Posted by: Sara | August 30, 2013

Day Two: Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare Challenge

The Dumbo Double Dare might still be one day away but I’ve been managing to get through a triple challenge: the three-hour time difference. It’s ridiculously noticeable. Last night, while Telisa and I explored Downtown Disney, we found ourselves yawning before 7PM because it was really 10PM on the East Coast. I called it the night before– I’d be in bed by 1AM “our time” and awake at 9AM “our time,” which translates into Pacific Time as down at 10PM and up at 6AM. And I was correct. But hey, we got to see the sunrise and I’m willing to bet this will be an advantage to us waking up for the next two days of racing.

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After a few early hours of coffee and pool time, Telisa and I headed over to the Disneyland Hotel for the expo and packet pickup. And wow. I was not expecting there to be such chaos as there was. I was surprised that the lines were as disorganized as they were, and standing in the hot hot HOT California sun (and since when did California get humid!?) every annoyance was magnified. But as quickly as it seemed we would be outside for an hour or more, we were ushered into the Disneyland Hotel convention center to get our packets, half-marathon pin, bib, and the coveted Coast-to-Coast wristband.

At that point, the real wait to leave packet pickup and get our shirts began. We waited at least an hour in a line in which we had to verify with several line standees that they were waiting for the same thing we were. At one point, when it seemed like the line was going to merge with another one, a Disneyland employee showed up to usher everyone into the expo. He explained that, with the 8,000 extra runners signed up for the Alice in Wonderland 10K, the crowds were extremely heavy because everyone was trying to get to the expo first. We recommended a three-day expo for next year. I hope they listen.

The expo itself was overwhelming but fun. I enjoyed seeing Ali Vincent speak, especially as a fan of the Biggest Loser and because she appears on my Biggest Loser Weight Loss Yoga DVD. The highlight of the expo, however and besides buying a teal sparkly skirt for my costume (hint hint), was meeting Jeff Galloway and having him sign a copy of his book on running motivation! I told him about having lost my job but also about my sister being afraid she wouldn’t qualify for Boston because of tighter qualifying times. Check out what he wrote to us:

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After leaving the expo, Telisa and I got twilight park passes to Disneyland and stopped by the mini-expo for the A-T Children’s Project and the ATCP Cure Team. We were both surprised to see Emily Hughes, the young girl we were both raisin money for through ATCP. Truly, going through the ATCP, I felt like I was part of something more real and special than the entire Disneyland experience and it just made me all the more excited to sit with Emily and her family tomorrow night at the ATCP Pasta Party.

After 4PM, Telisa and I went to Disneyland and rode Pirates of the Caribbean (my favorite Disney ride!), then Jungle Cruise, and then Splash Mountain twice where we both each say in the first and second seats and each got DRENCHED literally head to toe. It was obviously worth it. Disneyland always, always, always makes me feel like a child. And a special shoutout to the girl at the French Market restaurant who let us order mac ‘n cheese from the kids menu for that very same reason. After leaving a sun soaked and 96-degree day in the sunshine of the happiest place on earth, we headed back to our hotel for a 4AM wake-up call to get coffee and breakfast before the 10K starts at 6AM.

I’m so happy to be here, and I’m having the best time so far. Disneyland has always been such a special place to me, from all the times I came here as a kid with my dad and siblings to the time my twin sister and our two best friends came here to celebrate our high school graduation in 2000, to the time my twin, brother Joel, his friend Seth, and I came here in 2001 right before I left home for college, and again when my family and I came here in 2006 when it was all decorated for Christmas. Each of those times, I felt, as Jiminy Cricket says, fun and fancy free and lived in the present, just enjoying the smells of kettle corn and musty water theme rides and hearing countless runs of Disney songs. I can’t wait to explore the park some more on Sunday wearing my golden D. I just feel so blessed to be here.

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Posted by: Sara | August 30, 2013

Day One: Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare Challenge

One of the best feelings in the world is when an event you have waited so long for finally arrives. For months, as I endured frightening loss and uncertainty this year, I found happiness in the joy of looking back on one of the happiest moments of my life– finishing the 2013 Goofy Challenge— and looking ahead with anticipation to the 2013 Dumbo Double Dare Challenge. This morning when my alarm went off at 5AM to the sound of “Go the Distance” from Hercules (the song played before the Mickey Mouse Marathon, yes that happened), I knew my waiting was over.

My Goofy Challenge running buddy, Telisa, and I caught an early morning flight out of Washington, DC to Philadelphia. To keep the altitude from making me swell up, I wore capri compression pants and compression sleeves. Not the most chic attire for a flight into LAX– according to the lyrics from Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA,” I guess I missed the memo.

Telisa and I had extended our trip by a day because we didn’t want to get into the city, rush to the hotel and expo, and squeeze in some down time before the race weekend. Our itinerary first included a trip to Newport Beach to soak our sore feet in cold salt water (nature’s runners ice and epsom bath!) but our plans were quickly squashed when the concierge informed us that cab fare for the 30-miles round trip was $100 and the city bus trip was expensive, time-wise. Seriously, Orange County? I speculate this is the county’s way of regulating beaches for overcrowding and, if it is, this California beach girl objects. Beach got moved to Saturday….don’t worry, Pacific, I will see you soon.

Tonight wasn’t a loss. We decided to explore the grounds of Downtown Disney, an area that this once-native-by-family Californian always skipped in favor of fantasy park rides, rich park food, and tempting souvenir stores. We had margaritas and tacos for dinner, Haagen-Daz for dessert, and Wetzels Pretzels’s fresh lemonade in between. The park was busy but not packed, being Thursday and the start of children’s school years. I told the park personnel to enjoy the slowness while they could: we runners were coming!

I’m so excited to be here. Tomorrow, it’s expo time– can’t wait to see the medals up close, get our T-shirts, pick up some swag, and meet the members of the ATCP Cure Team. Tonight, I’m drifting to sleep to the sound of fireworks over Disneyland with dreams of expos and medals and Disney songs dancing in my head.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates all weekend from Anaheim!! Especially if you want to find out what my two running costumes will be. Trust me, I can’t believe I’m going to wear what I have….

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Posted by: Sara | August 21, 2013

Getting Back on the Horse

Now that some things are starting to fall into a still-shaky but tentative pattern of normalcy in my life, I have been able to pick up running and cross-training again. It’s been hard as hell– I haven’t forgotten how hard it is to get back on the horse but sometimes that first hard workout never fails to remind me. Over the past week, my workout schedule has looked like this:

Friday: Run 4 miles
Saturday: Run 4 miles; one hour Ashtanga Yoga
Sunday: Run 8 miles
Monday: One hour Body Pump; run 3 miles
Tuesday: Rest Day

In between several of those running days, I have stood on my feet for 6-8 hours working a part-time, weekend job. On Monday, I woke up at 5AM for Body Pump and started a temp job near a Metro location that happens to have one of the longest escalators in the entire Metro system. Try to be a runner and decide to forgo an opportunity to get in a little extra cross-training in the morning. All of this getting-back-on-the-horse-ness has come at a price: I am FAMISHED and, as a result of overworked muscles that have lost some strength since my last peak at the Brownville Half-Marathon, I have to do the cringeworthy unthinkable: take a second rest day in a row. I hate doing that, but with a planned Body Pump class, a 3-miler, a 5-miler, a yoga class, and a 10-miler planned for the next three days plus a 14-hour weekend on my feet at my part-time job, I’d rather not take the chance of further injury as I try to “cram” for the Disneyland Dumbo Dare Challenge and get back on track to run Baltimore in 8 weeks.

This is the part when I can’t let myself off the hook. But it’s also the part when I reflect on why I am here and try to learn something so that next time I experience major life drama, my running won’t suffer. I think about the times I went running and couldn’t stop thinking about how traumatizing unemployment has been and how terrified I am that I’m going to face rock bottom despite every effort in me to avoid failure, and I sit here with shortness of breath. So I know I wasn’t phoning it in on those runs; that the physical impact of those fears is real. But it still feels defeating to let something like that get in the way of a powerful run that I know will cure my emotions at least for the remainder of the day. I’m not sure I know how to overcome it yet– best I can offer is listening to neutral tunes while running, nothing that stokes emotion or memories. Classic rock has been a lifesaver. Other than that, I have yet to find that changeover button in my head. Easy to do when that fear is not about losing your home, the life you’ve built, and pretty much any sense of financial well-being you worked hard to achieve that was obliterated by a major hardship.

Seriously, someone tell me how to do it. It’s not easy to let myself off the hook. No matter what is going on. I don’t like feeling like I can’t overcome my problems.

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Crossing the finish line of the Walt Disney World Mickey Mouse Marathon and the final leg of the Goofy Challenge, January 2013. Photo Credit: MarathonFoto

Crossing the finish line of the Walt Disney World Mickey Mouse Marathon and the final leg of the Goofy Challenge, January 2013. Photo Credit: MarathonFoto

One of the best feelings in the world is when an event you have been anticipating for months is just around the corner. Two nights ago, I literally couldn’t sleep because I am so excited about the Disneyland Dumbo Dare Challenge. Over the past several months, remembering how happy I was when I finished the Disney World Goofy Challenge has helped me get through a few dark moments and get me back to the joy that is running and the power of overcoming what you thought you couldn’t. I’m completely aware that I am blessed with the opportunity to repeat that experience in California and I’ve been looking forward to it for a very long time.

One of the ways I have been trying to appreciate this opportunity is by raising money for a very special cause. Back in January, when my Goofy running buddy Telisa and I were considering registering for the Dumbo Dare Challenge so we could complete our Coast to Coast medal requirements, we were nervous about the cost because running Disney World was expensive given the cost of the race, hotel, airfare, and food. We didn’t even do the parks because of the expense (which was fine since we both wanted to be off our feet before and after the events). Turning around and repeating the heavy costs, especially as I was facing uncertainty with a job, definitely took some thought; however, because of the popularity of the race and the inaugural Dumbo Dare Challenge, not knowing for sure that we wanted to run cost us: the race sold out literally in front of our eyes. That’s when I knew I wanted to run it, but we were too late. I remember that moment– I was really sad. I refused to give up, though, and immediately began to research charity race entries. That’s when I learned about the A-T Children’s Project (ATCP).

A-T stands for ataxia-telangiectasia (pronounced “uh-tax-ee-uh tell-ann-jeck-tay-shuh”). According to the ATCP website, A-T is “a rare genetic disease that attacks children, causing progressive loss of muscle control, immune system problems, and a high rate of cancer.” Think about taking the symptoms of muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, AIDS, and cancer and you have one hell of a degenerative disease. There is also no cognitive damage, so you’re basically aware the whole time of what is happening to you if you are living with A-T. The U.S. government currently doesn’t fund research for A-T therapy, even though Johns Hopkins and St. Jude both have A-T caregiver consultative clinics. Some experts believe that, due to the multi-system impact of A-T, research for A-T will help research in other diseases such as Parkinson’s Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and cancer. Children who are born with A-T usually don’t survive past their teenage years. It’s a hard life sentence for the child and for the parents who are literally powerless to stop the disease’s slow progression.

For the past eight months, however, I have been raising money for a young girl named Emily Hughes. Emily is awesome. She’s 18, will soon be attending college, has ridden horses since she was 10, and is incredibly active in her church’s numerous mission trips. She even has a small business in the paper shredding industry that she runs out of her home. This girl is a rock star who has not let a terrible disease define who she is, and I am so honored to be raising the funds needed to ensure her quality of life. I am also incredibly excited for the opportunity to meet her and her family next week at the ATCP’s pasta dinner party. In all honesty, it is my favorite part about this whole thing. I honestly cannot wait to meet her. She doesn’t know how much I have looked up to her. In fact, I’ve barely thought about the race because I know I can’t let her down.

Raising money for Emily through the ATCP has been an incredibly humbling experience. What first started out as a venture to enter a race has turned into a burgeoning realization that the world is bigger than me, that there are real problems with no real solution, that people live with issues that go largely unrecognized, but that also you never know who is going to come along and take interest in helping, even if the motivation for doing so isn’t purely altruistic. I love raising money for charities, I love being able to give back, but given my past experience with raising money while training, I will be honest– all I wanted to do was get into the race, and the ATCP offered an attainable way for me to be able to participate. But it has become so much more than just a race entry. I’m not even thinking about how happy I will be when I cross the finish line and collect all four– yes FOUR– medals. I will probably still be glowing from such a meaningful experience as having raised money for a PERSON and getting to meet this person myself and see the impact of not just my efforts but the efforts of everyone who helped me reach my fundraising goal.

Wearing one of the braided crocheted infinity scarves that I made to raise money for ATCP.

Wearing one of the braided crocheted infinity scarves that I made to raise money for ATCP.

I decided that the best way to raise the money was to crochet scarves and sell them for $20 donations each and I easily reached my now seemingly too small goal of $600. People I hadn’t spoken to in ages came out on Facebook in support of the cause and sometimes purchased more than one scarf from me because the donations went towards Emily’s care. I even met a new friend when I posted a picture of the scarf on Instagram and she ordered one– I will be meeting her next week at the race where I will give her the scarf she ordered, and I was even sending well wishes to her as she was going through the massive May tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma near where she lived. I never would have that connection if I didn’t go through the ATCP to raise money.

To say that I sat there crocheting and thinking of how awful it is to live with A-T and how brave Emily is for living with it would be untrue. Sometimes, I was worried that I wouldn’t get the scarves done on time and I would let people down. I think what I love most about this experience is what I have learned without thinking about it at all. And I think I will see the realization of its impact when I am at the pasta party, shaking hands with her family and giving Emily the pink scarf that I am crocheting for her. I can’t wait to blog about it– stay tuned.

I want to take a moment and say THANK YOU to everyone who supported my fundraising efforts over the past several months. Many people bought scarves but some also donated out of the kindness of their hearts. Through this experience, I have learned that people will always come through in ways you don’t expect them to and that it will always take your breath away when they do. Believe me when I say that I have loved every moment of this endeavor and I am inspired to do more as a result. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

To read more about Emily Hughes, check out this June 2013 Houston Chronicle article: http://www.chron.com/cyfair/news/article/Cy-Creek-senior-Emily-Hughes-beats-the-odds-4576440.php#photo-4734803

P.S. These scarves were so popular that I may continue to make more to raise money for various other organizations that offer charity entries to sold-out races. Stay tuned– I will likely take up these efforts as part of the Advocates for the Survivors of Torture and Trauma team running in the Baltimore Marathon in October 2013. If you would like to order a scarf, please email me at saradb82@yahoo.com with your name in the subject line and the words “Charity Scarf” (example: Sara Brown Charity Scarf). Suggested donation of $20 plus cost of shipping. All proceeds go towards the cause.

Here’s a link to the album with examples of scarves: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.858793409729.1073741826.76800126&type=1&l=5419fed2d6

Posted by: Sara | August 10, 2013

Balancing the Weight of the World

It’s Friday night. 5:00. I’m about to head out to the gym for a 5:30 yoga class when my phone rings. I don’t recognize the number but it’s a 202 area code. My first thought anytime my phone rings with a 202 area code these days is that I’m about to take the phone call where I will finally hear the sweet relief in the words, “I’m calling to offer you the position…” But this was not that phone call. It was the bittersweet rejection phone call. In the past seven plus months, I’ve seen 21 emails and taken 2 of those “we were very impressed with your credentials; however…” phone calls. It’s a bad ratio to the number of jobs I’ve applied for so I appreciate them because then I can ask for the interviewer’s advice for improvement. But it’s only inevitable that when I hang up the phone, I pretty much lose my mind. Seven long months of joblessness, over two and a half years on the hunt. Absolutely no end in sight. I wonder how much more I can take, especially when, a week ago, I had seven leads on the table and now I have only two. I get that the market is tough. But seriously?

I give myself an hour to be pissed off and sad about losing this lead, which was for a job that I would consider a “dream job” and the second of its kind I was rejected for this week. I’ve already missed yoga class so I decide to lace up my shoes and go for a run. I’ve had good ones lately so I know this time, it’ll cheer me up. But by the middle of the third mile and without music to distract me, my mind goes back to the events of the past week.

I can literally feel the mental and physical transition. My chest tightens, my breathing becomes shallow, I can feel my eyes glaze over, and mental fog rolls in. I start to slow down and, realizing that I’m going to ruin the fast pace I’d been running this far, I panic slightly and push faster but the mental fog has done the most damage in the least bit of time. Once my mind is locked on the fact that I’m staring into the face of possible financial ruin and homelessness if I can’t get a frickin job, it’s all I can think about. Forget about pace times– what about my LIFE!?!

It’s incredibly heart wrenching to allow myself to go to such a dark place, as real as it is. Running is the only thing I have control over right now but it’s also what I do when I need to think. And when all I can think about is how I’m rapidly sinking towards a complete disaster, my running gets out of control. Unlike running to get over a breakup or grieving a death or other such loss, this is the kind of problem that doesn’t end until it ends. There are no steps to take toward an end goal. You can network, apply, and interview until you’re blue in the face and speaking gibberish (which I am), but until that phone call with the magic words, “We’d like to offer you the position…”, there is no end in sight; no progress to be marked on a chart, no days that are better than the days before. It’s crappy until it’s not. And it gets crappier until suddenly it’s okay again.

The problem, too, is that I haven’t been able to find that mechanism in my head that allows me to convert the fear and emotion of unemployment into a kick-ass run. In the first few months of joblessness, I was able to do this because the fear wasn’t so paralyzing. I still had time, money, and leads. In fact, earlier this year, I was able to break my marathon PR by 29 minutes, my half-marathon PR by 1 minute, and then again by 7 minutes a month later. Somewhere deep inside, I’m still there. But I found my identity in my career long before I found my identity as a runner, and running isn’t hinged on your home, lifestyle, and financial well-being. Even going for the sweet release of feeling my feet pound the pavement can turn into a reminder that I’m failing everywhere because I can’t even run the way I used to. Instead of becoming a stress reliever, running is a stress-inducer.

I miss running free.

And I hate that every single running mantra is slapping me upside the head right now. Rationally, I feel like I am using this as an excuse not to run because I WANT to get out there. I know how exercise is a stress-reliever, I understand its benefits during both good times and bad times. I’m jealous of people who can channel fear and anxiety into power and strength. But maybe what I am experiencing is not a matter of power and strength as it is a matter of endurance. Marathoners know full well what it’s like to train hard for endurance in both speed and distance, but we still have limits and sometimes we run smack dab into the wall. Sometimes, the wall can be traversed and sometimes, it cannot. Unlike a marathon, I can’t give up. I have to keep going.

And after seven months of hell, perhaps the only mantra that I need to be clinging to is not the one that chides me for using circumstance as an excuse but the one that says, “One foot in front of the other,” or “Your legs are not giving out; your mind is.” Because it takes one kind of runner to run every day with power and strength and eye on the prize, but it takes another to keep going when there is every reason to stop.

Posted by: Sara | August 1, 2013

Wake Up Early August

If you read my post from yesterday, Running As Coping, you’d know that I’ve been having a lot of trouble with running because of everything going on in my life and because of a tight IT band. Nothing has really changed in the past day and it’s unusual for me to write back-to-back posts like this; however, it is also the end of July and I have not been very good about meeting my goal of transitioning to early morning workouts. In fact, I’ve pretty much totally sucked at it. Part of it is because I am NOT a morning person at all. You can ask my mother this. She will likely one-up that with a resounding, “Pa-ha!” Mornings, plain and simple, are not my thing. Never have been.

But I have to start learning how to get my workouts done first thing in the morning, and here’s why:

  • I am highly-skilled in over-thinking. I have a bad habit of not just doing something when I know it needs to be done. I will rationalize the crap out of my daily run and when I should run it by wondering, ‘Should I eat something first? What can I eat that won’t upset my stomach? Did I have enough water to drink? It’s only a __-miler and I don’t want to carry a water bottle. What all do I have on my plate today? Will I be able to run __ miles before dark?’ You get the idea. I do this because I am constantly terrified of having such a bad run that I won’t be able to look it in the face anymore. I’m a Type-A runner; it has to be perfect or at least really great and fulfilling and kick-ass or I will take it to heart. This has to stop. Bad runs happen and good runs are much more about the mental effort you bring to it than the physical effort.
  • I’m still in the bowels of unemployment, but I won’t be forever. I don’t know when I will start working again. It may be very soon– I’ve had a LOT of great interviews lately– or it may be later (please God, no). But whenever it is that I start a new job, I will have a lot of pent-up energy from not working for almost seven months that I will want to throw myself into ensuring my success in my new role from Day One. If I have to stay past close-of-business to catch up on some reports or a project that I find myself in the middle of, I will be that one bright window on an inky black, empty building of windows. And I will be very grateful to myself that I got my workout done early so I can kick ass at my new job.
  • So I can have one less stress on my plate. Believe it or not, I have actually managed to wake up early and work out on occasion, and it always, always, always allows me to get through the day with less stress. Not only do I feel amazing, refreshed, and kind of badass (I used to brag to my co-workers that I was on mile 8 while they were still picking out their ties/shoes for the day!) Plus, when things come up at the last-minute like happy hours, thunderstorms, or last-minute projects, I can handle them freely.
  • Because something always, always, always comes up. Like two days ago when a potential employer asked me for a writing sample by the next day (and for a job that I didn’t want to just send something irrelevant since this would basically be a dream job for me) or tonight when I realized how dark it was getting to be outside and then I opened the door and saw an approaching thunderstorm or a few weeks ago when I realized I didn’t have enough wine on hand to make “Sharknado” a truly memorable experience (for the record, I did not skip my run to watch “Sharknado”….but I did shorten it) or….well, you get the idea. Getting a run out of the way first thing in the morning is a much bigger stress reliever than the actual run itself.
  • Because someday I will have no other choice but to get my run done first thing. Right now, I am free as a bird with no mini-me’s running around my delirious, sleep-deprived body, so I have the luxury of getting up any time I want to run. But that won’t be forever (please God) and I will want to be in the habit of waking up early by that time. And honestly, it just might take me that long to make it work.

So, yes, here it is: Wake Up Early August. I’m cringing as I am writing this, but I want to start making it happen. Fortunately, my twin sister has offered to harangue text me when she gets up so I can have a partner in crime. Now, all I have to do is come up with an incentive to reward my efforts!

This will be interesting….

Who wouldn’t love a free race entry!?!

To win a free entry to the sold-out ING New York City Marathon: http://profile.runnersworld.com/nycm2013/index

To win a free entry to any of the Baltimore Running Festival races: http://bit.ly/14CMcdo

See you at the starting line! 🙂

Posted by: Sara | July 30, 2013

Running as Coping

July9 230I’ve been struggling with running these days. My PR 1:57 PR at the Brownville Half-Marathon came at a price. For weeks, my IT band has been incredibly tight and there’s a burning sensation at the top of my hip almost all of the time, even when I am not running. When I walk, if I put my hand on the spot where it hurts, I can literally feel the tendon clicking across my hip bone. I went from running 36 miles a week to 6 after Brownville, 10 the following week, and then 16 last week. I’m increasing my mileage gradually because I know that, even though I don’t officially have a marathon to train for, I will run one this fall and hopefully two with Baltimore and Richmond, so I’m trying to stay sharp. And with the Disneyland Dumbo Dare Challenge coming up in a month, I can’t stop running now. But I admit it: injury or not, my head and my heart are not in the game right now because of everything going on in my life outside of running.

This year has been traumatic for me. I lost my job in January. In February, my boyfriend, who I loved deeply, moved to Arizona for a job, and then he broke it off with me nine weeks later, and I didn’t see it coming. Going through a breakup while being unemployed has literally felt like a miniature Big Bang Theory in my heart that just keeps exploding and wreaking havoc on my universe. I’m grieving the loss of dreams with him that won’t come true. Every job I applied for, got interviewed for, and didn’t get in the past seven months has come with a euphoric high as I envision the next leg of my career and where it will take me followed by a crushing blow complete with the panic and fear that I won’t be able to make rent and will have to move home, that the last five years I have tried to build a life here in DC will have been for absolutely nothing, and that if I can’t find a job, I have no idea who I will become or what I will do. It’s all been a little too traumatic, having had a job I loved and a man I loved, and then losing both and now seeing that I might lose everything if something doesn’t turn around, even despite my best efforts to make sure it doesn’t happen.

If I was reading this post in a running magazine, this is typically the part when people would start talking about how much running has helped them get through. Yes, running has helped alleviate the pain– earning medals is a happiness that thrills me. Finishing the Goofy Challenge and having the Dumbo Dare Challenge coming up have been two happy moments that I’ve thought a lot about when I start feeling despair and sadness. I’m proud that I PR’d at the Rock ‘n Roll DC Marathon, I got a PR at both the Alexandria Half-Marathon and the Brownville Half-Marathon, and have been training for a lofty goal of running my fourth marathon in four hours. But it’s almost August and I still haven’t found a job and sometimes, running feels like I am dancing on the deck of the Titanic when I should be focusing on saving my life. How on earth can I possibly get out on the trail and run when all I can think about is how my life is going up in flames? I am literally gripped with fear, despite having done everything I can to turn things around and get a job, and at this point, I am overwhelmed with exhaustion, emotion, fear, and sadness and sometimes I can’t breathe even when I am sitting down. How on earth can anyone logistically run under such emotional duress?? No, seriously, how? What I’m going through is not a process that just gets better with time. Except for the grieving process that came with the breakup, I’ve given it time— things have gotten worse, and now I may lose the place that I have made my home for the last five years. And on top of all that, having an IT band injury and losing out on the Air Force Marathon has made me feel like there is nothing in this world that I can control, even with goals and dreams and plans. Life hasn’t gotten the better of me, but damn, when is it going to stop sucking?

There are some people who can cope with loss and grief through running, and I was one of those people at some point this year. 2013 has been a great running year for me so far. I’ve done what I can– 2 full marathons, 3 half-marathons, and training for (hopefully) two fall marathons. I’m not going to say that I am one of those people who laces up and runs every time I feel grief from my breakup or every time I need to burn off some negative energy from a painstaking job search. Running helps me stay sane and happy, it gives me purpose and structure to my day. Some days, a good run is all I have. But running doesn’t heal me. I have to feel everything that is going on with me so I can understand it. While grieving my breakup has gotten easier over the last four months, I have to feel the profound loss of it because I learned a lot from that relationship, and the next man who falls in love with me will have a better version of me than the one who let me go. I have to feel the fear of losing everything I have worked for in DC because if I do lose it all, I want to know that I cared, I tried, and that it happened for a reason and going through those emotions right now will help me handle the loss when I am back at home in Nebraska with my family trying to pick up the pieces. If I land a job here, I need to remember what it was like to have almost lost everything I worked for so I can never take it for granted again.

I have the endurance of a distance runner because I am a distance runner, but my emotional endurance has hit the wall and it’s all I can do to stay hopeful and optimistic enough to write a killer writing sample, give a strong interview, and maintain patience in the drawn-out hiring process. I have to silence the voice in my head that says these are just excuses. If I was giving excuses for backing out, I wouldn’t be gradually increasing my mileage despite an IT band injury. Even if all I can get is 2 miles, like last night, before the grief and fear shorten my breath, but it’s still a 2-mile run. It’s still 18 minutes that I was running instead of getting drunk in front of the TV.

Our society tends to romanticize grief with stories of kicking ass, but in my opinion, letting the darkness of deep pain and profound sadness have its time in court is much more kick-ass than supplementing it with something that is not rooted in the understanding and growth process that comes from accepting an extreme loss. I am heartbroken. But I am not broken. And I am not afraid of the dark, so bring it on.

If you are coping with grief and need an outlet, go run. If you’re going through a difficult time and need an outlet, go run. If things have gotten to be too much to handle and you can’t run, let yourself off the hook and try again tomorrow. Prioritize your run, but prioritize yourself first. People deal with things differently than others do, and turning into an Olympic marathoner while grieving a loss is not the standard to which you should be aspiring. That’s not what the purpose of grief is about. If it helps and you do qualify for the Olympic marathon, great— that’s how you personally cope with grief. But don’t make running your turn-around story if that’s not how you cope because unresolved feelings will catch up to you. Rather, use running as a means of lightening the load. It will help you reach your goals when you’re all bright and shiny again.

Running has saved my life, my sanity, my optimism, and my confidence over the past year and soon I will get back to a point at which there will be nothing that keeps me from reaching my goals. Until then, I’m focusing on my recovery and running whenever I need a momentary release.

Posted by: Sara | July 24, 2013

Air Force Marathon, No More

Up until now, I didn’t fully appreciate how life will literally always have its way and sometimes, the dice falls on the day that you have been training 18 weeks for. As those of you who have been following my newborn blog, I have been training since May to run my fourth marathon, the Air Force Marathon, in September 2013. I was in my 8th week of training when I learned that a very dear friend of mine would be getting married on that same day. With the marathon in Dayton, Ohio and the wedding in Leesburg, Virginia, there would be no feasible way that I could run the race and get back to DC before the wedding– although it certainly provided an incentive to run the race faster!

Was I disappointed? Well, sure, at first– marathons are not the kind of thing you can just wake up and run, unless maybe you’re Barney Stinson from “How I Met Your Mother.” And I had been looking forward to running this race because my grandfather, father, and brother are all Air Force pilots, so it was personal to me. But am I crushed? No way. Fall is marathon season– there are tons of races all over the place. All this really turned out to be was a minor setback in my training as I was quickly able to find a slot in the Baltimore Running Festival Marathon on October 12, and I will be running that race for the nonprofit organization Advocates for the Survivors of Torture and Trauma (ASTT). So, really, sometimes life will have its way and be really mean about it, but in this case, life is giving me two great things: I will get to see my dear friend get married and I will still get to run a marathon while raising money for an incredibly necessary cause in a city where I can eat all the crabs I want after I meet my “Fourth in Four” goal. I couldn’t be more grateful than that.

In addition, the wonderful crew at the Air Force Marathon have what a LOT of races don’t have (or at least that I know of): a transfer program. Through the marathon’s Facebook community, I was able to find someone who wanted to run the full marathon and I sold my bib to him. The process was simple, straightforward, and legitimate: I transferred out, sent him the email with the instructions to get registered, and voila– he is in and I am out. He’s also sending me the money to reimburse me for the registration fee. I can’t express how excited I am that I don’t have to lose out on $100. I really have nothing to be upset about.

So, okay, I won’t be running a marathon in September. But I will be seeing a good friend pledge her love, honor, and loyalty to her new husband for the rest of her life. A worthwhile cause will be getting a $250 donation. And I will eat lots of crabs in Baltimore in October. Maybe the way you plan for life isn’t as good as what it could be if things go the way they are meant to go.

Sara, 0. Life, 1.

Posted by: Sara | July 13, 2013

My Running Wish List

One of the things getting me through the hardship of unemployment is dreaming of the day when I can check the boxes off my Runner’s Wish List. While running is the kind of sport that can be as minimalist as you would like it to be (and not just talking about shoes), there also exists this wonderful thing called scientific technology and creative innovation that makes running fun, efficient, and colorful. And while this is just a start for me and my list, here are the things I would have on my Christmas list if it was culturally acceptable to give presents for Christmas in July (come on, capitalism, get with it) or if Santa was a runner (which, based on his belly that shakes like jelly, I doubt– some things shouldn’t change).

Here’s what I dream of:

NEW SHOES

Mizuno Wave Rider 16's; Photo Credit: RunningWareHouse.com

Mizuno Wave Rider 16’s; Photo Credit: RunningWareHouse.com

I need new shoes. BAD. And these shoes are awwwwwwwwesome. Okay, it’s possible that I’m just basing it on the colors– I mean, turquoise and hot pink!? Mizuno knows its audience. But truly, I’m a Mizuno girl and these babies are a serious upgrade from my trusty but dusty/bloody/collapsed arch Wave Inspire 8’s that I bought in January after the Goofy Challenge and have worn to the ground. When I last added up my accrued mileage, I was still far from the suggested 600 mile marker at which most professionals would advise getting a new pair of shoes, but I know I will get there in just a few weeks. Here’s hoping I can land a job soon so I get add these $115 babies to my running wardrobe! They’re just so pretty……

FITNESS WATCH

Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor Fitness Watch; Photo Credit: Polar.com

Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor Fitness Watch; Photo Credit: Polar.com

For someone who takes a lot of fitness classes at my gym on top of my running repertoire, having an accurate calorie counter to help me track my calorie burn is pretty much a no-brainer for me. This watch is perfect for handling that task better than the notoriously inaccurate calorie-counters on the gym’s treadmills and elliptical trainers. I’m not looking for fancy bells and whistles– just a watch that lets me know I’m kicking ass. As soon as I replace my shoes, this puppy will soon be on my wrist ticking away the calories as I lift heavy barbells over my head and cross-train in spinning class!

FUEL BELT

Fuel Belt Crush Hydration Belt with 22oz bottle; Photo Credit: ActivewearUSA.com

Fuel Belt Crush Hydration Belt with 22oz bottle; Photo Credit: ActivewearUSA.com

It’s true: I’m reluctantly jumping on board the fuel belt bandwagon. I’ve been torn by this decision, but after reading a Runners World blurb which suggested that running with a bottle of water over long distances could mess up your stride, I’ve been somewhat paranoid. And while I have been trying to switch hands every mile (and wow, that is a huge difference in brain activity!), there’s no beating running hands-free. But as a woman with wide hips, I loathe to get on board with the traditional, multi-bottle fuel belts that I’ve seen people run with because hello, do I really need another reminder that my hips are huge? And I have also considered purchasing a backpack-style fuel carrier, but at a recent race I went to, I overheard a runner refer to two runners wearing such apparatuses as “Camelbaks.” Ouch. Fortunately, there’s the Fuel Belt Crush Hydration Belt that gives the option of going hands-free without having to juggle multiple hydration bottles on my hips like, well, children. Truth be told, when I’m trying to be a cheetah, I don’t want to feel like a hippo.

THE STICK

Marathon Stick; Photo Credit: thestick.com

Marathon Stick; Photo Credit: thestick.com

Because my foam roller, tennis ball collection, and rolling pin sometimes just doesn’t cut it, especially when I’m traveling. I’m still not willing to believe that my rolling pin wasn’t what almost caused me to miss my flight on my last trip. But in seriousness, this gadget does a great job getting the kinks out better than a foam roller. It’s like a fine-tooth comb for your muscles. After getting this, I don’t want to hear it anymore, IT band…

RUNNING JACKET

North Face "Better Than Naked" jacket; Photo Credit: northface.com

North Face “Better Than Naked” jacket; Photo Credit: northface.com

Specifically, I’d love a running jacket for the elements. It’s been an incredibly rainy season here in Washington, DC and, while it’s summer and staying warm is deeeeefinitely not a concern right now, who’s to say the rainy season won’t stop when the days get cooler? And honestly, the over-priced, non-insulating nylon jacket that the RAM Racing folks sold for $60 at the December 2011 DC Hot Chocolate 15K just won’t cut it anymore. And, just as my dad taught me a long time ago, if you buy something that might cost a little more upfront and take care of it over time, you won’t have to spend the money replacing it if you buy something cheaper. (This is the same rationale that I used when browsing the Kate Spade sales, hehe!) This North Face “Better Than Naked” jacket promises to keep your core temperature intact even as it protects you from such elements as rain, snow, and wind without bulking you down. Much like how God gave ducks their oily feathers as protection against the cold wind and water, North Face gives humans this stunning must-need jacket for DC runners who battle clammy humidity even through the winter months. Say no more!

ROAD ID

On a more serious note, this is actually one of those items that top my list. The co-founder, Edward Wimmer, has the kind of story that resonates soundly with me. I live in an urban area. The entrance to the trail requires running through a very busy part of the city for me. There’s really just no escaping that and I’ve had a number of close calls with vehicles, some of them my fault (gotta learn) and most of them, the driver’s fault (I’ve learned by now, but some haven’t). And while I always try to run with some form of ID on me, the day will come on which I decide I don’t want to run with my iPhone pouch

The Wrist ID Sport; Photo Credit: RoadID.com

The Wrist ID Sport; Photo Credit: RoadID.com

saddling my arm down so I will need to preserve my identity while running just in case something happens. That’s what this product is for. You can customize the information you put on it and there’s even room for a running mantra for the sake of removing the worst-case-scenario morbidity out of an item you wear while performing at your best.

RUNNING BLING

Behind every strong female runner is the piece of jewelry that makes

EricaSara Designs Custom Wish Necklace; Photo Credit: EricaSaraDesigns.com

EricaSara Designs Custom Wish Necklace; Photo Credit: EricaSaraDesigns.com

her feel fierce and feminine. Ladies, come on, tell me this isn’t true. It’s one of the reasons I wore dangly amethyst earrings during my first marathon– because I was told the stones were good luck! And it’s why I was super bummed out to have lost my custom-made 26.2-39.3 charm necklace after DC’s Yoga on the Mall back in May (I’ve been tempted a hundred times to go back to the grassy knoll where it probably still is but I don’t have the guts to look like a crazy person combing through the grass). I was recently introduced to the beautiful designs of EricaSara through a running blogger friend of mine, Dorothy of MilePosts and I’m truly addicted to the stunning simplicity of this jewelry, especially after I swore I saw a woman wearing one in a Body Pump class that I went to. And she really did look fierce with this thing shining around her neck and even inspired me to get my knees off the floor during a series of push-ups at the end of class. So, I literally can’t wait until I get back to the workforce because I will soon have one of these stunning necklaces around my neck and, while I wait for that day to come, I’m trying to decide what I’d like it to say. Right now, I’m thinking, “Be present” will be on there somewhere. I’ve got big things on my plate right now; I’m traversing two paths. One of them is the road to my fourth marathon and the other is my career path. The end goals are unknown, daunting, and so panic-inducing that I have to stop and think about the manageability of the bigger picture. Focus on one run at a time, focus on one interview and one application at a time. One step, one mile at a time. And I firmly believe that having something tangible, something you can physically touch or feel has a lot of power to ground you when the doubts and fears start to swirl. Can’t wait until I have this around my neck.

So, what’s on YOUR running wish list? (And don’t say you don’t have one!)

***This post is not intended for solicitations. I’m just an average runner expressing my views!***

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