the running gods that the damn thing was DONE:

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Afterwards we all hung out for a bit eating the rainbow ice pops they handed out at the finish line and taking pics – of course I can’t let Stephen take a nice photo just one damn time – before heading home to recover in the air conditioning.

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As always it was a great race that I highly recommend, especially for first-timers. It’s high-energy and a wonderful way to support a fantastic cause that is dear to my heart.

Just Do It. No, Really.

After a few weeks of pretty solid base building after the New Year, I started officially training for April’s NJ Half Marathon – and, drumroll please – I’ve stuck 100% to the plan so far!

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la la la la, la la la la, training time!

I’m feeling myself. I no longer have to make that horrible noise when I get up out of a squat (you know the sound, we’ve all made it) and I can comfortably run about 4-5 miles without any lingering pain. I’m not about to crank it up to 10 just yet, but I’m getting there.

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YAY ME

Looking back on the last few failed attempts at a – and I hate this word – *comeback*, I keep searching for reasons why this time is different. There are a few, mainly the fact that I’m not injured or coming back from an injury, and I’m mentally in a better place than I was the last 2-3x I signed up for a race and didn’t even make it to the starting line in the past year.

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I’m also feeling about 1,000% sassier thanks to a great job and having other fulfilling hobbies outside of running

But while I was getting dressed in the gym locker room the other night after a full, draining day of work, the last piece of the puzzle finally came to me: I’m shutting up about it and getting it done.

Or, to paraphrase the most popular sports company slogan in history: I’m just doing it.

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Fact: the post-work runs are hard because I have to get through a whole day of work before I can do them. [And before you say “run in the morning!”, just know I’ve tried it time and time again and it just ain’t happening. I’m 35 years old and if I haven’t learned to love losing an hour of sleep to get a workout in yet, I’m not going to. Go bark up someone else’s tree about how *magical* it is to wake up before the sun and let me sleep while you get your sweat on. I’ll have the coffee ready for you when you’re done, I promise.]

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I’ll even be SMILING by then because I GOT MY FULL 8 HOURS OF SLEEP

Fact: The weekend runs are tough because I have nothing really lighting a fire under me to go and just get it over with every morning.

In the past, I’ve skipped weekday runs because I’m tired after work and convince myself on the drive home to treat myself to a rest day. Or I spend a half hour in the gym locker room on a Saturday morning scrolling through Twitter or Instagram looking at other people’s workouts when I could have been done and on the way home already, just because I can’t psych myself up to get out there.

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*thinking* I wonder if they give medals for procrastination…. 

This time, I’ve made a point as soon as those “maybe I should just skip it” thoughts creep into my head to simply… stop. Stop that thinking, consider the workout non-negotiable, shut up and JUST DO IT.

If it’s quiet in the locker room, I resist the urge to sit on the bench before I change and scroll through Twitter for another 10 minutes. I just put one foot in front of the other and change and get up those stairs and on a treadmill and JUST DO IT.

When I wake up on a Saturday morning and lazily make my coffee and plop down at my desk and start scrolling through Twitter, I allow myself 15 minutes before I make myself stand up from the desk, shut up and JUST DO IT.

Yes it’s a pain in the ass to schlep 14 pounds of gear from the house to the car to the gym locker room, to change into cold running clothes while surrounded by a dozen screaming tweens who just got out of swim practice, and to get onto the treadmill. Yes, it’s easier to lay in bed, and it’s more tempting to skip a run and read a book or catch up on Netflix.

But once I run, man does it feel good.

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like, “the hills are alive” good

Yes, it’s good to talk about running with other runners online. It’s good to read blog posts with titles like “how do you get motivated?” and “top tips for getting started with running again”. But more often than not – and this is going to sound harsh but I mean it in the most encouraging way possible – it really is as simple as shutting the hell up and JUST DOING IT. Get up off the hiney, put the sneakers on, get the keys and GO.

I’ve gotten harsh with myself MANY times in the interest of getting my miles in. If you’re lacking motivation or find it hard to get up and moving, I invite you to do the same. It gets easier the more you do it. Once you stop thinking about it, you’ll have so much more time to just do it.

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And I promise you’ll rock it when you do. Nicolas Cage in Con-Air style.

Impostor Syndrome

If job searching after working for one company for five years is like jumping back into the dating pool, starting a new job is like the first day of school, but on steroids. And much like a new school year, I looked forward to starting my new job back in March because it meant a fresh start. But more than that; I had the chance to adopt a new persona.

You see, for five years at my last job, I was known as the runner. But after the NYC Marathon, I wasn’t running. So I didn’t feel like a runner anymore. I had a serious case of Impostor Syndrome.

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When meeting new people at my job, the subject of hobbies came up a lot as an ice breaking conversation topic. But I avoided talking about running at every turn, even though most of my new coworkers had already seen the blog – hell, it’s on my resume, and the fact that I’d created Jess Runs Happy from the ground up helped land me my current role as a Social Media Manager. Instead, I focused on other things – my cat, my husband, Star Wars.

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It wasn’t so bad: I got to make a lot of new friends with varied interests by *not* focusing on running. And don’t get me started on all the new friends I made by hosting a surprise May the Fourth party. But as it tends to do, time passed. My injuries healed. I started running regularly. I had the urge to chase big scary goals again.

While it’s only been about two months or so, I’ve run more in these 8 weeks than I had in the previous 8 months, and I feel like I’ve learned something with every mile – especially as I get stronger with every run.

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Last week I ran three times, and improved with each run. I even ran 4 miles for time,  just to see how much better I could do than the previous run. I blew my old time out of the water and posted a 4-mile time I haven’t seen since pre-NYC Marathon training a year ago.

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I’m getting nostalgic about marathon training. I’ve got blisters from new socks again. That old black toenail is acting up again. I’m eating more carbs and going to bed early on Saturday nights to run on Sunday mornings again.

I’m proud to say I’m a runner again. 

I don’t know what made my Impostor Syndrome go away. Maybe it’s all the happy mood chemicals flooding my brain thanks to regular running; maybe it’s a fluke and I’ll have another bad week or month or year. Whatever happens, I’m going to ride the wave as long as I can and I’m looking forward to it.

I’m cleaning out the running gear that doesn’t fit anymore. I’m packing my bags every other morning for my evening run and avoiding those late night snacks I’ve grown so used to. I’m signing up for races in the future so I have something to work towards. What matters is I’m feeling more and more like my old self, and that feels good.

 

Ready Player One

Although most of you have probably figured it out by now: Since the NYC Marathon, I’ve been pretty disillusioned with sharing my running journey online.

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*sarcasm* shocking, right?

I guess it comes down to the fact that I started to get tired of playing the game, especially around Instagram.

Looking back, the amount of time I spent on that app is embarrassing. I wracked my brain coming up with a creative Instagram-worthy photo angle for every run. I wasted a half hour after every run selecting, editing, and captioning a picture. I worried about what I wore because I’d already worn black for my past three runs and needed to inject color into my IG feed. I found myself sitting at dinner in a restaurant with my husband, with my nose buried in my phone while I picked out hashtags. I was injured, but I still went on painful runs – sometimes just to “keep the feed fresh”.

And even though I did those things, I still lost followers.

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Then I lost my job and fell into a depression. For those of you who haven’t had the good luck (again with the sarcasm) to experience depression, my idol Carrie Fisher summed up what it feels like with heartbreaking clarity while in the middle of her own manic episode in Bright Lights:

“You know what would be so cool? To get to the end of my personality and just, like, lay in the sun. I’m sick of myself.”

At my lowest point, I was so sick of my self that Instagram seemed like a cruel joke. I hardly felt inspirational. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror, let alone take yet another picture of myself and share it with 16,000 people – the majority of whom I have never and will never meet.

I lost the courage to even try.

Because I dropped out of the game (and yes, it is most certainly 100% a game that Instagram will always win because they control what accounts get exposure), I lost nearly 1,000 followers since November. And I’m losing more every day. I can’t figure out the algorithm no matter how much or little I post or what hashtags I use.

But a funny thing happened since I came out the other side of that whole depression thing: I finally want to run more.

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After nearly 10 months of being disillusioned with running in general and not even thinking about racing, the other day I got an email from the Run Newport folks about running the Newport Half next month and actually got excited.

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The thought of a half marathon gave me butterflies.

I got the jimmy legs thinking about the thrill of the starting line.

I started looking at training plans.

While I’m in absolutely no shape to run the Newport Half (because it’s in less than 6 weeks and I haven’t run more than 4 miles in about 10 months), I’m probably not going to be running it (but I WILL have an entry to give away, woohoo, stay tuned!). But I WILL start slow, starting now.

It’s going to take courage to try again, but I’m ready.

I’ve committed to run 2-3x during the week after work and slowly build up my long run mileage on weekends. The plan is to get to 6 or 7 PAIN FREE miles for a few weekends in a row before I even sign up for something.

It’s not a plan, per se, but it’s more than I’ve done in 10 months, so there you have it.

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Once it became more of a plan in my mind over the past few days, I found myself excited to blog about it – and even more excited to share my story on Instagram once more.

I don’t know what race I’ll be doing or even when I’ll run it. Throughout training, I won’t spend a half hour picking out the perfect filters or an extra half mile trying to get the right running selfie after every run. But I WILL be sharing my journey again, and I’m excited to have you along for the ride if you’d like to join me. ❤

Mile 26

Real Talk: The TCS New York City Marathon left me turned off about running. With having to put our cat to sleep the day after the race and dealing with injuries for months post-race, I never felt that post-marathon high.

I deleted almost all of the pictures from that day off my phone. But for some reason, I couldn’t delete this one: the Mile 26 marker.

I still remember how I felt when I snapped this picture. Every inch of my body hurt. It was dark and rainy, spectators had all gone home. When I saw Mile 26 I thought “Who cares. There’s no triumphant final push left in me, why should I take a picture?”

But I did, and every time I clean my camera roll, I still won’t delete it. It took me 7 months, but now I know why: because it was the lowest point I’d been at in months… BUT I KEPT GOING.

I got that medal. I pushed through a mental and physical hell I created for myself over 25+ miles through the five boroughs of NYC and I survived, just like I’ve survived every other “lowest” point in my life. It’s a reminder that there’s always something to look forward to, even if I have to go through just .2 more miles of hell to get to it.

When you get to your Mile 26, just keep going. I know it hurts. But it’ll be worth it.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Be honest: there are probably a few lies you’ve told yourself but don’t want to admit to. Today I’m going to come clean about two of the lies I’ve told myself in the 5 months since the NYC Marathon: 1) I wasn’t injured and 2) I don’t really want to run anymore anyway.

If you’re a regular reader, you know all about my lack of motivation after the NYC Marathon. A lot of that had to do with this injury that I didn’t want to admit to. After my post-marathon runs turned into pain fests just a few miles in, I took time off. Shortly after the New Year, I lost my job and my motivation to run. I tried to run every other week only to have that leg flare up, and soon I was in pain even when I didn’t run; shooting spikes of fire radiated from my butt to my knee while I sat on the couch or drove to the store.

I started working again in mid-March, around the same time I attempted to push through the pain for a 6 mile run to prep for my upcoming half marathon at the end of April. It was a terrible run and I had to walk last 3 miles. The resulting pain was the worst it had ever been, and left me unable to walk for a day and a half (and limping for 4 more days). That’s when I realized Truth #1: I really WAS injured.

So about 3 weeks ago I went back to my chiropractor. And he’s helping. S-L-O-W-L-Y. The work we’re doing is painful and can only be done in little bursts every few days. I’m not allowed to even try running. All the forced downtime has me frustrated. I feel weaker than I have in years. I’ve gained more weight than I care to admit. I officially dropped out of the NJ Half Marathon in April.

As a result, I’ve spent much less time on social media. So much so that I’ve lost more than 400 followers on Instagram in the last four months. Apparently, a girl who muddled her way through 26.2 miles in a pathetic 6+ hours back in November isn’t as interesting when she has to stop running and fight her way through injury, weight gain and depression. Such is life.

But not spending hours running or scrolling through my social media feeds has helped me spot those lies, along with a few other things.

One: before the marathon, I spent WAY too much time on social media. A wholly unhealthy amount of time. Many hours a week. I’d be at dinner and found myself scrolling “just a little more”, and paying attention to the real flesh and blood people in the room just a little less.

Additionally, I realized that I’ve been coping with this injury by creating lie number two: convincing myself that I don’t really enjoy running anyway.

With an injury that has no defined finish line and seems to keep coming back, I found myself – in classic depressive fashion – isolating myself from the usual injured runner banter. I stopped interacting with runner friends. I got complacent. I said meh, running isn’t all that great anyway. Which led to I’m not that great at running anyway, and ultimately, I just won’t bother with running anyway. 

I had actually convinced myself that I didn’t really like running that much after all.

Because resignation is easier than treatment and rebuilding.

Giving up is easier than doing one-legged squats to build up those glutes.

Quitting is easier than fighting through another round of soft tissue work where the doctor and the nurse each take a part of me and bend and twist and dig.

And it’s a hell of a lot easier than the work I’m going to have to do to get back into the shape I was just a half a year ago.

But yesterday, something changed. Over the weekend I traveled to Boston to cheer on my sister-in-law Meredith as she took on the Boston Marathon (and CRUSHED IT!) and spent a few hours in the hotel gym on Sunday doing squats and leg lifts and crunches and push ups and planks and swimming. Then on Monday I walked. Tuesday I was sore, but by Wednesday, I felt strong again.

Not “I can run a marathon” strong, but I didn’t wince on the stairs. My core felt tight instead of weak. I drove home from work with the windows down and realized – I can’t wait to run again. The idea popped into my head completely unbidden for the first time in months. And I smiled.

Because I know I’ll run again. It’s going to take time, and I’m going to need to do a LOT of work to get back even a fraction of the strength I lost. But I’m willing to put that work in, because I don’t want to feel weak and soft and injured anymore. I’m ready to feel strong again. I’m ready to be a runner again.

Newport Half Marathon Race Recap

After a great experience as a Blog Partner with the Newport 10K in May, I was invited to run the the Newport Half Marathon in September and jumped at the opportunity. Sunday started out muggy and warmer than expected; Mere was running this race with me (well, she finished like 90 minutes before me but you know what I mean) and as we headed into Jersey City we prayed the sun would stay behind the clouds for our race to keep the temps low.

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Spoiler alert: it did!

A note about parking: a big factor in my race decisions is how easy it is to get to. My nerves are already shot enough on race morning, I’m not about to drive myself insane circling a city for a parking spot or navigating a bunch of detours. Anyone who’s driven in northern NJ will tell you that it’s a bitch and a half, so I was skeptical about a race IN Jersey City. But these folks are total pros, and even though we rolled up to the race area a bit later than I wanted, we still managed to get a parking spot in the huge deck very easily thanks to the clearly labeled streets and tons of race volunteers. A++ for that, Newport Half Race Team!

After parking, we stopped at the porta-potties (again, plenty of clean options available, another A+ for the event crew), hung out for a bit, and waited for the start.

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Full disclosure: while waiting, I had a bit of a panic attack. The craziness of the pre-race crowds two days in a row, combined with the lack of sleep and extra physical pressure I had been putting on myself all came to a head and I just wanted out. I didn’t want to be there. I felt itchy all over. My skin burned and my insides churned. I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like crying. So I sat on the curb while everyone around me chatted and took a few deep breaths to work through it.

I didn’t plan to wait until World Mental Health Day to publish this post, but it’s fitting that I share it now. Anxiety doesn’t always look like hysterical tears or someone hugging themselves and rocking; sometimes it’s a quiet, forced smile or a stoneface when everyone else is laughing. I’m not going to gloss over my mental health issues to paint an unrealistic picture. We need to break the stigma of talking about these things, and I want to help do that, one blog post at a time. So yes, I had a small panic attack before the start. After a few minutes I was able to pull it together and we went on with our morning, but if you ever feel overwhelmed and scared, just know that you’re not alone!

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Once we realized the crowd was moving to the start corrals we headed over with them and seeded ourselves. It was a smaller race so the corrals were about 50 feet apart, which was nice. Mere said farewell and headed to her corral and Mike stayed with me to send me off at the start, and away we went.

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Right away, the humidity was an issue. It was hard to breathe and my muscles were super tight from racing Seaside the day before. I took it slow because I still had the goal of adding miles at the end of the race. But by mile 3, my right calf and ankle felt like they were wrapped in super glue: tight, hot, and angry. So I pulled over to a curb and stretched for a good minute or two – clearly this was not going to be one of those “omg I am so strong!” races. I was OK with this.

After mile 3, I was feeling better, my ankle and calf had loosened up, and even though I was drenched in sweat already, I fell into a groove behind these two girls at my exact pace, who had to be twins – they had nearly identical builds and ponytails, even their gaits were similar.

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I took my first gel at the water stop near 4.5 and finally stopped for a bathroom break at about mile 6 in the park. Then we turned onto the waterfront path at 6.5 and came face to face with Lady Liberty and the NYC Skyline – and I kid you not – Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York randomly came on my iPod and the run immediately took a turn for the better.

I sang, I danced, I pointed at the skyline – hell, I cried some happy tears – all while running straight for that beautiful city in front of me.

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I’m sure the folks around me thought I was insane, but I didn’t care. Seeing the city was just the refresher I needed to get me through the rest of the race. We curled through the park for another few miles, and about halfway through mile 9 we cruised through a water stop manned by a crew of teens who cheered us on with big smiles. I had to laugh though – as I took my second gel and walked through, one of the teens sitting on the curb nearby shouted to her friend across the course, “Oh my god, my legs are SO TIRED!” to which I replied without thinking, “YOUR legs are tired???” She immediately blushed and covered her face and laughed with everyone around her – “I’m sorry!! I mean I ran yesterday so I’m sore! But you’re running so much more than me, you’ve got this!!” It’s always fun to interact with the volunteers 🙂

Around mile 10.5 as we neared the city again, I started to feel some twinge-y pains in my left ankle, possibly from overcompensating for the sore right ankle earlier in the run? Either way, I slowed down a lot here, and even stopped to fish a rock out of my shoe at one point. Then just before mile 11, we turned the corner where a small group of spectators stood. A woman was there with an older woman and a younger guy, and she was holding a sign that said “Almost there!” Of course, I laughed and said with a smile, “You’re not allowed to say that until Mile 13!”

Well, apparently this woman had enough of being heckled by runners the whole race, because she immediately snapped back at me in a super-nasty tone: “IT’S AN INSIDE JOKE.”

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excuse me??

I laughed in her face and waved her off. Um, an inside joke with who? One of the thousands of runners out here on the course with me? How about if you don’t like the comments you’re getting, you put that sign down until this inside joker of yours passes by, and you keep that sourpuss to yourself, mmkay?

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ANYWAY, it was right about then that Formation came on my ipod and I kicked it into gear for the final 5K. I texted Mike to let him know I was about a half hour away and took off at my now slower pace to keep that tender ankle from rolling. At mile 12 we hit the waterfront and cruised along there for the final mile and a half, and I crossed the finish line at 13.5 miles in a semi-decent time for a training run on tired legs.

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Overall it was a perfect course and a well-organized race, just like the 10K. If you’re looking for a nice flat half marathon with pretty views (and a medal, too!), definitely check this one out.