Posts Tagged With: race

Fear of the Unknown

It’s hard for me to believe that it was just a few short weeks ago that I was terrified of not being able to finish a half marathon.

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A little preview of my St. Patrick’s Day race attire!

And yet last weekend I ran a 20K (which, come on, is pretty much a half marathon!), and yesterday I registered not for a St. Patrick’s Day 5K, but instead decided to go for a freakin’ 10-MILER: the Freehold Area Running Club’s 24th Annual St. Paddy’s Day 10-Miler. Because, you know as someone who is actually Irish, I feel it’s a holiday that’s worth celebrating with more than just green beer (blech).

And then I also just registered for another half marathon in May — the Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown — which, admittedly, I’m very much looking forward to because runners are actually encouraged to wear costumes. SCORE!

I’m toying with the idea of doing the Long Branch Half Marathon because it sounds like a great race — and who doesn’t love running along the shore? — but it’s also in May. We’ll see!

Meanwhile, I’m sitting here staring at my favorite race sites and actually having a hard time narrowing down the other races I want to tackle this year…I’ve got everything from 5Ks to halfs on my list, but I know I can’t do them all!

Well, unless I want to risk my legs falling off or — far more likely — going completely broke.

And then there’s a teensy weensy little part of me that is ever-so-slightly entertaining the idea of registering for the Walt Disney World Marathon in January of next year. Yes, that’s right. A year ago I was afraid of 5Ks, and now I’m Googling marathon training tips. I figure I’ve got plenty of time to train, right?! The only thing I don’t have is plenty of time to think about it…registration for runDisney races open up super early, and sell out super fast!

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Think I should run my Superhero Half Marathon dressed as this fetching woman?

Oh yeah, and then there’s the small matter of taking on Disneyland’s Dumbo Double Dare challenge (a 10k followed by a half marathon) in less than six months!

Even though I was less-than-impressed by my overall performance at the Disney Princess Half Marathon (recap here!), crossing that finish line in an upright position turned out to be all I needed to let go of my fear of the unknown. I was so afraid that my training wasn’t going to be enough, or that I’d somehow discover that I really, really just wasn’t cut out to be a runner.

I’ve spent a lifetime doubting myself and my abilities in just about everything — and running just so happens to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, both physically and mentally — so I really struggled with self-doubt throughout all of those months of hard training for my first half marathon.

DSCF3043But as it turns out, all I needed was to prove to myself that I could finish that first 13.1, and now I’m chomping at the bit to put myself and my training to the test in longer distance races.

It just amazes me how I can waste so much time letting fear keep me from doing the things I want to do. NO MORE!

So…tell me about the races you have coming up! 😀

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Race Recap: NYCRUNS Riverside Park Hot Chocolate 10K

I’m down to the final three weeks of training before the Disney Princess Half Marathon, and I convinced myself that it would be a great idea to run one last 10K. I basically had four good reasons:hotchocolate10k

1.) I haven’t run a 10K since last November, nor competed in a race in 2013 yet…and it just seemed like something I should do before taking on 13.1 miles later this month.

2.) I wasn’t particularly thrilled with either of my previous 10K times (59:18 and 59:15) because both races were run in unseasonably high temperatures — almost 80 degrees in NOVEMBER! — and on ridiculously hilly courses. I was pretty sure I could do better (spoiler alert: I DID!).

3.) I forgot to submit a time for corral placement for the half marathon, so I thought I’d give myself one more chance to ensure an earlier placement when I bring proof of time to the expo.

hotchocolate10k_24.) And the most important reason of all: I, ladies and gentlemen, am starting to PANIC about this half marathon. Like, really panic. So I thought it would be good to get all of the “race day” practice I can get…even if a 10K is still, technically, less than half of a half.

Of course, I scoured all of my favorite running websites for local 10Ks taking place in New Jersey in the final weeks before I head to Disney World, and found absolutely nothing except a handful of 5Ks. So I decided to consider running my first out-of-state race (granted, it’s only a 40-minute train ride, but still!) and ended up in New York City on this past BRUTALLY COLD Saturday morning for the NYCRUNS Riverside Park Hot Chocolate 10K. Seriously, it was frigid, and I was convinced that I’d have to be taken to the nearest hospital to be treated for hypothermia before I even crossed the starting line. (A special thanks to my boyfriend for jumping on a 6am train and freezing to death on a park bench just to see me cross the finish line…and take lots of pretty pictures!)

hotchocolate10k_5But then the race began and I found myself warming up, as always — and maintaining a respectable 9ish/mile pace. Most surprisingly, despite the fact that the park — which offered some FABULOUS views of the Hudson and my great state of New Jersey — contained lots of lovely hills to climb, and I was struggling with a droopy waist on my running tights and various cold-weather running issues (can someone please tell me: IS there a socially acceptable way to wipe the snot from your nose?), I couldn’t help but admit to myself that I felt pretty damn fantastic.

And I continued to feel fantastic for the entire duration of the race. I could have done without some of the hills, but overall, I was maintaining my target race pace, enjoying the views, and best of all, actually having fun. The hot chocolate awaiting the runners at the finish line was a much appreciated bonus, too!

I love running, but since I’ve been in half marathon training mode for months and months there are definitely days when it feels more like a chore…and those off days when I find myself winded halfway through an “easy” three-miler can make me question why I even bother.

But Saturday was not one of those days. As I flew through the final miles of the race, still feeling strong and without any need to stop (well, taking a moment to blow my nose might have been nice), I found myself thinking that I might just be able to do this. You know, run a half marathon.

Ihotchocolate10k_4 thought about the idea of running two 10Ks back-to-back, and for the first time didn’t shudder in fear. Don’t get me wrong — running a 10K is hard work, and I am definitely tired and sore (and hungry!) afterwards…but it’s now something that’s completely within my realm of possibility. I’m not afraid anymore.

Oh, and the icing on top of it all? I CRUSHED my previous 10K time from November (59:15) by three full minutes! My official chip time from this weekend’s race was 56:17, for a pace of 9:05/mile.

Regardless of what corral I end up in for the half marathon, I’m so proud to be able to submit my shiny new 10K PR. There’s nothing like seeing the fruits of your labor…and I never knew how exciting a measly three minutes could be!

hotchocolate10K_7Even though I haven’t been perfectly following my Cool Running half marathon training plan — I definitely don’t do speedwork consistently enough, and I always have to rearrange the mileage a bit based on my martial arts classes — I think it might just be working. Not only because I no longer have to stop to “tie my shoes” (read: catch my breath and combat the urge to drop dead on the side of the course) during races, but more importantly, because I’m no longer intimidated by other runners.

Granted, I’m typically the only one racing in a Sparkle Skirt — just because it’s fun! — and I know I won’t be taking first place anytime ever, but I’m finally starting to feel like I BELONG at that start line. I deserve to be there just as much as anyone else — including those people who finish a 10K in the amount of time it takes me to run a 5K! — because I am a “real” runner now.

And in just 20 days, I will be a half marathoner!

When did you start officially thinking of yourself as a a “real” runner?

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Pushing Your Limits…But Not Too Far

First, the good news: I ran another 10K last weekend at Giralda Farms in Madison, NJ, and while I didn’t technically beat my time from my first 10K in September, it was still 6.2 miles. And I ran it. All of it. Even the hills!

Now the bad news: my half-marathon training (running 4-5 times per week) combined with my twice-weekly Taekwondo class and the Muay Thai kickboxing classes that I take three times a week have finally caught up with me. I did something to my lower back, and it has now become excruciatingly painful to bend over or do any of those other basic movements that we all perform in a day and never think about — like grabbing the milk from the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, or, you know, sitting in a chair.

I’ve always prided myself on never doing anything halfway. My Type A personality combined with OCD tendencies have always compelled me to either let something completely consume my life until I achieve what I consider perfection, or I just don’t bother doing it at all.

And with running, there’s an added incentive for me to go overboard…I really, really want to cross the finish line of my first half marathon…the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I want it quite possibly more than I’ve ever wanted anything. For a formerly obese person like me, achieving a feat of physical fitness like running 13.1 miles is the epitome of doing the impossible…and I need to do this to prove to myself once and for all that the old me is gone forever.

The bottom line is that being active has become part of my identity. It’s who I am now. Just as I once defined myself as “the fat girl,” these days I am actually coming to to terms with the fact that I am a runner. I won’t be shattering world records any time soon, but nevertheless, I am a bonafide runner who looks forward to a Saturday morning 5K the way I once used to get all hot and bothered over a Friday night date with a bag of Doritos.

But the problem is that I love martial arts, too. Maybe a little too much. Next month, I test for a Bo Black belt in Muay Thai, and I just started my Taekwondo training — which has proven both physically and mentally challenging (who knew it would be so hard to balance on one foot or remember a form?) and has therefore once again awakened the perfectionist, competitive beast inside of me. I know I’ll never be the fastest runner, but I think that with the right training, I could quite possibly be an above-average martial artist.

And that’s why there are days I squeeze in a 3- or 4-mile run before a 45-minute Muay Thai workout that’s immediately followed by a one-hour Taekwondo class. I have been fortunate enough to find not one, but three fitness activities that I love and that have helped me to both maintain my weight loss and sculpt the fittest body I have ever had in my 27 years of existence. I got bored with my elliptical workouts and pretty much every other workout I’ve ever tried (Zumba, step aerobics, Spinning, yoga…you name it), and yet when I’m running a race or roundhouse kicking a Wavemaster or trying in vain to perfect the art of the chop block, I never, ever find myself watching the clock or battling the urge to quit due to boredom.

And my incessant need to keep pushing my limits to get better and better has clearly caused me an injury that, unlike my usual soreness or the occasional pulled muscle, doesn’t just disappear after 2-3 days. I’ve been ignoring my lower back pain for longer than I care to admit, hoping that it would just magically fix myself…but now that the pain is the worst it has ever been, even I have to admit that I may need to scale it back a bit. And, you know, actually see a doctor (I finally gave in and made an appointment with a chiropractor).

So as we head into a time of year that’s all about gratitude, I feel compelled to say that I am genuinely thankful for my body and my health and for everything that it has helped me accomplish in the last five years since I began my weight loss journey.

And while I will not stop training for my half marathon or squeezing in a martial arts class whenever I can, I will work on listening to my body and learning how to recognize when I’m pushing myself too hard. I will also do what I have to do to recover from whatever is going on with my back — even if it means, heaven forbid, taking an extra rest day or two!

Have you ever dealt with a sports-related injury?

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Racing for a Cure: PurpleStride New Jersey 2012

I’m not one who usually solicits donations for anything, but I did want to share the details of a particularly special upcoming 5K race here in the hopes that someone might find it in their heart to donate just a few dollars to a very worthy cause.

On November 4, I will once again be running in the annual PurpleStride New Jersey event in Parsippany. The timed race and awareness walk benefits the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a nationwide team of incredibly devoted people who are doing everything in their power to find a cure and create awareness for this horrible disease.

In 2004, my life was forever changed by pancreatic cancer when my beloved grandfather, Charles Gleason, succumbed to the disease. He was diagnosed in January after complaints of abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite — and by July, he was gone. Like most cases of pancreatic cancer, by the time he experienced any symptoms, it was too late.

Overall, there is only a six percent survival rate for pancreatic cancer over a five-year period, and it’s the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Though anyone who sees a pink ribbon immediately thinks about breast cancer, unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is a disease that nobody seems to talk about…it remains the most under-funded and least-studied of all major cancer killers. In fact, pancreatic cancer research earns only two percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget.

And that is why those of us who were touched by this disease have to continue the fight. During my first PurpleStride race last year, I had been listening to a special playlist of Johnny Cash hits — he was Pop’s absolute favorite, and it was a rare occasion to enter his home without the sounds of “Ring of Fire” or “Folsom Prison Blues” playing in the background. Just as I crossed the finish line, I yanked out my iPod earbuds and realized that music had just started playing over the loud speaker…and it was “I Walk the Line.”

It was the first time since his death that I knew without a doubt that he was with me…and that I had made him proud. He was always concerned about my weight struggles and endless bouts of yo-yo dieting, so it’s especially meaningful to me that I can honor his memory through my newfound love of running and 90-pound weight loss.

This year, my sister Christine and I will be participating in the PurpleStride New Jersey event together as team “Charlie’s Angels.” I’ve been training for a new sub-28 minute 5K PR, and it will be her very first race!

Losing Pop remains the most devastating experience of my life. He was more than just a grandfather to me. Our relationship was truly special. When I was young and my mom had to return to work, he was the one who took care of me. As we grew up, he took my sister and I everywhere, from amusement parks to the race track, and there was nothing that he wouldn’t do for either of us. He was there to cheer us on through every dance recital, every softball game, every graduation.

Like most grandparents, he spoiled us rotten with gifts and treats, but it was more than that — Pop wasn’t one to be overly affectionate, but yet he always somehow made sure we knew we were loved.

To this day, my family commonly remarks that I am just like him. There is nobody who understood me the way he did. I credit Pop with my strength and my tenacity. He always encouraged me to do whatever made me happy. While everyone else was questioning my decision to pursue writing as a career, he remained my biggest fan and supporter.

Pop taught me that I should never be afraid to fight for what I believed in. When I was being bullied mercilessly throughout elementary and middle school, he was the one who stepped in to try to pick up the pieces of my shattered self-esteem. He is the one who taught me not to let anyone take advantage of me, or to allow anyone to put me down or make me feel unworthy. He taught me how to stand up for myself.

Because of him, no matter what I start — whether it’s my fledgling running career or my own writing business — I never, ever give up. I often catch myself wondering what he would think about a decision I’ve made, or if I’ve made him proud. He is always with me.

And that’s why no matter how many years pass, I will continue to fight pancreatic cancer in his honor, even if all I can do is donate money to research or participate in awareness events.

There are no words to describe what it was like to watch Pop suffer from pancreatic cancer. When I was 18, I was the one put in charge of driving him to his chemotherapy treatments several times a week; my grandmother was an amputee and could no longer drive, my parents worked full-time, and my sister was too young to have a driver’s license.

We didn’t talk much during those hospital visits, but I am so grateful for those few extra hours that we spent together. It was heartbreaking to watch a man who had always been so strong in my eyes growing weaker and weaker, but he remained courageous until the very end.

I remember during one of his final treatments, a nurse was asking him how he was doing, and he responded, “I will fight this until it’s over.” And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

If you might want to make even just a small donation to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in support of our team and in honor of Charles “Pop” Gleason, please visit our team page, “Charlie’s Angels,” here. We appreciate every dollar!

Thank you so much!

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Dressing the Part: My Running Essentials

Unlike my Muay Thai kickboxing obsession (not cheap!), I assumed that running would be a relatively inexpensive sport. Sneakers can be pricey, but other than that, what else could you possibly need?

Oh, how wrong I was. Since I started running more seriously, I’ve discovered just how much you need to pound the pavement, from an ample supply of sports bras (lest you do laundry every single day) to gadgets to keep track of pace and distance.

Here are some of my favorite goodies, and other running essentials.

1.) Running Wardrobe

I have Kohls to thanks for my abundant wardrobe of running tanks, capris, shorts, jackets, pull-overs, and sport bras. I’ve pretty much become a walking billboard for FILA, which is the only brand I’ve found thus far that always fits me like a glove and, most importantly, is relatively affordable…especially when I have a coupon!

Though they’re not a sports company, per se’, I actually like Lily of France sports bras (also from Kohls); call me crazy, but I’m not a fan of uni-boob, so instead of the ones that squish everything down and make me look like a 10-year-old boy, I prefer bras like these.

I have amassed more running clothes, with tanks in every color of the rainbow — and pants to match — than I care to admit. Yet, somehow, I’m still doing more laundry than I have in my life! My workout wardrobe practically exceeds my regular wardrobe now…and I kind of love it.

As a bonus, it wasn’t until I upgraded my workout wear from $5 cotton tanks from Walmart that I started to feel like a “real runner.” There’s definitely something to be said for dressing the part!

2.) SPIBelt

I can’t believe I just discovered these! For so long, I was jamming everything from keys to money to snacks into my bra (super cozy, by the way), or simply neglecting to take my cell phone with me on runs (never a good idea), because I had nowhere to store my essentials when on-the-go. After Googling around for a solution to my problem, a blog by 30 Something Mother Runner turned me on to Spibelts — small personal item belts — and I am officially hooked.

They’re practically microscopic (when I first saw it in person, I thought it was some kind of joke), but they do, in fact, expand to fit quite a bit of stuff — even my clunker of a smartphone. Fortunately, my camera — also on the larger side — fits in there beautifully, so I no longer have to worry about how I’m going to capture all those magical moments when I run the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February.

Best of all, it doesn’t bounce, move, or shift at all when I’m running…you can hardly even tell you’re wearing what’s essentially a mini fanny pack (but way cooler). Also, they’re affordable (around $20) and come in lots of different colors and patterns, even polka dots — my fave!

3.) Bondi Band

I recently won two Bondi Bands in a giveaway on Road Runner Girl’s blog, and just tried these out for the first time yesterday. To say I’m a heavy sweater would be an understatement — no matter what the weather’s like, I’m literally dripping wet at the end of a run, and I perspire more than any of the women (and most of the men, for that matter!) in my kickboxing classes. It’s gross. I’ve been wearing my RunDisney hats all summer (I may or may not have ordered all four…), which do have the added benefit of shielding my face from the sun while absorbing excess sweat, but the Bondi Band is truly the answer to my prayers.

It’s essentially a large, thin headband made of sweat-wicking material; like the Spibelt, they  come in all sorts of colors and styles, but the best part is that they’re super effective. It covers almost my entire forehead, which means no slipping or re-adjusting, and it was lightweight enough that I didn’t even remember I was wearing it — it’ll fit nicely under my helmet when I’m biking. Best of all, I wore it on a mid-day run on a humid August day, and didn’t get so much as a drop of sweat in my eyes!

I’m ordering more today — and they’re going to be a welcome replacement to the stinky old men’s sweat band I’ve been using for kickboxing class, too! I’ll just have to stick to basic black, though — the karate master would surely kick me out of class for wearing something like these fun and fashionable designs.

4.) Sneakers

Of course, there is no running without sneakers. Well, unless you’re one of those minimalist barefoot runners, I suppose (still can’t get on board with that one). I’m a size 10 wide, so when it comes to choosing running sneakers, it’s basically a matter of finding a store that even carries my size. I rarely have a choice of style or color…I’m lucky to find more than one pair of running sneakers in a wide-width in any given store.

I was wearing Nikes for ages, but finally hauled myself to my local running store for a proper fitting, and it turns out they were doing nothing for my pronation type — or, at least that’s what the sales associate said after watching me stroll around the store in my socks.

They carried precisely one shoe that would accommodate my massive feet, and I’ve been in love with Saucony ever since. I just got these for my birthday!

5.) Garmin Forerunner

This was my first real piece of running gear (other than sneakers). Anyone who has even the slightest interest in tracking their speed and distance — which is pretty much all of us — has to invest in one of these watches. They’re definitely on the pricey side (in the neighborhood of $200), but I’ve been using the 405cX for a few years now with no issues.

Short of counting laps on a track (boring) or timing yourself with stopwatches (tedious), it’s pretty hard to train for any kind of race, whether it’s a 5K or marathon, without tracking your pace and distance…or, even if you’re not training for races, just to keep tabs on your overall improvement. Some of the watches are even compatible with heart rate monitors, for those of us counting our calories in and calories out!

6.) Ipod

I can’t run without music. So last but certainly not least, I never head out for a run without my iPod. I don’t run in the dark, and I always try to stick to well-populated areas, so I figure it’s okay to jam out while I get my sweat on.

I’m partial to the iPod nano…pretty much because it’s small and has a clip that attaches right to my top, and don’t have to fuss with arm bands.
What are some of your running essentials?

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How Self-Discipline Makes All the Difference

In my Muay Thai kickboxing class, the instructor talks a lot about discipline. The cornerstone of martial arts training, self-discipline is even part of the “Student Creed” we have to recite before leaving class (along with things like perseverance and honesty), and he often ends class with a speech with cutesy quotes like: “A disciplined life is a happy life.”

But there’s one saying that always seems to get me. Recently, he ended class by saying: “If you have self-discipline, you can have anything.” And now that I am officially training for a half marathon, and — I don’t want to jinx it — the scale is budging ever-so-slowly in the right direction again, I can say with absolute certainty that self-discipline is the absolute most important quality I’ve had to develop along my health and fitness journey.

As I’m sure any runner would agree, it takes a special kind of self-discipline to pull yourself out of bed before the sun rises to log miles, or to lace up your sneakers after a grueling day at the office. And anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight knows that there’s often nothing standing between you and that extra slice or pizza or a heaping bowl of ice cream except your own ability to tell yourself no.

To me, self-discipline is about saying you’re going to do something — and then actually doing it. It’s about making yourself a priority, and keeping your own promises. It’s about setting a goal and not allowing yourself to quit. It’s about developing the strength to deny yourself something that may be easier or more fun — e.g. skipping your run to lounge on the couch, opting for the cheeseburger instead of the salad — because you know it will only hinder your own success.

As someone who used to tip the scales at over 260 pounds, I can tell you exactly what it’s like to not have any self-discipline at all. While I was always an over-achiever in the classroom, when it came to my health, laziness was the name of the game. If I didn’t “feel like” doing something, I didn’t do it. If I had a sudden craving for a milkshake, off to Baskin-Robbins I went. I’d promise myself I wasn’t going to overeat at a restaurant, but then proceed to order the greasiest, most unhealthy option on the menu — fettucine alfredo was my go-to meal of choice — and polish off the entire plate. My short-lived attempts to exercise were always lackluster at best — I could stick to a walking regimen for about a week, tops, before allowing myself to quit.

In some ways, I’m sure it sounds fun to do (or, in my case, not do) whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s a certain freedom that comes with giving up on yourself and having no goals. By the time I started college, I had completely resigned myself to a life of obesity; I figured I was “meant” to be fat, so I did absolutely nothing to stop piling on the pounds. It’s just oh-so-easy easy to stuff your face with whatever happens to be in front of you, and never have to worry about the ramifications to your health.

At first, developing self-discipline meant having the strength to say “no” to the temptation to skip a workout or eat something that I knew would come back to haunt me on the scale. But these days, the ability to set my own goals and stick to them has proven more rewarding that I ever thought possible…and I’m finding that it’s getting easier.

Last week, I earned my brown-tip belt in Muay Thai, which in my school is granted after approximately 18 months of training. This week, after returning from a weekend getaway (more on that later), I went out and pushed my body through five miles. Every morning, I plop myself in front of my laptop in my home office, even though the TV is just steps away and sometimes I just don’t feel like working.

Sometimes, self-discipline means sacrifice. But to me, developing self-discipline has proven the only way to really have everything I’ve ever wanted in life.

What are some ways you’ve practiced self-discipline to reach your goals?

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The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

There was a one-credit course I was required to take during my senior year in college — “Personal Fitness” — and as part of our final test at the end of the semester we were required to run one mile around the indoor track in the campus’ recreation center.

The humiliation of that day is seared into my memory. I remember I had completely forgotten my change of clothes, so I showed up at the gym wearing those Skechers sneakers with the platforms that were “in” at the time (and I commuted, so it wasn’t like I could go back to my dorm and change my footwear). At least I was wearing sweats, since that was pretty much all that fit me at the time.

I weighed at least 250 pounds by the time I graduated from college, quite possibly more (I wouldn’t know, because I avoided scales and mirrors at all costs). I grew winded walking across campus to the library, and did nothing but study and work, hitting the drive-thru hard between classes and munching on vending machine snacks whenever the mood would strike.

I think it goes without saying that running was a physical impossibility.

To make a long story short, not only did I come in dead last on the mile that day, but I never even finished. As I was grunting, sweating, and trying to ignore the blisters forming in my platform sneakers, some of my classmates were jogging up beside me to lend their encouragement and chant “you can do it!”

By the time everyone else had finished and I still had another two laps to go, I pretended like I was done just so I could leave the track and rush to my car and burst into tears. That mile felt like a marathon to me, and I was so ashamed that I was the only person in the class who seemed to have such trouble completing the test. I know the instructor knew I hadn’t finished, but I saw the pity in her eyes when she let me call it quits.

And that, my friends, is just one of many of my not-so-wonderful memories associated with running. It was always something that I simply could not do.

That is, until now. I don’t remember the last time I wanted something this much. And the difference now is that I can.

I am officially registered for the Disney Princess Half Marathon, and I’m also lining up a fall racing schedule that includes at least two 10Ks. I’ve never competed in any race longer than four miles, but I want to get used to running longer distances — and, more importantly, be able to submit a 10K proof of time to the folks at RunDisney to qualify to start in one of the earlier corrals on race day.

This weekend, I ran seven miles — my longest run to date. Mind you, I pretty much shuffled through the last mile, but I made a decision to complete seven miles on my “long run” day, and I actually did it. Yesterday I went out on a five mile run, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for me to do on a Tuesday afternoon. I can already feel myself getting stronger and faster.

There is something that feels damn good about doing something you never thought possible. With running, my success is even sweeter, because it literally was something I could not do. Meanwhile, I had all but given up on myself before embarking on my most recent and final weight loss journey. I never thought I would be able to beat the obesity that has plagued me since childhood, and experience life as an averaged-sized person.

I’d be lying if I said the excitement I feel when I see my byline in a magazine isn’t, in part, caused by the fact that I was told over and over again that I could never be a writer: “it’s too competitive,” “you’ll never make any money,” “you need to get a real job,” etc. This has been my dream since I was eight years old, and I relish the fact that I am doing what I love every single day and proving all the naysayers wrong.

Don’t get me wrong: going into business for myself was scary. Joining Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time was scary. And the idea of running a half marathon is downright terrifying. But I’m starting to realize how important it is to embrace that fear.

I know now there is nothing more gratifying than doing something you thought you couldn’t do. That’s why I will keep lacing up my sneakers and training for that half marathon!

Is there something you do now that you never thought possible?

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Stop Making Excuses…and Cheating Yourself Out of Success

If you want to ensure that you never reach your goals, do exactly what I’ve been doing: let your life be taken over by excuses.

On July 4, I ran the local Firecracker 4-Miler race in my hometown for the second year. Despite the fact that last year’s event was my very first race ever, and that it was the exact same course and we were experiencing very similar weather (hot and humid!), I showed absolutely no improvement from last year. In fact, I came in at almost exactly the same time, to the second. I struggled from start to finish, and couldn’t keep myself from stopping to catch my breath or surreptitiously take a break to “tie my sneakers” during the race.

As I was beating myself up afterwards, and trying to come up with excuses for not achieving what I thought would be an easy goal for me — beating last year’s time — I couldn’t help the niggling feeling that I was simply trying to not take responsibility for not working hard enough. All this time, I’ve been going out on 2 or 3 mile runs here and there. I wasn’t being consistent — sometimes weeks would pass without running at all — and I wasn’t exactly adhering to any of the advice I was skimming in my monthly issue of Runner’s World or any of my countless running-related Google searches about how to improve my speed or perform better on race day.

In short, I started to think about how I’ve been making excuses and only doing things “halfway” for quite some time…and how running is only one example.

It sometimes takes months for me to send out a fresh batch of article pitches to my dream magazines. I’m constantly telling myself I’ll e-mail that editor “tomorrow,” or finish that story query “after I do more research.” But then I end up convincing myself that it’s a stupid idea, or the editor is “just going to ignore me, anyway,” so it never actually gets done. Meanwhile, I always make promises to myself about blogging more often, since it’s something I love to do…but take one look at my past posting history and you’ll see that I can’t seem to manage more than one post a month.

When it comes to Weight Watchers, my attempts to reach my goal of 100 pounds lost are quite laughable. I’m only casually counting POINTS, and I’m doing way more guesstimating than ever. I still measure out everyday staples like 3/4 cup of cereal, but then when it comes time to enjoy some frozen yogurt after dinner, I somehow seem to forget where the measuring cups are located, because “I worked out today, so I deserve a treat.” I’ve also been allowing myself a few-too-many binges on weekends, from extra glasses of wine to munching handfuls of Angie’s Kettle Corn on the beach. That excuse is an easy one: “It’s the weekend!”

For months, I have been putting in shorter and shorter workouts (when I’m not in kickboxing class, that is), justifying their brevity with classic excuses like “I don’t have time.”

But then I wonder why I’m never landing those writing assignments, why the scale won’t budge, and why my fitness level (or ability to run a 4-miler without wanting to die!) has completely plateaued.

So, I decided to do something to take down the Excuses Monster once and for all. I decided to start by choosing one goal — in this case, being a better runner — and not allowing any more excuses.

I’m proud to report that I have chosen quite a lofty goal, and for the past three weeks, have been diligently working towards making it a reality. With no excuses!

It started with stumbling upon some race recaps on running blogs about the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Feb. 2013, and knowing that it was something I absolutely, positively had to do. I have harbored a deep-seated Disney obsession since I was in diapers, and running through the Magic Kingdom would be a dream come true. I just have to do it.

That’s right. I am going to run a half marathon.

Before I convinced myself that “I’m not good enough, fast enough, experienced enough, etc. to run a half marathon,” I set out in search of a training plan and for the past three weeks have been running 5 times a week, with mileage ranging from 2 miles to 6 miles. I invested in a Dry-Erase board to chart my monthly training runs, and I became a member of the Daily Mile to track my progress on-line. I created a little inspiration corner in my office with photos, brochures of races I want to run, medals, and even a painting my sister made of me crossing the finish line, and I use them as a daily reminder of how much I want to reach this goal.

And it’s already paying off. I competed once again in the Downtown Westfield 5k and Pizza Extravaganza, and the race that took me 33:03 last year only took 29:15. It wasn’t easy, and the course was incredibly hilly, but I didn’t once feel the need to stop. I felt comfortable and confident, because I knew, deep down, that I had put in the work…and wasn’t letting anything stand in my way.

There are no end to the excuses I could make to talk myself out of training for a 13 mile run — especially when the longest race I’ve ever participated in was a measly three miles. Aside from the physical agony and very real possibility of me not making it to the finish line, it’s out of state and extremely expensive…and basically another excuse for me to take a vacation.

But if I’m ever going to move forward, whether it’s in my writing career, weight loss, or fledgling attempts at running, I have got to stop talking myself out of everything…and cheating myself out of my own happiness.

Have you ever made up excuses or talked yourself out of doing something you really wanted to do?

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Learning to Silence Your Inner Critic

I ran my first 5K of the season this weekend, and shortly after I passed the first mile marker, I found myself falling victim to one of my old behavior patterns: negative self-talk. Or, in my case, mentally bashing myself.

I started the race strong: I shot out in front of most of the racers, and found myself keeping pace with some of the fastest runners for the first half mile. I finished the first mile at a perfectly respectable time of 8:30.

But, of course, my over-eager start ultimately cost me the rest of the race — by the second mile I was too winded to recover, and ended up crossing the finish line at one of my absolute slowest 5K times ever: 29:30.

Now, I’d really like to blame taking off too fast at the start of the race for my less-than-satisfactory time at the finish line. But as I tried to ignore my shortness of breath and the shooting pain from a side stitch, I was forced to tune in to my mental monologue. And what I heard really wasn’t pretty.

For the first time, I realized just how cruel I am to myself. And just how often I allow my inner critic to sabotage my success.

I’m fully aware that I’ve always been my own worst enemy. A perfectionist by nature, nothing I do is ever quite good enough, and I’ve always tended to shy away from any activity where I couldn’t be the best. So, naturally, when it comes to running — an activity that is so completely out of my comfort zone, and one in which I am nowhere near the top of the pack — I find that I can be especially self-degrading.

Meanwhile, I haven’t been training five times a week like many serious runners (I’ve been too busy with kickboxing, as of late), I definitely don’t have the body of a runner (the friction caused by large thighs doesn’t exactly bode well for your speed), and it’s an activity I’ve been doing seriously for less than a year, so I’m still very much a newbie in comparison to many of the other participants in the local races I’ve completed thus far.

But as I was sluggishly making my way through the second half of the race this weekend, I realized just how brutal my inner thoughts can be. After I realized that I blew my chances of setting a new PR, and that I wasn’t at all prepared to recover the way I could have if I had trained properly, I launched into a mental tirade of insults that I would never, ever say to someone else. Things like:

“See? You are too fat to run.”

“This is what you get for being lazy and not training enough.”

“You have no right to be out here with all the real runners.”

“Running is clearly not your thing.”

“Give it up already.”

Granted, I walked away with the second place medal for my age group (25-29), but it was only because each racer is only entitled to one award, and the first and second place finishers overall happened to be in their late twenties. I actually came in fourth…and don’t think it was lost on me that there were only a handful of runners in my age group participating in the race.

It’s always discouraging to fall short of your own expectations. Believe me, I should know. But I’m genuinely saddened that a matter of seconds tacked onto my finish time can make me feel like such a failure. I couldn’t manage to give myself credit just for participating in the race, or even for taking home a medal. I couldn’t see the situation logically, and realize that this was the first 5K I’ve run since last November, and yeah, maybe I’m a little rusty.

And maybe, just maybe, I let my negative mindset get the best of me this time.

If I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I’ll admit that I’ve thought of quitting running more than once. It’s hard. It doesn’t come naturally to me. There’s lingo to learn, from pronation to fartlek to cadence. There are intense, structured training programs to follow for everything from improving your per-mile time to building the stamina to complete a longer race, like a 10K or half-marathon.

I know I have a long road ahead if I’m going to work on getting faster and improving my performance on race day. There are plenty of other activities that I love, from kickboxing to biking, and I could easily just go back to jogging recreationally from time to time and never register for another 5K again.

But I just can’t bring myself to quit. That’s always been my MO. When the going got tough, I got the hell out of there. When I couldn’t be number one, I decided it wasn’t worth doing.

I may not be “at goal,” but after nearly five years, I still haven’t quit on my new healthy lifestyle…and I will not give up on running.

There’s part of me that’s still overwhelmed with pride when I cross that finish line…even if my per-mile time isn’t worth celebrating. I often wonder if I’m drawn to running simply because it was never something I was physically capable of doing. There’s still that little second grader somewhere inside me who always came in dead last on the mile in gym class, or that high school kid who used to scoff at the athletes and wonder why anyone would choose to put their body through the discomfort of physical activity when they could be relaxing at home in front of the television.

I may never be the fastest runner. But there’s a part of me who wants to continue running simply because I can. Ever since that first time I hesitantly and awkwardly picked up my pace on the treadmill from a steady walk to a slow jog, running has always symbolized the end of the old me.

I just feel as though my key to becoming a better runner will have less to do with tempo runs and more to do with finally silencing my inner critic. I have got to stop berating and insulting myself. I have to stop tearing myself apart for failing to meet my own impossible demands — I mean, did I really expect to magically have the ability to run an eight-minute mile?

I have to find the strength to accept my best efforts.

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The Beginning of the End

First, I want to wish everyone a happy new year, and apologize for the brief hiatus I’ve taken from my blog.

I’d like to brush off my absence with a simple “oops, I’ve been busy,” which is certainly true, but the good news is that I have been preoccupied making some much-needed overhauls to my life. With just a few major victories tossed in!

First and foremost, I finally summoned the courage to walk away from a part-time job that had become physically and mentally draining. Yes, I know this technically makes me a quitter, but the whole reason I accepted a 5:30am shift working the desk at a local gym is, quite frankly, I doubted my ability to financially succeed as a writer so much that I was willing to sacrifice my social life, my sleep, and my sanity for the sake of having a few extra bucks in my bank account each month.

The truth is that a few months ago I became tired of just peering over the edge of my dreams — I needed to take a leap of faith. And committing myself to my writing career wholly and completely seemed to be the solution. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

In fact, several weeks ago I found the courage to pitch a story idea to one of my dream magazines — a national health/fitness publication — and after lots of follow-up e-mails, I actually landed the assignment! I intend to let this victory become a turning point in my career — it’s time to have faith in my abilities as a writer.

The same goes for finding the courage to participate in the handful of 5Ks and four-miler races I competed in last year. The most meaningful one took place in November, when I ran a 5K and raised over $500 to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

My grandpa succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2004, and losing him remains the most painful experience of my life. Over the past several years, I’ve promised myself that I was going to do something — namely, a 5K — to take action against this disease and honor his memory, but I kept telling myself I’d never be able to actually complete a race or solicit enough donations to make a difference.

In 2011, I finally ran that race. It felt incredible to be surrounded by so many people who had been touched by pancreatic cancer and were coming together to fight back. Best of all, I know for a fact that Pop was with me that day; I will never, ever forget the moment when I crossed the finish line and suddenly his absolute favorite musician, Johnny Cash, started blaring over the loudspeaker. I had just finished listening to my race day playlist of Johnny Cash songs on my iPod, and when I pulled out my earbuds and realized that “I Walk the Line” had come on just in time for me to finish my 5K, it was the first time in the seven years since his death that I knew undeniably that he was with me. And that I had made him proud.

In another significant running achievement, I was also awarded my very first medal for placing third in my age group after competing in a four-mile race sponsored by the Central Jersey Road Runners Club — I’m now officially a member!

Granted, I know I probably placed because there weren’t a whole lot of people racing that day — and there definitely weren’t many runners my age — but I did improve my time significantly (35:29) from my very first four-mile race on the 4th of July (40:31), and it’s an indescribable feeling when I can genuinely experience pride in an accomplishment I’ve made.

I’ve gone through life feeling unworthy of praise from others, and I’ve never fully been able to give myself credit. But I’ve worked hard to be a better runner in the last six months, and I’d say I earned that medal!

This month also marks a full year that I’ve been studying Muay Thai kickboxing. I remember being so terrified of breaking a measly little wooden board to earn my first belt (in fact, I blogged about it), and today I’m a red belt, which officially makes me an advanced martial arts student. I do very much want to be a black belt someday, and even I can admit improvement in my techniques — and my overall confidence — since January 2011. I absolutely love my kickboxing classes, and they have transformed me both physically and mentally in more ways than I thought possible. I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it.

In fact, I hope to make 2012 the year of following through on all of my goals — and above all, finishing what I’ve started. An anniversary weekend with my boyfriend, another Disney World vacation, and lots of holiday hooplah have led me to slip a bit (okay, a lot) in my healthy eating and workout routine, but I’m back on track and ready to continue making progress this year!

November marked my four-year anniversary as a Weight Watchers member, and while I am thrilled and proud to still be living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining my weight loss, I want nothing more than to become a Lifetime member — which means reaching my goal weight. Whatever that is!

In the last year or two I’ve become so focused on my fitness-related goals and, honestly, enjoying my new size 8/10 body so much, that I think I may have lost sight of the prize. I know that I will weigh never 125 pounds, and I also know that my loose skin and stretch marks will always serve as battle scars from years of yo-yo dieting. But this year I vow to reach a healthy weight and finally begin the process of becoming a Lifetime member…and, maybe, even starting to work towards becoming a Weight Watchers leader.

For possibly the first time ever, I’m not afraid to set a goal…and believe that I will see it through to the end.

What are some of your goals for 2012? Please share!

*Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter @jenniferlnelson, or e-mail me at jennifer@jenniferlnelson.com. Thank you, as always, for reading!

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