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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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I know I said you would receive a race report shortly after my half marathon.  It has now been two months, and nary a peep have you heard from me.

Race reports are hard to write, y’all.

In a nutshell, the race was okay, but it wasn’t great.  I finished 10 minutes slower than I anticipated, but I finished in good spirits (unlike the last half marathon).  The last three miles were the worst, and I started cramping up at the end.  But here’s why race reports are so hard:  There has to be a very careful balance in a race report between funny, insightful, inspirational, and whining.  If I complain too much, it looks like I’m soliciting sympathy.  If I make it sound lovely, I’m lying — and to be frank, you don’t want to read that.  So all of this back and forth means that I kept thinking about what I was going to write, and then just ended up not writing anything at all.

Anyways, but now I’m back and I’m going to tell you about the 4 most annoying things that customers say to me.  Now, before you get all excited, this will not be what it sounds like.

  1. “I know I don’t look like a runner.”  This is usually said while gesturing towards their supposedly fat, non-running body.  Listen folks, I’m tired of people who feel the need to cut themselves down.  There are plenty of people out there that will do that for you.  You don’t have to do it to yourself as well.  What does a “runner” look like anyway?  Most of the people who come into the store aren’t rail-thin.  I certainly don’t “look like a runner.”  And yet, I work at a running store.  And when you come into my store and dismiss your accomplishments and self-shame your body, you are really shaming everyone else who doesn’t “look like a runner.”  A runner looks like you, like me, like your neighbor, like your grandpa.
  2. “I’m not really a runner.”  This is said by at least one person a day at the store.  When I ask them what they mean, they usually respond by saying that they only run 3 days a week, or only 3 miles at a time, or whatever the case may be.  My response: “If you go out the door and you are moving in a forward direction and you aren’t walking, then you are running.  And if you run, you’re a runner.”  There is no special “club” or card that you need in order to be considered a runner.  Again, please stop dismissing your amazing accomplishments.  I’d be willing to bet that your friends, family, and neighbors who don’t run at all consider you a runner.
  3. “I’m really slow.” This is said to me usually in conjunction with one of the previous comments.  When a customer tells me he’s not a “real” runner, and I tell him that, indeed, he is, he responds with, “Well, I’m really slow” as if this somehow diminishes his “runner-ness.”  What is most amusing to me is that when I ask what his average pace is, his response is  “10 minute mile” or “9 minute mile.”  Well, I’ve got news for you buddy: that is a lot faster than many people run.  You are fast.  And besides, as I always say, whether you run a 7 minute mile or a 12 minute mile, it is still A MILE.
  4. “I just run 5Ks.” Or the alternative, “It’s only a half marathon.”  True, you are not running 26.2 miles, or a 50K, or competing in an IronMan challenge, but JUST 5Ks?  JUST a half marathon?  Please, please, please, take that “just” out of your vocabulary.  It is not JUST a 5K.  It is 3.1 miles!  That’s longer than most people can run.  13.1 miles is just as challenging for you as that 50K is to someone else.  When you come into my store, we are not running a competition for the best, or fastest, or longest runner.  You run?  Great, let’s get you taken care of so you can be the best runner YOU can be.

There are dozens of other examples that I could give, but they all boil down to the fact that people put themselves down FAR too much.  I ascribe to the HAES movement (Health at Every Size), which says that I can’t tell how healthy (or not) you are just by looking at you.  In fact, believe it or not, that really skinny guy that you think “looks like a runner” may very well be a chain smoking crack addict.  I believe running isn’t about losing weight (though it may have that added benefit), but it is about your TOTAL health.  That means not only your physical health, but being happy with how your body moves, celebrating the astounding accomplishments (yes, it is an astounding accomplishment that you ran 2 miles, because last year, you couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded), and clearing out the clutter in your mind.  There is something so freeing about being outside, enjoying the scenery, focused just on you and no one else, not worrying about the dry cleaning that needs to be picked up, or the kids’ Christmas program costumes you have to make, or the floors that need to be scrubbed.  When you are running, it is just YOU.  You are the HERO in the moment that you lace up your running shoes.  I don’t care if you run 1 mile or 31 miles, YOU ARE AMAZING.

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I remind people all the time that most runners weren’t born with speed and endurance.  At one point, we all were slow and exhausted.

That’s why you should never compare yourself to another runner.  However, it is perfectly acceptable to compare yourself to, well, yourself.

When I first started my transition from couch potato to athlete, I remember being exhausted after running just 15 minutes at the slowest pace possible.  When I completed my first race, the St. Croix Valley Sprint Triathlon, I ran my four miles at a 13:30 pace.  Today I average a 10:20 min/mile.  But lately I’ve been seeing progress on that front too.  On my short, three mile runs I’ve been pushing my limits, closing in on a sub-30 minute 5K.

All of this progress is thanks to my new furry friend, Toby.  Toby is a one and half year old Retriever/Corgi mix that we adopted from Paws and Claws Humane Society after we lost our first furry companion.  This dog has energy.  If he doesn’t get a run or a walk in during the day, he goes absolutely bonkers when we’re trying to relax at night.  The hubby and I have been taking both dogs on walks a lot, and we’ve been taking turns taking Toby out for a run.

On Sunday, I took the dog out for an eight mile long run.  I brought my new hydration belt, filled with Nuun-flavored water*, and a packet of Sport Beans*.  I even followed my own advice and stretched first.  It was a cool morning with a slight chance of rain, which translated into a beautiful day for a run.  While I was out, I was thinking about everyone running the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon and 10-miler.

I like doing out-and-back runs because I need to play mental games with myself in order to keep running.  So I planned to turn around 4 miles from home.

Conveniently, the City of Rochester placed a Porta-Potty at exactly the half way point.IMG_20131006_113831

Toby waited patiently while I sucked down some water and ate about half the Sport Beans.  Then I tried to get him to pose for some pictures.IMG_20131006_114003IMG_20131006_113918It was a bit of a failed experiment in taking a selfie with one’s dog.

On the way back it got a little chilly, so I pressed on at a faster than normal pace for my long runs.  About 2 miles from home I saw a runner on the shoulder of the road ahead of me.  Imagining myself at the TC 10-mile, I tried to catch her.

This was also a failed experiment.

But it definitely helped me in achieving my fastest long run average pace.

The lesson from this ridiculously long description of my workout? If you just keep at it, progress will happen. (Also it was just an excuse to post these pictures of my adorable dog!)

*Reviews to come!

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I went for a trail run today, wearing my new Hoka One One Kailuas (review in the works).  I took my new dog, Toby, a Golden Retriever/Corgi mix that we adopted from Paws and Claws Humane Society just about two weeks ago.  He is a great running partner, although he could use a little conditioning (not unlike myself).  He approached the narrow trail head with trepidation.  It was a single-track dirt path winding through a small suburban forest.  Toby led the way, occasionally falling behind.

At the top of one particularly steep hill I realized that I needed to tighten my shoes.  The path was a little more harrowing than I had anticipated, and I felt like my feet were sliding around a little too much for comfort.  We stopped, Toby grateful for the break, and I bent over to untie my right shoe.  Immediately we were attacked by a pack of mosquitoes (a horde?  a gaggle?  a flock?).  Toby’s tail whisked back and forth over his hind end while he attempted to get the mosquitoes that had landed on his back with his teeth.  I’ve always been sensitive to mosquitoes and they’ve always been particularly fond of me, so this wasn’t good.  They landed on my neck, my face, behind my knees, on my arms, and in my armpits (of all places!!). A few flew directly into my mouth when I accidentally inhaled them.  The shoes were still loose, so I shook my head, blew raspberries to keep them off my face, and swatted, whilst simultaneously untying and retying my shoelaces.

When I finally got my shoes retied we headed off immediately.  And while I hadn’t noticed the mosquitoes in the woods before we stopped, now they seemed to come at me from every angle.  We hurried home as quick as we could.

When I peeled my sweaty running clothes off before getting in the shower, I counted the number of mosquito bites. Twenty-one.

Time for a chamomile bath.

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This is Toby. He just can’t get enough of looking at himself in the mirror.

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Last night was the final class of my spring Learn to Run session.  I am always a little sad when these things end.  I’ve spent the last 12 weeks getting to know these ladies, encouraging them, and running with them, and now that the class is over, I have no idea if I will ever see them again.

Chances are, I will see many of them again and they will regale me with stories of races they’ve done or ask me serious questions about training or come into the store to get new shoes or gear.  But still, I have mixed feelings about the end of a class.

To celebrate the end of the class we went on a three mile run and then had a little something to eat and drink at ZZest.  Unfortunately, only two of the ladies in my class showed up for this final run, so it was just the three of us making our way down the trail.  It was a beautiful night for a run, so the trails were busy.  The pace was very slow for me, but that’s the purpose of these runs with the class.  I don’t want to injure them by pushing them too hard too fast.  After we finished the first mile, one of my students commented that it was a record pace for her: 11:55 minute mile.  She was so excited.

About half way through our run we were passed by a runner dude probably doing a 7 or 8 minute mile.  When I say “passed” I really mean he pushed his way through us without saying a word.  Now, runner’s etiquette will tell us that a runner approaching a group should call out his presence so that the group is aware of him and will move over.  Granted, we were running three abreast which is also a no-no for running on the trail, but had he called out “Runner on your left!” we would have moved over with plenty of space for him to go around.  As it was, he bounded right between all of us, (giving us a little bit of a scare I might add as we didn’t even see his shadow approaching) and continued on with his Flash Gordon pace.  One of my runners commented on his form (see how much they are learning!), “I hope someday I can run with my feet kicking my butt.”  We used the opportunity to talk a little bit about form and getting faster.

But after he passed us I couldn’t stop thinking about how miserable he looked.  Yes, his form was great and he was definitely moving, but he didn’t look like he was having any fun.  And yes, running is supposed to be fun.

For serious runners, of course there will be days when your training is not fun.  Nor is it really designed to be.  You are doing hills or speed work, and pushing to get through that last mile of a 20 mile long run, and you feel a little like you signed yourself up for torture.  But not every run should feel like that.  Every once in a while, you need that slow, social run with friends to remind you why you love to run.

Yesterday was that run for me.  The ladies that I was running with are about twice my age and this class was their first time running.  Listening to them brag (with good reason, I might add!) about their fastest mile ever or their longest run was a reminder of what it felt like when I first started running and saw those kinds of accomplishments come fast and swift.  Post-run we hung out at the cafe, sipping on cold drinks and eating fresh, local food.  The ladies chatted about their lives and told me some amazing stories about the places they’ve been (China! Singapore! London! Mexico! Nigeria!) and the things they’ve done.  When I got home, I felt good.  Not just, “I’m glad I went for a run today and didn’t stay home sitting on the couch eating potato chips” good, but “wow, my body and soul feels amazing” good.  I haven’t run that nice, slow pace in a while, and boy did it help me get my mojo back.

Running has been good for me.  It has given me a purpose in life, goals to accomplish, and two great jobs.  It has taught me important life lessons about perseverance and hard work.  I’ve also met some amazing people and made new friends.  I needed to remind myself of that, and last night’s run was just the ticket.

So thank you, Robyn and Pat, and for being great running partners last night and for reminding me that sometimes, it’s okay to slow down.

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You might not feel like it, with your hair slicked back with sweat, a funky gait from a nagging injury, mud on your shoes, and sweat crystalizing on your clothes, but for someone, you are an inspiration.

Every time you go out for a run, remember this.

It might be the kid who sees you run past every morning while he’s waiting for the bus.

Maybe it’s the woman down the street who sees you run by every morning while she is sipping her coffee.  Every morning.  Rain or shine.

Or it’s your kid you’re inspiring.  She sees you lace up your running shoes every day, even when you don’t want to.  And she learns that value of determination and perseverance.  She learns that she can do anything.  And that girls can run too.

Maybe it’s someone in your running group who is just getting started and is struggling.  When he sees you at run club each week, it gives him a boost to keep going.  He’s impressed with the races you’ve finished and the amazing things you’ve accomplished in the two years since you started running.

Whoever it is, think about this person — whether imagined or real — that you are inspiring with your run.  Would you be letting this person down if you decide to stay in today and eat chocolate chip cookies instead?

I’ve been teaching running classes through the Running Room and now through TerraLoco for two years now.  In that time, I’ve met some pretty amazing people.  I love hearing their stories and finding out why they’ve decided to start running at this point in their lives.  Usually there is someone in their past who has inspired them to start running.  

And sometimes, I’m that person.

My absolute favorite part of teaching the clinic is seeing what my students can accomplish.  Many of them I don’t see again after the clinic is over (or maybe even before — yes, despite my best efforts, some people do just quit).  But so many of them I’ve stayed friends with on Facebook or am able to catch up with at the store.  I love seeing the great things they are doing.  As race season started here in Minnesota a few weeks ago, I started seeing all of my past students signing up for 5Ks and 10Ks.  Some of them I haven’t seen in years.  But all the same, taking my class was what inspired them to start running and I love seeing that they are keeping up with it.  

My “students” are my pride and joy.  Like any teacher, I am proud of my students.

Just the other day, one of my current students sent me a picture.  She was vacationing in California, so she missed a class, and she wanted to let me know that she was running, even on vacation (now that’s dedication!). Here she is on the beach:

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And last night she tells me that she has signed up for the Disney Half Marathon!  This is a woman new to running who has decided that she loves it enough to challenge herself to a longer distance.  How amazing is that?

So when I’m contemplating whether to run or not, I think about her, and about all of my students, past and present, and it’s enough to get me out on the trail.  

The question really is, am I inspiring them, or are they inspiring me?

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Warning: The following article will most likely contain TMI.

spitzone2So, I remember when I first started running, I realized I had a problem with sputum build up.  And sputum is not fun when you are wheezing along as a beginner at a 14 minute mile.  Obviously, the solution to this problem is spitting.

I am not a spitter.

I have avoided watermelon with seeds for as long as I can remember. I like watermelon, but I’m not going to sit here in front of the cute boy I like and attempt to send a projectile out of my mouth.  So I only ever ate seedless watermelon (Fun Fact: Seedless watermelon was invented 50 years ago).

So imagine my dismay when I discovered I was going to have to spit.

Let me tell you, the first year was not pretty.  Most of the time, my spit would end up just dribbling down my chin.  On the few occasions where I did manage to get the spit out of my mouth, it would inevitably land on my shoulder.  Or my shoe.

But just like with running, the more you spit, the better you get at it.

I am now really good at spitting while running.  But I still don’t eat watermelon with seeds in it.

The point of this post is that running involves a lot of bodily functions.  Many runners have bowel movements mid-run and tummy troubles.  There is  the sweat (obviously) and the smelliness.  And, of course, the farting.  All in all, unless you are a “glistener” like my sister, you will not look pretty when you come back from a run.

But you know what, that’s kind of the point.  Running is very primal.  It is something we are engineered to do.  It is something our ancestors did long before there were running shoes.  When you go for a run, you let loose.  You find your inner beast and you tackle the trail.  You forget about life for a while, and just focus on the movement.  It doesn’t matter what you look like at mile 10 — you just did something 90% of the population couldn’t, and that’s pretty unbelievable.

My wet, stinky clothes, the spit dribbling down my chin, and the sweat turned to salt on my forehead are my badge of honor.  It’s the proof that I just did something amazing with my body.

My dad is an avid bicyclist, and I remembered being amazed as a kid that my dad would work so hard that all of his sweat turned to salt. There was always a stinky bike helmet and gloves in the sink. Strange as it may sound, that is a fond memory.  I wanted to be strong like my dad.  It took me a while, and I still have a long way to go, but at least I have that sweaty, stinky badge that can only be earned by hard work and quite literal sweat, spit, and tears.

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