so much more than a race

I laced up my racing shoes on Sunday morning for the Potomac River Running Birthday Bash 5k.

When I got up that morning I had butterflies in my tummy.  I am always jittery and jumpy and extra energetic on race day morning.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a local 5k or the Boston Marathon – I am full of joy and excitement.  ELATION.  I find it hard to harness my emotions in.

Sunday morning was no different from that perspective.  But this race was special to me in so many ways right from the start.  It was being held in honor of the tenth birthday of my favorite running store, a store that is just SO MUCH MORE than a store to me.  Potomac River Running is a family and community of people who provide tons of support and inspiration to so many people in our area.  I am beyond thankful for the friendships I have made through it, and for how these people have not only helped me to become a better runner but have also inspired and encouraged me to follow my dreams and be the best ME that I can be.  I mean that with all of my heart.

This race was also really special to me because my husband Robert was running the race, too. And my mom took all three kids for a sleepover the night before, so it was just the two of us heading to the race.  I have been running since Robert and I started dating almost 14 years ago, but it is only in the last several months that he has begun to find his own love for the sport.  It is really, really cool to share this with him.  Something totally new and unexpected.  Something that has been really good for us, as individuals and as a couple.

When we arrived at the race I went for a warm-up run along the course.  I ran the whole thing from start to finish at an easy pace with a few strides in the last quarter mile to get my legs moving quicker.  The course was hilly all throughout – lots of ups and downs the entire way.  I knew it would be tough – it was HUMID outside and I was drenched in sweat from the warm up.  I also noticed that my watch said I ran 3.2 miles for the warm up and I thought that was weird – maybe the course was long or I ran a little extra?  I didn’t pay much mind to it though – I felt good and I was ready to race and see what I had in me.  I saw my sister and Maddie as I waited in the start line and this made me SO happy.  I am just so blessed with amazing people in my life.

me and maddie just before the start!

When the race started I really had zero idea how fast I could run it.  I wanted to beat my PR of 19:59, and believed in my heart that I could run something around a 19:30 if all went well.  That would be a 6:15 average pace.  Since I hadn’t done any speed work or tempo runs in several months, this was all kind of speculation though and I knew that.  So I started running and made sure it didn’t feel too hard for the first mile.  There was a pretty nice decline early in that mile and my watch clicked in with a 6:05 when I completed it.  There was a really strong woman in front of me – she passed me on the down hill during the first mile and as she approached me I was amazed by her strength and the ease with which she ran.  It was almost like she was gliding.  I had no urge to try to catch her though – I told myself you are competing against yourself here Jess, not anyone else.  Just give it your best.  I wanted to maintain my focus and be really in tune with how I was feeling.

I felt steady at the end of the first mile and decided to just maintain my effort.  Mile two had some up hills in it and I tried not to push too hard up them so that I could save my energy for a good kick at the finish.  Even effort on the ups, don’t worry about the pace, you’ll make it up on the downs.  I ran Mile 2 in 6:18.

And this is when I started to feel the PAIN of the 5k.

The third mile was really tough.  More hills.  Hot sun.  Humidity.  I felt like I could lose my breakfast on one of the up hills.

Hello, pain.  Hello, misery.
Hello negative thoughts of this sucking and I WANT TO QUIT. 
I was wondering when you would show up.

I wanted it to be over, but I also really wanted to hang on so badly.  At this point I remembered a quote I had recently read from Robert Frost.  I have not been able to stop thinking about this quote for a couple of weeks now.

The best way out is always through.

I repeated it over and over to myself during that third mile.  I cannot hide from the pain or the hurt.  Or from the work.  And in fact, if I am being real with myself, I don’t even want to!  Stepping up and getting THROUGH it makes you grow, makes you stronger, makes you feel more alive and capable than quitting or taking the “easy” way out.  It carves you deeper and makes more room for joy and authenticity.  I cannot deny that it is difficult to face hard things, whether it’s the pain of mile three of a 5k or the pain of changes in your life that you have no control over and just want to hide from, or the pain of tragedy or betrayal or disappointment.  Trying to go around it or just table having to deal with it isn’t going to really accomplish anything GOOD.  But I can push on through and know that I will get to the other side of it, TRUST that this is where the magic happens, and BELIEVE that I will be stronger for it – on every level.

I actually turned it into a little poem for myself (not sure what Mr. Frost would think of this, but oh well) —

The best way out is always through.
This is what I am made to do.

I told myself to just push through it. To keep going.  To hang on.  Don’t give up.  This is what I believe in.  Hanging on, pushing through.  I know that I am strong enough to go through it.

Mile 3 – 6:26.

When I passed the third mile marker I was SO ready to gun it with everything I had left in me.  I was fighting so hard.  Crossing the Finish line was awesome – my sister and so many of my friends were all there cheering me in and I was so ready to be done!  I really laid it all out on the line there.

pain face at the finish line

I thought for sure I had a PR in the bag, even with the slower last mile.  But in fact the course was a little long – my watch clocked it in at 3.2 miles again!  The last .2 I held onto a 5:41 pace though, and was definitely feeling strong.  I averaged a 6:14 pace for the entire run – I thought this was extra cool because my bib number was 614!!!  I was so happy about it – I ran one second faster than my goal pace!  It wasn’t an official PR (missed it by ONE SECOND!) because the course was long, but I honestly don’t care.  I was really happy with how I did.  And what was even sweeter – I was the 2nd overall female!  This just literally amazed me!  My sister was waiting for me as soon as I crossed and gave me a water bottle and a huge sister hug.  There really isn’t a better way to finish a race if you ask me!

#sistersonamission

After I was done I joined Jodi and Maddie in cheering in all the runners, including Robert who looked INCREDIBLY strong as he crossed the finish line!  He ran a 3 MINUTE PR!!!!!!  It was so much fun to celebrate together.  I am so proud of him for all the hard work and dedication he has put into his running over these last several months.  Really, into his HEALTH.  Seeing someone you love make their own health and happiness a priority is a really good feeling.  It makes my heart swell up with gratitude.

happy and proud and grateful!

We hung out at the race for a while afterwards – it was a huge party!  Cupcakes, a super fun photo booth with silly props to use, an ice cream truck and Saucony even had a dunk tank!  There were even more fun things happening that I don’t think I even got around to participating in.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been to a more fun race than this one!  Here’s hoping that =PR= will make it an annual event!

For me this race was about so much more than running.  I guess in general that’s because RUNNING is about so much more than running for me.  It is a huge part of my life.  A huge part of who I am, and who I want to be.  Life and running are so connected to one another for me, so intertwined.

I am beyond thankful to have discovered my love for this sport.  The lessons that running has taught me, and the people it has brought into my life, and the way it has shown me how much my loved ones really truly love me by supporting me and encouraging me so much, and how it has taught me how amazing it feels to give that same love and support and encouragement right back to them …  it has all truly helped to shape me from the inside out.  Words don’t work here…

My. Heart. Is. Full.

Happy Birthday, Potomac River Running!!!

Women’s Distance Festival 5k 2012

Last year I ran the Women’s Distance Festival 5k for the first time, setting a new PR (23:08) and placing first in my age group.  It was a very special race for me.  I wrote a race report about my experience and began the post with the following paragraph:

I learned a lot about myself today.  I learned that I am capable of so much more than I thought possible.  I learned that I need to trust in my abilities and let myself “go there” … that I thrive on finding out what I’m made of and that I love sharing this feeling with other women who run and with my family.  

I ran this race again on Saturday, and I honestly feel as though one year later I could start this post with the exact same paragraph.  I feel like every race (and really, every run) teaches us something.  Maybe it’s something about race strategy and pacing.  Or about how far we can push our limits.  Or about what we should or shouldn’t eat or drink.  The list goes on and on and some lessons are bigger than others, but every single race is ripe with lessons.  Every single one.

My race on Saturday was no different.  I was surprised by what I learned and I am still soaking it all in and thinking it through.  I am HAPPY with the results.  I know that I did my best that day.  I also know that I am capable of better and that there is room for me to grow and learn from this.

My goal for this race was to PR, which meant running faster than a 21:18.  I also truly believed that I could break 21 minutes for the first time and I was going to GO for it.  I was familiar with this course having run it last year, and I knew that it was not an easy one to navigate or maintain lots of speed on consistently — there are several sharp hairpin turns, two sections of trail with lots gravel and wood bridge crossings, lots of hills and sections with zero shade.

I got to the race start and warmed up for a little over two miles.  I ran easy and gradually picked up my pace during the warmup, finishing with some fast strides near where the finish line would be.  Before warming up, I commented to a friend that I felt nervous – I had butterflies in my tummy.  She said she felt the same way.  We both sort of laughed at ourselves – I mean, this is just a little local 5k after all – why does it matter so much???  But we both knew the answer to that question.  Even for endurance athletes who run four times as many miles as a 5k every weekend, it is NEVER really “just a 5k.”  We were going to be testing our limits.  Giving it our very best.  We wanted to know what we are capable of and we did not want to disappoint ourselves.  Running MATTERS to us.  Believing in ourselves matters to us.  So this race was important.

ready in my fast shoes

I got to the start line feeling excited but a lot calmer.  My heart was grateful – my sister Jodi, my nephew Spencer, my buddy and training partner Chris, and my husband Robert and our three children were ALL there to support me.  They all believed in me and were there to cheer for me!!  I knew it could not be a bad day because I had them all there.  I would do my best.

As I stood at the start line, I recognized two girls I had seen at the track earlier in the week.  They asked me what my pace plan was for the race.  I told them that I was hoping to break 21 for the first time and that I was going to try to go out more conservatively than I usually do.  I have a hard time controlling my pace at the start of a 5k and I was not going to make that mistake again this time.  I knew the course was tough in miles 2 and 3 and I didn’t want to burn all my energy in that first mile.  They said they were going for the same goal, and one of them remarked to the other that I should just pace them.  I laughed a little nervously and told them not to do that – that I didn’t want them to count on me.  When the race started they stuck by me.  I went out and immediately told myself – RUN YOUR OWN RACE.  This was going to be a new kind of race for me, one in which I was racing others but really just racing myself.  I checked my watch early on in the first quarter mile and I was going too fast, just under a 6 minute pace.  I pulled back and reigned myself in.  I wanted to be steady at 6:35.  When I hit that, I was amazed that it actually felt EASY.  The girls (whose names are Kaileen and Theresa) were right there next to me, one on each side.

looks like I’m a pacer

The first quarter mile of the race is around a parking lot and then we head up onto the W&OD trail.  Here I heard my nephew Spencer call to me – “BREATHE & BELIEVE” – and I smiled.  He is 13 years old.  I am so proud to be his aunt, and so thankful for the person that he IS.  It was so awesome that he was there to cheer for me and support me.

The W&OD trail is my training ground.  My running HOME.  I have logged so many miles on this trail.  I love it and I know it.  Once up on the trail I saw Robert and my kids.  I felt so strong in that moment, so comfortable and happy and grateful.  Grateful for their support and for their love.  Grateful to be where I am in running and in life.

On the W&OD.  Happy and strong.

After a short time on the W&OD we took the first hairpin turn and were off the W&OD and onto another trail that looped up and around a pond.  Here we crossed the first mile marker – 6:35 – right on the NOSE.  Kaileen and Theresa were still right with me.  I said out loud to myself – perfect, this is right where I want to be.  We started looping back onto a trail after that and could see the other runners coming towards us as they headed off the W&OD.  I started cheering for them.  I knew I was spending energy doing so, but I decided I didn’t care.  One thing that I love about this race is that it is an ALL women race (I am not sure how many women, maybe 300ish?).  I know a lot of these ladies and their stories are so very inspiring to me.  It was fun to cheer for them and be cheered on by them.  So I let out a “WOOOOO!” and a “lookin’ good!” here or there along that stretch.  And I smiled.  Big.

The second mile was trickier.  It was during this mile that we ventured onto some trail – gravel, rocks and dirt.  It was beautiful – I love the woods of Reston – but it was definitely not something I’m used to.  I felt like I was holding strong though I knew that while on the actual rocks and dirt my pace had slowed a bit.  I stopped looking at my watch because I just wanted to maintain my effort and didn’t want the numbers to discourage me.  Kaileen and Theresa were still right there with me.  When we were on the paved part again I felt my pace pick up with the same level of effort so I felt assured I was running a SMART race.

As we began the third mile we moved back onto another woodsy stretch – a loop – and then again onto more paved trail.  I was holding strong and feeling really good.  Theresa was right next to me at my left hip and Kaileen had dropped back slightly.  I could not hear or feel her breathing anymore but I knew she wasn’t far behind.  We had passed a few women on our way through the woods, but I wasn’t paying attention to how many women were still ahead of us at all.  I was so focused on running my own race, sticking to my own pace, going for my own goal, that I hadn’t thought about placing or winning anything.

I am still mastering the psychology of racing myself.  I haven’t really figured out the psychology or the strategy of racing others just yet.  I have a lot to learn in that area.

We came up out of the woods and made another sharp turn, back onto the W&OD trail.  As we turned I saw Jodi and Chris and they were cheering for me.  Telling me to GO and GET IT.  There was an overpass up ahead as the 3rd mile came to an end.  We had to go UP a hill and then down into the final stretch.  As we turned and started up the hill Theresa sort of tucked in behind me, hanging on at the hip.

She was SMART.  I have no idea whether or not she meant to do this since I don’t really know her at all, but I am planning to ask her about it if and when I see her again at the track.  We ran up that hill and in this weird sort of way I felt like I was carrying her up!  Does that even make sense?  I thought to myself.  In retrospect it totally makes sense to me – this is a race!  If I were racing HER and not just myself, I would have eased up and let HER push the pace there, and then I would have gunned it down the hill and into the finish.  Because, you see, she passed me on that down hill and she wound up beating me by just a few seconds!  I crossed the finish line in 20:59 and was the FOURTH overall finisher.

I am not upset, in case you are wondering.  It was an incredible race for me!  A truly valuable experience on so many levels.  I am ecstatic that I broke 21 minutes, that I PR’d by 19 seconds and that I ran a smart race (against myself).  What I learned about racing others, however, is this –

Run your own race and do your very best, solely focused on you and where you are — until you get close to that finish.  If you are neck and neck with someone, don’t let them make you do all the work!  Save your energy to surge past them in that last stretch.  Every second counts!!  I also learned that I know very little about this side of racing and that if I want to compete locally for placings and age group placings, I have to do my homework.  The prize I lost on Sunday by coming in 4th was not a cash prize or gift card (it was a feather boa!) – but if it had been I would have been seriously bummed.

After crossing the finish line on Saturday I was showered with hugs from my family and my kids decorated me with medals they had made.  My heart was FULL.

Some of my favorite pictures …

me and my babies
proud of my medals
me with two of my LOVES

oh sistah i LOVE you
My buddy Chris. This guy ROCKS – oh so much.

The finish line celebration was tons of fun.  I placed first in my age group and got a fun trophy to commemorate it.  I loved seeing so many of my friends as they finished the race – many of them surprised themselves with new PRs and strong races.  I love the atmosphere of this race.  I love this community of women runners!!!  I love that my family and dear friends were there to support me.

my prizes

This race was about SO MUCH MORE than a new PR or breaking a time goal.  I guess they all are, really.

It was full of celebrations beyond my running achievements.  Celebrations of my family, of my health, of my life, of my FAITH and of my relationships with my friends and my community.  It was also full of lessons and of reminders of what is MOST important to me.  Just as I did last year, I came away from this race feeling both proud of how far I have come and excited about all of the possibilities ahead.  And, of course, so very grateful for the LOVE that surrounds me.

a beautiful day

Saturday morning I was ready to run my fastest ever 5k.  My training and my racing over these past seven weeks gave me every indication that I was ready to break 21 minutes in the 5k.  I had been doing my weekly tempo runs this fast (sometimes faster) week after week.  I knew I could do it.  It would NOT be easy, but it was absolutely within my reach.

My legs felt strong.  I was excited.  I had run this race twice before and though the course changed slightly, I believed with all of my heart that I could handle the added hills (both up and down) and that I would stay strong mentally as well as physically through them.

I woke up on Saturday morning and ran to the race start as a warm up.  My husband packed up the kids in the car and they drove there to meet me.  I LOVE having my family at a race.  Knowing they are there automatically puts a smile on my face and makes me feel more at ease.  I feel like I am not doing this just for me, but instead it is something our whole family can enjoy and take part in.

This was the perfect race for that.  The We’ve Got Your Back 5k in Reston is not just a race for solitary runners.  It is a race for families.  The start/finish area was busy with activities for children (glitter tattoos, crafts, games, and the “Fun Bus” – an old school bus that was painted with bright colors and hollowed out inside to become a mini fitness obstacle course for young children).  My kids had a blast before, during and after the race.

The Fun Bus!

It is also a race for people who have overcome back injuries and chronic back pain.  The cause is close to my heart, supporting spinal health and research.  As a Pilates teacher I work with people who suffer from back pain all the time.  Herniated disks, bulging disks, pinched nerves, SI joint pain, pelvic instability … and so much more.  I myself have dealt with lower back pain since becoming a mother, and I can tell you it is horrible.  There have been times when I have been stuck on the couch with ice wrapped around my back, watching my kids play all around me because moving hurt too much.  It is awful.  Thank goodness my pain has never lasted more than a week or two at a time – but even just one day of it is terrible.  This is why when I found Pilates, I became dedicated to it.  Pilates changed my life and has made me so much more aware of how to best care for my body and especially my spinal health.  It changed my life so much that I wanted to become a teacher, so I could help others.  My sister Jodi had back surgery in 2003 (she had a herniated disk) and as you can imagine she too is very passionate about this cause.  She really wanted to be there on Saturday.  I wanted her to be there too.

This was by far the best I had ever warmed up before a 5k.  I ran two miles at a comfortable pace (mile 1 – 8:33, mile 2 – 8:11) and then I finished with another half mile right around 10k pace (a little slower, averaging 7:11).  When it was time to start the race I felt physically as ready as could be.

But mentally, something was off.  Was it race day nerves?  Maybe.  The fact that there were some seriously fast looking ladies standing at the start near me?  Yes, that got me.  When chicks show up to a local 5k race wearing underwear and compression socks a la Shalane and Kara, well that is a bit intimidating.  Inspiring, sure, yet also intimidating.

The gun went off and the first 3/4 of a mile was straight down a hill.  I knew I was running too fast.  Way too fast.  I glanced at my watch and saw a pace of 5:17 down that hill.  WHAT!?  What am I doing?!  My legs were moving so fast down that hill that I literally felt like I was flying.  This would have been exhilarating and awesome had I not had another two and a half miles to run.  Or had I been planning to run that fast (umm, no).  I came down to the bottom of the hill and turned right onto the trail and the road was flat again, my pace “slowed” to a 5:45.  I was breathing heavily.  My shoulders were tense.  I still felt very much out of control.  I told myself over and over again to run my own race, to slow down, to calm down and to settle in.  I got myself into better place by the time the first mile ended.  It was still way too fast though.  Mile 1 – 6:11.

At the end of the first mile we turned onto a road with steady up hill.  This was good news for me.  It would help me slow down.  I wanted to find my happy pace around a 6:45, but the fact is — I am not happy at a 6:45.  That is still lung-burning pace!  Especially up a hill.  And then we took another turn into an office park which was basically ALL up hill.  I kept fighting up it.  When I looked at my watch at the end of the second mile I saw 7:15.  This was slower than I wanted to be running.  I still had a mile to go, time to make up for it.  I still wanted to break 21 and I could do it.  But I had to believe I could do it and that was the problem at this point.

The negative voice started to gain power over me.  Telling me I went out too fast.  That the first mile ruined me.  Why didn’t I take control sooner?  Why was I so foolish?  How did I let this happen!?  I felt like a crazy person trying to push through those negative thoughts.  I just wanted to feel good, to feel happy.  To enjoy myself.  As I turned the corner to go UP that massive hill that I ran down in the beginning of the race, I knew I wasn’t going to break 21 minutes and that it was really quite possible that I wouldn’t even beat 21:18, my current PR.  I was feeling really angry with myself.  I was hating on 5ks.  Mile 3: 7:27.

On the side of the course there was a woman holding up a sign.  It said “YOU LOVE RUNNING!!”  I smiled when I saw it.  She is right.  Nobody is making me do this but ME.  And why am I doing it?  Because I love it. 

I LOVE RUNNING.

That was all I needed.  My final pace for the final stretch was 6:34.  My family was on the side of the road, cheering me into the finish.  This made me smile from the inside out as I approached that finish line.

Official time: 21:40.  I missed my PR by 22 seconds.  What I am PROUD of — I ran this race 3 whole minutes faster than I ran it last year and almost 4 minutes faster than I did the year before.  Also, I was the 9th overall female and third place in my age group.  To be one of the top 10 females in a race like this – where the women who came in first and second finished in less than 18 minutes, and three of the top five overall finishers were women (yay!!!) – well, that is pretty much a dream come true for me.  THAT feels good.

I did not run the 5k race I am capable of.  I know that.  But I did push through some pretty dark thoughts, through moments where I literally felt like stopping and giving up the sport altogether (crazy, I know).  I did not give up.  And while each mile was slower than the last, I learned a TON about myself as a runner and as a person.

After my race was over, it was time for Abby and Will to race.  We had signed them up for the 1 Mile Fun Run and they could not have been more excited.  They had official race numbers, new “fast” running shoes (which Will proudly proclaimed would make him “faster than a car” when he tried them on) and more excitement in their little hearts than I can possibly describe.  The three of us lined up at the start, ready to go.

Thoughts of my 5k quickly melted away, and I was completely swept up in the joy of being with my children – participating in a running event TOGETHER.

three happy runners at the start

The plan was to stick together.  The kids did not want me to leave their side.  Will was even holding onto my leg as we waited for the race to begin.  He was especially nervous about having to run on his own.

So you can imagine my surprise when Will shot off like a dart, literally blazing a trail behind him leaving us in his dust from the start of the race.  I could see him powering up ahead, not relenting, and I was just completely shocked.  Proud.  Bewildered.  Amazed.  He just kept going and I could see his little head bouncing side to side as he ran.  I couldn’t see his face, but I could imagine it.  I knew he was having the time of his life.

I have seen my little boy run before.  He SURGES, and then pulls back and walks or even stops altogether to catch his breath before going full speed again.  The kid doesn’t have a middle ground.  He is either ALL IN, or he is not playing.  (This applies to all areas of his personality – he is the most determined and dedicated little person I have ever known.  It inspires me.  And terrifies me on occasion).

On Saturday, he was ALL IN.  He got caught up in the excitement and he discovered something wonderful about himself.

HE LOVES RUNNING.

Abby was not enjoying the run nearly as much as Will was.  She is very observant of every single thing – the most sensitive person I have ever known in all my life.  I love this about her.  It is one of her sweetest qualities.  She is also a THINKER – has to analyze everything.  And talk about it.  She spoke to me the whole way – giving me every detail about how she was feeling.  Her chest hurt.  Her stomach hurt.  She really needed to stop.  She WANTED to enjoy the race, but, well, WHEN would it be over?  I encouraged her to keep going.  I told her how I understood what she was feeling, that she was doing a great job, that she was the strongest most beautiful runner I had ever seen, and that I was SO proud of her.

About halfway through the mile, she decided it was time for a break.  Robert was on the side of the road cheering with baby Gus so she hopped off and walked with him.  At that point I caught up with Will and ran him to his finish.  He was still racing his little heart out.  The look on his face, now that I could see it, was one of pure joy and solid determination.  It was also a look of surprise.  I ran next to him.  Told him he was amazing.  So strong!  So fast!  He was running up the hill (the same one I had to run up for my finish) and I knew what he was feeling.  Watching my little boy run was INCREDIBLE.  He cracked a smile at the sound of my voice, when I told him I could see the finish.  That he was almost there.

Will crossed the finish line of his first real road race mile in 7:57.  They gave him a medal and I wrapped my arms around him.  His heart was beating so fast, I could feel it pounding on his little chest.  Those big brown eyes looked up at me and with a huge smile on his face he said to me “Wow Mommy, I am fast!”  My kid FOUND HIS STRONG.

Mister Will, who has life threatening food allergies and has to inhale steroids every single day of the year for his asthma – RAN A RACE on Saturday.  I think he felt like he could do anything after accomplishing that.  Running is a gift, pure and simple.

Will decided that he is a runner on Saturday.  Yesterday morning he woke up and wanted to take me for a run on Mother’s Day.  We ran 2.5 miles together.  It was one of the sweetest gifts I have ever received.  I will cherish the memory forever and I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to sharing this sport with him over the years to come.

After Will finished his race, we caught up with Robert, Abby and Gus.  They were still walking on the 1 mile course.  Abby was hanging her head.  I approached her and took her hand.  I asked her if she would finish the race with me.  She cried and nodded her head – yes.  We started to jog and she told me she really didn’t want to run, that she couldn’t do it.  I told her she didn’t have to go fast, that she just had to go, to move.  She had come this far and we were together and we could even walk if she wanted to.  My little girl cried the whole way up that hill and across the finish line.  And I held her hand.  I wanted her to know the importance of finishing something that you started.  I knew that if she didn’t finish, she would be sad about it later.

When we crossed the finish line, she smiled as I hugged her.  Later that day do you know what she told me as I tucked her in for bed?  She said “Mommy, you made me feel proud of myself today.”  Until then, I wasn’t sure if I had been too tough on her at the race, if I was caught up in my love for the sport and if maybe I had said the wrong things to motivate her.

All I want is for my children to feel proud of themselves.  To be confident and happy.  For them to feel GOOD about who they are.  I want them to believe in themselves.  To know that they can overcome difficult times – whether it be physical pain, emotional heartache, disappointment, whatever.  Life is full of rough patches.  I want my kids to be raised knowing that they are loved for who they are.  That they are strong enough to endure what comes their way.  That there is joy in persevering when all they feel like doing is shutting down and giving up.

As their mother, there is only so much I can do to protect my children from broken hearts and disappointments.  My first instinct is to want to put them in this little cocoon where I can shield them from anything bad or difficult, protect them from feeling pain or sadness.  To give them anything and everything their little hearts desire.  But I know that this not possible and I also know that it wouldn’t be the best thing for them – AT ALL.  That’s just not how life is.  I would be doing a disservice to them.  Instead, I will do what I can now to teach them to fight.  To teach them to believe in themselves.  To encourage them to follow their hearts.  To help them build their own wings so they can fly.

I am thankful to the sport of running for helping me with this.  This is one of the many ways that running helps me to be the best mother I can be.  It’s not just about what running does for ME and my own peace of mind, my inner balance, my self confidence.  It’s about what my running does for my children.  The example it sets.  They see me doing it and they know it is not easy for me.  They see the dedication.  They see the pain.  And they see the joy.  And this weekend, they not only saw it, but they FELT it for themselves.

I am so proud.  And so very grateful.

Run Your Heart Out 5k

sister love

I’m pretty sure that yesterday was the coldest day of the year so far.  With temperatures in the 20s and major winds that made it feel like it was in the teens, it was clear that Old Man Winter decided to make an appearance around here and show us what he’s made of.  Brrrrr.

Yesterday was the Run Your Heart Out 5k in Reston.  I signed up for it a while ago, knowing that I had a 22 miler to tackle the day before and that it would be falling on the last day of my highest mileage week ever.  So I really truly wasn’t ever planning on racing it.  When I woke up yesterday morning and felt good, I considered it but quickly talked myself out of it.  It was freezing, icy in spots, crazy windy and hilly.  I really didn’t want to risk getting injured over this race and wanted to just enjoy being there with my sisters and good friends.  Best decision ever.  It was SO much fun!

We arrived at the race about 20 minutes before the gun went off.  This race starts and finishes on the South Lakes High School track (our track) so we ran around the track for about 1.5 miles to warm up.  Only … there really was no “warming up” about it.  We were still freezing cold!  I was all decked out in my pink and red but couldn’t bring myself to take my black jacket off.  Oh well.  So much for being festive.  Meghan Ridgley won that prize – she was adorably Valentine-y in her amazing tutu.  And she won the race, too!   

tutu power!

The start of the race felt like one big party!  Maybe it was just me or it was because we were all so freaking cold, but I felt like everyone was smiling and laughing and just happy to be there.  The weather was so insane and the course was incredibly beautiful.  After running maybe a quarter of a lap around the track we headed into the woods and ran along the paved Reston paths I love so much.  It felt like we were running through a winter wonderland.  The forest was covered in a light dusting of snow and it was serene and just lovely.  These paths are hilly though, with lots of foot bridges that were definitely icy in parts.  I was wearing my Kinvaras and felt unsteady on this terrain in them.  I was SO glad I wasn’t racing.  Jodi and Amy were wearing their trail shoes and on a downhill portion I lost them – I stopped to walk along the grass because I thought I was going to fall.  Not long after that though I met up with Jackie from Lululemon and was really excited to see her.  We ran the rest of the race together and chatted the whole way.  It was a really perfect recovery run and I loved every minute of it.  There was a smile across my face the entire way.  I still haven’t even downloaded my Garmin from the race, or checked on my finish time online.  I was so not concerned with how fast I was moving at all, but I remember looking at my pace at one point and it was somewhere around a 9:30ish pace.  It was perfect.

at the finish

Once we crossed the finish line, the party continued for a little while and we chatted with new friends and old before we felt like we were going to freeze our faces off.  It was so much fun.  I wish all recovery runs could be such a blast!

I will definitely run this race again.  It was my idea of a great celebration of the sport I love with the people I love.  The only thing I would have changed about this race was the weather – I wish it had been just a *little* (ok, maybe a lot) warmer.  I will have to work on that for next year!

A 5k on New Year’s Day

I love all race distances.  I really, truly do.  I am just as excited and jittery lining up for a local 5k as I am for a huge marathon that I have spent months training for.  The emotions are almost impossible for me to control in either case.  I am nervous.  I am happy.  I am grateful.  I am excited.  I am determined, yet I fear the unknown.  There is absolutely no way to wipe the goofy smile off of my face.

There are so many unknowns on race day – so many things that I know I cannot control.  And because of this I have made a pact with myself right before I cross that start line of every race, no matter the distance or the preparation leading up to it.  I will do my very best.

Today I ran a 5k.  This race distance is especially hard for me.  I’m still figuring out the best way to run it.  The pain sets in quickly and my lungs are burning, my stomach lurches as the postnasal drip slips down my throat (I really hate that).  But I push through it and just keep telling myself the faster you run, the faster you’re done.  Do not give up.  There is very little racing strategy involved for me, though I’m sure there should be.  I just go out there and give it my all, and see what happens.

Today’s race (the Potomac River Running New Year’s Day 5k in Reston) started at 10:00AM and was just minutes from my house, so Robert and all three of our kids came to cheer me on.  This is without a doubt the biggest reason I LOVE local 5ks – it is easy for my family to come watch me run, and I love love LOVE having them there.

me and my support crew/cheering squad before the race

There were two things going into this race that were less than ideal for me.  First, the 10AM start was a little tricky because I was feeling hungry before I even started running.  By the time I realized how hungry I was though, I was scared to eat in case it led to an upset stomach during the race.  I was just going to have to wait to eat until I crossed that finish line.  The other glitch for me was that I ran 10 miles on Friday and then 10 miles again on Saturday, leaving me with not the freshest of legs.

So I warmed up a little (not enough, but at least a little!) with my sister Megan and also with Jess from Zero to Fifty and used that time to feel things out and decide whether or not I was going to give it my all and RACE, or just run an easy pace and soak up the fun.  My body was feeling good, and I was getting excited – within just a few minutes of warming up I had decided that I was going to go for it and let the cards fall where they may.  While we warmed up, Jess and I talked about how hard we both think 5ks are, and how we both were pretty unsure of how things would pan out for us once the race started.  I think we both knew in our hearts that we had personal bests inside of us, but of course anything can happen on race day.

As luck would have it, I discovered that best I could do today would become my new personal best.   I ran my heart out and nearly lost my breakfast (or what was left of it anyway) at mile three, but I crossed the finish line with a time of 21:18, more than a minute faster than my prior PR of 22:34.  I was the 6th overall female and 1st place in my age group.  This was the first time I ran a race where all of my mile splits were under a 7:00 mile.

coming into the finish, photo courtesy of Cheryl Hendry Young

It was awesome to have my family right there cheering me into that finish line, and being able to find them right away and give them sweaty-mama hugs immediately after crossing was truly the icing on the cake.

The morning was full of celebrating new personal bests for me and for my friends – my sister Megan and my friends Chris and Lisa all finished with their fastest 5k times and also Jess crossed not long after me, coming in 2nd in our age group and snagging herself a new PR!!  It was really fun to celebrate with so many friends, and of course with family.

yay for age group wins!!

When 2011 started, my 5k PR was a 25:22.  I’m really excited to be starting 2012 with a PR that is over 4 minutes faster than that, and will not stop there.  Getting outside of my comfort zone and doing my very best to push through it is what it’s all about.

How did you kick off the new year?  Was running a part of it?  What do you think of 5ks?
Here’s to the year ahead being full of blessings and happy running!