Only 14 Miles

IMG_2417“Only 14 miles.” Those are the words I said to myself before I set out on my last “long run” before the Chicago Marathon, just 14 days before the race. ONLY. It’s a powerful, yet a dangerous word when using it to approach a run.

I have spoken (or thought) it before. It usually helps me when I’m feeling nervous before I head out (which is always). “Only” or “just” make me feel capable and up to the challenge. “If I have run 26.2 miles and if I ran 20 miles last week, then only 14 miles is easy.” These thoughts help build up my energy and allow me to make what is certainly still no easy task, seem a little easier. Doable.

Sometimes it does feel “easier” or at least a lot shorter than 20 miles I suppose. On occasion, I’ve set out saying this and have had a completely and totally enjoyable shorter, long run. These days I can run 14 miles and not have to walk down the steps sideways the next day. But it’s all relative, I guess. Because now I know what my body feels like after running a full marathon.

Other times thinking “Only 14 miles” can backfire. Because running 14 miles is never easy. It is still (for me) two full hours of running. It means running to the next village 7 miles up the road and back. Inevitably, there will still be cramps and foot pain, blisters and chafing. Oh, the chafing. That’s what ended up getting me this time. I forgot to put on the Body Glide and boy did I regret that for the last 5 miles of my run and for the last two days since. There is always something that makes me regret ever even thinking the word “ONLY.” It’s almost like I jinx my run if I let that cross my mind.

And let’s back up for a minute. Just three years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of running 14 miles or even 5 miles. Back then, my goal was three miles. And just two years ago, when I ran my first half marathon in 2013, 13.1 miles was my ultimate goal. It was “the impossible.” And when I finished I couldn’t walk right for probably a week. When I consider that, saying “Only 14 miles” seems almost… inconsiderate.

So what’s a girl to do?

These days I use the words “ONLY” or “JUST” very carefully when it comes to my running. I think them quietly and humbly to calm the nerves and to pump me up, but once I set foot out my door, I forget I ever thought it. And then, I run the mile I’m in. I’m not overconfident. And I never assume it won’t hurt. Because it will. But I don’t wallow in my fear and uncertainty either. Because the minute you start telling yourself how hard it will be, your brain will convince the rest of your body to turn around and head home.

For me, so much of running is mental. To be successful you have to be confident, but not presumptuous. Courageous, but realistic. With this in mind, run with the knowledge inside your heart, your mind and throughout your body, that you are strong and capable because positive thinking feeds positive running and enables you to meet your goals.

As I approach The Chicago Marathon in just a week and a half and feel excited yet nervous, I can’t help but wonder if someday I will have an even bigger goal. Someday, might I quietly think to myself, “ONLY 26.2”?


The Battle Between I CAN’T and I CAN

It’s week 12 of my 18 weeks of marathon training. Six weeks from this Sunday I will run the Chicago Marathon. It will be the third time I will run 26.2 miles. When I woke up before dawn this past Saturday morning for another long run, I jotted down the way I was feeling. Here’s what I wrote.

“This is the point in my marathon training when my brain starts to try to convince the rest of my body that I CAN’T actually do it. Or that I don’t WANT to. It’s when the little lazy minions in side of me who aren’t totally on board with this goal begin to wage war with the rest of me. It’s when I begin asking “Why did I decide to do this?” It’s when the battle between I CAN’T and I CAN begins.

Now is when I begin to feel guilty and selfish for leaving for two, three or more hours on Saturday morning to run. It’s when I want to sleep in past 6:00 in the morning, and not eat my breakfast in the dark or tip toe around so I don’t wake anyone up. It’s when my head starts saying things like, “Just stay here and make pancakes for the kids and lay around in your jammies until 9 am.” It’s when I begin to say things like, “Just have another glass of wine for dinner tonight. So what if you have to run 18 miles tomorrow? Run another day.”

But then I come to my senses and I remember that these are the moments that “separate the men from the boys,” the ladies from the women, the weak version of me from the strong version of me, the ordinary me from the extraordinary me, and maybe the sane from the crazy. I realize these moments are the ones that matter most and if I give up now, I have lost. When I’m not fighting this battle I wish I was. These are the times I remember why I do this. Not to tell someone I ran 16 miles today, but to win the battle raging inside of me and quiet the voice that whispers, “You can’t do that.”

Yes. I. Can.

For me, running isn’t actually so much about running. It’s about life and what I’m capable of in it. It’s about proving wrong the doubters, the naysayers, the haters… in my own head.”

And then I went out and ran 16 miles.

20 Miles to “The Impossible”

BeforeThis past Saturday I ran 20 miles. The furthest I’ve ever run. I’m still in disbelief. A few short years ago I had never run more than a mile or two. If someone had told me back then that I’d be training for a marathon in 2015 I would have said, “Yeah right! No way could I accomplish running that many miles (or even 5 for that matter).” Honestly, I wouldn’t even have had any desire to try. Running wasn’t my thing. In my 10 Reasons Why I Run post I shared the story about how I began running and how it transitioned into running half marathons. This winter I decided I was ready for more.

And so began the training for my first marathon. I spent the winter running through snow and bitter temperatures. When it was dangerously cold I moved inside where I logged 10 and 11 mile runs on the treadmill. Some might consider that a form of torture. At times it seemed impossible that I would be able to fit in proper marathon training in between the responsibilities of my real job as a stay home mom. So far this year our household has been wrought with illness including the stomach flu, ear infections, colds, coughs and even pneumonia. Somehow I made it through to tell the story and was able to get in enough running to make it to the climax of my training, 20 miles.

Today, I’m documenting here this longest run of mine so I can look back and remember the experience. Perhaps someone else might gain something too. Remember, I am no expert. Just an average mom and an average runner, trying to overcome the odds to fit in something for myself that makes me a happier person and a better parent.


I set out early, about 8:00 am, on my favorite course which happens to be right out my doorstep and up my own street. I began with excitement in my veins, doubts in my head, butterflies in my belly and the “F” word on my lips. The air was cool (about 30 degrees) and the skies were gray. A small dusting of snow rested on the ground like it was frosted cereal and occasionally a gust of wind blew snowflakes into my face.

I started off through the woods, past creeks and over bridges. Passing the first mile I realized I had begun too quickly. No way could I sustain my normal 8 minute pace for all 20 miles. I told myself to slow down so that I wouldn’t hit the wall at mile 15. Feeling good, I ran through the first four or five miles without much thought. I was singing, smiling and enjoying the moment. It’s funny how when I set out to run more than 10 miles the first few seem easy. Yet sometimes when I plan to run just 4 or 5 total, they seem so much harder. I reached the bottom of the biggest incline on the course, celebrated finishing 5 miles (the first quarter of the run) then powered to the top of the hill raising my arms to the sky and punching the air like I was Rocky.

Gates MillsThe clouds had begun to clear revealing a bright blue sky, my favorite music kept me singing out loud and I felt like I could run forever. As I came down the other side of the big hill I caught my first glimpse of the Chagrin River on my right. It was raging from the heavy rain that fell over night. It’s energy was contagious. I followed it’s path another couple of miles glancing up at the rocky cliffs surrounding it. Navigating the curvy roads with no shoulder here was tricky. One careless car even sent me rushing off the road right into a big puddle. With wet shoes, I passed mile seven and crossed over the picturesque bridge in Gates Mills. This was the furthest point I’d ever run to on this road. “Three more to go until my half way point,” I thought.

I continued to feel great until about mile nine when I kept looking at my watch hoping my turn around would come sooner. I began to feel really far from home and started to doubt whether I would actually be able to make it all the way back. Soon my watch beeped and blinked “10 Miles, 9:20.” I did a U-turn to begin the trek back and gave myself a mental pat on the back.

I started to notice my legs and knees were beginning to feel sore and tired. I tried to refocus my attention on something else, so I started to think about how badly I needed to find a bathroom. It was the perfect distraction. The location of the Gates Mills library couldn’t have been more perfect. At about 13 miles I popped in and used it as a chance to quickly refill my water bottles and stretch my legs for a few seconds.

Chagrin River I set back out with seven miles to go. That didn’t seem like a lot compared to the 13 I’d already run, but envisioning all the road that lie between me and home seemed overwhelming. I set my sights on completing the next two miles bringing me to 15, three quarters of the way through the run. Before climbing to the summit of that tallest hill once again, I stopped for a moment to admire the river glistening in the sun. “Come on Ashley,” I said out loud.

With five miles left my feet were throbbing from my bunions and calluses. My knees were sore and my quadriceps were beginning to cramp up. Running down some small slopes exacerbated the pain. I reached a low, flat spot we call “death valley” because in the summer it gets really hot. Just when I needed it most I saw a familiar car approaching. My in-laws had come to check on me with all three of my kids in the back seat. They turned around and drove alongside me for a bit asking if I could make it home. The kids’ smiling faces helped me perk up and carried me through the next mile.

Horse FarmI reached the top of the hill bringing me out of the valley and to one of my favorite spots, the horse farm where I always look forward to seeing the animals grazing. I paused long enough to capture a photo and then waved good-bye to the horses.

“Four more miles” I thought. I ate my last gel and reminded myself to stay hydrated. I realized I must have dropped one of my water bottles somewhere along the way. The road ahead was very familiar. I run here often. I tried to forget about the 16 miles I had already run and pretended I was just out for a short 4 miler on any given weekday. There was no fooling the pain I felt in my body. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Soon I had three miles left. Normally three miles is easy for me, but this was the three miles that would bring me from 17 miles (the furthest I’d run until now) to 20 miles. My mind was telling me that seemed impossible. But again, I told myself, “Three miles is nothing on any other day. You’ve come this far. You’ve got this.”

I felt like a snail. I turned on my standby playlist with all my favorite songs that motivate me the most. As much as I wanted to walk, I kept running. With two miles left it felt like there were knives scraping the balls of my feet. My knees were throbbing and my legs were tight and firey. With just a mile and a half or so left, I stopped to walk for about 20 yards, but somehow walking was not easier. I began running again and soon was just one mile from home. I wasn’t sure whether to celebrate or cry. I kept going. As cars passed me, my once enthusiastic wave or smile to say “thank you” were no longer present. I began counting electrical poles and setting short goals like the pine tree ten feet ahead or the next road sign. With a half mile to go I knew I could do it. Soon I could see my neighbors’ driveway and then my own. I climbed the last hill with pain in my body, tears in my eyes, words of praise on my lips and pride and gratitude in my soul.

This morning’s journey that began with excitement, doubt and butterflies ended with praise, pride and gratitude. It took a little more than three hours, but it was really a journey over three years. Three years of hard work, dedication and self discovery. Three years ago my goal was to complete two or three miles, then 5.25 in my first race, then my first 10K. I accomplished “the impossible” when I ran my first half marathon in the fall of 2013. On Saturday I accomplished “the impossible” again as I completed my longest run to date.

I am confident that I will meet my goal on April 26th and finish the Big Sur Marathon. But if I don’t, it’s ok. Because in so many ways, I have already met my goal. I don’t need a finish line and a medal to prove anything. I have already proven to MYSELF that no matter how difficult the challenge in life, even one that seems impossible to me, I can persevere. I am capable of more than even I thought possible. Through pain, doubt, and tears, I’ve run. I’ve conquered steep hills, frigid temperatures and uncomfortable distances. If I can get through those struggles, I’m prepared to power through any challenge life throws at me. Through running that idea has transcended the way I live my life. It helps me live life to the fullest, not afraid to try new things or take on new challenges. This average mother of three who can’t manage to get the laundry folded, has managed to conquer her fear and accomplish something she never thought possible. I discovered a love of something I had never even tried until I was 35, causing me to broaden my horizons. I began running in 2012 to help me LOSE baby weight. Back then I didn’t realize that running is actually more about what you GAIN; confidence, faith, love, happiness, strength, focus, and so much more.

YOU too are capable of more than you realize. YOU can do anything you set your mind to. Whether your goal is a half marathon, a 5K or just running down your street and back, you can do it! Whether it’s an athletic goal, a career goal or a personal goal, you can accomplish virtually anything you can dream. But you will never know if you never try.

10 Tips to Survive a Tough Run

This week I completed my 15 mile training run for the Big Sur Marathon. It was a challenging, hilly course in windy, cold conditions. It was tough. The foot pain I experienced from my bunions (embarrassing) could have been enough to keep me from completing it. But I was able to persevere. I’m no expert. Just an average mom and an average runner, but I have learned a lot from my mistakes over the past few years. Here are some tips I keep in mind while I’m running long distances (sometimes even short ones) that help me meet my goals.

1. Be prepared. Fuel up properly. Get a good night’s sleep the night before. Map out your route. Be sure your watch and your music player or phone are charged up the night before, so you’re not left in the dark for your last 5 miles or when you need it most. Make a new playlist ahead of time for back up. I’ve learned the hard way that Pandora reception is spotty. When I ran the Big Sur Relay last year I virtually listened to the same three songs on repeat for all 16 miles because I didn’t consider that Pandora wouldn’t work on the remote oceanside cliffs of California. My iTunes playlist was stuck on repeat and I didn’t want to stop to figure out how to fix it. I was preoccupied and annoyed and it kept me from doing my best and took away from my enjoyment of the beautiful scenery around me.

2. Don’t judge how good or bad your run is going to be in the first few miles. I almost always overthink things the first few miles like how my knees or my feet or my breathing feel. The number of miles ahead are daunting to think about. Around mile 4 I get into my “zone” where my faster breathing regulates and feels more normal. That’s when I feel more confident. In some ways those first miles can be the most challenging mentally. Don’t let them psych you out.

3. Split the run in half in your head (or quarters or thirds.) Tell yourself you can take a break there to pause or walk for a minute, get a good drink and have a gel. Then power through the next part.

4. Don’t think too much about your speed, especially during long runs. Just focus on getting in the miles no matter how slow they are.

5. Don’t forget to refuel. Make sure you have something to eat (a gel or energy chews) and drink every 30 minutes or every 4 miles. I carry my water and food in a belt for training and for races so I can eat and drink whenever I need to.

6. Focus on NOW, not the miles ahead. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. If you’re telling yourself you still have 10 miles left and you are already struggling, you will bring yourself down.

7. Think about the positives. When you are struggling with a cramp or just feeling sluggish, try to think about something that feels GOOD. For example when I feel like my breathing is off I try to focus on how good my knees feel. Soon the trouble spot subsides and I’ve gotten through another mile.

8. Don’t introduce more than one new thing per run. If you’re trying new insoles in your shoes, don’t change anything else. That way you can clearly understand whether they helped or not. Or, if they are causing discomfort or annoyance, you don’t want too many different things causing you problems. You will sabotage your run.

9. Think about how you will feel if you don’t reach your goal and how you will feel if you do. Tell yourself this, “When you stop running, the discomfort will stop too, but as soon as you do stop you will wish you had kept going to meet your goal.”

10. This is your chance. You already ran 13 out of your 15 mile goal. You can do 2 more miles. You are out here. Get it done.

These are some tips that help me meet my goals. I hope they help you too.

Please share your tips here too!