Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Running

Why I run

Ran the Iron Girl half marathon in under two hours, which was my goal.

Running has always been a powerful release for me. It’s a good stress reliever, and it’s also a way for me to make progress. When I train for races, I set goals for myself so I can have something to work toward. With each run, I can feel myself getting stronger. I become more aware of my body — the aches, the soreness, the feeling of hunger.

Running helps me keep my eating on track. And it’s a way for me to simultaneously be alone, but with people. I’m someone who needs alone time. Maybe it’s because I grew up as an only child, or because I’m somewhat of an introvert. Alone time helps me recharge and gives me time to write, run or do other activities that make me happy. But the time I spend alone often leads to a feeling of loneliness. When I’m in my apartment by myself for too long, I feel like I’m 11 years old all over again. That same feeling I got when I would come home to an empty house after my mom died comes rushing back to me. For months after she passed away, I tried hiding from the reality that she had died, still hoping she would be there when I came home from school.

This feeling of loneliness and loss is strongest on Sundays. Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest. But I’ve always thought of it as the day of stress. It’s the day when I overwhelm myself thinking about the work week ahead. It’s the day when out-of-town visitors usually go back home and say their goodbyes. It’s the day that my mom died.

For as much as I try to make Sundays enjoyable — by going to church or spending time with people I care about, they still throw me off course. Most Sundays, I turn to food for comfort, as a way to numb the pain. But lately I’ve been trying to find alternatives. I’ve been spending more time with friends and my boyfriend, and I’ve started having weekly phone calls with a friend who knows that Sundays are difficult for me. She calls me every Sunday night on her way home from church to check in and catch up.

I’ve also been making more time for exercise on Sundays. When I run along the bay in St. Pete, I feel a sense of connection with the others who are out and about, and I start to feel less alone.  I see different crowds from the ones I see when I run on weekdays. The bow-legged man who nods his head and smiles whenever he passes, the two men who walk their fluffy black dog, and the girl who power walks with a constant look of determination are my favorites. For as often as I run by these people, I don’t even know their names. Still, there’s an understood sense of recognition, a comfort in knowing that for as much as things change, we’ve found an outlet for consistency.

I felt this sense of comfort when I ran the Iron Girl half marathon last Sunday. I had never met the women standing by me at the starting line. But we counted down the minutes to the race together and calmed our nerves by talking about how happy we were that the day we’d been training for had arrived.

After running the race, I spent the day with my boyfriend and ate all of my meals with him. This half-marathon experience was a lot different from last year’s, when I came home to an empty apartment and binged all night. This year, I felt full — not from food but from the fulfillment that comes from being with people we love.

I’ve heard non-runners say that people who like to run are running away from something. But I never looked at it that way. As a runner, I’m always running toward something — toward a goal, toward a stronger feeling of self respect. Years ago, that goal would have been to lose weight. Now, it’s to stay healthy. I run not just because it keeps me fit, but because it makes me feel better about myself and gives me a chance to enjoy my own company without feeling so alone. I know that exercise won’t always curb my loneliness on Sundays, but anything that helps some of the time is worth continuing. I got through last Sunday and this Sunday without turning to food for comfort. That’s only two good weeks out of many bad ones, but it’s progress.

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Thanks for Your Race for the Cure Donations

I wanted to thank everyone who helped me raise money for the Race for the Cure. I ended up exceeding y $1,000 goal and raising $1,285, the majority of which will go toward local nonprofit organizations that offer screenings, breast health education, and treatment projects for those who are medically underserved. About 25 percent of the $482, 875 raised will also go toward breast cancer research.

I didn’t run the 10K nearly as fast as I had hoped; I was aiming for 7:45-minute miles but ran 8:30 miles because stomach cramps hit me about halfway through the race. Still, I’m less concerned about my time, especially since this is just the start of the race season here in Florida. Most of all, I’m just happy I met my goal and that so many friends, family members and even strangers donated to a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s amazing how much spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter helps!

During the race, I thought of those who donated and the people in their lives who they said have been affected by breast cancer. I also thought of the two people I ran the race for — my maternal aunt and my mom. I know they’d be proud.

Running in the St. Anthony’s Triathlon

Team BAM (Brittany, Anna and Mallary)

Last weekend I ran in my first triathlon — the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Fla. I was part of a relay team of girls who I hardly knew a month ago but who I grew closer with as we worked together to complete each leg of the race.

Our team came in sixth out of the female relay teams, which we were pretty happy about. I ran the 10k at an 8-minute mile pace — not quite as fast as I had hoped,  but decent.

Afterward, I joked with my teammates, saying I felt like a slacker for only doing the running portion of the triathlon. Now, we’re each thinking of doing a full tri — a goal that doesn’t seem so far off after having experienced what this type of race is like.

Trying to stay strong at the end of the race ...

There was a tremendous amount of energy among the athletes, and it was invigorating to see so many people — young and old — push themselves to accomplish a goal. My next goal is to run another half marathon. I hope to visit a good friend from college in Minneapolis this August and join her in running one that’s being sponsored by World Vision. There’s also a triathlon in Clearwater in July that I’m tempted to do. We’ll see how well my knee, which has been in pain recently, holds up.

Funny how runners have a tendency to run through the pain. Running has always presented me with the challenge of learning how to listen to my body and respect it when it needs rest. I tend to push myself too hard, which usually results in me experiencing greater pain for a longer period of time. I’m learning, though, that every now and then it helps to slow down.

On a ‘Running High’ after Finishing the Disney Princess Half Marathon

Just about to approach the finish line at Epcot.

My wake-up call was much too early. Saturday night, I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. and set my alarm for 3:15 a.m. — the time I usually go to bed on Saturday nights. The Disney Princess Half Marathon was starting at 6 a.m. the next morning, and my friends and I had to be at the starting line by 5:30 a.m.

Why in God’s name, I asked myself, was I waking up in the middle of the night to run 13.1 miles? Was I crazy?

Maybe. But after flipping on the light switch, splashing my face with water and eating some toast and peanut butter, I was awake enough to get excited about being a running princess, if only for a day.

In the days leading up to the race, I was pretty worried. How well would I do? What if I couldn’t fall asleep the night before? What if I got cramps in the middle of the race? I spent months training for the race, and had run more than 13 miles, so I knew I could do it. Running is so mental, though, so it’s easy to let doubt impede your speed.

It helped to be in the company of two of my closest friends — Linsey and Colleen. They both flew to Florida from Massachusetts to run in the race. Linsey’s mom, my high school cross-country coach, also ran in it and warmed up with me at the starting line. I told her I wanted to finish the race in two hours, but that so long as I finished my first half marathon, I’d be happy.

Running through the Magic Kingdom.

When the race began, I felt strong. I started out running an 8-minute mile and continued at this pace throughout the race, finishing it in an hour and 45 minutes. Colleen came in about the same time I did, and Linsey ran it in an hour and 27 minutes, placing 9th out of nearly 13,000 runners. (Pretty amazing!)

Crossing the finish line gave me such a great sense of accomplishment and made me remember why I spent so much time training. All those mornings I woke up to run when I would have liked to have just stayed in bed had paid off.

Now, five days after the race, I’m still on a running high. I want to train for another half marathon, like this one in Minneapolis. There’s also one in Boston this spring that I’d like to run, but I should really be focusing on swimming, not running, over the next month-and-a-half. I’m part of a relay team for the St. Anthony’s Triathlon and need to train for a mile-long, open water swim on April 25. Eek. Time to kick my aquatic training into gear! I like swimming, but it’s not usually something I look forward to doing.

After running the Disney Princess Half Marathon, all I really want to do is run. …

Running the Disney Princess Half Marathon This Weekend

I'll be donning this Claire's tiara for the race. Very classy.

I’ve bought my tiara and am ready to be a princess, if only for a day. This weekend I’m running the Disney Princess Half Marathon with two of my best friends — one from my hometown and one from college. I’ve been training for a few months for this race, getting up early in the morning before work to run, or going to the gym after work and (begrudgingly) running on the treadmill.

Training has forced me to make more healthy choices about my diet and the amount of sleep I get and has given me a goal to work toward. It has also become a healthy release. Like many people, I don’t always make time for myself, so running daily has forced me to enjoy my own company, have some quiet time outside and reflect a little.

Long runs by the water are often when I do some of my best thinking — about my personal life, work, and why I’m running. Sure, there are mornings when I just don’t want to get up and run six miles, and there are times when I’m in pain and wonder why the hell I’m putting my body through this. But there’s a certain level of gratification I get from running that helps keep me driven and focused, not just in running but in other areas of my life, too. For that reason alone, it’s worth it.

Staying focused on long runs can be tough, but once I get about three miles into them, I start to find a rhythm. The longest I’ve run is 14.5 miles, so I know I can run the half. I just have to pace myself so that I can accomplish my goal of running the race in under two hours. I’ll be focused less on time, though, and more on finishing. So long as I can cross the finish line and celebrate with my friends, I’ll be happy. (Perhaps the biggest challenge is making sure I get enough sleep before the race. I’m a night owl, so it’ll be difficult waking up at 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning. …)

I can do it, though. Here’s to getting enough sleep and running my first marathon — with friends and with the hope that all my training will pay off. Check back here early next week to see how it went!

Training for a Half-Marathon on List of Goals for 2010

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. If I want to do something badly enough, I try to do it during the year. This year, though, I’m feeling more motivated to think about my goals for 2010, in part because I have a lot I want to accomplish in the months ahead.

I’ve found that writing down my goals helps ground them in reality and sometimes makes them seem more feasible. And publishing them for an audience of readers creates more of an incentive to actually live up to what I say I’m going to do!

So, here’s some of what I hope to accomplish in the year ahead:

Start cooking more for myself — and others. After a long day at work, it’s much easier to heat up a veggie burger or some soup than it is to make a meal for myself. I have no trouble, though, cooking for others, and I love seeing people eat the food I make. Since coming home, I’ve prepared more meals than usual, probably because I have a family to make meals for here. I find that the more I cook and bake, the more relaxing and enjoyable it becomes.

Help out with some Habitat for Humanity builds. Nearly every Saturday morning, the local Habitat for Humanity chapter for St. Petersburg, Fla., has organized construction days for people who want to help build a Habitat home. I’m not a morning person, and Saturday is my one day to sleep in, so I often don’t wake up in time to volunteer. I’m hoping to help out with at least a few builds, though, this year.

I led Habitat for Humanity groups all throughout college, and spent three of my four spring breaks building homes in Rocky Mount, N.C., Baltimore, Md., and Concord, N.H. These were some of the best weeks of my college career. Even though I hardly knew the people on the builds prior to our week-long adventures, I always came away with a sense of accomplishment and a new group of friends. Seeing how happy the soon-to-be homeowners looked when they saw their houses being built was enough to remind me why I spent my spring breaks putting up drywall, painting walls and hammering lots of nails.

Continue to write more personal essays. Someday I want to write a memoir. It’s a lofty goal, I know, but I already have a lot of material for what could become a book about my mom and how her death has shaped me. In the past decade or so, I’ve written dozens of personal essays and filled up more than 20 journals. I don’t journal as much as I once did, but I still write a few entries a month in addition to the personal essays I write for my blog.

When writing essays for publication, I try to be truthful to my own experiences while addressing universal themes that others can relate to. The best indication of a “successful” personal essay is one that touches others. If I can help just a small group of people through a piece of writing, and make them realize that they’re not alone, then the time spent writing was more than worth it. In 2010, I hope to write more personal stories and draw greater connections between my more recent essays and those I’ve written in the past.

Run a half-marathon. Since I started running cross-country in high school, I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. I’m not quite ready for one yet, though. So I’m going to attempt a half-marathon — a Disney Princess half-marathon. I’ve been running regularly, and I recently ran in some 10K road races, so I feel up for the challenge. My best friend from home is flying from Massachusetts to run the race with me, as is her mom, who was our high school cross-country coach. We’re planning to wear tiaras during the race, and there’s been talk of even wearing a tutu. We can’t help but want to embrace the race’s theme. …

Swim in a triathlon. One of my friends recently signed me up for the St. Anthony’s triathlon in St. Petersburg. I’m going to do a mile-long swim while my two other friends bike and run. When I first heard that I’d have to swim a mile, it didn’t seem as though it would be that difficult. But I was thinking from a runner’s standpoint. An open-water, mile-long swim is pretty far, especially for someone like me who doesn’t swim regularly. I’m willing to do it, though, so long as the waves aren’t too rough the day of the race. My plan is to swim two to three times a week when I get back to Florida after the first of the year, and do a few open-water swims. Any training-related tips would be much appreciated.

I’m still thinking about how I plan to measure the success of these goals. I’ll keep you updated on my progress in the coming months.

What are some of your goals for 2010?

In Love with My iPod

I’m having a love affair with music.

I run with it. I work with it. I drive with it. I sleep with it. I’m sure lots of people are tuned into their iPod throughout the day, but I’m new to the iPod world, having just bought one a little over a month ago. Now, I don’t know how I managed without one. For so long, I resisted buying an iPod, just as I resisted buying a North Face fleece in college. Almost everyone on campus had one of these overly expensive, wannabe jackets, and I didn’t want what everyone had. iPods, though, are different; I can understand the appeal in them.

I especially like running with my iPod because it distracts me from thinking about fatigue or heat. Running with a partner has always helped me run harder and faster, but an iPod fills this void when running partners aren’t an option. Lately while running, I’ve been listening to Coldplay’s “Life in Technicolor” (great, upbeat instrumental); “Lost” (nice beat) and “Lovers in Japan” (good lyrics): “Lovers, keep on the road you’re on/ runners until the race is run/ soldiers, you’ve got to soldier on/Sometimes even right is wrong. …

At night, if I’m hanging out, I usually put my iPod on shuffle. When I go to bed, Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones put me to sleep. I’m a little reluctant to listen to my iPod at work, and only do so if I really need help focusing. And I won’t listen to my iPod while casually walking around. For as much as I love music and being tuned into my iPod, I don’t want to seem tuned out to the rest of the world.

Weigh in: When is it/isn’t it appropriate to listen to your iPod at work?

Waking up for a Morning Run

Waking up is hard to do. It’s even harder when you’re not a morning person and you know you have to go for a run right after the alarm rings.

7:56 a.m. Four more minutes.

8 a.m. Snooze.

8:09 a.m. I pull back the curtain, hoping it’s raining outside so I’ll have an excuse not to run.

No such luck.

I’ve been a runner for years, mostly in the Northeast, and have grown accustomed to running outside in the early evening. Since moving to Dallas last month, though, I’ve found it’s too hot to run outside. I’m not willing to drop the money for a gym membership just yet, so I decided to try running in the morning. Doing so means changing how I live my day-to-day life. No more running after work. No more staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. No more sleeping in.

After four days of failed attempts to get up early and run, I crawled out of bed recently at 8:10 a.m., put in my contacts, quickly got dressed before I could change my mind, and stepped outside into the morning light.

Surprisingly, I felt strong when running and didn’t have to slow down, stretch, or “tie my shoelaces,” a.k.a. look for an excuse to stop running. Aside from barking dogs and the occasional car radio, the streets echoed a tale of silence. I turned my focus to the rhythm of my running and the beat of my feet. After about three miles, I made it home. Maybe waking up early and running isn’t so hard to do. We’ll just have to wait and see if I still feel the same way tomorrow.

Check out a related blog post I wrote for The Dallas Morning News’ fitness blog.

How do you motivate yourself to get up early and run?