Thursday, February 7, 2013

Five years ago

I couldn't run around the block. It was five years ago that I first tried to run, and failed - sort of. I failed to run as far I thought I could run or as fast as I thought I could run. But what I didn't know was that day when I laced up my sneakers and started jogging up the street, I was starting a whole new chapter in my life.

It was 2008. I was less than 9 months out from losing both parents to cancer in less than a year's time. Our youngest son had just been diagnosed with autism and seizures at 4 years old. We were already dealing with our 7 year-old son's developmental delay, which also placed him on the autism spectrum. I had quit my nursing job and was attending grad school full-time. I'd gained almost 20 pounds and felt like my skin was too tight for my body.

In early February, one of my professors challenged our class to train for and run the Broad Street Run, a 10-mile race through Philadelphia held in early May every year. She was a busy mom like me and had run the race the year before. This sparked my interest, if she could do it, maybe I could too? I needed to get into shape and thought that maybe this would be a fun challenge. I recruited my cousin Cheryl to run the race with me, and she was crazy enough to agree, though she wasn't a runner either.

I'm not sure why I thought I could run, let alone run for 10 miles straight. I'd done yoga regularly for years, but I'd never really stuck with any kind of regular exercise as an adult. I had bad knees, very little motivation, and even less spare time. And my mom always told me that adult women shouldn't run because it would "jiggle their women parts too much."

But I did it. Every day I'd run a little further. I was too afraid to run on the road outside the confines of my neighborhood, so I went to the local track and ran laps. It wasn't fun, but something kept me coming back for more.

As I ran through the cold, rain, and wind, I thought. I worked through some of the grief I was feeling over losing my parents and my sons' diagnoses. I remember doing my first 8 mile run. I wanted to stop after 2 miles - it was hot by then, and 8 miles on a track is extremely boring. I knew I had a paper to write for school once I got home, and I really didn't want to write that paper, so I just kept going round and round the track until I hit the 8-mile mark. I'd written half the paper in my head by that point.

One day on my way home from school, I saw someone running and I was jealous that I was stuck in the car and not running. At that point, I knew I was hooked. This was my addiction. I subscribed to a running magazine and got fitted for shoes at a real running store.

I ran my first race, 10 miles side by side with Cheryl in May of 2008. We ran the whole way - not fast, not with perfect form - but we finished in under 2 hours and we were ecstatic. A week later I heard about a brand new women's half-marathon in Disney World, and I called Cheryl and convinced her that we needed to sign up. We had a new goal ahead of us - the 2009 Princess Half-Marathon. Having a new race goal kept me running and I'd learned that running kept me sane.

In 2012, after two years of encouragement from my husband, I joined the Mullica Hill Women's Tri Club. I joined hesitantly, mostly looking for new training and running opportunities, but swearing that I would never do a triathlon. By the end of the club's orientation night, I was making a plan to train for swimming and biking.

Somewhere along this journey I became a runner and a triathlete. I've found new training buddies and forged friendships. I've gotten faster and stronger and braver. Last summer, I conquered swimming in both a lake and the ocean - a paralyzing fear of mine.

If you'd told me five years ago today that in February of 2013 I'd be training for my 5th Princess Half-Marathon, my 44th road race, I'd have asked if you'd hit your head. If you told me I would run 3 full marathons and compete in 2 triathlons, I would have laughed in your face. Five years ago I was not a runner, I was not an athlete, and I would never, ever choose to swim in a lake or ocean for more than a minute.

But running is a big part of of who I am now. It is my time to think and process and grieve and plan. Marathons and triathlons are an important part of my life. My kids know that Mommy is happier after she gets a good run in, and my husband graciously plans trips and vacations around races.

That first "failed" run in February of 2008 was the start of something big, and I'm so happy that I didn't just give up, go home, and eat ice cream.

There is a song from the animated Disney movie "Hercules" that sums up how I feel about running, triathlons, and the MHWTC. I get chills and a little misty every time I hear the words.

"I have often dreamed
Of a far off place
Where a great warm welcome
Will be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer
When they see my face
And a voice keeps saying
This is where I'm meant to be

I will find my way
I can go the distance
I'll be there someday
If I can be strong
I know every mile
Will be worth my while
I would go most anywhere
To feel like I belong"