I became a runner, and it changed my life

run 1I was going to wait until after the marathon to write this, but after today’s run, I think I need to do it now. A sort of intervention, if you will.

Running has changed my life. I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true.

A few years ago, I hated running. I was on the track team for six years, but I wasn’t a distance runner by any means. I struggled through the required mile in P.E. class every year, had only completed a handful of 5Ks and vividly remember thinking I might die after the ¾ mile Boilermaker kids run when I was 10 (turns out I was just really dehydrated).

I hated running.

But in 2012, I decided I was going to run the Boilermaker 15K. My mom had completed her first one the year before and I thought, if she can do it, I can do it.

I began running with what has since evolved into the Mohawk Valley Hill Striders, and I was miserable. I dreaded every single run, prayed for thunderstorms and wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. When we got to about four miles in our training, I quit. There wasn’t a single part of me that wanted to run more than that, so I dropped down to the 5K instead.

But running for that short time helped me start to lose weight. I had gained weight during my last two years of high school, and running was helping undo some of the damage I had done. When I went away to college in the fall, I started working out nearly every day, and when March came around, I began to run because I wanted to.

And that made all the difference.

run 3I remember the exact moment I decided I wanted to run the Boilermaker 15K – for real this time. I was lying on the gym floor, clearly not working out very hard, when I texted both my mom and my best friend to tell them I wished I had signed up for the big race instead of the 5K.

I was in luck – Jess had just found out she would be camping that week and could no longer run the race. And just like that, I was committed.

I began running with the group again when I returned home for the summer, and I couldn’t believe the difference in my mentality from the year before. I was actually enjoying myself.

I remember running 4.5 miles and being excited that it was my furthest run yet. I remember a moment in the middle of a random weekday run when I was actually picking up speed going uphill, and I realized how much stronger I had become. I was shocked – I had become an actual living, breathing runner.

Since then I’ve completed three Boilermaker 15Ks, four half marathons, and various other 5Ks, 10Ks and mud runs. In exactly two weeks, I will be running (and hopefully completing) my first marathon.

I went from struggling through one mile just a few years ago to now getting ready to run 26.2 miles.

Running has changed my life.

I have never been happier, healthier or stronger than I’ve been the past couple years. I lost weight (some of which I gained back), learned how to set goals and push myself toward reaching them, and met some amazing people in the process.

I am not a fast runner, but being able to call myself a runner at all is an accomplishment in itself. I never could have predicted where I’d be right now, but I wouldn’t change any of it for anything. And that’s why I’m writing this.

run 2Sometimes I forget that I love running. Or rather, I don’t love the running itself, but I love what it has done for me. I love the impact it’s made on my life, the people it’s introduced me to and the strength and confidence it has given me.

As the marathon gets closer, the mental strength I’ve worked so hard to rebuild this summer feels like it’s on the verge of crumbling. I haven’t been looking forward to our runs the past couple weeks and during the half marathon today, all I could think was that I had no idea how I would run twice that amount in two more weeks.

Training for a marathon hasn’t been an easy journey. I had a blister that turned into an infection and landed me in Urgent Care. A couple weeks later when I could run again, a blister formed in the exact same spot on the other foot. I wound up with another infection and additional week of no running.

I now have two matching blister wounds on the arches of my feet that have to stay bandaged, one black toenail, another toenail in the process of turning black, a toe with a blister that resembles another toe growing out of it, two sore knees and one very exhausted body.

But the physical strain is nothing compared to the mental. I can run through every ache and discomfort I just mentioned if I believe that I can. Running, for me, is much more a mental challenge than physical.

I know I’m physically capable and ready to run a marathon. I have aches and pains and I’m exhausted, but I can do it. I’ve trained for this. Now, the last two weeks of my training will be mental.

When doubt and worry sets in, I struggle. My own mind is my biggest adversary when I’m running. Five miles feel like 15 and I wonder why I ever decided to do this to myself.

So this is my reminder.

I run because it’s an incredible feeling to accomplish something I never thought I could. I run because it has made me healthier and stronger than I’ve ever been. I run because even when I’m complaining and cursing and wondering why I’m doing this, I’m surrounded by company I enjoy that pushes me to keep going. I run because each new milestone – 10K, 15K, half marathon – makes me want to complete a bigger one. I run because even when it’s painful and frustrating, I enjoy pushing myself and seeing what I can endure both physically and mentally. And I run for the person I used to be, who was insecure and unhappy and in need of the mental strength and clarity that I’ve found through running.

These reasons are what keep me going, and these reasons are what I’ll be holding onto while I push myself toward 26.2.

I don’t love running – I love being a runner. Sometimes I forget, but I won’t let that be the reason I struggle through the biggest milestone in my running career.

I am a runner. In two more weeks, I will be a marathoner.

Running has changed my life.

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The greatest lesson I ever learned

The greatest lesson I ever learned is a simple one. It didn’t come from my parents, or religion, or one of the many professors I had in college. It came from my least favorite teacher in my least favorite high school class, and it had nothing to do with school. And at the time, I didn’t know it was something that would always stick with me.

I won’t name the teacher, but when she told the class she wanted to tell us a story about her brother and an important lesson he learned, I probably rolled my eyes. I’m not even sure I listened to the story, because I can’t remember it, but I do remember the lesson:

Any time a compliment comes to your mind, say it out loud.

It was that simple. If you think something kind about a person, say it. It doesn’t benefit anybody to keep it to yourself, and the act of telling them could have a bigger impact than you realize.

She went on and on about the different compliments you could give a person – whether you like their shoes, or their new haircut, or you just think they’re a funny person, always be sure to tell them.

I don’t know if I thought anything of it at the time or if I consciously tried to incorporate it into my life, but I have done so ever since. Most of the time, compliments come out of my mouth as quickly as I think them. It doesn’t occur to me to question whether or not I should say them, and on the occasion that a compliment comes to mind and I can’t immediately say it (for example, if the person is in the middle of talking), I say it as soon as I am able to. If I don’t, I feel horribly guilty.

Giving a compliment is the simplest act of kindness a person can practice, and it can go a longer way than you realize. I cannot stress that enough, and I wish more people realized it: small acts of kindness can go a long way.

I have never given a compliment that was met with an unhappy reaction, and making others happy makes me happy in return. It’s a win-win situation. Even when they’re surprised and don’t know how to react, I’m always glad that I told them and didn’t let the opportunity pass by.

An opportunity to be kind to another person should never, ever be passed up. Compliments aren’t given out as freely and as often as they should be. Too often we hold back on what we are thinking, but when it comes to kind thoughts, share them.

If you think something nice, say it. It’s the simplest, yet most useful lesson I have ever learned, and I’ll always be grateful for the teacher who taught me that.

An ode to home

Home, for me, has always been Westmoreland, New York.

A small town where you graduated with the same kids you started kindergarten with and almost every face in town was a familiar one. A town where you couldn’t get away with anything because every parent knew each other and your teachers taught your siblings, cousins and even your parents before you. A town where it wasn’t uncommon to get stuck driving behind a tractor, or to stop for a herd of cows or loose chickens crossing the road.

There have been times when I’ve loved my town and times when I’ve hated it. I think everybody, at some point growing up, thinks to themselves, “I can’t wait to get out of here.”

I have always been a homebody, close with my family and a big fan of small-town life. When it came time to leave for college, I chose a small school only 40 minutes away. To my surprise (but nobody else’s), I hated it. Two weeks into the semester I couldn’t wait to get out, and when I transferred to UAlbany the following year, it was the best decision I could have made.

My perception of small-town life suddenly changed. For the career I wanted at the time, I knew I’d have to live in or near a city, and for the first time that’s what I wanted. I wanted lots of people and things to do and to be far away from the only place I had ever really known.

During my senior year of college, I swore I wouldn’t return home. I applied for jobs all over the country and was willing to accept any one of them if it meant I would be out on my own, in a new place. I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted, I just knew I couldn’t go home. It was a fear I had, a fear I think many people in my town have.

If I go home, I’ll be stuck. I’ll never leave. I’ll be unhappy.

These thoughts were a chorus in my head as graduation drew nearer, and my friends’ and classmates’ worries about returning home just fueled my own resistance to it.

As fate would have it, I ended up accepting a job at the local paper and moving back home. I was genuinely interested in the job and I was excited for it, but I was still terrified. I was doing exactly what I swore I wouldn’t do, and I worried that I would be miserable and regret it.

I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

My job has made me so much more aware of the local community and everything this area has to offer, and coming back after being away has made me realize how much I missed. I’ve never appreciated Central New York more than I do now. The people that I once thought were “stuck” are the people I now admire for staying here through hard times, and for being the ones that are trying to revive it again.

I drive down roads with open fields and farmlands that I’ve passed a thousand times and it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time. The part of me that once craved city skylines and busy sidewalks now appreciates the quiet, slow-paced atmosphere and the friendly, familiar faces around me.

Instead of seeing it as a dead-end area with little opportunities, I see the potential this community has and find myself wanting to be a part of it. I see the local businesses and community-minded people with so much pride for where they’re from, and it’s heartwarming.

I’ll admit, there are still times when wonder if I should leave because I worry that I’ll be missing out on opportunities if I don’t.

But that’s the thing – my desire to leave has always been driven by a worry that I should, rather than because I actually want to.

When I decided I would move away from home, it was because I thought I needed to. I was worried about what people would say and think if I returned, and I was afraid of potential missed opportunities elsewhere. I was afraid to be labeled as “stuck,” just like I had labeled so many others before me. I was afraid I’d be married with children by my early 20s like everybody else seemed to be (which is okay, but not what I want), and living down the road from my family forever.

But a hometown doesn’t have to be the stifling, restrictive force that everybody believes it is growing up. This place was home for me until I was 18 and ready to leave for college and begin the next phase of my life, and I’ve realized that it can also be home for me during this new, present phase of my life.

My career goals are what initially fueled my desire to leave, and yet I’ve begun my career in the one place I believed it could never happen. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I am home, and I am happy. I have days where I worry about the future so much it makes me crazy, and the question always on mind seems to be, what next? But when I’m able to silence my worries, I’m overwhelmed with how happy I am with my life and where I’m currently spending it.

I have no idea where I’ll be in ten years, or five years, or even next year. I plan to move out by spring, and I’m not sure where I’ll go. But as long as Central New York still feels like home, I won’t be going far.

Every day I find something new that seems to be saying to me, welcome home, and I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything.