Half Marathon – Finding and Keeping What Works as Your “Thing”
Megan Monday (or Tuesday!) articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Nutrition and Health Coach.
So it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write a new blog post; lots of things, as always, going on in our house, but not necessarily things I’d prefer to be doing. Our family had to pack up our entire house and lives smack in the middle of the holidays for a January 1st move to another state for my husband’s job. This is my 5th move in 5 years. I’m someone who craves stability. You can imagine how I felt about this move.
Then of course add on the time it takes to get settled, especially with two young kids (who, by the way, have kept their sick streak going strong! That’s a topic for another article) – it’s just been a blur these past two months. However, I have been writing this blog post in my head for quite some time, as it’s been something that was panging at me to get on paper.
Despite all of the craziness with the move, etc., I was able to get away for a few days (by myself!) back in January to run the Naples Daily News Half Marathon. It was one of my worst half marathon times to date, but doing this race taught me how to think in a whole new way – to let go.
You see, I was never much of a runner. I was always a swimmer and rower. Running became “my thing” back in October 2004 when I had just graduated college, was kind of floundering from a set-back in my first job where I got horrible black mold poisoning and felt like garbage (emotionally and physically). I went to go see a friend run the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia & Washington, D.C. and as I stood at the finish line (which is a not-so-fun .2 mile uphill climb), I saw a middle-aged man in a wheelchair with both legs amputated struggle up that last portion of the race. He had completed 26 miles and was almost rolling backwards the last two-tenths of a mile because he was so tired and could barely muster up the strength to keep going. My heart sank at first for this man. I started tearing up as everyone rallied to get this guy to the finish line. We were screaming and clapping so hard. The look of determination on his face was something I will never forget. While I never knew why this man lost his legs, all I could think of was what he was thinking as he gripped the wheels of his chair with each push – did he miss his legs? If he had his legs, would he be struggling so hard? Or did he just see this moment as it was – a goal he had set that needed to be finished? All that mattered to me at that moment was this man’s perseverance and grit to push through something difficult. That man finished his race. I was moved beyond belief at that second he wheeled across the finish line. I also looked down at my own legs and became mad at myself that I didn’t use them more; I just witnessed someone accomplish something that was so far beyond anything that I was currently doing. It was at that moment that I decided I was going to start running and train for a race. That night, I signed up for the Naples Daily News Half Marathon that was to take place a few months ahead in January. I had my work cut out for me, but I just kept thinking about that man in the wheelchair, and that motivated me.
My training became something that resembled a friend. It was my escape from a stressful day; I could be alone with my thoughts and let my legs work out my troubles. I started to tone up and lose weight. My energy levels were so much better than they had been. I was sleeping better, and I felt the best I had in awhile. Plus, I felt like I was accomplishing something each time I ran. I made running friends, and we had our running dates. Instead of going out partying, I was going to bed early to get up at dawn to run. My eating and lifestyle choices became healthier and I actually started to like the way clothes fit on me. Running was officially “my thing.” I ran my first half marathon and was hooked. My friends came to see me run and I loved seeing my parents at the finish line proudly cheering me on. I signed up for more and more races and wound up doing the Naples Daily News Half Marathon several other times in the years to come – it’s one of my favorite races and I have such fond memories of my dad driving me to the race early in the morning and being at the finish line with his camera taking pictures of me and my friends finishing. I am grateful for those memories and feelings.
Fast-forward ten years, I have completed over 100 races and six half marathons, which in reality, is nothing compared to many runners out there. I have even impressed myself with some decent times when I was actually in decent running shape back in 2008 and 2009. But with every single run I’ve done, ever – I always think back to that man in the wheelchair. I thank that man for igniting something in me – something that saved me in many ways, and more than I would realize once I had to deal with my dad’s cancer, death, and then having my own children.
When I got pregnant with my first child, I ran a little bit in the beginning, but wound up stopping; I was definitely suffering from depression while coping with my dad’s stage 4 brain cancer at the same time of my entire pregnancy. I wanted so many times to get up and run; I missed my “friend” – my workout. But I just couldn’t do it. I felt my years of hard work start to slip away with each missed run, and in a way, I didn’t care – I was rebelling in a way out of anger about my dad’s illness. It wasn’t until I had my son and two weeks later had to hurry across the country to get to my dying dad that I realized I needed my friend back – I needed to get back to my runs. Four weeks from having my son and while caring for my dad on home hospice, I would sneak out between infant feedings and just go for quick jogs. Everything. Felt. Different. Before I took that first step, I had the expectation of what it would feel like before I had kids. This was a realization that was to settle in (and I think for any new mom) – my body had changed….forever. I wasn’t going to let that get in my way…I needed the run, so I ran. It felt amazing at first – like a caged bird being freed. And then I had to stop because my bladder was protesting. Then my hip started acting up. I became mad. WHY was this happening? All I wanted was a few minutes back with my salvation. I remember the feelings of defeat and sadness when I ended each run feeling like I could have gotten more out of it. I would scold myself for not going faster…or running one more mile. I kept at it for weeks – and I am glad I did. Despite peeing my pants on numerous occasions and feeling completely embarrassed, I learned how to be humble. These runs saved me from falling into a deep depression watching my dad deteriorate and dealing with post-partum hormones. As my dad lost use of his legs more and more each day, I vowed to use mine more and more – because I could. I kept thinking back to that man in the wheelchair at the finish line. He reminded me of my dad. He just wouldn’t give up – and neither could I. I kept running despite hip pains, a leaking bladder, and sore breasts from nursing a baby. On my runs, I would see other moms running. Or walking. Or riding their bike. Or doing something. This was their “thing” – their way of taking a moment to try and keep something that was theirs before a child, or life-changing event. Maybe it was their new “thing” that they just started like I had back in 2004. Whatever the case, I felt a sense of camaraderie with them.
My dad passed away in May 2012 and right after his death, I signed up for a half marathon out in California – the Big Sur Half Marathon. The course snaked along some of the most beautiful scenery this country has to offer, including Pebble Beach – one of my dad’s favorite spots in the world. I was doing this race for him – and me. The post-baby me. I needed to prove to myself that I still had it. Yet I was realizing more and more that I was pretty much starting from scratch, despite my harsh expectations on myself. I pushed myself to sneak runs in whenever my husband could watch our son – which usually meant I was running 7+ miles at 8 or 9 pm. I was exhausting myself and training horribly without realizing it. My “thing” was starting to turn into something that was hurting me – literally. A month and a half before the race, I blew my hip out. Bad. I couldn’t walk for a month, so I rested. I felt defeated. However, I wouldn’t let go of the race. I still did it. I pushed myself through pain, but I kept thinking about the man in the wheelchair the entire time. I finished with a paltry time, but considering I had to walk the last 3 miles of the race, I was pleased. I was so sad that my passion – my friend – my runs – seemed more and more of a fleeting dream as my injuries piled up. Why couldn’t I let go?
I decided to give it a rest for a while, so I stopped running and took up yoga, which was great. It helped me heal to an extent, but the damage was still there from that initial hip injury. I was in constant pain, my movement was limited, and all I kept thinking of was how I felt like a failure. I didn’t feel like I was good at anything “athletic” anymore. Granted, I didn’t take into consideration enough that I was barely sleeping with a young child at home, I was still nursing, and yes, my body changed from having a baby and I didn’t want to accept that. I wanted my toned muscles back – not the stretched-out marks and cellulite I saw. I think so many moms do this to themselves after having a baby and looking back on it, we’re clinging on to things of our lives pre-baby. I envied my friends who looked like supermodels after having kids. I hated how my hip hurt all the time. I felt like I lost so much with that injury.
I became pregnant again with our second child that following summer and actually was able to run more, as the hormones from pregnancy relaxed my hips and the pain from my injury subsided. I ran a few races and loved that feeling again. I was learning how to love running again without all of the pressure. Once my second child was born, I was determined to get back into running again – the right way. I trained slower and tried to be more gentle with myself, but I still fought that mental chatter of telling myself I needed to go faster, run those 7:30 minute miles again, aim for a certain race time, etc. I ran a half marathon this past November with my hip injury back again from training. I refused to not do the race, so I walked a good portion of it and did what I could. I felt with each step that my “thing” – my running life – was officially over. My body was trying to tell me I shouldn’t do it anymore. Having kids changed my body in a way that does not want it to run anymore. I really swayed between anger and sadness. But I thought about the other moms – how many other women out there can’t do what they used to? How many men aren’t able to do what they used to because their lives changed in some way or another?
I’m stubborn, so I still wouldn’t let it go. I had one more race to do – the Naples Daily News Half Marathon. I had stopped training from November on. I ran a few times in-between, but with our move and my sore hip (and nursing and two little kids to care for and sleepless nights all the time), my body was shot. I had to learn to refocus and change my thinking. Running is to me now something totally different than it was in the past. Like I mourned the loss of my dad, I really mourned the loss of my “thing” at the same time – when I realized I may not be able to run the same way I used to. Instead of trying to force something that may not be able to ever be the same, I need to embrace what I had and see what I can do instead. As parents, we all need our “thing” – and that thing may have changed or will have to change for you for whatever reason. But whatever it is – always find something that can be yours – your salvation. Having to let go of this passion of mine also helped teach me to let go of the things that no longer serve me. I would hold onto things in an unhealthy way – it would cause stress and despair. Now, I try to really hone-in on what matters, what doesn’t and clean house in my head.
For my last race, I went into it with no expectations other than to finish and have fun. This was the first time I was doing the Naples Daily News Half when my dad would not be at the finish line waiting for me and not cheering me on, which marked a newfound way to look at my running. I was able to run the whole thing slowly without stopping or walking – and I didn’t even care what my time was. I knew it would be slow. I have not run since that race day in January and am healing my body with other forms of exercise before I push it to cruel extremes. My half marathons now are caring for my kids on a daily basis – the demands of being a parent are incredible, but rewarding, like crossing that finish line. Moreover, I want my boys to learn to have their own “thing” as well – and modeling this for them is one of the best things I can pass on to them, even if it’s not a running race.
Every day, I still think about that man in the wheelchair at the Marine Corps Marathon and wonder what he’s doing now – what has he been up to these past 12 years? How many other marathons did he do after that time I saw him and how many other people did he inspire? Most of all, I think about what my life would be like hadn’t I witnessed that man that day? What would my “thing” have been, if I found anything at all? What would have helped get me through some of the hardest things in my life?
Whatever it may be – think about your “thing” – is it the same as it was several years ago? What are you thankful for? What are you hopeful about? And most of all – what has inspired you? Always look back to that source of inspiration and siphon daily all the positivity you can from it, as it’ll keep you going – in ways that you never thought that you could.
This article is dedicated to “the man in the wheelchair”, my dad – the other man in the wheelchair who wouldn’t give up, and all of you out there who have a “thing” that won’t let you give up. Just know when to let go – there’s a difference. J
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods, products, and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at:firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Megan on Twitter (@MPowerNutrition) and like her on Facebook: Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC.