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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.