Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Failure Feeds Success

The impetus for this post came courtesy of Beammco, whose March newsletter called for funny or inspiring story submissions from runners. It's been awhile since I've written a long, thoughtful blog post. It's been awhile since I've had cause to think about training and where it's taken me. My running is so different these days than it used to be, and this felt like a wonderful opportunity to reflect.

It's hard to choose just one story to share. Do I go with the funny story (maybe the time a baby squirrel fell on my head mid-run), or do I tug at the heartstrings? In the end, I have to go with inspiration, because more than anything, I think inspiring others to overcome obstacles is what runners truly have to offer the world.
In 2014, I ran my first full marathon. I diligently followed a training plan and avoided setting a goal because everything I had read advised against setting a time goal for your first marathon. I ran it; when I crossed the finish line, I was a different person than when I crossed the start. But this story isn't about my first marathon.

In 2015, I felt I knew what I was made of. I decided to run another marathon and I decided that this time, I could set a time goal. My training was perfect; I shocked myself by checking off every workout and owning the long runs. I felt I was truly capable of PR'ing. However, as race day loomed, something became clear: the unpredictable weather that is December-in-Florida threw off my plan. I tried to take it in stride, but that was basically impossible. I came dangerously close to quitting at the halfway point; I fought through it and finished my second marathon with a significantly slower time than my first. I was disheartened. I was embarrassed. I doubted myself in a way I hadn't in years.
But that's not really what this story is about, either.

What this story is about is my comeback marathon.
Every year, I run a specific race that falls on my birthday weekend. That year, 2016, that race was a mere two months after my disastrous second marathon. I planned to run the half, and I half-heartedly trained for it. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I should run the full, since I was basically trained up for it. If anything, the two months between Marathon 2 and Race Day were like an extended taper. I had every reason not to upgrade my race distance: I was burned out. I was still mentally raw from the last marathon. My foot kind of hurt.

I talked the ears off all my running friends, who gave me sound advice, but I was still undecided. Then, the night before the race, I went to pick up my bib. I took it from the check-in table and, without giving myself time to think, immediately walked over to the line where I could upgrade my half marathon to a full.
I didn't really tell anyone except my parents, husband, and one or two of those advice-y running friends.

I want to tell you race day was perfect. It wasn't. It was hot and incredibly windy; at one point, I really thought I was going to get blown off-course. The high winds made breathing difficult, and the sun cooked the asphalt from mile nine to 26.2. But there were so many highlights, and as I passed by the turn-around for the half and went on to the full marathon course, my heart felt light. My mind felt clear. I felt totally at ease.

At mile 20, my sister met me with a Coke. (If you look through the full recaps for these races, you may start to wonder if Coke sponsors my finisher pics.) At mile 22, I glanced at the pacing tattoo on my arm and knew I was going to get my PR. At mile 24, a seagull caught in the gale nearly hit me on the head. At mile 26, I heard my husband cheering for me. And as I crossed the finish line, I began to cry.
This marathon proved something to me: progress is not perfect, and failure feeds success. We can grow, we can get stronger, we can take risks and face fears and tackle hurdles and still fall short. But we have to keep going. Nothing worth fighting for comes easily.

The day after that third marathon, I turned 30. I said goodbye to my 20s with a lesson I think all young people should learn: we may have setbacks, but if we fight for glory  whatever that looks like for each of us, personally we can prove to ourselves how strong we are, and we can inspire others in the process.

ABK

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Next Year In Person

Passover is a holiday centered around a few key themes: sacrifice, preparedness, and liberation.

It is a story that features a hero with a disability who finds his courage with the help of his family and his faith, perseveres, and ultimately prevails against tyranny.

It is a story that teaches us to fight oppression with every means we have; it calls upon us to identify personally with the subjugation of others and fight theirs as we would our own.

Last year, we skipped Passover. It was out of an abundance of caution (remember those days?), when Covid hadn't really come to our corner of the US yet but was enough of a threat that we wanted to adhere to that very Jewish-feeling aphorism: better safe than sorry.

We told each other that in 2021, we'd have Passover together.

While that didn't come to pass, the spring of 2021 is starting to look hopeful. As I prepped and planned to host Passover at Scott and Robby's (it would be the first year they'd joined us for this particular holiday), I received a notification that I was eligible to sign up for available appointments for my Covid vaccine.

The vaccination date was Saturday, March 27, the same day I was planning to host our Seder.

I couldn't say no, of course. I booked a morning appointment, and that was how it came to pass that my first step toward liberation from Covid-induced fear, anxiety, isolation, and uncertainty coincided with a holiday that pretty much beats you over the head with the significance of liberation in all forms.

Our Seder went over well. There were only four of us, but I didn't skimp on the cooking. We had all the usual: matzo ball soup, charoset, brisket, and — of course — my flourless chocolate cake.

Scott and Robby were good sports about reading from the Haggadah. They even picked up Manishewitz! Alas, I was unable to find gluten free gefilte fish, so they were spared that particular aspect of Ashkenazi cuisine.

Note to self: whip this batter less intensely next year!

Over all, it was a perfect day, and now I can start to believe that next year things will be back to normal enough that I'll be able to make a trip to Florida to celebrate with my parents and siblings, my nephew, my aunt and uncle, and maybe even my cousins. 

I've got my fingers crossed and a sore arm to give me hope.

ABK

Friday, March 26, 2021

Featured Follow: Nora Burns, @nerdy_nora

TW: For brief mention of critical illness and sexual assault.

I found Nora's Instagram, @nerdy_nora, years ago when I was first looking at running Gasparilla. I immediately felt an affinity with her, as if we were kindred spirits. She was full of life; joy just exuded from her. It sounds corny, but when her posts come up on my feed, I immediately feel happier. It's like catching up with an old friend.
Nora's story isn't all smiles and sunshine, though. While she stays positive, she's had to overcome some incredibly difficult life circumstances. Running and fitness have been a source of strength for her well beyond the physical aspect.

I've always felt like I knew Nora and liked her. I felt I knew with her story. I didn't expect her answers to my survey to spark affection for her like they did! My goal for these Featured Follows was to get to know some of my favorite IG runners better, and with Nora, I feel I truly succeeded.
Section 1: Getting to Know You

Can you share a little about yourself for readers who aren’t familiar with you? 
I currently live in Tampa, Florida where I worked for a brewery for a number of years before becoming  a personal trainer/franchise owner with Camp Gladiator full-time. 

I taught English in Korea for almost four years, and became semi-fluent in Korean while there. Living in Asia afforded me a lot of opportunities to travel to places that were previously so far outside of my scope: Japan, Guam, and the Philippines were some of my faves! I have degrees in History and French, but oddly enough, I’ve never been to France. 
I love to read, which may sound cliche, but it’s almost an addiction. I’m also obsessed with my dog, Bronx. He’s the best!

Pre-covid, were you a racer? What’s your favorite distance, and what is the first race you’d like to do when races open up again? 
I’ve been running since ‘06. My first ‘official’ race was the Gasparilla 5k, which will forever be my favorite race series. As far as favorite distance--I’d say 10k or even a 15k. I honestly look forward to running Gasparilla and all Best Damn Races once the world reopens!

What does your running look like these days? 
I ran the Yeti 24-Hour Ultra back in May of ‘20. At that point, I was putting in 150+ miles/month, and the 32+ miles I did that day made me hang my shoes up for a little while. 
Now, I’m casually hitting the road, but not in ‘training mode,’ as I was at the beginning of last year. Covid has definitely put a wrench in my running game.

What role does fitness play in your life? 
Being active is a part of my life--there’s no question about it. I love running and lifting weights so much that I’ve turned it into my career. It’s more than just a hobby; it’s a passion. It keeps me sane, gives me a creative outlet, and has opened my world to so many like-minded people.

Section 2: The Deeper Stuff

What is your running origin story?
I was asthmatic growing up and required an inhaler. Even though I was active in sports, I had a bye when it came to any sort of extraneous running, and I was completely complacent with that. As I got older, I got my hands on a book about training yourself how to breathe better during activity. I just wanted to see if I could actually do it, so completing a 5k was my test of such theory. 15 years later, I don’t use an inhaler. (Disclaimer: I was under the care of a doctor the entire time.)

At what point did you feel you could call yourself a runner? 
This is a hard question. I don’t know if it’s an ‘imposter syndrome’ thing, but it’s still difficult to call myself ‘a runner.’ Even though I have tons of races and miles under my belt, it just hasn’t clicked in my head.
Is there something you struggle with in particular when it comes to running/fitness? 
I love my body and what it’s capable of achieving, but I struggle to feel that I ‘fit the mold’ of a runner or personal trainer. I don’t necessarily look the part, so it feels weird claiming those titles.

What do you love most about running? 
I absolutely love the community of runners! We all watch out for each other! There’s truly something really moving about watching complete strangers cheer each other on, pick someone up from falling, or carry/pace someone you don’t know over the finish line! There’s a sense of belonging amongst other runners that I wouldn’t give up for the world.

How has running helped you through difficult times in your life? 
Running has definitely become a positive outlet during some very trying times in my life. Without digging in too much, my dad has been battling melanoma for over six years and my mother was facing some severe illnesses on and off for the same time. There were lots of hospitalizations, surgeries, and close calls. I’d bring my gym bag and running shoes every time they were in the hospital and I’d either hit the road, or sometimes the hospitals would have gyms that I could use! Luckily, there were always showers for which I had access. 

Running allowed me to feel all the emotions, stress, and anxiety that I was burying while taking care of my parents. It freed me. I was then able to come back to tasks with a clear mind.
In December of ‘19, I was brutally assaulted while on a walk and surviving that experience ignited a fire within me. After that assault, I completed 10 races--all within the first months of 2020, before the world shut down. Being able to run reinforced that I was truly a survivor and unwilling to allow that incident to define me or hold me back.

For me, running is a means of perseverance. It reminds me of what I’m capable of doing. It reminds me that I’m strong, determined, and resilient.

What is something running has taught you? 
I’ve learned that I can truly do hard things. May seem trite, but completing marathons, ultramarathons, or that dang 24 hour race--well, that’s pretty freaking hard!

Share your hardest running moment. 
I did a 12 hour ultra a few years ago. We ran a 3+ mile loop and the objective was to complete as many loops as you could within that time frame, so long as you finished 50k. Well, it was a rainy day and 20+ miles in the rain, no matter how many times you change your socks and shoes, creates some really bad foot issues. I’ll save the gory details, but let’s just say that my feet didn’t look ‘normal’ for about two months.

What is your proudest running moment? 
The accomplishments are cool and all, but I’d say the time that stands out the most for me is the Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot in ‘19. My best friend and I run that race every year, but this year she brought her family and I had my mom and dad in tow.
Mom wasn’t able to walk, but Dad and I took turns pushing her wheelchair (which we totally decorated with over-the-top Thanksgiving flair,) and finished the course! She had an absolute blast and I am forever grateful that I have this memory of crossing one more finish line with her (and Pops)!

How has running/fitness changed your life? 
I like to think that whatever sanity remains, comes from running and fitness. But honestly, I’ve developed so many amazing friendships through these communities that I’d probably be a different person had I not met these awesome humans. The love and support from the community is unheard of at times, even from people whom I’ve only befriended online.

What is a non-running accomplishment you’re proud of? 
In the back of my mind I had always dreamt about going into a fitness-based business, but was nervous about making that leap due to some insecurities and the aforementioned Imposter Syndrome. At the beginning of Covid quarantine, an opportunity presented itself to become a personal trainer and launch my own business with the bootcamp program that I was attending at the time. Ten months later, I am the proud owner of my own Camp Gladiator franchise with a healthy number of clients (campers,) and continuing to grow my business daily!
I am proud that I had the nerve to voice my dreams, take the leap, and continue down a path that was absolutely terrifying at the time! I absolutely love what I do and could not be more proud of the progress I’ve made already, and the goals I have for the future.

Section 3: Favs and Feedback

What is some advice you’d give someone who is interested in starting to run? 
Lace up and go! Don’t worry about your pace or having to walk! Take the initial step to get out there. Being uncomfortable is only temporary--you’ll find your groove! I promise!

Do you have a favorite running item or article of gear to recommend? 
I always, always wear headbands. They help keep my earbuds in place and sweat out of my eyes!
What is your preferred running shoe? 
I run in Brooks Adrenaline. I’ve been fitted many times throughout the years just in case there’s another shoe that may work better for me, but I always come back to these!

Recommend an essential accessory you think every runner needs
I definitely recommend a running belt. I’ve had a few throughout the years and they all serve me well. I mean, you gotta keep your ID, card, and maybe some cash on you in case there’s a bar along the way, right?

Can you share a fellow runner or athlete you love to follow on Instagram? I have fan-girled over @runemz for years! She’s pure athlete and I just wish I could put up the mileage that she does. @brignut44 reminds me to get out there and do the dang thing daily! She is a very real person, with real paces, and real goals! She’s the epitome of everybody’s runner.

Nora's story is one of strength, resilience, joy, and love. I've enjoyed getting to know her better! You can follow her Instagram here and learn more about Camp Gladiator here!

ABK