A Decade Under the Influence

[Titled after the Taking Back Sunday song I listened to in my teenage years? Maybe.]

Here we are- at the end of a tumultuous decade. There isn’t a way to describe it all, really. Beautifully hard, bittersweet. My timeline and newsfeeds are overpouring with side-by-side photos, recaps of the past ten years: accomplishments, losses, pain, love, suffering, obstacles, growth, change. I’m no stranger to it all, as I think back on 2009-2019. I am more conscious of time, how I move forward through it, how much stares back at me in the rearview mirror…

Some defining moments:

• Earned my B.A. & M.F.A. degrees
I started at Susquehanna University my freshman year and transferred to Westminster College in the fall of 2009. I graduated in May 2012. I was part of Mortar Board, PRSSA, the Holcad Newspaper, Scrawl literary magazine, Campus Programming Council, Sigma Tau Delta International English Society, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, and other organizations.
After six years out of school and months of consideration, I began my MFA at Carlow University in January 2018 and graduated this past December 2019. The two residencies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, were among the highlights of my time as a graduate student.

• Moved to Pittsburgh & into my own apartment
I moved to Pittsburgh (“the big small city”) in the summer of 2012 and lived for two years in a house with a few of my good friends before moving into my own little apartment, where I have made my home for the past five years. I’ve sunbathed on my roof, I’ve decorated my apartment with secondhand store gems, and I’ve burned meals. I took a bus for the first time, made it my mission to try all the new restaurants/breweries, learned that I love French fries on my salad, kayaked the three rivers in the summer, and fell in love with late night city lights. But I also grew tired of the never-ending sports talk and the dull grayness of this Steel City, how suffocating its boundaries can be.

•  Bought a one-way flight to Spain & traveled Europe for six months
In 2013, after working a job that left me burned out and at rock bottom, I bought a one way ticket to Barcelona, Spain. Through the help of Workaway, I lived with the most amazing family for three months in Blanes, and then spent the other couple months traveling all across Europe. It was the most thrilling thing I have ever done, and the thing I am most proud of, to this day. I learned how to rely on myself. How to love myself despite failure or faults or fear. How to feel the world around me, and see where I belonged in all of it.

• Traveled to 43 countries & countless cities
Though my wanderlust had begun long ago, that journey in Spain (or Catalonia, rather) kick-started what would be a nearly nonstop travel addiction. I have traveled extensively both domestically and internationally, since 2011. 43 countries in total, and 5 continents. And nope, I have no plans of ever stopping!

• Started my blog
Because of these adventures, I wanted to create a home for the stories, photos, and memories to live. I admittedly have a terrible memory, so I wanted to do this for myself, but also as a way to share these experiences with friends and family both near and far. Thus, this blog was born in 2015.

• Ran races, including first full marathon
In between 2014-2015, I fell in love with running. What began as a small challenge for myself grew larger like wildfire until I was running multiple half-marathons and even completed my first full marathon, just six months after I received my pacemaker.

• Got a pacemaker 

Which, oh yeah- I got a pacemaker in March of 2016, after some health issues. It came as a shock, since I was healthier than I’d ever been. But it was also fuel. Fuel to keep living a life riding the edge, to not wait until the next month/year or until I had more money and things were more convenient. Fuel to cherish this body I’ve been given and not waste any more time doing the things I want to do while I am still physically capable of them.

• Published two books & many poems

I published my first chapbook, Next to Everything that is Breakable, in 2017. Not long after, my second chapbook, The Shedding before the Swell, was published in the fall of 2018. Two book launches were celebrated, surrounded by ones I love most. Many poems were also written, sent out to journals and literary magazines, rejected, accepted, edited, published, revised, and reborn. I gave dozens of public readings. I attended a handful of writing conferences (Conversations & Connections, AWP, Sigma Tau Delta, etc.) and even won some awards. I started my author website and Twitter. Above all, I was able to cement my passion in something concrete, and from that foundation, build a community around it.

• Became an aunt to two adorable girls
My sweet Cora was born in 2015, and my fiery Ellie was born in 2018. They are as different as night and day, and their relationship as siblings reminds me so much of my brother and I when we were young. Watching them grow up, evolve into their own selves, and see their wonder for life and learning has captured my heart in a way I hadn’t felt before. (Although it’s still weird to me sometimes that my brother is a dad!) I cherish this family.

• Found Level Red Boxing
When my body decided it needed a break from running, I found boxing. As a woman who travels alone, I’d originally been looking for self-defense, but when I took my first class at this place, I was hooked. This gym has become my second home, and the members and instructors have become some of my closest friends. They push me every single time, and help me feel strong at every level.

• Left a toxic working environment
My first job was a hostess at a family restaurant and my second was being part of the general maintenance crew at PennDOT. During my college years, I worked in the Admissions Office and gave tours to prospective students, which I truly enjoyed. I’ve always been passionate about higher education and have loved working in the field, so after graduation, I started my career in Admissions at a for-profit college. In 2013, I finally left that toxic (and ultimately unethical) job to work in Administration at another thriving University where diversity, inclusion, innovation, hard work, and heart are the core values.

• Diagnosed w/ MDD, anxiety, & excoriation (dermatillomania) disorder

While I knew deep down I was struggling with my mental health, and always have, I was officially diagnosed toward the latter part of the decade. I began taking medication and started therapy. Everything comes in waves, still. And I suppose it always will. But I am learning to stay grounded and not be swept away with the first wave. Dermatillomania, however, was something very new to me, and difficult to accept. I try to continue to be transparent about each and every one of these struggles because not only is it important to end the stigma around mental health, but because you really never know who is suffering in silence. We all have our demons and downfalls. We all suffer. We are human. The more I am open when it is easiest for me to close off the world, the more it helps those around me know I need support. And this, my friends, is exactly what I’ve learned more than anything. I need love. I need support. I need connectivity. We all do. I have been nothing without those around me, caring for me and guiding me, always.

• Joined The Madwomen in the Attic workshop community & became co-curator of the reading series

I love the Madwomen in the Attic. With every fiber of my being. If you follow me on any social media, you’ve no doubt heard of this wonderful group of women writers. I was honored to start co-curating their reading series back in 2017 and am lucky to be the emcee. This has given me the chance to hear new voices, meet new poets, and stay involved in the community.

• Lost a lot of loved ones, learned how to survive my grief

My grandfather, a man I loved so dearly, passed away on Valentines Day in 2017. I have said goodbye to classmates, former friends, and extended family both in death and distance. I grappled with the fact that not everyone who enters your life is meant to stay, and that friendships don’t always outlast what you think they will. And that it’s okay- sometimes they aren’t meant to. I’ve watched friends become strangers and strangers become friends. I have entered and left two very serious long-term relationships, both which absolutely broke me at the time. I learned that heartbreak is incredibly physical. And that I can survive it. I have learned how strong I am- that I am, and always was, whole on my own. That I love the person I am becoming and every scar she used to try to cover up. That the essence of a woman’s worth is not equated to who she’s with, if anyone, or motherhood or beauty or any other ridiculous notion society pushes. I have written some of my strongest pieces after emerging from the fires that tried to engulf me and learned to become the flame- hence the current working title of my manuscript, Ember. Nothing can ever really extinguish us. We don’t have to have it figured out. We just have to keep going.

• Met some of the BEST humans & strengthened old connections
This needs no explanation. Through my travels, my education, my work and recreational endeavors, I have met some of the most fascinating, kind-hearted, talented, and brilliant souls. People who make early mornings more alive, who make long drives and running errands adventurous, and who make being lost feel like you’re right at home. They have carried me through so many seasons of my life. You guys- you are my home. Thank you, and Happy New Year, wherever in this world you may be reading this.

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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,

26.2 thoughts on 26.2

Remember my last post on becoming a marathoner?

It was an incredible experience, but let’s get real- I still felt like I was getting hit very hard by an 18-wheeler in slow motion. For those of you who swear on your life you’ll never run one, here’s an inside look from my perspective.

 

1.Really, all races are just an event you pay for  just to stand in line for porta potties and slowly die.

2. Wow. I can’t believe I am actually about to do this. Why would anyone do this?

3. OMGherewego! Can’t turn back now.

4. Remember, start out slow and get comfortable, we’re gonna be here for a while. Like, a VERY long while…

5. You’re running a full marathon while everyone else is still asleep or nursing a hangover. Yay, go you! (Oh, how things have changed.)

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6. *Sees sign “If Trump can run for this long, so can you.”*  Oh boy, that’s a good one.

7. Look at these women. They are kicking ass right now and are probably twice my age. #GOALS

8. This sunrise would be so much better if I was sitting on the beach instead of running past it.

9. I really have to pee. Already. Ugh, of course I do.

10. Down goes gel #1. This won’t be pretty.

11. Yep, that’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever had. *Chases with water.*  Whoa, they’re wearing speedos at this water station. *Chokes on water.*

12. Great job on running a half marathon! Now, all you have to do is just do it all over again. Piece of cake.

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13. Look, there’s my family!!! Thank God.  (Running this isn’t easy, but standing & waiting this long for me probably isn’t very fun, either.)

14. I didn’t even know I could chafe there.

15. Swallowing a salt tab while running…probably not the best idea.

16. If I drink more, I’ll have to pee more. But if not, I’ll risk dehydration. Decisions, decisions.

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17. *Smiles at every camera man*  If I’m only doing this once, I need to look good in these pictures.

18. Almost to mile 20, I can do this!

19. Is that Lake Erie in my sports bra or just a pool of sweat? Ick.

20. What’s the probability that I will lose a toenail from this? Because I think I am right this second.

21. Oh. Crap. So this is the wall they were talking about… just ran smack into it.

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22. Do I even have kneecaps anymore? I can’t even feel anything.

23. *Thinks about quitting 587 times* *Curses everything under the sun* *Hates people who have already finished and/or are still looking good at this point*

24. This is the worst. Why would anyone put themselves through this? Dedicating this mile to how stupid I am for signing up for this in the first place.

25. You’ve got less than a 5k left. SUCK. IT. UP.

26. You are SO close! Soon you’ll be eating chocolate cake and celebrating and wearing that medal around your neck all damn day. Keep going!!!

26.1. DONE. I FINISHED. OMG. I DID IT. I can cross this off my bucket list and NEVER do it again.

26.2. I heard Richmond has a nice fall marathon…I wonder if I could get a new PR if I just train harder?

 

Never say never 😉

 

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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. 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, 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 my boyfriend 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.  My boyfriend 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. My boyfriend was on my other side with a vanilla bean gel in hand, already opened for me.

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 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. 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.

My boyfriend 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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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!

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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