Defining Strength

Last October I crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon with a renewed love of running. I struggled emotionally through the entire training cycle. I cried during long runs by mile two. I questioned my strength, my ability and my worth. Over the course of 26.2 miles, I picked up all the broken pieces. I put myself back together. 

While I finished the race feeling whole, my body felt weak. Physically I lacked strength. When race photos were delivered, I was shocked by my appearance. It wasn’t a reflection of me (but maybe it was). My body caved in on itself. I folded in at my shoulders. My body was sinking. 


A new chapter began. I was on a quest to find my strength. I would become the one thing I’ve always doubted about myself. I would become strong. It was time to tell myself something new:

I am strong. 

It started as a physical quest. I joined a local gym (Evofit). Like all great transformations, working out has little to do with me physically. In this new space, my strength is becoming deeply rooted in my being. 

During the first week of April, I sat on the floor of the gym exhausted by the workout. In my training log, I wrote down the daily workout. Out of curiosity, I looked backwards. In March, I completed four workouts. In February, I completed two workouts. In January, four. In December, five. A seed was planted. Could I workout more during the first week of April than all of March? Could I workout more during April than the combined total since I joined the gym? I love a good challenge. My mission was set. 

The first week I was in class every day. On Friday, I celebrated. My body ached more than it has ever ached. Muscles hurt that I didn’t know I possessed. The trend continued. Every day I showed up. I finished April with twenty workouts in my training log. 


I’m carrying this new pattern with me through summer. Evofit sessions are the thing I log most on Strava. Running has taken a back burner. 

Through this process, I’m becoming aware of so much. By making an area of weakness my priority, I’m growing. I’m seeing myself from a different perspective. 

My greatest weakness was my weakness. My weakness is everything I saw in my pictures from Chicago. It’s caving in. It’s folding in on myself. It’s sinking. Physically. Emotionally. This is when I start to fall apart, and Evofit is showing me how to stay strong when this happens. 

While I’m finding a new physical strength that has me feeling stronger and running faster, it also has me standing taller. On days when I’m sinking, I now have a place to go that makes me feel strong. 

This journey to define my strength isn’t just bringing attention to areas of growth. It is also casting a spotlight on what has always made me strong. My strength has nothing to do with how many pounds I can lift or how quickly I can row 500 meters. The strength I’ve had inside of me this entire time is my ability to take on a challenge and welcome change. My strength is my ability to combine all aspects of growth and change. Transformation has to take place on every level, and I embrace this. 

Physically I’m changing, but this change is so much more than physical. This new chapter has exposed me to a brand new place to call home. 

“We can’t be brave in the big world without at least one small space to work through our fears and falls.” ~Brene Brown

How lucky am I that my space to work through all my fears and falls is my own body! 

Chicago Marathon (October). ODU 5k (April). Corpoate 5k (May).

Corporate 5k – People, Puddles and Purpose

Running is my therapy. Being on the trails feeds my soul. But racing! Racing is a different story. Racing always leaves me feeling vulnerable and exposed. I show up to every start line committed to giving it my best on that day, yet there is so much you can’t control. Some race finishes leave me feeling triumphant while other races leave me feeling like I’m face down in a mud puddle. 

I’m on a quest this summer to conquer the 5k PR I set in November 2013. The time to beat is 24:50 (7:59 pace). My plan is simple. Get strong. Run a 5k a month. Grab a new PR before I start training for half marathons this fall. 

Yesterday I ran my May 5k at the inaugural J&A Racing Corporate 5k. This race was a little different than most 5ks in the area. With a focus on employee wellness and corporate involvement, it was a 5k race after work with a tailgate party to follow. The race kicked off at 6:30pm just outside our local baseball stadium. 

I had all day to be nervous. I had all day to come up with scenarios of success and failure. Would I finish feeling triumphant or would I finish face down in the mud?

After a gentle reminder to let go of outcome expectations, I took a few deep breaths and made a mental list of my own expectations. What was I hoping to achieve?

  • Run faster than ODU 5k
  • Feel strong
  • Feel healthy 
  • Run mentally strong

There is a reason my 5k PR is nearly three years old. There were a few years where I mentally struggled with racing. I was afraid to get uncomfortable. I shut down when it got hard. I may still be wiping some of that mud off my face. All day I felt vulnerable and exposed. Would I end up back in the mud puddle after I’ve worked so hard to lift myself out of it. 

When I arrived in the parking lot of the race, rain decided to welcome me. It was nothing like a typical day in May in Virginia. Cold, wet and windy. My nerves would not relax. 

Rain or shine, I was running. Good day or bad, I was going to run with all I had to give. It was time to race. 

“I believe that vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy.” ~Brene Brown

With three great friends by my side, the race was off. The start was incredibly congested. Puddles filled the streets. My own personal game of leap frog started my race off strong. 

Mile 1 – 8:24

Mile 1 arrived, and I felt great. Had I gone out too slow? My good friend Karen stuck by my side for the race. She knew my goal was to run faster than a 8:30 pace. With her on pacing duties, I promised to not look at my watch once. There is no room for second guessing in a 5k.  Keep running hard. 


Mile 2 – 8:24

With little running since Shamrock, I was shocked by how good my cardio felt. My quads were burning, but my entire body felt engaged. Instead of focusing on what hurt, I focused on what felt strong. 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

Mile 3 – 8:22

With the finish literally around the corner (around the baseball stadium straight towards home plate), I just focused on holding on. 
Final stretch – 7:42 pace 

Garmin finish – 3.22 miles, 26:51 (8:20 pace) 

Official finish – 5k, 26:52 (8:39 pace

Love hearing him announce my name at the finish

While the official time is a few seconds slower than the ODU 5k, the course was longer. The growth is clearly there. My pacing (and pacer) was perfect. I don’t think I’ve ever run a race this consistent. My body feels strong. My confidence is growing. 

This race was a huge win! 

Pushing through the fear of the unknown, of expectations, and discomfort is worth it every time. Sometimes you do end up face down in the mud, but sometimes you soar! Showing up and giving your best is only way to learn to fly. 

My Evofit Family

Celebrating 36. 

“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This birthday is simple. It’s special. It means the world to me. This birthday is good. My heart is full. 

There isn’t possibly anything I could ask for on my birthday this year. It’s not because I have it all, but it’s because I’m completely satisfied by what I do have right now.  The past two months I’ve taken inventory of all the things I’m grateful for in my life. My priorities have fallen into place and lined up perfectly with every thing my heart has ever whispered. Thirty six is the year I rid myself of emotional clutter. 

A year ago as I celebrated 35, I promised myself I’d find and use my voice. This year I’ve finally made the space in my life for my voice to have a platform. As I add layers to my life this year, they will compliment where I’m at in life. They will enhance my voice. They will celebrate my worth. 

Thirty six is the year I stand up straight with confidence and a smile on my face. Thirty six isn’t about wishing for more. It’s about loving exactly what I have. It’s about maximizing the moments. Thirty six is a celebration of life. 

“I see my life as an unfolding set of opportunities to awaken.” ~Ram Dass

celebrating 36

Focused and Free, Shamrock Half Marathon 2016 

In a million ways yesterday was a perfect race. I ran to my potential based on what race day had to offer.  I felt strong and engaged. Mentally I found my sweet spot. 

In one way yesterday’s race fell a little flat. The race clock doesn’t match my potential. 

The story of the race clock goes back long before this race. My quest for a sub 2 hour half marathon started two and a half years ago. At the crawlin crab half marathon in 2013 (Read it here). I lined up ready to break two hours. I failed miserably. When my miles started to fall off pace a few miles into the race, I threw in the towel. I quit, and I finished the race feeling miserable about my ability. 

My second focused attempt at breaking two hours was at the Flying Pirate Half Marathon (Read it here), I showed up more than ready. Again I failed miserably. When my paces fell off, I gave up on the race. I gave up on myself. 

A few injuries, a few marathons, and a few life changes have happened over the last two and a half years, but the one thing that has remained consistent was my quest for sub 2. My training runs resulted in sub 2 13.1 miles, but it’s never translated to race day. This year felt like a no brainer. I showed up at the start line with three goals in my head:

A Goal: 8:xx pace overall 

B Goal: Sub 2 

C Goal: Do not give up on my race. 

For most, the C goal would have been a PR. For most there would be a drastic difference between Goal B and C but for me, it’s what I needed. My head tends to be all or nothing. I knew if I saw sub 2 fading away, my biggest challenge would be to keep my head in the game. Could I fight for a finish that had nothing to do with the time clock? 

Sunday delivered a day that was the perfect test of my strength. A Nor’easter by the name of Winter Storm Regis showed up on the first day of spring. It poured until about half way into the race. The winds fought back with gusts averaging 35mph. This was the day we were given to run, and I embraced it. Everyone was running the same race. 

I started the race with a few of the runners from our training team and the 2 hour pacers. For the first 4 miles I sat comfortably at the back of the pack (note to self: race day pace groups are not for me). There was way too much nervous energy and anticipation in the large pace group for me to feel comfortable settling into my own run. I could feel everyone’s emotions but my own. 

8:56, 9:18, 9:14, 9:16

By mile 5 I knew I needed to let the group go. I was using too much energy to stay attached to their pacing signs. I also needed to adjust my sock since my foot had started to bleed. I used the waterstop to adjust both my sock and my place on the race course. 

9:49

I let the pacers go knowing they would come back to me when the wind was at my back. I kept running north embracing the wind, and I finally felt myself mentally settle. 

9:19

Fort story can be a beast. The winds blow hard, and there were many times I felt myself stumble. I focused on the little things for the next three miles. Get to the water stop. Find the lighthouse. Get off the base. Go see my husband. 

9:20

9:34

9:44

I didn’t look at my watch once during the race for many reasons, but I knew this race was a race that wouldn’t be defined by the race clock. I knew I needed to focus on my C Goal. I needed to fight for my finish regardless of time. I needed to fight just for me. 

As I made the turn back on to Atlantic Avenue, I knew Christian would be there. Having just mentally conquered the hardest part of the course, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was proud of me. I knew at this point the 2 hour group wasn’t coming back to me. No excuses. No reasons to quit. I arrived to Christian a puddle of tears. I mumbled a quick “I’m okay,” and I kept running. He biked beside me for a block or two. He updated me on my friends. I then sent him on his way to the final turn. I needed to own my mental space on this run. I needed this race to belong to me. 

9:09

9:36

10:13 

I ran as fast as my legs would let. After a long stretch of focusing on one block at a time, I made it to the boardwalk. The finish line was waiting for me. 

Focused and free, I fully embraced the last mile of this race. As the finish line got closer and closer, my sweet friend Catrina popped out with open arms ready to support me. It was the best surprise of the day, and I welcomed a congratulatory embrace. 

Without a doubt, I had just finished one of my best mental races. 

Official finish time – 2:04:03

“Ask nothing from your running, and you’ll get more than you ever imagined!” ~Christophet McDougall

  

A Shamrock Story 

It’s race week. The lead up to this race has had its own story to tell just like every other race except this one feels different. This one belongs only to me. 

With a brand new blank slate to write my own story, I’ve been left with only my wants, my passion, my desire and my fears. It’s been a tug-of-war battle between all the voices in my head. 

With five days until race day, today may forever be marked as the day I wrote the draft for the next phase of my life. Of all days, today should be the day. 

At 7:13 this morning the sun rose. At 7:13 tonight the sun will set. Today is the day that my tiny piece of the world is perfectly balanced.  To celebrate, I went for a run. Three easy miles down a favorite trail and up and over a bridge that’s crosses the point where the Chesapeake bay meets the waterways inland. I was surrounded by beauty and balance. The trail is becoming green as spring makes itself know to our coastal city. 

 

pleasure house point
 
 Today is the day that there is equal amounts of light and dark. Tomorrow the light takes over. 

The run felt fluid. My legs felt strong. 

 

view from the top
 
 After my run, I indulged in a lunch date with two powerhouse ladies. We discussed race plans and dreams. We shared fears and life stories. During the three hour lunch, my brain ran circles around possibilities. This race is different than any other race I’ve run for one simple reason. 

Running has always healed me. It’s always pieced me back together. Every single time I’ve run shamrock, I was piecing myself back together. 

2010 – the year I ran to prove I was capable

2011 – the year I cheered from the sidelines with a stress fracture 

2012 – the year I ran to prove I could be more than a newborn mom

2013 – the year I ran my first marathon with a grieving heart (cancer sucks!)

2014 – the year I ran to prove I could come back from injury 

2015 – the year I ran to fall in love with racing again 

I always perceived myself to be broken. 

2016 is different. 2016 is the year I write my own story. This blank slate is giving me the opportunity to launch myself down whatever path I choose. There is no heartache to overcome. There is nothing to heal, fix or piece together. I am whole. 

All I have to do on race day is show up, silence the fears in my head, and run myself to finish line. Every year I’ve ran broken and got to the finished feeling healed. This year I’m showing up to the finish line whole, and I will finish the race whole. 

This year I’m giving myself permission to be unbreakable. 

tonight’s sunset

Equinox 

In less than two weeks the world approaches the small moment of time  when everything is in balance. Here along the Atlantic Ocean, the sun will rise. Twelve hours later it will set. Dark and light find harmony as our beach town begins to bloom. Spring will arrive. The equinox is approaching. 

As we transition out of winter’s hibernation, I can feel the ache of winter in my bones. My muscles are fatigued from fighting to stay warm all winter. My skin craves the warmth of sunshine. This is a new chapter in my life. The ache and the fatigue that is leaving my body is as much physical as it is emotional. The craving of warmth is as much my skin as it is my heart. As the world wakes up, I feel like I’m finding my harmony within myself and nature. 

My life is finding harmony. 

In less than two weeks on the same day as the spring equinox, I will line up with 180 teammates and thousands of other runners to run the Shamrock half marathon. The ache in my legs is proof of a season of hard training. The craving of warmth is evidence of running through many frozen morning. Shamrock weekend is just the beginning of my bloom. 

 

if you can’t find me, i’m here
 
I never expected to be here. Stripped of all career responsibilities, I have an amazing opportunity to fully examine my aspirations. My roots are rich. I’ve had nearly 36 years to create the perfect soil to encouraging proper growth. I’m seeing the strength in trusting my heart whispers.  As the winter cold drifts away, I feel myself reaching. I feel myself breathing deeply growing in the direction of the sun. 

“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.” ~John Muir

The plan for race day is a simple as the plan for this new season. Let my roots anchor me. Let the warmth of the sun guide me. Let my spirit bloom. Let the compassion of others push and pull me. This season belongs to me. 

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ~John Muir

Tonight on our evening bike ride, an osprey flew over the river as the sunset. The osprey have returned. The air hints of summer. Nature is reminding us that spring is here to stay. 

This season will transition to summer, winter will return, but the changes cultivated will become part of who I am for every season of my life. 

“the sunset is your favorite color” ~Chet

Confession of a Pacer

I have a confession to make. I wasn’t sure if I could do this. I wasn’t sure if would measure up or hit the paces my team needed me to hit. When I was asked to be a pacer for the J&A Racing Training Team, I knew my heart was committed but could my legs preform. 

The first training team meet up resulted in a lot of anxiety. It felt like race day eve. I didn’t sleep. I had a nervous stomach. When I was introduced to the group, I felt like an imposter. I was a new face in the crowd. I had a lot I wanted to prove. I had a lot of self induced pressure. 

We ran that day, and our paces were exactly where they needed to be. I’ve never felt more relieved. 

 

Family
 
For the past 12 weeks, Friday nights have all been the same. I’ve been nervous. I’ve been afraid this would be the weekend I’d have a terrible run. When you’re pacing at your race pace, you can’t hide. There is no room for a bad run. I needed to be my best every Saturday. I wanted to be my best every Saturday. 

Confession: I wasn’t confident that a 9 minute mile was my comfort zone. 

Confession: I put a lot of pressure on myself to bring my A Game every weekend. 

Confession: I’ve never wanted to be successful at something as much as I wanted this. 

Every Saturday, I’ve got out of bed, my body alive with excitement. Each week my doubts have grown a little more quiet. Each week my heart has beat louder. It’s become more clear. It’s become more vibrant. I can do this. I am doing this. 

This past weekend our team had its furthest run to date. Everyone in my 9 minute group set out to accomplish 14 miles. After the first few miles, it was clear each runner in our pack was having a different day. Two were feeling strong and were ready to soar. Two were struggling with illness and need to preserve. I sent the two healthy teammates free. Go run. We will catch up. For the other two, we ran miles that felt good. For one that meant cutting the run short. For the other, we ran walked the final few. 

 

Starting Strong
 
Every single person on our team is race ready. Saturday was a formality. For everyone it proved what they already know about themselves. Their goals are waiting for them to achieve them. For the next nineteen days, our legs will become fresh again. Our spirit will continue to shine. 

Confession: I’m more excited about their race than my own. 

Confession: I’m more excited about them discovering their potential than what I can do on race day. 

I have my own personal goals for race day, but this entire training cycle has been my reward. I’ve erased every doubt my head was creating back in December. 

Confession: I hope I’m chasing them all on the race course.  

Confession: Every single runner on this team is the reason I will give my all on race day. It’s to honor them. 

“…there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love *running*. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you’ve got, being patient and forgiving and… undemanding…maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other.” ~Christopher McDougall

Confession: Seeing potential in my teammates had allowed me to see my potential. 

Confession: This team has healed my heart. 

Confession: This team has made my love more vibrant. 

Confession: I don’t want this season to end. 

“Running is the heart of what it means to be human.” ~Christopher McDougall

Confession: This team has brought me back to life. 

Finishing up Saturdays Mock Race
 
Thank you doesn’t feel like the right words. They aren’t strong enough. The only way I can think of to express my gratitude for this journey is to let my heart run this race, to pour everything I have into race day, and to leave every ounce of energy I have on the race course. 

I owe it to them, and I owe it to myself. 

19 days until race day! 

chalkmaster Josh inspires again

Take a Leap

The entire month of February has been defined by five simple words.

Take a Leap of Faith.

It became the time for to jump. It became the time for confidence. When asked about choices, next steps, or why, the only answer I can come up with is that I’m taking a leap of faith. I know there is something great waiting for me. I don’t know what. That excites me. I don’t know where. That is empowering. This entire process has filled me with gratitude. It’s striped away nonsense. It’s brought clarity to my priorities. It’s be a refreshing period to take inventory of my worth.

I don’t take it lightly that I have the ability to reassess how I want the next chapter of my life to look. Because I am lucky enough to explore this space, I want to do it justice. I want to do it right.

“She took the leap and built her wings on the way down.”

My intention is make choices that feel empowering. My intention is to make choices that bring strength to my family. Every day is an act of catching myself, and using my strength to take flight.

“You were born with potential.

You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness.

You were born with wings.

You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.

Learn to use them and fly.” ~Rumi

   

Flying through the fog

So far this leap year hasn’t disappointed! 

 

Safety Net

“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it life?” ~Mary Oliver 

The past month I’ve felt myself standing on unstable ground. I’ve felt alive. I’ve felt afraid. I’ve felt engaged. I’ve felt committed. I’ve felt lost. My thoughts have wandered down so many paths. 

When I made the decision to walk away from Operation Smile, a good friend wrote four questions on a piece of paper for me. I tucked them away into my journal knowing I’d revisit them when the timing felt right. Today was that day. Each of the questions is meant to guide your thoughts towards defining a life purpose. I let my thoughts wander some more. I wrote down everything. A common theme quickly emerged. 

Home. 

Engagement. 

Safety. 

Support. 

Love. 

These words kept finding there way to my paper. If you were to ask me what I want to be be when I grow up, my answer is simple and complicated. I want to be a safety net. I want to provide my boys a safe environment to explore, to succeed and to fail. I want to be there for Christian when he needs someone to catch him. I want to be someone people can count on to lift them back. 

As all these thoughts took shape on paper, there is one moment that came rushing back to me. 

Utah. 

My heart always wanders back to Utah. During our canyoneering adventure, Christian and I faced so many obstacles that have defined our marriage. This past month isn’t an exception. 

Later in the day on that life changing adventure, we approached the edge of a waterfall. There was one way down. We would lower ourselves using our own strength to get to the pool 30 feet below us. 

  
I was paralyzed. Taking a step down, trusting myself to support myself, froze me in tracks. I sat and stared. I cried. I couldn’t make my next step. In that moment Christian wanted to save me. He couldn’t. I needed to do this on my own. 

I don’t know how long I sat there. I don’t know what convinced me to take the first step. But I do know the fear that I felt. I do know the relief I felt when I made forward (or downward) progress. I do know the rush of satisification as my body was submerged in the pool below. 

 

My facial expersion: fear and relief
 
The past month I’ve been sitting on the edge paralyzed. 

As I filled my journal with words today my vision became clear. If I want to be a safety net, it has to start with myself. I have to catch myself. 

“…there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do —

determined to save

the only life you could save.”

~Mary Oliver

This journey has been messy and inspiring. It’s been confusing and reassuring. It’s reminded me of everything I already know. 

It’s time to start living it.