Off and Running

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Happy New Year, my fabulous readers! Gonna let you in on a little secret. Today is January 7, and it is my first workout of the year. Yes, you read that correctly. First one and it was only 2 quick miles with an even quicker lifting session. Do I feel guilty? Hell to the no, not in the slightest.

If you’re wondering why, the answer is simple; other priorities took precedence over training. I spent the time between Christmas and now doing things that fed my soul and filled my bucket. I enjoyed a (mostly) stress-free Christmas at home with my kids soaking in their joy when they unwrapped much-wanted gifts and cooking a good meal. I spent time with the people I love most of all – my family. I ate and drank with reckless abandon because it was the holidays, dammit, and I wanted to indulge. I smiled and laughed and cried and felt something I have not for quite some time – true happiness. I got my personal life in check, which felt freaking amazing! Having a plan and something to work towards brings a sense of calming, satisfaction, and clarity. Lastly, I let myself just be in the moment and live instead of worrying about cleaning, work, bills, kids’ activities, workouts, etc., etc., etc. I know I worry too much about things I can’t change.

All of that being said, I am now ready. Ready to commit to a training cycle, to drop some of my unhealthy habits (but if you think I’m giving up on craft beer and cupcakes, you don’t know me well enough), to start 2019 with a clear head and newfound sense of focus and purpose. This is my 7th year as an ambassador for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, and there is something big in the works to commemorate the occasion. I don’t want to share the news until I am 100% certain it’s a go, but thinking about it makes my heart so damn happy it could burst in the best way possible. How’s that for a teaser?!

I know some of you who read this blog are die-hard workout folks, but there’s a portion who work out when they can or just don’t know where to start. If you fall into the latter category, I challenge you to set a goal for yourself and make 2019 the year you accomplish it. In a way, I am starting back right along with you. I’ve had progress only to experience setbacks not only in my physical activity but motivation levels and mental health. However, I am confident this is my year! I hope you can say the same.

Best wishes!!!!

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P.S. Signing up for a race is a great way to motivate yourself and stay accountable, just sayin’. The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon features multiple races for any fitness level. There are 8K, 5K, 1 mile races on Saturday, May 18, as well as the Kids’ Run. On Sunday, May 19, you can choose from the marathon, half marathon, or 10K. If you’re up for a challenge, register for one of the Challenge Series events, which has you completing a race on both Saturday and Sunday. Prices increase on January 10, so sign up today and save money. Speaking of saving money, as an ambassador, I am given a code to share to help you save even more! Use the code SL2019 when registering for 10% off your registration.

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Lessons Learned

I’m about two weeks out from the Rite Aid Cleveland 8K/Half Marathon Challenge! If you asked me a few months ago, I wasn’t even certain I would make it to this point. Since November, I’ve battled injury, serious illness, family strife, personal strife, depression, and anxiety, but I am incredibly proud of where I am at this particular moment. I can honestly say life is good, though not without its challenges. I think the culmination of events at the end of February, though painful, was just what I needed to take a look at myself and determine what I needed to be content and fulfilled. I will let you know that the life I was living was not giving me that feeling. Through the help of my wonderful counselor Myra (I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit I am receiving mental health care) and support of caring family and friends, I’m looking at myself through a different lens, extending myself a little grace, and working to become a version of myself that makes me happy.

Throughout this training cycle, I’ve learned a few lessons and would like to share some of those with you.

Lesson 1: I’m pretty damn awesome. Without sounding like an egomaniac, I’ll explain what I mean. If you can’t be your own damn cheerleader, how can you expect anyone else to assume that role? I’ve spent too much of my life basing my worth on others’ opinions. In my mind, my value rose like the tide when someone praised me, told me I was pretty, said they loved me, etc., but the crash of a negative or critical comment or action crippled me. I had no real sense of self-worth. I was a shelled that housed people’s opinions. In one of our sessions, Myra asked me to list things about myself that made me proud or I liked. At that time, I couldn’t come up with but a handful. She asked me to ponder that question at home, and in a subsequent session, I was able to give a substantial list. A few of those items are I have four wonderful children, am successful at work, financially support my family all on my own, am a fairly successful distance runner, and make a pretty great batch of homemade mac and cheese. I am really starting to believe I don’t need validation from others because I see my own worth.

Lesson 2: Changing my attitude had the biggest impact on my training. In the fall, my motivation and fitness level were sky-high! I just ran a huge half marathon PR and was prepared to put in the work to potentially have a Boston qualifier in Cleveland or at least give it my best shot. Then life happened in a major way, and I shut down physically and emotionally. Running, which used to be my therapy, wasn’t even enjoyable. I dreaded every step and felt like a failure having to start from the beginning. Even worse, I was envious of friends who were excelling with their training. To say I was a miserable person was an understatement. I got back into running, but the passion wasn’t there and neither was the progress. I received great advice from a friend. “Be better than you were yesterday. Beat yesterday,” she said. I applied that statement to my runs. Being better meant running a little farther, pushing the pace a little harder, running those intervals until I feel like I couldn’t take another second, lacing up my shoes to hit the pavement when I would rather sit on the couch and watch a creepy documentary. I’m not exactly where I was pre-injury and illness, but I’m not too far off. The best part is I’m excited and motivated to put in the work and see improvements. One more thing I would like to acknowledge is my most recent breakup. It may have been one of the best things to happen to get me back on track with running and life in general. I don’t say this sarcastically or with malice, just from a place of truth and self-reflection over the past few months.

Lesson 3: Breaking out of my comfort zone has helped me grow. I will be the first to admit I am not fond of change and don’t like to do things that make me feel uncomfortable or as if I will fail, but I won’t grow if I don’t change. I have been forcing myself to do things I wouldn’t normally do for the sake of the challenge. I took the kids to and from CLE on the rapid. I never did that before because I didn’t know the routes, was not sure how to even do it, and it made me nervous as hell. I started venturing out to places on my own and making new friends. Those close to me know I’m more of an introvert, and I prefer to not interact with others, leaving a lot of people to think I’m just a bitch. This was a huge one for me! I participated in activities I haven’t before, such as the group runs in Cleveland, which also forced me to be more social. I put myself out there with the possibility of rejection because, hey, knowing how to better deal with that is part of life. I may even entertain the notion to conquer one of my greatest fears over my trip to Seattle, which is singing in public, as my brother and I are a pretty wicked Facebook Messenger duo. As trivial as these may seem to some of you, they are big steps for me.

Lesson 4: Just finishing the Rite Aid Cleveland 8K/Half Marathon Challenge will be an accomplishment. My mindset surrounding race weekend has entirely changed. It’s not like I don’t care about running a good race, but I am not going into the half with an expected finishing time nor will I kill myself to reach it. I want my comeback race to be enjoyable without the pressure of performance. I want to be able to soak in all of the excitement the city has to offer that day and immerse myself in the experience. Truthfully, I am more excited about the 8K. On the Friday before, Dad and I will be livin’ it up at the Marathon’s VIP Reception. I mean, I can’t think of a cooler date than my dad, and my ambassador friends are already excited to meet him. Then on Saturday, he and I will run/walk the race. I truly love that time with my dad because we don’t get much of a chance to do things just the two of us. Although he is not a runner, he supports what I do and encourages me, the epitome of what a great father does for his children. Want to hear the best part?! I think he may be getting into it a little more. He asked about doing more races together this season, preferably ones with beverages at the end. Win-win!!!!

As we near the homestretch of training, I encourage you to think about the lessons you’ve learned. I know the past few months have changed me for the good.

Running and Me FAQs

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As a mother runner who tries to hold down the house, take care of 4 kids, work full-time and not go bat-shit crazy, I get asked a lot about training and running in general. In case there are some others out there who are in the same boat or just want to know how I “get it all done” (hint: I don’t), here are answers to some of the most common questions I’ve received.

When do you find time to train?
It’s more making time to train than it is finding time. Since I refuse to sacrifice sleep in the morning for running, I get my runs in after work. On the weeks the kids are with their dad, I pretty much go to the gym whenever. Things are a little trickier when they are with me. I squeeze workouts in between dropping the boys off at practice and picking them up. I will also go to the gym after dinner for a short run because I am only 5 minutes away. With the weather getting nicer, the kids and I take advantage of our local township park. It has a .4 mile paved oval, and I can watch them play on the playground and baseball fields as I run laps. If I can’t find the time to get outside or to the gym, I am thankful to have a treadmill at home.

Where do you train?
During cold months, which in Ohio is practically half the year, I run at Planet Fitness. I’ve been a member at a few different gyms, and they have the best treadmills by far! When it warms up, I do most of my running right around my neighborhood. Although there are no sidewalks, it’s safe enough to run in the street, and I am able to rack up a decent number of miles without having to double up on streets. As much as I like running through parks and more scenic routes, it doesn’t get much easier than stepping off your front porch and hitting the road.

Do you ever feel guilty about using free time to train/run instead of spending it with your kids?
Short answer: NO! Long answer: I think this is an absolutely ridiculous question because who says you can’t be a parent and do something for yourself? Going to drop a truth bomb here – I have never, ever once felt guilty for taking time to train instead of spending it with my kids. I think it’s important for them to see me working toward something I am passionate about, especially a healthy hobby. It’s called setting an example. They also know I am a better parent when I run, one who is more calm and patient. Lastly, I feel like this is a sexist question because how many dads get asked this? <crickets>

How did you get started?
I started running in early spring 2009 as a way to reduce the stress of having 4 kids ages 3 and under and to lose baby weight. I never ran before except for a short stint on the 7th grade track team (which, btw, I was pretty good), but I had a friend at work doing it. I thought if she can do it, so can I! I had a pair of crappy athletic shoes, wore way too many layers, and made it about half a mile before my lungs and legs were crying for mercy. But I ran again the next day. And the day after that. I signed up for the St. Malachi 2-mile race, and when I finished, I was so excited! From there, it’s history. I kept running farther and faster, and I have more races under my belt than I can remember.

Do you do anything besides run?
Do the hydrotherapy beds at Planet Fitness count? I’ll admit I’m not the best when it cross-training, but I’m trying to get better. I just love to run. When I’m training for a race, I am usually so focused on getting the miles in that I neglect other work. Now, I am trying to lift 3 days a week, mainly because I don’t want bat-wing arms. I’m not a fan of biking or swimming, but I don’t mind hopping on the other equipment at P Fit every now and then. I also like popping in the Insanity DVDs and working out with the kiddles.

What shoes do you wear?
I’ve been a Mizuno Wave Inspire wearer for the past 5 or so years, and they have worked fabulously for me. Before that, I was wearing a few different brands but kept having blisters, black toenails, and knee and ankle problems. It wasn’t until I went to a running store, had them check out my gait and wear pattern, and tell me I was wearing the wrong type of shoe that my running started getting better. Thankfully, no issues since making the switch. If you’re looking to get new shoes, don’t ask friends for advice, please. Make a trip to a local running store because they know their stuff.

What’s your best running advice?
The only person you have to beat is yourself. Too often, it’s easy to compare yourself to others with running, parenting, life in general. Don’t do it. It will only leave you unsatisfied. Instead, work on beating yesterday. I think that is the beauty of running. There is always room for improvement. (P.S. I am guilty of comparison and should take my own advice more often.)

Just What I Needed

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If you’ve read my last few post, you could probably tell I’ve been pretty down lately. Life has been kicking my butt. However, this weekend was a bright spot and just what I needed.

The kids and I kicked off Saturday with a trip to CLE to watch the NCAA Wrestling Championships. The boys already had tickets to go, but when the opportunity for Lex, Annie, and me to attend presented itself, I said, “What the hell?” Better than sitting home on a Saturday. I love watching my sons wrestle but wasn’t quite sure how this would be. It. Was. Awesome! Plus, we couldn’t have asked for better seats. The girls were getting a little bored toward the end, but the boys were totally enthralled with it, even trying to snag autographs from guys they idolized. Truth be told, the eye candy wasn’t bad either. (I’m sure if my daughter reads this, she will be saying, “MMMOOOMMM, but you are WAY too old!” I get it, Lex.)

Sunday Funday was spent in CLE with my fabulous cousin, Halle. We don’t see each other anywhere near as often as we used to, but when we get together, it’s like time hasn’t passed. We planned a few months ago to see Rent, which I have been dying to see for quite some time. Good lunch. Good show. Great company.

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The only thing I had left to check off my list for the weekend was a run. I’m trying to get away from thinking I’m a running slacker. Right now, it’s not for a lack of motivation; I just need to get my damn body back to being healthy. It’s beginning to cooperate. Even though I didn’t have too much daylight left, the kids and I went to our neighborhood park, which has served as my go-to spring/summer/fall training spot for the last few years. Something about being in the park brought a sense of calm and made me think of all of the miles logged around its oval. The park is where I started consistently hitting sub-8:00 paces. It’s where the kids joined me on foot, bikes, and scooters, encouraging me when I needed it. It’s where I have gotten the side eye from others watching their kids practice as I complete lap after lap, which made me run harder. It’s kinda my place.

My expectations for this run were pretty low, but once I started off, I knew things were going to be fine. No pain, no fatigue, no constantly looking at my watch to check my pace, no labored breathing. I just ran and tried to enjoy every minutes of the sunshine. When it was all said and done, I logged 4 miles at an 8:02 pace, my fastest run in I don’t even know how long. I know I have many more miles to go before running the half in Cleveland, but this run helped both my mental and physical health. It made me feel like the strides I made last year weren’t lost forever. They are just hidden for a bit. Nothing a little hard work won’t fix.

Race Entry Giveaway!

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Hi, everyone! By know you should know that I absolutely love the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, and I am back for my 6th year as a race ambassador. The friendships I’ve made and the goals I’ve accomplished in Cleveland (as well as some heartbreaks) over the past six years have helped shape me into the runner I am today. I just so happen to be Ambassador of the Week with my friend and all-around talented badass, Jessica McCartney. I love that RACM put us together as co-ambassadors this week because Jess was the reason I ran my first Cleveland full. In 2012, she was an official blogger, the old term for ambassador, and I won her free race entry giveaway! I thought, “What the hell do I have to lose?! Let’s run this!” That started my love affair with the race.

As an ambassador, RACM provided me with a free race entry for myself AND one to give away. The entry can be for any race of your choice (full marathon, half marathon, 10K, 8K, 5K, or 1 mile…sorry, Challenge Series is not included). The full, half, and 10K are Sunday, May 20, and the 8K, 5K, and 1 mile are Saturday, May 19.

Wondering how to enter? Hop on over to my Instagram account (@stephplusfour), find the posts about the giveaway, and follow the directions. Simple as that. You will have multiple opportunities between today and Sunday, March 11 to enter. A winner will be randomly selected on Monday, March 12 and contacted by me. He/She will have 24 hours to claim the prize before a new winner is selected. The free entry is only good for new registrations. Good luck!

If you don’t want the hassle of a giveaway, you can still save money on your race registration. Use the code SLCLE10 for 10% off!

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The road to the marathon starts with one step

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Guess what, fam and friends?! I RAN! Yes, you read that correctly. After nearly 7 weeks without running and any real exercise due to a compression fracture in my back, I was able to lace up my shoes and hit the treadmill last week. I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading this at the same time.

The first time back with any sort of running was Tuesday, January 9. The plan was to take it super easy with slow half-mile run intervals with a quarter mile of walking. I was a little nervous when I stepped on the treadmill. Was it going to hurt? Would my back give out on me? I started with a walk and held my breath when I increased the speed. Half a mile came and went with no pain! Hell yes! I was able to complete 3 miles worth of intervals in 34:59 and figured that was enough for day 1.

As happy as I was to be running again, it was an extremely humbling experience, one that left me feeling defeated. I knew it would not be easy coming back from injury, but I was not expecting it to be so hard. My legs were fatigued by the end of the half mile, and I was sucking wind. In my head, I was beating myself up over this, upset that I lost the gains I worked so hard for this spring and summer. I’m not embarrassed to admit there were some tears (I’m sure the lady on the treadmill next to me at Planet Fitness thought I was certifiably crazy). I just kept thinking that I could barely run 3 miles; how the hell would I finish a marathon in May?!

A small part of me wanted to quit after that first run, hang up my running shoes, and say screw the marathon. Thankfully, I am more stubborn than that, and I was back at the gym on Thursday. The game plan for this run was mile intervals. I started my run slowly and cautiously. I made it a mile without walking or any pain! I decided to ride the wave of my pseudo runner’s high and run continuously. Three miles and 28:45 later…progress!

I went back to the gym both Friday and Saturday. The runs still were not easy, but I could feel myself getting a little stronger. On Friday, I ran 3 miles in 28:06, and Saturday, I decided to ramp it up to 4 miles in 38:29. This was like a much-needed shot of confidence. My motivation was coming back!

That brings us to today. It was not only my longest run so far (5 miles in 45:56), but I also felt great during this one! My legs weren’t tired and instead felt fresh and rested, and my breathing was under control. This was the closest I’ve come to feeling “normal” since before the accident. I know the road back to the marathon will be a long, frustrating one, but I’m up for the challenge! It’s a little more than 17 weeks from the race. Time to buckle down and kick some ass.

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Isn’t this the truth?!

 

New Year, Same Race, So Happy

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Now that the champagne has been popped and glitter has settled, it’s time to focus on moving forward in 2018, and one thing on my New Year’s list is the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon in May. I am both honored and humbled to say I was welcomed back as an ambassador for 2018! After last year’s race, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run it again or how the staff would feel about having me back. Without going into details, there was this big thing at the end of the race, a proposal. Ultimately, it wasn’t the right decision, and the engagement ended shortly after. I had very mixed thoughts about returning to the race I called my favorite, and I thought for sure I wouldn’t be asked to return as an ambassador. I didn’t want my friends on the race staff who had grown to be like a family to me to be embarrassed or have this reflect poorly on the race. It was almost time to submit ambassador applications, and at that moment, I didn’t have a blog. I closed the one I blogged under for many years (stephplusfour) because it was filled with memories and a life I wasn’t living anymore. I wanted a fresh start and was kicking around the idea of starting a new one. After talking with the staff and getting their opinions on last year’s ordeal, I decided to start that new blog and throw my name in the mix to be an ambassador. I was so excited when I received confirmation that I was welcomed back! Jack, Joan, Ralph, Kayla, and the rest of the amazing RACM crew – I don’t think you understand how much this meant to me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. This will not only be a physical comeback for me, it will be a mental one, too.

As many of you know, I am not able to run at the present time. If you don’t know what happened, check this out. I still have about 1-2 weeks before I can even think of lacing up my running shoes, and IT IS KILLING ME! For the last few years, I have been trained up to a half by this point and have started off the year knowing I only need to focus on adding another 13.1 miles. Before I got hurt, I was running speeds for distances I never thought possible. I had huge goals for Cleveland. When I am back to running, I will be happy to run a 5K without having to walk, and in May instead of getting that PR, I will be happy to cross the finish line without destroying my body in the process.

I will admit that although I am excited to get back to running, the thought of it scares me. I am not worried about physical pain. I don’t think anything I would experience could be worse than breaking my back. Hell, all 3 rounds of childbirth were easier than that. I am more worried about the mental part of it. The disappointment of lost gains I made over the summer and fall. Getting accustomed to what will be the new normal for this training cycle. Training to cross the finish line instead of setting a PR. Feeling like I failed myself somehow. Scared that I won’t get back to where I was. I know how this sounds, and I as I read it, I am thinking, “Wow, what a snobby running bitch. ” But part of writing this blog is being real, and this is how it is right now. I suppose you could say I am still feeling sad and bitter about the whole injury and not running. It’s been a long 6+ weeks, the longest I have taken off running in 9 years. I see my friends kicking ass on the roads, trails, and treadmills while I have been sitting on mine. Social media is a great connector and motivator, but it is also a killer of self-esteem, the source of unrealistic comparisons of ourselves to friends and even complete strangers by breeding the “I’m not good enough” mentality. (Side note: if you are looking for an interesting episode on Netflix, I highly recommend checking out Black Mirror “Nosedive.” Is this where social media will eventually take us?! And before you ask, the answer is yes, I have been watching a TON of Netflix during this injury cycle.)

So…moving forward. My goal is still to complete the 8K/Marathon Challenge Series on May 19-20. Before you laugh and tell me that is not going to be possible, save your breath. Although I feel defeated at the moment, I am incredibly stubborn when it comes to running. I will complete this even if I have to crawl to the finish. Maybe on second thought, tell me I can’t. I will just use it as fuel to keep working harder.

AND…if you haven’t already registered, rates have been extended until January 9, so if you like saving money, register now! Also, starting soon, the Marathon will feature an ambassador of the week who will be giving away a free entry. If you’re hoping to win instead of registering now, may the odds be ever in your favor.