Friday, July 24, 2009

Why do I run?

There are several upcoming races in the Atlanta area, and there has been a lot of talk about running, tips, preferences, gear, I figured I do a blog about it. I have the Chicago half coming up, which I did not start training for when I should have, so I am have been "cramming" at the last minute to get ready. First of all, let me just clarify, I do not consider myself a "serious runner". My sister is a serious runner, as she set a goal last October to run 60 minutes a day, for 365 CONSECUTIVE days, no matter what. She ran everyday on our cruise, and even beat the men (and the employee leading the race, also a man) on the "Disney Castaway 5K" on one of the islands we stopped at. She is serious about it, as I believe she is around day 270. I, on the other hand, don't exercise on vacation. When I am away on a work trip for a week, I rarely get the chance to go out for a run, as we are in meetings for 10 hours a day, and then we usually head straight to a group dinner and I am looking for a cold, frosty beverage. Some people get up at 4am to get a work out in before our meetings start-I am not one of those people. So, I've posted a lot on facebook recently about running, and gotten a lot of questions on WHY I run "so much". Like I said, I don't run this much daily, its to get ready for a race next weekend. I ran one half without any training at all (literally), and couldn't walk normally for 3 days...I don't want that to happen again. So, according to my new Garmin watch, since this past Saturday I have logged 52 miles, with yesterday being a day off day. Thats not typical for me, for when I am not training for something particular I just like to go out for a 45 min-hour run to relieve stress, escape the day, and be alone with my thoughts.

But on to the point...WHY I run. I grew up an athlete, playing sports my entire life. I was never in track, and HATED running with a passion, because in all the sports I played, that was our punishment after we lost (ironically enough, I have a shirt that now says "My sport is your sports punishment". I never saw running as anything but torture. For instance, one summer at Basketball camp, we were woken up in the middle of the night and had to run literally until the sun came up and/or everyone threw up. Yuck. I hated running.

As an adult, I wanted to stay fit and in shape, and the sports I played as a kid weren't really an option anymore. Basketball? Nope. Softball? Sure, there are adult leagues here and there, but its not going to keep me fit. Swimming? I think I burned out of swimming my senior year in high school after doing it for more than a decade, often times getting up at 4:45am for practice- its just never been the same since. So, like most adults, I joined the gym....and quickly realized that wasn't going to cut it. I couldn't stand the girls that would be in the locker room and put on make up to go out and just walk around the gym and try and get noticed, never actually "working out". The huge meat heads that grunted as they lifted huge barbells and then threw them to the ground like they were some muscle God just grossed me out. But that is not what made me quit the gym. The biggest realization I had was that I missed "competing" and the spirit of "community" that I had always known with the sports that I played.

So why half marathons. As an adult, there are very limited options in sports to "compete" in AND be advantageous physically (I know there is competitive cornhole, but thats not going to keep me in my skinny jeans). I actually did try joining an adult swim league, but not being a morning person, the 5:30 am workouts killed me. That lasted all of a week. By default, I started to looking into local running races. I signed up for a 5K here, and a 10K there. I had a goal to train for, and I loved the competetive void that I had had since high school was being filled. I love everything about a road race. The idea that everyone there may have different personal goals (as far as a PR time or whatever it may be), but ultimately every single runner that was lining up shared the same end goal-finish the race as fast as they could, without any injuries. I am not built like a "runner", nor will I ever consider myself to be a "runner" in the sense that I don't run races trying to win them, or trying to place in a certain top percentage. I run races because I love the sense of community in the racing world that I did have as a kid in other sports but as an adult had not yet experienced. I like the palpable feeling of excitement in the corral just before the start, I like the expo the day before to see what is new in the world of shoes, shirts, gear, etc. I love the sense of accomplishment when you are finished, and seeing families waiting to hug their runner, or kids waiting to see their mom or dad. I love the people who aren't running, but come out to cheer the other people one along the course. So one day last fall my friend emailed me a link for a 5K and asked if I wanted to do it. In order to finish a 5 or 10K, I usually just ran a couple times the week before the race. Like I said, my goal is never and will never be to win a race. Out of curiosity I usually get my time, but I really don't even care that much about that. I do them for the sum total experience, from the first day of training until I am in the car going home after it is over. So as long as I can finish injury free, I'm happy. The link had a half marathon on it, so I replied and suggested we do that instead. She agreed, and we signed up that day. We were officially six weeks out from race day the day we signed up. I printed out my training schedule and out of 6 weeks, only 'missed' one day of the training. The night before our big race, my friend spent the night at my house, we had our pasta, laid out our clothes, tagged our shirts with our bib, and got everything ready. We were literally like kids the night before the first day of kindergarden. We didnt know what to expect, we didn't know if we'd finish, we just knew we were excited to see what it would be like. The next morning, it was 16 degrees at the start, with 30mph wind gusts. My family was out of town, but she had her husband, kids, and family coming to the finish, as well as a couple of our other friends that planned on being there. In the car she mentioned she thought she might cry when she finished, and I made fun of her, thinking she was nuts-"ITS JUST A RACE!" Who gets emotional over a race?? We parked the car and stayed in to keep warm as long as possible, but eventually worked our way over to the other runners. We got into the corral and froze our butts off and everyone was stretching, using the port-o-potties one last time, and listening to the music trying to get pumped up. You could hear all the little groups of women talking about how it was their first "half", etc. All of a sudden the announcer said to line up, and just as quickly he sent us on our way...we ended up pretty far back in at the start, and it was such an amazing sight to look ahead and see thousands of people all running in one giant pack (this was at the VERY start), all setting out to acheive their own individual goals. Much to my own surprise, as I took that moment in I got A LITTLE teary eyed, but only for a split second, and nobody saw. We had a great race, and when we finished we both looked at each other, and burst into tears. I am pretty sure I lost it more than she did. I don't think I have ever felt that sense of accomplishment before...and if so, not in a long time. We worked hard for 6 weeks, (which isnt that long, I realize), and we ran a great race and finished very well for it being our first one. Her family and our friends were there cheering us on, and the feeling at the finish line of everyone so excited, so proud of themselves and each other, was something I don't think I'll ever forget.

I remember being very little, riding my bike alongside my dad, who was out for a run. We passed another runner on the street and he and my dad said "hi" to each other. I said "do you know him?" and my dad said "no, but all runners are brothers and sisters". I've never forgotten that, and I don't really know why its stuck with me all these years, but it has. I've seen the following on bumper stickers, shirts, etc, but my sorority sister has "I run because its cheaper than therapy" on her facebook page. That is exactly why I run. After a chaotic day, with a lot on your mind, putting on your shoes and just walking out the door to go for a run is the best medicine and the easiest way to clear your head. When I was in college, I had a NIKE poster on my wall that said ""There are clubs you can't belong to, neighborhoods you can't live in, schools you can't get into, but the roads are always open." I love it.

So I run to stay fit. I run to train for halfs. I take breaks between half's where I don't run at all for awhile, or if I start to feel like I am getting burned out, I always take a break and do something else until I want to run again. But what keeps me going on mile 10 of a half marathon, or even just a long training run, is thinking of all the people that CANT be out there running. I am very fortunate to have an able body that works for the most part (ha, ha...I have my physical medical issues, but so far they haven't been crippling). I think about all my friends that I've lost over the years to everything from car accidents, cancer, alcohol, and other horrible tragedies. I call on Dr's offices and mental hospitals for work where I see kids and adults that are strapped to a bed, or can't even feed themselves or go to the bathroom on their when I am feeling tired, or exhausted, I think about how lucky I am that I can put one foot in front of the other, and experience all the feelings that you can with running, when so many people out there can't. I am very competitive, and I like to push myself. I like the feeling after running a half marathon that I literally gave it everything I had, and I have nothing left. When I used to swim competitively, my parents used to tell me to race as fast as I could, to the point I didn't have an ounce of energy left to get out of the pool...the only thing I have found as an adult that gives me that same satisfaction, pride and accomplishment is running. When I ran the Zooma half, a lady ran next to me at one point that was clearly in the midst of chemo/radiation. She had very little hair left, but a couple patches here and there...and yet she was out there in the freezing cold and wind, running 13.1 miles right there with everyone else. Thats dedication. I looked at her bald hair and my first thought was she was a real "GI Jane", but my second thought was thinking about how much I take for granted. She was in a fight for her life, and I was just hoping the hills wouldn't be too bad. The entire rest of the race, she was all I thought about...and I chopped my hair off two days later to donate to locks of love. I wish I had gotten her name, as I would have donated it in her honor...I still did, as she was the catalyst behind it, but she'll never know.

The best and easiest way to find out about local races is through They make it so easy-you put in where you want to run (or swim, or bike) and what dates and you get a list of all available options. I highly recommend it..even for a fun 5K, or a challenging marathon.

One event not "running" related, but definately pushing my own personal limits, was the Breast Cancer 3 Day walk. A couple years ago, one of my friends and I signed up to do it, just thinking "it'd be something fun and different to do". First of all, I do not like to camp. I consider camping when you stay at a hotel and the door to your room opens up to the outside. We walked 20 miles a day, for 3 days, in the pouring rain (it rained all 3 days), and it was freezing cold. It was Georgia's first freeze, and all of our clothes froze the first night, because they told us to keep them outside our tent once the rain stopped. This experience was pushing myself in a different way...but to see all the women (and men) walking for the same cause was inspiring and humbling at the same time. Over the course of the 3 days, everyone kept telling us that the 3 day event was "life altering". At the end of the 1st and 2nd day, when we got back to camp we'd talk about how we didn't see how it was so life changing. What were we missing? What did previous walkers experience (besides dry air and warmer temps) that we werent? Then we got to the closing ceremonies. The feelings over the 3 days were very similar to my first half marathon-the people cheering all along the route, the feeling in the corral before we got started, the finish line where all the strangers were hugging each other after 3 days, 60 miles, and freezing cold camping. All the finishers got blue shirts for the closing ceremonies, and the finishers who were survivors or currently had breast cancer got pink ones. After we filed into the area and got settled, they all filed in together, holding one shoe in the air for solidarity. One by one, all the walkers in blue bent down and took a shoe off and held in the air in support of them. Some people in the crowd even joined in, so show their support. There were literally THOUSANDS of people there, some in wheel chairs, a lot of bald heads, some just walking over to see what was going on...but everyone that held their shoe did it for ONE purpose-help support the fight against breast cancer, and help these amazing ladies get their life back. It gave you goosebumps to see it, there wasn't a dry eye in the crowd, and it was absolutely nothing short of "life changing". I wrote a "thank you" to all the people that donated to our walk, and through email circulation it ended up in the hands of a Susan G Comen board member-who published it on their website and in their newsletter. Here it is:

We did it! Together, Brooke and I walked 60 miles and raised over $8500 to go towards the Susan G. Komen Breast cancer foundation!

The walk started at 7am on Friday, with the opening ceremonies. There were 3000 walkers, 150 of which were men. We walked among amazing people, many of which were survivors themselves. A man was walking with his two daughters (one of which was also a survivor), in honor of his wife that lost her battle. Another man, his daughter, and his second wife, were walking in honor of his first wife who had passed away from the disease. Every person had their own reason for walking, all of which were truly an inspiration.

We got started after the opening ceremonies, at 8am. There were pit stops every 2-3 miles, where the pit crew would chant “2, 4, 6, 8, eat, drink and urinate”. We had more food than we could ever imagine, water, Gatorade, music, and plenty of port-o-potties. The crew that worked the event was unbelievable. At every stop, everyone was so helpful, upbeat, and encouraging!

What I found most amazing was the support from the general public. As we would walk down the street, cars passing by would honk, people would cheer out their windows, and everyone would give us the thumbs up as we passed. The amount of people at the cheering stations was truly overwhelming. One woman got our of her car across the street and yelled “MY MOTHER THANKS YOU”, while another woman rolled down her window at a stop light and yelled “My mother is alive because of you!” We were at lunch on Day 2, and a 4-year old little girl walked in with a poster board bigger than her that said, “My mommy is”, followed by her 6-year old brother with an equally big sign that said “Saving Boobies”. When they found their mom, all the walkers stood up and started clapping in appreciation of their support. The passion that the supporters had was such an inspiration, and really reinforced our reasons for walking. There were women in the midst of chemo/radiation that didn’t have the strength to walk, but showed up at EVERY single cheering station along the way. Seeing the ladies with scarves on their heads, yelling as loud as they could as we walked by, often left me speechless.

The closing ceremonies were something that I will never forget. As the 261 survivors that walked filed in, all the other walkers took off a shoe and raised it in the air in support of their amazing strength and courage. The survivors wore pink shirts, and walked to the center of the circle, with the other walkers surrounding them in blue shirts. Watching the breast cancer survivors file into the closing ceremonies, knowing the money that we raised was going to fund the research that was keeping these phenomenal women alive, gave us a sense of pride, accomplishment, and admiration that I will never forget. It was an honor to be in the company of these amazing women for 72 hours, and has honestly changed my life.

Many people walked with the quote “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself" on their backs. To me, the heroes this weekend were the women that had been through the pain and agony of cancer, and still found the courage and strength to walk 60 miles.

The Atlanta 3 day raised $54.2 million dollars this weekend. There is not a single research grant that is not in some way assisted by the Susan G. Komen foundation. It was truly an amazing experience to be a part of something that has touched so many people, and will hopefully some day be a reason why sisters, mothers, aunts, and friends will all be able to beat this painful disease.

We couldn’t have done it without your support, and for that I am truly grateful. The money that you donated is contributing to an amazing cause, and on behalf of all the walkers, we thank you!!!

While I am not a huge fan of Melissa Etheridges' music, I do have one song on my ipod that gets me motivated everytime I hear it. And, it sums up what I am trying to say pretty well. Here are the lyrics:

"I run for life"

It's been years since they told her about it

The darkness her body possessed

And the scars are still there in the mirror
Everyday that she gets herself dressed
Though the pain is miles and miles behind her
And the fear is now a docile beast
If you ask her why she is still running
She'll tell you it makes her complete

I run for hope
I run to feel
I run for the truth
For all that is real
I run for your mother your sister your wife
I run for you and me my friend I run for life

It's a blur since they told me about it
How the darkness had taken its toll
And they cut into my skin and they cut into my body
But they will never get a piece of my soul
And now I'm still learning the lesson
To waken when I hear the call
And if you ask me why I am still running
I'll tell you I run for us all

And someday if they tell you about it
If the darkness knocks on your door
Remember her remember me
We will be running as we have before
Running for answers
Running for more

So, that is why I run (when I do) and what keeps me going when I think I've hit a wall. I posted some pictures from the 3 day and our first half.


Erin said...

Love it Burbs! You are one cool chick - I feel honored (and a little bit intimidated) to be running with you in Chi-town! See you in a WEEK!

AB77 said...

Ah, Erin, you are the best. But you shouldn't feel intimidated OR honored! I don't run fast, and it's going to be so fun so see you!!! You are quite the inspiration, my dear. I don't know how you juggle it all.
I meant to write about how it was a fun way to "see" a new city, and doing something healthy and use Chicago as an example...but totally forgot, seeing as it was 2am and I was cross eyed by the time I posted. ;-)