Believe: My Personal Faith

It has been one year since I last posted on this blog- one year since my empowering encounter with Jim, and two years since the beer bottle incident. My introspection has skyrocketed in the past year, but I have failed to craft my thoughts into words. In one of my courses this semester, Ethics: Human Goodness, we have been discussing the power of narrative and the importance of documenting our experiences. Ideas for blog posts pop into my mind quite frequently, and I am grateful for this class for finally re-catalyzing my commitment to sharing my adventures and expressing my feelings here. One post cannot make up for a year’s absence, and I promise that I will get back to my lighthearted stories soon. Today, however, I will focus on something deeper, the greatest lesson I’ve learned in the past several months- the power of believing.

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If you ask me to describe myself, my passion for running immediately comes to mind. My athletic identity is perpetually salient, as, to a large extent, I centralize my life around this sport and its culture. Aside from the physical activity of running, I begin each day by reading Runner’s World magazine, have a Twitter solely for the purpose of following elite runners, and schedule all of my holiday plans around races. When I think about the future, where I’ll be in five or ten years from now, I imagine traveling to different races, setting new goals, and surpassing them. I am a runner at heart- yet for the past several months, proximal hamstring tendinosis has kept me sidelined. I have felt an emotional overload like never before- anger from being entrapped in the dungeon of the gymnasium, confined to the elliptical rather than free to roam the forest preserves; anger at the time and money I have spent on failed treatments from orthopedics, physical therapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors. Sadness from missing out on an abundance of races, including next week’s Chicago Marathon, and simply of being unable to engage in my most beloved activity; sadness that causes me to cry myself to sleep more often than I’d like. Confusion as to why this is happening to me right now, when I was in such good shape and loving running more than ever before; confusion as to what I have done to deserve this and why all of my autoimmune conditions make healing so difficult for my body. My injury has made little improvement in several months, and I have not been able to run since February. But for some reason, perhaps irrational, I keep holding on to this little bit of hope, believing that things will get better.

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If you look around my apartment, it’s clear that “believe” is my favorite word- it’s plastered on my bulletin board, training journal, medal rack, and a canvas. This word has been special to me for a while, but in the past few months, it has become the mantra that I live by. I would be the last person expected to get a tattoo (can’t you just imagine me having an allergic reaction?!) yet connecting my mind and body through this word has definitely crossed my mind. Sometimes I wonder if I should just give up hope of getting better and returning to running- but I just can’t. I have a plethora of life goals, and running is what most excites me about the future. Running is engrained in my identity, and it is too important to simply discard. Based on experiences I’ve encountered and witnessed, I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I am not a religiously devout individual, and I am not sure that I believe in god. Recently, however, I have coped with adversity by establishing my own faith- believing that things will get better. My personal spirituality is synonymous with “believe.” It has allowed me to make peace with my injured body, focus on circumstances that are in my control, and not let go of my dreams. Believe.

Believe

An Empowering Encounter

I have been pretty terrible about updating my blog lately. Since I’ve been back at Emory, I’ve only posted once. Thoughts of new posts constantly come to mind, yet with classes, research, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and of course, running, I just haven’t found the time to write. This weekend, however, was very special- in the midst of stressful schoolwork and homesickness, I had a chance encounter that completely restored my faith in humanity.

It began Friday afternoon when, after picking up my race bib and t-shirt for Saturday’s Winship Win the Fight 5k, I was walking to a lab meeting. Suddenly, an older man approached me and asked about my ankle. I was quite surprised, but he seemed friendly, so I briefly explained the beer bottle incident, which coincidentally happened exactly one year ago (the Friday afternoon before the Winship 5k, which I had been planning on running!) Surprisingly, the man seemed relieved. We continued talking, and it turned out that Jim is a melanoma survivor. His calf was affected by cancer, and the sight of my ankle had worried him. I asked him if he was running the race, which he was, and we began discussing our favorite races and times. As we parted ways, we wished each other luck, and he told me that he hoped to see me on the podium tomorrow. That would have been enough. Sad as it is to say, it’s not everyday that a random stranger strikes up a conversation with you. I thought about Jim for the rest of the day and what a special encounter it had been.

Come race morning, I was warming up with tears in my eyes. I could hear the Winship Cancer Institute speakers, which made me think about my cousin Jimmy, a pediatric oncologist, who passed away a few years ago. I hadn’t realized what an emotional event this race would be, and as I finished my warm up, I heard, “let’s hope there’s no beer bottles on the course this early in the morning.” I turned around, and there was Jim! We entered the start corral together and discussed our families and backgrounds while waiting for the gun to fire. This was the first race I’ve run without knowing anyone- in fact, I’d never run a race without my mom or dad on the course or in the crowds. While the race was held on Emory’s campus and had around 3,000 runners, walkers, and joggers, I did not see any fellow students! It wasn’t really the type of event one typically attends alone- there were teams with hundreds of people in matching t-shirts, groups of cancer survivors, and families running in honor of loved ones. But I did not feel alone at all- I had made a lovely acquaintance, and I was running for a compelling cause.

It was a challenging course (the name of the area, Druid Hills, gives it away) but my endorphins were in full gear. I was the third female to cross the finish line, but rather than analyzing my splits and cooling down, I just wanted to see Jim finish- and he did, in under 26 minutes, and was handed a white flower, indicating he was a cancer survivor. And Jim was right- we did see each other on the podium! We both placed in our age group, and he was elated that both he and “his adopted daughter for the day” had medaled.

I had been on cloud nine the whole day after my encounter with Jim when I received an email from him. Without knowing anything about me but my first name and that I was an Emory student, Jim had found my blog. He deeply touched my life, and it seems I made an impact on him as well. I don’t know what else to say about this weekend. Jim has the spirit of runner- a fighter, an unstoppable machine, a pure human being. We were brought together by chance, and I hope to see him at next year’s race. Jim made me appreciate running, living, and human goodness more than ever before. Miracle moments like these are few and far between, but they truly are empowering.

Jim

No Risk No Reward + DIY Race Bib Book!

Nearly every Saturday morning this summer, I have dragged my mom along to accompany me on my long runs. Perhaps dragged is not the correct word- she admits to enjoying biking alongside me on the trails. However, every Friday night, she questions my motives- “Why do you have to run ten miles?” She has a point- I have no upcoming long races on the calendar, and my body could probably use some rest- but these longs runs are the highlight of my week. While they can be physically and mentally exhausting, they are what make me happiest.

Whether or not you’re a runner, I think it’s nearly impossible not to be fascinated by the runner’s mentality. We push our body through pain, as overcoming doubt and challenge makes us feel like we can conquer anything. With each tough run, we grow stronger, eventually reach our goals, and thus set new ones. As runners, we constantly push ourselves through suffering because we know it will ultimately make us better people. This summer, I’ve collected a variety of quotes about this phenomenon. Here are some of my favorites:

“People ask why I run. I say, ‘If you have to ask, you will never understand.’ It is something that only those select few know. Those who put themselves through pain, but know, deep down, how good if feels.” -Erin Leonard

“If you’re doing it right, at some point you will want to drop out of just about every race you run.” -Mark Remy

“Stepping outside the comfort zone is the price I pay to find out how good I can be. If I planned on backing off every time winning got difficult, I would hang up my shoes and take up knitting.” -Olympian Desiree Linden

“Happiness is pushing your limits and watching them back down” -New Balance Ad

So challenge brings us the greatest happiness- quite fascinating, in my opinion at least!

I had been searching for a creative way to display my race bibs for quite some time, so I decided to make them into a book. Like my medal rack, my race bib book is already giving me running motivation and exciting me for the future. This book was extremely simple to make and only cost a few dollars (not including hundreds of dollars in race fees!) All of the materials can be found at Target, and you can customize it however you like.

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All you need is a bright polypropylene folder, two loose-leaf rings, Sharpies, a hole puncher, and scissors. Cut the folder to a size that is a little larger than your largest bib (I cut mine to about 9 x 9.5″) and decorate however you would like. Line up your bibs in chronological order and place on rings. If you have bibs of different sizes, you may have to punch holes in the larger bibs. Simply punch corresponding holes in the folder, place on rings, and you’re done!

You may be thinking, “I don’t have any race bibs to place in this book.” Well, if you create this, think of all the motivation it will give you to race 🙂

The Watch Fiasco

Warning:

If you’re a serious runner, you will empathize with this post. As you laugh along with the seemingly ridiculous emotions I describe here because you would feel the same way. If you’re not a runner, you might be inclined to label me a drama queen. I promise (well kind of) that I’m not- it’s just a runner thing.

After running on cloud nine with Shalane Flanagan in yesterday’s 5k, my watch flashed “low memory.” I have had my Nike SportWatch GPS for about three years and don’t recall ever seeing this message. I was a little worried about this in terms of tracking the next day’s half marathon but figured I could easily free up space my uploading my runs to Nikeplus.com later that afternoon.

Before heating up my prerace dinner (spaghetti with my mom’s homemade meat sauce, farmers market squash, salad, and watermelon) to bring down to the restaurant, I plugged my watch into my laptop. It was not immediately connecting to Nikeplus.com, but I hoped that it would while we were at dinner. Upon returning to our room, things took a turn for the worse- my watch showed a full battery, yet my computer showed no signs of recognizing it. This is when my stomach began to churn.

After experimenting unsuccessfully with all of the troubleshooting tips online, I desperately called Nike and explained my situation. The representative informed me that he was really sorry and that perhaps they could send me a new watch- well not by 4:00 am tomorrow, I thought. He suggested that I try syncing my watch to a different computer, so off I went to the hotel business center. After paying to use the internet and downloading the Nike software, a security message alerted me that I was not allowed to install software on this computer.

My heart was racing, my face was red, and I was on the verge of tears. In one last hope, I asked the concierge if he had any suggestions. He was extremely nice but informed me that no hotel computers would allow this. Crushed, I walked back into the elevator with tears running down my face. This felt like the end of the world.

As I write this, I know how ridiculous and self-centered this sounds. There are horrific injustices happening worldwide, and I’m crying because my watch is broken. But the emotional toll of running cannot be overlooked. I had been looking forward to this race for months and putting my full physical and mental effort into my training.

Without a watch, I saw no hopes of a PR- how would I be able to gauge my pace without the instantaneous number right there? Running watches are a new phenomenon, and history clearly proves that humans are capable of setting records without this technology. However, when you constantly train with a watch, you feel lost without it- it’s like riding a bike without training wheels for the first time, or taking a math test without your formula sheet.

My mom offered to drive home and try one of our desktop computers, but neither of us thought that would solve the problem. Besides, it was already 9:00, and I needed to get to sleep. Brilliantly creative as usual, she came up with a somewhat settling solution- I could use the stopwatch feature of my watch. While it wouldn’t track my mileage and pace, it was the best thing we could do. To supplement this, she handwrote my mile splits for a 7:30 pace on the back of a RunWestin paper bracelet. I didn’t think I would be able to keep a 7:30 pace, but it would be a good reference.

When I awoke at 4:00 the next morning, the first thing I did, naturally, was look at my Sportwatch. I couldn’t believe it- the screen was blank. My watch was dead. If you know me, you know I am always prepared. For a one night, two race trip downtown, I had packed four sports bras, three pairs of shorts, three running tanks, two t-shirts, four pairs of running socks, compression socks, two packs of chomps, four bananas, three servings of Multigrain Cheerios, eight bottles of water, four pickles, ten Tums, four epiPens, three tubes of glucose, two rolls of prewrap, five ponytail holders, etc- but I had never thought about bringing an extra watch. This felt like the worst possible situation, and as I plugged in my watch to see if I could get some charge, I called all the 24-hour Walgreens in town to try to find a stopwatch.

While I had no success with Walgreens, my watch summed up enough battery to function as a stopwatch, and things turned out okay. Well, better than okay- I set a PR by almost eight minutes and achieved my goal of breaking 1:40. Running with only a stopwatch was an interesting experience- not one that I’d be particularly inclined to have again- but it worked. I had overreacted (surprise!), but listening to my body rather than the numbers worked out alright after all.

When I arrived home Sunday afternoon, I immediately called Nike support. The weekend had started on a high note and ended on one too- the representative laughed at my story and dysfunctional watch and agreed to send me a replacement for free! This is what I love about Nike- as long as they do not see intentional damage on my watch, such as dog bites or evidence of taking it apart- there is a lifetime warrantee on natural wear and tear. My watch arrived in just two days. Although the all-black look is a bit masculine for me, it’s the latest Nike watch, it’s free, and it will allow me to run calm once again.

Happiest Run of My Life

It’s 4:30 on Saturday morning and my mom steps into my room to wake me up. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asks. “YES!” I exclaim, still half asleep, but quickly jump out of bed and into my running gear. I have fallen asleep in the car on the way to every race I’ve run this summer, but this one was different. I was a complete chatterbox and could not shut up about how I was going to run the 5k with my running idol, Shalane Flanagan.

 It all started the Tuesday of my Project Linus Blanket-Making Event (post to come soon!) I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on the train home from work and could not believe my eyes when I saw that Shalane would be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Chicago. Just a few minutes later, I got an email that she would be running Saturday’s 5k at an 8:00 pace, designed as a pre-half shakeout run. This was a dream come true- my favorite famous person was coming to my town to run my favorite race in less than two weeks!

 I literally ran off the train to tell my mom the exciting news. I was going to run with Shalane. Of course, my mom had her worries- surely I should not run a 5k the day before a half marathon. There would be tons of people at this race- what made me think I would be able to run with her? When I would not shut up about this, my parents agreed to sign me up but did not let me forget that running this race might hinder my performance on Saturday.

We arrived downtown at 6:30, just as packet pickup was beginning. The race did not start until 8:00, but I was unable to attend Friday’s expo and expected it to be very crowded. Luckily, I was wrong, and it felt more like a neighborhood race than a major running event. All of a sudden, about a half hour before start time, my mom yelled out “Is that her?” Shalane and her husband were casually chatting, and no one was around them. I literally jumped up and down before running over.

As I neared America’s fastest marathoner and three time Olympian, however, I began to freak out. What was I going to say to her- I came down here to run with you?!- without sounding like a total stalker? I felt like a preteen approaching Justin Beiber. I introduced myself, told her how excited I was to meet her, and asked to take a photo together. She was friendly and polite, but I felt extremely awkward and now saw no chance at running with her. Boy was I in for a treat!

before the  race
before the race

I could tell by the size of the start corral, number of costumed runners, and number of individuals wearing the race shirt (or even worse- wearing the following day’s half marathon shirt!) that this was not going to be a fast 5k. I normally wouldn’t want to start a 5k at the very front the day before a half marathon, but Shalane was there- this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! I ran closely behind Shalane and the RunWestin concierge for the first mile. Although my hopes for chatting on a run with her were now lost, I figured that running near her was the best alternative.

We clocked in the first mile at under 7:30, so Shalane told the RunWestin guy to go ahead while she slowed down a bit. I could not believe what happened next! She turned around, waved to me, and said “Oh hi, how’s your run going?” I cannot put the next 2.1 miles into words. A shakeout run with my running role model- they were simply the best 2.1 miles of my life. We discussed Park City (where she just spent time altitude training and where my family always skied until Daniel broke his leg), the new Nike Lunarglide 6, our favorite distances, Runner’s World magazine, and even some of my medical conditions. This conversation felt personal- while there were a few other folks around us running and listening, it was really only the two of us chatting!

As we neared the finish I could see my mom laughing! When I asked her about it later, she explained that I had done exactly what I had said- run the race with Shalane. “Are you surprised?” I asked. “No, not really…not at all” she said. As we crossed the line, Shalane instructed me to throw my hands up in the air with her- that’s where my favorite picture comes in! She high-fived me, thanked me for running with her (I think I should be thanking her!) and went off to run with her husband before the photo opportunity.

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throwing my hands up in the air with Shalane!
throwing my hands up in the air with Shalane!
"the crew"
“the crew”
never expected this!
never expected this!

Just when I thought my morning couldn’t get any better, I met some great running gurus in line to take a photo with Shalane! It all started when Melissa apologized to my mom for bumping into her, and her friend Caroline recognized me as the girl who had run with Shalane! Then we met Dave, a hilarious marathon maniac who seems to know absolutely everyone. He took this selfie during the race- how lucky to meet him (I later met The Pavement Runner as well!) As we waited in line, we all had an interesting discussion about race experiences and took some fun photos. These were the people that helped prompt me to start this blog, and they made me appreciate the friendly running community more than ever before!

Dave's amazing selfie
Dave’s amazing selfie
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fun with new friends

 

“It’s my running buddy,” exclaimed Shalane, with a smile on her face as I approached her. Her words were magic to my ears. We got some great photos (the candids are my favorite) and she signed my race bib, encouraging me to go for a PR on Sunday- which I did! I was at a loss for words- this morning had been a dream come true- and I tried to express to her how happy she had made me. After I said goodbye to my new runner friends, my mom and I spent some time in Millennium Park before meeting my dad at the hotel and heading over to the expo. It had been, without question, one of the best weekends of my life, and it was only 10:00!

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dream come true
happiest race photo!
happiest race photo!