Happy National Running Day!
Those of you who read my blog or follow me on social media (especially Instagram) probably think I’ve always been a runner, logging mile after mile, running race after race, racking up medal after medal. But those of you who know me in real life or know I’ve only recently become a runner.
In high school, I managed the cross country team. I looked up to the coach and the athletes. I so wanted to be one of them. So to fit in, I did all the warm-ups and cool downs, and I kept ace statistics. I started my stopwatch in sync with the starting gun and bolted to the 1-mile mark, then hopefully the 2-mile mark, and always the finish line. I calculated splits in my head and knew the personal bests of a dozen or more runners. I congratulated our standouts and a buoyed our strugglers. I hung onto inhalers and sweatpants, and I offered sweaty hugs and homemade chocolate chip cookies.
It didn’t matter to the cross country team that I didn’t run. It mattered only that I showed up. I earned a major letter in cross country for my hard work and dedication, and I got as big of a round of applause and as many words of praise as the athletes.
After college, while working as a reporter for a newspaper, I made a decision to get healthy. I wanted to lose weight and feel better about myself. I wanted to be a runner. So, I ate fruits and vegetables, I drank 8 glasses of water a day, I weighed my food and counted my calories, and I exercised. I used the elliptical trainer, but I transitioned to the treadmill and learned to run by doing intervals of walking and running—a Couch-to-5K-type plan before Couch-to-5K was a “thing.”
Running reeled me in, hook, line, and sinker. I felt strong. I felt healthy. And I lost a few pounds.
I signed up for my first 5K race in March 2009—the Dick Lytie Spring Classic in Green Bay, Wis.—and my then-boyfriend (now husband) Christopher ran the entire 3.1-mile race alongside me. I vividly remember the experience: I crossed the finish line and dry heaved from over-exertion. Christopher assured the volunteers I was fine, I just had asthma. I did two more 5Ks that summer, and then Christopher and I did the Jingle Bell Run in Janesville, Wis., on Dec. 5, 2009—the race where at the finish line Christopher presented me with an engagement ring and asked me to marry him. I did a few more races in Wisconsin in 2010. At the very end of 2010, after we had been living in Michigan for about 6 months, and after some blog interaction with a couple of girls from Grand Rapids, I found a true passion for running. We signed up for a 4-miler on New Year’s Eve, then a 5K each in February and March. Around that time, I decided to train for a big distance race—a half marathon (with Amy, who agreed to train and run with me). Christopher was working long hours and traveling with the hockey team, so I ran with Dexter to pass the time. We trudged through a cold, snowy winter. In poetic fashion, Amy and I crossed the finish line of the Oshkosh Half Marathon soaking wet and freezing cold; it was April, and it was snowing. About a month later, Mindy, Andi, and Christopher and I ran the River Bank Run 25K. Then, around the turn of 2012, Christopher and I decided to run a marathon. It was a completely life-changing experience (my race recap is here). We did some other races after the big one, then we got pregnant and had our twin girls, the loves of our lives.
Running took a backseat to everyday life. I yearned to run, to race, to add more bling to my collection. I missed the challenge, the rush. We ran a handful of 5Ks last summer. I was back in the game.
And then, around the turn of 2015, Mindy, Andi, and I decided to run a marathon together. It was another life-changing experience—but in a completely different way (my race recap is here). I trained well. I ran a solid race. I want to do it all over again. In the days leading up to the Wisconsin Marathon, I wrote this:
You [running] helped me find my strong. You make me feel tough as nails. You give me a rush of confidence unmatched by just about everything else.
Because of you, I get to hear my husband tell me, ‘You’re so beautiful!’ even in the midst of a run—sweat dripping down my brow, salt caked to my eyelids, spit stuck in the corner of my mouth.
Because of you, I get to see the looks on people’s faces when they find out I’m a runner; sometimes, they look at me like I’m crazy, but other times, they look at me with a hell of a lot of respect—especially those who are runners, too. I love telling them my story.
Because of you, I feel like I can do anything.
It’s all still true today. Today, 8 years after first learning to run; with 18 5Ks, 2 half marathons, a 25K, 2 full marathons, and a handful of other distances under my belt, and now with two daughters in tow, I run:
- For the former fat girl who never thought she would be an athlete, let alone a runner.
- For the quality time with myself, my husband, and my family.
- For the stress relief and the confidence boost.
- For the experiences it has given me.
- For the friendships it has brought into my life.
- For my daughters, to show them what it means to set goals and achieve them, to try and sometimes fail, to be strong, to be determined, and to be confident.
- For myself, to prove that with a dream and some hard work, anything is possible.
Running really has changed my life. And I thank God every day for it.