Thursday, July 7, 2011

Never Say Never:

Completing the Ride Aid Cleveland Half Marathon
Photo of Chris and I right after we finished our races.
Chris finished the full marathon and I finished the half.

At age eighteen I volunteered at the 23 mile mark of the 2005 Chicago Marathon. I had never watched a marathon before, and my attendance had little to do with running. To me, running was a foreign sport. It was a sport in which its participants had a few screws loose and a genetic predisposition for moving ones legs for an ungodly amount of time and/or at an ungodly pace.

Despite my ignorant attitude, I was unexpectedly moved emotionally by watching runners trot past me for hours during the marathon. Some runners looked great waving their hands in the air as we cheered them on. Other runners limped in pain and moved slowly. Some were filled with joy as our water station came into view, quickly grabbing a cup from my hand and splashing me a bit as they rushed onward to finish the race. I observed faces expressing determination, joy, contemplation, exhaustion and distress. T-shirts like "in memory of my dad," would whizz past me, leaving me a bit choked up. I began to see this wasn't just about running for the sake of running.

About a year and half later, I found myself watching another race. This time I was in Indianapolis watching several of my friends complete the 500 Festival Mini Marathon. It was a surreal experience to see people I actually knew run 13.1 miles. At the time, I was living with most of my friends who had completed that race. Living with them, I witnessed their efforts to follow meticulous training schedules filled with notes about sprints, cross-training and distances. I was inspired by their dedication and commitment, but a world that involved running still seemed incredibly foreign to me. I had walked my first official 5k about six month prior to Indianapolis, but I was still pretty adamant that running and me would never have a close association.

Upon our return from Indianapolis, some of my friends began prodding me about running. Curious, I got on some treadmills at our fitness center, but the whole process felt painful. I reported back to my friends that running was dreadful and complained about aches I felt in my flat feet. I thought this report fraught with complaints would squash their prodding. I was wrong. My friend Emily told me kindly but very forcefully that I needed to buy running shoes.

At first I was angry at Emily's response. She wasn't allowing me an easy out (as the truth is rarely easy). If I didn't run, it was because I chose that path, not because I wasn't physically able. For a while, I tried using the hefty price tag of good running shoes, which can be around $120, as an excuse. Why was I going to throw my precious money towards a material good that I wasn't even sure I was going to put to use?

Weeks later I was still tossing Emily's rebuttal around in my head. I brought my concerns about investing in a good pair of sneaks to friend and long time runner Emma. She confirmed my need for running shoes and suggested I be fitted in a specialty store. She offered to come with me to make my first purchase.

Four months later I ran my first 5K, the Aids Run & Walk Chicago, in my well broken in high stability New Balance 850 shoes. I was proud of myself for completing the race, but still couldn't figure out why so many people were hyped about running. I continued to put my shoes to use at the gym or occasionally outside, but often found myself gravitating toward group fitness classes and yoga. Gradually, over the course of four years I did begin to run further. I could run five to seven miles comfortably, but never kept up a consistent schedule. Every once in a while I would run to release stress and put cardio into my workout routine.

Shortly after my 24th birthday, I found someone else prodding me about running. My boyfriend was planning to run the full Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon in May. Cleveland is my hometown, where my parents still reside. He thought it might be fun for me to run the half marathon that would be occurring simultaneously as the full marathon. Strangely, it didn't take me long to commit to the idea. I put together a training schedule and at the beginning of March began to pound the pavement.

Eleven weeks of training, quickly passed. At 6:50AM on Sunday, May 15th, I stood staring at the start line. As I waited with thousands of other runners, my thoughts began to rush around in my head. What if I don't  finish? What if I get hurt? Did I train well enough? My IT band seems really tight right now.

But as I crossed the start line with "Dynamite Wall" by Hayden playing on my I POD, all the thoughts melted away. I relaxed and took a deep breath and began to recognize the beauty that surrounded me; a sea of bodies running in the same direction like a huge school of fish diving into the deep waters of the vast ocean.

Mile after mile I ran. I ran with an even stride enjoying my playlist and giving high-fives to children watching from the sidewalks. I ran admiring the different Cleveland neighborhoods the race took us through, while using my watch as a guide post for proper pacing. I ran, shouting "mile 9," at the mile marker in a voice that projected nothing but joy. And I ran, taking cups at several water stations, thanking volunteers for coming out on a misty gray day in Cleveland.

At mile 12, I screamed and squirmed with joy. The finish line had yet to come into view, but the newest thing I had laid my eyes on was almost as exciting. It was my parents! I think I put them in a state of shock as I passed them. I'm pretty sure they were expecting to see me sluggish and in pain at mile 12. Instead they got this little fire ball of energy running past them, arms waving in the air frantically as if I was at the concert of my favorite band playing my favorite song.

The last mile of the race was mostly on a decline, moving me easily into a dead sprint. I put aside all my strategy concerning pacing, and repeated a mantra in my head I used during training, "don't leave anything out here". I wanted to finish the race knowing I gave it my best, using all the energy I could muster. Eventually my feet carried me across the finish line at 2hours 3minutes and 39seconds, and proceeded to receive my first medal for running.

My completion of the half marathon is not an original story. It's something many people have done and will continue to do into the future across the globe. Therefore, my completion really isn't anything spectacular. What is spectacular is that I changed my mind. It wasn't over night or even over the course of a few weeks. My mind was changed over the course of years. Years of people gently inviting me to try something new that would positively impact my life. These people weren't just inviting me to run; they were inviting me to get out my comfort zone. They were inviting me to challenge myself and believe in myself; to never say never.

This essay is dedicated to all the runners in my life! An extra special thanks to those who prodded me with love along the way -- Emma Pellegrino, Kristen Pellegrino, Emily Pease, Alex Murphy, Betsy Schluge, Anne Rooney, Brittany Hurst, Julianne Lenehan, Alaska JVs '09 - '10, Mrs. Pease, Mrs. Hurst and Chris Coons.


  1. You are clearly embracing the spirit of the sport. You're finding new ways to challenge yourself, and to push yourself a little further than you had previously thought you'd go. It's a wonderful process, and one that I'm glad we're able to share.

    See you in Memphis!

  2. I'm glad we're able to share it as well. See you in Memphis... at the finish line! =)

  3. There is a sentence in the last paragraph of this post that keeps bothering me. You wrote that there "isn't anything spectacular" about your having finished this race.

    I think you were trying to stress that the shift in attitude and perspective, the decision to do something that you never thought you'd do, was more significant than the act itself. And on that point I would agree.

    But I don't think you should sell your accomplishment too short. 13.1 miles is a very long way to run. Most people don't bother to run at all. But even among runners, that is recognized as a considerable distance. And one that takes a lot of hard work to get to. It is definitely an accomplishment to be proud of. And I think it is quite deserving of the word spectacular.


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