I was recently invited by my new friend Heather who coaches the local Team Challenge team, to speak to her group of walkers and runners about my marathon story. Team Challenge is a national endurance training and fundraising program that individuals can join to raise money and awareness for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, two chronic and often debilitating digestive diseases that impact 1.4 million Americans.
The Cleveland area group meets on Sunday mornings for group runs, and often they have a guest speaker that shares something about running, nutrition, strength training, etc.
I was beyond flattered that Heather asked me to join them for this morning’s run, and jumped at the chance! I love sharing my story, my enthusiasm and love for such a healthy activity. Running isn’t just a sport, or a fool-proof way to fit into those skinny jeans, running is a way of life, something that makes me feel so alive and continues to challenge me is all sorts of ways.
Today’s challenge was to inspire my fellow athletes, many who are training for their first half-marathon attempt. The goal was to show them that hard work, determination, and digging deeper when you think there is no way you could possibly run or walk another step, really will pay off in the end. I shared a cliffs notes version of all my marathon attempts, the struggles and set-backs that I faced. I told them about my perfect Boston experience. I made it a point to stress that participating in a race should be FUN. I shared that I dedicated each of my 26.2 miles in Boston either in honor of someone who was currently fighting or surviving cancer, or in memory of those who weren’t so lucky to triumph over such a horrid disease. I told them that even if I didn’t run my fastest time, and if the weather wasn’t perfect in Boston, it still would have been my most memorable, wonderful marathon to date, because I ran that race with my entire heart and soul, and invited the thoughts and prayers for all those on my list of mile dedications into my heart and mind that day.
My mom recently commented that when she saw me finish Boston, she had never seen me so happy after a race. I honestly feel in my heart that it was because of all those beautiful souls who were with me, in spirit that day. How could I not be exuding sheer and utter joy when I had the strength of all those fighters to carry me along?
All the members of Team Challenge have a reason, a motivation for putting their bodies through the ringer for the cause of Chron’s Disease and colitis. Maybe they personally have been diagnosed, or they have watched a love one struggle with these diseases. I assured them that their journey through training, and through race day, they will learn profound things about themselves. They will have moments in the race where they feel like a million bucks, and they will have moments where they want to give up and quit. In both instances, I reminded them to not forget why they are running, whether they have one reason, or a million, whomever they are running for, that dedication will propel them to finish.
After I spoke to the team, I was invited to join them on their 110 minute training run. It was so wonderful to run along with all the various team members. Some minutes we would chat about running, the weather, how well the Cleveland Indians are doing, plans for Mother’s Day, etc. Other stretches of time we would just run shoulder to shoulder, the only sounds being the rhythmic pounding of our shoes on the trail, as well as our inhales and exhales. The moments of non-verbal running are my favorite. There is sometime inexplicably beautiful about working hard and sweating it out with a pack of fellow runners, each lost in his or her own thoughts. Since I do most of my runs by myself, today was a nice change of pace. I almost forgot how awesome being on a team felt!
As my personal running journey continues to unfold, I have begun to find excitement in other aspects of the sport than just chasing down my own PR’s. This weekend a dear friend accomplished a big goal she set for herself of running in a 10-mile race! She totally rocked it, and I am so proud of her! Though not a new runner by any means, she was a distance runner in high school and college, she has recently rediscovered her love for the sport, and has her sights set on a fall marathon! She has sought out advice from me and others, and I have helped her create her summer training plan and also have agreed to hop into the marathon with her around mile 15 and see her through to the finish.
I also have plans this fall to pace my big brother in his first marathon attempt. My brother is a huge inspiration and has made an incredible amount of lifestyle changes. Perhaps more on that in a future blog post. His birthday is the same day as the Rock ‘n Roll Denver Marathon, and I can not wait to celebrate another year of his life, most likely the healthiest one yet, with him by accomplishing such an awesome goal and challenge he has made for himself!
With all these incredible plans I have been reminded of how truly rewarding it can be to be a mentor, and how important it is for each of us to offer love and support to those who are interested in joining in on the fun!
“As runners, we each have a duty to accept the role as mentor to a slower runner, new runner or someone who doesn’t think he or she can walk around the block”. – Bart Yasso.