Raleigh Group Fitness Ambassador + My First Pop Up Experience!

You may remember that not long after I moved to Raleigh a little over two years ago, I hurt my foot and wasn’t able to run for a little while. In an effort to find other ways to move that would both help heal my body and nourish my spirit, I took myself to some heated yoga classes at Core Power. I was also really feeling quite lonely at the time, given that I was in a new city/state and unable to run, and hoped that by trying out some group classes maybe I would meet some like-minded women in the process. As luck would have it, I became fast friends with my teacher Yael, who also happened to be a runner who had moved here only a year before I did and could relate to how I was feeling in so many ways. Truly, going there and meeting her was just what I needed, when I needed it.

Core Power was awesome for me at the time – it fed my need for building strength and working hard (when I felt up for that) but also gave me a chance to stretch and relax in a way I know I hadn’t been for months amidst the stress and strain of moving my family to a new city. It also was a great introduction to the fitness/wellness community in the Raleigh area, something I had been searching for and trying to get a grip on because I truly love the connections made with others and was missing that SO much.

When I discovered Raleigh Group Fitness a few months later, I felt like my prayers had been answered. Founded by two passionate, kind and whip-smart women (Brit Guerin and Ashley Liu Kirkman) who are on a mission to bring people in Raleigh together through fitness and wellness, RGF is dedicated to inspiring our community and offering all sorts of opportunities for everyone to move and nourish their bodies in healthy ways as well as connect with others. The work they are doing and providing, the message of health and inclusivity that they are sharing – it is truly special. Raleigh is so lucky to have them.

I felt an instant kinship with both Brit and Ashley via social media and when we met in person all of that was amplified ten-fold. I am so honored and excited that they have asked me to join them as an ambassador. We have some exciting ideas and I can’t wait to bring running opportunities into the mix of all the wonderful ways to move in and around our city. I also hope to share with you the many options for runner-friendly cross training in our city – there is a TON out there and some programs and classes are especially awesome for runners!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my first ever “pop up” workout with RGF. It was in the warehouse district down town in a really cool space called Junction West. I had SO MUCH fun and was totally blown away by the attendance! There must have been 50 or so people there! We were led through an awesome workout – lots of body weight strength intervals (push ups, squats, lunges, planks – wow!) – divided into segments taught by Ashley and Brit and another RGF ambassador named Conner Traywick. You guys – this was KILLER! I loved it because the energy was electric (we had an amazing DJ!), the instruction was top-notch, and I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself/my own workout while also really in tune with giving my body and mind what I needed that day.

Photo by Linus Johnson

After the interval workout, yoga teacher (and fellow RGF ambassador) Justin Anne Patterson, guided us into a wonderful yoga practice. She slowed things down while also challenging our core strength, and then brought us into pigeon pose – an asana that will forever be something my body needs and doesn’t probably get enough of. My hips are perpetually tight (especially on my overused right side), and this posture is incredibly good for me.

Photo by Linus Johnson

When we were done, Justin Anne had us sit with our eyes closed and invited us to place one hand on our bellies and the other on our hearts. As I sat there, feeling my heart beating and my soft belly relaxing, I felt a connection to myself that I had not allowed myself to appreciate or sit with in a long, long time. Then she spoke with tender joy and kindness to us about how we are perfect just as we are, about self love and compassion, about being whole and not bits and pieces … and I began to feel tears come to my eyes. Not tears of sadness. Tears of connection and gratitude. I felt seen and heard, though I had never met this woman and was WAY in the back of the room.

Over the last few years, really since moving to Raleigh, I have chosen to actively do the hard and deep work to heal from the inside out – a distorted and negative view and critical, internal conversation with myself about my imperfections, especially regarding my body and my abilities. It has been a tremendous internal transforming for me, a coming home to who I am, an incredible resilience forged from within…a path that has led me to and beyond acceptance and compassion … to love. So when Justin Anne spoke these words, they truly felt like a big beautiful hug. After the class I found her and thanked her, told her what her guidance meant to me, and goofily introduced myself too. I wrote her later and asked her if she had written down what she wrote and she happily sent it to me. I am keeping these words and want to share them with you, too:



All the parts that fit together to make you unmistakably you – that is perfection.

All the things you think are flaws. All the pieces you’ve tried to change – that is perfection.

Every inch and pound you’ve wished away, every ebb and flow of your body – that is perfection.

You are not just pieces and parts at all. You are a living breathing work of art. You are whole and you are perfect.

Exactly as you are.


I hope that if you are in Raleigh, you will check out RGF and the pop up events that are offered. You will not be disappointed! Follow them on Instagram, sign up to be a member, and check out the classes and events led by ambassadors in the area! Stay tuned too for what I cook up for the Raleigh running community. We have some ideas in the works and I am excited to bring this into the magic of the RGF mission!

Have you been to any RGF events? What are your favorite ways to workout besides running? Tell me about it!


A decade ago, I was 32 years old with two children ages 2 and 3 (not quite 17 months apart) and had recently had a miscarriage. We had moved into a new home that fall after spending about a month living with my mom while we did some small renovations on our house prior to moving in. It was during that time that I knew something wasn’t right with my pregnancy, and I lost the baby. Stress was incredibly high of course, trying to take care of two toddlers while pregnant and moving. I was devastated following that loss. My sadness was difficult to shoulder, it was deep and heavy. I felt alone. Robert did not want to go through that again, while I was hoping we could try as soon as my body was ready. He felt strongly that trying for another baby would put more stress on us as a couple and as a family. I did my best to accept that we felt differently. I wanted to heal. To start fresh in our new home and town. To make new friends and enjoy this special time with my little ones as my daughter began preschool and my son and I had time together just the two of us, for a few hours a few days a week. It was around this time that I started running again, and finding creative outlets like drawing and painting and volunteering at the preschool (which was the same preschool I had gone to, believe it or not!). I made friends, really special friends. I started a small creative business, I was teaching Pilates, I found running again and even got my coaching certification … over the course of a few years I felt healed and whole and at peace.

And then – one late spring day a few years later, I found out that I was pregnant again. I was not expecting this. Life throws us curve balls all the time, don’t I know it! – but I think it’s rare that they turn into a home run. That was Gus. The good Lord above hit it out of the ballpark with this kid. He has been my life’s greatest surprise. He is the reason I believe in the impossible. I tell him every day (as I did this morning), that he is pure MAGIC. It’s so true.

My little magical buddy is getting ready to turn 8 years old in a few weeks. SO much has happened since he came into this world. Dreams that started only as whispers in my heart became realities in technicolor hues that made my vision and aspirations pale in comparison. I have also seen the darkest parts of myself along the way, for I did get lost on occasion in pursuit of what I thought were my dreams … But I am grateful to say now that I think I somehow needed these twists and turns and dark gnarled spaces to exist and happen, because without them I do not think that I would have found my light. I am trusting in the ups and downs of life, in the lost lonely places, and will hold onto my faith and my belief in magic and miracles. I vow to never lose sight of that ever again.

no better, no worse

I am in a little bit of a conundrum. I think that’s the right word for it. This post is just going to be a stream of my thoughts so up front I am going to apologize because I am not editing it for spelling or anything. I just need to write it all out and process things, to help me get clear.

Three weeks ago when my doctor gave me the green light to run again, I was happy but surprised too – totally skeptical because my toe definitely didn’t look or feel “normal.” PAIN isn’t a word I would use to describe what I was feeling, but there was noticeable swelling still, red/purple coloring and certainly not full range of motion. My doctor did an x-ray (the third one in almost 7 weeks at the time) and examined me and said “your toe is healing and you can run and do whatever you want.” He told me that running would not hinder the healing or make it worse (just don’t bang it again!). He said it would feel and look funky like this for months and that it was really up to me how much I wanted to tolerate that. So, I called my coach and we started me back to running with 20-30 minutes easy that week. My toe felt weird while running, but not painful, and it didn’t seem to feel any worse at all after a run. So we kept going.

It’s been three weeks and I am REALLY enjoying running again. We have added mileage and even some workouts, and my toe doe does not react negatively to any of it, good news right? – Yes, but the fact also remains that my toe doesn’t seem any better.  It has been almost 10 weeks since it broke and three since I started running again … and healing seems to be static. Which isn’t exactly a good thing, I don’t think.

So yesterday I went to see Lee at The Running PTs. Lee knows his stuff, has been someone I rely on for my own health and progress as well as that of local runners I coach. He is a runner. He specializes in working with runners. He knows me well. He sees injured runners every single day. While my injury is not a running injury, the fact is that I am a runner and I know that while I’m not in PAIN right now, I am likely altering my gait and making weird compensations because of the swelling and limited range of motion in my right foot due to the healing broken toe. Yesterday I spent an hour with Lee. We talked openly about what I have been thinking and feeling, and he took a close look at my toe/foot and lower leg. He wiggled and pulled and pressed. This toe is doing way better than it was nearly two months ago when I saw him last, but he agrees with me that the healing shouldn’t be seemingly static like it has since I started running again. Lee explained a lot of the physiology and science behind what’s happening as my bones heal and the joint adapts to the load I am putting on it. He showed me how to work on my own toe to increase passive range of motion and mobilize this little bitty joint. He also recommended that I slow my roll with running, and decrease volume for a couple of weeks so I can get over this hump and let the toe HEAL FOR GOOD.

So, I called my coach as soon as I got in the car and we knocked things around a bit. I appreciate candid conversations with James so much. The ability to have these chats is something I value tremendously and is huge reason why I chose to hire him in the first place. The thing is though, James does not exactly agree with Lee. James thinks as long as it’s not reacting negatively, or getting worse/producing pain, we should continue as we are. And if on any given day I think I need to do less running or ease up on the intensity that is absolutely fine.

So I am back to this: I have to decide what I am willing to tolerate, what feels right and what doesn’t, be my own best advocate and make choices each day in line with my priorities. Having a great coach and trusted healthcare practitioners to advise us and be there for us is WONDERFUL – but we have got to make our own decisions.

This led me to ask myself this upon waking this morning: What are my priorities, anyway? Well, number one is my health. I want to be and feel healthy. I want to act with integrity and treat myself with care and love and compassion. If something doesn’t feel right, I want to trust that and be curious about it. The fact that my toe isn’t getting better doesn’t feel right to me. I am relieved it’s not getting worse, of course, but I want it to be better than it is…I want to feel it is progressing. I want to run again and do life again without this weird feeling in my toe.

Yesterday I did a great workout. 9 miles total with 4 x 1 mile at my threshold effort. I felt strong and solid. I loved it!! But what I didn’t love was that little voice inside of me tapping me on my shoulder saying “this isn’t going to help your toe heal, Jess.” So today I am not running. I only had 45 minutes easy on my calendar and my toe feels no worse after the run yesterday than it did before … but how will I get better if I am just keeping it in this cycle? I need to allow it more space and time to heal between stress. At least that is how I feel today.

So I am deciding that not being any worse isn’t good enough for me. I want it to be better.


I have been thinking so much lately about how running and me came to be. At the time, we were honestly such an unlikely match. A 23 year old young woman trying to stand on her own two feet in Washington, DC with a new boyfriend (he was great, I married him) and a new job (it was great, I met amazing friends-for-life and learned a ton!), but stuck in old habits that weren’t healthy or making her happy: I smoked (probably close to a pack of cigarettes a day), drank alcohol nearly every night of the week (whether a glass of wine or beer with dinner or going out til the wee hours of the morning on the weekends with my friends), drank way more diet soda than I did water, probably ate more canned veggies and packaged foods than I did anything fresh, and really did not exercise at all, at least not with any consistency

I have always been an optimist, its in my nature to see the bright side, but at 42 years old now I acknowledge that it was oftentimes a forced optimism for a long time in my life. I tried to keep a smile on my face even when my heart was heavy because I never wanted to burden others with my sadness or problems. It has taken me YEARS of life and growing pains to undo this pattern and allow myself to not only FEEL my blues or disappointment or anything considered “negative,” but also to express them and move through them in healthy ways.

Anyway, I had enough of this lifestyle and the way it was making me feel about myself. A couple of high school friends were doing the Nashville marathon and I was intrigued. I bought a book and read it cover-to-cover (How to Train for and Run Your Best Marathon by Gordon Bakoulis-Bloch). The training method in this book was focused on running minutes not miles and that sounded do-able to me. I picked the plan for beginners, mapped it out and jumped right in. I quit smoking cold-turkey that day. My first run was 20 minutes long and I kid you not, I thought I might die. I did’t have a Garmin to calculate my paces but I do know that I was not able to run the whole 20 minutes and I didn’t make it too much farther than a mile that day. I was in southwest Florida (Sanibel) visiting my family. It was late April, so it was HOT and sunny. It felt impossible and it felt miserable.

I came home exhausted and also excited. I remember my sisters and parents absolutely thinking I was crazy and feeling sorry for me. They did not think this would stick. I recall my sister Kamie (who is always pretty straight-forward with what she thinks and feels, a trait I admire tremendously. Even though sometimes her perspectives can sting she usually has a point!) telling me she believed in me but that she was also worried that I would get hurt or fail and then feel even worse about myself. Her concerns were valid but I remember thinking I had reached a point of desperation – my mental/emotional health and my self-confidence were at an all-time low when other areas of my life were going well. The changes I needed in my life to feel better were changes that had to come from within. I knew there were no magic bullets but this felt like something I could do for me.

It just made sense even when it didn’t.

And it still does.


It’s a New Year. I love fresh starts and setting intentions for growth and change. Here are a few things I want to practice and cultivate skill, comfort and ability with in 2019 and beyond.

– Drawing/painting/lettering…I enjoy this so much and have stepped away from it as a practice over the last few years. I’m not a skilled artist but creative expression with a pen in hand is a part of who I am, and a part I have been neglecting.

– Reading actual books and newspapers. I love to read and this is also something I’ve stepped away from with consistency. I admire my friends who set these lofty goals to read x number of books a year. I want to do the same. Most of the books I do read are about running and training which is great but I want to be captivated by stories and the beauty of prose.

– Writing from my most vulnerable places AND being okay with it being messy and choppy for a while. I need to remember I do this for me. The act of writing helps me sift through my feelings and reflect and dream. I share it here because doing so feels brave to me, and I also value the connections made here so much. But worrying that it’s not well-written or that what I am sharing is boring or not helpful etc etc holds me back from being open or even writing at all.

– Racing. I mean really putting myself to the test. I play it safe most of (as in almost ALL) the time. I do this in so many areas of my life. It’s not that I think that is bad to be careful, I believe it’s a good trait, yet I also see and feel I take it too far. I am just so risk averse and I think it holds me back from fully experiencing what’s possible and from fully feeling things.

There are more, and I will write about them later. This is a good start.

My friend Liz is coming over soon for a sunrise run! I’m so grateful we will start our day together in this way. It has been a long time since we’ve been in a routine. My toe is healed/healing (it is good enough to run on but still feels totally weird) and I am striving to get back in shape (tough stuff!). Having a friend to share the miles with makes it so much more fun, and I know if we weren’t meeting this morning I would probably get stuck in Procrastination Station 🚉

Happy Wednesday! Happy second day of 2019.