The Ugly Duckling Can’t Run

image1.JPG“You have a stress fracture in one of your vertebrae.”

I’m staring at the X-rays of my back hanging from a lighted metal box on the wall. My ears are buzzing. What did he just say? A stress fracture? What does that even mean? I look back and forth from the wall to the doctor’s face and back again. My bones are so pretty. All lined up in a perfect row. And broken.

-“So, can I run?”

-“No. No running of any kind. No high impact sports. No jumping. No pounding of any kind.”

Gulp. No running. Now you’ve done it Ugly Duckling. How did you fracture your spine anyway?

For a few months now, I’ve been having all kinds of back pain, headaches and hip pain. Every time I ran during training, I was in a lot of pain. Subsequently, I would limp for about a week or two because I couldn’t bear putting any weight on my hip, or else pain would inevitably follow. So I decided it was time to reach out to an expert and find out what was wrong with me.

As I sat in the doctors office, occasionally walking back and forth from the x-ray room – they took at least 7 images from my back – I couldn’t imagine he would say something was wrong. I was already envisioning starting my training for the two races I’ve signed up and paid for in October. I even heard him say in my head “you’re fine, you have nothing to worry about”. But when he blurted out the words fracture and vertebrae in one sentence, something hit me in the gut.

I can’t run. I can’t do the only thing I’ve been fighting so hard for. What else are they going to take away from me? Doughnuts?

So, now I’m looking at – at least – three weeks of therapy, an MRI, a possible herniated disc and God only knows what else. So what? Therapy? Bring it. I don’t care what it takes, I want to lace up my shoes again, safety pin the bib to my shirt, wrap my bandana around my head and pound that pavement. I will look at the Finish line in the face again, and tell it: You’re mine bitch!

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Why did The Ugly Duckling start running?

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All the way through middle school and high school I despised my physical education class. During endurance runs I used to cheat and hide behind the bleachers until I could make my way back into the running crowd without the teacher noticing. I HATED running. Hate may be an understatement. Going to the gym was never a fun thing to do. It didn’t even exist in my head. It wasn’t until my early thirties, after my daughter was born that I started allowing the thoughts of running and exercising to take some sort of shape in my head.

So I gave it a try. I began running around my neighborhood in short increments. But I still hated it. It was a chore. But I kept trying every now and then, to end up quitting a few weeks after. I couldn’t find the will. It just wasn’t my thing. I lacked the commitment and furthermore, i lacked the inspiration. Years came and went, and I continued my life without entertaining running as a part of it. Until my life started crumbling into pieces.

A lot of people take up running because they enjoy the workout, or because they want a healthy lifestyle, or because they find it rewarding. For me, it was none of those reasons. I needed to run to save my life.

Through all those years I started reconnecting, thanks to the Internet and social networking, with some of my family and friends. I would see that some of them would share their fitness endeavors with pride, and I thought how wonderful it would be to feel so strongly about something in life. I wanted to be them. I envisioned myself living a life so full that I would be excited to tell everyone about it.

And along came Robin.

Robin is my cousin on my mother’s side. She, just like me, grew up on a total lack of physical activity. But one day she ran a race in college and was hooked. Ever since she’s become – as she calls herself – an ambassador of sweat. She’s the inspiration of thousands and my personal hero. She left a career in law to become an ultra marathoner, a sports writer and a fitness coach. And she sure hooked me.

So last year, inspired mainly by other reasons, but with one constant though in mind, I joined an interval workout class called Orange Theory. Talk about a wake up call! Orange Theory left me in shambles the first week. I slammed myself into the wall of reality. I was not fit AT ALL! I was a fitness loser. I couldn’t even keep up. I went to class week after week, to come out of there thinking: will I ever be able to do this without feeling like I’m going to die every time?

At the same time my life had been turned upside down. Let me rephrase that: I had chosen to turn my life upside down. Many nights I sat on the balcony in my new apartment wondering if I would ever make it through alone, as a single mom. I sat there for hours, drinking wine and smoking cigarette after cigarette. I drove myself mad.

But the desire to change it all kept hammering my brain day after day. I needed to break through all my barriers. I needed to do something I had never done before, and certainly it needed to be something that i wasn’t comfortable with doing. I needed to fly.

2015 came along and so did running. I started training slowly, inching my way to a short run here and there. I began walking around a nearby park. Then build myself up to a jog, and then one day, I started running. I signed up to my first race on April 2015. And all hell broke lose. I ran.

That day, heart broken, with the worst history of physical aptitude and an overwhelming desire to finish at all costs, I ran the Corporate Run. A mere 5k to the eyes of experienced runners, but I finished it. The satisfaction I felt when i held the finisher medal in my hand was beyond words. I was out of my mind.

Today, 4 days away from ringing in a new year, I can safely say I love running. I have run 6 races, and countless training hours. I am in no way, shape or form an expert. I still struggle through every run. I’m slow, very slow. I still stop and walk through each and everyone of them. My mantra is “one more minute”. But I run. I finish. I have created a version of myself I never dreamed of. I broke the mold.

Race medals have become my most coveted form of jewelry. Race bibs the most treasured pieces of paper. When I lace up, and put on that number, there’s only one thing in my mind: the next mile. And then, the next mile after that. And one day, when I’m really old, surrounded by my grandchildren I will proudly say: your grandmother was a runner. She learned how to fly.

Photo credit: http://race-for-freedom.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/running-background-1920-1200.jpg

Run Bitch Run!

FullSizeRenderShut-The-Front-Door!

I just ran the Mercedes Benz Corporate Run.  I did what?! Yes, I just ran the Fucking-Corporate-Run! It took me 44:57 minutes to finish it, slow as funk, hip-crushing-painful, calves-burning, lungs-on-fire, but I FINISHED IT!

If a year ago you would’ve told me I was going to run the Corporate Run today, I would’ve laughed in your face and called you crazy. I never had physical aptitude for sports, much less for running. Exercise me? You must be out of your mind. Today I stand in awe of what my body just did. And I am floored. It has taken me months of interval workouts, intermittent runs, scarce spinning sessions and lots of self-pep-talk to make it to today. More than training sessions I had moments of self-discovery.

When I run I usually make the same mistake over and over. First I sprint like a motherfucker. Then I walk. Then I realize I should not have sprinted and I pace myself. But while I’m pacing myself my brain takes over. It goes on autopilot and starts hammering about anything and everything that I have ZERO control over. He who breaks your heart, she who you must raise, that to pay the bills, they who’re getting old, they who judge you constantly. And the next thing I know, I’m sprinting again. And then I crash and burn and finish my miles walking because there is no way on earth I’m going to run that last mile.

Demons are real, peeps. They live inside your head. But here’s the secret: it is still YOUR head. Take control and cage the demons. How I do it? By faintly following MY rules. Not theirs.

Pep-talk yourself everyday. This is your business. Make a list of your Standard Operating Procedures. Follow them.

It goes something like this. Break it down:

1. THROW YOUR EGO IN THE GARBAGE CAN:

Get rid of the misconception that you always have to win. We’re not all straight A students. Some of us get Cs, and THAT-IT’S-OK! So what if you didn’t win the race? You had fun didn’t you? That’s what matters. Do it for fun, not for recognition. Your ego is your very own worst enemy. Shut it out. Ignore it. Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique and you run like yourself, not like your friend (that’s a seasoned race runner), not like your cousin (that just ran a 50 miler), not like Forrest Gump. You run your own run. This is your show, no one else’s. Rock it!

2. TELL YOUR BRAIN IT’S NOT IN CHARGE:

Brains are a dangerous thing to have. Blessed are those who lack the wit. Your brain will tell you everything you cannot do. You cannot run. You cannot succeed. You cannot be happy. You’re not good enough. You will never find love again. You will never be a good mother. And the damn thing will drive you to tears. IGNORE IT. It will get the message eventually and it will follow you. Yes it will. I promise. When your brain tells you to stop running because your legs are giving out on you, challenge it. Tell it: I bet you I can make it to the corner. And when you make it to the corner raise your bet. Always bet on you. You’ll be rich in confidence by the end of the run. Yes you will. I promise.

3. DESIGN THE SOUNDTRACK OF YOUR LIFE:

Music is an instant mood altering mechanism. Choose your running playlist wisely. Last thing you want to do is to be in the middle of a great run and a total downer to pop-up in your headphones. That kills the soul. Spend lots of time seasoning your playlist. Take pride on it. Make it bold, and spicy and, well, yours. Taylor it to your body. I find it empowering to run with Eminem blasting in my ears. There’s something about his angry rhythm that just sets my legs on fire. Find that song that just hits you in the gut. Put it in replay if you have to. I have had the same song in replay for days. FIND-YOUR-STYLE.

4. FUEL YOUR FIRE:

Find that spark that fuels your fire. No matter what it is, find it. Search for it relentlessly. And don’t ever stop. Everything can turn into fuel. So you’re heartbroken? FUEL. So you hate your job? FUEL. So you’re so busy you can’t breathe? FUEL. So you look at yourself in the mirror and frown at that image? FUEL. FIND-YOUR-SPARK! Tell me I’m a quitter, I finish. Tell me I’m horrible, I shine. Tell me you don’t have time for me, I will show you what an empty space looks like. Find the cause and the effect will follow.

5. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:

I have read every article there is on training for beginner runners, how to eat, how to walk, how to comb your hair, and every other ritual there is about the sport. Cut that shit out right now. While it is very important to inform yourself, be selective on the practices you adopt from others. Listen to your body, it knows best. If you don’t feel like drinking that bucket of green gunk and prefer a cold glass of chocolate milk, drink the damn chocolate milk. You’re not violating the running code of conduct. The sprinting police won’t come after you. THIS-IS-ABOUT-YOU, and only you know when to push yourself or nurture yourself.

6. SURROUND YOURSELF BY GREATNESS:

Recognize what’s weighing you down and let that shit go. LET-IT-GO-NOW! The only things that weigh you down are those you allow to be stepped on by. (Refer to number two.) You are in charge. So what if he wasn’t there and you had the perfect evening planned out in your head? He wasn’t meant to be with you on race day. Let go of the script in your head. Live the real movie. Adapt to change. Rejoice in the fact that your best friend just pushed you through the finish line and she didn’t even want to be there! Find more fuel in the smiles of the people who cheered you the entire time and you have no idea who any of them are. Surround yourself with those who fuel your fire. Rumi said it and if Rumi said it, it’s law:

“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”