When “Like a Girl” Means Win the Race

Run like a girl...yes, just like a girl.  Like a girl without limits.  Like a girl with bravery and confidence.  Giving it all that she has!  Run like a girl with other girls that are just as fierce and humbly determined!  Yes, run like a girl.  That’s just what this girl right here did when she decided to run her first half marathon ever.

It was a brisk Sunday morning in September 2014 for the MVP Half Marathon in Rochester. I would ultimately run this race alone.  However, a good friend of mine, Shauna, was gracious enough to start it with me.  She is runner.  A real runner.  Unlike myself, a dancer turned runner, or ballerina runner as my hashtags called me.

I had trained for this race on my own.  Inspired and motivated by other strong, incredible women, every run counted.  Whether I ran 2 miles or 10 miles, I hash-tagged each run post with “#breakingbarriers or #inthefight or #comingforyou13.1”  It seems silly, maybe, but I was a woman on a mission.  A mission to be brave.  Courageous.  Transformed.  

And so I trained for 4 months to the best of my novice knowledge until Race Day.  And by train, I mean, I was able to complete 3 runs a week, if I was lucky.  Between teaching summer school, raising 3 kids, and running a household, creativity became my best friend when it came to getting runs in.   Often my runs would occur at odd hours, late afternoon or night.  In the summer, those are the worst times to run…the humidity that summer was ungodly.

But I trained with a winner’s attitude and pushed myself to run further and further. When I began running in June, I was at a 11:30 minute mile.  By the time Race Day came, I was down to a 10 minute mile.  A decent pace for a ballerina runner, so I thought 🙂

Race Day:  

  • woke at 5 a.m.
  • drank a cup of coffee
  • managed to eat some toast with peanut butter
  • paced the kitchen back and forth until 6 a.m.IMG_6055
  • dressed “like a runner” and took some selfies

And I was off!

My stomach was literally in gigantic knots!  The anticipation, the uncertainty of the course, the million questions in my mind…”Am I crazy?!?”  “Whose idea was this anyway?!?!”  “I’m not going to make it…I’ll definitely either faint or vomit or both at some point!?”

Honestly…the things we do to ourselves before breaking down walls and barriers!  Those lies…our minds tell us  every time.

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As I pulled into the parking lot, I took a deep breath and placed my hand on my heart. “From the heart, Jenny. You can do this.  Just run from the heart,”  I whispered to myself. My children wouldn’t be at my race.  Can you believe that? They missed my first half marathon.   It pains my heart so much to even think about it. Like a pain that never goes away… It is one of the terrible downfalls of being a single mother.  How desperately I wanted them to see just how strong their mommy could be…despite all of the pain and heartache…that she could stay in the fight her kids, for herself.  (Tears still roll down my cheek as I write this now).

So I wrote “NML” down my right arm and “H 6:19” down my left.  The initials of my children’s names and a bible verse that means “Hope anchors the soul.”  I would make it to the finish line for them…even if that meant I had to crawl across it.

So, there we were, my friend Shauna and I at the start of the race. The adrenaline was pumping in full swing now! Stomach full of butterflies and flip-flopping somersaults.  The energy at the starting line was infectious!  Like waiting for your turn on the fiercest rollercoaster…like the excitement and wonder of a child on Christmas morning, like the feeling of demolishing walls in your kitchen to rebuild….victory.  The feeling of victory!

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I managed to keep up with Shauna until mile 3…and then I waved her on.  I think we were running a 9:30 minute mile.  My breathing was incredibly fast and I needed to slow myself down a bit.  Mile 4 was a lovely hill waiting for us…so I had to repeat my hill mantra in my mind, “Up, Up. 1,2,3.  Up, Up, 1,2,3.” until I made it to the top.  The rest of the course was fairly flat after that…

IMG_6094There was a nice straightway downhill here for another mile.

I was feeling great! I was strong!   Like a superstar! Cruising along at a solid 10:30 minute mile for miles 4-7…a light refreshing breeze blows through. “This isn’t as hard as I thought it would be,” I thought to myself.  “Not bad for a beginner!”

Ok..a little advice here:

NEVER say anything is easier than you thought.  NEVER! Because you ultimately know what happens next, right?

Mile 7:  Gu and electrolytes station.  Bathroom breaks available here too.  So I “Gu-ed,” fueled myself with hydration (hit the bathroom break), turned onto the canal path and was off  running again!

Mile 7 1/2...the sky began to take on an interesting darkish glow, darkish as in black.  Clouds began to roll in furiously.  Dark.  Thunderous.  Heavy black clouds.

Mile 8:  The heavens opened up and dumped down in torrential buckets!  You know that scene in Forrest Gump:

“We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain … and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.” Forrest Gump

Yup…big ‘ol fat rain that poured down on us in buckets…buckets and buckets.  Sloshing sneakers.  Runny mascara.  Windshield wiper fingers literally wiping and flicking the water off your face. It lasted for 4 miles…4 miles of torrential “monsooning” out-of-the-blue rain!!!  All along the Genesee River Path.  Rain.

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“It’s raining, it’s pouring”

I thought I was a goner…my mind was like “I’m out!!” “Just walk the rest of the way!”

But do you know what was so amazing?? The spectators, the volunteers, the photographers, the other runners cheering each other on!! They were all there with us..in the pouring rain.  They stuck it out to cheer us on!

I remember looking up towards the heaven and saying, “Ok, I hear you! You have humbled me Lord…thank you for giving me this opportunity to rise up and keep fighting harder.”

imageWhen I had reached the Ford Street Bridge, the rain finally ceased.  As I made the turn towards Corn Hill, I was quickly herded to the right side of to road to run.  Police motorcycles came up behind me…”What was going on??”  I thought.

I’ll tell you what was happening! I was just about to get lapped by the lead male marathon runner!!!! What?! He practically ran a marathon in the time it took me to reach mile 12!

Utterly humbling…quite motivating, and just slight defeating. (ok…VERY defeating!)

But I pressed on…in pain.  At this point, this newbie runner was experiencing some excellent knee pain, soaked feet and a weary soul.  My mantra “strongmind” had lost its strength.  My strong will and positive energy were spiraling downward fast.  The final mile down Plymouth Avenue seemed like an eternity.

Exhausted, shaking, fatigued…my body was done.  My mind was done.  I was done! Done! I put up a good fight.  I made 12 miles.  Good enough.  “Good enough,” my mind said.  “It is completely ok to walk Jenny…just do it. Just walk.  No harm done.

My heart tried to speak up louder…”Jenny, remember why you started.  Remember why! Remember that girl on the bathroom floor, remember her?? The girl who thought she would never rise again.  That girl.  THAT’S who you are.  You fight. You survive. You are done quitting.  You are done running away.  Get up Jenny..get up and fight.

(Every day I thank God for gracing me with a strong heart and forgiveness.  Everyday.)

So one foot in front of the other, I ran. “One foot, push off.  Another foot, push off.”  I ran in physical pain,  I ran in emotional distress.  I ran in spiritual renewal.  I ran.. and I broke down in tears.  Hysterically tears as I approached 13 miles..

I glanced over to my left and found some friends of mine, Kim and Juliana.  (Later I found out that it was Kim that spotted my breakdown and sent Jules out to get me!)  Out comes my friend Jules from the cheering section.  (She’s a seriously strong runner and woman!) She ran with me…and talked directly in my ear, coaching me, strengthening me.  “You got this Jen. You are a strong. This is your time. You’re fighting.  No more pain.  No one f@#$’s with a woman who runs 13.1 miles for fun!  No one will hurt you anymore.

She ran with me for about a minute but it felt longer. She was pacing me, without me even knowing it! Then she pointed to the finish line and told me to run like hell to end!

It was so surreal.  The sounds of people cheering your name (it was on my bib), cheering you on, giving you their strength to finish!  I found my stride again, I was alive and strong!

I recognized some more friends in the crowd.  Some had finished the race already, some were cheering on their spouses, others were supporters.  Overjoyed!! I couldn’t contain my emotions!

There was the finish!! I jumped in the air!!!  Leaping and kicking and fist pumping , all sorts of non-race etiquette shenanigans as I crossed the finish line!  I didn’t care!! I just ran 13.1 miles!!!!!!!!

The ballerina runner.  The 39 year old mommy of 3…a woman transformed.

My only regret is that my children were not there to celebrate with me.  I wanted nothing more in that moment than to lift them up into my arms (even my teenager) and hug them with everything that I had left within me.

I finished my first half marathon in 2:34, which put me around an 11:30 minute mile when all was said and done.   That day changed my life forever. It lit a fire inside of me that would never be extingushed again.  I had won the race.  Maybe not in the meaning of what a winner is…but I was a winner.  The race was against my old skin, my old being.  I had won.

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When “like a girl” means wins the race?  When you accomplish something so incredibly difficult and come out even stronger on the other side.

You can do it too.  Set goals…Be a figher. Truly know your worth as a woman. Run like a girl...yes, just like a girl.  Like a girl without limits.  Like a girl with bravery and confidence…and win your race.

Like a girl.

What You Think, You Become…

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