Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Five days after signing up to officially run my first marathon, I had a rude awakening. Simply put, I had a bad run. It does happen, albeit rarely. But it hadn't happened to me in a very long time. So long so that I had forgotten how frustrating a bad run can make me feel.

This particular run started the same as all the others. I left work a few hours early to be able to get in a mid-length mid-week run before the sun went down. The weather had been cold for months and the sun still set before 5pm. If I was going to run nine miles (for approximately 90 minutes), I'd have to set out no later than 3:30pm to beat the sunset. It was definitely doable.

A late afternoon run around the lake

I prepared to run the same as always; I taped up my toes (covering my blisters), set up my iPod, and drank a good amount of water. I had just hit the ground running, when boom, the problems started exploding from every direction. First, my running capris were too loose. And I really had to pee. Then my prescription sunglasses wouldn't stay on. And my headband wasn't tight enough. And then my knee brace wasn't tight enough either. And one of my running earbuds broke off. What was going on?

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my asthma flared up. I had used my inhaler before the run, as I always do. Yet there I was, less than 10 minutes into a 90 minute run and I couldn't breathe. If you have ever felt short of breath, it's awful. Imaging trying to run through the shooting side pain that then ensues. In case you're trying to imagine this scenario, let me just tell you that you can't run through this pain. You have to walk until the pain subsides (usually helped along for me with copious amounts of cold water and more use of the inhaler).

Things were going terribly. I kept thinking about the shortest distance to my car, where I could hop in, drive home, and wash away the horrible terrible run. After first finding the nearest bathroom, of course. But instead of running away (literally), I took the time to ask myself the following: Was it really worth just giving up completely? Or could I possibly find a silver lining somewhere in this crappy, painful Wednesday afternoon run? 

Immediately, I knew there were several lessons to be learned. So I first focused on the physical issues, the things right in front of me that I could control. I focused on breathing until the asthma was under control. Then, as quickly as possible, I ran to the nearest restroom, only one mile away. I wedged the broken ear-bud into my ear, and rolled over my pants so they became tighter. I pulled up my knee brace. Now I was getting somewhere.

Then I decided to focus on the things a little more out of my control. I started to think about what I could accomplish that afternoon, using the opportunity to test myself; to see how fast I could run one mile. Because the need to complete all nine miles was clearly a thing of the past. I also took the time to look around; it was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon on the lake.

Having a bad run wasn't fun. I wouldn't call it a positive experience. Instead, it was humiliating, tough, and, most importantly, humbling. It put me in my place. For the past six months I had been slowly moving forward. What started as 8 miles soon turned into 13, then 16, then 18 and finally 20. It led me to believe I could and would run a complete marathon. 

But this bad run didn't deter me. A bad run can't stop me and doesn't set me back. A bad run grounds me; it reminds me that am human and I am allowed to have a bad day. I am allowed to take a rest and yet still be prepared. And the problems I encounter on a bad run only further prepare me for race day. 

This mid-week no pressure run was not an integral part of my training plan. It wasn't one of my precious weekly long runs. I've never had a bad long run (except that one way too hot morning in Mexico). In fact, I've enjoyed every single long run. There have been over 16 of them. And they've been nothing short of awesome; even the ones where all I could think about for miles was just putting one foot in front of the other and heaving myself to cover a new, longer distance.

Long runs have gotten me to the point where I could say it out loud: that I'm training for a marathon. They have been the crux of my training. But I can't forget about all the little runs in between. All the sprints on the treadmill. All the jogs through the snow in 30 degree winter. All the evening runs with only a flashlight. And every day at the gym in between. Because running is nothing, if not fun. 

Except on a bad day; a day that running has kicked my ass. But a bad day doesn't defeat me. It never will. Because I have already won. I have already run for longer than I ever thought possible. I have not only run 20 miles, but I have loved (almost) every mile of it. To a runner, this is a definite win.

Not too easy to find a running path in a city that's only 7x7

As a follow up, I'd like to mention that two days after this particularly bad run, I went out and ran the nine miles I had originally planned to complete. It went well. Then two days after that run, I went out and ran 22 miles. My longest run ever and my last marathon training long run. The pressure was on and all I can say is the run just felt awesome.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
-John Bingham

Some days I feel completely committed to my marathon training plan. Other days I feel I've committed a grave mistake. Only on race day will I know how it will all turn out. Because I've made a commitment; to run the Surf City Marathon on February 1, 2015. It'll be my first marathon. But it might also be my last.

I started running exactly seven years ago. Most people don't have a life changing story; a day when they made a conscious decision to commit to running. But I'm not most people. And I have a story. It all starts with a conversation with my very sick brother in late August 2007.

My big brother and me enjoying lunch at Hot Dougs, 2006

In the middle of a typical daily phone conversation, a nearly wheelchair-bound Dave blurted out "if I had your legs, I'd run." I responded with a barely audible "okay," figuring I'd just shrug the comment off. Instead, at that exact moment, my running career began. A runner was born. After a few initial runs (I'd never run over 5 miles in my entire life) I signed up for the first race of my life; a half-marathon. Then I committed to a running plan. And most importantly, I kept to it.

Six months later, Dave and I had one final chat. It was January 25, 2008 and I remember the evening perfectly. I didn't know it at the time, but that particular Friday night conversation would be our last. With my mom holding the phone to Dave's ear, he asked me how I did in my race. I told him I hadn't run it yet. It was coming up the following Sunday. I was nervous, but I was also prepared. We then went on to talk about other trivial things, like baking cupcakes and turkey sandwiches. Later that night, Dave went to sleep and never woke up. I spent the week grieving with my family. But I was still in half-marathon training mode and because it was winter in Chicago, I had to run a little every morning at a nearby indoor track. But I knew Dave would understand.

One week later, on February 3, 2008, I completed my first half-marathon. Then I sat down with friends and watched the Super Bowl. I don't remember anything about the game. I do remember being so proud of my accomplishment, despite my completely broken heart.

I've run too many races to count over the years. 
Including my first, the Kaiser San Francisco Half-Marathon

But those events didn't turn me off to running. On the contrary, I knew I'd continue to run. I knew I'd have many more 13.1 mile races. And I have. But what I never could have known at the time was that I would eventually commit to running a marathon. That wasn't even in my wheelhouse as any kind of possibility. It wasn't an idea I ever passed around, not to others, not even inside my own head.

Then one day I committed myself to running 26.2 miles. And I was going to do it in front of my friends, family, and a ton of total strangers. All that was left was to actually say the words out loud, find a training plan, and think of a good marathon that was 24 weeks away. Easier said than done. Until I found the Surf City Marathon on February 1.

Seven years into my running career, I have come full circle. On the exact date of my very first race, I'll run my most ambitious. It's been a long journey. Running has always been tough for me. My feet are covered in blisters. I've had to sneak out of the office numerous times to head out on a run before the sun went down. I've cancelled plans too many times to count, given up alcohol, and spent countless hours on amazon shopping for gels, compression socks, water bottles, athletic tape, running shorts, and more. 

But I'm committed to running this race. I'm moderately scared, a little bit obsessed, and probably totally crazy. But I'm also incredibly determined. And strong. I can't remember ever being this strong, both mentally and physically. For the past five months I've gotten in to the habit of going out, spending hours pushing myself through every kind of pain, and convincing myself to do it all over again in a few days. This marathon training plan has forced me to muster up every bit of patience, fortitude, courage and commitment I never knew I had.

I never set out to run a marathon on my race day anniversary. I never meant to put so much importance on a specific time period (the week leading up to the Super Bowl). It's just how this year turned out; the date when my marathon training plan completed. The time has come for me to lace up my shoes and step up to the starting line of an actual marathon. Which I will complete. Because I've already committed myself to seeing my friends and loving, supportive family on the other side of those 26.2 miles.

The Huntington Beach Surf City Marathon is sold out, but you can come cheer on the runners if you live nearby.