Guest Blog: Tiffany F.

Guest Blog: Tiffany F.

Ok, so I just ran a half marathon! For some this may sound super exciting, and for others, maybe your first half was years ago and you have moved on to the full marathon or ultra-marathon. For me, it was a victory in many ways.

In 2005, I woke up to find that the entire left side of my body was numb. I was terrified. The neurologist sent me for an MRI, and the news was better than I thought-herniated discs-3 of them. I know that sounds terrible, but I was worried it would be much worse-my mom has Multiple Sclerosis and for years I waited for something terrible to happen to me. So, as I sat there feeling the relief wash over me, I thought I heard the doctor say “No. Running. Ever.” I asked him to repeat what he just said. He said “No. Running. Ever”. I would not have called myself a runner then, despite my brief membership on the White Station High School track team. BUT, I also don’t like being told that I can’t do something. I began to think about what I could do-walk, cycle, aerobics, swim, etc. The doctor told me that the cycling would hurt my back and that aerobics was pretty much the same as running. I should not do ANY of those things, except walk. I believed him.

I went about my life for a few years, enjoying a nice 3 mile walk here and there, and as I got older, those pounds started to creep up on me. It wasn’t just about weight, I did not feel well. I felt really lazy and unhealthy. I decided to swim more in the summer. I got stronger. I added in some cycling, but it never clicked with me as a way to work out. I changed doctors and went in for a physical. This doctor was different. Rather than telling me what NOT to do, we started talking about what I could do. The MRI was repeated and guess what?? All of that swimming and getting stronger was helping! The herniations in my neck and back were so small they did not even bother to measure them.

I decided to add Jazzercise to my routine. Wait. Before you say anything-it is a really great workout and nothing like Richard Simmons! All this time, I thought I would never be in shape again. I went back the next year and he asked how I was feeling. I told him I felt great, but really wished I could run. He said “If you can Jazzercise, you can run! Go for it, but just start slow and listen to your body.” So, I took the plunge and signed up for Star’s Cooper Young 4 miler training. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do it. FOUR miles? Crap.

Forward 3 months and I finished the CY 4 Miler in 48:36. The very next Saturday I thought “I bet if I can run 4 miles, I can run 5 miles”. Star invited me to join the half marathon group and I was all “Whoa now. I just ran 4 miles. That in no way means that I can run 13! Geez!” Turns out that I easily ran 5 miles. Not 5 miles fast, but 5 miles steady. It felt good (until the next morning). I liked it.

Then came the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis. My running career was over! What would I ever do? There were hundreds of suggestions online about the perfect cure. There were also hundreds of stories about superior athletes who were doomed to lives of sitting on the sofa and watching reruns on television because of the dreaded PF. But I just started running! How could this be? After the herniated disc disaster of 2005, surely this was not the end.

I know I sound dramatic here, but that is how I felt at the time. I stopped running. My feet felt better. I signed up for the CY training again, and guess what! More PF and foot pain. This time I was not going to give in. I worked too hard last time. It took a few weeks, but I finally found the right treatment team for me and my feet felt so much better (thanks to Star and her awesome recommendations). What did I do? I ran the Cooper Young 4 miler in 47:30, and promptly signed up for the half marathon group.

It all seemed like some crazy dream. Increase mileage every week by 2 miles? Star’s response, “if you can run 5 miles, you can run 7. If you can run 7 miles, you can run 9,” and so on. She was totally right. This is absolutely the most challenging thing I have ever done. Running is much more mental than physical. I struggled in the beginning because I traveled a lot this fall and I had to do a lot of my runs out of town. When I found out that I had to work on the day of our 9 mile run, I nearly self-destructed. I realized that I was getting so much support from my teammates that I felt alone and distracted without them. I don’t even always chat during runs, but I know my teammates are right there with me-in front of me, beside me, behind me.

Of course, a new foot problem emerged and got much worse 2 weeks before the race. After all of those Friday nights of going to bed at 9:30 so I can get up at 5:30 on Saturday to go on a long run! This time I felt different though. I went straight to solution mode. I was going to run this race and there was very little that could stop me. There are many scenarios that would lead to making a smart decision not to push a serious injury. Fortunately after talking to my doctor the day before the race and making some changes, we decided that I could run. I was…….terrified. Suddenly I was sure that I would never make it, despite the fact that I had already run 13 miles in training.

Later that afternoon, my husband and I got in the car and drove to Cotter, Arkansas for the White River Half Marathon. We rented a cabin with my best friend from high school, who was running her second half. I went to dinner with my teammates, drank a good luck beer and went to sleep. The next morning, I reminded myself of all that I learned over the past 3 months-pacing, fueling, strategy. I hoped for a respite from the pain. I got my gear, drove with Cathy to the race, and then I ran for 13.1 miles with no foot pain at all.

Wait a second. I didn’t say no pain at all, just no foot pain! I felt great until mile 11, when I realized that I messed up my strategy by speeding up too early. Then came the strong headwind and some icy cold pouring rain. It was tough, but I made it 11 miles before it got tough. The very best part was the structure of the race. The White River Marathon is an “out and back” along the White River. It’s beautiful, and flat. I ran with some of my teammates for much of the race since we were so close in pace, and I ran alone for a few miles. The best part: all of my other teammates passed by as they turned around for the last 7 miles. We all made the effort to run in the middle of the road so we could high five each other and encourage each other. Every one of those high fives and the words of encouragement absolutely got me to the finish line of that race. A lot of folks think that running is a solitary sport, but I am here to tell you that I run with a team, and they all have my back!

Thanks Star-for knowing I could do it and then showing me how. Thanks to all of the other Star Runners for encouraging me, running with me, and laughing with me. See you in January when we begin training for my next half marathon!

To prove how awesome it is to train for a half marathon-this is me at mile 7 with some jazz hands!

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Guest Post – Laurie B.

(Laurie, thank you for allowing me to be a part in this journey of yours. I couldn’t be more proud. xoxox)

Guest post: by Laurie B.

So after 28 weeks of training, I finished the St. Jude Marathon today. I am glowing. I am excited, I am proud, I am happy. I haven’t even looked up my finish time and I really don’t care. This is marathon #3 for me; it wasn’t my fastest and it wasn’t my slowest, but it was my best.

That’s a hard concept for a lot of runners to wrap their minds around, I realize. Even those of us who are middle-to-back of the pack runners tend to be number oriented. What’s my pace, what’s my split time, what’s my goal time, what’s my PR. I have been that runner before, always racing myself and my own inner critic, if not the other runners. To a large extent I still was that runner when I started training in June. But after I received my goal pace, after I ran my first tempo run, I realized that this race wasn’t going to be about time.

To back up a few steps, I’m really not much of an athlete. As a kid I was terrible at sports. Not terrible like one of those people who says “oh I’m terrible at this” to be modest, but like someone who is legitimately TERRIBLE at sports. I struck out at t-ball regularly, I was always the weakest link during Red Rover, and I got encouraged to quit our no cuts track & field team because I couldn’t time my jumps right without faulting or straight up missing the long jump pit. The only game I ever succeeded in was dodge ball, and that wasn’t because I was any good, it was just because my failures in other sports taught me to be pretty good at ducking when there was a large object flying at my face. I do remember feeling different when we’d do our twice annual mile run – I wasn’t the fastest, but I wasn’t the slowest, and I always had this idea in my mind that some day I wanted to be able to run the mile without a walk break. In the summertime in northern Michigan, I learned it was half a mile from our lakeside cottage to the candy store, and I daydreamed about actually RUNNING there and back. Not that I actually did it. I figured I just couldn’t, like I couldn’t play basketball or throw a frisbee or whatever.

When I finally did start running, I was in college. By that point I had been struggling with an eating disorder since I was 12 and running was just another way to compulsively burn calories. I had moments where I loved it, but a lot of the time it was just all about the numbers. I had the eating disorder voice yelling in my ear: run farther, run faster, remember how many calories were in your lunch and you should probably burn twice that just to be safe. I had a certain arbitrary pace (10 minutes per mile) that was my cutoff and any run slower, regardless of how I was feeling or how far I was going, was BAD. I ran my first marathon shortly after I finished college. In some ways it was a huge victory, especially for the former gym class failure, but I finished in 4:23 which is just over a 10 minute mile. BAD.

Fast forward a few years. I got married, went to grad school, moved to Memphis, got a job, figured I’ve more or less outgrown the eating disorder. And then I started sinking. Slowly at first, then faster and faster until I was in a hole I couldn’t get out of. I was a zombie at work, I had stopped talking to my friends, I had completely shut out my husband, and my body was falling apart. In February 2013, I reluctantly entered an intensive outpatient treatment center for eating disorders. I was in denial that I actually HAD a problem and I was terrified. I was given a contract to sign: three solid meals and three snacks, zero exercise, and worst of all I had to actually TALK in my group therapy. All of my coping mechanisms (eating, exercise, isolation) were suddenly gone. It was the most raw pain I have ever experienced. It completely broke me. Which is just what I needed to rebuild my life.

Recovery has been a long, winding road. I had hoped it would be a straight line: do what I need to do, learn to cope, get better and be happy. But in any recovery, and especially in eating disorder recovery where there is no black and white “sobriety” to rely on, it’s a tangle of surges forward and setbacks and tears over the dinner table and amazing friends and bitter loss. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I took ten months off from running. I was terrified to start again. I wanted so badly to reclaim the run for me and leave the eating disorder out of it. That meant turning my training plan over to a wise coach (aka Star) who would tell me when to run, how far to run, how fast to run. I was blessed to find a coach who would not only do this but would ensure that I didn’t run a single mile over, that I slowed down when I needed to, that I didn’t sneak in any extra days. For me to reclaim running, I’ve needed to stay away from the treadmill, avoid solo runs, and be cautious about getting too attached to the numbers on my Garmin. And for me, running for recovery also meant I had to go back to Star after my goal setting run to ask for a new pace. A SLOWER pace.

This marathon and the months of training leading up to it have been about so much more than numbers and times and miles. It’s been about finishing what I start, and sticking with something that can just plain suck at times, even when the final goal is far far off in the future. It’s been about the discipline to do what I need to do, even when I don’t feel like it. It’s been about showing up and being accountable and knowing that whether or not anyone is watching, the little things will be what get me to the finish line. And – just for those who may be reading and think that marathons and recovery must be 100% horrible – it’s been about joy and courage and victory and some of the best relationships I’ve ever formed. And that’s why I fought, and I mean FOUGHT, to cross this finish line.

Race day was just what it needed to be. The weather was perfect, the training was behind me, the crowds were enthusiastic. I was full of nervous energy at the start and I had to remind myself early on that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I had moments of excitement, of gratitude, of pride. I had moments where I really wasn’t sure if I could cross the finish line. And I had moments of pain when I just had to push forward, one step at a time, knowing that there aren’t any shortcuts. But somehow every time I reached a low point of uncertainty, I would see a friend or a stranger who would give me just what I need to keep moving forward.

I crossed the finish line beaming. I don’t know what my time was, but whatever it was is my best time yet. Because that’s how long it took, and this race wasn’t about the numbers for me. I may run more marathons and I may not. Maybe I’ll try to set a new PR and maybe I won’t. I just know that for today, I’m pretty sure that I’m exactly where I need to be.

Thanks Star and friends for your part in my journey… it’s been incredible. Much love and congrats to everyone who has crossed finish lines, fast or slow, tangible or metaphorical. You are all rock stars in my book. 🙂

Laurie