#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.”

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

  1. Your blog is honestly my favorite blog out there. Everytime you write I get more inspired. Thank you for sharing your challenges, your heartbreaks, your passion, and your happiness with us. You inspire me to step outside my comfort zone and just get out there. I can’t wait to hear about your next marathon. Keep up the amazing work! Talk soon!
    Kristine-
    @kymarie13

  2. I was fortunate to read this before heading out for a run! Congrats on a great run (and for your first two miles being the slowest!! That’s awesome!). I’m not sure if I was the source of the “the pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness” quote, but I am a firm believer in it: I take it to mean those whose primary goal is happiness never find it for long before uneasiness or dissatisfaction sets in because once they achieve what they think will bring them happiness, then what?….Alternatively, those with a higher goal ultimately find it as a natural consequence of pursuing the gifts God gave them. Either way, as you said, we are all responsible for our choices, so if one is not doing what he/she feels called to do, he/she needs make the change. No one else will do it for him/her! In regards to the haircut: I can totally relate, haha. Go to Aveda on Clark and have a student cut your hair. Only 10-15 dollars and they don’t accept tips! As a resident, that’s about all I can afford. Keep up the running. Yay Austin!

    • Hi Julia! I actually got the quote from the lululemon Manifesto that is printed on the shopping bags and it’s puzzled me for quite some time. I like your thoughts behind it and always love hearing (reading) what you have to say on such subjects.

  3. Wow! Well, first congratulations! What an amazing race.

    I think a lot of us can learn from your lessons over the last year. Very inspiring and brave to share – thank you! Taking chances (and risking failure), following your heart, and staying true to yourself are what really dictates who we are as individuals.

    Enjoy it all – you deserve it!

  4. Congratulations on this huge p.r.! You’ve worked for everything you’ve gotten this year and you deserve all the happiness in the world as you continue to follow your passions. Every time I read one of your race recaps, I think to myself “I really wish she would run more marathons asap, so I can read more of what she has to say.”

    Thank you for being an inspiration!

  5. Beautiful, G! You know I love your passion for everything you do–it defines who you are and you’ve NEVER, EVER been without it. Stay true. Never settle for anything less than the best! YOU deserve it!!! Love you, as always. Mom

  6. You continue to just completely inspire me. To be able to be motivated by a person you fully love as a person- I don’t know that you could ask more of a friend. It’s been a wild 6 months since Boston Round 1. Can’t wait to see what we’re saying at the finish line for Round 2. Congratulations on some unadulterated badassery in Savannah!

  7. This was the most profoundly honest and inspirational post! I am so glad to have stumbled upon your blog a few months ago. Thank you for sharing your raw honesty! I will take your pearls of wisdom out on the road for the Seacoast Half Marathon in Portsmouth, NH this weekend! If you ever come back to Boston, you should definitely host a run meetup with your readers :)

      • PR’d by six minutes! I re-read your SAV recap the night before and promised myself that I would be confident, run hard and not allow myself to slack. I decided to start with a pace group for the first time, and it definitely helped keep me motivated. I shared this with my friend that ran too, she agreed that it was an awesome & inspirational pre-run read! Thank you so much for writing, and I look forward to reading more recaps!

  8. Gina,
    You are an amazing writer and runner, and are such an inspiration!
    You’ve inspired me to take my training and running to a new level!
    Thank you!!
    Cara

  9. Gina,

    I can’t tell you how happy I am that I stumbled onto your blog a few months ago. Your writing, your life, and your passion are so inspiring in so many ways (running and beyond). I’ll be running my first half marathon in a couple months which will be a very different experience for me because I’ve never been much of a runner. I had been kicking around the idea of a race for about a year but just never committed to it. After going through a rough couple of months (similar to the ‘transitions’ you spoke of in this post), I decided I needed an outlet to get my head back on track. Just weeks later I found this blog. Your honesty and passion for everything you do gave me the kick in the head I needed to commit and sign up for my first race. Training so far has been difficult and wonderful at the same time, and I find myself thinking about your race recaps (almost asking ‘What would Gina do’) to keep myself going on my longer runs. You have so many incredible talents…just wanted to say thanks for sharing them with us. Already can’t wait for your next post!

  10. You are amazing, Gigi! So proud of you and ALL that you’ve made it through this year. Can’t wait to see where life takes you in 2012, I’m sure it will be your best year yet!

    xoxo Kris

    P.S. If you’re itching to run another international marathon (AND visit the newest and littlest member of your fan club) I know of a good race coming up!

  11. Love this post! Inspiration in a nutshell. :)I love all the dedication, passion, and soul you put into this race. Sometimes it does pay to listen to our heart and follow our dreams. Congrats!!!

  12. Hi! My cousin Tara just referred me to your blog. You workout at her gym. I just made the decision to run my first full marathon. I’m planning for the Wineglass Marathon on Sept 30 in NY. I’ll be looking to your blog for inspiration! I’m not nearly as fast as you are, and am just looking to make it to the finish line in one piece :)

  13. Did you know Apolo Anton Ohno ran the NYC Marathon the same weekend in 3:25:14? YOU ran as well as a gold medal Olympian!! Totally bad ass, G!!!!! (Mario Lopez ran it in 4:23:30!!)

  14. You continue to amaze me!!! I truly believe it was no accident that I randomly got a job in Columbus, OH and got to have you in my life everyday for a short, wonderful time!! I am so happy to be able to call such an inspiring person and brilliant writer like you a friend. Every morning when I want to hit snooze instead of train, I hear you saying, “GO ABBY GO!” I love your blog and can’t wait for the next post after you’ve visited me in what people down here call God’s Country.
    Love you lots and can’t wait to see you! Pedicure afterwards maybe?!? JK

    • Um yeah, a pedicure afterwards is a must… it just has to be secret and we have to pretend we were “working”. Hehe! Can’t wait to celebrate another running milestone with you in Austin. I love how our lives have been weaved together. You are one amazing friend, Abby! Much love.

  15. Pingback: #16. Austin, Texas: “All engines running.” « Walk to the Mailbox

  16. Pingback: #16. Austin, Texas: “All engines running.” « Walk to the Mailbox

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