HOW RESILIENCE, PAIN AND DETERMINATION PAVED THE WAY TO MY GOALS
Running has always played a positive role in my life, and that’s apparent by the times that I let myself stray away from it. My passion for running has its roots from when I attended registration night in middle school with my mother. My family never pushed me to participate in athletics or team sports, and I was very shy and out of shape at the time. When we got to registration, some of my friends were at the cross country registration table with their families. Before attending registration, I had no intention of joining the team, but I succumbed to peer pressure because I didn’t want to feel left out. I saw joining the cross country team as a way to meet and hang out with friends as well as a way to lose weight that I had gained from the combination of playing video games, drinking soft drinks and sweet tea as my main forms of hydration, and eating copious amounts of snacks and junk food. Doing so seemed to pay off because I met several friends, lost a lot of belly fat, and improved my overall fitness from running and the workout exercises that we did every day as a warm up.
I still wasn’t the healthiest kid because I maintained my lunchroom, cheap dinner, and junk food diet, but at least I was staying active. I joined the indoor and outdoor track teams for some seasons, which kept me physically active throughout middle school and part of high school. However, I would find myself struggling to enjoy the physical aspect of running until the very end of a season because I would become sedentary and mess up my diet between seasons. I kept joining the teams and following the same cycle until my sophomore year in high school. I ended up losing interest in long distance running, decided not to join the cross country team my junior year, and joined the track team for just one more season before quitting that too. By doing so, I lost connection with several of my running friends, ended up picking up bad habits, and lived a generally unhealthy lifestyle for the next six years.
I started smoking and drinking during the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. Several of my non-running friends began to experiment with smoking and drinking during this time, and I eventually fell under peer pressure. I understood that there were long-term negative consequences, as I have had other family members who have struggled with health problems related to alcoholism, substance abuse and addiction. However, being the teenager that I was, I believed I would be an exception to the rule and that I would be able to control any habit that I picked up if I started. Needless to say, this didn’t pan out well. I started smoking and drinking excessively, my grades started to slip, I began experiencing anxiety and depression, my attitude towards school and outlook on life changed, and family problems that previously existed were only made worse by the issues that I had created.
Eventually, I was able to rebound and gain some confidence back about my future during the second half of my college career, but I still struggled staying physically and mentally healthy. During my last track season in high school, I weighed approximately 175 pounds. By the time I graduated college, I had begun to drop below 150 pounds, which is underweight for my size. It wasn’t until after college that I decided to make lifestyle changes in order to become healthy again. During the spring of 2015, I joined Planet Fitness in hopes of gaining muscle mass. By doing so, I reduced the amount that I smoked, became more mindful about my diet, ate meals at regular times, and improved my sleep routine. I eventually started to feel healthy again, which was a big boost to my confidence.
After I had gained some weight, I began to run on the treadmills at the gym. Running was by far my least favorite activity at the time because of how painful it was. I had terrible endurance and stamina. Every time I ran, I would get side stitches, my lungs would burn as a result of smoking, and my legs would tire quickly. My first goal was to run half a mile without stopping. I continued to run on the treadmills three to four times a week until I was able to run five miles. This is a lot of treadmill running, I know, but for some reason it was the only way I could motivate myself to run at the time. I eventually started running outside once I realized how insane it was for me to be running on a treadmill every time given the distances that I began to achieve. It was the summer, so I started to run around my neighborhood late at night, no earlier than 9 pm, in order to avoid the heat. After a run one night, I had a crazy pipe dream that I would be able to run the 2016 Mercedes Marathon. I continued to run three to four days weekly, building up to an 8 mile long run before I quit running and going to the gym for two months.
By the time I decided to start running again, I had lost a lot of the foundation that I built. I didn’t feel comfortable committing to marathon training with such a small aerobic base, but I convinced myself that running sub-two hours in the Mercedes Half Marathon was possible. It was with this decision that I successfully quit smoking cold turkey. I had reached a point in my training where I believed I was holding myself back from success, and I had already fallen through on my hopes and dreams to run the full marathon. I started running on the treadmills again. I didn’t follow a formal plan, but I kept increasing my weekly mileage and capped my training with a 10.5 mile run on a treadmill a week before the race.
Come race day, I blew away my expectations. I never stopped and finished in 1:36, which was good enough for 8th place in my age group. This success made me very excited and motivated me to continue training in hopes to work up to marathon distance by the end of the year. I decided to show up to the Birmingham Track Club’s weekly Saturday morning long run for the first time the weekend after Mercedes because I had been training alone the whole time, realized how much better I performed when I was around others during the race, and I was seeking additional motivation. I met several amazing people who gave me training advice and invitations to other group runs that I never knew existed. I found myself running four to five days a week for the next few months, and I continued to have breakthroughs in my training.
Soon thereafter, I wanted to run another race to see where I stood locally, so I signed up for the Statue2Statue 15k in April. Statue2Statue was a defining race for me. It was my second race in seven years, and I managed to place 10th overall without realizing I had that kind of ability. It was then when I decided to attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
I registered for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November because it was a relatively flat course and would give me another seven months to train. After about two months of training on my own, I learned that Cadence Run Coaching had a group of runners who also were training to qualify for Boston and run sub-3-hour marathons in Indianapolis. I kept building up my base mileage and eventually reached out to Cadence Run Coaching for a training plan. I received a training plan to run a sub-3- hour marathon, which was very intimidating but necessary to ensure there was enough of a time cushion for the 3:05 age group BQ. The training cycle was difficult, and I hit the wall on several of my training runs due to the heat and improper fueling. However, Cary Morgan kept insisting that I was on track and didn’t have anything to worry about. I ended up making huge gains during the second half of my training cycle, and I ran 2:55:40 on race day!
I’ve had several breakthroughs in running this year. Since running my first marathon in November, I’ve set a 5k PR, set a half marathon PR at the Magic City Half Marathon, ran my most successful half marathon at the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon in Atlanta, and am in the middle of training for the 2017 Mercedes Marathon. More importantly, this year of running has allowed me to make significant improvements to my physical and mental health. I’ve made several lifestyle changes to optimize my training. These changes have greatly reduced the stress, anxiety, and depression that I’ve experienced in previous years. While I may be tired some days from the accumulated fatigue of intense training weeks, I enjoy what I do.
It’s hard for me to describe the array of emotions that I’ve experienced recently while reflecting on the positive and negative aspects of my past. The decision to start running again was easily one of the best yet most difficult decisions that I’ve made for myself. I started running again as a way to rebuild myself after spending half of my high school and entire college career living a generally sedentary lifestyle and making poor health choices. I knew that running would not be enjoyable during the first few months due to the chest pain that I’d experience after years of smoking, especially since I was still struggling to quit at the time. However, I knew that my health and fitness would eventually improve if I stayed committed.
What I didn’t know at the time was how far I’d push myself to make it to where I am today. My overall health has greatly improved, I’ve met several wonderful people through the local running community, and my future prospects are brighter than ever. What makes me most happy and motivated about running, however, are the people who have reached out to me recently saying that I’ve been a source of inspiration for them to kick their own bad habits, become more physically active, and make other healthy decisions. The ability to learn from my past mistakes and endure the consequences has been key for me to achieve resiliency. I hope that I’m able to continue inspiring others to push themselves to achieve peace of mind and to lead healthier, active lifestyles through running and physical fitness.