Shamrock Half Marathon 2015

“Courage, Dear Heart.” ~C.S. Lewis

A week ago I crossed the finish line of the Newport News Marathon 8k. Over the five hilly miles, my head quickly tried to play its old tricks. By mile two I found myself thinking old thoughts of “I can’t” and “it’s too hard”. As quickly as they came, I quickly laughed them off. I spent last year battling those mental demons. There was no way I was letting them win this year. Instead I had fun with the runners around me. I chatted with the few spectators that were on the course. Even when congestion prevented me from breathing deeply and a cramp emerged in my side around mile 3, I stayed happy. The result was an 8k and a perfectly executed race

(Finish Time: 45:15, Splits: 9:11, 9:02, 9:01, 9:01, 8:56)

After this race, I knew my heart (and most importantly my head) was ready for my big race weekend: Shamrock Half Marathon.

I wasn’t supposed to be running the half this weekend. I was supposed to be in Africa. I wasn’t training for a spring half. I thought my goal race would be a 10 miler at the end of April. So when plans changed, I quickly adapted my training plan to squeeze in a few double digit runs (two to be exact).

As race day approached, I had a few goals floating around in my head. First and most importantly, I wanted to duplicate the feeling I ran with at the One City Marathon 8k. I wanted to run with a happy heart. I wanted to have fun. Based on my current fitness level, I also had a few anticipated finish times.

A Goal – Sub 2 if the day was absolutely perfect mixed with a little race day magic (the same pace as my 8k the weekend before)

B Goal – PR (sub 2:03:19)

C Goal – stay strong (9:30 pace)

As I lined up at the start of the Shamrock Half Marathon with my friends, I decided I wanted to go for. I wanted to see if I had a sub 2 hiding inside my running legs. Regardless of my inconsistent training and regardless of my unfocused running all winter, I knew my heart and my head was the strongest it has ever been going into a race

The excitement is building

The excitement is building

Mile 1 9:08

Mile 2 9:06

Mile 3 9:06

Mile 4 9:01

Mile 5 9:04

Mile 6 9:05

The first six miles head north through the North End of the oceanfront and along Shore Drive through First Landing State Park. My only thought through the first six miles was to slow down. I didn’t want to run faster than a 9 minute mile. I consciously head back and resisted the urge to run faster as the excitement of race day took over.

As we turned on to the military base, I started to fatigue a bit. I think mentally I knew what the next 3 miles had planned. Three miles through a lonely, quiet military base. My running buddy Laura dropped back at Mile 7 due to some cramping so I was all alone. I started the process of counting miles and water stops. Run to the next mile marker. Run to the next water table. Run to the light house. Get me off this stupid military base!

Mile 7 8:54

Mile 8 9:05

Mile 9 9:23

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I expected to feel a surge of excitement as I left the military base, but it never showed up. I was tired. I couldn’t find the motivation to keep the wheels turning. I hadn’t been paying attention to my garmin at this point. If I had know I was so close to going sub 2, I think I could have fought a little harder. Mentally I thought I was in the perfect bubble of finishing with a new PR above 2 hours.

Mile 10 9:35

Mile 11 9:21

Mile 12 9:56

As always Christian was waiting for me as I came out of the military base. Seeing him is always a welcome sight. He stays if I want him near. He bikes ahead when I push him away. I really wanted to be done by the time I saw him. Mentally I was tired.  When I finally saw the mile mark to let me know there was 1 mile left, I finally found some energy. I didn’t run 12 miles to quit, so I tucked my head and kept going.

Mile 13 9:30

As I made my the final turn onto the boardwalk, I was smiling from ear to ear. I knew I was going to cross the finish line with a personal best. This year I really allowed myself to enjoy the energy of the crowd. I high fived everyone on the turn. I cheered along with them. I embraced ever single sign and every single word of encouragement. I couldn’t stop smiling.

Final Stretch 8:36 pace

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Official Results 2:01:43, 9:17 pace

I felt like I was beaming as I made my way down the finisher shoot. Satisfied didn’t even begin to describe just how good I felt about my run on Sunday. Running a PR always feels good, but this year feels different. This year running was my last priority. This year family time always came first. This year my work has become my source of pride. This year I choose sleep when my body was weary. This year my life felt like everything fell in place perfectly. To be rewarded with a personal best is truly the cherry on top.

Post Race Celebrating

Post Race Celebrating

As I put another check in the box next to a goal accomplished, I can’t help but feel like this is my starting point. I felt this exact same way last year at the finish line of the Shamrock Half. I’m finding my stride. I’m finding what works best for my life. Running has become the perfect compliment for everything that makes me happy.

This year running embraced me back. My heart won this race!

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Courage: the Path to Thriving

I thought 2015 was my year to thrive. I thought my focus would be on thriving, on blooming, on flourishing. I feel myself thriving at work. I focus on thriving in my relationships at home. I desperately want to thrive in my running. But another word keeps finding its way to my heart: courage

The Shamrock Half Marathon is twenty-two days away. Every single time I re-engage with my training, a curve ball happens: snow, lack of sleep, higher intensity at work. A focused training plan constantly gets moved to the back-burner. At the end of each run, I look at my garmin to see my running pace. A pace in the mid-nines doesn’t feel like thriving. I want eight minute miles, but I can not possibly thrive in all the areas of my life right now if I have a strict focus on my running. It’s not the balance I want in my day-to-day. As the days get closer to race weekend, I’ve felt anxiety about my own ability to run.

I have a competitive spirit. I like to thrive. I like to do my best. I like to push myself. I like to feel like I’ve overcome my self doubts. I like for my spirit to win the battle when my head says I can’t. Will I be happy running a race in the mid-nines when I have much bigger (and faster) running dreams?

While I’ve been desperate to thrive in my running, a different word keeps finding me. In order to thrive, I need to have courage: courage to let go of the race clock, courage to not let my success be defined by a finish time, courage to show up and to push myself out of my comfort zone, courage to show up with an open heart, and courage to go in with all my heart no matter the outcome

“Courage, dear heart.” ~C.S. Lewis

Running is never about running for me. Running is about my heart.

Today I ran six miles before our town gets buried by more snow. I was joined on my run by only the sound of my feet as I navigated snow-covered paths, sandy trails, and shoreline. As I ran, I couldn’t get this quote out of my head.

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a featherbed.” ~Terence McKenna

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I came to my blog to find it. I wanted to read my own words. I needed to see the story that belonged to this quote. When I found it, I smiled.

One year ago yesterday, I typed the same quote. One year ago yesterday, I was rejected by Operation Smile. I was told no when my heart was screaming yes. I thought my dream job had just slipped away. The lesson that I learned through that whole process is the one I try to live everyday. I will always show up with an open heart. I will always show up with my heart exposed. I will always give my whole heart to everything I do, because there isn’t anything that I want in my life that doesn’t deserve my whole heart.

I have to have courage to trust the process.

In twenty-two days when I show up at the start line, the only thing that matters is keeping my heart exposed. I will push myself. I will find the courage to trust my own strength and my own story. One year ago yesterday when I was told no, I knew without a doubt that I would never give up on my dreams. I refused to let it change my heart.

“There is one thing I won’t let today’s no stop me from doing. I refuse to stop dreaming. I know, without a doubt, that I will leave my finger print on our world. Maybe I’ll never see it. Maybe I’ll never have that dream job that reaches into the forgotten corners of our planet. Maybe I’ll never get the chance to nurture someone back to health. But maybe I will. Just maybe I will.” ~me

Neither my heart or my story care about the time on the race clock. My only goal is to cross the finish line feeling like I’m thriving. My only goal is to finish this race knowing that my running dreams can still come true.

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In the Process

I had no intention of running the Shamrock half marathon this year. I was planning to be on a work trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I thought I’d be in the heart of Africa working with patients doing something my heart loves. Plans changed. When my own personal safety came into question, the heart of my family became my priority. These very deserving patients will get treatment even if I’m not there, and my boys don’t have to worry about my safety.

There’s a saying floating around in this world that joy is found in the process not in the finish line. While I won’t be traveling to the DRC, a shift changed inside of me by working on this project. The story of these patients is so closely entwined with my heart. Who I am as a person and the beat of my heart directly connects me to their story. I rediscovered a passion inside of me over the past few months. I’ve found confidence in my own voice and in my own story. I’ve been using my voice to capture my story on paper. I’ve revisited places of shame and guilt that existed within me, and I conquered those doubts. I wanted more than anything to bring strength to these patients. I wanted to bring compassion and courage. In order to bring it to them, I had to find it for myself.

This process has changed me. In some ways it’s been subtle. In other ways it’s been intrusive. Rearranging the components of your soul is messy. It’s chaotic. While some parts have emerged, others have left with a fight. There have been days I’ve felt emotionally unstable as I’ve struggled through this transition: old doubts and insecurities struggling to hold on while new-found strength and courage fought to take over.

Through all this change the one place I’ve been able to sort through all my thoughts is in my running shoes. I’ve worked through it all, celebrated it all, and finished every run feeling like a polished version of my self. Shamrock race weekend feels like the perfect place to shine. This year I’ll be running the Shamrock half marathon instead of traveling to Africa, but I’ll be carrying this entire process with me. The finish line isn’t the one I anticipated, but the process has been the same.

I’ll be running with these patients close to my heart. I’ll be running with the courage and determination I hoped to bring to them. The best way I can honor them and myself is to show up to my life with my heart exposed filled with strength and courage.

When I do board a plane this spring for a different mission site, my heart is going to have nothing to give but love that is rooted in my own strength. My foundation will be built on strength and courage.

 

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Seeking. Striving. Thriving.

A year ago I posted these words on social media. (Timehop is my favorite app.)

“I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with my whole heart.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

I posted these words after spending a weekend with my Aunt Beth, a weekend spent in celebration of the memory of my Aunt Amy. These words embodied how she lived her life, and they are words that echoed into my soul this morning on my run. My heart whispered, “and I am thriving too!” as I hit the unmarked trail a half mile into my route.

The trail is one of the hardest trails to run in the park. There is a lot of climbing (for us folks who live at sea level). Because it is an unmarked trail, it isn’t maintained by the park. Trees have fallen. Areas have been washed away by the rain. It’s quiet, secluded and challenging. My miles are always slow. I normally walk up some of the climbs. Today I had one intention for my run: Thrive. I don’t need to walk. I just need to dig into the run.

My dirty little running secret is that negative self talk has creeped into my head. I’ve convinced myself that I need to walk on short runs. I’ve convinced myself that because my running pace isn’t where it was or where I want it to be, I’m not strong. Sometime between last summer and today, I’ve beat myself up at some point on a run. Today was different. Perhaps it was because I was defeated by a spin class this week, but I didn’t quit. Perhaps it was the release of so many emotions I felt after that spin class. Something shifted. I refused to be mentally defeated today. I became my own advocate on today’s run.

It’s okay for it to be hard. The hard won’t last.

Focus on the step in front of you. Quit looking for the finish. You can take step after step after step.

All of a sudden hard was no longer my enemy. It was something I wanted to get through. This is when my heart opened up. I understood. I push through the hard, and I carry my struggle into the down hills and into the flat sections. I carry defeat with me.

Today was different. I allowed myself to open my stride. I allowed myself to enjoy the easy sections. I let go of all the struggle. Today I thrived. Today I trusted my run.

trail

Two years ago I ran with my running coach and his team, Bernard Distance Project, and during every run he would remind me of the same thing. One single mile wasn’t an indicator for my entire run. Just because mile 3 was a struggle didn’t mean the rest of my run would be hard. I had to trust the ebb and flow of running. I had to exist in the moment. I had to give what I could give in that moment.

Today I remembered the lesson he taught me. Today I ran in the moment.

While this makes today’s run extra sweet, I’m more grateful for the lesson. This isn’t just a running lesson for me. This is a life lesson. I have to live each moment. I have to get through the hard stuff, but then I have to let it go. I can’t bring the heartache, the stress, and the struggle with me. It’s okay to leave it behind. Just like running, no single moment is an indicator of what is to come. It’s about existing in each moment.

I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with my whole heart. I am thriving.

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Race racap: Heart of Ghent 10k

Many months ago, in the middle of my running middle life crisis, my friend and running coach told me that I just need to show up to some races unplanned, unannounced, and have fun. I’m finally listening. It’s exactly what I did this weekend. As I’m slowly increasing mileage for two half marathons this fall, the idea of running a 10k as part of my training run sounded fun. Water stops. Entertainment. Supportive spectators. And the course is a walk down memory lane. So many of my heart whispers started here.

The Heart of Ghent 10k didn’t disappoint. It was the perfect neighborhood race. Wonderfully organized and supported. I loved the course (even if we missed a block this year).

Laura picked me up before the sun was up so we could run a few miles before the start of the race. Our early arrival made parking easy. We ran nearly 2.5 easy miles before the race started hoping we had left some racing ability in them for the race.

Warm up Miles: 2.47 @ 9:46 pace

As we started, I vowed to not look at my garmin. We were running and talking. The course is filled with lots of turns which I love mentally.

Mile 1: 9:14

Mile 2: 9:07

Mile 3: 8:51

At mile 3, I gave in and glanced at my watch. The 8 in the front of my pace shocked me. While my legs were starting to feel heavy, the effort felt easy. Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for some speedier miles this fall.

Laura started having cramping in her back at this point and encouraged me to leave her, but racing wasn’t my objective for this run. I was there to increase my mileage and enjoy time with friends. We walked a few blocks and ran many more.

Mile 4: 10:23

Mile 5: 10:45

Mile 6: 9:53

The finish line showed up just as my watch hit six miles. While the course ran short, my total mileage for the day is my longest run since spring. Confidence in my running is starting to creep back into my thinking. It’s funny how that happens as soon as I remember why I run.

I learned a lot on the road yesterday. Happy miles are what I need right now. Sharing miles with friends is what I need right now. This is the first run in a long time when my brain turned off, panic mode didn’t take over, and I simply ran.

Garmin Time: 6.00, 57:42, 9:37 pace

Race Time: 57:40, 9:17 pace

Almost 8.5 miles for the day! Heart of Ghent, I’ll be back next year. You have become my new favorite 10k.

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Chasing the Sunset

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” ~Rabindranath Tagore

As I pulled into my driveway after a busy day at work and a last-minute visit to the doctor (that trumped my plans to go to my first boot camp class), I could see the sun beginning to flirt with the tree line. The thought of seeing the sunset over the river is all it takes these days to get me out the door in my running shoes. Cole, home with a clean bill of health, had an art project to tackle. Christian was grilling. Chet and I decided to chase the sunset. I ran as fast as I could to catch the setting sun. The river is less than a mile from our front door, but leaving for a run with a two-year old never happens quickly. Running while pushing a two-year old never happens quickly. We made it to the river just as the gorgeous reds were leaving the sky.

My running buddy

My running buddy

We missed the sunset, but the river was still waiting. I always let Chet run with me for the few blocks along the river. We bird watch. We check out the crane that is building the new boat ramp. After some begging and pleading (and protesting), he returns to his stroller (or tractor or lawn mower or dinosaur – whatever his imagination determines each night) to take the long way home.

This is why I run. My reasons for why I run change with the seasons of my life. During this season, I run for the sunset and the sunrise. I run to see the world wake up and fall asleep. It refreshes my soul. It hits the reset button.

Running has become less about pace and personal bests and more about connecting with my body. It’s become my way to keep my body, my mind, and my spirit free. It has become a time to explore the wild imagination of a two-year old and to listen to the rambles of a ten-year old. It’s become my way to catch up on conversation with my husband. There are nights the whole family joins me on their bikes. My running can be selfish at times. I run for myself, but my evening hours at home are limited. My time with my boys is limited. So I selfishly bring them with on my runs. I don’t think they mind.

Everything in life has a season. Right now is my season to bask in the glow of sunshine. I want to take in as many sunrises and sunsets as I can. I want to celebrate the promise of new beginnings, and I want to celebrate what has been offered as each day ends. I’m excited about running again for no other reason than I love to run. It’s something I hope I never take for granted.

Fall race season is just around the corner. I won’t be trying to run my fastest times or to push myself to new levels. This season I want to carry sunshine with me on to the race course. I just want to run. I just want to shine.

Chasing the sunset

Chasing the sunset

The Magic of Retrospection

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~Lao Tzu

As a spectator at this years Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, I was in awe of every runner who lined up at the start line. The race lived up to its reputation with brutal heat and humidity. This race is never an easy race.

How did I do? How did I run this race three years in a row?

The summer of 2010 was a typical summer for me. I never ran more than five miles. I only ran when I felt like it. I never trained. I had decided to ignore my race entry. I was going to let the race go because my body wasn’t ready. A few days before race day, I got a call from my aunt. She had breast cancer. I had to run. I lined up with runners not know what to expect. I’d do my best. I had to. I cried through many of those miles, and yet I finished in a respectable time. Somehow I ran that race. I felt weak. I felt unprepared. It felt hard.

I returned to this race in 2011. I was six months pregnant with Chet. As I trudged along on the race course, I struggled. It felt hard. I felt weak.

In 2012, when Chet was a newborn, I trained hard. I ran every Saturday morning. Some nights I only had two hours of sleep, but I always showed up to run. Race day came, and I ran through all the same feelings. It was hard. I felt slow. I struggled.

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The common thread between all these races was my perception: I always felt like I was struggling to make it work. I always felt like I was struggling to balance life and running. I always felt like I was struggling to balance life, motherhood and marriage. I’ve always felt like I’m struggling to stay afloat.

But something magical happens when I cross the finish line. It was all worth it. Today when I look back, I am in awe of myself. I’m in awe of what I was able to juggle. I’m in awe of the balance I maintained. Looking back, I feel like I was a superwoman.

How did I do all of that? How did I balance it all? How did I make it work? Because right now I feel like I’m fighting for that balance. Right now I feel like I’m fighting for that strength. How did I do it then?

While I watched the Rock n Roll half marathon from the sidelines this year, I saw something in those runners. I saw love. I saw passion. I saw sacrifice. I saw so many people who were doing it, and I realized I’ve been doing it all along. It’s the fight for balance and it’s the fight for strength that fuel that love and passion in my life. How I feel today is no different from how I felt two years ago.

I’m doing it today just like I was doing it then. I don’t need to wait two years to be in awe of what I’m accomplishing today. I can appreciate myself now. I can be grateful for what I have right now. I don’t want to find my happiness through retrospection. It’s waiting for me right now. The only difference between today and two years ago is that I’ve already crossed the finish line for the events in my past. I haven’t crossed today’s finish line yet. I haven’t felt the magic of today’s finish line.

When I look back, nothing in my life was lacking. This message applies to today too. The magic isn’t really at the finish line. The magic is in the process of getting there. I doubt the finish line would feel like such an accomplishment if it was easy to get there.

Sunrise on Race Day

Sunrise on Race Day