It’s no coincidence that in the aftermath of a four week music tour then running the New York City Marathon soon after, I’ve gone through my house and filled bag, after bag, after bag, of things I don’t need. For one thing, I found on tour that I was perfectly happy living with only what I had in my suitcase. I missed nothing from home, save my cats. When I crossed the finish line of the NYC Marathon in Central Park, I felt as if I had shed whatever emotional weight I had carried with me up to that moment. After a year of worrying, fretting, stressing… I made it. I did okay. No, I did just fine.
New York City has always been a magical place to me. It all started in 1996 on a Sunday morning. My dad and eleven-year-old-me were getting ready to start our 45 minute drive into Philadelphia for church as usual, when he asked me, “Why don’t we go to New York City instead?”
We drove northeast as the sun and mist rose, the iconic skyline and Statue of Liberty popping into view, and the funneled chaos of taxi cabs, buses, commuters, and tourists swept us into the Big Apple. We made our way to Times Square, shivering in the cold as we braved the “TKTS” line for half price seats to the musical Grease!. The entire experience blew my mind, and from then on I was positive that there was no greater aspiration than being a Broadway star and no greater place in the world than New York.
It’s been a year. Eight months in, and I’m in a wildly different place than where I thought I’d be. I just looked back on my first post of the year, when I written about my goal or theme for 2017, which was to dig deep and let racing hurt a little. To go beyond my comfort zone. I accomplished that exactly one time, at the Bloomsday 12K in May. My fitness wasn’t where it had been the year before, but I boarded the pain train and managed a new personal best by several seconds. It was the week after that race that things went south. Rather than taking some time to recover and have a “down” week, I plugged away and trained harder, and pretty much immediately strained my hamstring. I should have known better. Hindsight is everything! I got greedy. When things started to go my way, I wanted even more. For the next ten or so weeks after that, I couldn’t run at all without my leg hurting. I had to cancel my trip to Duluth, Minnesota, where I had planned to run Grandma’s Marathon in June. I spent a lot of time worrying about my future goals and how I’d ever accomplish them. I was adamant about maintaining my fitness by cross training, until even pool running aggravated my leg. Right around that time, I listened to an interview with Olympian Kate Grace where she spoke on her experience with injury- that there are only so many hours of pool running you can do before you drive yourself crazy. At some point you just have to let yourself heal. It was like Kate was speaking right to me! I had to let go.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
That pretty much sums up the first half of 2017 for me. After around three years of really solid training, I’ve been sidelined twice this year with a hamstring injury. The first time around it was fairly minor and I felt better after a couple weeks off. I even managed to get in shape enough to run a personal best at the Bloomsday 12K in May. The second injury has been much worse as I haven’t run in six weeks as of yesterday! I sought medical attention and have been rehabbing, strengthening, cross training, and resting, but unfortunately this seems to be one of the most stubborn injuries I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve been hesitant to write about it, as I really don’t enjoy writing “gloom and doom” posts, but I’m just going to keep this real.
Within the first few days of this injury, I was really stressed out at the prospect of rehabbing and getting in shape in time for Grandma’s Marathon on June 17th. When it became clear my leg wasn’t going to better anytime soon, the decision was pretty much made for me. The marathon was off. Rather than being upset about it, I felt relieved. I could take the time I needed to get better and not have to scramble to prepare for what would likely be a mediocre race on little training. Here’s what I wrote that day:
I am deliriously happy. It may be heightened emotion, poised to crash down the next time my muscle gives a little twinge, a stinging reminder that things aren’t all as they should be. But for now, I am relieved. I clip away on my fire engine red bike. The sun is warm on my skin. My usual cup of coffee tastes better than usual. I feel present and alive and hopeful.
It really was a wonderful feeling. However, as the weeks went by and my leg continued to sting and twinge, I began to crumple.
From here to there. That is what I miss. To move over the earth, to crest the hill, to discover what’s around the bend. I lunge, crawl, kick, and stretch but I’m grounded. Every so often I give in. I dash up a dune. I get a little dog to chase me. I run hot potato barefoot over the black pavement. If you asked me any other time I’d say I run to train and get the best out of myself. What I’ve realized is that running is the way I experience the world around me.
I wrote that one month ago. I keep telling myself that it will be just another couple weeks, but a couple weeks later it is still the same. A couple weeks from now will have been two months, and I’m still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
There are a few things that have been keeping me going through all of this. My friends, who have all gone through the same thing in one way or another and know exactly what it’s like. Cross training, which will never be the same as running no matter how you frame it, but it makes me feel like I’m doing something. In fact, I signed up for my first bike race a few weeks ago and got to experience the thrill of the chase in another form. I was almost embarrassed at how delighted I felt after crossing the finish line.
Tomorrow I will start my first day as the new assistant coach at Mountainside High School. I got my start running in high school and I can’t wait to hopefully inspire and motivate young men and women that may be being introduced to the sport for the first time. Lastly, I’ve been putting my heart and soul into a new running project that will be announced this week. I’m grateful for what running has given to me, and in turn want to give back to this community which has done so much for me. Stay tuned!
I’ve read countless tales about and by running legends, from Kenny Moore’s accounts of Bill Bowermen’s “Men of Oregon” and Steve Prefontaine’s gutsy, record-setting runs, to 1968 Boston winner Amby Burfoot’s methodical training and years of eloquent writing on the sport, to Frank Shorter’s famous Olympic marathon victory in 1972 sparking the Running Boom of the 1970s, to Bill Rodgers’ three straight victories in the Boston Marathon, to the unforgettable “Duel in the Sun” between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley in the 1982. I’ve drawn so much inspiration from these stories and have found myself both in awe of and in many ways relating to the runners they’re about. It wasn’t until a friend asked for some inspirational book recommendations that it dawned on me that these were all stories about men.
Earlier this year, I was sent a copy of a revised edition of Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports by marathoner, sports commentator, and author, Kathrine Switzer. I knew a bit about Kathrine’s story, namely the famous incident in which race official Jock Semple attempted to bulldoze Switzer off the Boston Marathon course in 1967. He was unsuccessful, as Switzer’s boyfriend, a nationally-ranked hammer thrower, shoved Semple to the ground. Switzer went on to become the first-ever woman to finish the Boston Marathon with a numbered entry.
What I didn’t know was anything about Kathrine’s story leading up to that moment. When she began running, it was at her father’s suggestion in order to get in shape for her school’s field hockey team. She relished in being fit and enjoyed the success it brought her on the field, plus she found herself going from being a skinny kid to a strong, athletic woman. She had few female role models to look up to and was instead captivated by photos of the statue of Diana the Huntress as she was both athletic and feminine, just like Switzer.
Switzer raced as one of two women on the men’s track team at Lynchburg College, then she transferred to Syracuse University where she trained with the men’s team but couldn’t race, as women weren’t allowed in the NCAA conference. It was there that she met Arnie Briggs, who would become her training partner and coach. Despite running day after day with Briggs, and him believing in Switzer as a capable runner, she still had to convince him that a woman was capable of running a full marathon by running the 26.2 mile distance in a training run. It was only then that he believed her and helped her register for Boston under the name K.V. Switzer.
The altercation with Jock Semple on the Boston Marathon course along with Switzer’s finish as the first-ever registered woman to finish Boston thrust Switzer into the limelight, albeit unintentionally, as a pioneer. She found herself with a platform and part of a growing network of competitive women in the sport. The book takes you through her journey as a not only a runner, but as a journalist, entrepreneur, and advocate for women’s running. She co-founded the first women’s only road race, the New York Mini 10K, along with creating the Avon International Running Circuit of women’s only races in 27 countries which convinced the International Olympic Committee to adopt the first women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984.
I learned from reading this book the power of courage and persistence. Switzer prided herself on being annoying, from her conviction to her ability to run a marathon (and run it well) to getting her ideas heard in the male-dominated world of event directing, marketing, and sports journalism. It made me think of my own role in the sport as an athlete and coach- how I can both represent and support women in the sport by being an advocate and a role model myself. I’ll start by recommending this book. I got all fired up with my own ideas after reading it and I think you will too.
In other news, speaking of coaching and being a role model, I’m thrilled to share I just took on a role as Assistant XC Coach at a brand new high school in the Beaverton School District, Mountainside HS! I always knew I wanted to coach high school one day. Who knew this year would be the year? I can’t wait to meet the runners as we begin summer practice and help build the program from the ground up. Go Mavs!