More than the sum of my parts.

running

Since my sophomore year of college, I've been defining myself as a runner.

My husband and I had been dating for about a year and a half when he suggested that we train for our first half marathon together.  

"I could never do that," I told him.  "No way."

Then, in May 2008, I did do it. 

I haven't stopped running since.  

I guess there is a bit of pride that comes with typing "Distance Runner" into an "About Me" section of a profile.  I've always known that most people will never run a marathon, so that makes me one of the few.  (That probably makes me more crazy than awesome.)

Part of me loves running because it is healthy and stress-relieving, but a bigger part of me has loved running for the way that it defines me.

Lately, I've been able to let some of that go.  Yes, I am a distance runner.  But that's not all that I am.  I'm also a Jesus-loving, coffee-drinking writer, momma, wife, student, business owner and friend.  I am more than the sum of my parts.

This past weekend, I ran another half marathon.  I stuck with my training for the most part.  However, I also learned to listen to my body and to modify when necessary.

And it was all fine because sometimes, to be great at the other things that I am, I can be just an okay runner.  I'm not less or more of a person because I did or didn't run for one day (or a few, or a lot).  

All of the above is where my head was before the Prairie Fire Half Marathon last weekend.

prairie fire marathon

At that race, I set a new PR.  I had the run of my life.  But about halfway through, because I was feeling strong, I decided to revise my longstanding goal of crossing the finish under 1 hour and 50 minutes.  That goal was somehow not good enough anymore, and I started dreaming about a 1:47 time and about catching up with my friend who was a mile ahead.  At mile 6.5, I threw my training out the window to compete against everyone else instead of against myself.  It was also at mile 6.5 that the race was no longer fun.  My final time was 1:49:44, and I finished 6th of 93 in my age group, but I was angry and disappointed.  

I'm going to take a step back from running, which is uncharted and scary territory for me.   I saw the number I've always wanted to see on the clock this past weekend, I saw my friends on the podium instead of me ... and I let those things tell me who I am.  Until I've gained a healthier perspective and am able to appreciate running for what it is instead of who it makes me, I'll be on a break.

For everyone's sake, hopefully it won't be a long one. :)

Fan Club Friday: Wahoo! Running

Guys.  I know I get excited about every Fan Club Friday because I seriously have so many talented friends, but this one ... {Insert heart eyes emoji here.} 

Meet my friends and fellow runners, Christie and Carlee.

I've known Christie for years, and she has walked (or should I say, run) with me through some of the hardest and happiest moments of my life, imparting wisdom all along the way.  Though Carlee and I only met within the last year, our similar status as runner moms of two little girls has allowed us to strike a fast friendship.

A couple of years ago, Christie single-handedly spearheaded a kids' running club in which children of all ages trained with her and then ran a 5k as the culmination of twelve weeks of practice.

wahoo kids running club

Since that first season, Wahoo! Running has become far more than a kids' running organization, though it is still that, too.  While kids run with Christie, Carlee coaches their parents to accomplish a variety of running goals from simply getting up off of the couch to completing a first marathon or half marathon.

With literally hundreds of combined races between them, Christie and Carlee have a wealth of knowledge to offer to both newbies and seasoned runners.  So, they have started creating customizable training plans to share their insight with others!

wahoo training plan

Because I wanted to get the full Wahoo Running experience, I decided to order my own training plan from my coaching friends.  I am aiming to "crush all of my goals" (a Christie Thomas-ism) at the Prairie Fire half marathon in Wichita, Kansas, in October.  

I have used a couple of other training strategies in the past, but none of them were specifically tailored to my body or running goals.  Wahoo goes above and beyond to do just that.  Prior to constructing my plan, Wahoo sent me an Athlete Questionnaire.  In addition to basic demographic information, Christie and Carlee asked me about my height, weight, previous running experience, best times, goal times, average times, how often I workout,  other types of exercise I enjoy, and why I run.  (That sounds like a lot of information, but I completed the whole thing in under 10 minutes.)  Now, Christie and Carlee are using my answers to customize a twelve-week calendar that tells me precisely what I need to do each day.  Since I'm the most Type A person you may ever meet, I need an exact schedule which includes rest and stretching as an integral part of my program.  

Along with my training plan, I'm expecting my Wahoo! Winning Kit to arrive on my doorstep day!  My box will include a lacrosse ball, resistance band, and other goodies to motivate me and keep my muscles healthy for race day.  Dare I say that I'm pumped about running again?!

I get to train with Christie and Carlee because I am fortunate enough to live locally, and we do more than run together.  In our group of girls, we laugh, we cry, we laugh until we cry, we poop on the side of the road (I personally haven't done this one yet, but don't put it past me), and we run the literal and figurative hills and valleys of life together.  If you don't have a running community where you live, I know that the faces behind Wahoo would encourage you to start one.

Wahoo Runners

I'm a big fan of winning, but that isn't why I run.  Christie and Carlee get this.  In a matter of months since they have launched their business, these coaches have guided multiple runners to set new PRs and win age categories in the races they enter.  However, Christie and Carlee's main goals are for runners to stay healthy and to have fun.  Their desire is for people to "experience running the way it's meant to be."  In other words, they want runners to never outrun their love of running.  

If you've lost your purpose for running or are looking to find a purpose for the first time, Christie and Carlee can create the perfect plan to get you on track within a week.  After that, they will follow up with you to see how things are going, not because they're trying to build a business but because they genuinely care about you as a runner and as a whole person.

Check out Wahoo! Running on their website, Instagram, or Facebook page.  You can also email the coaches directly at christie@wahoorunning.com or carlee@wahoorunning.com.  

WAHOO!

Photo credits: Christie Thomas and Teena Moore Photography.

Lessons About Running From My 3-Year-Old Coach

My daughter completed her first marathon this past weekend in Oklahoma City.  

She's three.

Every year, Oklahoma City hosts a race called "Run to Remember" in honor of the victims who were killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing.  This year had the highest participation ever, with over 25,000 runners completing either a 5k, half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, or kids' marathon.

All of the other races are self-explanatory; you show up on race day and run the distance that you signed up to do. {Hopefully you've trained.}  

In the kids' marathon, the idea is for little runners to run 25 miles in the days leading up to the race.  Then, they complete the final 1.2 miles of a marathon on race day for a grand total of 26.2 miles over a period of a few weeks. Some kids just show up and run 1.2 miles on race day, and that's totally fine.

Piper did the whole thing.

I'm so proud of her, and I'm also grateful for the many lessons that she unknowingly taught me along the way.  I've run just about every distance of the OKC race at some point, but "training" with her for this particular event was probably more satisfying than crossing the finish line after a grueling 26.2 miles a couple of years ago.  Running with my daughter changed me.

Through this process, I learned just how much my child watches everything I do and tries to pattern her life after me.  That is both terrifying and humbling.  Before every run, she asks if she can wear her Nike running shorts "like you're wearing Nike running shorts, Mom!"  She wanted to complete a marathon because I have.  Because of these things, I have been hyper-aware of my attitudes toward running, racing, and my body over the last few weeks.  I want her to have a healthy perspective, which means that I should model it for her.  

I needed a three-year-old to speak truth to me, because sometimes kids just seem to "get it" more than their parents do.  Piper reminded me of some practical lessons, such as pacing yourself and looking up instead of at your dang shoes so you don't trip.  But she also coached me in some other equally important areas.

Winning isn't just about being the first person to cross the finish line.  Of the 25,000+ people who ran the race, only five people actually won (one for each event), if you define winning in terms of finishing first.  As Piper was running her race, she looked over at me several times and asked, "Mom, am I winning?"  Of course you are, baby.  Why?  Because she's three and she's persevering and she's completing a marathon.

Speed doesn't matter.  Piper's good friend, Nora, ran the race, also.  At the beginning, Piper was excited about running with her and tried to keep up for a quarter mile or so.  However, it quickly became evident that Nora is a faster runner than Piper.  Piper let her run ahead and quit worrying about whatever Nora was doing to focus on her own run.  Novel idea.  

One of the goals of running is to still like running at the end of a race.  Sometimes I train so hard that I burn myself out.  Piper ran because she thought it was fun.  If at any point it stopped being fun for her, I would have let her stop.  I don't often give myself this grace, though, and maybe I should.

Walking during a run or missing a training run entirely is not the end of the world.  There were some days in the past few weeks when I had planned to run with Piper, but we decided to take the night off due to weather, a long day, or not feeling 100%.  Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.  Also, sometimes while we were out in the neighborhood, Piper's legs would get tired...or she would spot a dandelion that she just had to pick, and we would walk for a minute or two.  Again, Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.

Running solo is great, but running with people is, too.  Some of my favorite runs in the past few weeks have been the ones that I did with my daughter.  She's in preschool, so it's not like we were having deep conversations, but our runs gave me an opportunity to encourage her and to hear about her day.  Sometimes I love the idea of clearing my mind so much during a run that I isolate myself from running with people, which causes me to miss out on some really uplifting community.

"Exercise is not a punishment for what your body is, but a celebration of what it can do."  I heard this quote within the last week, and I wish I could remember where.  Isn't is amazing to have legs that obey your mind?  When you really step back for a second and think about how much blood your heart has to pump and how many times your lungs have to breathe in order to move even a few feet, aren't you stunned?  Watching my daughter complete this marathon as a three-year-old with short legs reminded me that the body can do truly incredible things.  I don't have a "perfect" body, but God has given me the ability to use it in a variety of awesome ways.  I should celebrate that instead of beating myself up over the insignificant imperfections I see in the mirror.

Piper is already talking about running the kids' marathon again next year, and about recruiting some of her friends to participate with her.  I hope she does, and I hope they do, because so many people would benefit from a three-year-old marathoner's mindset.  Thank you, sweet girl, for letting me be one of them.

Gymnastics: The Sport That Forever Warped My Mind and Body Image

chalkhands.jpg

"Again.  You will get up on the bar and try it again."

Her hands were bloody and torn in several different places, but she didn't dare ask questions.  She got up and tried it again.  

Time after time, her feet slammed the bar as her body peeled away from it, or she fell flat on the mat, knocking the breath from her lungs.  With each rotation around the wood, her hands became even more shredded, and she was no closer to accomplishing the skill than she had been when the bar rotation began that evening, or when she had first started working on it weeks ago.

As her whole arms began to shake from the pain of her bloodied hands, fear crept into her mind - fear of falling the wrong way and breaking a body part or collapsing from sheer exhaustion, but mostly fear of disappointing her coach.  She fought back tears as a teammate walked behind her and whispered, "Come on, girl, you can do this!"

She could not. 

Another coach, the Brazilian one who actually had a heart for the young gymnasts under Coach R's lead, had been watching the girl struggle and, concerned for her safety, approached Coach R.  In his thick Portuguese accent, he said, "I think that's about enough."

Coach R eyed the Brazilian coach, and when he looked at the young girl, she thought he might burst into flames.  No one ever dared challenge his authority.  He took a deep breath before asking her, "You need a break from bars?"  

The gymnast, trembling, nodded that she did.  

"Alright, you may take a break from bars.  Push-ups won't hurt your hands.  Go do 1,000."

Coach R had been known to administer this punishment before, primarily to the gymnast on the team with the most natural talent who chose not to work hard.  Never to her, though.  She walked to the corner, hands still throbbing, and began.  

One, two, three, four...

9:00 p.m. approached, and the girl's dad arrived at the gym to pick her up.  She was nowhere near 1,000 push-ups, and she wondered if her coach would make her stay until she could no longer move in order to finish.  

He did not.  He always put on his best face for parents.  She showed her dad her battered hands, climbed in the car, and went to bed.

Less than 12 hours later, the girl was back at the gym for her Saturday morning workout with her hands bandaged, dreading bars but determined to impress her coach.  She swung the bar several times and finally completed the skill for the first time after weeks, months maybe, of trying.  She felt sure that her coach had seen her do it, but he never said a word.  

And she was never able to do the move again.

The gymnast quit the sport altogether less than a year after that incident, but the previous years of verbal (and borderline physical) abuse had already caused damage that she would fight to undo for the rest of her life.

That gymnast was me.  

I quit gymnastics at age 14 and had been training 22 hours per week at the time.  

I had completely blocked the above story out of my memory for 15 years or more, and though the particular incident I mentioned was probably one of the more extreme examples of negativity that I endured throughout my 10 years in gymnastics, it is not out of the ordinary range of events that took place at my gym.  

Tiny girls were routinely told that they barely fit in their leotards, hard workers were made to believe that they were lazy, and second place was never good enough.  

piper_gymnastics

While I was a gymnast, I spent my early teenage years in front of the mirror, pinching my "fat" (skin) through tears; and after the bars skill saga of 2001, I came to believe that the only reason I couldn't accomplish something was because I didn't work hard enough.  That single event proved, in my mind, that I needed to just bandage my wounds, dry up my tears, and try again.  

Today, I still overanalyze every angle of my body, hating the imperfections that I see, and running marathons (literally) in an attempt to get rid of them.  I still fight a tendency to work beyond the point of excellency until I become a frantic mess at the expense of everyone around me.  I still aim to please people because my coach's voice resonates in the back of my head, "That is not good enough."

My daughter started gymnastics this past fall.  I will not let this happen to her.  

My parents have asked me what they could have done to prevent gymnastics' residual effects on my life, and I can honestly say that I don't blame them at all.  They couldn't have done anything.  They sat behind glass walls during my workouts and listened to me talk about how much I loved the sport (which I now realize was not actually the love of gymnastics but of winning).  I never thought to tell them about the abusive things my coach said and did to us because it was all I knew.  Everything he did as a coach, to me, was normal.  

Right now, my Piper can't wait to go to gymnastics on Tuesdays.  She has conquered a number of fears and asks to walk on the "balance beams" (curbs) in every parking lot.  She begs us to "watch this move" in the living room almost nightly.  

I guess it's a wonder that I enrolled her at all, but I don't believe that every girl has the same experience with the sport that I did.  I'm naturally bent toward people-pleasing and perfectionism, so gymnastics simply brought that out in me more.  My daughter is as stubborn as they come, and she's a huge ball of energy needing to be burned.  I think she'll be fine, but you better believe that I'm going to be that "helicopter mom" who is glued to every gymnastics practice and constantly praying that God will protect her where I cannot.