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Archive for the ‘confidence’ Category

I’m going to tell you a story.  It’s going to be a little personal and I’ll probably over share, and right in the middle you’ll be wondering why in the world I’m telling you this, but in the end, you’ll totally see how this is related to running.  I promise.

My road to a career in selling running shoes was a long and strange one.  I didn’t go to school for a business or management degree.  I got my Bachelor’s degree in English and Paralegal Studies.  I was interested in law and politics, and because I knew that if I had kids, I’d be a stay at home mom, the paralegal field just seemed like a job that would be a way station into my real, actual adulthood.

I got a job straight out of college (pre-recession, mind you) in the paralegal field and I couldn’t have been more miserable.  Go figure.  I hated my job.  I hated sitting at a desk.  I hated staring at a computer screen all day.  I hated only talking to people on the phone and never having much human interaction.  I didn’t have a window. Feeling of fulfillment: 0%.  I started gaining weight.  I thought it was just the type of law I was doing (personal injury) and not the career itself, so I started thinking about what could come next.  But the more I thought about how much better a different job would (of course) be, the more miserable I was at my current job.  I kept wanting to leave, but I just couldn’t make the leap.  I was laid off before I could leave on my own terms.  Which made me more miserable.  In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to me, but of course I didn’t realize that then.  And it always sucks to loose a job, no matter how much you hated it.

For several weeks after that day I sat around in my living room and watched t.v., moped, and ate.  I probably gained 10 pounds.  I refused to file for unemployment.  Finally, I got myself a job hawking electronics at an office supply store.  I liked the job and I was good at it.  But wouldn’t you know it – I was miserable.  I thought I should be doing something better with my life than “working retail.”  Again, the job was just a way station on to something better.

That “better” came in the form of grad school.  Looking back on it — not actually a better option.  Like many people my age during the recession, I went back to school because I didn’t have any real career prospects.  I knew I didn’t want to sit in an office any more, but that was all I knew about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  Getting my Masters degree in English Language and Literature seemed like a good enough choice.  Theoretically, my MA should have given me the opportunity to teach undergrads entry level English, but nothing is as good as it seems in academia.  Job opportunities for people with M.A.’s are limited, and since I didn’t have the option to move, my job prospects amounted to absolutely zilch.

Again, miserable.  And also about 30 pounds heavier.  While I was in grad school I lived in Rochester, but my school was in Winona, about 40 minutes away.  Most of my classes were at night and I taught, tutored, and studied during the day.  Lacking options for lunch, dinner, and sometimes even breakfast, I usually stopped at McDonald’s on my way home in the evening.  That, combined with a complete and utter lack of exercise, tipped the scales in an ever easterly direction.

My next job also seemed like a good idea at the time.  And while I loved some moments of my job working as a advocate at the local Women’s Shelter, it was also stressful and horrible.  It made me miserable.  I gained more weight.  I stressed about my job when I was home, when I was in bed, when I went shopping, when I bought a car… every single moment of my life revolved around that job, because domestic violence is not limited to Monday through Friday 8-5. While I was once again having an internal battle with myself over my miserableness, I couldn’t make a change.  In the end, a difference of opinion with those in charge led to my being let go.

Over the previous four years I had been miserable every. single. second. And my body suffered because of it.  By the time I decided to do something about my weight, I had gained over 50 pounds.  And it wasn’t just my physical body that had suffered.  My mental health suffered too.  I was tired all the time, my anxiety went through the roof, and I felt like a failure.  I had to take drugs just so I could sleep at night.  I started taking an anti-depressant.

This time I applied for (and received) unemployment benefits, and I made the decision that this time, I was really going to take my time making a decision about what I wanted to do with my life, rather than just taking the first job that came along.  Before I left the shelter, I had trained and competed in my first triathlon.  The decision to finally do something about my poor health was a result of watching other people race.  But I had been waiting for that tipping point for at least four years.

With a little running experience behind me, and cashing in on my previous shoe sales experience (my first job was slinging shoes at Roagan’s and I met my husband while I was working at Foot Locker), I was hired as a sales associate at the Running Room.

That choice was supposed to be temporary.  I was terrified of someone from high school coming in to the store and saying, “Oh, so you just work in retail now?” or having to explain to my parents’ friends why I wasn’t doing anything with my degree.  Even though I was in better health than I had been in several years, I was still depressed.

But this is why: For years, I had been making decision for my life based on what I thought other people would expect from me.  I was supposed to have a “real” job where I made “real” money, a picket fence, a house, kids, a dog.  I didn’t think I could be happy until I could be proud of myself.  And I couldn’t be proud of myself because, in my mind, I was a failure.  A failure who couldn’t find a job, who had mountains of college debt, and several useless degrees to show for it. I spent so much time thinking about what other people thought of me, that I never stopped to really consider whether or not I was actually happy. I wanted to be happy, but only if I could have a traditional job, with a traditional house, and a traditional family, because that was what was expected.

But that was not what would make me happy.  It took me years to realize that.

I always thought I would have 2.5 kids because that’s what people do.  I always thought I would have some kind of desk job, because that’s what people who are middle-class and live in the suburbs do.  And when that wasn’t happening, it made me miserable.  But I wasn’t miserable because I was actually unhappy, I was miserable because my perspective was way off.

If I had just taken a moment, years ago, to really look at what I wanted to do and had the guts to make the changes that I knew I had to make, without worrying about what other people would think, I would have been so much better off.  But now you can learn from my mistakes.  I know I don’t want to have kids.  And while some people may think that’s the worst decision a woman could make, for me, it’s the right one.  I know I don’t like sitting at a desk.  I like working retail and I’m good at it.  I like meeting new people every day and inspiring other people to achieve an active lifestyle.  I like getting my hands dirty and hard work.  And what’s wrong with that?  Nothing, is the answer.  Nothing is wrong with that.  That is me.

Four years ago I was trying to be a version of myself that wasn’t pure.  I was running at 30% me.  I was making myself unhappy.  It wasn’t as if people were actually coming up to me and disparaging my retail job.  I just imagined that they would.  30% Me was trying to be something to the world that didn’t actually exist.  So the 70% of me that I was hiding made me miserable.  Do you know how tiring it is to pretend to be someone else?

When I made the decision to be happy with the life and career that I had created, when I actually accepted what I wanted, and stopped worrying about what other people wanted, when I stopped trying to make other people happy by being someone else, that is when I truly found my happiness.

My life is so much better now.  If you think retail isn’t a “real” job, then you have never worked retail.  And if you are going to look down on me for having a retail job, then I think you’re the one with the problem, not me. I stopped worrying about trying to loose “enough” weight, and instead starting thinking about my over all health.  If people wanted to talk about my weight, then I felt sorry for them, because they didn’t have anything else to do than to criticize someone else.  I stopped looking at other people’s lives and wishing I was more like them, and instead started looking at my life and realizing how incredibly lucky I was.  I stopped worrying about what people would think about me being child-free by choice, and just decided that I DIDN’T CARE.

Really.  I know so many people right now who are so miserable in their lives.  They go to work and they are miserable.  They come home and they are miserable.  And I just want to yell at them, “Stop doing this to yourself! If you hate everything about your life, so change your life!” Some of these people don’t actually hate their lives, but they’ve fallen into the same trap that I did, worrying, worrying, worrying all the time, frustrated and complaining about how miserable they are, which just leads to them being more miserable.

I told you this all would relate to running, so let me bring you back to the main purpose of this blog.  Whatever you do in life, be 100% Pure You.  In your job, in your home life, with your kids, with your family… stop trying to be someone you aren’t.  The same is true of running.  People come in to the store all the time, disparaging themselves, worrying about how slow they are, or that they look funny running, or what they look like in their workout clothes.  These people are expending so much energy on worrying what other people will think of them, that they can’t just be happy with who they are.  Right now.  Today.

You can only run for half a block?  Good for you. That’s what you can do today.  Don’t worry about tomorrow.  Be 100% Pure You, in everything you do, and you will be so much happier, I promise.  Be the runner you were meant to be, not the runner you think you should be, or the runner you think other people think you should be (see how exhausting that is?).

That is not to say that there is not always room for improvement.  But rather than focusing on what needs to improve, focus on today, focus on now.  Plan for the future, but if that future doesn’t pan out, your life is not over — make a new plan.  Be happy today, with who you are today.  Be 100% Pure You.  And if someone in your life can’t handle it, remember that is not because of you, it is because them.  They are the ones who don’t want to see the real you. So if your running buddies make fun of you when you have a rough day, look for new running buddies.  If you struggle time and time again with the half marathon distance, stop trying to be the runner you think you should be and focus on a new distance.  If you can’t do speed work, embrace the long slow run and do a marathon.  Run because you like it, not because you think you should like it, or because other people expect something out of you.  Run because you like the feel of the wind on your face, and the crunch of the gravel under your feet, and the sound of your breath struggling in your chest because that means you are a warrior. Run for you, not for someone else.

If you are 100% Pure You, you will be 100% happier, because you are no longer expending half of your energy on being someone else. Take a step back from your life and gain some perspective and when you jump back in, be who and what you were meant to be.  Trust me.

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Fear

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Fear can be a great motivator. But it can also hold you back.

When I started teaching my Learn to Run class this summer, one of the major themes from the newbies was that running was a way of tackling something they fear. One amazing woman said this year she was doing all of the things that she was afraid of.

I was lucky in that I never really felt that fear when I started running. But it’s been an entirely different story when it comes to the bike.

The bike is scary ya’ll.

Think about it: you can go up to 30 mph on a downhill, only some foam and plastic between your skull and the road. Cars pass too close or don’t see you on a curve. The shoulder isn’t wide enough. And what happens if you pop a tire 20 miles from home?

I’ve always thought that running was much easier. You don’t go nearly as far, so if you end up having to turn back for some reason, it’s usually doable. You can run on gravel, out of the way of traffic. And finally, I’ve always found biking alot more tiring than running.

It’s alot of excuses. But what it ultimately meant was that I have this amazing road bike that I’m too afraid to take out on the road.
Did you read that? A road bike that I’m afraid to take on the road.

That’s ridiculous. So today I strapped on my helmet and headed out. I tackled my fear head on. I brought my phone with me just in case I needed to call someone to pick me up, but guess what? I didn’t need it.

I only rode ten, hilly, exhausting miles, but I could have stayed home.

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Turn around point on Co. 11 and Co. 2. I discovered after I turned around that I had been riding with the wind the whole way out. Go figure.

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If you want to run, or you want to get fit, or you want to lose weight, or you want to be healthier, or lower your cholesterol, or whatever it is that you are hoping to do some day, don’t let anything stop you.  Especially not how you think you look in your clothes.

I help hundreds of people each week at the store.  Sometimes they are experienced runners, but more often than not they are people who are just getting started and need a little help and encouragement.  I am more than happy to oblige.  I see how much running has changed my life and I want others to experience that too.

The other day a woman came into the store looking for some outdoor running clothes as she was about to run her first race.  What I heard from her was so typical though, this story could be about any number of people I’ve helped over the last year.

I made suggestions about what to wear, which included tights.  “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t want everyone to see this part jiggling.”  She made a gesture towards her mid-section.  I was fed up.  “Listen,” I told her, “No one cares what you look like running.  Things will jiggle.  Everyone jiggles.”  A woman who took a clinic with me was also in the store at the time.  She chimed in too.  “No one is looking at your body.  They are just impressed that you’re actually out there.”

Yesterday, a gentleman was in the store, also trying on tights.  He made the same kind of comment — so it’s not just women.

Listen up, newbies and soon-to-be’s, If you want it, go out and get it.  Why would you let a little thing like worrying about what a stranger may or may not think of you in your tights stop you from doing what you want? Beyond that, I guarantee the typical response of someone seeing you in your running gear is not, “Oh my god, she looks so fat in that!” but “I should be out running too” or “Wow, look at her go!”  And finally, everyone jiggles.  Even the ultra-marathoner that runs every single day.

There was a point where I too was worried about what I looked like in my workout clothes.  But now I don’t care.  If someone is callous enough to think badly of me because of how I look when I’m out running, that is not someone I would want to associate with anyway.  Finally, when I’m out on the trail, I’m not thinking of how my thighs touch or how much my boobs bounce or my fat jiggles.  I’m thinking about getting through the miles so I can compete in my next race.  I’m thinking about the liberating feeling I get from moving so quickly down the road.  I’m thinking about the calories I’m burning (and the burger I’m going to eat later!) and how my resting heart rate and VO2 max is improving.  But most of the time, I’m just too distracted by the hard work I’m putting in to make room in my head for negative thoughts about my body.

Do you look like this when you run? If you do, great, it looks like you're having fun.

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I wrote this last summer when I was teaching the Learn to Run clinic at the Running Room.  It was published in the Running Room’s emagazine when I was profiled as Instructor of the Month.

I took on the challenge of teaching the Learn to Run clinic with a bit of trepidation.  What could I possibly have to offer to a group of people new to running?  I don’t have a degree in sports training.  I’ve only been running for a little more than a year, and honestly, have only considered myself a “runner” for the past few months.  But this summer, I accepted the challenge, with a little encouragement from my store manager; and as I crossed the finish line of a 5K with one of my LTR clinic members, I realized that, without a doubt, I loved teaching, coaching, and encouraging others.

Cee, the clinic member who completed the 5K with me, needed a lot of encouragement.  Every Tuesday, I tried to decide if I really felt like running that day.  Remembering that Cee, and my other clinic members, were relying on me, kept me motivated.  If I didn’t show up, what was the likelihood that Cee would complete the training, let alone register and finish the 5K at the end of August?  With persistence, Cee and I completed the 5K last weekend.  As we rounded a final bend, approaching the finish line, a volunteer called out encouragement.  “Great work!  You’re almost there!”  And then, almost as an afterthought, “Great job, coach!”

I didn’t have a coach when I was becoming a runner.  There is something to be said for the journey that I took, however.  Alone.   Unsupported.  Just me against the world (and the pavement).  That’s the kind of stuff sports hero movies are made of.  Certainly it made me stronger.  Making this my battle, and my battle alone, has given me a certain pride in what I now do.

But I’ve continued running because of the support I am now able to offer new runners.  I get great joy out of seeing someone return to the store again and again, describing their recent triumphs – “I actually ran for an hour straight the other night!  Can you believe it?” – and encouraging them to go farther – “Absolutely, you can do the 5K.  You’ve trained for this.”  Without the camaraderie, there is a distinct possibility that I would have quit after my first race.  Knowing that I am someone who can inspire others to do things they never thought were possible keeps me on the trail.

Recently, a running friend posted this on Facebook: “Running brings together people who otherwise wouldn’t have anything in common.”  I immediately “liked” the comment.  And it made me reflect on how many people I have met since I started running.  On the trail the other day I waved and said hello to a few people I recognized from Run Club.  At the 5K there were dozens of people who I’ve seen in the store, helped choose gear, or encouraged to register for a race.   I was part of a community, a community that I, in some small way, helped to create.

Cee and I crossed the finish line at what was, for me, a brutally slow pace.  But she was happy.  She had finished 5 minutes faster than her last 5K race.  Now she is registered for the 10K clinic, and she has made a positive change in her life.  Every time I see her, she looks happier and healthier than the last time.  I am proud to have helped her make that change and to have helped her cross the finish line for a PR.

In a few weeks I’ll start training for my first half marathon.  In the meantime, I’ve started teaching the 5K clinic, where, once again, I am coaching and encouraging, and turning someone into a runner.

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This was written a few months ago and published in the monthly U.S. Running Room magazine.

When I first started running, I would wear headphones every time I went out.  It was all I could do to get outside and trudge out 3 miles.  It was painful, and not at all fun.  Where was this “runner’s high” I had heard so much about?  At least the upbeat tunes of Lady Gaga kept me distracted from my grueling pace.

But at some point, that all changed.  Now, I leave the headphones at home.  At first, it was mostly for safety and training – too many race courses don’t allow headphones.  But now, it truly has become about getting a chance to “clear my head.”  Those 5 miles, alone on the trail, are my chance to think through anything that has been bothering me and come up with solutions to any problems plaguing me.  I’m a bit of a worrier, and at times my anxiety can get a bit overwhelming.  In fact, just last week I had a miserable day.  I was crabby and cranky, easily upset, worried and anxious, and generally unpleasant to be around.  When my running partner didn’t show up that night, I almost chalked it up to more bad luck and called it a day.  But instead, I went out for a short run.  It was only 2.5 miles, but it was in the cool fall air, with a light mist falling, and no one was on the trail.  When I got home, I realized that I was suddenly in a better mood.  I had a chance on the trail to work through everything that had been bothering me.  And that’s when I realized that prior to that night’s run, I hadn’t been out for 4 days.  That’s like a decade in a runner’s world.

When I look back at the person I was a year and a half ago, before I started running, I discover that I’m a completely different person.  Not just in size, eating habits, or physical health, but my emotional health has improved 10 fold.  I’m less irritable now, I don’t get as upset about schedule changes, I’m more patient, and I’m more determined and ambitious than I was before.  I’ve realized my own self-worth.  All of that could have taken years to do on a therapist’s couch.

Now I know that running truly is “cheaper than therapy” and I’ll proudly wear my Running Room shirt with that slogan, if only to send a message to newbies that someday they will feel the same.

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Tonight, as I shuffled along with my Learn to Run clinic members, a woman passed us on the trail.  Her stride was fantastic.  Like a gazelle, she flew along the path.  As she passed us, she called back, “Great work Ladies!” I smiled, and my newbie runners, unsure that they were, in fact, actually doing great work, managed a wave.  A few minutes later, trying to keep up a conversation to distract them from the hard work of learning to be a runner, I said, “Runners really are a friendly bunch, aren’t they?”

It was true, I told them.  At every single race I had ever been at (5 to be exact now –such a small number, and yet so significant), I felt a part of a club that had been closed to me just a year before.  Runners looking for a PR, as they sprinted back to the finish line I felt like I had just left, called out to the slow-pokes at the back of the pack.  “Great job!”  “Keep up the good work!” “Looking good!”  After each race, runners hung around, despite finishing decades earlier, to congratulate every runner crossing the finish line.  I have even found myself, out on an evening run, on the rare occasion that I pass someone, waving and shouting, “Great job!”

At some point in the last year, I joined the Runner’s Club.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get into the Runner’s Club, as was demonstrated by the woman-gazelle.  “You have to remember,” I said to my newbies, as they lamented their slow pace, “There are plenty of natural-born runners, but most of the people out on the trail got there the same way you will get there, with time and hard work.  When they started, they were just like you and me.”

I know I didn’t always feel like I belonged in the Runner’s Club.  I can tell now by the way my newbies complain about how slow, out of breath, fat, and sweaty they are, that they don’t feel like they are part of the club yet either.  But I know they’ll get there someday.

We runner’s are a very special breed.  As a club member, I am frequently invited to talk about differences in running shoes; I debate brands of socks like a wine connoisseur; body chafing and the various method of prevention are a part of my daily conversations; I discuss my body functions with complete strangers when we talk about brands of gel; I record my runs – my pace and my distance; and best yet, I not only register, but also complete races.  I like this club.  I guess I wouldn’t mind hanging around for a while.

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My Runner’s World magazine came last night.  I devoured every page looking for inspiration and suggestions.  But one article in particular caught my attention: Against the Wall.

You’re in the middle of a run when things start to fall apart. Your legs feel like concrete, your breathing grows labored, your strides turn into a shuffle. Negative thoughts flood your mind, and the urge to quit becomes overwhelming. Unfortunately, if you run long enough, you’re bound to experience this some day.

This is the way writer Nancy Averett describes what runner’s euphemistically call ‘the wall.’  The article goes on to offer fixes for various physical and mental blocks runners can find themselves facing.

I had my own wall to conquer.  Whenever I went out to do a “long” run (and by long, please remember that this is by my standards!), I crashed around mile 4.  I had yet to go beyond 4 miles.  It was almost as if at mile 4 my body said, “Okay, that’s good enough.  Now let’s get some ice cream!”  But I knew that if I was going to improve, both in distance and speed, I was going to have to push past that 4 mile wall.

The Falls Duathlon is coming up the end of April, where I’m expected to run 2 miles, followed by a break where my team-mate bikes 14 miles, and then run 3 miles.  If you’re following along and you’re good at math, you’ll notice that adds up to 5 miles.  Everything I’ve read so far has suggested training for a distance longer than the one you’ll run on race day so that you’re able to push yourself and maybe even PR.  So if I’m going to run 5 miles on April 30th, I’m going to have to train for at least 6 miles, if not more.  Again, if you’re good at math, you’ve probably noted by now that this is at least 2 miles further than I’ve ever been able to run before.

That wall needs to come down.

Today I decided I would push through my 4 mile wall and try for 5 miles.  My plan was pretty simple: I’d run 2 miles, then stop to stretch and do some core work, and then run for another 3 miles, mimicking the Fall Duathlon race day.

I quickly did my 2 miles, filled up my water bottle, stretched, and did some crunches.  When I returned to the treadmill I thought about going home.  “2 miles is pretty good,” I thought. “No one will know…”  And yet, someone would know.  I had posted on Facebook that I was going to try to run 5 miles today.  I had also texted my hubby to let him know of the plan.  Keeping people informed of my progress, though they could probably care less, has the added benefit of keeping me accountable.  So I dragged my carcass onto the machine.  The first mile was rough.  When I hit mile 3 I thought about going home again.  “3 miles is better than 2,” I thought.  But I had said I was going to shoot for 5 and there was really no excuse to quit now.  I had no hamstring or calf pain; my feet felt much better after that quick little break; and my breathing was still sound and even.  So I kept going.  I got to 4.  “Just another half mile,” I thought.  When I got to 4.5 I still felt good.  “I think I can really do this.”  When I got to mile 5 I still felt good.  My pace was even and steady, my breathing was still good, nothing was hurting too badly, and I thought, “If I can do 5, maybe I can do more.”  So I kept going.  I made it to 5.7 before I developed a pretty bad stitch in my side and had to slow to a walk.

5.7 miles!  That’s farther than I’ve ever run in my entire life!

I stared down that wall and I conquered it. I tore it down, brick by brick.  And now I have the desire to go even further, confident that I can face down any other wall I find and push through it.

The only problem is – now my long runs might actually have to be long!

 

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