21 Day Fix: More than a number

I started the 21 Day Fix with one goal: lose some weight before I go wedding dress shopping.

I won’t lie, the first week was rough. The first few days I felt incredibly motivated, but I was eating a lot of plain chicken, raw veggies and plain brown rice. To put it simply, by the end of the first week I was miserable. I didn’t mind the daily workouts, and I was eating plenty, but I missed enjoying my food. 

I’ve never been much of a cook, so when it came to a nutrition plan with certain food groups and portion sizes that I had to follow each day, I kept it as simple as possible. 
I was also frustrated during that first week because I wasn’t seeing the results I had hoped for and heard from others that they had experienced. After I lost 3.5 pounds in the first couple days, the scale stopped moving. I weighed myself daily and just got frustrated by it. I was following the workout and nutrition plan to a T – what could I possibly do differently?
At the end of that first week, thanks to some incredibly helpful running buddies with 21 Day Fix experience, I got some great recipes to follow that allowed me to enjoy my meals again. During the last two weeks, I relaxed a bit – I made delicious but healthy meals that I actually enjoyed, and here and there I swapped out a daily carb for a sweet treat – which the nutrition plan allows for, but I said in the beginning that I didn’t want to do. I forced myself to relax and not worry so much. 

Still, though, I couldn’t help but get frustrated when I didn’t see the scale moving much at all. I decided to take pictures about halfway through to compare to those I had taken on the second day (I forgot to on the day I started), and I was shocked – I was actually making progress!

It was then that I realized that being healthy and getting into shape is more than the number on the scale. I was burning fat and becoming stronger in the process, and that was what mattered.

During the last two weeks I cheated here and there and even enjoyed a few beers. Still, though, I knew the plan was working – I could feel the changes in my body, and I stopped weighing myself because I knew it didn’t make a difference. I got my proof last week when I was digging through the jeans in the bottom of my closet and found a few pairs that still had the tags on them. I bought them back when I had started to gain some weight in the hopes they would fit, but no such luck. Last week I decided to try a pair on just out of curiosity, and I was shocked – they fit. And not in a barely-stuffed-in-them kind of way; I was comfortable! 

Now, don’t get me wrong – I have my moments, but for the most part I don’t obsess or stress over the way my body looks. I’ve become very comfortable over the past couple years as I’ve fluctuated between gaining and losing weight. But to fit into a pair of jeans I’ve had for years and have never been able to wear was an incredible feeling after working so hard for it.

On the 20th day of the plan, it was time to go wedding dress shopping. All along I went into the 21 Day Fix with the idea that I would do multiple rounds throughout the next year, and keep up the healthy eating habits as much as I can, but that first round was important because it was in preparation of dress shopping. 

Yesterday, the day finally arrived. I tried on dress after dress while those I brought with me “oohed” and “ahhed,” and I enjoyed every second of it. I felt beautiful and comfortable and confident, and I didn’t look at myself in the mirror or look at pictures of myself in the dresses and pick things apart – like my arms that could be slimmer, or my stomach that could be flatter, or my waist that could be narrower. There will always be things I want to change about my appearance, but after just being “comfortable” with my body over the past few years, I’m beginning to love it again – or maybe for the first time. 

After about 2.5 hours of shopping yesterday, it was official – I had said “yes” to my dress, and I walked out of there feeling more than ever like an excited bride-to-be. I’m happy and healthy and getting stronger every day, and I’m happy that the beautiful dress hanging in my closet was the motivation I needed to get my butt into the shape it should be in. 

Overall, I only lost exactly three pounds, but the way my body feels, the way my before and after photos look side-by-side, and the way I felt when I looked in the mirror yesterday assure me my body is more than just a number. 

I’ll continue my daily workouts and eating healthy as much as I can, because I like the way I feel when I do. But right now, after 21 days of restraint, it’s time for a bacon cheeseburger. 😉

Advertisements

We climb because they climbed – 9/11

climb6

I was seven years old at the time of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

The only thing I clearly remember from that day was my mom picking up my brother and me from the babysitter’s house as soon as we got off the school bus. I remember being on the front porch as my mom was unlocking the door, still wondering what was going on as she asked us if we knew what happened that morning.

At seven years old, I didn’t understand the magnitude of what was happening. We went into the house and, just like every other TV I saw that day, there was a replay of the burning World Trade Center just before it collapsed. As we stood around the TV together watching the same footage I had been seeing all day, for the first time, as much as a seven-year-old could, I started to realize that this was serious.

As I grew up, I learned more about the events that took nearly 3,000 lives that Tuesday morning years ago. For fifteen years I’ve seen countless photos, videos, voice recordings, news casts, tributes, memorial services and more. In eighth grade, I watched a documentary and cried along with my classmates as our teacher, a member of the military, gave us our first real understanding of the events that happened that day.

climb5

When I joined the board of directors for the CNY Memorial Stair Climb, an event to honor the more than 400 first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. We had an event to plan and promote, and although the meaning behind it was never lost on us, it didn’t hit home for me until the morning of September 9, 2016.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Tony Cavalieri and Brian McGuire, two firemen from FDNY who were working on 9/11 and, between the two of them, lost more than a hundred men and women they knew that day. They have both since retired due to 9/11-related illnesses.

climb3.jpgBrian looked at the tag around my neck, which had a photograph and the words “Carlos Lillo, FDNY,” and he said to me, “You’re representing a medic.”

From my own research that morning, I knew that Carlos Lillo was a 37-year-old paramedic from FDNY whose wife was also in the World Trade Center that day but made it out safely.

“He wasn’t supposed to be there that day,” Brian continued, and he told me more about the brave man I was honored to be climbing for. He had been injured prior to 9/11 and was put on “light duty,” and so he was back at the station doing office work that morning. But when the time came, he stepped up and sacrificed his life along with hundreds of others.

This morning I watched the commemoration at the 9/11 Memorial, and when Carlos Lillo’s name was called, the camera showed an older woman in the audience, presumably his mother, crying and holding a sign with his name on it and the same picture I wore around my neck all day at the climb. As the woman cried, I cried along with her, hundreds of miles away, for a man who sacrificed everything to help others.

climb1.jpgWe are told time and again at the climb that these are not just names – the more than 400 men and women we were climbing for were husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, friends and so on. They were people who were loved and are still missed every single day, 15 years later. And although we were honoring the fallen first responders, every life lost on 9/11 was in our hearts that day.

There were many things throughout the day of the climb that will stick with me: my conversation with Brian McGuire about Carlos Lillo; my conversation with Tony Cavalieri about how grateful he is for our work with the climb and making sure people never forget; listening to “God Bless the USA” surrounded by hundreds of firefighters, police officers, paramedics and more; the moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., followed by bagpipes playing as the first wave of 110 climbers entered the building.

 

But nothing was as humbling and rewarding as the climb itself, accompanied by the incredible team who helped put this event on and the men and women who turned out – most of them in full turnout gear or uniform – to climb in honor of our fallen heroes.

“We climb because they climbed.”

I donned an air pack at the last minute, and it was a challenge, but it was the firefighters in their full turnout gear who had me in awe. Climbing in honor of fallen heroes alongside so many heroes from my own community who risk their lives – many of them as volunteers – to keep the rest of us safe was truly humbling.

People like them are the reason we will Never Forget.

climb8When I joined the committee behind the CNY Memorial Stair Climb, I had no idea that on September 9 I’d be climbing 110 flights of stairs in honor of Carlos Lillo, a 37-year-old FDNY paramedic, and walking across the stage to shake the hands of two FDNY firemen who risked their lives alongside countless others on 9/11. It truly turned out to be “A Climb to Remember,” and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.

Although our country may be divided, on this day every year, we are one. I’m proud to be part of this nation, honored to know so many men and women who risk their lives both here and across the world to keep us safe, and will always do my part to make sure that we Never Forget.

Days like today always make us hug our loved ones a little tighter, reach out to those we care about to remind them that we do, and appreciate everything we’re not guaranteed to still have tomorrow.

When you do, remember those who gave everything that day, and the ones who – 15 years later – still long to have their loved ones back.

15 years, 20 years, 50 years – no matter how much time passes, we will Never Forget.

climb7

Marathon training 2.0

Marathon training has officially begun.

When I was training for my first marathon last year, I swore I would never run another one again. I was miserable for what seemed like ages with infected blisters, a trip to urgent care, and more aches and pains than I could count. As the race got closer and closer, my stress and anxiety skyrocketed. A couple days before the race, I had all but convinced myself I wouldn’t finish.

But race day changed everything. Every fear and worry I had disappeared more with each mile, and when I passed 17.3 miles – the furthest I had ever run – I was ecstatic. When I hit 20 miles, I knew I was going to finish.

marathonIt was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it hurt like hell, but running a marathon was an incredible experience. There are no words to describe the feeling I had when I turned the corner on the last homestretch, saw the finish line and thought to myself, “I’m about to finish a marathon.” The only moment better than that was actually crossing the finish line.

The first thing I remember saying after the race was, “I want to do that again.” After crossing that finish line, the 12 long, painful, miserable weeks prior didn’t matter. I decided right then and there that suffering through the training was worth it just to experience that feeling again.

And now here I am.

When people ask me why I’m doing it all over again, I tell them I have no idea. I say that I’m crazy, and signing up for it just kind of happened, and I might as well because I’m young and able, right? But I know why I’m doing it.

There are still days when I forget. There are tough runs where I struggle and wonder why the hell I ever decided to run in the first place; when I’m dripping sweat, struggling to catch my breath, and cursing with every step. Just this morning during 7.5 miles, I lost count of how many times I said, “holy s#!%, it’s hot.”

Looking back on it now, I know my mental state was the biggest contributor to my struggles last year. I had just graduated college and I was stressed about my career, figuring out this whole adulthood thing, and everything in between. Beating my body up physically when it was already so worn down mentally wasn’t easy.

marathon 1The week after the marathon, I spent three days in Albany with my college friends. On my last night there I had a meltdown in a bar, cried the whole hour and a half home the next day, and spent the next six weeks experiencing what it was like to be depressed for the first time in my life.

I’m running a marathon again because I’m now happy and healthy and want to show myself how far I’ve come since that rough week in  October, and I know that if I could do it then, I can do it again. I’m doing it because running has changed my life over the last three years, from struggling to run just one mile to conquering 26.2 of them. I’m doing it again because the feeling of completing something that I never, ever would’ve believed possible is worth chasing after as many times as I can.

I’ll probably be just as tired, sore and cranky over the next 11 weeks as I was at this time last year. If you ask me why I’m running another marathon, I’ll probably roll my eyes and tell you I have no idea. I’ll complain and tell you that I never want to do it again, and ask you to please not let me sign up for another one next year.

But I know why I’m doing it. I may forget between now and then – but race day changes everything.

It’s not easy, and I know it’ll just get even harder from here. Both of my big toenails are already black and blue and I sometimes wake up in the morning with calves so tight I can hardly get out of bed and waddle to the shower. But like it or not, I’ve turned myself into a marathoner and I have no plans to stop anytime soon.

Every mile, and every ache and pain between now and October 2 will be worth it when I cross that finish line again. I may lose a few toenails and some sanity in the process, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Merry Christmas Eve, even at 68 degrees

It’s 68 degrees on Christmas Eve.

I’ve been complaining about the weather nearly every day for the past month or two. Winter is my favorite time of the year. I love cold weather and snow, and this is the first time in my life I’ve experienced a November and December without any snow on the ground. 

I’ve ranted and raved about the lack of snow nearly every day, but I won’t today.

Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year. I love everything about the holidays – the decorations, the music, the movies, the food, being with my family – the list goes on. I enjoy Christmas Day, but Christmas Eve always seems more special to me.  

First and foremost, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. But it’s also about spending time with family and loved ones, and celebrating and spreading the kind of joy and love we should be  spreading all year.

It seems like everything I’m hearing and reading today is about the warm temperatures and the lack of snow. “It doesn’t feel like Christmas,” people keep saying. I’m usually the first to complain about the weather, but not today.

As much as Christmas isn’t about gifts and shopping, it also isn’t about how much snow is on the ground. Whether it’s 28 degrees with a foot of snow or 68 degrees with green grass, the weather won’t affect my Christmas.

One of the best moments I’ve ever experienced was two years ago on Christmas Eve (technically, Christmas Day). It had begun to snow during midnight mass, and as I walked out of the church in the early morning hours, still singing “Joy to the World” as the snow fell, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at peace.

The snow always adds a little extra magic to Christmas, especially for me. But snow or no snow, I imagine I’ll still have that same feeling when I leave the church around 1 a.m. tonight.

When I get out of work this evening, I’ll join my family for a dinner of pierogis, kielbasa and a mixture of other Polish and American dishes. After dinner we’ll all sit around the Christmas tree and talk and exchange gifts. At exactly 8 p.m., just as we do every year, we’ll watch A Christmas Story. These are traditions I’ve experienced every Christmas Eve for 21 years, with or without snow on the ground.

In two more days, I’ll likely go back to complaining about the weather.

But today it’s Christmas Eve, and the temperature doesn’t change that. 

Merry Christmas!

The present? I think I like it here

I like to think I’ve learned a lot in the seven months since graduating college. I’ve had more ups and downs within that time than I expected, and it seems like I learn something new about myself, about life and about the world around me every single day.

If I could go back in time and have a conversation with my younger self, there’s one lesson I would be sure to pass on: the future doesn’t have to be a scary place, and it’s okay to not have it all mapped out.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I’m a worrier and a planner. In high school, I spent all four years taking advanced classes, playing sports I didn’t enjoy and joining clubs I didn’t care about just for the sake of making my college applications look good. During my freshman year of college, I counted down the days to the end of the year when I could transfer. During my two years at UAlbany, I spent my time focused on graduating a year early and landing internships that would then get me a job. As my final semester drew to a close, I spent hours perfecting my resume, writing cover letters and applying to more jobs than I could count (actually, I think it was 25).

To maybe nobody’s surprise but my own, I ended up exactly where I once swore I wouldn’t: living at home and working somewhere local. I began my first full-time job as a newspaper reporter just four days after graduation. At 20 years old, I was living the future I had so carefully planned out. To put it bluntly, that scared the sh*t out of me.

All of a sudden, I had reached the end of my plans. I graduated college and got a job. All I could think was, What next?

My tenacity when it comes to planning has led me to success thus far, but it’s also been one of my biggest downfalls. I spent a large part of the past summer and fall anxious and stressed, wondering what I should do next. Do I want to go to grad school someday? Will I be a journalist forever? Should I take some classes? Where should I volunteer my time? Do I want to live in a big city? If I stay here, where should I live?

These questions (and more) were on a constant loop in my mind. Rather than allow myself to relax and enjoy my accomplishments, I worried endlessly about where my future would take me next.

There’s a poem by one of my favorite poets, Tyler Knott Gregson that I turn to at times like this:

TKG

In the midst of all my worrying and my planning, I had forgotten how much I have always loved to swim.

Something began to change about a month ago that I can’t really explain. It’s like some higher power stepped in, grabbed hold of the reins and said, Will you relax already? Things will be okay. And they have been.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought more about my future than I have about the present. I’m always looking so far down the road that I forget to enjoy what’s right in front of me. But that’s beginning to change.

I’ve realized recently that life isn’t meant to be lived as an endless series of, What next? Yes, there are things I want to accomplish in my life and goals I want to reach, but not if I can’t enjoy each step along the way.

The biggest question that has weighed me down over the years is whether or not I want to stay in Central New York. The majority of my worries and hypothetical plans seem to stem from this question.

(I’ve written about this before, but I’m going to repeat myself anyway.)

I’ve gone back and forth on the matter more times than I can keep track of, but it always comes back to one thing: I really love the Mohawk Valley.

I love living in a town where I can sit on my front porch in the summer and hear nothing but the occasional tractor, lawn mower or dog barking. I love running into my old teachers, who are now teaching my little sister, and having every single one remember me and want to catch up. I love being able to look at people who have stayed in this area and created a family and a life here and instead of wondering why they never left or feeling sorry for them, I now appreciate and respect them for it and can see myself being one of them.

I love the things I can only experience here, like Boilermaker weekend and Saranac Thursdays. I love chicken riggies and Utica greens and tomato pie. I love running three days a week at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. I love how peaceful it feels along the Erie Canal, whether I’m in Rome or Marcy or Little Falls.

I love being a newspaper reporter – even on the days when it makes me crazy. I love the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned because of it.

I love the sense of community, not just within my own town, but throughout this region. Each town, village and city has its own culture and community, but the Mohawk Valley in itself has one as well.

I love being around to see the progress in the region –from the hype surrounding nanotechnology to new businesses and restaurants, I really believe good things are happening.

For years, I’ve wondered: will I stay or will I go? Finally, for the first time, I realize I don’t need to have it all figured out right now.

I don’t have my whole life planned out, but I no longer want to. I don’t need to know whether I’ll be a newspaper reporter forever, or where I’ll be living in ten years, or who I’ll be married to, and so on. Because right now, I’m happy where I am. And I need to reflect on that more often.

If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: Worrying about the future is the easiest way to be unhappy in the present. Work hard and set goals, but enjoy each step you take to reach them. It’s okay to take a break from planning and wondering about the future to instead immerse yourself in the present.

Wondering if home will stay ‘home’ for me has been the driving factor behind all of my other worries and plans – if I don’t stay here, where will I go? What will I do for a career, or school?

But my home, I’m realizing – despite my best efforts in the past to avoid it – has turned out to be an integral part in the future I so carefully planned for, at the very least for right now. And when I take a break from worrying, I’m happy about it.

I’ll repeat it again: worrying about the future is the easiest way to be unhappy in the present.

I don’t know where the future will take me, but for now, the only thing I’m planning is to enjoy the present. I think I like it here.

‘Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.’

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” –Kurt Vonnegut

This quote has always been a favorite of mine. Throughout my life, I’ve always had a romanticized view of the world. I’ve been an incredibly positive and happy person, albeit a bit naïve. I’ve always believed that every single thing happened for a reason and that love truly could conquer all.

By all means, I am incredibly fortunate. I have a loving family, supportive friends, a college degree, a full-time job and more blessings than I can count. I am clothed and I am fed and I have a warm bed to sleep in every night. 

But still I’ve become a bit disenchanted with the world. Chalk it up to post-grad depression or a quarter-life crisis, but I’ve had a rough few months. I’ve questioned my past, my future, my religion, my career, my political views, my relationships. I’ve questioned who I am and why I’m here and what kind of difference I can make in the world. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to accomplish in my life and what will make me happy, and I’ve stressed endlessly about how to make those things happen.

I’ve always had big plans for my future – my career, my home, the type of family I want to have. But lately it’s all seemed a bit pointless. I’m already tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree that I earned just so I could get a job that would allow me to pay off that degree. It’s inevitable that I’ll get further into debt with a car and a house and other “necessities.”

Money is the driving factor in this world. We’re all under so much pressure to work hard and earn a certain status with our careers. And for the first time, that makes me angry. I don’t want to be defined by my career or the things it has earned me. I don’t want a big, fancy house and it breaks my heart that people who have more money than they know what to do with don’t use it to help others who can’t even afford a warm meal.

I’ve had a cloud over my head for the past few months that has only grown darker. I have days when I think I can’t get out of bed. I have days when I don’t want to talk to a single person. I have days when my future scares the hell out of me and I don’t want any part of it. I have days when I wonder if I still want to settle down someday with a husband and children and all of the things I always imagined would be in my future.

I’ve struggled with my sense of purpose and what it means to live a meaningful life. My idea of success has changed. More than a fulfilling career and financial security, people are what matter to me. With so much bad in the world, it’s become important to me that I do good. If I can make a positive impact on other people’s lives and dedicate as much time as I’m able to helping others, then I will consider myself successful.

At 21 years old, I am overwhelmed. I’m afraid of my future and anxious about making the right decisions that will get me there. The stress of living up to the world’s expectations is nothing compared to the stress of living up to my own expectations. I’m an over-thinker and a worrier by nature, and at this time in my life – deciding my education and career and where to live and so on – I am overwhelmed.

And in the midst of it all, tragedy has struck more than 3,000 miles away that is being felt and mourned all around the world. It seems like the world becomes a worse place to live in every day, but I might just be becoming more aware of it. 

This terrorist attack, more than all of the others, has hit me hard. Once the horror of it sunk in, all I could think was, See, this is exactly what I mean – this world is a bad place.

Hundreds of innocent people were killed and wounded in Paris. And this is only one very publicized attack; these things are happening every day around the world. We have so much war and terrorism and murder and crime and suffering.

But we also have a whole lot of love.

As I struggled to comprehend the horrors happening in our world last night, I realized I had two options. I could use this new act of terror to reinforce my thinking of, “well, the world sucks anyway, so why bother? What’s the point?”

Or I could look at it as the meaning I’ve been trying to find lately. Yes, there is pain and suffering and evil in our world – but there are even more good, well-meaning people sending prayers and well wishes and a helping hand to those who need it. An entire world has rallied together to fight for the good in the midst of evil. 

I believe in good people and I believe in kindness. I believe in lending a helping hand. I believe in the ability to love even when the world gives us so many reasons to hate.

There’s a lot of bad in the world, but there is so much good. And I’m incredibly fortunate to experience so much of it. 

I don’t know where my future will take me. I have so many decisions to make and so much to figure out, but I know that each step I take will be done with kindness and love and a helping hand to those who need it – including myself. I will take care of myself just as much as I want to take care of others, and I will not continue to put so much pressure on myself that I become overwhelmed and lose the positive, happy person I’ve always been and have struggled to be again.

Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.”

Love may not conquer all, but it can accomplish a whole lot. Love yourself, love your family, love your neighbors, love those who are suffering, love those who need it. Focusing on all that is wrong in the world will only make me, and has only made me, crazy and overwhelmed. 

But even now, my love for life and for other people isn’t something I’m willing to let go of.

“Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

I am a marathoner

IMG_0094I am a marathoner.

No matter how many times I say that to myself, I still can’t believe it. The same girl that used to dread running a whole mile in gym class willingly ran 26.2 of them.

On Sunday, Oct. 4, I became a Wineglass Marathon finisher.

I don’t know how to write this blog post, because everything I want to say doesn’t really make sense. It’s hard to put into words what I experienced this weekend.

I guess I can sum it up like this: Running a marathon hurt like hell, but I enjoyed myself doing it.

I’ve been stressing about the marathon for what feels like forever. I signed up for it on January first, and with each passing month I began to worry more and more. I was a nervous wreck all summer, and that was nothing compared to this last week.

As the race got closer, I could no longer picture myself crossing the finish line, and that scared me. Whether it was my foot pain, or my bad knees, or sheer exhaustion, I was convinced something would happen to prevent me from finishing.

But the day before the marathon, something changed. I don’t know if I was in denial or just delirious from a week of sleep deprivation, but I was suddenly more excited than nervous. And on race morning, I was no longer nervous at all (this part was definitely denial).

I was awake at 4:15 a.m. and by 6 a.m., the 11 of us Mohawk Valley Hill Striders had boarded a bus for the start line. When I think back on the race, I think waiting to start is one of the things I’ll remember most.

There’s nothing quite like a bunch of runners bundled up and huddled together for warmth, in the dark, waiting to go run 26.2 miles. The wet grass was soaking into my shoes, my breakfast from 5 a.m. seemed like ages ago, and I lost track of how many times I went to the porta potty. But there was something wonderfully surreal about the whole situation – maybe because it was so far from anything I ever would’ve expected to happily put myself through.

At 8:15 a.m., ready or not, the race began.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – my own mind is my biggest adversary when I’m running. It’s much more of a mental challenge than physical for me, and I’ve been terrified for months of what would happen once I got out on that course.

I still can’t quite explain how it happened, but I have never, ever felt as mentally strong as I did during that marathon. There wasn’t a single moment when I didn’t believe I could make it to the finish line, and the further I ran, the happier I became.

There was one brief moment, I think around mile 6 or 7 (there were so many, they’re all kind of a blur), when I had a sudden, shooting pain in both of my knees. For a split second, I panicked. “This is it,” I thought – the thing I was waiting for that would prevent me from finishing the race.

IMG_0104But as quickly as the thought came, I pushed it from my mind. I had worked too hard to get to that point, and I’ll be damned if I was going to let anything stop me. I did my best to stay in the middle of the road where it was more flat and would be easier on my knees, and they still hurt the entire way, but it was manageable.

To be honest, it seemed like everything hurt – first my foot, then my knees, then my hip, and so on. But still, I knew that I could push through the aches and pains and keep going.

One thing that helped me was the settings on my watch. Usually, I have it set so that I see my distance and the time it’s taken me to get there. When I want to figure out my pace, there’s more math involved than I’d like.

I don’t know why it took me so long to do it, but on race day I set my watch so that I would only see my pace. I kept track of my distance by the mile markers on the course, and I didn’t worry about my time at all.

Instead of looking at my watch and thinking, “Oh man, I’ve only run ___ miles,” I focused on keeping a steady pace and that was it. And it was the best thing I could have done.

Another thing that helped was the company. We all have fast days and slow days, and we sometimes switch around the people that we run with. The ones we begin a race with aren’t always the ones we end it with.

But Denise Warzala and I ran the entire 26.2 miles together. There were plenty of complaints, some walk breaks, some stretching, a trip to the porta potty and even some tears. But there were also plenty of laughs, cheering, jokes (gumdrop), and I swear we were even dancing at mile 22. And when we crossed that finish line, we did it holding hands with our arms in the air and smiles on our faces.

Throughout the whole race, we kept saying that we were still in denial. Were we really running a marathon?

But as the mileage kept creeping up, the reality began to set in. Neither of us had trained for more than 17.3 miles, so that was the first milestone we hit. Then we hit 20 miles. Then 21. As we got closer and closer to 26.2, we finally started to accept that we were really, truly running a marathon.

What finally put us over the edge were the chalk drawings we saw somewhere around mile 23. Each step brought us a new encouragement. I can’t remember what they all were, but I do remember the last one: “You are amazing.”

We were in tears then, and I’m in tears now. Finally, it hit us – we were running a marathon, and we were about to complete it.

That race was without a doubt the most physically challenging and most painful thing I’ve ever done. But it’s nothing compared to the mental challenges I’ve faced throughout my training. The war waging within my own head is the biggest obstacle I’ve ever had to overcome.

Having a strong mentality throughout the race was almost better than crossing the finish line, because that was what I had worked so hard to accomplish.

Before the race, I said there was no way I would ever run a marathon again. I had had it with the mental and physical strain I was putting on myself, and I swore I wouldn’t put myself through it again.

But with each mile I completed, the more I found myself thinking, “I could do this again.”

By the time I finished the race, my mind was made up – I wanted to run another marathon.

I don’t know what happened to me on that course, but I’m grateful for it. Don’t get me wrong – I struggled throughout the race. I was in pain, and I slowed down, and it was just as difficult as I expected.

But when I think about the race, that’s not what I remember. I remember the times that we were laughing and cheering with the crowds, and the moment it hit me that I was about to finish a marathon.

marathonI remember the last few miles when all I could think about was how far I had come since those days in high school when running a mile seemed like the worst form of torture I could imagine putting myself through.

I remember the times I literally laughed out loud in the midst of 20 something miles, and being shocked that it was even possible.

And above all, I remember crossing the finish line with the biggest smile I’ve ever had on my face.

It was my first marathon, but it absolutely won’t be my last. It was my biggest challenge, and my proudest accomplishment, and I can’t wait to have more of them.

Am I crazy? I think I might be.

But I am also a marathoner.