and I ran

I walked along the avenue. I never thought I'd meet a girl like you.

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Alita Hermansen is an ex-academic, writer, wife, and new mom living in sunny Boulder, Colorado.  She taught and studied writing, history, and English in Oregon, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Iceland, and Colorado before throwing in the towel and picking up her running shoes.  



When I married, I knew my husband ran marathons; I just didn’t know what it meant to be a marathoner, or even married to one. I thought I did. My due diligence extended to traveling to two marathons over our short engagement: in Missoula, I slept in and met him for a hug and a sunny beer at the finish line. In New Mexico, I collected his warm-ups and crawled, bleary-eyed, back into the car to watch the sunrise and collate wedding guest lists. Somehow, I thought, these experiences and his stories of Boston and Pikes Peak initiated me into his strange, early-morning world of running. I basked in pride and reflected glory. My fiancé? He runs marathons. Up mountains.

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The Uninvited Guest

Jan Stanton is a chaplain and speaker to groups on the topics of grief and loss, aging and caregiving, and other issues of spiritual health in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  This is her second entry to “And I Ran.”  Read the first here. She blogs at jansreflections.com.

 ***

It happened November 9, 2013.

It was a Saturday morning and I was out for a run—a longer one, I’d hoped.  Clouds settled over the Twin Cities region, with temperatures in the mid-forties.  No, it was not winter yet, no snow or ice.  I could still run on a clean, paved track along River Road.  It was good to be outdoors, doing what I loved to do.

And then it happened.  I’d covered four and a half miles when suddenly my right leg began to hurt—a lot.  Far more intense than simple soreness or fatigue, this pain was like I’d never experienced before, shooting down my leg with each step.  I wondered how I’d ever get back home, a mile and a half away.

Though concerned, I tried putting on a little optimism, if not downright denial, by clinging to an unlikely hope that the pain would subside all by itself, and soon I’d resume my comfortable run.  That never happened. 

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Filed under Jan Stanton injury uninvited guest healing running

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I don't want to talk about IBD

And I Ran contributor, Erin Hutton, designed these awesome Xmas ornaments to help raise awareness and funds for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. Consider purchasing to lend a hand and show your support!

Filed under crohns crohn's disease ccfaawarenessweek erin hutton

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Team Challenge

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Erin Hutton is the Program Assistant for the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Chatham University. She graduated from Chatham in 2011 with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. She is the creator of the blog Don’t Forget to Eat, featuring posts on food, travel, Crohn’s disease, and running.

***

I’m a runner. It took me a long time to be able to say that. Occasionally, I’d say “I run” and still feel like a fraud. But after my season with Team Challenge, an endurance training and fundraising program for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), I’M A RUNNER. For life.

When I met Katie, at that time the Endurance Manager for the local Team Challenge chapter, I thought there was no way I could do what she was proposing, but I signed up anyway. The challenge: run a half marathon and raise $2500 for CCFA.

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Sick Run

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Moriah Erickson is a writer, respiratory therapist, wife, mother to 7 children, and a runner.  She has published essays and poems in numerous journals and publications on both the local and national level.  She is currently finishing her MFA from Fairfield University, and  lives a good life in Duluth, MN.

This is Moriah’s third contribution to And I Ran. Read her other entries here and here.

***

I slip two liquid gels into my mouth, feel them roll around on my tongue, and swallow, hoping they both go down.  They do.  It’s early Saturday morning, I’m staring into the bathroom mirror at my mother’s house at the ghost staring back.  My eyes are hollow.  My nose is red.  My hair is more askew than usual.  Today is THE day, and it figures that I would wake up with this strange heaviness in my head, unable to breathe through my nose, and a searing pain in my throat.  It’s the marathon, and I’m sick.

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Defining Moments

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Emily May Anderson writes poetry, teaches English, and runs in Columbus, Ohio. This is her second contribution to And I Ran. Read her first piece here.

I’ve noticed in reading through all of the inspiring posts about running here and elsewhere that many of us write about the moments that defined us, as runners, and in many cases as strong, capable individuals.  In my previous post, about a year ago, I wrote about how running helped me find myself.  And that’s true. 

As runners, we all have defining moments: specific races or specific achievements that function as landmarks for us.  And I have them too.  My first 5K.  My first 10:00 mile.  My first 10-mile run.  My first 9:00 mile.  My first half-marathon. 

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A recent graduate of Fairfield University’s MFA, Catherine Barna
runs behind her four children but in front of the Grim Reaper.

***

The Vine post in my mind plays over and over – the back of my 7 year-old daughter moving steadily uphill, her blond braids flop-flying behind her.

Oh, no! I think, I can’t keep up.

Running in a local road race I regret that my training has been sporadic. Elizabeth, my daughter, never trains. She plays. She was in the race because her sister, brother and I had entered and simply included her. She shadows me for the first mile and easily keeps the pace.

“Go ahead if you can. Don’t wait for me. Try to catch up to David,” I encourage. I try not to regret this as I watch her gain on the runners in front of me. She moves uphill like she was fresh at a flat start.

My heart drops. I had wanted to run with my family. Now we are stretched across the 5K course with David up front and out of view and my father in the back, walking with my other daughter.

The day is perfect, clear, bright and cool. The course loops through our small New England village, starting at the local elementary school, passing town hall, the police station, orchards and tree farms before finishing near the start.

A number of families turned out for this morning run and a handful of others dot the course, calling encouragement. A boom box plays, “Gonna Fly Now,” from the Rocky soundtrack at one point.

As painful as it is to find myself alone, I realize that this is the future. From the moment they walk, our children start to dart out in front of us. I recall taking Elizabeth out of her car seat as a toddler, only to snatch at her collar seconds later in a parking lot. This moving ahead should not have surprised me, yet I feel a heaviness.

Will she find David at the finish? I never doubted he would beat me or run well ahead of me. There is a crowd assembled around the finish line and he does not know to look for her.  Will she wait for me? What is ahead? How little we know as we send them off.

Over my shoulder, panting and sweating is a 12 year-old boy. He has extra pounds on his frame and is working to get up hill.

“Hey, you are doing great,” I offer.

He glances over and his look confirms, Yep, I am a stranger.

“You can do this!” I hope someone else in the running community looks out for my kids along the course. At the hilltop, I confirm we are almost there.  Did he flash me a small smile? Or am I just hopeful?

I spot my friend, Colleen, at the finish. “I took Elizabeth over to David when I saw her finish,” she said almost immediately. She, too, is a mother. She knows exactly my concerns – not my time, but my kids. Did they finish? Did they find their own?

Today is Elizabeth’s first day of high school and the memory of her road race replays again as I watch her back as she climbs the bus steps. She is taller now and her hair hangs down straight and loose. The braids are gone, yet I am still watching her back.

I am grateful for that run 7 years ago, even though I could not keep up. My hopes today are the same as they were 7 years ago. May she run her best race and when she is done, may there be a friendly face at the finish.

Filed under Cathy Barna

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Happy Birthday to Us!

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Sheila Squillante is the curator of And I Ran, a blog that celebrates women runners. She is also, as of 3 months ago, a proud Yinzer

The nice bots at Tumblr sent me a note to remind me that today is the one year anniversary of And I Ran!

I should have realized this, of course, since this is also my actual birthday week, and I launched the blog as a sort of gift to myself and a way to say thank you to all the women who have encouraged me to keep running, even when it was hard. Even when I didn’t want to. And I didn’t want to kind of a lot. 

This time last year, I was a week away from my first 10K run, an event that I will probably always look back on and feel, Well hell YES! I AM a bad ass and thanks for asking! 

And that’s a big deal for me. I am not, generally speaking, a person who feels much like a bad ass. 

In the year since this project was born, I have left one job and started another. I have moved my whole family to an entirely new city and started a new life. I’m missing my old friends and I’m making some new ones.

And I’ve kept running. There have been some fits and starts. There has been a bunch of whining (oh my god these HILLS!). There has been a serious loss of speed (I mean, what I call speed which is probably what you call walking), but you know what? That doesn’t matter. 

I ditched my Garmin and gave up trying to maintain a certain pace when I saw how different the topography here is. Pittsburgh is not joking with these hills. 

Lately I’ve just been enjoying running (slowly) past urban gardens bursting with saucer-sized dahlias and spent sunflowers. There is a particular bend on Beechwood Avenue near my house where over the stone wall, you can peer down into the valley below Squirrel Hill, to see the Monangahela River rolling by. 

I never used to let myself stop on my runs. I had actually gotten a little obsessive about it. But now I always stop at that wall or at any pretty spot I damn well like. Now, I use my runs as a way to explore this new place, to center myself in the midst of a truly wonderful, but stressful, nonetheless, career transition. 

I am going to race in a few weeks, but I’m not interested in pace or time. My neighbor (my new friend!), who is right now training to do her very first 5K, asked me to do the Color Run with her. So we are going to get up at the ass crack of dawn on a Saturday morning and drive 30 minutes south of the city to get pelted with colored cornstarch and be just generally goofy together.

And I’m so looking forward to it because the pictures will make my kids laugh and because running is fun, dammit, and because you know… I am all about supporting other women runners! 

photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/sakeeb/4139400286/

Filed under Sheila Squillante Pittsburgh running Color Run

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The Sound of My Humor

Barbara Alfano teaches Italian at Bennington College. She left Italy in 1999, to get a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Penn State. Her first academic book, The Mirage of America in Contemporary Italian Literature and Film (University of Toronto Press, 2013), will be out in the summer. In 2009, she published in Italy a collection of short stories, Mi chiedevo (I Was Wondering, Manni Editore). At times, Barbara thinks that she runs because she does not dance tango any longer, but it’s a lie. She bikes, leisurely; swims, does yoga, and meditates. She is now looking forward to singing, again, after many years, and not just in the shower.

 

I used to smirk at runners from behind a kitchen window. Holding a coffee mug to my heart, I watched solitary hoodies puffing away in the humid, early mornings of Central Pennsylvania, leaving vapor in the mist. “What do you think you’re doing?” I muttered.  And why?

But now I ask myself why. It happens usually into the eighth mile that I question, “Why are you doing this to your body?” There is pain involved in running long distances, and boredom. Finding meaning in running can be daunting for those like me who are convinced to have left behind, somewhere in the geographies of their mutations and moves, the idea that there is no gain without pain. Why, then?

In 2011, I overcame my reluctance to run as I was trying to overrun the terrible grief of a lost love. Grinding out the miles, I asked my body to release a weight that my spirit was refusing to bear. While running, I could either cry over my loss, or breathe. Trying to do both at the same time would cause pulmonary distress. I learned quickly how to train my respiration and keep my heart rate under control.

Certain things should never happen in your forties. Running, yes –you can begin at any age, and deal with the painful consequences. Being left by somebody who promised to grow old with you less than a year earlier –no, that should not happen in your forties, especially if the promise sounded, somehow, true.

To add to my feverish desire of running, away, over the anger, and into the future, that summer an old uterine fibroid came back with a vengeance, obliging me to undergo a third surgery to remove it. Running helped me to control the weight gain and fluid retention caused by medicines. I needed my body to listen to me, be with me, act as my best friend, bring me somewhere we had never been, while we were running together through yet one more hormonal therapy before yet another surgery after the end of yet another love. The doctor asked me to ponder seriously the possibility of giving up my uterus altogether, “A hysterectomy would be a definitive solution… at your age….” Her eyes were telling me to just get rid of the extra piece. At my age. “That would be one loss too many, Doctor. I’ll keep the piece for now.” To hold myself together was all I could afford, that summer. Luckily, I met a great trainer.

I was gasping for air while running and trying to push back the tears at the same time. Her voice hit me with the strength of a glorious pun:  “I see he still takes your breath away….” Laughing, together with air I welcomed back the liberating sound of my irony, which was now proposing to run with me. In the conversation that we had, my feet were lighter, I was weightless, freedom relaxed my shoulder, and fun carried my legs through.  What an incredible trainer is the one who knows how to run with me with the right words, asking me if I am checking in with my hips and my abdominals, if I still want to know why I am running, if I know what parts of my body I should relax now, if the shadow on the asphalt is that of a middle aged, rounded woman who only thinks she is running, when, in fact, she is fighting through the miles; or that of a younger, slimmer lady maintaining a great posture while jogging to the beat of her ease on the sidewalk –it all depends on what time of the day I’m looking down on me. Loving is that trainer who asks me if I prefer to imagine my last mile in green, in red, or paved with gerberas. I could always use firecrackers.   

In the spring of 2012, I agreed to run my first half-marathon. I was opening my office door when my colleague and friend Sarah asked me, from across the corridor, “Hey, there’s a half-marathon in September. Do you want to run it?” “Yes, okay,” I nodded. She is a real athlete, and I dared answer like that: Yes, okay, and a smile. Violins were not playing. I didn’t feel the thrill in my feet, nor did my toes wiggle. I said yes and went on with my day. Language at the crossroads of our lives tends to be compressed in short words.

The next day, I had a training schedule, something to keep me busy in the summer, a lot of reading to do about the perfectly balanced nutrition, the appropriate gear, the smart hydration, the most functional cross-training. I was anxiously looking for anything right, as running all those miles just did not seem so to me. It still does not. Yet, at the time, the idea of challenging myself for such an enterprise, polarized and absorbed me for the entire summer. I trained in Italy, amidst the smiles of familiar faces, and gazing at the abundance of the apricot trees parading on the sides of the road.  I ran my first twelve miles under the scorching sun of a Southern Italian, August noon.  

 I completed my second half-marathon last week. The chilly wind and freezing rain were not my enemies, nor were the hills of Western Massachusetts’ prettiest exurbia, where film impressions of wild woods are spotted with mansions, on the front of a fabulous lake.  

My knee said “Basta,” “Enough.” When your knee has had enough, all you’re left with is crying, while you watch the minutes rolling away on your chronometer. After the ninth mile, I walked my way to the finish line between brief intervals of painful jogging.  Why?

I have promptly promised Facebook that I will not run any more half-marathons, only 10 and 12Ks. Meanwhile, my trainer is plotting first visits to unknown places, like the chiropractor’s and the acupuncturist’s, savoring with gusto the beginning of new bodily adventures in those offices because, yes, says my trainer, I will run more half-marathons, and pain free. Why? Who cares, as long as my trainer and I laugh together.

 

Filed under Barbara Alfano

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The View from the Back of the Pack

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Kate Thompson has run since childhood, and was a Boston qualifier in the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon.  She is an undergraduate student at Penn State studying anthropology and community, environment and development. She frequents East Africa and Madagascar for field work, and would one take like to take up residence in Tanzania. She enjoys writing short essays, long distance running, water color painting and playing the ukulele, however some of these pass-times are more conducive to transatlantic-travel than others. (Read Kate’s first And I Ran contribution here.)

The night before the 2013 Broadstreet 10-miler, I was panicky.  My brother and I had spent the day packing up my dorm room at the end of my junior year. Together with my mom, we loaded cart after cart of textbooks, floral bedspreads and running shoes into our tiny sports car. And one futon. As we left Penn State that evening and began our four-hour drove home, I considered skipping the race the next morning. 

And if my mom hadn’t driven all the way to Philadelphia to pick up my registration before coming to get me, I probably would have. Her ridiculously caring gesture locked me in. I didn’t have much confidence going into this race. Since my 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon, I had suffered chronic knee pain. Considering this, I didn’t expect a fantastic time or exceptional placing— I just wanted to finish without needing to crawl. 

Sitting in the car, I whined to my mom: I can’t run and feel all that pain again. I can’t not be able to bend my knees, or stand or run. Not after all the physical therapy. Not after two years. And all my training this semester. I can’t go through that again.

My mom insisted I was working myself into frenzy.

She was right, but I was steeped in self-absorption and self-pity.

But you don’t understand- you don’t know what it was like!

She said she didn’t, but did dwelling on what I knew really help?

I folded my arms push my legs up on the dashboard to improve circulation.

Then, after several hours in a tightly packed car, I subsequently took a tumble in a gas station parking lot. Now I was knotted, scraped and nauseatingly nervous. I resigned myself to doing poorly as I went to bed just after one am and set my alarm for five.

When running a morning race, it is a good idea to arrive at the start line an hour before hand. And I would have, had the entrance to the race day parking not been blocked off due to overcrowding. Instead, my mom and I zipped around the outskirts of Philly in GPS-prompted figure eights. We passed other panicked runners, all with the same bewildered look as they peered out their minivan windows at the tangle of city streets. We finally reached the overflow parking, and I ran- almost in tears- to the subway station. The Express Line to the start, which ran under Broadstreet, was late by 20 minutes. The ride itself took thirty-five minutes. And by the time I emerged from the subway to the block where the race was to start, the volunteers were taking the banner down.

So I ran. My mom had encouraged me to just relax and have fun as I sat in the car the night before, panicking about every cramp and ache I thought I felt. At first I had scoffed at her advice-and now her advice was the only logical choice I had. I could quit. I could run these ten miles filled with anger and resentment at public transportation. Or I could let go, and enjoy the race for what it’s worth.

I had never run at the back of a race before. I now, I hope to make it to the back a few more times in my racing career (though not always). Because starting from very back of the pack, you meet everyone. The wheelchair runners. The blind runners, holding onto a bungee cord being held by their guide. I met the grandmas in high knee socks and little girls in pigtails. Here are the true victorious ones, not the ones on the stage receiving trophies.  And here I met some of the kindest, most patient spectators ever, who cheered me on even though the rest of the bunch was miles ahead.

At the end, my mom was waiting. Still cheering, though the race had started two hours before. By now I was sandwiched into a thick knot of runners. We bunched tighter as we funneled through the finish line. I collected my medal, my official time, and my mushed bananas and soft pretzels.

When my mom collected me, I think she expected an emotionally and physically exhausted, pouty girl spoiled by her spoiled race. Instead, I surprised both of us. 

Filed under Kate Thompson