Sunday, April 6, 2014

50K...or Maybe Just 50Krazy...

"Oooh, look, a 50k! Right here in Chicago! That sounds cool! Hmm, 31 miles? Well, that's really just a full marathon plus 5 miles, and I know I can handle the 26.2, so adding another 5 shouldn't be that tough. Hey, hey, and it's only 45 dollars! Good enough for me...I'm in!"

"Go for that 50K, Rosie," I told myself. "It will be fun," I continued. "You can totally handle it. This is what you love to do! Why in the world would you pass up the opportunity to just try it?"

Okay, so maybe the combination of Friday Euphoria, payday, and an overall love for running was a little too strong when I signed up for the Chicago Lakefront 50K back in late January, but I'm pretty sure most runners (or anybody with a passion for anything, really) understand what it's like when you encounter an exciting new challenge and convince yourself that it's absolutely going to be amazing.

Yes, I ran my very first 50K this weekend, because apparently, 10 full marathons and 17 half marathons in the past 2.5 years (when I first started this running journey) simply weren't enough. Overall, it was a good experience, and one that I would be open to trying again someday--doing several things differently, of course--but for now, let's just say that it didn't come without its challenges.

Getting to that start line on that Saturday morning took a little extra effort. My mom, who has fully supported my running from the very beginning (though she always worries, like any parent), was nervous that maybe this one was a bit too ambitious, and taking place in a less familiar part of Chicago. We talked it over, though, figuring out all the smaller details, so I made arrangements to take the 7:13 train to Chicago on Saturday morning. Then I would take a cab to Lincoln Park, make it just in time for the 8:30 takeoff, and be done within the 7 hour course limit, with ample time remaining to grab a cab and take the 4:40 train back home. That was the plan.

31 miles within 7 hours. Yeah. Good one, Rosie :) It's funny to think about now.

And yet when my mom gently suggested that I might be cutting it close, I just shrugged it off. I rationalized that my average marathon time, on average, hovers around 6 hours, and the 50K is only five miles extra, so even though I've never done this before, I can finish in 7 hours easily...give or take a few minutes. After all, it's not like they're going to say anything if I come in four or five minutes past the cutoff time, right?

Four or five minutes past the cutoff time.

Oh, how I crack myself up.

As it turned out, the events of the day transpired much differently than expected, and while I ultimately returned to the finish line 31 miles later, it took a bit longer. The finish banner, porta potties, water tables, snack stations, and big blue tarp for our coats/bags had been packed up and taken away long ago, leaving behind only one recognizable sign that this was the same bright, bustling spot where I had begun the race with my fellow runners, 8 hours and 20 minutes earlier.

More on that later, though.

This wasn't like the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, where you are surrounded by 45,000 runners from just about every corner of the world, complete with over a million spectators to ensure that there isn't a single empty spot between the start and finish lines. Nope, the Chicago Lakefron50K is nothing like that. It isn't even like the small-town Wisconsin Marathon in May (one of my personal favorites), with 4,000 of us toeing the start line together and very little chance of getting lost.

I'm talking more about a very, VERY small group of certifiable nutcases who think that running 31 miles on a Saturday morning is fun. According to the final results, there were 182 finishers, so that was the approximate number of crazy souls at the start line (probably fewer than that, actually, because participants had an "early start" option if they got their butts to Lincoln Park on time). Based on past online results for the annual Lakefront 50K, they usually have over 200 finishers, but given the ridiculous Chicago winter we have had, I'm not at all surprised that more people had enough sense to not even sign up this year.

Well, in any case, there we were at 8:30 AM, repeating after the very enthusiastic race director as he said "There's no place on Earth I would rather be than here at this start line with all of you!" (Yes, he actually made us parrot that back to him. It was pretty awesome.) Then, after a few more minutes of nervous pacing and hand wringing, we were off.
Truth be told, it was actually a beautiful morning. The sun came out early and stuck around all day long, so aside from a bit of wind at certain spots, it was pretty much the ideal spring racing day--a nice break from the unpleasant temperatures we've been getting lately.
Not that we would have had the option of complaining about it if it was overcast, rainy, or even snowy, because the friendly race people were adament about adding this little line to the banner at the start line. See it? It says NO WHINERS ALLOWED...and there you have it.

Now, getting back to the actual actually started off very well. Friendly runners, smiling volunteers, and tons of adults, kids, and dogs along the course (again, it was a beautiful day to hang out by the beach or get in some miles with friends with the gorgeous, sparkling lake as a backdrop).
Best of all, the runners were all close together, and because it was so early in the race, not enough time had passed for the crowds to thin out considerably, as they would during the second and third loops.
Oh yeah, the loops. This race consists of three equal out-and-backs...or "loops," as they call them. You run a little over five miles out, turn around somewhere near the beach area, and hoof it back to the start line for about five more miles (approximately 10.3 miles total). Then you get to turn yourself right back around and repeat the same thing two more times.
The first loop was fantastic, for all the reasons I mentioned above. Never had to wait in line for a porta potty (another plus), and the water stations exceed those of absolutely every race I've done so far...mostly because they don't just contain water. They had Gatorade, small cups of Coke, pretzels, Twizzlers, cookies, olives, M&M's, Skittles...pretty much all the things you're not supposed to eat if you want to be thin :) To me, there was something slightly counterproductive about grabbing Oreos during a 31 mile run, but I truly appreciated the Coke and loved taking a few sips with my water. That little bit of sugar definitely helps provide a boost of energy.

Anyway, I finished the first loop with a satisfying time, I was on track to be finished in 7 hours, and as I texted my mom to tell her the good news, I was confident that this was going to be awesome. Getting off to a good start is always a great confidence booster, but I was quickly catapulted back to reality when the second loop began. The runners were much more spread out now, and I suddenly realized that the (approximately) two miles that we had to complete before making it back to the lakefront were very confusing. There weren't as many signs pointing participants in the necessary direction, and it occurred to me that I hadn't paid much attention to the route during the first loop. I didn't have to, because I was simply following the other runners. There was one point where I didn't know whether to go right or left, but thankfully, there were two runners coming up from behind me, so I let them pass and followed them as they went right (which was good, because if I had been forced to choose myself, I would have gone left).

So, I got back to the lakefront again, the prettiest and most stress-free part of the course, and everything was good. Cute dogs with tennis balls in their mouths, adorable kids telling their moms that this was "like, the bestest, sunniest Chicago day ever," and friendly runners (some were in the race, and some weren't) with constant smiles and words of encouragement as we passed each other. Seriously, I think runners are some of the coolest, kindest, most supportive groups of human beings in the world, because the vast majority of them care just as much about building up another member of the community as they do about fulfilling their own goals. But, that's another post for another day :)
Making it back to the start/finish area after the second loop was a less enthusiastic affair than after the first one (as evidenced by the text message I sent to my mom about this being the "longest effing loop ever"). With about 20.7 miles completed, I knew I had fallen behind my target pace and would now have a much harder time achieving that 7-hour finish. Plus, the finish line was adjacent to the turn-around point for those heading out for another loop, and this was when a lot of runners were finishing. They were getting their medals, enjoying the post-race snacks, and relaxing in the grass after successfully completing their 31 miles.
As for me, well, I had finished the first loop in 2 hours and 20 minutes, and the second loop in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Now I had exactly 2 hours to get through the final loop and officially be able to call myself an ultramarathoner. Not good. Not good at all, especially since I haven't quite mastered the concept of "negative splits."
Even so, this WAS what I signed up for, and as such, there would be NO WHINERS ALLOWED, so I took a quick bathroom break and headed out again for the last 10.3 miles. That, as it turned out, was where the real race began for me.
About half a mile into the loop, I made a wrong turn and got lost. What's more, there were no fellow runners nearby to bail me out of this oncoming mess, so there I was, staring at some scenery I did not recognize from the first two loops, and instead of turning back around, I just went farther into the unfamiliar territory. To make a long story short, I did eventually make it back to the course, crossing paths with some other racers who were inching closer to the finish line, so the relief set in as I started back toward the lake.
I had a feeling things were turning really sour when I passed a water/snack station (most of the food was gone, along with all of the pop), and the cheerful volunteer said to me, "Woo-hoo, only about 2 and a half miles to go!" I informed him that I was actually still on my way to the lakefront for one more lap, and after checking his paper, he confirmed that I did actually have about 8 miles to go. Fabulous. He said that his water stop would probably be gone by the time I came back around, since they were only allowed to have it out in the park for a certain amount of time, but he said he'd do his best to leave some water on the side of the path.
With that in mind, I started running toward the lakefront to finish what I started. This time, I was left with the very real possibility that I would not be able to complete this race...and even if I did, I probably wouldn't receive a medal. Then I remembered that the course was in a public park and on a public path for runners, so as long as I could avoid getting lost and find my way back to where I started, at least I would be a finisher. Medal or no medal, that was the ultimate goal.

I made it to the turnaround (although the water station down there was completely gone, as expected), bringing the total mileage to 25.9 miles--basically the distance of a full marathon. It was 3:20 PM at that point. The course was only going to be officially open until 3:30, and unless I magically transformed into a Kenyan of epic speed, there was no way I was going to cover 5 miles in ten minutes (and to be honest, neither would the Kenyan, had he actually been there). Oddly enough, I seriously contemplated e-mailing the race director from my phone and saying, "Hey, I'm at the final turnaround, I have five more miles to go, I'll be there as soon as I can, so I would reeeeeeeeeally appreciate it if you could wait for me. Please and thank you!"
Right, because that wouldn't have been weird, like, at all.
What can I say? When you're a runner who just completed 26 miles and had 5 more to go, thinking straight isn't exactly a simple task.
That said, I had told myself that I was going to run 31 miles today. Even if I was standing alone in the end, it would be enough that in my heart, I knew that I had made it through all 31 miles and refused to stop until I was done. All I had to do was avoid getting lost.
Just avoid getting lost. Yep, that was the kicker. That, and the unexpected discovery that after about 28 miles, my body was legitimately starting to shut down. That's the thing about the human body--even when pushed beyond what's expected, there comes a time it starts barking at you and shouting, "Dude, what the hell are you doing to me???" Okay, so it doesn't actually say that, but you get what I mean.
26 miles feels a little more second nature to me now, because I've done it so many times, so getting through that part of the race was fine (minus the whole "getting lost" thing). I was even able to hang on for about 2 miles after that, but what I had failed to understand going into this was that sooner or later, the body is just done, and no matter what you do, you can't reverse that. And I did try distracting myself, thinking about that really great movie I had seen the week before, the funny YouTube video my parents and I had watched the night before, quotable moments from my 5-year-old students, the cute puppies sitting on the beach, etc.... If my cell phone battery wasn't dangerously low at that point, I probably would have turned on some music and belted out a rousing rendition of "Let It Go," but instead, I was focusing more on the fact that I couldn't take a deep breath without fearing that I might have a heart attack. Oops. Not a good sign.
That's when I knew that the only way--literally the ONLY way--I was going to finish this was by walking the rest of the way. Three miles to go. I tried to break back into a jog a couple of times, but after about ten seconds, I had to stop. So, that was the deal at this point. Just keep moving forward, slow and steady, and get to that finish line in one piece. Of course, by now, it was about thirty minutes past the course cutoff time. Thirty minutes turned into forty five, and before I knew it, I was back in the Lincoln Park Maze, where it was oh-so-easy to get turned around, and the course had been officially closed for an hour.
I thought about the jacket and bag I had left at the start line, along with everyone else's personal items. There was nothing seriously valuable in it--mostly some dry clothes, a phone charger, and a bag of Wheat Thins--so it wouldn't be the end of the world if it was taken and donated to charity, but still, I thought about how pathetic it would be if I finished so late in the game that I couldn't even get my jacket back. Then I thought, You know what? Getting a medal and my jacket are the least of my worries right now. I'm going to be lucky if I even find the finish line--or the original location of it-- on my own! I considered cutting through the park and grabbing a cab back to the start line, and deep down, I knew that it was an option if I was in serious trouble, but was that really how I wanted today's story to end after putting in over 8 hours of work? My legs were still working, albeit very slowly, and I was less than three miles away, so as far as I was concerned, I was going to finish regardless.
Then mile 29-something came, and--you guessed it--I got lost again. (Most family members, and anyone else who knows me well, would agree that this is anything but shocking.) If I passed by that water station area where the volunteer had offered to leave me some water, I must have gone right through it without realizing. I remember searching for the two blue porta potties that were stationed there, hoping to use them as a guide, but they were obviously removed by the time I came through, so that plan wasn't going to work. Thankfully, I was able to turn around a lot faster this time, and after doing this same loop twice already, I remembered it at least a little bit better by now. (For the record, I did try hard to study it more closely during the second loop so I would be more prepared the third time around--really, I did--but I clearly hadn't retained much of it.) For instance, that bumpy patch of mud on the path, the ridiculously huge puddles that we all had to jump over, the bridge that led past Montrose Harbor...yep, it was all starting to come together now.
Then, just like that, I saw her, with a black and yellow medal hanging over her arm and a kind, supportive smile on her face. She introduced herself as the race director's wife (I later learned that her first name was Beth) and put the medal around my neck. As it turned out, she had also completed the race (many hours earlier, of course), so it was her medal, really. "It's totally fine," she said as I thanked her for waiting and told her she really didn't need to do that. "I have so many medals at home already--my medal hanger is lopsided by now!"
She walked with me past the spot where the official finish line had been before it was dismantled. I remember saying to her, "Wait. That's where the finish line actually was? It was literally in that exact spot?" I actually asked her twice (as if she didn't know the answer, being the race director's wife and all). After leading me to my coat and bag (and making sure I had a ride home), she offered me a hug and one final "Congratulations, Rose; you did it!" She also took the bottom of my bib number and promised to make sure I was still listed as a "Finisher" in the results, even though I wouldn't have an official time.

It had been a long day for both of us, it was almost 5:00 PM, and looking back on it now, I truly wish I had said more to this incredibly kind stranger who went out of her way to make sure the very last 50K participant was safe. It was a Saturday night. She had probably been there at the crack of dawn to help set up with the rest of the race crew. She had run 31 miles herself, surely she was exhausted, everyone else had gone home, and she probably would have loved to be back at her own place by this time. Still, she found a way to connect with a fellow runner who, despite being in a completely different place physically and emotionally, had the same dream for that day: to complete the Chicago Lakefront 50K.

We live in an imperfect world, and amidst the craziness of it all, we tend to focus on the negative. The world is full of people who are selfish, rude, inconsiderate, and just plain mean. There are people who murder, lie, cheat, and steal...and it's so easy to say things like "What is this world coming to?" I don't know the answer to that, any more than the rest of you, but this weekend, I came in direct contact with a person who was kind to somebody she didn't even know...JUST BECAUSE. "I would have never just left you here," she said. I have heard stories about dead-last runners who are cheered in to the finish by some truly decent people, but it hits you harder when you find yourself in that exact position, and someone is doing that for you.

Yes, Beth is one of those kind people, and really, she is one of many. I like to believe that the positive outweighs the negative, when we choose to see it that way. I hope she knows that what she did, no matter how simple it seemed, went a very long way, and ultimately, I guess all we can do is pay it forward in any way possible. Smile, support, share whatever you can, and know that in the end, being kind matters more than anything else.

So, to put it simply (although this insanely long post was anything but simple), this 50K was a new experience, a personal test that was every bit as mental as it was physical. RESPECT THE RUN, OR IT WILL HUMBLE YOU. Runners love to say things like this, but it's true, and honestly, it applies to everything we do in life. No matter how many times we've done something, and no matter how confident we might feel about it at first, anything can happen. The whole point is to be challenged by it, so you can improve and be stronger next time.

Completing this race taught me a thing or two. First of all, the whole "IF YOU CAN DO 26 MILES, THEN YOU CAN DO 31" mentality? If you have that in your head right now, like I did, just toss it out right now. It's the silliest "racer's myth" I ever heard. Five miles might be "just five miles" if that's all you're doing for the day, but running 31 miles at one time is no joke, and you can't treat it as "no big deal." After fighting through 26 miles, even one extra mile can feel like eternity, let alone five. That's not to say that it's impossible, but it definitely helps to be realistic and know beforehand what you're getting yourself into.

I also learned that while I had the mental attitude and the basic overall fitness level to pull off a 50K, it really does require more than that if you want to do your absolute best. I got a glimpse of genuine human kindness and experienced firsthand what it means to persevere through something really challenging, but would I want to re-live everything that I've written about so far in this post? Probably not, especially if a little more careful preparation could make the next experience run more smoothly.

Getting lost those two times on the course was part of the problem, yes,  and when it's an extremely small field of runners in an unfamiliar area, it suddenly becomes that much more difficult. If we're being completely truthful, though, I have gained a little weight recently, and those extra pounds are not exactly "a runner's best friend." I also have not been following a strict training plan lately. I love my races and still sign up for them whenever possible, and I am always able to finish, but when it comes to getting in some mileage, there's a lot left to be desired. My work schedule gets in the way, of course, but even on my spring break this week, I would do maybe 3-4 miles at a time and be "too tired" to keep going. These kinds of things add up, and by the grace of God, I managed to survive yesterday's 50K, but I know that certain things need to change if I want to attempt something like this again in the future. It will be important to pay more attention to my weight and overall training, because even though the determination of the human mind can lead us to great things, it's still best when combined with old-fashioned hard work. It's a lesson I'm still learning myself, every single day, along with everyone else in the world.

For now, I am beyond grateful for what my body allowed me to do this weekend, and I'm excited to continue doing what I love. Next up: The Bunny Rock Half Marathon in two weeks, the Illinois Marathon on April 26, the Wisconsin Marathon the weekend after that, and the Chicagoland Spring Marathon two weeks after that!

What's that? You're supposed to rest more in-between races? Oh. Right. Well, hey, my summer racing schedule is going to be a little lighter (hard to find local marathons during those hot summer months), so I guess I'll take advantage of the spring racing season while it's here! No better time than the present, right?

God love you if you've made it far enough to read these final sentences. Have an awesome week, everyone, keep working hard, and just have fun!

Celebrating the end of a long running journey with my buddy Ditka! Those four legs of his may have come in handy if he ran the 50K too :)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

(Almost) Everything I Learned About Life, I Learned From Being a Runner

With my ninth attempt at 26.2 miles just a few more hours away (so excited for the inaugural Naperville Marathon!) I've been thinking more about why I run and how it connects with my everyday life. I've said it before--the sport of running is about more than just getting stronger, competing with others, and improving your body. Running has changed my life in ways that have nothing to do with the physical aspect of it. For example...

1) I've learned that no matter how much success you experience, you're never immune to the struggles you dealt with in the first place. They can creep back up on you anytime, and they love it when they think you're not expecting them. If you eat that pizza or give in to those cookies that your parents technically bought for their Bears tailgating event the next day, you're accountable. Period. You don't have to spend weeks beating yourself up over it, but you shouldn't ignore it either. Acknowledge it, learn from it, and move forward. Bottom line? You never outgrow the learning process.

2) I've learned that life is hard, but never so hard that you can't find something to smile about...even if it seems minor. Be grateful for the smallest things. Whether it's a genuine hug from a 7-year-old, an unexpected compliment, or time spent with family, it really isn't "small stuff" at all. It can never be small when it brings happiness to some part of your life.

3) I've learned that if you've accomplished something, you should write it down. Write it quickly so you don't forget, even if you have to scribble it on your hand until you get home. When you accomplish something and feel good about yourself, it's nice to have something to help remember that amazing feeling. You'll lean on it later, when you really need the motivation.

4) I've learned that for every weakness you have, it's someone else's greatest strength. Don't be afraid to learn from them, to ask for their help, and to appreciate what they have to share with you. If they took the time to help you out, thank them. If they inspire you, tell them. They deserve to know.

5) I've learned that the glory of the race day is amazing, but there are many, many lonely days during the learning other words, the training. The fun can't come before the work. Sooner or later, you have to just do the hard stuff, often by yourself, and focus on getting stronger without the constant motivation of someone cheering for you. That's the roughest part--struggling through the pain and wondering when the heck it's going to pay off. The second that day arrives, though, you'll feel it, and it's pretty awesome.

6) I've learned that I'm slow, and that's okay. I may not be the best, but that's no excuse to say I'm the worst and stop trying altogether. There's always room to get better and be YOUR best...which is actually kinda cooler than being THE best.

7) I've learned that sometimes, you just have to push through the pain. Other times you need to back off and listen to your body...but in many cases, it's just a matter of sucking it up. The longer you keep at it--whatever IT might be--the better you become at learning the difference. You can trust yourself to know which is which, and to be smart about the choices you make in your life.

8) I've learned to look around as much as possible, just so I remember why I'm doing this and why it makes me happy. Concentrating on the joy will be helpful when life gets painful or difficult later. I know I'm going to fall. But when I get up (and I will), I'm going to learn how to fix it...and in the end, I'm going to be better for it.

9) I've learned that it will come. It might happen slowly, but it will come. Patience is key to getting through just about anything.

10) I've learned that it's not all about me. Help someone else out whenever you get the chance. Don't be too shy or too nervous to step up. You have something to share, something to teach. If you've struggled with that in the past (I know I certainly have), for whatever reason, take advantage of a future opportunity to make a positive change. That's what second chances are for, when you're lucky enough to get them.

11) I've learned that not everybody is going to like me or care about what I have to say. It's truly one of the hardest lessons to learn, and I spent many adolescent years (okay, and a few adult days) literally in tears over that exact issue. At some point, though, after freaking out over it enough times, you find peace with the fact that some people simply don't care for you. They might find you annoying for some reason. They might think you're weird or crazy. They might not be able to stand you. Sometimes people have a reason for acting this way, but all too often, it's a matter of them just being plain mean. It's okay, though, really. You don't like me? That's fine. I can take it. We live in a society where certain people are constantly being critical and judgmental, almost as if they're pre-conditioned to do so. That's their problem, and nobody else's. On any given day, all you can do is be nice. Feel grateful for those who do love and support you. Besides, life would be boring if everyone just thought you were awesome...and even then, someone would have to dislike you for that reason alone :)

Oh, and for the record, I swear I'm not just speaking empty words right now. From personal experience, I can tell you that it's a huge burden when you worry about these kinds of things, and it feels really, really, REALLY good when you finally give yourself permission to let it go. That's what I started doing (very recently, actually) and I'm a lot happier because of it.

12) I've learned that if you're working hard and trying your best, there WILL be a payoff, even if it takes a long time. Even if it's different from the one you originally planned. When the time comes, you won't mind if the picture isn't the same one you had in mind. You'll be too happy to care, because a part of you is already stronger, and nothing motivates you more than that, especially when it's time to go after the next big goal!

13) I've learned that when everything else fails, and you don't know what else to do, being kind is the answer. There are days when you might feel too weak, too dumb, or too worthless. You may ask yourself why you even bother trying in the first place when things keep going in the wrong direction. But then, when you start to look around, you realize that the world is still going on, and it is so much bigger than all of that. Everyone is dealing with something, even if you can't see it clearly in the moment. We count on each other to be kind, to be respectful, and it truly is one of the most basic good things we can do for another person. Even just a simple "Great job" or "you inspire me" can change someone's entire focus...and maybe even motivate them to pay it forward somehow. I know because there are many people who have done it for me...and hopefully I have been able to do it for others, as well. Too often in life, things happen that we can't change, so it feels good to come across something that we can control absolutely, 100%, every single day. Kindness is one of those things.

14) Most of all, I've learned that saying or writing all these things is good, but at some point, you have to get up and actually live it. Don't be afraid. Ask for help if you need it. Find inspiration from others whenever you can. They're here for you. You have worthwhile things to say and give, so have at it (and remember to smile too)!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sweet Home Chicago Marathon 2013...the Joy and the Memories!

It's been a busy past few weeks (but definitely exciting with the holidays coming up), and now I'm finally getting around to writing about the Chicago Marathon, which took place on October 13. In a lot of ways, it was the same fantastic racing experience that keeps me coming back each time, but it became even more special when I got a very rare PR (personal record)!

Well, okay, it wasn't an official PR, if we're being honest. It was my second best finish time (5:46) out of eight total marathons, but because I haven't hit anywhere near that in two years, it instantly felt like a personal best. A lot of things just came together at the right time to make it possible, and I'm very thankful for the happy memories from that day.

My mom and I stayed over the night before, so I could get up exactly when I wanted to, shower, leave the hotel an hour and a half before the start, and just take my time. No rushing, no stress about getting to the start line. That was really nice. I was one of the first in my corral and could just sit for a while, listening to music and gathering my thoughts. I remember saying a prayer at the start line, but at the same time, I also knew that I was going to need to put in the work. There's actually a parable about two farmers who learned about "preparing for rain" - in other words, offer your prayers up to God, but then use what He gave you to work hard and prepare yourself to have those prayers answered. Sooner or later, you gotta get off your butt and make an effort, no matter how much you wish there was a shortcut somewhere.

There are a lot of excuses that runners tend to come up with during the racing/training, and the longer you use them, the more easily they flow. Maybe you'd recognize some of them, too: I'm not the kind of runner who is lightning fast. I'm not skinny enough. Not trained enough. I don't have a friend to pace me. I have 26 miles to cover and don't want to burn out in the first half of the race. Just focus on finishing and having fun. I already succeeded simply by showing up. Why risk getting injured? I can't say those were all bad reasons to be cautious. As a runner, you have to be responsible. But I also learned that it's okay to push yourself. It's awesome running with others and having friends to help pace you--that's good and important. But if you don't have someone at that particular moment, that particular race, you have to count on yourself more.

I chose to go out of the gate really fast at the beginning, which a lot of coaches advise against completely. For me, though, it worked, because I wanted to get a solid head start while I was still feeling my best. I knew I was going to be sore and tired in the second half, and if I started strong, I could feel less stressed when that point of the race came. I trusted myself to listen to my body and know if/when it was time to stop. Fortunately, on that exact day, and at that moment, it ended up being the right technique to use.

"Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you'll land among the stars." Sound familiar? It's one of my favorite quotes to focus on during difficult times. I knew that beating my all-time PR was a lot to ask for, especially since I hadn't done anything under 6 hours in over a year. But I started there and figured, well, if that doesn't work out, then there's still plenty of room to at least achieve one of my better finish times. Around mile 17, I knew I wasn't going to make it in 5:28, but at 22, I knew I could definitely get under 6 hours...even 5:45 looked like a strong possibility! Knowing that really pushed me through those last miles and was motivating.

I still played it safe in a lot of ways. I stopped for the bathroom once, walked through the water stops (which I counted on as a "break" to slow down and refocus before picking up the pace again). 5:46 isn't a super-fast finish time, but it's definitely a good starting point. It's the best I have done in a very long time, and I did it on my own, without being paced. It was a good confidence booster too, just knowing that I could do it. So much of this sport is mental. Not all of it, but you can pull yourself out of a rut by setting a new goal and following through with it. I've loved racing over this past year, but it did feel like something was there was potential to do better if I really just sucked it up and went for it. The mind can help us achieve a lot of awesome things.

That, and preparing properly. I'm the kind of person who gets really involved in a specific workout and doesn't like to switch it up a lot. But the week before Chicago, I started Tae-Bo again, and I absolutely think that helped me get faster in a short amount of time. It's a full-body workout, and the instructor (Billy Blanks) is incredible. He's talented for sure, but even more than that, he's a positive person. He wants you to reach all your goals in life, not so you can be "the best," but so you can feel happy, healthy and confident in who you are. Makes me think about how much more I could accomplish if I cross trained a little more. If seven days can make such an impact, that tells you something.

Also, the Chicago Marathon course happens to be very flat, which really made a difference. I've battled some hills in recent races, so compared to a course like this, I felt like I could move a lot faster. Then there's that amazing crowd support. 1.5 million spectators! There wasn't an empty spot the entire way. Some areas were less active, like around the United Center, but there were always people cheering. Adults, kids, pets, etc... And with 45,000 runners, the course itself was never empty either. At Fox Valley three weeks ago, I remember being alone for several miles, except maybe for two or three people at the most. Sometimes it was literally just me and the pavement. Small town races have their own strengths and advantages, but Chicago really is my favorite for this reason. Ultimately, I do prefer the huge crowds, the activity, and the excitement, because it drives me to the finish line like nothing else. Everyone is different, though, and I definitely believe you should experience both dynamics.

I am so lucky to have found the new friends that I have through running. They are all better than me--literally every single one of them--and I don't say that out of self-pity. It's a good thing! I like it that way because it motivates me. Their accomplishments inspire me to be better. Everyone you meet has specific skills or knowledge that you don't, and it's great to learn from them. You find a lot of love and support in fellow runners. They know what it's like to push through something difficult because the payoff is so incredible. They understand what it means to be in total pain and still love it at the same time. I admire people who take on new challenges and develop a passion for things that once felt impossible.

And just in case I haven't said it enough, this blog isn't all about running. It never was supposed to be. I write down these things as a way to remember all the races I've participated in, so I can one day look back on what helped me become a healthier, happier person. It might all seem mostly boring to others, but if you are reading, I hope you are also going after the goals that make you better. Not every day will be a PR, but if you're doing your best, taking it all in as you go, and enjoying the experiences with others, then every single day is worth it!

It's true. Just ask this woman, Rita Jeptoo, who was the female winner with a record-breaking finish time of 2:19:57 (good Lord, can you imagine your feet moving that fast?) What I love about her is the way she looked so absolutely excited and happy as she crossed that finish line. The finish times that the Kenyans post are unbelievable--it's so hard to imagine that the human body can do what they do--but in the end, it's not "easier" for them just because they're faster. This woman didn't just blaze through 26.2 miles, then act like it was nothing.

This picture is a little blurry, but look at the expression on her face. It's the same joy you might see in the eyes of a first-time marathoner who crosses the final mat in six, seven, eight hours. When we see what the Kenyans are able to achieve at a marathon, it's sometimes easy to forget that they're people too, toughing it out and making sacrifices so they can have that moment of celebration. It's a cool thing to think about, knowing that you share these same emotions with others, even if their accomplishments seem so much greater in certain ways.

Well, ultimately, Rita's words after finishing were "The race was very, very nice. Weather was good. Today I am I was with my friends."

Being with friends and being happy with what you're given...what else is there in life, really? That sounds pretty perfect to me too!

Have a great day, everyone :)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Never Perfect, But Always Moving Forward...

Wow, it's been a long time...yet again! That's the thing about blogging. Writing has always been the easiest and most natural way for me to express myself, but as much as I love it, reaching the point mentally to type it all out is a whole other story, especially when work and life get in the way. Somehow, though, I don't think anyone out there was holding their breath waiting for a new blog post from Rosie Krajewski, so it's all good!

That said, I do appreciate those of you who have started following me ever since my friend Bonnie asked me to do a guest post on her blog. I met Bonnie in college, at the Catholic Newman Center, and she is truly one of the most incredible moms/Catholics/people I have the privilege of knowing. She is amazing and strong in her faith, but she also happens to be really funny. She inspires me every day! So, on that note, I am going to return the favor and recommend that you visit her blog too! (

Lately, I have been struggling with a few different things. For starters, maintaining this weight loss continues to be a daily battle. Preventing myself from losing control is always on my mind, which is a good thing, but whenever I start to really obsess over it, I try to remember how far I've come, and what I looked like four years ago. Mmm, yeah...not so great, but at least I found a way to use my dog to hide those couple of extra chins on my face. That counts for something, right?

This is when I was at the peak of my weight loss, the night I reached Lifetime at Weight Watchers.

And this is me now.

That last picture was taken about two weeks ago, at our annual Bears tailgating party. I feel fortunate to have kept off most of the pounds, but yes, I have put on a little bit of weight. It's something that I can't afford to get too casual about, because once you give yourself permission to really let go, things can fall apart before you even start to fully realize what's happening. I've been there in the past...but I'm determined not to make that same mistake now.

Weight loss is hard. Maintenance can be even harder. The struggle never goes away. As long as there are pizzas, ice cream sundaes, and Taco Bells in this world, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is going to be a challenge. Sometimes I wish I could be like those Biggest Loser winners who claim that they've "cleansed their bodies" from fast food and all other junk, to the point where they no longer even desire it, and they actually crave fruit instead. I guess when you've achieved fame by losing tons of weight on a television show, and millions of people are looking to you, there is pressure to set a good example. For most of us, though, those comfort foods continue to have a role in our lives, and if we can't eliminate them completely, the least we can do is find a way to live with them.

It's hard for all of us. Really, it is. It's not like when we were kids and could snack on Oreos after school, then burn them off on the swing set without thinking twice. (Those days were fun, weren't they?) The good news is that you can make a choice NOW. A choice that the hundredth potato chip you just ate will officially be your last one for the night, or that you'll skip dessert this time because you're working to get your weight back on track. It's easier said than done, but it's those small decisions along the way that make a difference when you start putting them together.

I'm not perfect. I have bad days. I tend to make poor choices when it comes to food, but there are other times when I make good ones, and again, even when they seem small, I think they add up in the long run...and those good days have prevented me from gaining all the weight back. Well, that and the fact that my mom has promised to kick my butt (in a loving motherly way, of course) if I ever go back to that toxic former life! You're never too far from a support system when you stop and look around!

Then there's the running. Oh, the running. I still love it...a lot...enough to spend money I don't have on registration fees, cute running apparel, and obnoxiously colorful shoes. Right now, my weight isn't exactly where I want it to be, so during a recent run, it felt like I had a big sack of potatoes attached to my ass. It makes the overall jogging experience a little less pleasant when you can literally feel those few extra pounds slowing you down. That's one of the biggest reasons I decided to step back from the running this week and dig out my Tae Bo workout videos. I bought them as a teenager and haven't touched them since high school, but back when I was a senior, that Advanced Tae-Bo Workout helped me lose 50 pounds in a year (which I gained back pretty quickly, but that's a whole other boring story). I always loved it, and when I got back into it this past Sunday, it felt awesome. I noticed a physical difference in just two days, and my mom says she did too. It felt good to try something different, especially after concentrating so much on running over the past few years. I guess the moral of that story is that switching up your routine as much as possible is always a good idea. When you start feeling like you're going in circles around one specific type of exercise, it is that much easier to get bored and start doubting your overall abilities.

Which brings me to another issue I've been struggling with mentally these days. I ran the Fox Valley Marathon a few weeks ago and am looking forward to my third Chicago Marathon this Sunday. I ran my very first marathon in 5:28 (with my sister there to pace me) and hovered under the 6-hour mark for a few marathons after that, but now the goal is to get as close to 6 hours as possible. On the way home from Fox Valley, my mom asked me about my time, and after a long pause, I said "About six hours. Let's just generalize it that way." It was just vague enough to be true, and it felt better than giving out the actual clock time.

My work schedule has prevented me from training the way I know I should, and yet I take any possible opportunity to sign up for a race. I can't help it. I just love them so much. I love the positive energy, the race day excitement, the whole deal....but I know I haven't been training to be anywhere near a competitive level. While thinking of a good way to describe it, I determined that it's kind of like having a job. It's like being a teacher and throwing together a lesson plan, knowing that it could benefit from more time, but it's good enough. It will do. You'll devote more to it next time, and who knows? This one just might turn out okay, and you will have done all that worrying for nothing.

Then you get to work. The lesson isn't completely successful. The day drags. You make it through somehow, but your students aren't connecting with what you're teaching and, as a result, start getting bored/acting out. You're exhausted by the end of the day because you actually made your job even more difficult by coming underprepared.

That's sort of how it feels when you continue participating in races without a strict training plan, and you keep finishing much slower than what you hoped. You can get away with "winging it" for a while, but if your mind keeps saying you can do better, then listening to it is the way to find peace.

Don't get me wrong. I will probably always be a slower runner, and I'm okay with that. I dream about Boston as much as any other runner, but I don't necessarily need to be a 3:30 marathon runner. Can I be better, though? Of course. At this point, finishing in 5 hours--heck, even 5 and a half--would feel like a dream come true. I know I can accept help from some of the many strong, amazing runners that I know, find ways to learn from them, and improve as a runner....if I'm ready for the hard work that comes with it.

Granted, there is a heck of a lot more to life than running. Hobbies are truly the tiniest, most insignificant part of life when you compare them to everything else that's out there. Deep down, I think we all know that, but trying harder and improving ourselves? That's never a waste of time when it can make us better in other areas of life. If it motivates us to be more productive at work, or to give more to the people in our lives, then what could possibly be negative about that?

It just bothers me when slower runners are criticized so much. Personally, I have amazing friends and family who have been nothing but supportive. I am so grateful for their sincere kindness and love, but it's hard not to let the outside world get in your head. When you Google "slow runners are ruining the sport" and get quotes like this, of course it has an impact:

"It's a joke to run a marathon by finishing in six, seven, eight hours."

"Slow runners have disrespected the distance."

"If you're wearing a marathon T-shirt, that doesn't mean much anymore. I always ask these people, what was your time? If it's six hours or more, I say oh, great, that's fine, but you didn't really run it."
But then I see quotes like this, which are so much nicer and more encouraging:

"[A person who criticizes my slow time] is either a running snob and isn't supportive, or has no idea what it takes to complete a 26.2 mile course. They don't get to lessen my accomplishment."

"The majority of the time, [being slow] doesn't bother me. Other times it does, but never so much that I'll stop running."

"If you need some inspiration in your running, go to a race and wait for the runners finishing at the back of the pack. You will see some of the greatest DON'T QUIT attitudes that you will ever see."

It might sound like my thoughts are all over the place, and it's true--they are. I guess that's what happens when you overthink things and get yourself all worked up over negative opinions that just don't matter. Trying to conform to someone else's idea of "successful" wears you out after a while. That doesn't mean we aren't all guilty of it at some point or another, but's exhausting.

It makes me think a lot about whether or not I have the potential to be a faster runner, and if it's worth pursuing. If it is something I want to do, then that's fine, but it can't be because someone else thinks I should. Of course, you can be motivated by others to improve yourself--that's different. It's good to look at how others have succeeded and feel that inspiration to be better. The thing is, when you're focused on a goal that's important to you, the only way it can possibly work the way it's supposed to is if you do it for yourself, period. The same applies to everyone. Being who you are and taking pride in what you've accomplished is what matters, especially when it's contributing to your overall health, happiness, and the way you treat others. If I ever get to the point where I'm turning in a quicker marathon time, it won't be because somebody else made fun of me for being slow, or because they think I'm not good enough. It will be because I can think for myself, and make a decision that I want to make. There are so many things in life that we have no control over, but not when it comes to things like this.

It's an easy thing to write, and one of the absolute hardest pieces of advice to follow, but I'm trying, and I think others should too. You deserve to feel good about yourself and what you can do. For me, it happens to be running, but there are millions of people in this world, and just as many different ways to take your life in a positive direction. Whatever it is, just find it, grab it, and allow it to bring out your very best!

I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend! Get out there, enjoy some time away from your busy schedule, and have fun! It's as good a weekend as any to just be happy! :)

I'll close with this random picture that a friend of mine posted on Facebook, because if this doesn't make you smile, then I'm not sure what will!

Gosh, I hate when that happens...don't you??

Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Shuffling On" to a Happy, Healthy Future!

Happy Easter!! I can't believe it's been over a year since I last posted on here. I really enjoyed keeping up with it when I first started, but then I got away from it for a while. Since then, my passion for running has remained the same--I've completed five full marathons, eleven half marathons, two 15Ks, and 8 5Ks since starting this journey about 19 months ago--but a lot of other things have changed. For starters, I was offered new job as a kindergarten aide last September, which increased my work hours, and two weeks ago, I began a new job as a preschool teacher for the Elmhurst Park District. It is so exciting to have this opportunity and finally be working as a teacher, but again, it has drastically changed the way I work out on a daily basis. Before this academic year, I had the freedom to be at the gym for six hours in the middle of the day, which is how I was able to focus on losing those 150 pounds, but obviously, that's not an attainable lifestyle for the long term. I always knew it was coming, and that was actually the whole reason I started this blog in the first place--to talk about the challenges of balancing healthy diet/exercise habits with all the other life responsibilities that everyone has.
It's still a daily struggle to maintain my weight. The battles I encountered at 337 pounds are still very much a part of my life today. Realistically, I always knew that those struggles wouldn't go away completely. It's something we all have to work through. It might seem a little easier for someone else when you're looking at it from your own perspective, but generally speaking, that's what life is, and LIFE is something that we all have in front of us right now. The battle I'm fighting might be different from yours, but that doesn't make it any more or less challenging. It's all just part of what we must face as we make the decision to keep working and moving forward.

Yesterday, I ran the Egg Shell Shuffle Half Marathon in Elk Grove Village--my first race in over two months--and I knew that it would be a little more difficult, since I haven't devoted the same amount of time to training. I quickly fell behind and was actually dead last before even reaching mile 2! That was frustrating at first, but then I realized... I could be disappointed that I wasn't running as well as others, or proud that I had gotten up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to go run 13 miles. I could obsess over where I was in relation to everyone else on the course, or I could smile and enjoy taking part in this race on such a beautiful, sunny spring day. I could lament over being slow, or be grateful that my body is healthy enough to run today. I've known runners with injuries and surgeries that have halted or even ended their running careers. I have no idea if I will be in that same position someday. Maybe so, but not today. Today, I can run, and anyone who's been blessed with that kind of gift shouldn't complain that they're not fast enough. Truth be told, I haven't always taken my own advice in that regard, but it's something I try to remind myself of when I start getting too worked up about my finish time.

There weren't many participants in yesterday's race, at least compared to others that I've done, so it got pretty quiet on the course, giving me time to think about why I even choose to do this with my free time. I love to run races because of the excitement that builds at the start line, the camaraderie you feel with your fellow runners on the course, the pride you feel the entire evening afterward, even when you're limping around like an 80-year-old woman....and the medals. Yes, the medals. Think I'm kidding? Actually, I'm not...I love the bling, and it's one of the top reasons I love racing. I love having it around my neck the entire day after earning it, wearing it to bed for the night, then hanging it with the others the next morning as a tangible reminder of what I accomplished. It's a material item, and as such, it is not the most important thing in the world, but it makes me happy.

So yes, that's the reason why I sign up for marathons, half marathons, 5K's, etc... The reasons why I run in general are a little different. It's because I know that I am committing to something that's challenging and succeeding at it. I am accomplishing something that takes a lot of time, self-discipline, and dedication. And if I can do that, then I can be successful at my job. I can deal with situations and people in everyday life that might not always be ideal. I can be happy. I wish everyone could have something like this in their lives that makes them feel this way. Lord knows it doesn't necessarily have to be running--it just has to be something that motivates you enough to do BE better.

My high school friend Amanda ran her very first 5K yesterday (the Egg Shell Shuffle offered both a 5K and half marathon options) with her husband Andy (both pictured above). They've lost about 40 pounds each (and counting!) on Weight Watchers and have found joy in running...and not just that, but running TOGETHER. That's what it's all about. That's the beauty of running. All different kinds of people can discipline themselves, train their bodies, and prepare their minds to run. You just have to want it. Then you have to go out there and do it. I was a far cry from the skinny, physically fit, long-legged teenagers in high school who ran cross country and track, and who breezed through gym class because it came naturally to them...and yet today, at age 28, my body can run 26.2 miles. I may finish two, three, or even four hours behind those same high schoolers I was talking about before, but does it really matter all that much? If it gets you out in the fresh air, makes you happy, helps you control your weight and gives you a sense of doing something positive in your life, then what else could you possibly want? I guess we all naturally want to be just a little bit better and a little bit stronger, but sometimes, if you stop and look, what you were hoping for all along is already there.

Can you tell I got a pep talk from my mom yesterday? Yep...that's why she's one of my best friends!

I hope everyone had a nice Easter. Time to get back to work tomorrow...eeeeeeeek!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Channeling My Inner Kenyan/Polar Bear...Or Maybe Just the Polar Bear Part...

"One thing I know for sure is, you can't force the issue. If someone wants to lose weight, they will do whatever it takes. They can't do it for anybody but themselves. It has to be for them alone. Without this understanding, they will fail." ~Jennifer Hudson

This quote comes from a book called "I Got This", which I almost bought while shopping today. It's Jennifer Hudson's story of how she lost 80 pounds on Weight Watchers and has worked on maintaining a healthy lifestyle for herself and her family. I just happened to open up to the chapter where she wrote those words, and they really rang true for me, because I think the exact same thing all the time. I remember being in that position myself not too long ago. When you're really heavy and struggling to make those changes that you know are necessary, the last thing you want is to be nagged about it, especially by the people you love the most.

When I think back on my own turning point, I can't think of a very specific moment where I thought "This is it, this is what I'm going to do". There was a lot of concern from my family, especially my mom, but that isn't what truly made the difference. It couldn't be. I couldn't resolve to spend hours at the gym and change my eating habits because it would make my family happy. I couldn't do it because maybe guys would like me more if I was thin. I had to do it for myself, period, because while I was sweating away those extra pounds, making the decision to bypass that greasy pizza, or resolving to squeeze in "just one more mile", it's not as if my mother was standing right there to make sure I did what I said I would do. Very often, it was just me and the treadmill, or me standing alone in the ice cream aisle at the store, faced with the choice to be strong or give into that weakness. You have the freedom to overindulge at McDonalds or pack a healthy lunch from home, and as an adult, nobody is going to tell you no if you want to make the less healthy decision...that is, unless you tell yourself no. It's a difficult lesson to learn, and there are always days when you don't go down the best road. Even now, after losing 150 pounds, I still have a lot of ups and downs, but I have realized that I am completely in control of what happens to my body, and that motivates me to make good choices as often as I can.

These days, running is one of the greatest things I can choose to spend my spare time, and at the end of the day, it's something I never regret doing for my health. Yesterday, I ran the inaugural Chicago Polar Dash downtown, and while it was definitely the coldest 13.1 miles I ever had to complete, it was a great race all around, and I'm glad I dragged myself out of bed to get out there on a Saturday morning. This post has already gotten a little longer than I was hoping, so I'll just go through some of the highlights of the race now, because for me, it's always fun to look back on a fun day :)

1. I finished the half marathon in 2:46, which is a good ten minutes behind my usual time for 13 miles. That was a little disappointing, but with all the snow, slush and ice, it was definitely expected. I'm pretty sure almost everyone adjusted their times accordingly to avoid unnecessary injury. I made up my mind early on that this was just going to be fun. With all that white powder on the ground, frigid temperatures and lake effect snow, it was a true "Polar Dash", and that's what we all signed up for with this race, so personally, I loved it. I ran slow and steady, stopped to take my energy gels when needed, and when I had to stop at mile 12 to use the bathroom, I didn't worry about the effect it would have on my finish time. This was a day to enjoy and experience something I love in an environment that I never ran in before, and I can honestly say that I had an awesome time. As my mom pointed out, the whole reason to do this is to have fun and reap the health benefits that come with it.
2. One of the highlights of the day was running into Jim and Mandy, two college friends whom I haven't seen in maybe seven or eight years. This was a really long time ago, when I was still attending WIU, and they were the ones who actually spotted me in the crowd at the start line! Mandy is the amazing mother of five children who devotes time to her family while still finding time to do something positive for her health (running), and her husband Jim was there to support her. He even proposed to her when she crossed the finish line (15 minutes ahead of me...not that I'm bitter or anything, haha), despite the fact that they've been married for six years! It's always great to bump into old friends and be reassured that you're not the only one crazy enough to run 13.1 miles in the freezing snow on a Saturday morning!
3. For safety reasons that involved having a clearly shoveled path, the course was changed at the last minute on race day. Runners had the option of doing either a 10K (a little over 6 miles) or the half marathon. What happened is that the 10K and half marathoners crossed the finish line at exactly the same time, and while there was a specific lane for the 10K'ers to finish, the rest of us went right through the start line again and repeated almost the exact same course for the second portion of the half marathon. It was definitely weird having to do the same thing twice, but at the same time, it was kind of nice to know what to expect the second time around, and exactly how long it would take to get all the way back around. I know it annoyed a lot of runners, and understandably so, but I didn't mind it too much.
4. You know you're living in 2012 when you're running a half marathon and actually recognize a complete stranger from Facebook! I am a "fan" of the Chicago Polar Dash page on Facebook, and I've been visiting it several times a week to get updates on the race. When the originally scheduled Polar Dash was postponed on the 14th due to weather conditions and pushed back to the 21st, some people revolted by posting how they held their own Polar Dashes in their hometowns, despite the fact that the city of Chicago considered the weather conditions "critically unsafe". Two registrants posted a picture of themselves with the homemade snowflake medals that they wore after running 13 miles, and at the actual race yesterday, there was one point where I was running a few steps behind them. I came close to saying hi, but they were having a conversation with each other, and plus, I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of sounding like a total creeper. Anyway, the point is, you know that times have changed tremendously when you can honestly say "Hey, total stranger, I think I know you...from Facebook"!

5. Again, the weather was less than ideal for most runners. It was cold and windy, there were huge puddles of slush (one in particular around mile 10) to jump over, and getting snow flurries right in the eyes wasn't always pleasant. One of my fellow running friends warned me beforehand that my energy gels and water bottles would most likely freeze in my pockets, and while I wasn't totally convinced at first, my Gu gels were definitely hard midway through the race! So, Mrs. Kwit, if you are reading this...I will be sure to pay more attention to your advice next time!

6. As I've mentioned before, it's always so important to listen to your body while running, no matter what. In a previous post, I talked about how the Hot Chocolate 15K in November turned into a nightmare when I had fainting spells and ended up in the ER just hours after crossing the finish line. As runners, we sometimes ignore the water stations or avoid using the bathrooms along the course because we don't want anything to get in the way of our finish times...but ultimately, it just isn't worth it. Maybe someday, I will be a more competitive distance runner and focus on speed work, especially since I aspire to qualify for the Boston Marathon by the time I'm 40. For now, though, I'm just running "for the health of it", as they say. Yesterday was the first time I really just let go of the concerns to beat my last finish time, and sure, I was a little bummed at the end, but I can't remember having as much fun at any of my other marathons. I firmly believe that was the reason why.

7. I love the multi-colored running shoes that I bought at Runner's Soul a few months ago and have used for all but one of every major race I have ever run. Eventually they will wear out, and I'll have to get a new pair, but I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of them now. I was slightly embarrassed at first, because to put it bluntly, I definitely stand out in those shoes, but it's always fun to get compliments from fellow runners along the course. Many marathoners like to wear something a little loud and unique that makes the event more memorable, whether it's a sparkly tiara, a pink tutu, or funky shoes that glow in the dark. Hey, if it makes completing those miles more bearable, then why not? :)

8. Speaking of ways to make a marathon more bearable, I have just one word for that: DOGS. I would like to personally thank any person with the good sense to walk their little four-legged babies on the grounds where a race is taking place, or even better, to have them on the sidelines. I don't know if everyone would agree with me on that, but to me, there's nothing more uplifting than seeing an adorable puppy in his little jacket and shoes to protect his paws from the ice. If I sound like a complete nutcase right now, I apologize, but I don't know...something about that just always makes me want to run a little harder, no matter how tired I am at that particular moment.

9. When it comes to reaching our goals and doing the things we love in life, I think we can all agree that we couldn't do it without the support of at least one person in our lives...and in most cases, it's more than one person. For me, my entire family has been incredible, but I have found a lot of amazing support from my mom, who travels with me to all my races. She works full time as a kindergarten teacher and could probably think of a hundred things she'd rather be doing on a Saturday morning (like sleeping, for instance), but she is always there for me, and I never forget that. In fact, a fellow running friend who met us at the train station that morning said "You have a wonderful mom", and I couldn't agree more. Having lunch with her downtown after these races is one of my favorite things about all of it. I am grateful for her and all she does to help me continue doing what I love. That's a true mom right there! I am extremely lucky to have the parents I do.

10. Now I'd like to end this posting with yet another quote: "Some people see all the negative things that have happened to them and ask why. Others focus on what they never had and ask why not. Then there are those who realize all they are blessed with and say thank you every day".

Have a great week, everyone! Keep doing what makes you feel happy and healthy, and be sure to thank those who help you along the way!

Question of the Week: How are your New Year's resolutions going? How do you motivate yourself to keep at it after the first few exciting weeks of January have passed?

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, Fresh Start...It's There for the Taking!

It's currently 10:55 in Chicago, and it will soon be time to watch the ball drop in Times Square and kick off 2012! It would be incredible to actually be there someday on December 31st and experience it all firsthand, but for now, watching in HD TV will do just fine!

The great thing about New Year's Eve is that it's a time to feel hopeful, start fresh, put past hurts and mistakes behind us, and move forward with the confidence that "our year" is just ahead. It can be easy to look back on the year that is ending and focus mostly on the negative things that have happened. Since the excitement of the Christmas season has subsided, and many of us are feeling a little depressed about that anyway, it's natural to start concentrating on what you don't have, rather than what you do have. For me personally, I still haven't found a full-time teaching job, which is frustrating to say the least. A lot of friends from grade school, high school, and college have married and started families, which reminds me of how much I want a husband and kids of my own. Despite having been successful on Weight Watchers, there are still days when I wish I was even thinner (ah, yes, don't we all?) I wish my anxiety in general didn't get the best of me in everyday life, and I'd love to just enjoy life more instead of getting annoyed so easily at the littlest, most insignificant things.

The thing is, everybody has moments where they feel a little (or maybe a lot) sorry for themselves, thinking about the negative things and wishing they could change them. That's okay. Really, everyone does it. It could actually be a good thing if, after allowing yourself that "Debbie Downer Time", you switch gears and remember all the positives, too. I may not have a full-time teaching position yet, but I am working part-time in an elementary school and gaining experience working with children. I have a job, period, with enough income to pay my bills, and that is absolutely something to be grateful for in today's world. I ran my first marathon this fall and reached a total of 150 pounds lost. I have a great family, a close relationship with my parents and sisters, and if I happen to marry and have children eventually, that will be awesome...but it's not going to ruin my life if I don't. So many other wonderful things have happened for me so far, like my newfound life as a runner, and heck, if Rosie Krajewski can turn into a runner willingly, then anything is possible! :)

So, to end this post, I will include a quote spoken by Hilary Swank's character in the movie New Years Eve, which seems pretty appropriate for right now. I loved the film's message about life and the attitude that should be adopted as we move into 2012:
"Before we pop the champagne and celebrate the new year...stop and reflect on the year that has gone by. Remember both our triumphs and our missteps, our promises made and broken. The times we opened ourselves up to great adventures or closed ourselves down for fear of getting hurt, because that is what New Years is all about - getting another chance. A chance to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, to love more. And stop worrying about what if and start embracing what would be. So when that ball drops at midnight--and it WILL drop--let's remember to be nice to each other, kind to each other. And not just tonight, but all year long."
Have an amazing start to the New Year, everyone! Remember to look back on all the good things from 2011, and as for the not-so-good...well, just put it behind you and make 2012 everything you want it to be! Nobody's stopping you! :)

Question of the Day: What is one thing you look forward to most about the New Year? What's one thing you really want to do/accomplish this year?

Oh, and for the record...looking at this sweet little guy's face is a constant reminder that life is just plain GOOD! God knew what He was doing when He gave us animals :)