This "story" was actually written for something else but I decided to include it on my blog as well. I was asked to "tell my story"...my "running story". So here it is....It's been a long journey, and one that doesn't just involve me.
"The bow tie told the world how pleased he was to be alive and how much he celebrated his profession, which he called "my romantic and passionate pursuit." --From Cutting For Stone
“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” Shel Silverstein
When I think of my life, how I want to live it and what I want to remember from it, I want to look back someday and know that my days were extraordinary and beautiful. A story of celebration and dreaming big. I want to know with every part of my being that I lived with passion and intention. That I changed my world for the better. I want no regrets. No should haves, would haves, could haves, or shouldn't haves. I want to know that I found beauty, hope and meaning in even the hardest of times. That I embraced all that was given to me and made my life a masterpiece! Running has always been a part of my life story in some way. It is part of what gives my life inspiration and energy to create and be the the best mother, writer, friend and teacher that I can. Running is part of what gives “my story” color.
If I'm going to tell “my story” as a runner, I must take you back to the story of my father. So much of my running story is about carrying on a dream, realizing my gifts, healing, and connecting to a man I never had the chance to know. A man that I am only told stories about. Stories of how much he loved me. How I was his “little princess” who could do no wrong. Stories of his love for the Colorado mountains and being free to create his own life the way he wanted, away from the expectations of others. My life has been filled with stories about his passion and determination to run. How he came back from having his body crushed in an accident where he was told he would never walk again. How he not only taught himself to walk, but to run again. I heard stories of his dreams of qualifying for the Olympics and how much he loved running...how deeply it filled his soul. And I was told the story of how he died young. In an excavation accident. He was only 33 and he left behind my young mother and three children, ages six, four (me) and one.
I may not have many memories of my father, and besides some of his running medals and pictures, I don't have much that belonged to him. I have his stories. So many stories. And I'd like to believe that I have his legs, his breath, and his body running with mine. There is one thing I know with all certainty and that is that I have his passion, determination, and love for running. And it is when I run that I feel him and know him. So much of my running goes beyond just exercising and training. Running is part of my soul. My blood. It is part of “my story” and with t, I also continue telling His story.
Growing up, I knew that running was a part of my family history. My grandfather, who ran races until he was in his 70's, filled my summer with stories of running. He took me to see my dad's mile record at the high school he attended in the 1960's and he was proud to let us know of all the people in our family that ran. I remember how much joy he would get from taking all of us grandchildren to race near his home in Dallas, Texas. I was only around nine years old but even then I remember knowing that running held a special place in my life. I'd run my little heart out, tired and pleased with my 7:00 something finish. I knew that I'd find running someday but it it didn't happen for many years. It was always my older brother that was the “runner” in the family. He'd run up to ten miles a day sometimes. Always training for something, missing out on his childhood. Always running. Or running away from something. I would often make fun of it just to tease him. Little did I know, soon running would be what opened my spirit to life and allowed me to start a process of growing, grieving and discovering myself. It would be what would wake me up and allow me to feel loved, love fully, and make my life what I wanted it to be.
It wasn't until my freshman year of high school that I made running a part of my life and began running competitively. I was home schooled. I hated it. And I desperately needed a direction in my life. So, when my brother suggested I join the cross country team, I jumped at the chance to do something new. He bought me my first pair of running shoes on loan and he took me for my first 5k run before practice started on Monday. As soon as I started running with the team, I realized that running was something that came easier for me than most. It was natural. And I was pretty good. Soon I was running as first on Varsity and my coach told me daily of how much potential he saw in me. He believed in me more than I did myself and he wanted me to be what he knew I had the gifts to be.
But it wasn't my time. I had way too many fears and pain in my heart. I could only do so much with the emotions that I was carrying around. I ran good enough to keep me placing at meets, qualifying for state meets and holding my spot on varsity. But it was nowhere near what I knew I had in me.
Although running came naturally for me, competition was a different story. My stomach was constantly in knots and my heart was heavy and brimming over with sadness, confusion and anger. I didn't realize it at the time but running and competing were digging up buried emotions that stemmed from my dad's death. So much holding me back. I wasn't ready yet. Wasn't ready to fly the way that my coach believed that I was capable of. As the years went by, I was able to see small glimpses of the runner in me trying to soar. But still so many feelings that I needed to sort through. So much in me that I needed to figure out. Pain that needed healing.
After high school, I went on to Graceland University in Iowa on an academic and athletic scholarship. I was wide-eyed with wonder, anticipation and joy at being given the opportunity to LEARN, discover life, and RUN! And I was getting paid to do it!
Being away from home and having a change in scenery proved to be good for me on many levels, especially running. Having a college coach, competing with talented athletes from all over the nation and learning new things about my body and athletics helped me grow and improve mentally and physically. My times got faster and I regularly placed in meets. But I still wasn't free of the emotional baggage and fear of competition that weighed so heavily on me. I found myself dreading practices and races.
At the same time that I dreaded competition, I found myself falling in love with running in an entirely new way. I began discovering running for the simplicity of just....running. Running by myself became something that I craved. Something I needed. Something that proved to be healing. I spent many nights running alone under the big Iowa sky and through the moonlit cornfields. It was during these runs that I felt my dad running with me for the first time. It was as if he was right there, stride for stride. Telling me that he loved me. That he was always there. That he believed in me. And that everything would be okay. For the first time in my life, running became my PEACE. Things made sense to me when I ran alone. Life was balanced and I could feel myself, Amanda, growing into who I knew I could be...emotionally, physically, spiritually. Running was Hope, Healing, and Peace.
Once I went to New Zealand to student teach during my senior year, I could no longer compete on the track and cross country team even though I was officially still getting my scholarship. I had just met the love of my life in Oregon over winter break and I could see everything that I had ever hoped for spread out before me. It was mine if I wanted it. I can remember so vividly, the joy and freedom I felt running by the sea in New Zealand. Free to be running just for me. And knowing that things were unfolding just as they were meant to be.
Running After College
After college, I continued to run. FOR ME! All ME! For the first time in eight years, I was done completely with running on a team. I didn't need to show up at practice at 4:00. No two-a-days. No pressure. The nerves and anxiety were gone. No racing spikes, starting blocks, batons to pass, or speed shorts to wear while running around and around an indoor track. I was free to run on a trail in the forest and feel the wind in my hair and the coolness on my skin. I felt weightless. And whole. I felt Loved and Able to Love. Fully. Running became such a JOYFUL and fulfilling part of my life. And I was faster that I ever was before. I was no longer scared. But excited for the possibilities.
I ran my first marathon in 2003. Napa Valley. I had never run a marathon and didn't have a clue what it was even all about. I grabbed the first marathon plan that I found on the internet, taped it to my fridge in our small city apartment, and half followed it. No pressure and reveling in the freedom of training alone. I finished 2nd in my age group with a time of 3:22. My friends told me that I had Boston Qualified. “What's Boston?”, I asked. I had no idea that the marathon world would be so exciting and promising.
I decided to go ahead and run the Boston Marathon in 2004. Why not? I was young, newly married and life was ripe with opportunities to snatch up before we lost them. I trained but mostly I just ran. And ran. For the joy of it. I didn't have too big of a goal. Mostly just to have fun and see what this Boston Marathon was all about. I ran a 3:32, qualifying me for the next year if I so wished to run.
I may not have set a personal record, or come close to comparing to the elite athletes, but I came home feeling like a twenty-five year old champion. My third grade students and elementary school staff welcomed me home with cheers and stories of how they tracked me. In their eyes, I was a winner.
I continued to run for the simple pleasure of it and for the outlet it provided for me. My husband and I raced a few half marathons together without paying too much attention to time goals or training. One of our half marathons was a 1:31 on a pretty challenging course. We ran relays like Hood-To-Coast and we were part of weekend trail runs. I was just thrilled to be running without being on a team or having the pressure of having big goals to meet.
Once children came, running became more of an outlet than anything but it took a back burner for awhile. Three kids...three beautiful gifts! 2005, 2007, 2009. Becoming a mother was a dream come true. Giving birth and meeting my sweet babies was the greatest part of living. They are so much of my story. So much. They are such a big part of why I am so determined and goal driven. Making my dreams come true and striving to be the best that I can be is perhaps the greatest gift I can give to my them, my sweet inspirations.
Last year, 2010, I made the decision to start running, really training again. I registered for the Portland Marathon and I was more determined than ever to come back strong and train hard for the first time in many years. I was ready to push myself and believe. My goal was to run a 3:15 or faster and it was so exciting to see my body responding so well. I was in the best shape of my life at the time and could feel my entire body buzzing with inspiration and passion for living. It was during this training that I tripped in the forest during an eighteen mile training run. I could feel myself as if it was slow motion.
For a few days after my fall, I was in denial that anything serious had happened. I iced and took ibruprofen but I was stubborn. I told myself things were fine and that I would run through it. I tried to run but couldn't lift my leg. It wasn't until I finally admitted that the bruising/bleeding on the back of my leg wasn't “okay”, that I went to get seen. After an MRI, I knew that it was a complete tear of one of the hamstring muscles. There was no running. No walking normal even. So much pain. So much frustration. And depression.
Injuring myself like this was one of the best things that ever happened to me. As a runner, a writer, a dreamer. I had hours to sit on the couch and dream. I realized just how short this life is and how much potential and possibilities for greatness is within each one of us! Sitting there with my leg up, painful therapy twice a week, not being able to play with my kids the way I was used to, no running in the jogger stroller or whizzing around the corner to pick my daughter up from school...all of this...it left me with an insatiable hunger. A hunger for life and living it the way I wanted to be living it. In every way. I wanted to be running again. Really running. Not just getting by and seeing what happens but I was ready to finally dig deep and see what I was capable of. I started dreaming big. Asking myself “Why Not ME? Who says I can't do______?” I found myself visualizing running that sub 3 hour marathon. I even found myself believing for a short time that I could qualify for the Olympics if I really really worked hard enough. The only thing stopping me would be myself. And this holds true.
It was during this time last fall that I wanted the most from my life. More than ever before. As a runner, writer, teacher, wife and mother. This is what motivated me to start my blog Runninghood in October 2010, almost a year ago. Runninghood became my voice. It was a place where I could share my dreams, my life and my journey as a mother and runner. It became a place where I could connect with other runners. And LEARN! And did I ever Learn!! I became immersed in reading, writing, listening and watching all things running related. I learned about new workouts, training plans, races, gear, strength training and so much more. I reached a new level of inspiration and my living became so much more intentional and passionate. It was and still is wonderful having Runninghood as a place to share my life thoughts, training, and insights.
Since my injury, I've went on to run two marathons, several half marathons, and other races. I've yet to run my 3:15 or set my sights on that sub 3 hour marathon but I'm confident that it will happen when the time is right and when I decide that it is right for me. My last two marathons were in June and July 2011. They were both Boston Qualifying and so it was just recently that I found out that I am officially registered for the 2012 Boston Marathon. It has been eight years, three kids, a serious injury and lots of personal growth and I will be returning to Boston for the second time. Only this time, I won't just be doing it for fun. I want to go for something bigger. I am ready. And there is nothing holding me back this time.
This year when I return to Boston, I will be 33 years old, the same age that my father was when he died. Running was over for him at 33, and it is now that I finally feel like running is truly beginning. It is a “full circle” kind of feeling. I'm certain that my dad still runs with me from time to time. He's there in the most unexpected of places. At the end of a long run, a race, or when I am alone in the mountains. And I'm certain he will be there in Boston.
At this point in my life, I can say that I've worked through all of those emotions and confused feelings that held me back for so long. Life has worked it's magic on me...the years have proven to heal. Love continues to flow abundantly in so many ways. And I continue to be so very thankful to be ALIVE, doing what I love and celebrating my “passionate pursuits”...Running, Motherhood, Writing, and Learning.