Here’s a great blog from the Boston running Sis, aka Jamie Brown. I’m sure once you read it I’ll become the the third most popular writer on my own blog. The stage is yours Jamie.
A few weeks ago my younger brother, AKA the Boston Running Man, asked me to be to be a guest writer for his blog. He was hoping that I would chronicle my experience leading up to and my participation in the Philadelphia Marathon. I was flattered. I was excited. I was… terrified! What on earth could I, a 42 year old stay at home mother of three young children, hope to contribute to Stephen’s wealth of running and wellness knowledge? Why would anyone want to read about MY running life? What value could I possibly bring to those athletes who are just starting out, or even more importantly, to those seasoned and accomplished runners who could kick my butt all over the race course? Not only was I a little nervous about the race itself; now I had the added pressure of writing this blog! I think I was actually more unsettled about the writing than I was about the running.
But here I am. The race is over, and I am sitting at my computer still trying to figure out if I have any wisdom to impart. Why is this so scary? Why is a simple blog post tripping me up like this? Why am I avoiding this? It would be so simple to talk about Philly, the city, the race, and the glorious heated tents that kept runners warm as they waited for the gun to go off (an unexpected simple pleasure that any fall marathoner will appreciate). It would be expected and so typical to make a reference to the “Rocky” movie, comebacks and underdogs, and the Philly cheese steaks we all sought after the race. But I know I can’t write about that. Too obvious. Too mundane. Who cares!? I know there is something deeper for me to share…
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t shy away from a challenge. In fact, issue one, and I am the first one to show up! I can’t help myself. However, every time I tried to think about what angle I might want to take in writing my first blog, my normally very organized and methodical brain went haywire. I couldn’t focus. I got the butterflies. I made excuses to do something else. I would rather run an extra 20 miler, strip the beds, vacuum the house, scrub the bath tub, or head to the grocery than think deeply about what I had to write for Stephen.
Why is this so hard?
All I want to do right now is put on my sneakers and head out to the Charles River to clear my head and sweat it out. After a few miles, I know my breath would even out, my brain would slow down and the important things that are going on in my life would make an appearance in my thoughts. I can pick and choose which ones I want to acknowledge and which to cast aside (for now, as I know anything of significance will haunt me until I deal with it). Out there I can hear myself think. I can hear my thoughts click into place. I allow myself to face the truths of my life; good or bad. I admit things to myself that I might not otherwise. Sometimes I even talk out loud, just to put my intentions into the universe. Maybe someone is listening?
Ah ha! There it is! My voice! That is what I am listening to out there as I put one foot in front of the other, mile after mile. Sometimes, usually on short runs, my voice simply tells me what I need to make for dinner or what I need to do for the day, or calculates my splits, or that my pace feels slow that day. Other times, mostly on long runs when the minutiae has been covered during the early miles, my voice inevitably gets more philosophical, more existential, more serious. It tells me that it is no coincidence that I choose to run these long distances. I need these miles to force myself to look closely at my life. Who am I? What is my purpose? What do I want from my life? What meaningful contributions am I making? Am I a good person/mom/wife/sister/daughter? Am I happy? Wow; I am running into my problems and confronting them head on; I am so enlightened, so self aware.
Or so I thought…
In September of 2015, while training for a November marathon, I seriously injured my foot. I have no idea what I did to it. I do know that I did not twist or sprain it, nor was there any direct trauma. I stepped outside to start my run. One minute I was fine; the next I was incapacitated. I couldn’t walk. The pain was excruciating and debilitating. Try getting around in downtown Boston on foot with three kids in tow, while in a knee-high walking boot, on a cane, then crutches, and back to the cane. It literally took me a full minute just to cross the street. Misery. The pain was visible on my face; people said that I looked different. My Uber bill was ridiculous. I had no real diagnosis; we assumed that it was a result of over-training and I was tagged with plantar faciitis, achilles tendonitis, post-tib tendonitis, a possible trapped nerve in my heel. I had months of physical therapy. Second opinions. MRI’s. Cortisone shots. Acupuncture. Progress was nonexistent. Time and rest was the prescription.
REST??? That is not a word in my vocabulary. I LOVE to run. I NEED to run. I am a mover. I move. If I am not moving, what else will I do? I will go crazy! Sitting at home with me, myself and I? Not moving? My worst nightmare! Panic time! In the beginning I kept busy with aqua jogging, I practiced yoga, I rode the stationary bike. The pain stayed. It got worse. It “spread” to the other foot. How the heck does that happen? I thought I was going crazy. I decided to just stop. I stopped everything. I spent a lot of quiet time in my home when my kids were at school. I sat. I read. I googled everything there is to know about foot pain. I cried. I cried a lot. I don’t even really know what I was crying about, but there were buckets of tears.
I was forced to sit with my thoughts in a quiet (albeit teary) manner. My body was speaking to me. My body was telling me to slow down. I needed to stop – everything. My mind had been taken over by my physical being.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was the other way around.
It was during those months of relative stillness that my real voice came to me. I was not happy. I was hurting; in more ways than one. I was not being the best mom/wife/daughter/sister that I could be. I was not the enlightened person I thought I was when I was out crushing miles on the Charles River. Sadly, none of these revelations were actually new to me. I had always known they were there. Because I could keep running with them I could keep them at bay. I was (gasp!) literally running away from my problems. But now I did not have the luxury of running away from my problems. I knew that I needed to confront these thoughts if I ever wanted to run, or walk, again.
I made some significant decisions during those long months of rehabilitation (I’ll save those details for a later blog – too fresh). I went deep. I called myself out. I began to see myself for who I really was, and who I was not. I put new plans into action. I realized that what I was really scared of was myself. It is one thing to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and emotions. That is not good enough. Experience now tells me that it is an entirely different thing to actually deal with them. However uncertain the new future I allowed myself to see seemed, I knew I had to make these changes if I was ever going to be pain free; emotionally and physically.
I felt the pain in my feet kind of fizzle away. I know that sounds like a weird way of describing it, but that is truly how it felt. It was kind of a tingly sensation. It was like the pain was slowly oozing out of my feet. It took only a couple of weeks. With the help of several professionals, I went off the crutches first. Next I got rid of the cane. Over time, I was slowly able to put my feet down on the ground without wincing in pain. I went from a hobble to a slow walk; from a slow walk to a normal gait, from a normal gait to a fast walk and from a fast walk to a slow run. Progress! All of this happened just in time to start training for the Boston Marathon which I had qualified for the year before.
I think not. Mind over matter. I had to ask myself if the pain had been “all in my head”.
I was able to run Boston, and it was one of the slowest and definitely the most gut-wrenching of my 7 marathons to date. But I didn’t care. I was out there. I was doing it. I was feeling it. Physically, I was relatively strong. Emotionally, I was just starting to come into myself. I was so grateful for the opportunity. I had as much fun as one can while running 26 miles!
Determined to challenge myself again, and to put my new learnings to the test, I decided to try Philadelphia again; the race that I had missed last fall because of my feet. I set a goal for a finishing time. I kept it private. I was going to run the heck out of this race. This race was all about quietly and humbly putting in the work. I had never felt better; both physically and mentally. I was lighter in being and in spirit. I was having fun again. My long runs were freeing, not tangled with subliminal deep thoughts about life. I knew was ready to put the new and improved me back on the streets.
Cue the “Rocky” theme song…
Last Saturday, I arrived in Philadelphia alone. Normally my family accompanies me to races; the kids love the atmosphere (and, let’s be honest, the expo). But I I wanted to be solo this time around. The only family member present was a picture of my late mother which I stuck on my race shirt. No distractions. It was a tactical mission. I was unusually calm. I went inward. I didn’t over think or second guess my training which I normally do. I was as ready as I had ever been. I knew before I stepped foot in the corral that this was my day. At mile five, a man shouted to me from the sidelines (we had our names on our bibs): “Jamie – this is your race! You were born for this!” How did he know?
At 7 am the course was quiet. As we ran through downtown I could only hear the tapping of sneakers hitting the pavement. We ran into a less urban setting where there rolling hills and trees, and we ran along the banks of the beautiful Skuykill River. Fans dotted the course, but nothing like the throngs of spectators that come out at Boston and NYC. The vibe was perfect for my mood; I wanted to run without distraction.
As always, the last three miles of the marathon are agonizing. I knew that if I just kept my head down and slogged through that I would do well. In fact, my secret goal of getting a PR became a reality!
This 42 year old mother of three just ran a 3:22. A best by six minutes.
Face your fears, no more tears!
I should mention that my first marathon, at the tender age of 26, in Boston, I ran a 4:45… Like a fine wine, maybe we get better with age!
I tried hard not to write this story. I told myself I wouldn’t. I had several other topics half written. But the clicks on the keyboard kept coming back to the voice in my head that told me that this is my running story. What I have learned is that it is imperative to listen to your inner voice. In one way or another, sooner or later, it will compel you to listen. I know why I was hesitant to share this part of me. Even with intentional ambiguity it bares a bit of my soul; it subtly reveals some scars and some flaws. However, I guess maybe I do have something worthwhile to say. Wisdom? I don’t know. I will let you be the judge. But a voice to be heard; for sure!
Did I mention those heated tents?
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