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March 28, 2018

Fierce Flyer - Mandy Lane on Her Improbable Relationship With Running

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BY: MANDY LANE

Sometimes in the middle of a hard training session, a group run, or race, I have to laugh at the improbability of running becoming such a central part of my life. For years it was something I dreaded and was certain I would never be able to do. In my early running years I had trouble believing in myself, but after many thousands of miles I've finally given myself permission to flourish and succeed as a runner (and otherwise). Running has become a key source of happiness, achievement, and fulfillment. But as far as I've come, I often look back to pivotal moments on the road to finding fierce.

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Teenage Embarrassment
We were about to run the mile in freshman-year gym. My palms were sweating, and I was looking forward to this like a trip to the dentist. So, I drug my awkward, asthmatic, gangly, embarrassed self up to the teacher. I looked up at that scowling crew cut expecting an unsupportive response as I sheepishly passed him the doctor's note excusing me from the weekly mile. He did not disappoint:  rolling his eyes and employing his oh-so-sensitive mid 90's vernacular, he declared in front of the class: "Fine then. Strap on a heartrate monitor and join the [insert a word I'm not willing to repeat]" So. Incredibly. Mortified. I was afraid that asthma would define me for the rest of my life. 

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A Reluctant Beginning
Walking out of the doctor’s office, I knew I had to change. How could I have high blood pressure and be 50 pounds overweight at 21? The next week I walked into the YMCA for the first time and got on my first treadmill ever. My no-skip Discman nestled in a towel, water positioned, and pony tail tightened...I was terrified, but turned the machine on and started running anyway. I made a deal in my head that I could get off when the calorie reader said 500 calories burned. I don’t know how long or how fast that first run was, but I know that machine said 500.

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone
I had been running on the treadmill for a couple years and had even found some enjoyment in it. Running helped me manage anxiety and the stress of my first real job. But I never ran outside. Scary.

But one day my husband invited me to run around Green Lake. We started around the 2.8-mile loop and I looked across that seemingly endless lake certain I wouldn't survive. I saw a couple of runners pass us chatting away and between haggard breaths asked my husband why anyone would want to talk while running? He laughed; I didn’t understand. Each half-mile mark spray-painted onto that heavily traversed pavement seemed miles apart, but one-by-one we passed them all. I remember feeling as if I had crossed some incredible finish line and yearned for more.

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Doing the Impossible
When I asked my husband nervously: “what if I trained for a half marathon?”, I was sure he'd confirm that it was a crazy idea.  But instead he said: “yes! you could totally do that!” I was shocked at how confident he seemed, and his confidence was infectious. We strategized and talked through the possible pitfalls and training ideas. He helped me believe in myself, and I decided to at least give myself a chance.

The next day I went to register for the race and found myself stuck staring at the registration page: half marathon or full marathon? I typed an email to my husband that started: “What if I tried to do the full?” The email was a mixture of self-doubt and bravado. But really what I wanted was for someone to give me permission to go for it. I never sent it; I deleted the entire thing and signed up for the full marathon. I told him that night: “I just want to see if I can do it.”

Six months and hundreds of miles later I crossed the finish line of my first marathon and the feeling of accomplishment was like nothing I had ever experienced. I trained. I struggled. I fought and I conquered.

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Therapy
I traversed thousands of miles of road and life between that first finish line and my first run back after giving birth to my son. I ran three more marathons, changed jobs, moved cities, had a child and lost two.

I lost twin girls 20 weeks into a tortuous pregnancy. I was depressed, broken, and lost. Four months later I was pregnant again. This pregnancy brought more risk, more weight (physical and emotional) and fear. Two high-risk pregnancies had wrecked my body. In the swirl of stress, grief and chaos I had lost myself in every way you can lose yourself.

My wonderful son was two months old when I tried to run again for the first time. I covered slow, painful three miles and had to stop 6 times gasping for air. It took another 7 months to lose the weight (physical and emotional), and, in that time, running lead me out of depression and back to life. It reminded me who I am. 

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Finding Fierce
I decided to try for the holy grail of all amateur running accomplishments: a BQ. Until this point my marathons had been of the “I just want to finish” variety. I began to run paces and mileage totals that would have made me dizzy a few years earlier, and each training run gave me a little more confidence, strength, and hope.

When I toed the line at the Eugene Marathon, a wave of certainty rolled over me. There were many steps to tread between me and the finish line on Hayward Field, but in that moment, I knew I could do it: I finally believed in myself. And somewhere in the 26.2 miles that day I found it; I found my fierce. I flew down that storied track in the footsteps of Olympians knowing that I was qualifying for the Boston Marathon. In that instant I thought my heart would burst (in the good way) and that feeling of pride has stayed with me in all the miles traversed en route to Boston and beyond. 

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The Mile I’m In
I have won hard-fought battles in my time as a runner. I have met incredible people. I have run through tears, happiness, exhaustion, sickness, and tragedy. I have earned some trophies and stood on a few podiums. But the most important thing I have found in all the miles is me. I have found the fierce, passionate woman who fights for what she wants and makes no apologies for being who she is. 

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