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 :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here's to a LIFETIME of change!!!

Well, it's been a long time coming--39 months, to be exact. If you go beyond that, though, this day has been on its way for many years, since those days as an awkward, chubby kid with a monstrous love for food.

It all started with this little girl right here. She wasn't horribly obese quite yet, but I guess you could say the signs were always there. When you look at this kid celebrating her 10th birthday at home with her family, would you believe that she was capable of eating raw cookie dough by the package, straight from the freezer? I thought I was pretty good at hiding it from my mother, but I don't think it always worked out that way.

Things had gone from bad to worse for that same girl once she hit this point. She should have known when shopping for a presentable outfit for that wedding was nothing but anger and frustration, and she could only dream of ever fitting into a dress like her friend Leanne's on the far left...

Today, however, is just the beginning of a lifetime for this girl. Despite being the same person on the inside, there is now a personal desire to be healthy that wasn't there before, and hopefully it is here to stay!

Tonight, on Wednesday, December 7, 2011, I officially became a Lifetime Member at Weight Watchers (152.8 pounds lost altogether), and it feels AMAZING!! Looking back on the journey, there came a point where I knew I was experiencing more success than I had in the past, but there was still that nagging feeling that I wouldn't actually get down to the weight that is considered healthy for a person of my height. In fact, I had occasionally mentioned the possibility of eventually getting a note from my doctor that approved me to be a slightly heavier weight than Weight Watchers recommended, and still be able to obtain Lifetime status. It just didn't seem possible that I could make it that far on my own.

To be sure, it's taken a VERY long time to get here, and there have been a lot of difficult moments, but now I can't imagine being anywhere else. I am grateful for so many people who were there along the way, because no matter what we may believe, there is no way we could ever do these things in life by ourselves. I am especially thankful that my family was there the entire time for guidance--specifically my mom, who always seemed to know when to offer gentle words of encouragement, and when to just be completely straightforward. So many times, I wished she would just get off my back about the whole thing, but today, I have a better understanding of the fact that she was doing what any loving, concerned parent would do. It was a rough lesson to learn, and it didn't come quickly or easily. In the end, I appreciate that she--and my entire family--loved me when I was at my heaviest and motivated me to become healthier...because that's something we all deserve to do for ourselves. I am also thankful for Weight Watchers, an incredible weight loss program that teaches its members to view all foods--and I do mean all foods--as part of everyday life, not to be feared or avoided. I have been inspired by every single person who has offered kind words of encouragement, serving as a constant reminder that we should always try to lift each other up when we can.

My goal right now is to maintain my current weight for the rest of December, then pick it back up again in January with the weight loss, and possibly lose another 30 to 40 pounds so I can be at my truly ideal weight. The trick to getting through these long winter months will be switching up my exercise routine a little, trying new things whenever possible, and not being so resistant to change. I am so used to putting a movie or TV show on my iPad and just going to town, but I know it's not realistic to stick with the exact same workout regime every day. I can feel that my body has adjusted to my frequent running patterns, to the point where weight loss has been at a standstill, so hopefully that will improve over time. Today, I tried the elliptical machine and stationary bike for a change, along with more simple walking, and it made a difference. As much as I love running, it feels good to try something new.

Through all of this, I have also learned that countless people out there aspire to lose weight and get healthier, and while many of them are successful, no two stories are exactly alike. Thanks to a part-time work schedule over the past few years, I've been able to concentrate on daily exercise as almost a full-time job. That's a situation that obviously will not last for the long term, but it came at a time in my life where I could really use that focus, and I will never, ever regret it. What worked for me may not work for others, though, and when real life gets in the way, we show the world what we're made of by simply lifting our heads up and getting it done.

Take Jason Maxwell, for instance. I came across his blog when he posted it to the Chicago Marathon message board on Facebook, and it has definitely been inspiring. He has lost 140 pounds (and counting) since January 2011, and he also happens to have a wife, three kids, and a full-time job. People like him are proof that having a family and busy schedule is no excuse to give up on doing something positive for your health. When Jason made it a priority to change his eating habits and drop the weight, he made it happen, despite any obstacles that were in the way. That's how it is for all of us, because honestly, "the perfect time" is never going to just come. The key is creating the time, and making the most of the time we have to do these things that are important. When I heard Jason's story, I thought to myself, three years ago, what if I had a husband, a few kids, a house, a full time teaching job, and an overall more hectic life than I have right now? Would I still have been able to lose 150 pounds in the same time frame? Would I have felt motivated to do so, or would I have continued to make excuses? I guess we'll never know the answers to questions like this when we ask ourselves.

 One thing's for sure--I admire people in Jason's position who find a way to achieve that. His circumstances were completely different than mine when he started his own weight loss journey, but we somehow reached the same place, and we both continue to look for opportunities to get healthier. On some days, we just don't feel like being productive, which is why it is so helpful to get a new perspective. Find inspiration from someone else who may have similar goals in mind, and use their accomplishments to possibly fine-tune your own aspirations for the future. It really does work! If you want to read Jason's blog, it is

Question of the Day: Do you know of any specific success stories from others who have inspired you personally? If you can (and if those people don't mind), feel free to post their stories, blog addresses, etc... We all love the opportunity to get inspired :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Time to Play Catch Up...

The Bears just scored a touchdown to take a 17-10 lead, which seems like a pretty good time to start a new blog post! HOORAY!!!! Well, nothing too interesting has been going on around here, but it's still been pretty busy, as life tends to be. A week after finishing the Monster Dash, I ran the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K (approximately 9.3 miles), which was great until I started having fainting spells an hour and a half later! Mom and I walked over to Macy's after the race to watch them light the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room for the season. I was feeling perfectly fine, but about 30 seconds before they turned it on, I suddenly felt dizzy. We tried to make our way through the crowd and sit somewhere, but the next thing I knew, I had passed out in the middle of all those people. Ugh, how embarrassing! I sat down and drank some water (the restaurant staff and people visiting were so helpful), but five minutes later, the exact same thing happened again. Needless to say, our fun lunch under the tree was postponed so we could spend four hours in the Northwestern emergency room. All ended up being fine, though, thank goodness, and to prove that this really is a small world, one of the paramedics in the ambulance happened to be married to a teacher at the school where I work in Elmhurst! Anyway, to make a long story short, an important lesson was learned that day: it is never a good idea to refrain from drinking liquids during a race because you don't want your bladder to get in the way of the ideal finish time. I did end up finishing in about one hour and forty four minutes, which felt awesome at the time, but as luck would have it, my time was not recorded for some reason! So clearly, this was not my smoothest or most memorable day as a runner, but hey, that's okay! Hiccups in the road just make life a little more interesting...and again, if you're lucky, you learn how to avoid the same mistakes next time.

Finally home and able to relax after one heck of a crazy day. The only person more relieved than I was my poor mother :)

The good news is that Mom and I traveled back downtown five days later for an early dinner in the Walnut Room, to make up for the lunch we had missed over the weekend. The tree is gorgeous this year, as always, and since it was a weekday in early November, there were no crowds!

                         This picture was taken a few minutes before I passed out on Saturday...

Aah, that's MUCH better! Five days later, in the exact same place :)

                  One giant tree in the middle of several smaller ones...the pink is my favorite!!

I don't care how old you get...when you see something like a "Believe Meter" at Macy's at the beginning of the holiday season, you feel like a kid all over again! The really cool thing about this is that they have these red mailboxes scattered throughout the store, along with little tables/crayons for kids to write letters to Santa. Inspired by the famous story Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, Macy's will donate one dollar (up to a million dollars) to the Make a Wish Foundation for every letter that is put in these mailboxes. It's part of their 2011 Believe Campaign, so if you have kids and live near the city, it's definitely worth your time to stop by.

Soooooo....what else to report? Well, the weekend after the Hot Chocolate Race, my sister Katie asked me to do a Girls on the Run 5K race with her, since her school district was participating in it and needed extra adults to pair up with grade school students for the race. It was a lot of fun and reminded me how awesome it can be to introduce kids to the world of running. As a high impact sport that requires mental strength as much as physical preparation, there's something incredible about knowing that you have completed that distance. The third grade girl I ran with, Claudia, was so cute and enthusiastic, and it was great to see so many young girls participating in this event. After all, how can you possibly argue with an activity that promotes physical health in children as they work together to support a good cause?

Since my last post, I also finally managed to reach my goal weight at Weight Watchers and am now in the middle of a six-week maintenance program. On December 7th, if I have remained within two pounds of my goal weight, I can become a Lifetime member. It feels amazing to finally have reached that point. The hard work never stops, since maintaining a healthy weight is a permanent, full-time job, but with the support of family and friends, it is do-able. I am grateful to everyone who has been there for me throughout this journey, and I hope that anyone who is looking to do the same thing can find the motivation to start from inside themselves. Resolve to do it for you, not for anyone else, and I think you'll be surprised at how your perspective changes. It's exhausting to try and do certain things because you think it will please others. The truth is that our friends and loved ones aren't against us, even though it might seem that way every once in a while. They just want us to be happy, and a huge part of that comes from taking care of ourselves. When that happens, we're on our way to being better people, better friends...and better everything!

Question of the Day: Did any of you see Breaking Dawn this weekend, and if so, what did you think of it? Completely random question, I know, but my friend Jenny and I went to the first midnight showing on Thursday (or Friday, I should say), and it was definitely a cool experience. Listening to hundreds of teenyboppers (and yes, some grown women) squeal with excitement every time Taylor Lautner takes off his shirt never ceases to be funny! The overall phenomenon of the Twilight movies is what makes it so much fun...makes me wish I had jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon while the movies were being made. Now I want to read all those books and start watching the movies!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Life as a Marathonaholic...Still Lovin' It!!!

About 5 minutes before the official start time for the 2011 MONSTER DASH!!!!! YEAH!!!!

This post will probably be shorter this time--and note that I did say probably--because as soon as I'm done, I'm going to get in bed with dinner, watch Monte Carlo on Blu-ray, and just chill for the rest of the evening! Yes, I'm one of those girls who watches Selena Gomez movies on a Saturday night...and that's okay! :)

It was a long day--but a very fun and happy one--at the Chicago Monster Dash with my mom. I ran my second half marathon in 2:39:18, which is four minutes longer than my finish time at the Chicago Half Marathon in September, and a 13-minute drop from the halfway mark at the Chicago Marathon. But in that case, you must understand that I was running with my sister Katie, aka the girl with legs like lightning, and she was not there today to help me stretch beyond those limits. Still, it was a beautiful course to run along, and I only stopped running to tie my shoes and go to the bathroom at mile 9, so all in all, I'm happy with my finish time.

The weather was about as perfect as it can get at the tail end of October...a little chilly, but sunny skies the entire time, and the crowd of runners was considerably thinner than the last two marathons I've done, so there was plenty of open space to run along the lakefront. The only bummer was that there were hardly any spectators, and considering the beautiful day it was, that was a little surprising. We were definitely spoiled at the Chicago Marathon and Half Marathon, respectively, with the large numbers of supporters out there, and this time around, the course was very...quiet. Even the runners weren't hooting and hollaring the way they normally do. There were a lot of feet hitting the pavement, and a few isolated conversations were going on, but the tone of the race was definitely different in that respect. It wasn't necessarily bad--just different. That said, there were certain points on the course that had more people watching, including Navy Pier and the start/finish lines, and as always, the volunteers were amazing. A lot goes into the making these events successful, and there was a lot of kindness and generosity going around at the Chicago Monster today. I loved spending the time with my mom (we had lunch at Bennigan's after the race), and at least in my eyes, she's the best supporter in the world!! Now it's time to look forward to the Inaugural Chicago Polar Dash on January 14th...yeah, it's gonna be a frigid one, but the way I see it, if you're gonna be outside at that time of year, you might as well warm yourself up by running 13.1 miles around the city! Sounds fun, right? :)

Other than that, things have pretty much been the same around here. Wednesday was an incredibly exciting night, because I reached my goal weight at my Weight Watchers meeting. What this means is that I now have to enter a six-week maintenance program, and at the end of that sixth week, if I am no more than two pounds above my current weight, I will receive a Lifetime pass to attend Weight Watchers for free (as long as I maintain that goal weight). It was awesome to share my before and after pictures with the group and talk a little about my journey over the past three years, and it's also incredible to think that I have reached this point. It's taken a lot of time and hard work. At the same time, though, there's that feeling what? When you've been working toward something very specific for so long, you find yourself wondering what the next challenge is going to be. I am hopeful that I can lose another 40 pounds or so (I've lost 154 so far), but I'm trying not to get too worked up about that. First, we'll see how these six weeks of maintenance go, because staying disciplined and not slipping back into old habits is going to be difficult enough. I think we all know what that can be like. Tonight, for instance, I am treating myself to a sausage stromboli from Sbarro's (picked it up for dinner after the race because I haven't had Sbarro's in at least a year and have been craving it like no other), and while it's fine to indulge once in a while, it can be rough getting back on track the next day.

You know how it goes...once you have one or two less-than-healthy meals, you start craving the bad stuff again, and like an evil manipulator, your body will try coaxing you back in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I've gotten better at spotting the warning signs for this, and if we are firm enough with ourselves, we can learn how to keep out of trouble. I guess that's one of the reasons I love running so much. A friend of mine recently said that running has been her saving grace in maintaining her weight, because even if she eats badly over the weekend, she can exercise the next day and use that as a springboard to get back on the wagon. That's the incredible thing about exercise--when you learn to take advantage of it and integrate it into your regular routine, more healthy eating is sure to follow.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Saturday night (I know I will) and has a beautiful, relaxing Sunday tomorrow. Always work hard and stay focused on your goals, but don't forget to enjoy life too!

Question of the Day: It's a simple one...what makes you happy?

Here I am shortly after crossing the finish line. The medal and post-race string cheese are the best part!

Hanging out at home with my medal and new Monster hat...and of course, my fabulous dad :)

As you can tell, this jacket is just a little...incandescent, shall we say? My dad says it looks like I stuck my finger in an electrical socket, and I guess I can't disagree with him on that one. Oh, the things we love wearing to make life just a little bit brighter! :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Running, Running, Running As Fast As I Can...But Not Getting There Fast Enough...

Here's a few fun pictures from marathon day last week that I just felt like sharing...

Fueling at 5:45 AM with a banana and Gatorade! Yep, Rosie definitely lived to regret drinking that much before running 26.2 miles...for obvious reasons!!

And this is Ditka being Ditka. When it's that early in the morning, he just wants to sleep...kind of like the rest of us!

Eeeeeek! At the hotel room after the race, just about to hit the shower after taking out my French braids! Check out the double chin action...oh so attractive :)

A whole week has gone by since the Chicago Marathon! Really?!?! I thought about it all day today, recalling the exact times I was running last Sunday, when it started to get really painful, when my sister and I finally crossed the finish line, etc... Last night, while my mom and I were sitting and talking, she said to me, "Do you ever find it hard to believe that you actually ran 26 miles? Doesn't that just seem crazy to you?" In a way, yes, it does, but after three years of leading a completely different lifestyle health-wise, it's hard to imagine a time when I didn't aspire to run a marathon. It's difficult to recall ever being so horribly overweight, eating whatever I wanted whenever I felt like it, and not caring about my body the way people should. Right now, I am finding that maintaining weight loss is truly a long and time-consuming journey, and if we want to be successful at it, we can't be constantly looking for that "off switch". It's a lifestyle, not a destination, and I struggle with that fact every single day.

Seven days after a marathon, many runners are taking time to recover and transition to more "cross training" activities, but I can't seem to stay away from the treadmill. I did five miles today, which felt pretty good (aside from a few cramps toward the end). When people ask why I'm not taking a break from this, I like to say it's because I am too passionate about it to stay away for long...which is true...but only partially so. To be perfectly honest, one of the main reasons I am still trying to run vigorously post-marathon is because I am only three pounds away from reaching goal at Weight Watchers. Well, actually, that's how much weight I had left to go at my last weigh-in, and I have gone up a little more than I would have liked over the past few weeks, but we'll just leave it at that. My next weigh-in is in three days, and I have a chance at being where I want to be by then, but it's been extremely tough recently.

After finishing the marathon, it would have been ideal to just relax for a while and not have to worry about these things, but unfortunately, right now, I am still very focused on that number on the scale. With any luck, I will hit goal on Wednesday (153 pounds total lost), begin the 6-week maintenance program with Weight Watchers, and become an official Lifetime Member the week after Thanksgiving. What that means is that I will never have to pay the weekly fee for Weight Watchers again, as long as I weigh in at least once a month and never end up more than two pounds above my goal weight. I remember a time in life when I had over 150 pounds to get rid of before I could achieve that, and it wasn't until I lost at least 100 of those pounds before I really got the sense that it could actually happen. Now that it's so close, it's just amazing...and at the same time, these last few pounds have been some of the hardest to drop.

At 7:30 on this Sunday evening, I am watching the Bears game with my grandma and trying desperately to keep my mind off food. I had a bowl of chili for dinner and a Weight Watchers ice cream cup for dessert (actually, make that two ice cream cups...) and now it's time to stop for the night. Hopefully, I won't be sneaking over to the fridge later in the evening, but it represents something we all have to deal with. In some ways, it gets easier, but in other ways, it almost seems to get harder over time. I guess I could sum it up best by a text message conversation I had with my mom about five minutes ago (she's at the game with my dad and sister). I was whining about being hungry (and my poor mom often bears the brunt of my complaining), and her response was...

"There is a 400 pound girl here who can barely will never be that girl. You are a strong and healthy girl. My girl."

To that I said...

 "I just wish it wasn't something we had to obsess about every day, you know? When I treat myself, I either feel guilty about it or spend the next several days trying to make up for it. But that's good, I guess, because if I'm constantly thinking about it, then I know I won't revert back."

So there you have it. The bottom line, I think, is that when we are worrying about our exercise and calorie intake, we should take that as a good sign, because when we stop caring, that's how we know we're in trouble. I can remember the summer after graduating from high school. I had just spent the year losing 50 pounds and felt pretty good about myself, to the point where I was getting lazy about a lot of things. I would order steak and eggs for breakfast at a restaurant, even though I knew that probably wasn't a good idea, and went back to regular pop because I felt I "deserved it". If I had caught myself in time and worked harder to stay on track, then maybe I wouldn't have had to deal with the fallout of gaining 100 pounds over the next few years. The good news is that I learned from those mistakes and am determined not to lose control again. It's too easy to let ourselves get out of hand--a bad day is one thing, but if it starts leading to a bad week, or a bad couple of weeks, the consequences really present themselves.

The point I'm trying to make is that so often, we tend to beat ourselves up, specifically when it comes to weight and physical appearance. Life was never meant to be miserable, and we shouldn't be worry every second of the day, but to an extent, I think it's healthy to fear about this stuff. Okay, maybe "fear" isn't the best word, but it's all I've got right now. Basically, we are all accountable to our own selves, and we can draw help and inspiration from the people around us, but ultimately, it's a matter of listening to ourselves...and actually paying attention. It's good to be a little hard on ourselves sometimes, especially when people around us are saying things like "Oh, you look so awesome!" and "Now you can just relax and enjoy accomplishing your goal!" Those people mean well, and part of what they're saying is correct, but we can't get too cocky about our successes. We all enjoy the occasional pizza, ice cream, or popcorn at the movies, and that's okay...crucial, even. Taking time to enjoy life and indulge in our favorite things keeps us sane. On the flip side, we need to listen to our bodies, know when to stop, balance it out with healthy foods, and exercise as much as possible. Sounds so easy when it's written out in simple terms like that...and yet it's still so hard sometimes. Trust me, I know. I am not a pro at this by any means--as I type this sentence, I am continuing to wrestle with it, same as everyone else in the world. But we can do it. You can do it, I can do it, and we can help each other along the way. We may not want to, but really, what other choice is there?

Question of the Day: What's something healthy you try to accomplish every day that is a constant battle, but in the end, it makes you feel good knowing that you continue motivating yourself to do it?

Have a great night, everyone! I am off now to check the score of the game. Will Chicago go to bed happy tonight?? Here's hoping!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Unforgettable...Yep, That's the Chicago Marathon!!

Well, after a whole year of excitement and anticipation, Marathon Weekend has officially come and gone. Something always seems a little "off" whenever something like this happens--almost as if you don't know what to do with yourself now that you've reached a goal you were pursuing for so long. Of course, my work is far from over, but more on that later.

This is what Katie and I looked like at mile 13 of the marathon on Sunday, when we stopped briefly to say hi to the family and take a picture. I can't speak for my sister, but while we both look sufficiently collected and happy here, I was pretty miserable. Being only halfway through your first-ever 26.2 mile journey tends to have that effect, which has made me think of the top ten reasons I should never consider running a marathon again:

1. Two words: Will Caviness. Mr. Caviness was a 35-year-old firefighter with two young children under the age of four, and an experienced marathoner/charity runner raising money for kids who are burn victims. He collapsed 500 yards away from the finish line and, unfortunately, did not survive. I didn't give it as much thought at first, but over the past 24 hours, it has really made me consider the extreme strain that a marathon puts on a person's body. Throughout the race, I literally felt like my heart might explode out of my chest at any moment, and there were two or three instances where part of my arm went numb for about a split second. I never felt that I was in grave danger and needed to stop, but it makes you well do marathoners know their limits? We would like to believe that we are smart enough to listen to our bodies, but the truth is, many of us might not get the hint until we are literally lying on the ground. I'm sorry if this is going in a depressing direction, but I guess my main point is that when a fellow runner loses his life on the course, it gets pretty scary as you start putting it all into perspective.

2. I had an incredible experience at my first half marathon on September 11, just four weeks ago. The weather was beautiful, the distance (13.1 miles) was perfect, and I was able to run comfortably the entire time without stopping for walking breaks. After that, I got it in my head that if a half marathon could go that well, then the full marathon would be a breeze, right? Oh, Rosie, if only you had known :) So, now that I've been through both and am confident that the half marathon is "just right", why bother attempting anything longer?

3. Every marathoner is familiar with that moment where he/she "hits the wall". For me, it was mile 17, and boy, oh  boy, every possible depressing thought raced through my mind during that time. A fellow runner that I know recently said "Twenty miles is a physical feat; after that, it becomes all mental. It's your focus, determination, and what you can handle". This is definitely true. The body isn't designed to take that much impact, so when you attempt it, everything inside of you says "Stop. Please just stop". And in any other situation, you would have stopped a long time ago, but when it's the Chicago Marathon, you can't exactly compare it to "any other situation". My sister and I ran together, so we were attempting to find a "happy medium" with our two varying paces. Maybe it was because we started off a little faster than I normally would have, but in any case, miles 10 through 20 were a doozy, to say the least. Although the idea of quitting never crossed  my mind, I absolutely wished that the ground would just swallow me up and put me out of my misery.

4. Your marathon experience can turn around pretty quickly if you drink too much beforehand, which ended up being one of my problems. Consuming a huge bottle of Gatorade seemed like a good idea at the time, for the sake of being well-fueled, and even though Katie and I went to the bathroom before starting, I felt the urge after only about half a mile of running. It wasn't until I finally found a port-o-potty without lines at mile 20 that I realized just how much that can slow you down.

5. Early in the race, I was eager to connect with every hand that people held out to give a "high five", and whenever someone would cheer for me, I smiled and waved because simply stated, it's an amazing feeling when someone calls you out by name. After a while, though, there came a point where I just wasn't smiling anymore. Nothing about any of this seemed fun. I would hear an enthusiastic "Go, Rose! Keep it up, Rose!" and wish I could just tune them out. Then I felt guilty for not even wanting to acknowledge them when, in reality, what they were willing to do for a bunch of total strangers was pretty darn amazing.

6. I don't know how many other runners have experienced this, but eventually, after completing a certain number of miles, I felt as if I couldn't even think straight. I was texting my other sister Kerry throughout the race, so she and my mom would know exactly where we were, and she would respond with encouraging messages and/or information on where they were standing in the crowd. After about the 14th mile, though, everything was kind of a blur. It's funny to think back on now, but at the time, when Katie would turn and say something to me, I don't think I processed half of it. Whether it's the adrenaline, the exhaustion, or simply trying to put one foot in front of the other, you find yourself just fighting to survive.

7. When I first signed up for the marathon and began the training process, I often said that it would be "just this one time". I rarely pictured myself ever attempting it again. It was more like a "bucket list" activity that I could cross off later as I moved on to the next challenge. Seems reasonable, right?

8. As I mentioned before, I was somehow managing to text back and forth with Kerry as I ran, and while looking through the saved messages later, I realized how dark some of them were. "I feel like a failure" is one that is still pretty clear in my memory, along with "This is bad" and "Please, please pray for me". There were times when I wanted to write her and say I can't do this anymore, Kerry. I just can't do it. What part of me possibly made me think this was something I could do? I refrained from texting those words, but they played over and over in my mind as I hit the most difficult periods of the race.

9. Whether it's a sign of inexperience or a common issue with even the most elite runners, the recovery period is rough. It's only been about 48 hours so far, but the legs are extremely sore, my shoulders ache after lying down in bed for a while, and it is painful to walk down a flight of stairs. Furthermore, I can barely bend over to tie my own laces, let alone help a 7-year-old student at work get the knot out of his shoe. Marathons have a funny way of making you feel elderly for the next several days.

10. To put it bluntly, life is all about challenging ourselves and looking for new things to accomplish once we have reached those goals. I have officially finished a marathon in my lifetime. I did it. Why do it again? I should concentrate instead on finding a brand-new challenge and devoting time to that...right?

Okay, so now that I have spent some time being Debbie Downer, here are the top ten reasons why I know for sure that I will run more marathons in my life:

1. Everyone should experience a marathon in their lifetime. There is something truly beautiful about it, whether you are a runner, a spectator, or a volunteer. I felt it a little bit last year, when I went with the family to watch Katie complete her first marathon in Chicago, and I remember being amazed by the enthusiasm of the crowds. This time around, as an actual participant on the course, I was blown away at the sights, the sounds, the people crowding the sidelines, and how they all came together on a warm, sunny day. I absolutely loved being out there, taking it all in, and noticing details in the city neighborhoods that I hadn't necessarily stopped to look at before.

2. The posters that are held up by spectators were one of my favorite parts of the Chicago Half Marathon, and I enjoyed them every bit as much at the full marathon. Every time I saw a funny or particularly poignant one, I made a mental note to remember it, but sadly, I forgot many of them...and wasn't smart enough at the time to type them into my phone as I was running. A few that I did manage to pull out of my brain over time included:

A) Be proud - you're running faster than my husband!
B) Shoot...I thought they said it was 2.62 miles!
C) Quitting will hurt a lot longer than the pain.
D) It's easier than me!
E) Dear Lisa, I love you and miss you. Hopefully we will meet again one day. Love, Your Toenails 

3. Every time I listen to "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, I will remember hearing it at approximately the 24th mile, with the crowds going crazy in the background, all while knowing that I was lucky enough to be participating in something amazing.

4. Seeing my family along the way. My mom, sister Kerry, and brother-in-law Jay were able to use the text messages between me and Kerry to track where Katie and I were running, and we saw them three times on the course--miles 13, 16, and 25. It always gives you a burst of energy when you pass your loved ones while running. Just knowing that they are there and excited to see you is a huge source of motivation and support. My dad also participated in sending text messages and reminding us that he was praying. "We're all with you", he wrote at one point, and it's moments like that when you remember that you don't have to do these things by yourself. Our families are there to lift us up during the hard times and make it all worthwhile in the end...and in this case, it absolutely was.
5. Looking through the pictures at after the race. I look so exhausted and unhappy in many of them--one in particular around mile 17, where I wanted that photographer to know exactly how I was feeling. Now I wish I had smiled a little more, but even so, it's fun to look through those pictures and recall the various emotions that were taking place at different times. It offers a portrait of the overall marathon for later, after you have regained your composure and can look back on it with a clear mind.

6. Receiving support from everyone on Facebook, from the teachers and parents at my mom's school, at work, and at home. People say the kindest words...they really, really do. I am amazed at how many people have cared about my success and taken the time to tell me so. The same goes for the crowds who came out to cheer on all the runners during the race. What's so phenomenal about these people is that they genuinely want to yell and cheer for you...and they want to single you out individually. I think the best decision I made for this race was buying a shirt online that had my name printed in huge letters across the front. I can't even count the number of people on the sidelines who looked me right in the eye, smiled, and screamed "Go Rose! You can do it, Rose!" Consider the power of what it means that so many people are eager to do that for complete strangers. It gives you hope that the world really is still good at heart, and that's what the marathon brings out in everyone who participates in some way. It's one of those moments where you just want to "pay it forward" and do the same for others when they need it.

7. The weight loss that has come from this training has just been an added bonus. I had lost about 100 pounds by the time I began preparing for the marathon, but training has helped me drop that additional 50 that may have otherwise been extremely difficult to lose. Running keeps me focused on my health and helps me maintain the right balance with food and exercise. I never imagined I'd get addicted to it so fast, but there you have it.

8. Talking to people and having newfound confidence in myself. Just today, I went to the Runner's Soul shop in town and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a marathon jacket and official finishers' shirt. To my surprise, I found it incredibly easy and exciting to strike up a conversation with the woman who was working there. I told her about the marathon, its ups and downs, and the weight loss journey that has come with it. In turn, she told me about her training for the upcoming New York Marathon, and how she has stayed motivated over the past several months. I have been painfully shy my entire life, but by losing weight and developing a passion for running, I have found that I have so much more to say, and it is exciting that I can look at people directly in the eye without getting so flustered or embarrassed. It has taken a long time to get here, but now that I have, it's hard to describe exactly how awesome it feels.

9. There's nothing like walking through the finishers' chute, toward the volunteers with medals in their hands. For a few moments, you feel like an Olympian as they put the medal around your neck and congratulate you on a job well done. As soon as I had mine, I held the medal part in my hand and actually kissed it. I'm pretty sure someone behind me laughed at this, but you know what? When you've been through the grueling journey of earning something like that, all you care about is basking in that happiness and being grateful for what's in front of you. So you look a little silly? WHO THE HECK CARES???? :)

10. Pushing through the pain, because I matter...and because we all matter. I mentioned before that the marathon pulls every single emotion out of you in its time, but ultimately, that's exactly what life is--all those mixed feelings endured for the sake of the payoff on the other side. There's the excitement, impulsivity, shock when the "hard stuff" settles in, anger, pain, fear, embarrassment, and frustration...followed by complete relief and joy when you realize that you have made it. All of a sudden, you want to just live in the moment. You forget the pain pretty quickly, but you always remember the good...and that is exactly how it should be!

Katie and I loved wearing our medals at the hotel after the marathon, when we could just relax and enjoy what we had spent five hours and twenty eight minutes completing. THAT right there is why we do this, and why we love it so much!

And with that, the verdict is in...I am totally and completely in love with running, and as long as I have a say in it, I will continue to chase after it! There's a famous quote (and another famous marathon spectator poster) that says The day will come when you are no longer able to do this. Today is NOT that day! As I continue into my thirties and beyond, my main goal is to stay healthy and stick with the forms of exercise that I love the most...and running just happens to be at the top of that list. Several people have asked me already if I would consider doing the marathon again next year, and the answer is always yes! Absolutely! There's no question about it...which is odd because the whole time I was running on Sunday, I swore that I couldn't possibly be dumb enough to do this to myself again. As I waddled around for the next two days, completely sore and stiff, I knew that this was more than something I had randomly stumbled had become a passion. It really is like childbirth (not that I would know anything about that, but you know what I mean)...the memory of the hard parts fades as soon as you experience the reward, and from then on, you're eager to start all over again. The 2012 Chicago Marathon is 100% for sure part of my future plan, barring any injuries, and if all goes well physically, chances are I'll find another one to run before that! Ah, it's tough when we start forming obsessions :)

I think my heart will always be with the Chicago Marathon each year, mainly because it's my hometown, and because this is where it all began for me, but I am already getting excited about putting other marathons on my To Do List. The Illinois, Las Vegas, Disney Princess, New York, and Wisconsin Dells Marathons all sound flat-out AMAZING, and I look forward to hopefully turning these dreams into a reality. After finishing Marathon #1 with a goal simply to finish, I am excited about fine-tuning other areas that didn't seem to matter the first time around--such as speed training, increased outdoor runs (the treadmill has represented about 90% of my training this year, if not more), and possibly training with other people to build endurance and practice keeping up with different paces. It will be a slow process, and not all of these things will be achieved at once, but the first step is where it all begins.

Question of the Day: Name something in your life that you love, as well as the top reasons why you choose to persevere with it, even in the darkest moments.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"You are your problem...and you're also your solution."

Hanging out with my dog at our Bears Tailgating Party in October 2008...

...and posing with my sister Katie at the Chicago Marathon Expo in October 2011! What a difference a few years can make!

All right, wasn't too long ago that I resolved to be much better about updating this blog, adding to it at least once a week. Well, four weeks later, you can see how well that turned out :) Maintaining these things is much harder than it looks...but I guess late is better than never!

Since tomorrow is going to be a pretty exciting day (to say the least), I figured it was the perfect time to post something. The title I used comes from the movie "Bridesmaids", which just happens to be one of my favorites. The raunchy, "female version of The Hangover" nature of it might make it difficult to picture it as a starting point for a valuable life lesson, but it has more heart than you might think...which is the sign of a perfect comedy in my book! :) In the movie, Melissa McCarthy's character snaps Kristen Wiig's character into shape with an admirable pep talk that basically ends with this line: "I do not associate with people who blame the world for their problems, because you are your problem...and you're also your solution."

Sound familiar? It certainly does for me, especially when I think back on the way I was living just three short years ago. It is so easy to reach a point of unhappiness that leads you to blame others for your own shortcomings, because after all, if they're the problem, then you can just keep on accusing them of getting in the way as you avoid the real solution. That solution, of course, requires us to acknowledge that if we're miserable, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. The good news is that admitting this is the first step, and from there, it can only get easier to initiate change.

Believe me, I know that's easier said than done. There was a time in my life when I simply didn't want to hear any of this. I was perfectly content blaming everyone aroud me for my weight problems: my family, my school/job responsibilities that got in the way of an ideal workout routine, and so on. Plus, I hated the idea that physical appearances have to matter so much in society. Back then, it was like, okay, would people actually like me better if I was thinner? What kind of people must they be if that is so important to them? Why should I inconvenience myself just to make them happy?

Well, as it turned out, the problem wasn't "those other people" at all--it was me. I hated having to do all my clothes shopping at Lane Bryant, Sears, or other restricted location that carried plus sizes. It was frustrating having to alternate between only two pairs of dress pants and a couple of tops during student teaching, because even if I did spend the time and money to search for more outfits, it hardly seemed worth it. Back pain and soreness in the feet were commonplace, and as I worked with my students at school, it was exhausting to be constantly worried that my weight was the only thing they noticed.

Okay, I'm officially starting to ramble now...sorry about that! With the Chicago Marathon less than 12 hours away, it has me thinking about what it took to get here, and how unbelievably exciting it is to be chasing this new goal. Nearly 45,000 fellow runners will be at that start line in the morning, which is incredible. 45,000 people are running to give back to charities, improve their health, and have some fun in the beautiful city of Chicago. We all have stories to tell--stories about coming back from a low point and learning how to be happy again. In a world where so many situations are completely out of our hands, it is comforting to know that there are so many other things that we can control with a little self-discipline. I have lost 150 pounds in three years, and after making it to the other side of this journey, I can't ever imagine going back. Now it's exciting to set new goals and aspire to do more things that seemed impossible before. To me, that's what the Chicago Marathon is all about--grabbing an opportunity with both hands and being grateful for it when it comes along. Not everyone is necessarily interested in running a marathon in their lifetime, but that isn't the point. The point is that if you find something you truly want to do, but you realize it's going to take a lot of time and patience before it comes to fruition, you're going to accept that as part of the journey. You don't let a little hard work prevent you from doing something absolutely worthwhile, because after all is said and done, there's nothing like enjoying the payoff!

I want to say thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog and offering words of encouragement, either here, on Facebook, or in person. Exactly one year ago, the Chicago Marathon wasn't even something I was remotely interested in, let alone physically prepared to do, so it's still pretty surreal that I actually went through with the training for this. Without the love and encouragement from family, friends, acquaintances, and even complete strangers, I might have backed out a long time ago, which says a lot about the power of motivating somebody else with simply a kind word. It all adds up in the end, and it makes a huge difference as we set out to accomplish what matters most to us.

I will post pictures from the marathon and let you know how it went. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous (if not a little warm), which is always a plus! Happy Columbus Day weekend, and remember...TODAY is ALWAYS the day to stand up and "get 'er done", as they say! We never know for sure if a tomorrow is coming, but one thing's for sure: we have right now!

Question of the Day: What's an example of something you were able to improve upon in your own life when you finally accepted that you were your own solution?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later, We're Still Standing Strong...

I was sixteen years old and a junior in high school when the September 11 attacks took place ten years ago. That's certainly old enough to grasp the seriousness of the day's horrible events, but looking back on it, I don't think I fully understood how huge it was until years later. I remember walking back from gym class and sitting in American History with the radios on, listening to the reports about the World Trade Center and what it would mean for the future of our country. My friend Allison and I were primarily excited about picking up Mariah Carey's new CD, Glitter, after school at Walmart, but over time, we gradually realized that something much bigger was going on around all of us.

Now, a full decade later, the United States is far from perfect, but one thing we can say is that we are still standing, as a nation and as individuals. We are still going to school, working, spending time with our families and friends, and working toward personal goals. It's never easy, of course, and some people could go on for hours about what they feel is wrong with America right now, but the bottom line is that we're still here, and considering where we were exactly ten years ago, I'd say that's pretty darn good.

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? Pretty much all of us can recall details of where we were physically standing and who we were with at the time, but the question involves much more than that. As a person, who were you, and do you feel you have changed in any significant ways since then? For me, personally, I was an overweight teenager who hated exercise and only really did it when my mom suggested visiting the local gym on a Saturday, or when my PE instructor, Miss U, kept us on our toes with step aerobics and occasional 1-mile runs. I can still remember Miss U telling us that as high school students, we basically kept moving because we were required to, but her goal was to hopefully motivate us to stay active in college and beyond, when our teachers and parents weren't there to give us that little nudge. I have thought about those words a few times over the years, but it's only now that I'm starting to truly get it. It really is true; exercising is one thing when you're a kid, benefiting from all those adult influences in your life, but when you grow up and can make your own decisions, can you find the will to make healthy ones?

I certainly didn't during my younger adult years. College came with all its trademark freedoms, and part of that meant I could eat whatever I wanted without being under the watchful eye of my parents. I went to the campus gym every once in a while, and I always liked to walk, but it was never enough to keep up with my monstrous snacking habits. As a result, I was an extremely overweight and unhappy person, and I knew what would make me feel better, but at that stage in my life, I wasn't committed to doing the grunt work. It wasn't until I was about 24 years old that I finally said "Okay, I'm going to work out every day. I'm going to sweat off all those pounds I gained in college, and things are going to be much better from now on".

Well, a few years later, through a series of considerable lifestyle changes that only God deserves credit for helping me achieve, I had lost a decent number of pounds. I looked healthier, I felt better, and honestly, if I had stopped there and stuck to that weight for the rest of my life, that would have been okay. I would have still been considered a "larger" person, but at least I wouldn't be morbidly obese like before. But here's the thing--when you start to experience some success, you feel more confident in your ability to get even stronger, and you just want to keep going from there.

That's what I experienced when I went with the whole family to the Chicago Marathon on October 10, 2010, to cheer on my sister Katie, who was running her very first marathon. Throughout her training regime before that, I balked at the idea of ever doing something like that, and I would often make fun of her for choosing to spend her free time going for long runs. In fact, whenever she would head out the door for the prairie path, I would come up with some kind of snide comment like "See you later! Enjoy! I'll be thinking of you when I roll over in bed and go back to sleep."

Then something happened on the actual marathon day, as I was watching the crowds cheer for thousands of runners--runners of all ages and backgrounds--who came out to complete 26.2 miles along the streets of Chicago. They all had different reasons for lacing up their shoes and getting out there early in the morning, whether it for a charity, or to beat a previous personal record, or to simply cross the finish line and be able to say that they ran a marathon in their lifetime. For some of them, too, they just wanted to run for the health of it--to get their hearts pumping and be confident that their bodies were getting that much stronger.

Initially, I was inspired by my older sister Katie's perseverance in completing the Chicago Marathon for the first time, and I wanted to be like her. What little sister doesn't? I quickly made it known on Facebook that I aspired to prepare for the following year's marathon, and while I received a lot of immediate support, I'm sure it was a difficult concept to take seriously. I mean, I had lost about 80 pounds at that point and was doing well with my diet, but I was absolutely not thin, and there was still a long way to go. Still, I was determined to make this happen, and by early February, I had officially registered for the Chicago Half Marathon in September 2011. The plan was to start with that and go for the full marathon in 2012, but of course, that only lasted about a week at best, and before long, I was also signed up for the Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2011. Again, my family and friends were very encouraging from the beginning, but it was a lot to take in. Katie was concerned that I was taking on too much too quickly, and she wondered if I should concentrate on a few 5K's before moving up to something bigger. While I appreciated her advice, I knew I had my mind made up, and of course, she--along with the rest of the family--was willing to do anything she could to help as I started this journey.

So there I was, 25 years old, intending to tackle a half marathon in 7 months, and I literally hadn't run in 7 years, since high school gym class. Miss U required us to train for and complete a 1-mile run once a year, and I vividly remember feeling knocked out for a few days afterward from just that! This was the full extent of my running experience, and it had taken place almost a whole decade earlier. Add all that up, and it's easy for anyone to conclude that I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew. Still, I knew I was the kind of person who could be lazy at times, but when I want to do something badly enough, I get it done. I think we're all like that. When we want to achieve a goal, we experiment, work each corner, and figure out exactly what it will take to accomplish it...and we get it done. When it's something we really don't want, we just make excuses until we just forget about it completely and move on.

Since February, I have run on average 5 or 6 days a week, tracking my progress along the way. As an added bonus, my weight dropped even more, and I have lost an additional 60 pounds since training for the marathon. (If you ever want to drop some pounds, running is a great way to do so!) In May, I completed a 5K in my hometown, and while it was a little tougher than expected, I was proud to finish. I slipped into a very comfortable routine over the next several months, running on the treadmill and continuing to attend Weight Watcher meetings with my mom. It always seemed like September 11 was so far down the road, and then, all of a sudden, it was three short weeks away. Then it was one week. Then, before I knew it, my mom and I were attending the expo two days beforehand to pick up my race packet, and the big day was officially upon us.

When I woke up this morning at 5:00, I knew I was ready, but as all runners know, those butterflies can be overwhelming. Mom and I took a cab to Jackson Park, and before long, all the participants were loading up their start corrals to get ready for 13.1 miles. As I stood there, waiting for the line to move, all I kept thinking was I hope this isn't a complete disaster. This was what I had worked for, and most importantly, it was a HUGE step in determining if I was even remotely ready to take on a 26.2-mile run in four more weeks. It was exciting, but very unnerving at the same time.

Then I crossed the start line and took off on the course with the other 20,000 runners. It was absolutely incredible what happened. Instead of just training alone at the gym and trying desperately to finish a workout, I was in the race that I had registered for back when I was barely able to run a few steps. I finished in 2 hours and 36 minutes. The weather was beautiful (although a little hot during the last few miles), the crowds and volunteers were amazing, and I just feel really lucky to have been there. I have developed a real passion for running and never want to stop doing it. I'm grateful that my mom was there to hug and congratulate me at the end of it, and it was so much fun to tailgate with my dad, sister, and uncle at the Bears game (even if only for about a half hour), then have lunch at a downtown cafe with Mom before heading back home.

In short, as Americans, I think we're very fortunate that we can still have these special moments with our loved ones. Whether big or small, all of those moments mean something in their given time. We are also lucky to have the freedom we have, which allows us to push out of our comfort zones and become stronger, healthier, happier people. I loved every second of today and will always remember it...and I hope you continue to make your own memories in life...regardless of the day, the time, or the situation. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy country song, it's never too late to change your life for the better, and on days like today, we're reminded how lucky we truly are.

Question of the Day: Where were you on September 11, and what are you most grateful for today?

Now here are some pictures...

                                                       Getting ready at the hotel at 5 AM!

Such a cool experience...this truck was present at Ground Zero on 9-11-01. Eight firemen got on it, and sadly, they all died on that day, but they will always be remembered.

                                               Tailgating with Kerry and Dad, respectively!

Did our waitress simply not realize that if you fill my ice cream cup all the way to the top, I am just going to eat it all? All I can say is that it was A-MA-ZING!

Hanging out with one of my best pals, Ditka, and celebrating with some good old family time after a perfect day!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wet (and a Little Wild) at Navy Pier!

Yes, I am very tired right now, so if that title sounds cheesy, it's the best I can come up with right now :) This week was short to begin with, compliments of our Labor Day weekend, but I trimmed it down even more by getting the afternoon off from work and taking the train downtown with Mom. I had to go to the Chicago Half Marathon expo to pick up my race packet for Sunday. It was so much fun to go down there, pick up my official bib number with my name on it (I'm pretty easy to please), and walk around the expo. One thing's for sure--your money can disappear pretty quickly once you start getting excited about all the cool stuff they have! I ended up getting a pair of socks, a patriotic headband to wear on race day, and a few shoe charms to "spruce-up" my already-slightly-obnoxious footwear. You can't see them too well in this picture, but I got one that says 13.1 for the half-marathon, 26.2 for the full marathon, and two ribbons to honor the September 11 attacks. Lacing them in was extremely frustrating, and if they don't look quite right, then that's just how they're gonna have to look, at least for now! :)

It was raining when we left the expo, but Mom and I really wanted to have dinner outside, since we both love visiting downtown and rarely get the chance to do so. We found a nice umbrella on the patio at Harry Caray's and had a very nice, relaxing meal, complete with my all-time favorite...Mike's Hard Lemonade! That's probably a better post-marathon choice, but oh well--I definitely enjoyed every sip!

Well, I guess this means the half marathon is just about 24 hours the heck did that happen so fast?? Sunday is going to be an extremely important test of how prepared I am for the Chicago Marathon. The bulk of my training has taken place on a treadmill (I plan to write a post about that within the upcoming week), and while I've heard that even the most elite runners sometimes do as much as 90% of their training that way, it probably isn't the most ideal situation. I guess that I just grew comfortable on that treadmill and had a hard time separating from it, but either way, this half marathon is bound to be interesting. Giving up is not an option at this point, because again, if I can't even do 13 miles, how am I ever going to complete 26.2 a month from now? A lot is at stake here, so as I'm running along Lake Shore Drive this weekend, I'm basically going to be repeating the same two words to myself: KEEP GOING. That's what I did for my first 5K race four months ago, and it worked pretty well. Of course, that was only about 3 miles, but I know from experience that positive mentality makes an unbelievable difference. When you're running or doing any type of exercise, it doesn't have to feel good or easy 100 percent of the time. Smiling is only optional, and if you have to walk for a while, then that's fine, but you don't stop. As long as your feet are moving, you're that much closer to the finish line, and I know that the thought of receiving my finisher's medal will be an amazing incentive to push forward.

Question of the Day: What's your favorite motivational quote? Mine comes from the wall of my gym, written in huge letters, so everyone who walks through there can see it every day. I mentioned the first half of it already, but here's the entire thing, short and sweet: "Smiling is optional. Finishing is not!"

Here's one more picture from the expo, simply because I'm a dork who can never whip out her camera enough times! It was a fun, happy day with one of my favorite people in the world. I love you, Mom!

Good night, everyone, and Happy Friday!

Monday, September 5, 2011

If the Shoe Fits...Spend a Third of Your Paycheck On It!

I have been eyeing these shoes at The Runner's Soul for a while now, and after getting paid this weekend, I finally went and bought them--just in time to break them in for the Chicago Marathon! (If all goes well, I also plan on wearing them for the Chicago Half next week.) I think the saleswoman could totally tell I was interested in their appearance more than anything else, and she was definitely right. That's probably not the smartest thing for a serious runner to do, but they fit great and haven't given me any issues yet, so maybe just this once, I've gotten away with being shallow and judging the book by its cover! Expensive, colorful (yep, they glow in the dark) and a little loud...yes, they are all of the above, but I absolutely love them, and when you're planning on running 26.2 miles in about a month, it never hurts to find something that contributes to the excitement! People must think I'm nuts walking/running around in these things, but what can I say? Life is short, and I've always been a believer in wearing what you love and having some fun! Easier said than done, I know, but I've had a blast wearing these shoes so far, so even if I look a little dorky, I'm gonna run across that finish line with a huge smile!

It's been a very nice and relaxing Labor Day weekend (passing by way too quickly, as usual), but it's time to get back to work tomorrow! I've eaten a lot more these past few days than I'd like to admit, which is usually the case after I've completed a long run. That's part of the problem when you finish 20 miles--part of you thinks that you've earned a practically immeasurable number of calories by running for over four hours straight, but truthfully, it's never as much as you think. That's just one of life's unfortunate realities; you can spend hours on a grueling workout and consume all the calories you burned in a single slice of pizza. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an overexaggeration, but you know what I mean. That's one of the things I continue to struggle with on a daily basis, and having lost 148 pounds to date hasn't made it any easier. When you love food as much as I do, it's something that you deal with for the rest of your life, so for me, I'm trying to learn how not to let a workout--no matter how long or successful it was--serve as an excuse to overindulge.

It is unbelievable that the half marathon is less than six days away now. I remember signing up for it several months ago, thinking about how far away it seemed, and occasionally wondering if I was delusional to think that I could keep up with all the other runners on the course. I am so excited about it, though, and the fact that it takes place on September 11--the 10th anniversary of the attacks--makes it even more special (that's the #1 reason I signed up for this particular half marathon in the first place). It will be fun to dress in our nation's colors, get out there, and take a stab at something that never would have crossed my mind a decade ago, not even for a second. Hey, if nothing else, I'll be in style (sort of) with my flashy new footwear!!

Question(s) of the Day: Do you have a favorite post-exercise meal? How do you prevent mindless overeating after an intense workout?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Amazing Milestones That Last Your Entire Life!

It's hard to believe I haven't updated here in almost three weeks. Though I hate to admit it, I've gotten a little lazy about that, but my goal is to write something at least once or twice a week, like I did when I first started blogging. Hopefully, this will be the start in getting back to that.

Well, last time I posted, I had completed my longest weekend run to date, which was a little over 15 miles. The week after that, I did 17 miles, and for my "step-back week" following that, I shot for an easier 12-miler (but could only find the stamina to do about 11). This weekend, according to the Hal Higdon training schedule I've been following (for the most part), I was only required to do 18, but mentally, I felt ready to tackle 20. I've always read that many runners--especially beginners--should do their 20-miler about three weeks before the marathon and only attempt it once (to save energy for the race), but many Chicago marathons that I've talked to did those miles last weekend and have already talked about attempting it again before October 9. I guess it depends on where you are physically and what works best for you personally, but in any case, I felt a surge of competitiveness over that, and now here I am, feeling amazing and wishing that everyone could experience what it feels like to really get out there and succeed at something you never considered before.

I've talked about this a little in the past, but it really is true: the human mind is incredible at guiding you through situations where physical preparation can only go so far. Of course, that doesn't mean you can afford to get lax and let your head carry you the entire way, but I sensed it even more when I started running today. I have known for the past 5 days that I was going to do these 20 miles this morning. I made a special trip to The Runner's Soul for energy gels, planned an approximately 4-hour block of time to run, ate my usual "running breakfast" beforehand (good old Powerade, banana, and Cliff bar), and headed to the treadmill with plenty of water. Most of all, I just spent those few days really making it clear to myself that I was going to work through those 20 miles, no matter how tired I got. Even if I had to walk a little more than usual, I would stick with it and not quit early.

Now, I guess that was basically a combination of physical and mental preparation, but either way, I felt the difference as soon as I started running. It's funny because on the days that I say I'm only going to do about 5 miles, I'm exhausted after about 3 or 4. On the days when I don't set a specific number in terms of mileage, I sometimes can barely push past 2 miles. Today, however, I started out nice and easy, with my iPad in front of me, and after the first mile, I felt stronger and more confident than I ever had at that point during my previous runs that week. I didn't start to really feel it until about the 12-mile mark, and I truly believe the mind has something major to do with that. When you make up your mind how it's going to go, and you rehearse it in your head beforehand, it really does pay off later. Three weeks ago, that 15-miler felt insanely difficult--much more so than those 20 miles today--and again, it just becomes easier as you go, even if you don't think it will.

Finishing 20 miles is a huge step in knowing that you're ready for the real thing, and after doing three really long runs over the past few weeks, I am so excited about how my body has adapted to all this. Exactly one year ago, I couldn't fathom the idea of running at all, much less for the pure enjoyment of it, and I used to make fun of my sister Katie regularly as she trained for the 2010 Chicago Marathon (in a loving sisterly way, of course). Then, after I made the decision to participate in the 2011 marathon, I told myself that even if I burned out halfway through, or if I didn't finish in the official 6.5 hour time frame, I would be okay with that, because simply getting out there and trying felt good enough for my first attempt. Now that I've stuck with the training process and completed 20 miles, I don't worry about having to re-adjust my expectations. I no longer fear that I might not make it through the entire 13.1-mile course on September 11, or the 26.2 miles on October 9, because I know that I will. It feels amazing knowing that as people, we can come so far with goals that seemed impossible at one point. On one hand, it's such a cliche, yet when you experience it, there's nothing better!

I'm definitely looking forward to the long weekend, and I hope that everyone enjoys their Labor Day. Use the time off to enjoy time with friends and family, and maybe do something that you can't always fit in with hectic work schedules!

Question of the Day: Have you ever accomplished something where you relied on the mental preparation as much as the physical? What was it, and how did it feel once you got there?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Whatever It Takes, Make It Happen!

"Sometimes I start my day by running 5 1/2 miles, not because I want to, but for the simple fact that nothing that comes my way can be as hard as what I started the day doing."

This quote comes from Mandy, a college friend who aspires to complete a half marathon and seems to be doing awesome with her training so far! She posted this quote on Facebook a few days ago, and I liked it so much that I decided to add it here. Now, Mandy is the mother of five children under the age of five, so I can't fully compare myself to her when it comes to time management, but between work and family obligations, I think we all know what it's like to ask ourselves that big question: How do I find time to exercise? Well, the answer is that if we keep waiting for the perfect time frame to open up, we're never going to get anything done, because life does happen, and we have to make time for the goals that are important to us. I tend to get very irritated when personal responsibilities interfere with my ideal workout routine, but we've all been there, and that's when we just use whatever time we can find to squeeze it in, even if it's only 20 minutes, or 30 minutes, etc...

What's my point? Oh, right. The point. :) Well, I really like Mandy's idea of running first thing in the morning. Getting out of bed early enough is definitely the hardest part, but I can understand the value of achieving something difficult before moving on to the rest of your day. The excitement of completing a great workout rolls over into everything else you do after that, which makes it worth considering. In general, though, if you're feeling less motivated to exercise, it sometimes helps to switch it to the exact opposite time that you usually head to the gym. Instead of going in the late morning or early afternoon, maybe you could try an evening workout and see if you feel any difference. It's always good to experiment with different times and figure out what works best for you.

Today was a very important and exciting milestone for me, because I managed to get up this morning and run 15.2 miles!!! I've never run that far before at one time, and with walk breaks and everything, it took three hours and nineteen minutes to finish. I really realized, more than ever, that once you hit a certain number of miles, the physical part of it kind of stops, and it becomes almost completely mental. In your heart, you know that your legs can take you six more miles, but when you're exhausted and sweaty, is that what you necessarily want to do? Right then and there, you just have to do whatever it takes to finish, whether it's by taking a five-minute walking break, putting a new song on your iPod, or simply looking ahead and concentrating on something in front of you...the cars driving by, the strip mall to your right, or the trees surrounding your path. You have the choice of stopping--after all, nobody is physically forcing you to do any of this--but you know what your goal is, you know what you set out to accomplish on this day, and after all the work that has already gone into it, you are determined to finish what you started...and somehow you will, if you just tell yourself you're going to do it.

This is what you do when something matters enough to you, because when it's all over, and you're thinking back on it later in the day, nothing feels better than knowing you stuck with it and got the job done. It's incredible what the mind and the body can do when they work together...and believe me, they have to be in sync with each other when you're reaching for something big. If you want something badly enough, you'll find a way to get it, because when you let that mentality take over, that's when you find the will to take on the physical aspects of it. I hope everyone gives themselves the opportunity to experience this, with whatever they are working toward in their lives, because there's nothing like it! Mandy has said "I love knowing that after I run, there isn't a thing that can break me", and right now, I can honestly say that I know exactly what she means!

Question of the Day: Have you ever had a workout, a job-related task, or any other type of goal/responsibility where you suddenly realized that if you didn't just do it, it wasn't going to happen? Do you remember something particularly powerful that went through your mind, or anything specific that you did to make it to the other side? If so, then please share it! :)

Hope everyone enjoys their Saturday and the rest of the weekend. My parents and sister are tailgating right now (hopefully the rain won't start up again) and going to the first pre-season Bears game of the year, while Baba and I will be enjoying it from the TV at home! Bear down, Chicago Bears!!!!!!!!!