#19. Louisville, KY: “Feel the joy that’s all around your soul.”

April 19, 2014
Age: 31

Occupation: Assistant Store Manager atlululemon athletica
Residence: Chicago, IL
Time since last race:  1 year, 6 months
Conditions: 70’s, sunny and stunning
Official time: 03:51:53
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Sterile and white. Questions, needles, more questions. Resigned and tired.

Peer into my brain, let me show you the thoughts:

“I am over training.”
“I am out of shape.”
“I am old.”
“I am not eating right.”
“I am not doing enough yoga.”
“I don’t sleep enough.”
“I need more rest.”
“What about my goals?”
“I need more protein.”
“I need less protein.”
“I should…”
“I should…”
“I should…”
“F*ck! What is wrong with me?!”

On and on and on this dialogue in my head went as I tweaked this and managed that for nine month’s time. From August 2012 to May 2013 I made it through each day with higher than normal levels of fatigue, joint pain in my hips and shoulders, extra long recovery times from workouts that once used to be easy, and noticeably more emotional lows. A constant stream of above statements flowing through my head, followed by another action to offset that day’s self-diagnosis.

In October 2012 there was flat-line exhaustion before, during and after #18, the Indianapolis Marathon.

“Time off will certainly help. I must be over-training.”

Time did not heal all wounds, I still felt the same come Spring 2013. After what should not have been a grueling 20-mile bike ride in late May, I sat on the couch and cried. I told H something was not right. I got a blood test. I have Lyme Disease.

Wait, WHAT?!

Yes, I have Lyme Disease.

The last (miserable) run I went on in May 2013, right before the diagnosis.

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What followed was the first full breath I had taken in a year. I mean, I really breathed fully, right into my gut and felt the diagnosis with full satisfaction.

Something was wrong and I knew it. It explained so much about the way I had been feeling over the last year!

WhowhatwhenwhereWHY did this happen? It was likely the perfect storm of a weakened immune system due to the self-imposed stresses of working, coaching and training, combined with a camping weekend in Minnesota and a fateful union with stealth tick bite. About one month after the weekend I spent in MN, I ran my personal best half marathon and then physically, it was all down hill after that. The details inconsequential at this point – you can read about exactly how I felt here.

I could not have been more relieved something was “wrong.” That I wasn’t crazy, wasn’t getting old, wasn’t out of shape- all of that internal dialogue was pointless. My Type-A tendencies loved that there could now be a Plan.

But that Plan equaled rest (and some heavy duty antibiotics). Yikes.

Here is where I thank all of my lucky stars and everything in-between that I have H at my side. There was wisdom, guidance and experience to help me realize that it was okay to rest. Hell, it was MORE than okay to take some time off. It was time for me to (re)evaluate what I want in this goal (<– I am learning more and more that revisitations to the things I have chosen to be do-or-die situations for my life is necessary, exciting and scary).

So I have this goal, right? To run 50 Marathons in 50 States. At some point in my lifetime. Not all at once, not in a detailed, patterned order. Just as they present themselves to me throughout my life. But I lost that part – the part about doing marathons when I choose to. I was getting caught up in the pace, the pattern and the unending quest to be better. Better than what? Better than who?And at what cost? Here was my boyfriend – and Lyme Disease – telling me to slow down. So slow down I did.

In the slowing, there was a lot of reflection. There was getting uncomfortable and real. In a very recent past I had attached my self-worth so willingly to a training-racing-training-faux rest-training pattern which let me to become overly concerned with what people would think if I took time off. More internal dialogue:

“How can I be a run coach and not run?”
“Everyone will improve and I’ll get slower.”
“I haven’t not run a marathon since 2005.”

I was starting to let my goals control me and there was pressure, so much pressure. But in this slowing, I realized that I’m the one in control. It’s my timeline, my choice on the pacing. To be conscious of the pace (running, achieving goals, or otherwise) was more about me trying to look good. Or avoid looking bad. I’ve learned that when I act with the outcome of those two intentions, I am inauthentic, uninspiring and frankly – fake. Oh, and tired.

Taking a step back and enjoying every moment of it

Another moment of enlightenment came when I realized that instead of being better, it is okay to just be. Okay to be scared, nervous, stressed, happy, overjoyed, in love. This kind of self-acceptance and self-kindness has been gentle for my soul and wonderful for my progress. It got me back to good health (mentally and physically) and landed me at the starting line in Kentucky, some 18-months after the last 26.2 mile adventure.

During training for Kentucky, I did the miles to do the miles. In case you missed it, 2014 was the coldest winter in a century and H and I took this as a challenge to get out and ‘play’. There were runs where my eyes froze shut, stops inside coffee shops and lots of bourbon. Always the promise of bourbon. I wouldn’t be lying if I said the carrot at the end of many January long runs was a burger from Au Cheval. The miles weren’t pretty but they were there, and when I got to Louisville, I felt ready.

 

Oh how good it felt to feel good during a marathon! April 19, 2014 was the first time I had really felt the warmth of the sun on my skin since October. I remember jumping up and down, shaking my hands as if I could shove off the months of below-freezing temps and bone-chilling cold with a few flicks of my wrist. Sometimes the marathons I do are a blur, this one was not. It felt so.good. to run, to sweat, to take in that Louisville southern charm. During the 8th mile when the course led us winding through Churchill Downs, I giggled like an idiot and took about 1000 selfies. Miles 12-15 were through a scenic but hilly Iroquois Park and by Baxter and Broadway I was ready to pack my bags and move to Kentucky.

Upon crossing the finish line, never had that medal around my neck felt so good, so earned, so mine.

In this triumphant return, I am on the other side of Lyme Disease with peace in my heart and a greater willingness to let go and let be. Because sometimes, things just have to be.

 

#18. Indianapolis, IN: “They don’t do it like my clique.”

October 20, 2012
Age: 29

Occupation:  Key Leader at lululemon athletica
Residence: Chicago, IL
Time since last race:  3 months
Conditions: 50’s and sunny at the start, progressively becoming colder
Official time: 03:32:36
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Thanks for letting me take my savasana.

Were you waiting? I was. Don’t worry, we were waiting together. Waiting for words, waiting for thoughts, waiting for laughter, waiting for love. Was there any sadness in all this waiting? I don’t remember. Although what I do remember, is what I’ll never forget: everything.

Do you remember when I told you about my muse? It was my first one. I didn’t know how to manage its power. In fact, I let my muse control me instead of the other way around. My inspiration was in the hands of some(one/thing) else and it was wildly emotional. I wondered if I’d keep it forever or if it would just evolve over time. I wondered if my muse could be a part of a collection or if I was allowed only one. I wondered if there was always some pain involved in having one and if that was the tragic beauty in its existence.

Will I keep it forever? Yes.

In a file labeled Instructions and in a sentence from a book I read some 16 months ago:  “A hero without flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe, which, after all is based on conflict and opposition, the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.” - The Art of Racing in the Rain. This is my foundation and from there, I build.

Has it evolved over time? Yes.

Bear with my emotions today. We visited a couple times in 2012, but I saved the all the beautiful weaving of it together until now – the threads that made 2012 the year of soul-open, eyes-focused, team-centered passion. I wanted to add ‘heart-bearing’ to the list, but that would be redundant. Isn’t that just how it always is in these parts?  Here’s where it all began: on a dark morning in January of last year, I set out for a run with my friend Dave. Our chats and moments of silence were none out of the ordinary, nor were the familiar pattern of breath and steps and Chicago winter biting at our ears. Though something was born that day, an idea that became one of the greatest gifts of my lifetime (so far) and set into motion a wonderful, joy-filled journey.

A run group. Nothing out of the ordinary except some specifics: it had to be free and it had to be fun. We wanted to give what we knew without expectation and create the space for people to realize their goals. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. A little hard work and a lot of love. The rest was up to the runners. In allowing others to achieve their goals, did it allow me to achieve mine? I crushed goals, alright. But none even close to the ones I expected to accomplish. Hang tight.

Is [my muse] part of a collection or am I allowed only one? Collection.

While 2012 was about run groups and the achievements I saw come to life, it was mostly about the evolution of inspiration and how I realized that nothing is accomplished alone. My community, my people, my team. However I (or you) define success – happiness, friends, family, financial, career, health, love – those that have the most success did not achieve it alone. This is about how I realized that hiding in my insecurities, keeping powerful relationships to myself and being stingy with what I know will just not elevate me or anyone else.

Is there always pain involved in having  [a muse]? Sometimes, but not really.

I have had my fair share of tears along this path of self-discovery. Mostly relating to love (self- or otherwise), with a few cry sessions about my career peppered in from time to time. But having a muse that inspires this level of emotion is beyond powerful. To breakdown and maybe breakthrough, well that is the silver lining in this “pain”.

The last time we visited, I was sitting on a lilly pad enjoying the silence of my life. There was a sense of contentment in the air. I was finally settled, in mind and body, enjoying the present at work, with friends and in life. Dave and I were slowly but surely growing our run club – we watched our runners get faster, set new personal records, form new friendships, gain confidence and most importantly, have fun.

Early mornings at the track and a little inspiration:Track Love

Bart Yasso came to run with us!
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Labor Day Boot Camp with Fast & Fit Racing:Fast and Fit Labor Day

Me + Dave:
Dave and Gina

They laughed. We laughed. It was happy. And then it was happier.

On July 24, after 4 months of leading run club everything changed. The Professor walked in the door just before 6:30. Wearing a hat, a Nashville running t-shirt and black shorts. He was tall – taller than almost everyone there. And striking, in such a way that made me nervous. I quickly shoved the feeling aside. We didn’t speak much, and the following Saturday I found myself sincerely wondering if he’d show up again. He did. After running we brunched. During brunch there was this:

First Day
(I know, right?)

Then there were things like this:
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And this:
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And this:
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The rest, as they say, is history. (For now) ;)

Running. Because there was a marathon somewhere in all this, right?

I, not unrealistically, had a goal to break 3:30:00 and set out with all my might to do so. Remember I was going to try to commit CrossFit to my training? Well, that didn’t pan out. I ended up being too tired to complete my runs and got burnt out VERY quickly, even though I thought I was being smart about it. I think CrossFit can really benefit the short to mid-distance runner but as a marathoner, it just didn’t work for me – I couldn’t replace a 20 mile run with a WOD. And so, like most strength programs I had tried up to this point, I left it behind. This year, Dave was my run coach. Coaches coaching coaches, it was so cool.  We worked together to figure out what worked and what didn’t and I got so much faster. In September, I ran a 1:34:30 half marathon with my training partner, Lisa. All of our 5:15 a.m. track practices and Monday morning tempo runs helped me cut eight minutes off my previous best time.

Lisa and me, post-1:34:30 PR’s:
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In 2012 I loved running as much as I have always loved it, but found that there was more joy watching others love it too. A day I’ll never forget, I have goosebumps even thinking about writing this, was the Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2012. I set my phone to receive text alerts, as I stood just shy of mile 10 with my lululemon colleagues and friends. I cheered, I danced, I yelled, I kissed, I hugged, I cried. All of our runners achieved their goals – whether it was finish line-crossing or personal best-beating, they did it. That night, I remember thinking, “this is the pinnacle of my career.” That I was able to do this through my work at lululemon, was an overwhelmingly joyful feeling. Here’s a glimpse at a few other things we did for the Chicago running community:


I will be honest that through it all, I tried to keep some semblance of running for just me, but it didn’t happen.

From April 3 until October 9, 2012 I gave myself fully and happily to efforts surrounding coaching runners, being a runner and combining it all with my work at lululemon. It was incredible. Two weeks after the Chicago Marathon, it was my turn to run. But, upon first steps across the ‘Start’ line in Indiana, I had nothing left to give to marathon #18, the course or myself. I don’t say this with any bit of negativity attached. It’s odd to explain – my heart was so warm and so full but my physical body was tired, resigned, finished.

I felt crappy almost right from the start. I wanted to veer off and finish at the half, I drew upon my muse(s) and did not make that choice. I was flanked by Dave on one side and The Professor on the other. My bike-riding cheer station multiplied and became two – both mom AND dad this time! I had all the support I needed, but the race just never felt good. After the Professor split from us at mile 10 to finish the Half Marathon, I continued on with Dave. Many times I turned to him and said, “I don’t feel good. I want to walk. I’m so sorry. I can’t do this. I don’t know why.” I was confused and hurt – I put so.much. into my training, everyone else’s training, my work, my new relationship, I over-thought it all and I was unexpectedly tired!

Running and not feeling that great, but obviously still smiling!
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It was okay, I had time while running to meditate on it. I realized this – while I worked so hard at achieving one goal on my list (sub 3:30 marathon) – I achieved a couple (one in particular- to have integrity and accountability with dating) that I didn’t truly believe I could actually do. As I ran, I realized how happy I was with what I was running towards instead of from. Running towards a life that I love, filled with people and relationships and friendships that complete the love I both want to give and to recieve. Somewhere in the depths of the miles that begin with the number 2, I cried, deliriously gushing to Dave about how thankful I was for our friendship, how excited I was about my relationship with the Professor and how sad I was that my running didn’t feel good. He just said, “you got this, G.” And I did. 3:32:36.

After Indianapolis I wanted a large break from running, thinking about running, coaching, getting up early, not drinking… the whole thing. I clung to my friends – The Monday’s, The Runners, The lulu’s. We laughed, we danced, we cuddled, we loved. The Professor and I had the best time – incredible dinner dates, lazy Sundays, cocktails in the afternoon, football games in South Bend, casual midday lake front runs. He met my family, joined us for Thanksgiving and was my incredibly handsome date at my sister’s NYE wedding.

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My family at my sister’s wedding:

 

WOW what year.

You might be wondering, as I am too… how am I doing with this whole real-relationship-dance thing? I love it. It is so fresh, so new, so very much at the beginning. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s sometimes awkward, it’s beautiful, it’s inspiring, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted – to have a love like this.

In bringing 2012 to a close, I look back on the evolution of my muse – what was once driven by perfection and the desperate need to understand, to feel, to speak, will never be forgotten – but is now part of something bigger, with more compassion, more kindness, more love and one other really awesome person in tow. Stay with us, here we go…

13.1 Miles: Chicago Half Marathon 2012

“Once you’ve faced your dragon, your next task is to ally with it. Don’t kill the beast, you fool, because that’s your power!

This is the archetypal hero’s quest: You’ll meet the dragons and demons and fight and fight and fight them until you finally get the treasure. Then you’ll depart that quest irrevocably changed, with that treasure a part of you. Every time you stalk your fear and choose life instead of oblivion, you’ll begin to reclaim the parts of you that have been blocked off.

When you become the hunter you create new opportunities for grace and growth.”
-from Fierce Medicine by Ana Forrest

Happy Hunting.

Female Age Group 25-29: 22/1583
Female Overall: 72/6813
Overall: 487/12,105

Channeling that Usain Bolt-style speed (well, everyone except Angus!):

Run lululemon: Chicago

My epic little training buddy. Sights on 2016:

6 weeks ’til #18!

#17. Seattle, WA: “Here is now and now is where I wanna be.”

June 23, 2012
Age: 29

Occupation: Key Leader at lululemon athletica
Residence: Chicago, IL
Time since last race: 4 months, 4 days
Conditions: 56-65 degrees, flat for the first half, some hills near the end
Official time: 03:48:53
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Wait, what’s that sound?

I’ve never heard it like this before. I can’t Google it, I can’t repeat it to anyone, I can’t find its definition or use Shazam to identify it. It’s loud in the morning and quiet at night. It’s soothing and sweet like Bon Iver and I could listen all day.

The sound is silence. I’m enjoying every note of its sweet reverie.

Complacent vs. Contentment
When things slow down and there is silence in my life, I am always reflective on my level of appreciation towards it. This usually leads me to realize I’m being complacent (re: an unsettled feeling related to not living my full potential). However this time, I have a contentment like I’ve never known before. I am content with things that I didn’t even know I could have happiness towards and that surprises me everyday. Content meaning I am totally signed up for what’s going on in my life right now: the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful function of the dysfunction.

In very recent years past, I have felt my wheels spinning so fast I can barely keep up. At this moment, I don’t necessarily feel that familiar pulsating rhythm of “do more be better,” but rather just “do” and “be.” None of this means I’ve lost passion or fire, in fact it’s the exact opposite. Where before, my fires were burning down forests and causing mass devastation, they seem to be steady, focused, effective. In what is this contentment, you wonder?

Health, Work, Life and the Seattle Marathon.

This being the last year in my twenties, I’ve somehow created the space to let all my learnings soak in and take shape. For once I’m not DYING to make changes or force things to go my way or convince myself I should be feeling a certain way when I don’t. Happy to recognize challenges and act on them. Happy to enjoy the journey without focusing too much on the destination. For once I am happy to just be.

There have been times in the last couple of months (like sitting around a table, twelve bottles of wine deep at Cafe Sushi laughing with nine of my running girlfriends) that make me want to pause life, float above it, stare at its beauty, protect and cherish each person and each moment.

Friends as Family

If you remember in February, I wasn’t quite feeling this way. I still felt lost and unsure of my footing. I do not know if I can pinpoint the moment my perspective changed, but it did. Maybe it was as simple as a choice, maybe it was something else.

Health
Let’s take a trot back and pick up where we left off after the Austin Marathon. I left out one small detail from the last recap: I ran the whole thing with a stress fracture in my right foot.

I didn’t tell anyone I was in pain that day, in fact, I kept quiet about it still for two weeks after! Once I fessed up to the pain at the beginning of March, I found myself in a walking cast with orders of no physical activity for at least two weeks and no running until pain free, however long that takes.

Silence. Watch as I dramatically crumble to the floor as if my life is over.

I didn’t run for 40 days (insert second dramatic crumble) and by the end of that, I was ready to fly down State St. with a loaded rifle and unleash on anyone in my way. It was bad. I was depressed and I could not shake it. I know, I know, 40 days is not that bad in the grand scheme of things but I didn’t like it one bit. I am a much happier person for my friends, family and especially work if I’ve released a few physically-induced endorphins each day –> shocking.

April was filled with physical therapy and a 30-day yoga challenge that left me so zen’ed out I started doing CrossFit in May. If I had to hear “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know, somebodyyy,” one more time, I swear I was going to lose it! Doing a 30-day yoga challenge has always been something that’s been a bucket list item of mine and I never quite got around to actually making it the full 30 days – except this time. Done and done, moving on to the next challenge: CrossFit.

Silence.

Wait what?! The girl who doesn’t lift weights? Who hates the way she looks when she picks up a two pound dumbbell? Who takes Julie’s weights classes and doesn’t use the weights? Yes, that girl.

Completing the yoga challenge left me thirsty for more. Thirsty for a kind of grit and hard work I’d seen depicted in CrossFit videos and caught glimpses of on TV. At the end of the day, I want to run 26.2 miles as fast as my body is physically capable of completing it and I’m willing to try any number of projects or challenges to get there. I knew that my stress fracture and subsequent plantar fasciitis were a result of a weakness in my body (likely in my hips) and the only remedy for that is to get stronger. However first, I had to get over my 2.5 year old story of, “lifting weights will make me bulky” and just go for it. Turns out, I’m not half bad at a lot of the skills and I LOVE picking up the weights, getting sweaty and pushing myself to do one more box jump or one more burpee. I had a misconception that it was all about lifting the heaviest weights possible and getting shredded to the point of gender confusion but it’s not. It’s quite beautiful, actually.

Me doing some lift I forget the name of. I’ll learn it all eventually…

I started going to CrossFit three times per week for 6 weeks leading up to the Seattle Marathon. Because of my injury, I wasn’t running a lot and I didn’t want to over do it. Between March and June I did one 15 mile run and really kept my paces slow. I gave of myself to the CrossFit experience without judgment and with an open mind. I left for Seattle still unsure of how I felt about it but somewhere in the middle of the race I found myself daydreaming about WOD‘s and noticing that my steps felt light and my hips felt strong. Here’s my promise that I will stick to it through the next race and will evaluate outcomes in October.

Better watch those times get faster!

Work
I used to desperately try to convince myself say that my work will never be who I am, it will always be what I do. I think that was my early 20-something year old way of saying, “I’ll never find passion in my job, it will always be a chore, it will always just be a means to an end.” I tried three different careers I was only slightly interested in because I thought that slight interest could mean full interest if I just worked hard enough. If I just kept trying. Wow have things changed.

When I gave in to myself and recognized that, 1. I can’t hide my passions and 2. they end up taking over every time, I was able to sit and enjoy the silence that comes from not fighting with myself over what I think I “should” be doing and just keep doing what feels right. I sort of feel like around March or April, someone took my shoulders, turned me in the right direction and pushed me forward saying, “now, go this way.” Lindsey? Shenna? Hill? Jacki? Dad? Was it you? Did I do it to myself? Whomever the instigator, I am grateful for everything but mostly the support. Because of this, nine times out of ten I walk to work with such happy anticipation I think something might be wrong with me. I get to wear yoga and running clothes and talk about people development and hang out with athletes and help people live happier more fun lives. Not just sometimes, every single day. EVERYDAY! It’s a contentment I had always hoped existed but wasn’t sure of until now.

I work with these people everyday. It is nothing short of awesome:

Life and the Seattle Marathon

I was about as laid back about this one as I could get. I broke so many of my cardinal rules when it comes to preparation:

  • I didn’t bring any race nutrition/gels with me.
  • I ate fried oysters for lunch and thai food for dinner the night before the race.
  • I tried a gel I have never used before because I couldn’t find the brand I liked.
  • I didn’t have coffee in the morning.
  • I didn’t run for a week before the race and did bikram instead of a shakeout run.

It’s not that I didn’t care, it’s just that it’s mentally exhausting all the time to be so overly prepared and regimented. I wanted to go to Seattle and have fun with my sister (and her fiancé who live there) – check off a list of restaurants I had to try, do fun touristy things, bike around the city, eat Molly Moo’s ice cream and take my picture in front of Pike Place Market while standing in the rain. I just didn’t want to put emphasis on the race.

Bike ride with sister, stop at Gas Works Park:

Pike Place Market in the rain:

Dan and Alicia on top of the Space Needle:

Screw the shakeout run, I’m goin’ to Bikram!

Always a joy, these packet pick-ups. #17 here I am!

Then it was race morning and I was so nervous! You would think after 17 of these I would know what I am getting into. It was emotional driving to the start and walking amidst the other runners. Seeing the Space Needle, taking in my surroundings and questioning whether or not I had paid enough respect to the training time leading up to this race. I spent the first three miles scolding myself. “You didn’t do enough. You didn’t do enough long runs. You didn’t pay enough attention to your diet. Your foot isn’t really healed. You’re not going to feel good later.”

And suddenly, silence.

I hadn’t started up my music yet so when I finally shut up I was able to listen to what filled the silence: “You broke your foot, didn’t run for 40 days, completed a 30-day yoga challenge and did six weeks of CrossFit. You’re prepared, dammit.”

I know I smiled because I remember the feeling. I remember the moment, I remember what I did next: Grabbed my iPhone, put on the Lil Wayne Pandora station and partied on through the remaining 23.2 miles. You can see it on my face in every picture my sister took of me along the course that day. Appreciation. Perseverance. Contentment.

Running around Seward Park, an out and back over I-90 and crisscrossing around downtown Seattle near the professional sporting arenas were definitely highlights of this race. So were the Honey Stinger gels I tried and the surges of energy I continued to get, especially after mile 20. I wasn’t even mad I had to stop and take a bathroom break at mile 23. Last night’s dinner from Thai Toms = worth it!

I crossed the finish line and I was content.

#Proof:

Dan, me and Alicia:

Proud of my performance, happy with how I felt and oh SO ready for my burger and a beer. I showered, ate and flew back to Chicago so that I could do and write about this:

Then run, coach and talk with him:

Then relax, reflect, rejoice with them:

And now, I have no more words. It’s just silent. In my head and in my heart it’s silent. I would be naive to think it will stay this way, in fact I both know and hope that it doesn’t. So I will see the beauty in this silence. I think I will sit here and I will listen all day.

10 Miles: 2012 Soldier Field 10

And here it begins, Summer 2012. New patterns, new projects, same brain, different results. Business socks, shirt and tie, briefcase: doing work. Real friends with real benefits but not the meaningless kind. Dedication. Practice. Inspire. Compete. Win.

10 miles at 7:50/mile. 1:18:16. I’m nothing if not consistent. Two years ago, my time was 1:18:14.
Time to fill my blue notebook: 5 months.

These are the best friends a girl could ask for: beautiful, strong and kind.

#16. Austin, Texas: “All engines running.”

February 19, 2012

Age: 28
Occupation: Key Leader at lululemon athletica
Residence: Chicago, IL
Time since last race: 3 months, 14 days
Conditions: 55 clouds/sun light breeze rolling hills throughout
Official time: 03:55:30
_______________________________________________ 

We have a problem. I haven’t had enough time for reflection. Sure I’m inspired, motivated and focused, but a sort of transformation is taking place and there aren’t words to do it justice – yet. As my best friend Hadley told me, just days ago as we stood in the February heat of downtown Buenos Aires, “you are cocooning.”

199-something. Columbus, OH. St. Agatha 6th Grade Volleyball Team. There are too many girls who want to play so our teams are divided into A and B. Placements determined by tryouts and I’m stuck on the B team once again. This always happens. Volleyball, basketball, softball, whatever. “Be the best you can, Gige. Show up and practice and give 100% no matter what team you’re on,” advised my dad. This particular morning is special. We’ve had a great season and we’re playing for the championship today. In typical fashion, mom braids my hair – two identical french braids pulled so tightly I have a headache and hair sprayed so thickly I have become a walking fire hazard. My bright yellow jersey is tucked into red mesh shorts and giant red knee pads look funny on my long skinny legs. The game begins and I am on the bench. Eager, anxious, excited and proud I watch as my team nails serve after serve. Stringing together successful bumps, sets and a few spike attempts. We win the first of three sets and it’s on to the second. I’m on the bench waiting for my turn. Second set: lost. Third set begins. I’m still on the bench. Waiting. I can feel the energy, I’m on the edge of my seat! I want to play so badly, every muscle in my body is tense. Waiting. All I want is a chance but I keep reminding myself to keep my act together, it’s not over yet. Until it is. We win and the team runs from the bench congratulating the six players on the court. I remain on the bench with the sinking realization that I am the only player on the team who didn’t get a chance to play. Didn’t get to contribute, didn’t get to do my part. The team won, but I most certainly had lost.

Here’s your visual of this kid.

As a teen and in my early twenties I battled with the “I’m not good enough/no one likes me” interpretation of many situations. In sports, at school, in social circles, I always seemed to come up just short of what I thought was cool or acceptable. Stop before you feel bad for me though, because what came of this is a girl who built a foundation on hard work, motivation and acceptance. That day, a coach made me sit on the sideline and clearly I hated it. I know my 12-year old self wasn’t capable of thinking this at the time, but it’s honestly the last moment in my life that I remember sitting on the sideline of anything in which I wanted to participate.

Uncle Vince told me he once said to a friend, “my girl Gina, if she dies tomorrow I won’t be sad. I’ll be happy because I am sure that that girl lived her life.”

Probably one of the best compliments of all time.

The very best way I have found to participate in my life? Set goals and achieve them. I am currently finding this to be a very fun activity! A recap on some of my running goals:

1. Qualifying for Boston – check!
2. Running Boston – check!
3. Running a marathon in 3:30 – check!
4. Running a marathon in all 50 states and Washington DC – in progress…

The more difficult stuff for me comes in the shape of scary words like “career” and “personal” goals, both of which I spend a lot of time reflecting upon. I left my job in the corporate world about a year ago and I will be perfectly honest and tell you that it has been a struggle. I gave up a bit of freedom when I left and have been chipping away at getting that back ever since. Spending the last year figuring out my place in my new world and where I fit in has been difficult and I won’t yet qualify it as worth it, but I can absolutely see the light towards which I am headed.  The days in which I love going to work far, far exceed the days in which I don’t love it.

When I was in Austin, I met a few people who became instant friends. I think they became instant friends because we were all in our element, choosing to be where we were when we were there for no reason other than we simply love running. I have also found myself for lack of better words without a true mentor in this running world. And now I think I have two. Mike, a veteran of 249 marathons (yes you read that right) shared wisdom with me that I will never forget, “don’t ever give up on doing what you love. Trust that it will happen for you just as you imagine it to be.” What a cool guy, right? And of course there was Bart Yasso. A man whose success I am just inspired by. A man who simply and quite literally lives his passions every day and gets paid to do just that. I have found myself over the last year putting myself under his wing. Learning, watching, taking notes. To have spent time with both of these men in Austin, well they just solidified my resolve to stay put in this world and keep climbing for what I want to get out of it. Goals on goals on goals.

Mike and Bart, pre-shakeout run.
*Mike, I stole this from your twitter but I figure since I took the picture, that’s okay ;)

In an effort to keep these goals in motion, some of them get lumped together. My girlfriends and I, always on the lookout for our next great adventure, had committed to taking a trip to Argentina together. My dates were wide open except for the Austin Marathon weekend of February 17-19 so we planned the trip around that. I spent ten glorious days in South America drinking wine, riding bikes and eating empanadas only to fly straight to Texas to have a day to recover and run a marathon. All I have to say is thank you, world, for the existence of Whole Foods, lululemon and yoga, without which I might never have been able to piece myself back together in time for 26.2 hilly Austin miles.

Argentine Empanadas. Beyond amazing.

Valentine’s Day wine tasting and biking in Mendoza:

Lunch at the winery:

Doing real work:

Friends.

Training for Austin? It was fine, nothing spectacular except I fell in love with running again – being outside in this year’s mild Chicago winter is, for whatever reason, the most wonderful of experiences for me. Plus I’m still kind of celebrating my 3:30:53 PR from back in November. :)

Here’s what my maintenance program of training looked like:

Monday – easy run 7 miles or so
Tuesday – cross train
Wednesday – 6-7 miles, lots of hill repeats on the treadmill
Thursday – 7 miles, maybe some tempo pick ups
Friday – off
Saturday – long run, no more than 16 miles

I loosely followed a Runner’s World plan and made up my weeks as I went along. I don’t love doing this but I know that my mind and body need the rest from the vigor of a true 16-week marathon training program. Throughout training and upon arrival in Austin I had a goal of running the race between 3:50 and 4-hours. However, I had a really hard time getting excited about running. I am not sure if it’s that I had just come off of a wonderful time visiting a new place, or if I felt ill-prepared or what, I just was not really in the mood!

Race morning gave us a beautiful sunrise and I ran from the hotel to the start with my new friends Mike and Alicia. Not three miles into the race one of my training buddies from Chicago jogs right up next to me. “Hi G!!!” My cranky disposition was immediately reversed when I realized that Soraya and I could run together until the half marathon split from the marathon just past mile 10. We had a great time chatting, catching up and daydreaming about summer in Chicago and our training plans for 2012.

Beautiful Austin morning:

source.

Hi, little Soraya! You brightened my whole day:

My mom came to Austin with me, resuming her role as Best Cheerleader on Bike Ever and I spotted her smiling face and giant helmet just past the 13.1 mark. Upon greeting her with a kiss, she stayed right next to me for the entire rest of the race.  Not two minutes after the kiss, I feel a tap on my arm. “What pace are you running?” “I’m at about a 9 minute mile,” I reply. “Do you mind if I run with you for a little while? I’m just a few minutes off on my goal time of making it in under four hours.” “Well sure, why not.”

And that’s how I met Jim Kelly.

Jim is 57. He ran his first marathon at age 50. Had his first son at age 51. If I played my cards right, I would bet that Jim had overcome a lot of adversity in his life to get to where he his now, accomplishing goals of not only finishing marathons but getting faster, too. Jim planned to run with me for only a few miles but we ended up staying side by side for that back half our 26.2 mile journey. The coach in me came out as I strategized our upcoming miles so that he could achieve his goal of running a sub-4 hour marathon. He felt good and I knew he could do it so I pushed the pace a little bit. When he asked what pace we were running, I would sometimes calmly reply, “9 minutes on the dot, Jim!” But really, we were holding steady around 8:45/mile. The race no longer became about my goal because the universe gave me the honor of making sure that Jim achieved his and that was a really cool gift.  In the end, we both got our wishes because he crossed the finish line at 3:57 and I crossed at 3:55. Goals on goals on goals.

Running with Jim Kelly:

Sweet 16 in the books!

Signs like this seriously never get old:

Bart and Me:

Mom and Me celebrating at La Condesa:

Speaking of mom. She read this quote and thought of me.  How fitting: “We don’t receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” -Marcel Proust

2012 has exciting things in store and I am already knee deep in the happiness of it. Biggest news of all, my little sister is getting married on 12/31/2012 and she asked me to be the maid of honor! You better believe I’ve started writing the speech now. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. To tie this all together for you, remember when I crashed my bike? That’s the day she met her now fiancé… taking one for Team DiCello.

I hope that soon I will be able to share with you the results of my transformation but right now I’m still working, thinking, getting off the bench and participating in my life. Finding strength in both successes and failures and navigating the world in which I want to be a powerful, authentic person so that others are inspired to get out there and play, too.

MVP of my life? Me.

#15. Savannah, GA: “My favorite drug.”

November 5, 2011
Age: 28

Occupation: Coach at njoy racing and Runner’s World, Educator at lululemon athletica
Residence: Chicago, IL
Time since last race: 7 months
Conditions: 60, sunny, cool breeze, mostly flat with some long inclines
Official time: 03:30:53 (new PR by 8 minutes)
_______________________________________________ 

My head’s all a jumble.  I don’t even know where to begin today.  These entries, these memories, usually have several months worth of drafts and notes and quotes before I compile them into something that hopefully does justice to the events and people that have influenced my life. This time it’s no different but I have no idea where to begin, there is so much. Do I talk about life after running Boston?  How I left my job for an hourly part time gig to follow my passion?  How I had three jobs this summer?  How I didn’t get my hair cut for six months because I couldn’t afford it? How I managed to get into three accidents involving bikes, cabs, or a combination of the two? How about getting my heart broken, and maybe hurting one or two others in the process? That was fun. Or the fact that I didn’t exercise my right to say ‘no’ only to find myself way over-committed this summer, and very bitter about it.

Hard-learned lessons about life, love and the pursuit of happiness seem to have been my reoccurring theme of 2011.

This year I tested limits, I pushed boundaries, I swam way, way out of my comfort zone.  And for what?  My insatiable hunger for passion, that’s what.  I saw a quote that said, “the pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.”  Is it?  Aren’t we all responsible for our own happiness? No one else is going to take care of this for me, right?

And I know you’re sick of it.  You’re sick of me whining about having my heart broken. Trust me, I’m sick of it too. Despite all the sadness, the crappy dates, the guys who sent flowers and never called back, I learned a lot and faced a nasty fear: my voice.

To say that I am a passionate person, well that would be the understatement of the year.  I know that people know this about me, but I clearly wasn’t ready to admit it, for better or for worse, until now.  I seem to be either all in or all out, no in between. 100% or nothing. Take it or leave it but I think it’s what makes me sparkle.

Life.

In March, right before Boston, I resigned from my job as an Account Executive at a successful restaurant marketing company.  Months prior, I began to feel restless and unsatisfied.  I’ve felt this feeling before.  I hate this feeling.  It happens when I am no longer passionate about the responsibilities assigned to me.  When I am no longer enrolled in the mission of my duties.  I wrestled with myself, trying to rationalize everything – the paycheck, the flexibility, the hours, the vacation, the insurance.  I still woke up with anxiety in my chest and an uncomfortable sluggishness about my demeanor. Leaving my job wasn’t a wake-up-one-day-and-realize-my-path kind of revelation. More of a slow evolvement from doing something just for the sake of doing it, to doing something I love.

My happy place:

In late 2010, I knew this change was coming. I got certified to teach group fitness, I got my USA Track and Field coaching certificate and I went through a Schwinn cycling certification. I slowly tested the waters to see if this area was a world I wanted to live in. Turns out it was and from the beginning of April through the end of October I coached runners for various half marathons and marathons with my team, njoy racing. (Take note, job #1).

Another world I wanted to explore further was that of lululemon athletica. As an ambassador, I was very much ready to take my passion for the company and its culture to the next level. A trip in April to Vancouver and Whistler had me surrounded by lululemon’s founders and leaders who only inspired my curiosity even more. After some authentic conversations with as many people as I could get to, it was decided that in order to hold my own leadership position, I needed to know how the company works from the ground up.  This was a big moment to check my ego at the door and to be honest, I didn’t know if I could do that.  80% pay cut? Working set hours, working weekends, working nights? I knew if I didn’t try, I would always wonder and to me, there few feelings worse than that. I also knew that I belong in this world so I took a leap of faith and went for it. (Job #2).

In June, I was approached by my new pals at Runner’s World. (<–I totally geeked out just writing that). It’s a funny thing, the community that arises when you’re passionate enough to talk about something freely… online… with strangers. Weird. I love running. I love cooking. I love my blog. I love a lot of things and I really love to talk about what I love. So I use Twitter. After several Twitter and email dialogues with Bart Yasso that were inspired by these tweets…

…I was invited to join the coaching team of the Foot Locker/Runner’s World 10K training program here in Chicago. I mean come on, HOW COOL IS THAT? (Job #3).

The coaches:

Absolutely none of this was easy. Checking my ego was the hardest. In August when I was miserable at lululemon about not feeling related to my team and grumpy about the fact that I hadn’t been moved into a leadership position, a mentor said to me, “don’t forget, you chose to be here. Help everyone else see why you chose that.” In addition to my team, the person I needed to make see this the most was myself, so I started to work on becoming the kind of leader I want to be: inspirational, vulnerable, available and strong.

And then Steve Jobs passed away and quotes like this began to surface:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

The most amazing thing about reading this is that for the time being, I’ve found it. I believe that not only am I doing great work now, but the potential for great work in the future is completely limitless. I am beyond excited to be open to wherever jobs one, two or three take me in the next few years.

Love.

I’ll just be flat out honest – more tough stuff this year in this department. At the end of the day, I really I just want to love and be loved so sometimes my want for that clouds my judgement when it comes to who I should and shouldn’t allow into my life.

He told the truth and I was the liar.

He said, “I can’t do it,” but I wouldn’t believe.

He said, “I can give you support and friendship.  That’s it.”  I didn’t believe.

He wasn’t faithful because he never had to be.  I didn’t care.  I came back for more.

He never took me on a date, not once.  In 20 months.  I came back for more.

He swaddled me in red flags and I ignored them.  Waved them away like feathers.

I refused to believe that someone could decide not to be with me. What about what I wanted?  I came back for more.

I came back for more until my heart couldn’t stand the pressure and my own body began physically rejecting my stubbornness.

He told the truth and I was the liar. It wasn’t his fault at all.

I’m shooting arrows right now, big sharp ones. He hates that. But this time, they’re pointed at me.  For not seeing clearly, for not being more present, for not being more real with myself, for everything. Why can’t I just accept what he is capable of giving?  “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Well, this time I think I need it.

Was this karma’s vengeance for the hurt I caused previous lovers?  If they felt even a glimmer of what I felt this year then wow, do I have the ability to be insensitive. The funny thing is though, at the beginning I knew. I knew from very early on when we lay side by side and shared tales of heartbreak that this would happen to me.  “I’m a heartbreaker.”  “No, I’M a heartbreaker.”  I knew it was painful but I didn’t know it was this painful. Then, some time in June, in a last-ditch effort to save my sanity and a simple realization that I really don’t want to live my life on the path I was choosing, I began my resumption. I told every one of my close friends my dirty little secret: addiction to hope for a love that would never be.

But let’s be honest, I wasn’t fooling anyone.

Rehab. In an emotional dump of my heart and soul, I did a lot of yoga. I threw myself into three demanding jobs and relied on my friends when nostalgia crept in. I made room in my heart for kindness and met someone wonderful who brought a lot of it into my world. I also learned that not only do I need passion in work, but I need passion in my relationships and I need to be with someone who is passionate about something…anything (especially me!)  And girls, he’s just not that into you if you’ve been dating for three months and after three days of radio silence he tells you that he’s been spending hours and hours on the phone with his ex “reassessing where they are with everything.” #awesome. Damn good thing I had a marathon coming up to stomp out all the anger of how that whole thing went down.

And yet, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for the things that these two people have taught me.  How in their own ways, they inspired me to keep going no matter what. How they unknowingly forced me, kicking and screaming, to love myself and figure it out on my own. How one in particular believes in me so much it’s almost a tangible feeling that I can actually hold. How they validate my conviction that if I wear my heart on my sleeve, I take risks and I jump off the preverbial cliff, that I always, eventually, on my own path, reach…

Happiness.

Advice and wisdom on this cycle of training, post-Boston:

On coaching: “your training will suffer because you’ll be so tired.”
On balancing 3 jobs: “you might have to be not so ambitious with your running for a while.”
On injuries (specifically my neuroma): “you work too hard, you should rest.”

No. No. Only until I am healthy, then no.

The result? I ran 26.2 miles in 3 hours 30 minutes and 53 seconds which is my fastest marathon by 8 minutes.

It seemed this year, that the more obstacles presented to me, the more I latched on to my training plan and the faster I ran.  I didn’t make a lot of changes but I stuck with consistency on a couple of things:

1. Running outside: 99% of my Boston training was on the treadmill because I was too much of a wimp to face the Chicago winter. I also enjoyed training for that race alone; it was super meditative. Running outside is much more difficult and I knew it would make me a stronger marathoner. The month of July was hot and humid and I almost puked after every run, but those are the runs that build champions, the runs that make me feel like a superhero in the cool fall air at mile 23.

2. I committed to my track workouts: I have a love/hate relationship with the track because it reminds me of the pressures of my days as an 800 meter runner in high school. This summer I got over it and committed to my track workouts outside, on the track. I was definitely rewarded. My Yasso 800’s were like 3:10!

3. Each week consisted of speed work, tempo run, steady state, long run –> not anything different from how I trained before. The one small difference, however, my longest runs were very long collectively – 22, 22, and 18 miles.

4. Yoga, yoga and more yoga. Couldn’t/can’t get enough of it. The breathing techniques, the challenging postures, the stretching, balancing and twisting – it all makes running feel ten times better, even on the off days.

Team njoy racing at the 2011 Ragnar Relay Chicago:

After a really successful taper, I arrived in Savannah feeling fast, strong and energized. Prior to leaving town, a lot of friends asked me both how I felt and how fast I thought I would run. I felt amazing, better than I had since last year before Salt Lake City. My predicted finish time? I didn’t share it with anyone, I kept it a secret. I hadn’t raced since April, not even a 5K, so I had no idea where I was as far as performance. All I knew is that I felt good and I was ready to race.

One of my favorite parts about this 50 States thing is weaving in the chance to have fun and connect with friends. Earlier this summer my training partner Dave and I decided to make a little adventure out of going to Savannah. We rented a cute beach house on nearby Tybee Island and convinced three of our fellow running comrades to join us. We cooked, we giggled, we drank beer, we talked about life and we ran. It fills my heart with so much joy and gratitude to think about the friendships and bonds that were created from this trip. The whole experience makes me smile.

Arriving in Savannah, decorated Chevy Tahoe and all:

Our happy little family:

Mom! We’re ready for dinner!

For me, race day is just as good as Christmas morning and this one was no different. At 4:40 am, I hopped out of bed without the need for an alarm clock and popped my iPod into the speakers. With the volume cranked all the way up, I blasted the wake up call: Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch.” We all went through our pre-race rituals (Mine: giant coffee, giant Gatorade G2, handful of almonds) and headed for the corrals. I felt loose, alert, awake and solid. Very much the opposite of how I felt just before kickoff in Boston.

Look! They’re glad we’re here:

Porta potty success! The race can finally begin:

Go time. Dave and I committed to running this race together and as any experienced marathoner should do, we took the first few miles easy and they both ticked in at 8:10 on the dot. Those were my slowest two miles of the entire race. Around mile 6, the 3:30 pace group started to surround us. At first I thought, “it’s okay, let them go ahead.” And then I thought, “@$*%, you didn’t work this hard to let the 3:30’s pass you by. GO!” I popped in my headphones and didn’t let them out of my sight the rest of the race.

The pace we were keeping wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard either. At the 13.1 mark, I did a fancy little jump over the ticker to celebrate being halfway done. I remember noticing that until mile 15, everything seemed to fly by. I take a Hammer gel every five miles so my first three gels were gone like that. I tried to take in my surroundings and notice the beauty of Savannah’s Spanish moss and lush landscape but I had a hard time doing that and focusing on my running, so I just kept on running.

At mile 18, we were still with the 3:30 pace group. I seriously could not believe it. A lot of self doubt had been creeping in that morning and I had to mentally give myself several pep talks. I heard my mom’s voice so many times in my head, she could have practically been running next to me. “Go, Gigi, go!” Her sweet voice pushing me along, helping me believe. At mile 24, the true challenge presented itself: a steady incline up the on ramp of a freeway, into the headwind, headed back into town. I had tears slowly trickling down my face and the sensation of if I stopped running, that I would puke all over the road. My pace remained steady and I continued on.

I would say I’d never been so happy to see a finish line, but who am I kidding, I’m always happy to see the finish line. I looked down at my watch and saw 3:30:53 and was in shock. I looked at Dave in total disbelief and then smiled a huge smile. Holy f**k I just PR’ed by 8 minutes!! Hell.yes.

After this whole weird transitional year, despite obstacles to which many might have said, “it’s okay if you don’t want to keep going,” I did it. I think I’ll do another little celebration dance right now!

Bringing home the 3:30:

Med tent, calves seized up like woah:

Lizzie BDaveVictor and me after rocking our performances:

The girls:

So here I sit with this whole entire year almost behind me and I can tell you with glowing conviction that I am happy. Yes, there are still challenges to face and things to work on but I’m finally finding my place in this world. I may be biased, but I’ve got the best friends known to man, a supportive family and a community in Chicago, all who hold me accountable for living my best life.

And it’s in my pursuit of passion that I have found and will continue to find life, love and happiness so that one day, “When you reach the little house, the place your journey started, you will recognize it, although it will seem much smaller than you remember.”