Friday, April 18, 2014

Running is_____________.

By Susie Crossland-Dwyer

    “The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart." 
-Bill Bowerman      
For the past six months, I've been spending 6-10 hours a week coaching a group of about 35 people, many of whom started out as strangers to one another in November. Together we began with one common goal: train for and complete the Flying Pig Marathon or Half-Marathon the first weekend of May in Cincinnati, OH. We call ourselves Team S.

This snowy scene defined a lot of our practices this year.
Some participants started the journey having only taken their first running steps months earlier. Some began with many races under their belt and grand running goals in mind. Some had experienced a taste of racing and wanted to see what happened if they kept the momentum going. A few had just delivered babies weeks earlier or were still getting acquainted with the sleepless routine of having a toddler at home. Others were looking to defy the unfamiliar realm of middle age. Some were managing 50-hour work weeks or caring for ailed parents. Some were planning weddings or taking CPA exams. Some were coming off of surgery where they were told they'd "never run again", dealing with a heart-condition or nursing injuries of races past. Some had hope. Some had doubt. Some just wanted to run. 

But, no matter the distinction of age, experience, or circumstance, each person began willing to take a risk and see what was possible. Each runner was able to put perceived limitations to the side and make it work. Each runner came ready to enter new territory and make use of the next six months of life.
Evidence of running in the pouring down rain. Beth and Kelley come back to studio s soaked but smiling.
Our weekly Tuesday 6AM run--this one when it was -25 degree windchill. Don't worry, we were layered up, but after 5 miles our eyelashes became popsicles. 

Hayley and Pam finishing out a 17 miler on one of our nicer training days.
Snow, snow and more snow!
As the hours and miles have passed, although the over-arching physical goals have remained, something else---I would argue even more life-changing--has also begun to emerge. Through repeated footsteps in crunching leaves, tromps in foot after foot of snow, shallow breaths in negative windchill mornings, goosebumps in the dumping ice-cold rain, five-a.m. alarm clocks, shadow-covered sidewalks, Saturdays without sleeping in--something beyond fitness has happened. 

Through mile, after beautiful, joyful, painful mile--the power of the human spirit has broken through. 

Spring has arrived! Sixteen days and counting to race day.
Paralleling the new life of spring and the emergence of sunshine and shorts, we have come back to life and we have done so as new and stronger people. Depth of winter created opportunity for a persistent, powerful spirit to be grown, and soon, to be harvested as we complete of our final miles as a team. 

Last week, as one of our finishing steps of preparation, I asked  Team S to go through the following mental training activity. 

Why do you run? What does it mean to you? What does it do for you? What does it help you do in the rest of your life?
As some of you may have experienced on our last long training run, at some point in the marathon/half-marathon your body will be pushing back and asking you this very question. Why did I decide to do this? It is important to expect this to happen and know exactly what your response will be. In tough moments we need to remind ourselves of the context, of the why, in order to keep moving toward our purpose/goal.

Running is_____________________________________.
I run__________________________________________.

Crossing the finish line of the Flying Pig will represent_________________________.
At the finish line of the Flying Pig I ________________________________________.

The phrase I will repeat to myself as I race is_________________________________.

The responses I received blew me away. I'd like to share a very inspiring, powerful example with you.
The following was written by Kris Donnelly and shared with her permission. After four months of hard training, Kris found out that her mom was very sick and would need a bone marrow transplant the week the race was to take place. 

I will never forget the morning she told me the news. It was chilly but the sun was out. We had gathered in downtown Cincinnati's riverfront park to run sections of the Flying Pig course for race-day practice. As we began running and chatting as we normally do, Kris turned to me with tears streaming down her face. She said simply, "My mom is sick and I don't know if I'm going to be able to complete today or this race, but I'm going to try." Here are her reasons for running...

Kris pictured here in the orange on the morning she shared the news.

"Running is power.

At the finish line of the Flying Pig I will probably start crying.  They will be happy bittersweet tears. 

The word I will repeat to myself as I race is gratitude.

Why I started running...
I was not active or athletic growing up; I never learned how to play any sports. When I was a freshman in college I found myself homesick, depressed, and thirty pounds overweight.  One day I decided to go run.  Everything changed from there.  Despite how awful it was because I was so out of shape, I immediately felt better about myself: body and mind.  I began running regularly in an effort to take control of my body.  I found so many benefits beyond just losing weight.  I felt pride, strength, control, calm, and power. 

When I moved back to Cincinnati in 2006 my sister and I walked the half marathon.  I had never been to such an event.  The excitement of the crowd, the determination of those running, all of the time they had invested in this one morning ... it was intoxicating.  I knew that I wanted to be a part of this experience. 

Why I kept training...
When we learned of my mother’s relapse, I assumed I would quit training. I couldn’t imagine continuing with what felt like such a selfish time commitment while my mom prepared to fight for her life.

When she was treated four years ago I became totally consumed with her care.  I filled every moment with worry and grief.  I overextended myself to the point that I lost a huge part of myself--my job suffered, the relationship that I was in suffered and eventually ended.  I couldn’t see the necessity of self-care and preservation as a tool in caring for someone else. By the end, I was empty.

When we learned of the relapse, I kept training at first because I didn’t know what else to do.  Stopping would have left a giant void in my schedule, which only meant more time to worry. Training has provided some consistency during such a chaotic time of my life.  It has been something to control and measure.  It’s been a comfort, a way to pass the days.  It’s provided quiet time for me to think, worry, cry, and stop all thinking and just breathe.  Some runs have been very hard to do; I have felt slow, tired, and questioned my priorities. But at the end of each run I have felt such gratitude, clarity (if only temporary) and strength. 

On the days when we’ve been so consumed with worry, when my mom’s felt sick, when there has been nothing to talk about, we’d talk about my run ... where I went in the city, how the distance felt, the weather.  It was a good distraction for us both.  It provided some normalcy when everything else wasn’t. It made her feel better to know that I wasn’t stopping my own life. 

On my refrigerator the [Flying] Pig [Marathon] training calendar is posted next to my mom’s treatment calendar. Each day I compare the miles and distance with her drugs, tests and care.  Last night I realized how similar her journey is with my journey of training for this race.  Both are long, hard and epic. There will be setbacks, pain, and sadness. There is a science and method behind both the treatment process and the training calendar. And both require such a communal effort. I wouldn’t be ready to run the Pig if I didn’t have the support of the coaches, team, and my family.  My mother’s support system is just as vast. It will take a village to get her through this.  I am confident we will do it. All of the support has brought her comfort and strength.

If I had to select a word for why I’m running this, my word would be gratitude. It’s not original; it’s become my mom’s mantra and she prepares for treatment and reflects on her past three years of remission.  She has found a way to feel grateful for the challenges and blessings of her life.  She is not angry, doesn’t question why this is happening to her, and doesn’t feel cheated.  She’s appreciative of her three years of remission and all the beautiful things that have happened during that time. She’s confident there is a reason she has to go through this and intends to find beauty and give thanks during all process.   

As I begin to run my first marathon I can’t help but be filled with gratitude. I have made it through six months of training with no injuries. Despite the effect of stress and insomnia, I know that I am strong and capable of running a marathon. As I run it I will be so aware and thankful for all of the things that led me to be here, for my friends and family who will be there cheering, and for my mom.  She is the kindest most wonderful person in my life.  She has always been my role model, friend, advisor, and hero. As much as I am terrified that her time might be cut short, I am so thankful for all that she has given me and for the person that I have become because of her. 

I am so thankful I chose to train for this and thankful I chose to stick with it."