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”?

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10 Reasons Why I Run

If you would have told me five years ago that I would be signing up to run a marathon in 2015, I would have laughed out loud! I have always been fairly active, but running was never a part of my rotation. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say I used to despise it. Until 2012, the only time I had run intentionally  was back in school when I was forced to run in gym class. I’m sure I ran a couple of miles on a treadmill in college or at the gym a few times. But until recently, I would have chosen ANY OTHER form of exercise other than running. Little did I know back then that running actually has very little to do with just “getting exercise”. Sounds corny, but for me, it is so much more.

Home GymI began running in the fall of 2012 a few months after my third child was born. I  had taken off most of the 35 pounds I had gained during my pregnancy, but was still a good 20 pounds heavier than my goal weight. I became bored of using my elliptical machine in my hot garage staring at my husband’s tool belt on a messy shelf full of dead spiders. I was also a little envious of my husband who was training for his first marathon at the time. I felt I deserved the opportunity to get out and escape the craziness for awhile too. So one day, I did.

My First Half Marathon 2013While on vacation I decided to go for a short run on the beach. I only made it a couple of miles. When we returned home I began running a little further every time. Knee troubles had always kept me from running (or maybe I used them as an excuse not to), but somehow the more I ran, the knee issues disappeared. So did the extra weight I was carrying around. The next spring I ran my first race, the Chagrin Falls Blossom Run, a challenging 5.25 mile course. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to go further. That summer I ran a couple of 10Ks, winning my age group in one of them. It was exciting to find something that I was actually sort of good at that I had never even tried before. That’s when I officially “caught the running bug” and in the fall of 2013 I ran my first half marathon, the River Run Half Marathon outside of Cleveland, Ohio. I have run three more since, including the Cleveland Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon (Fall 2013), the Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon (Spring 2014), and the Akron Half Marathon (Fall 2014). Last April my husband and I ran the Big Sur Marathon in Big Sur, CA as a relay team. I completed about 16 miles for our team. We are returning to run the race again in 2015. My distance will be determined by how much training I can get in during the snowy winter weather here. I also have entered the lottery to run the 2015 New York City Marathon in November.

So, what caused me to change my relationship with running from hate to love?

Here are 10 Reasons Why I Run:

  1. FREEDOM – No purse with diapers, wipes, pacifiers and snacks. No children asking for anything and everything. No to-do list. Nothing. Just me, myself and I. When the opportunity presents itself, I literally just run away from everyone and everything. It is liberating. And once I’ve run as far and fast as I can and let go of all my stress and frustration, I run back home ready to embrace it all and start fresh.
  2. Trail RunningTHE GREAT OUTDOORS – When I say I love running, I don’t mean on a treadmill. My love affair is with the road, the trail and all the landscapes that surround me. There is nothing quite like the feeling of your own feet pounding the pavement, moving you through this great planet; over rivers, through forests, past farms, up mountains and down valleys. From one village to the next. You take it all in; the cold winter air, the trickling water, and the singing of birds. Getting outside for a run feeds my soul.
  3. THERAPY – When I’m running, I literally let it all go. I run to get rid of the crazy. I sweat it out, I breathe it out, I run it out. Seriously, it is free therapy. My other source… wine!
  4. IT’S FREE – What else can I say? No gym membership needed. No class times to work around. Just walk out the door.
  5. RACES – Training is the hard part. Making it to a race is the reward. While I’m almost always nervous, the excitement at the start is palpable and energizing. The pride I feel when crossing the finish line is hard to describe.
  6. GREAT EXERCISE – It’s no secret that running is a great exercise. You burn calories like mad and it’s a great cardio workout. It helped me lose the remainder of my baby weight and reshaped my body. It has helped me get healthier than ever before.
  7. MY OWN MUSIC – I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of listening to the Frozen soundtrack and Toddler Pandora. I know, running with music is for amateurs. Guess what? I don’t care what other people think. While I usually turn off the tunes when I trail run so I can pay attention to the rocks and roots, my time running is when I get to jam to my favorite songs. You can hear some of them if you scroll to the bottom right hand side of this page.
  8. START & FINISH – There are very few things in life, that have a start and a finish. The laundry, the dishes, picking up toys, the to-do list; they seem never ending. You clean up one room and move on to the next. When you return, a new mess has been created where you began. When I run, I know that I answer only to myself. I am in charge of what get’s accomplished. When I walk back in the door I will feel a huge sense of achievement because I finished what I set out to do. I can check it off the list and say, “Check! Done!”
  9. FEEL ALIVE – When I’m running, especially long distances, there is a feeling that comes over me that is almost impossible to put into words. Some call it a “runner’s high.” With the sun beaming down on me, or the wind or rain or snow in my face, my fingers and toes are numb or I am drenched with sweat. The cold air rushes in and out of my lungs, my heart is pounding, my feet are aching. Yet I persevere and push as hard as I can through all of it. I am working and feeling with every piece of my body. To some that might sound awful, but to me it is empowering.
  10. SELF-DOUBT TO SELF-LOVE – Before a run, especially a long one, I am always nervous. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to run as far as I’m planning, but there is a lot of self-doubt. But then, I go out and kill it. Us stay-home-mom’s rarely get a pat on the back for doing a good job at our daily tasks. There is no pay-check or no annual review.  Instead we hear people complain about their food, their clothes, and their chores. When you meet a running goal, you give yourself a pat on the back. There is no better feeling than running through the self-doubt, achieving a goal and realizing that you are capable of so much more than you thought possible. It transcends every part of your life.

Winter RunI’m not going to lie, there are certainly moments while I’m running where I don’t love it. Like when my bunions cause me foot pain, when I have a cramp in my side that won’t go away, or when I’m at mile 8 of a half marathon and I’m feeling like I can’t finish another mile. But for me, the good outweighs the bad in so many ways. Like running, life has its tough up-hill battles and its joyful downhill valleys. For me, running has not only changed my body, it has changed the way I approach life. It helps me feel like I can tackle any challenge and nothing is impossible. I am a better parent and a better person because of it, living my life to the fullest and making my dreams come true.

Any of that sound appealing? Maybe you want to give running a try. Or maybe you have and you can’t make it past two or three miles. Join me on my next adventure as I train for my upcoming race, the Big Sur International Marathon on April 26th. Later this week I will share my training plan (adapted slightly from Hal Higdon’s program). And I always share beginner and intermediate running tips and tricks here and on my Facebook page as well. I’d be thrilled to have you along for the ride (or, run, I suppose). 🙂

Tell us, why do you love to run? Why do you hate to run? 

What are your running goals? 


Watching the World’s Biggest Marathon

Here he comes!At 5:00 the morning after Halloween, we packed up the car, the kids and all of the crap that kids require. Still in a sugar hangover, we made our way through the dark into the beautiful state of Pennsylvania and on to the great city of New York. With porta-crib and pacifiers, blankies and a bottle (yes, still), diapers and dolls in tow, we arrived in Manhattan early that afternoon. While just a short seven hour drive from our quiet, suburban town, the lights and noise of New York City seemed worlds away. Taking it all in, we gawked as we passed mile after mile of skyscrapers, crowded sidewalks, and busy people. We heard police and fire engine sirens clanging, horns honking, and subways clickety-clacking. To my husband who had been training months for the New York Marathon for which we were making the trip, it might have been the longest seven hours of his life. He could hardly wait to get there so he could finally realize the events that had played out in his mind over and over as he trained and prepared for the 26.2 miles he would run through the streets of this extraordinary city. We arrived in the rain at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and hunted in bumper to bumper traffic for a parking spot within walking distance. After paying a jaw-dropping amount of money to park for one hour, we made our way into the biggest race expo I had ever seen. Seeing as the New York Marathon is the largest in the world, I suppose that should come as no surprise. With 50,000+ runners, the organizers have this thing down to a science. Runners are greeted by rows and rows of booths to retrieve their number. There are so many of them, the booths are broken into groups of 2,000. Then we were herded to more booths to pick up Andy’s race shirt. One booth for each size, men separated from women. Soon we were surrounded by racks of running gear and thousands of fit athletes searching for a well deserved souvenir. We heard people speaking languages from around the world. The excitement and energy was palpable. As a runner, I was feeling envious and wishing that I could get in on the action. Honestly though, I was also eager to get the hell out of there. A 27-pound child is too big to be carried around a convention center and after eight hours in the car with three kids, my patience was on empty. Note to self: Never let your husband talk you into NOT bringing a stroller into a large crowded room. Smile. I felt bad Andy didn’t get to enjoy the Expo for long, but he was ready to escape the craziness as well.

After checking into our hotel and finding Andy’s parents who met us in town, we all carb-loaded at a quaint little Italian restaurant around the corner called San Martin at 49th and Lexington. No, I wasn’t running the next day, but I don’t really ever need much of an excuse to eat pasta. After a struggle, the kids finally fell asleep. Andy’s parents stayed in our room for the night with the kids, so Andy wouldn’t wake them when he got up early for the race. We slept in their room for the night. It was an early evening for all of us as we knew the next days’  events would require a lot of energy. Andy got up at about 4:00; sleeping in compared to his produce salesman hours (he usually gets up at 3:30). He followed his usual pre-race routine, and was off to catch the bus to Staten Island before 5:00. I was up, so I decided to make the most of the time and headed upstairs to fit in a short run on the treadmill so I wouldn’t feel like a total slacker watching all the other runners. Five miles was all I could bare to do. I HATE TREADMILLS! Once the sun came up I could see more of the city. It was a great way to start off the day.

Morning Run

After cleaning up, we finished making our signs to cheer for Daddy. The kids were so excited! Then we bundled up in winter coats, hats and mittens. It was only in the 40s and very windy. We grabbed bagels at one of New York’s most authentic bagel joints, Ess-A Bagel on 3rd Avenue. This was the real deal. Totally worth the carbs! We headed to the subway to make our way to mile marker eight in Brooklyn. If someone could only have recorded us trying to figure out the subway, I could give you a really good laugh. First we couldn’t get the stroller folded up, then we couldn’t figure out how to buy a pass, then we couldn’t get through the turnstiles because the card wasn’t working and the kids were afraid. When we finally got through, we discovered we were on the wrong side of the track headed Uptown instead of Downtown. So we had to go back up the stairs, cross the street and do it all again. Hilarious now. Not so much then. I did live in Chicago after college for a couple of years and rode the subway to work every day. But that was 12 whole years ago and that was Chicago. This is New York. Totally different animal. I was actually surprised by how kind and helpful some people were. Others just looked us, probably thinking, “Damn tourists!” The kids noticed a homeless person hunched over sleeping on the bench where we waited for the train. Something they don’t see in Chagrin Falls. While very sad, it was a teachable moment. The kids were unenthusiastic about the subway this first ride. Later on during the trip, they got the hang of it and learned to enjoy it.

When we finally made it to Brooklyn, Andy still hadn’t even begun running so we had a good hour to wait. We got there just in time to see some of the wheelchair racers go by and then some of the male elite runners. The females had started earlier so we missed them. I was disappointed as I was hoping to catch a glimpse of my new buddy Deena Kastor, Olympic Medalist and current U.S. record holder for the half marathon and full marathon. Andy and I had the pleasure of meeting her a few weeks ago when she visited Cleveland for an event at our local Fleet Feet store. We also got to run a few miles with her. Anyway, we were too late to see the women. So we watched and cheered for all the runners who started before Andy. He had to wait about five hours from the time he got to the start on the bus provided by the race until his start time at 10:30 a.m. Poor guy sat there and froze. That’s like torture to make these people wait when all they want to do is RUN! I suppose it just goes with the territory if you want to run the world’s largest marathon. Good thing he bundled up and brought some “throw away” clothes. He told me later I wouldn’t believe how many clothes people left at the start. I sure hope they donate them and don’t throw them away.

I finally got word via the New York Marathon app that Andy had started. He actually also carried his phone with him this time so he texted me right before he was about ready to go. I convinced him to carry it so that we could find each other at the finish. We waited and watched thousands of runners go by. We couldn’t believe how many runners there were and how many people were there in Brooklyn cheering them on. They were three people deep in some spots all along the barricades. People were sitting in apartment windows above the street holding signs and balloons. All of them were yelling for runners they probably didn’t know. It was awesome! Volunteers on the street handed out pom poms and kazoos, shoe laces and even snacks. The kids struggled to see above the fences lined with banners so we took turns holding them up on our shoulders. When they got bored they would bounce around behind us. I was balancing my camera in one hand while I tried to perch John up with the other arm as he refused to let me put him down. Once we finally elbowed our way up to a front row spot when some fans left, we were determined to not give it up. Andy would be there soon. I received the update that he had made it past the 10K. We were on the lookout for Andy. There were so many runners it was difficult to get a look at everyone running by. We held the banners up high so that even if we couldn’t see him, he might spot the posters with his babies faces on them. It worked! From about 20 yards away I saw Andy pointing to our signs and he made his way from the left side of the road toward us. He looked strong with a huge smile on his face. I was so relieved. I get nervous before I watch him run these races as he has struggled often with severe leg cramps. Last winter he wore an air cast for three months after having a stress fracture in his foot from overuse. I still worry it might bother him again. But he looked great at mile eight.

As soon as he ran past us, we knew we needed to hustle back to Manhattan if we wanted to try to see him when he came back over the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16. We hopped back on the subway at the Barclays Center. John fit in a short power nap and of course didn’t want to wake up at our stop at 59th. We hustled our way to 1st Avenue and Andy called his dad to tell him he was just crossing the bridge. We must have missed him by a minute or two as once we got to where they came off the bridge we couldn’t find him. There were SO MANY spectators that we couldn’t even see the runners faces. People were standing on top of garbage cans to try to see over the rows of people three or four deep in front of them. We watched diligently for another 10 minutes until we eventually decided that we must have missed him. I felt terrible as I know he really needed the support to head into those last 10 miles. Based on his splits, I could tell he was maintaining a strong pace. I was pretty certain he would be able to meet his goal and finish under 4 hours if all went well.

Power Nap

After a brief stop in a nearby market for a quick bite to eat, we walked to try to see him near the finish at the bottom of Central Park near the Plaza Hotel. Everywhere we walked we couldn’t believe how many people there were. Not just spectators, but just people who live and work in Manhattan who were out and about doing their daily tasks. We were also struck by how many people were speaking different languages. Russian, French, Spanish, German and others. The crowd was the largest where the runners came out of the park. I didn’t think there was any way we would spot Andy. I held out hope and squished my way in between a couple of women also cheering for their husbands. My arm hurt from holding my sign up of John’s face. Finally, I spotted Andy just for a moment. But he looked like he was hanging in there and with only one mile left I was confident he was going to finish under his goal time. We headed to the finish line. The kids were losing steam and so was I, but that was nothing compared to what Andy was feeling. We were all cold and wind-blown. Andy’s parents offered to take the kids so I could get to the finish and the family reunion area sooner and get Andy his warm clothes. So I booked it. The police had all of Columbus Circle closed off. I couldn’t believe how many police officers there were. I walked all the way around the circle and up six blocks to the family reunion area. I received an update from my app that he had finished at 3:56:34! I was so proud of him! I began to walk faster. There are so many runners that the family reunion area is broken out by last name. Of course “W” was the furthest. They had to check my name and then I had to walk to another line where they searched every person’s bag and wanded them. I stood and waited for Andy, as I watched exhausted, freezing cold runners strolling past me, their faces white with salt. I stood there teary-eyed in anticipation. I felt proud, happy, and relieved. When I saw him we embraced. He was eager to put on warm clothes then we made the long walk back to find his parents and the kids. I couldn’t believe he didn’t just want to get in a cab and go to the hotel. He kept walking and walking in the freezing cold with sore, cramped legs. He never ceases to amaze me.

I have to admit that watching the world’s biggest marathon made me want to run one. The excitement surrounding this great race in this energetic city was contagious. I have cheered on my husband at three different marathons now in Cleveland, Orlando and New York. I was running with him during his fourth in Big Sur, California when we ran as a relay team. I ran about 16 miles of the race, and he decided to keep running after his relay leg and ended up finishing all 26.2 miles. I have completed four half-marathons. And up until this point I have honestly not really had the desire to run a whole marathon. I just began running long distance two years ago. A half marathon seemed out of reach for me just a short while ago. I met that goal and have continued to beat my personal record with each consecutive race. Finding the time to train has been the biggest challenge up until this point. Sure, the race itself is very challenging, but I feel like I am capable of more. If ever I’m going to be able to run a whole marathon, the younger I am, the better I suppose. It certainly isn’t going to get any easier the older I get. The foot pain I’ve been experiencing due to bunions on both feet is one thing that makes me less confident. I’m on the fence about whether I should go through surgery to relieve the pain. I just don’t know that I want to deal with the recovery. Perhaps it would be worthwhile in the long run. One thing is for sure, if I could borrow even an ounce of the determination and perseverance of my amazing husband, I am certain I could complete a whole marathon. In the spring we are going back to Big Sur to run as a relay team. Perhaps I will add more on to my leg of the race, or maybe I will take a page out my husband’s book and just keep running all the way to 26.2! Thanks New York for an unforgettable day watching the world’s largest marathon.