A Year in Review

Remember that bucket list I had for 2016? Gotta be honest here, I’ve been crushing it.

*At the end of this year, I will have gone on four international trips:

-I took my mom on vacation to the Dominican Republic, something I’ve always wanted to do.

-I’d been waiting to see South America for a long time, so I finally bought a ticket to Peru and Bolivia in July for travel that same month(Which was a little crazy, yes.)

-I had yet to explore a new country with my boyfriend, so we booked a trip to Iceland in October.

– In less than a week, I’m heading to Thailand and then South Korea.

-I also traveled to Minnesota, Georgia, Delaware, and Illinois, among other places.

 

* This year I got serious about my poetry and started submitting my work, and it paid off:

-So far, I have had over 15 poems published in anthologies, literary magazines, and journals!

-I won first place at the 2016 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention for my collection.

-I had essays in Thought Catalog & Odyssey Online.

-I read with the Pittsburgh Poetry Roadshow & Voices From the Attic launch party.

-I celebrated my first year of blogging!

 

 

But, 2016 wasn’t all smooth. I also had some scary stuff happen with my health.

*I had a pacemaker put in, but was determined to keep running and I finished:

-Pittsburgh  5k

-Pittsburgh half marathon

-GNC Liberty Mile

Erie full marathon

EQT 10 Miler

 

I made this list not to be conceited, or talk about how great my life is (trust me- it isn’t always!) but because I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishments this year and have worked really hard to get to this point. It’s taken sacrifice, hard work, and admittedly, a couple breakdowns, but I’m so happy with where I’ve arrived.

I’m a big believer in being proud of your achievements, because why shouldn’t we be? If we don’t, who will? You’ve worked your ass off. Celebrate your victories. Don’t let jealousy in. Don’t be bitter. Don’t worry about coming off as “bragging.” Uplift each other. Support each other. You traveled to a new country? I wanna see! You committed to a healthier lifestyle? That’s awesome! You graduated? Great work!  Go ahead & show it off. I’m proud of you.

For those of you feeling stuck: I was there. I promise if you focus on the things you love and make them a priority, they will become your reality. I stopped putting my dreams off this year, and look at what happened. 2017 can be your year. Go get ’em.

 

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P.S. Happy holidays everyone!

I’ll check back in a couple weeks when I’m back in the States.

 

Wonderfall

Yesterday, November 6th, I brought my racing career (click here for details) full circle yet again with the Pittsburgh EQT 10 miler.

It was a gorgeous fall day for a run- a little chilly in the morning, but once my feet hit the pavement and the sun burst through the gray of morning, it was the perfect temperature. I ran for seven miles with a friend and truly understood how running with someone can be such a great therapy question. We talked about running and relationships, and before I knew it, the miles and number of bridges we’d run on had flown by!

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I had spent this past week submitting my work out to numerous publications, and began tracking my progress. The one certainty you can expect as a writer is rejection, and I was beginning to know it all too well.

You can imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail later in the afternoon stating that a literary magazine wanted ALL FIVE of the five poems I had sent to them. I was ecstatic that these poems finally got accepted, and it was a wonderful break to receive!

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So with that, I leave you with this image, and a reminder that “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” I knew there was a reason it was my favorite.

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  Until next time,

I Am: A Marathoner

As of last year, only 1% of the U.S. population had run a marathon. On Sunday, September 11th, I became a part of that 1%.

It’s funny to think how I got to this point. Truth be told, I’m not really sure. I was never a runner. And then, one day, I just decided I wanted to be. I began running just two miles, increasing my distance until I was running half marathons. (Read more about my running journey here.) I was falling in love with the longer distance, but I still wasn’t sure if I was crazy enough to do a full marathon. I mean, 4+ hours of running?! WHY? HOW?

But then again, why not? I had already accomplished something I never thought I could. Maybe I could do this, too…

So, I signed up before I could change my mind. My original plan was to run the Pittsburgh marathon in May, but that came to a halt when I had my surgery. So I shifted my plans for a couple months later and set my sights on Erie, close to my hometown.

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Picking up my bib number on Saturday.

I was familiar with the course of the Erie marathon, as it’s held at Presque Isle State Park. I had run the Presque Isle half marathon in July of last year with my boyfriend- his first half marathon.  It was a flat, easy course- just one loop around the park. (For the marathon, obviously, it is two loops.) Looking back, my surgery causing me to change from Pittsburgh to Erie was all a blessing in disguise. Let’s be honest- the marathon distance is challenging enough without adding in all the hills! I was really grateful I was doing this flat loop instead of Pittsburgh’s killer course.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had my doubts. I knew this was going to suck. No matter how confident I feel in my training, or how much I understand that the race will go just fine, I always get pre-race jitters, every time. My long runs throughout marathon training had been extremely painful and discouragingly slow. I wasn’t worried my pace, or coming in under a certain time, or about anything else but just finishing. Still, my stomach was in knots that morning. I put body glide (a godsend) everywhere, under the straps of my sports bra, between my thighs, on the backs of my ankles, and quickly got dressed. I arrived when the park opened up around 5:30 AM. (Props to JJ for getting up so early on his one day off!) It was still pitch black when we parked. I started the walk to the porta potties, flashlight in hand. I’d go pee about 7 more times before the 7 AM start. Chalk it up to nerves or a weak bladder, or maybe both. While in line, I saw my friend Debra (pictured below), who was looking to beat her time to qualify for the Boston marathon.

Her, her boyfriend Frank, JJ, and I stood together as she said the most heartfelt prayer, just minutes before the gun went off. We said our goodbyes to the boys and headed to get lined up. Already, I could feel something much bigger washing over me. I was overcome with emotion. Pull it together. You can cry when it’s over, I told myself. Or during.

And then, before I could process it, I was off. I slipped into an easy 9:30 min./mile pace. I’d made a mental note to start out slow, as the energy and adrenaline from being part of a race and surrounded by other runners tends to make you start out too fast. I wanted to finish strong. Plus, let’s be real- I was gonna be out here for a while.

Around mile two, the sun began to show off. I could see the soft pink colors coming through as the clouds parted above the lake. The peaceful sounds of the waves coming into shore, the rhythmic pitter-patter of feet on asphalt… this was my happy place. It was indescribable.

Up in front of me, I saw a group of three women, probably in their 50s. They were keeping a solid pace, decked out in the brightest matching outfits. Dang, I thought. That’s remarkable. They were double my age and kicking ass! That’s #goals right there. After running alongside them, I joked, “I’ll just stick with you guys.” They smiled and said,”Feel free! We’re shooting for a 9:50 pace.”

Although I could very easily run a 9:50, all my long training runs had been so much slower. With the chest pain I was sure to encounter like I had before (thanks to my pacemaker) and the wall I was sure to hit around mile 18, I was certain I’d have to drop back after some time, and I told them so. But at least I could run with them for the time being.

“Coach” Barb, Sue, Tina, and Cheryl were from Rochester, NY. They were wives and mothers, teachers and longtime runners. And they were downright inspiring. Kind. And fun! The miles quickly passed as we talked about our different journeys with running, my surgery, who was cheering them on, and what we would treat ourselves to after this was all over.

Since the race was two loops around the park, I was able to see JJ at mile 6.5. He ran out to me with a bottle of water, asking if I needed anything. The women assured him I was in good hands.

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Erie Marathon course.

Before I knew it, we had run a half marathon! With the steady flow of conversation, the miles flew by! It was a beautiful run- the crippling heat and humidity that we had been plagued with all summer disappeared to leave us comfortable at around 65 degrees with a cool breeze. We honestly lucked out with such great conditions.  JJ met me again as I passed the halfway mark, with a gel in hand. I wasn’t a fan of them and, I’m ashamed to admit, had not used them during my training runs- although I had every intention to. The consistency made me gag. But I knew that I needed the energy, even if I felt good now. It was a strawberry kiwi carb BOOM, already torn open for me. I took it in small doses. It was surprisingly not that bad, I’d maybe even say it was good!

Soon we passed mile 15, then 16, and 17. They had water stations with Gu brew, and vanilla bean Gu gels. I made sure to keep hydrated, although between you and I, I’d had to pee since mile 4. Keep it together, bladder. Barb offered me a salt tablet, which helped. I checked my Garmin watch- it was almost 10 AM. I’d have to keep an eye out for my parents, sister-in-law, and niece, who were coming to watch me finish. As soon as I spoke those words out loud to the girls, I heard a familiar voice shout my name. There they were! They had driven past, and pulled off to the side up ahead around mile 19.5. My dad came out and ran beside me for a minute or two, which was a sweet moment. I was sure he was going to get kicked off the course, but he didn’t. JJ was on my other side with a vanilla bean gel in hand, already opened for me. (Yes, he is officially the best.)

They said encouraging words and then they were gone. I relucatantly began to take the gel. It was definitely not as great as the last one, and I struggled to get it down. I chased with water at the next stop. I still felt much better than I had anticipated at this point, but I was beginning to feel it. Sweat poured from every part of me. My face and body felt drenched in sweat and sticky Gu brew and gel residue. The tag on the inside of my shorts was rubbing against my lower back, and even though I’d used glide, my sports bra was rubbing against my right underarm. I knew I would have a bad chafing mark once this was done. Yet, we had made it past mile 18, with no “wall” to be found!

That is, until we reached mile 21. It came out of nowhere. I had been feeling hydrated, had energy from the gels, my legs were sore but still feeling strong, until that moment. I knew this was every bit (if not more) mental than it was physical. I tried to repeat the mantras in my head. My mind is an athlete. Finish strong. Your mind will give up before your body ever will. You can do this. Keep going. One foot in front of another. But with every step I took, I just felt that much weaker. That much closer to wanting to quit. I hadn’t walked once this whole time, maybe I could just take a break…but I didn’t. Tina and Sue kept running, and so did I. We were at mile 22. SO. CLOSE.

We began doing our dedication miles. I thought of Debra, who had no doubt finished by now. I hope she got her BQ. I thought of her strength and her faith, her gentle yet fierce nature, her prayer that morning. I thought of all the times she answered my endless running questions and was always patient and willing to help. I thought of how thankful I was that we went from coworkers to close friends. I looked up to her in every way.

“I need to slow down,” I said to Tina. “You guys keep going. I just need to slow down a little.”  She nodded breathlessly in agreement. “Me too.” 

I hated myself for it, but I also reminded myself I was not worried about time. And, I already was doing so much better than I could have hoped for! I stopped focusing on my pace and tried to switch my brain back over to dedication miles.

I thought of this day- September 11th. How I run because I know not everyone can, or ever will again. How if people can survive such terrible and awful things, I could no doubt finish this race before me.

I thought of my body- not the strongest, or thinnest, but certainly capable. Healthy and powerful in its own right. How I hated the recovery period after my surgery when I couldn’t run, and how I promised I wouldn’t take this ability for granted again. How I loved what it does for my body and to my mind.

I thought of JJ- how immensely he cared for me and supported me through this entire ordeal. How blessed I was to have met someone who shows me love in the purest, most selfless ways, and teaches me how to love in the same manner. He changed his work schedule, got up at 4 AM on his only day off, and was my mobile fueling station, running back and forth with supplies I needed. I thought of how hard he works in all aspects of his life, how thoroughly he supports me, how much we both cherish our relationship. How good it was to be this happy.

I thought of my parents- how lucky I was to get two of the most loving, good-hearted people to learn from, parents who so strongly believe in me, allow me to chase my dreams, and are there for me to see me through whether I reach those goals or fail miserably. Who may not understand or agree with every word or action, but still love me. Who have so graciously put my needs or selfish wants first ahead of their own, every single time. And who would do it all over again. Who are the best examples of unconditional love.

And then I couldn’t focus on any of it. I was at mile 23. I wasn’t running, I was surviving. I had barely a 5k left to run. I could do it. This was it. Almost there. Almost home. My senses were in overdrive, I think they just shut off. I couldn’t feel anything. Not my legs, not whether or not I still had to pee, what I was hearing, nothing. There were other runners that had slowed to a walk, some whizzed by, but I wasn’t really paying attention. All I could think about was to keep going, to keep the momentum, to put one foot in front of the other until I was done. I felt like a zombie.

When we were in the heart of mile 25, rounding the corner to the final leg of the race, I parted ways with Sue and Tina. Sometime in the past couple years, JJ started to be the one to drive me across that finish line in a sprint. I knew I would hear his voice boom through the crowd, and I was right. I exhaled sharply and propeled myself forward with every last ounce of energy I still had. My legs weren’t jello, they were nothing. I couldn’t feel the grinding in my kneecaps. I wasn’t floating, though. I was pounding the pavement, breaking past a group of twenty-something guys, pumping my arms which were already stiff and sore and so tired, until I cruised across that finish line and had to remember how to make myself stop and walk again. And to breathe, to be back in reality.

I’d dreamed of this moment a million times ever since I set this goal. It was my first marathon…I figured that I would be so overcome with emotion, so moved to tears, that I’d break down and cry. But I didn’t. I just smiled, caught my breath, and collected my medal, a banana, and two chocolate milks, and tried to process the fact that it was over.

JJ came over to me, tackling me in the biggest hug, and took the load of post-race treats from my hands.My parents, sister-in-law, and niece came just seconds after, congratulating me and full of smiles. I saw Barb, Sue, and Tina and got pictures with them. I told my family the same thing I had told them on the course. I would not have made it through without them. And I knew that it was true. I probably still would have finished, but surely not as strongly and as quickly as I did today. They kept my mind at ease, my feet steady, my body moving. I only prayed that this group of women understood that, and that although they were strangers, knew just how much I was indebted to them. Not only that, but how happy I was to have met and befriended them.

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Barb, Sue, me, Tina.

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This girl got her BQ!

Even a week later, I’m still processing the fact that I am a marathoner. Those 4 hours and 25 minutes passed so quickly, believe it or not, that I wish I could go back and make myself realize I was in them. As I stuff my face with chocolate cake for the sixth night in a row, I try to formulate what those 26.2 miles have taught me. Endurance. Strength. Patience. Pain. Joy. Humility. Gratefulness. Confidence. Pride. Survival. Discipline. I think I’m still learning. I crossed this item off my bucket list, but something tells me that my education is far from over…

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In Case You Didn’t Hear Me

 “You’ve gotta tell him to shit or get off the pot. What is he waiting for?!”

or now, the occasional “Your niece is so adorable! When is it your turn?” 

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Stop asking me.

While your questions or comments about my life and these future events may seem completely harmless, consider what I’m about to tell you. Perhaps you meant it sincerely, or were just joking around. Maybe you were genuinely curious, or were making polite conversation. Regardless of your intention, rethink it.

Here’s why:

1. It feeds into social pressures on females. It also reinforces the idea that marriage and childbirth are not only assumed next or future steps, but almost expected. As a result, we can be reluctant to speak of our different opinion, or choose a separate path than the one that you’re laying out for us.  Furthermore, there’s enough pressure there already.  I remember feeling the weight these types of questions carried. It started with, “What are you going to do after graduation/moving/etc.?” It felt as though my life was defined by this answer. Yes, it’s good to have a plan, and some people need these pushes as motivational benchmarks to figure out where they are at and move forward. But don’t you think I already have these things on my mind constantly? Might you be unintentionally pushing this individual toward something they weren’t ready for, but are now overthinking and rushing into? Whether it be a career, marriage, etc. Life changes take time. Everyone goes at their own speed. And, unless you had it all figured out by your twenties, don’t expect them to.

2. Is it really and truly your business? How does this affect your daily life? I certainly don’t mind telling my close friends and family, but we all know that one person that wants to know just because. AKA a shady individual that does not have your best intentions at heart, only the latest gossip. You must have a dull life if you feed off knowing what’s going on in mine. (Seriously, I wish I had that kind of time to kill.)

3. If the individual is single: asking them when they are going to get a boyfriend/get married is like asking, “What is wrong with you that you don’t already have a boyfriend?” First of all, thanks for the unwanted pity. Second, you are basically implying that they are not good enough on their own. Having a partner will not make someone complete. Believe it or not, some women have other dreams than just to be someone’s  wife. There is nothing wrong with marriage being a major goal, but don’t assume that it is the only thing on every  woman’s to-do list. Let’s set women’s rights back even further, shall we?  We are still  learning to love and know ourselves. That should always come first.

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4. If the individual is in a relationship: Again, a ring on their finger is not going to make someone complete or “better.” Also, don’t assume they haven’t talked about it. You should have faith that the indivudual and their significant other have discussed the future of their relationship and will take that step when they are both ready, either financially, emotionally, or both. Even if they are already there, some couples are truly at peace with where they are and do not feel the need to slap that label on it just because “we’ve been together for ____ years, so it’s just time to take the next step.” Personally, I want my future husband to ask me that question because and only because he wants to marry me more than anything in this damn world, NOT because it’s “the next step.” I have seen so many of my own friends push their significant others toward engagement and it makes me cringe. Yeah, a diamond ring is pretty. But marriage is about SO much more than that. Parents, friends: I know you’re excited and anxious for them. But wouldn’t you rather them communicate about this big decision and take it at their own pace rather than wind up divorced?  Also people- trust me, you will know when they get engaged because chances are if you’re related or close friends, you’ll be invited to the wedding. And if not, I’m sure like 90% of the population, it will be on Facebook for you to creep on.

5. You are being insensitive. Maybe they cannot physically have children. Maybe they are dealing with the loss of a baby that you never even knew about. Maybe *gasp* they do not want children.

Which brings me to the next part of this post…

The definition of a woman is many things. Specifically, Merriam-Webster defines the word as:

woman noun
  1. an adult female human being.

Do you see the word “mother” anywhere in there? No.

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I have the utmost respect for mothers. They are some of the strongest females I know. My own mother is one of my best friends. And if your one and only dream is to be a mother, I think that’s wonderful! There is nothing wrong with that. However, I have never said to any of these women, “Why would you want to be a mother?!”

Yet, it is perfectly normal for me to hear a gasp of surprise or the words “Why don’t you want kids?!” in a disapproving tone when the topic arises and I state that I don’t. Let me make it clear: Not wanting children does NOT make me, or any other female, less of a woman.

*Note: I am not slamming motherhood, or those women who are/want to be mothers.  However, I am slamming those who feel the need to tell people it is their duty as a woman to have children.

So again: NOT WANTING CHILDREN DOES NOT MAKE ME, OR ANY OTHER FEMALE, LESS OF A WOMAN.

And I am sick of brushing these remarks off and allowing them to make me feel this way. It is perfectly fine for a man to not want kids, but not for a woman?  In this day and age, more women than ever before are leaning away from starting families and further into their careers. Yet, there is still backlash. Many of us still don’t feel comfortable talking about it because of the reactions we get. No, I am not a heartless human. Yes, I have a soul. No, I don’t hate children.  And furthermore, let’s just put this to rest.

Please avoid the following responses when someone says, “I don’t want children.”

1. “I didn’t want kids either when I was your age.” I am about to be 26. Yes, I get that at sixteen I didn’t want them, but *newsflash* ten years later, here we are, and I still don’t. This decision can and does change with some women as they age, however, please learn to separate the idea that the more birthdays you have, the more likely you are to yearn for offspring. Furthermore, “Once you find someone you love, you’ll want to create a family with them.” Yes, that does happen! But I have found that person, and my ovaries are still just fine, thank you.

2. “You’ll get out of the party phase, and see that it can be fun.” I can say from personal experience that I do not go bar-hopping every weekend, and it’s been a couple years since I have. My life is currently filled with a full-time job, taking writing classes, working on a future chapbook, and training for a full marathon, all while maintaining friendships, a serious relationship, and fulfilling my passion for traveling.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m not partying, and I still don’t want kids.

3. “Your life will be so dull without kids.” I’ll just leave this here:

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4. “The greatest joy in life is being a mother.” …for you. Does everyone like mushrooms on their pizza? No. Stop acting like every freaking female has the same itinerary as you. I know that I cannot actually comprehend the joys of motherhood since I am not a mother, but I do not for one minute doubt that it is an incredible and amazing journey. However, if I am not entirely sure that journey is right for me, perhaps you should hold your tongue before you tell me what would be the greatest joy in my life.

5. “You’ll change your mind.” You know what, maybe I will. But MAYBE I won’t. And what I can’t fathom (for the life of me!) is why others are so offended by the latter. People do not need to “grow” out of this feeling. We do not need to change our minds to fit a certain social agenda. This is the number one response I hear from people, and sometimes I just want to scream. “Okay,” would be a good response when I tell you I don’t want kids. Or, “Whatever you want is what you should do.” We say the phrase, “To each their own,” to nearly everything- why not this?

6. “Your biological clock is ticking…won’t you be lonely?” Oh, is it? Didn’t know I had one. Guess I better book that trip to Southeast Asia. Guess I better train for my next marathon. Guess I better write that book before my mind goes, too. Guess I better do all the other things in the world that I want to do that don’t include reproducing. For the record, you are never too young or too old to accomplish what you want. And if I really am feeling lonely, I will get a cat. Or a dog. Or a pet dolphin, whatever. I will visit my friends. I will spend time with my family and their children. I will go shopping with my niece. I will take care of my parents. I will go on dates with my husband. I will strengthen those relationships and give more time and attention to those I do have. I have never felt the urge to have a child or give birth. Also, if I can’t hold my iPhone for 5 minutes without dropping it, chances are I probably don’t want to hold your baby.  Some people just don’t have that motherly instinct, and there is nothing wrong with that.

7. “That’s what a woman’s purpose on Earth is.” or “It’s how God intended it.” I honestly have to unclench my fists to type this. Just because I have all the necessary parts to give birth to a child does not mean that it is my sole purpose in life. I AM NOT A BABY FACTORY. While I may not know my complete purpose on this Earth, I do know that touching the lives of others, making a difference, and being happy can be achieved by a wide variety of different things that do not include bearing a child. Maybe my purpose is to be a writer, or a teacher, or a student, or a friend/daughter/sister/aunt/lover/wife. I do believe in God. But I also believe he made us all unique for a reason. Every individual has their own talents, desires, and goals. If it is truly a sin in the eyes of the Lord to not have children, then I suppose I am ready to risk that.

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Get the idea out of your head that not having children is a selfish decision. Although my reproduction organs seem to be in perfectly fine condition, there are others who are not in the same boat. Sometimes it’s easier for them to say, “Kids just aren’t for us.” Those who have had miscarriages, or lost a child, may not want to bring the pain of that loss back to the surface. Maybe they are still struggling with the recent news that they cannot have children.  Consider that before you jump to conclusions. Furthermore, being responsible is not being selfish. I firmly believe that we should let those who want to be mothers, be mothers. Bringing a child into this world when you do not want to be a parent can cause a plethora of problems, including lack of proper care for the child. It is much better to know you do not want children and not have them, than to not be sure and bring a child into that situation. “Is it because you don’t want stretch marks?” Well, I’m not jumping at the bit to get them, but no. Stretch marks would be the least of my concerns. Perhaps my career is taking off and I want to focus on that, or I am always on the go. My boyfriend is in the military, as my brother is, and although my brother and his wife have a baby and are wonderful parents, I am not the same woman as my sister-in-law. She was meant to be a mother, and has always wanted to be one. I love that about her, but I do not share this feeling with her. Plus, being a military S.O. can be hard enough, I do not want to be a military mom and feel like I am raising the child completely on my own. And yes, it’s true- I do like my independence and freedom, but there are more reasons than just that. I can also go into financial concerns, as affording rent and repaying student loans are their own beasts (even without adding the expenses of a child) but I won’t go there. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that despite these issues, it can be done. Schedules can be managed, and you can make it work even when the money is tight.  I can go into the problems our country is facing and how I am reluctant to bring up a child into a world that terrifies me, but again, I won’t go there. I can respond to your claims that I am just being selfish, and my generation is lazy, self-centered, greedy, etc. But I won’t go there, either.

Because bottom line, I don’t think I should have to ever explain myself on this topic.
As long as you are not causing harm to others, be whoever and whatever you want. And don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.

“Well, you’ll regret it someday.” Maybe you’re right. But I’d rather take my chances than regret giving birth to a kid I don’t want just because everyone else thought it was a good idea for me.

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P.S.

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A Change of Pace

Well guys….if you’re reading this, I have successfully finished my fourth half marathon!

This one, however, was much different than the rest. (You can read more about my running journey here.)

Let’s backtrack: I had never run more than two miles when I signed up to run my first race, the EQT 10 miler, in November of 2014. I ran and ran and ran. I got faster and stronger. I fell in love with it. In May of last year (2015), I placed 3rd in my age group in the 5k race, and the next day finished my first ever half marathon under a 9:00 min/mile pace, a huge feat for me. I went on to run two more half marathons that year and countless other races. And then, I signed up to take on my first full 26.2 miles on May 1st, 2016.

Fast forward to January of this year. More fainting, loss of breath, and several doctor appointments and tests finally brought the news of my heart issues. Not even 6 weeks ago, I underwent surgery to have a pacemaker put in. This completely shattered my plans to compete in the Pittsburgh full marathon, and indefinitely set me back on my progress with a sport I’d come to love and respect so much.

 

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In action at the 5k Saturday. I finished at an 8:20 pace.

 

But if it’s one thing that running has taught me, it is the ability to push yourself not only physically, but mentally. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am stubborn. That I set goals. That I am hard on myself.

So it wasn’t really a shock to them that although I couldn’t run the full marathon, I would try to tackle the half. And with less than four weeks to train, I did just that.

Regardless, the race day nerves were there Sunday morning as I got ready.  I peed approximately 27 times before entering my corral, and then once more before the gun went off. I started off strong. It was raining, but the cooler air felt good. I tried to feed off the energy from the volunteers and spectators, but I didn’t feel the same excitement this year. I won’t lie, I knew this was going to be a tough one and I just wanted the race to be over with. My Garmin watch didn’t pick up signal until closer to the 2 mile mark, so I was already off to an interesting start. I tried to calculate my time/distance in my head but eventually just gave up. Just finish, I reminded myself. That’s what you’re here to do. Coming to mile 5, I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. It was my friend Haley, who was just as shocked to see me! I wasn’t sure if our paces were going to line up, but we ended up running the remainder of the race together. This ended up being one of the major reasons I was able to finish when and how I did. The rain had stopped, and now it was muggy. Around mile 8, my legs were beginning to throb and a dull ache grew in my knees. My chest felt tight and breaths were getting harder and harder to come by. I knew I had gone a little too fast in the beginning, and I was starting to pay for that now. Or was it from my pacemaker? Everyone had told me to stop and walk if I didn’t feel good, but I refused. (Stubborn as ever, remember?)

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All of my long training runs since my pacemaker surgery had been slower 10-11 minute miles, which was hard for me to accept, but I was currently at a 9:30 pace. Keep going!! I told myself. I ignored the pain and pushed on, the miles melting together. Haley and I had talked for the last three miles, but we both were (literally) running short of breath and had an understood silence between us as we kept pounding pavement. It was such a relief to have her beside me. I just kept telling myself to keep going, stay with her, finish strong together. We were now around a 10:30 min/mile. I was slowing down and I knew it. My legs wanted to give up almost as bad as my mind did. We headed slightly downhill into Station Square and saw a woman getting taken away by the medical staff. I looked away and tried not to think about how that was the third person I saw strapped to a stretcher. I remembered this part on East Carson St. far too well- this was the most difficult part of the course for me last year. I still can’t figure out why, when there’s the gradual incline of the bridges, the hills, etc. Southside had the FLATTEST part of the course, yet here I was again, dragging ass through fluid stations, pouring water over my head and just wanting to die. This straight stretch lasts forever, and the task of putting one foot in front of the other seemed so daunting. I knew we were finally in the double digits at mile 10, but the finish line was a lifetime away. Another bridge and two hills were still waiting for us. My Garmin flashed an 11:20 pace and my heart sank. Although my goal was to finish, I was secretly hoping to get under a 10 min/mile pace. Realizing that there was no way I was going to get that, I focused on just reaching the finish line. I was so close, I could do this.

That final ascent is such an AWFUL beast. I poured more water over my head, trying to catch the droplets in my mouth. I needed electrolytes, so I grabbed Gatorade too. We ran through a fire hydrant that had been turned into a sprinkler. “This is the last hill, you got this!” cheered onlookers. Almost. There.

I have loved, and will always love, that moment when I can hear the announcers, the music, and see the crowds of people getting thicker as I approach the final leg of the course. There it was, the golden archway, the finish line. I took a deep breath and gave it everything I had, sprinting to the end. I heard my boyfriend scream, “Go Kara!” and I pushed harder. I couldn’t even feel what my body was doing.  As soon as I crossed, I slowed to a walk and turned for Haley. When I was able to reach her, we collapsed into a hug and I couldn’t hold back my emotions anymore. I thanked her profusely, because I wasn’t sure if I could have done it alone. I put a hand to my chest and felt my scar. I overcame so much more than 13.1 miles. And I was damn proud of this fight.

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Who run the world? GIRLS.

It wasn’t until I made it through the crowds and reunited with JJ that I found out my pace. I came in at 9:47/mile- I still made my goal of under a 10 minute pace!

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Was it much slower than last year? Yes. Did I want to stop? Absolutely. Did I (maybe) cry? Yep.

But am I going home with a sense of accomplishment in my heart and a medal around my neck? You bet.

Whatever it is you want so fiercely, believe you are capable. Even if you’re the only one who believes it. Especially if you are the only one who believes it.

 

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NEVER let anything hold you back. And remember, not all scars are visible. We’re all fighting something, and we’re not alone in it.

 

 

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