I am an ugly runner. I trudge over the pavement. I do not float. I sweat, a LOT! When my body temperature rises, so too does the color of my skin. It progresses from tan, to pink, to a horrible blotchy red rash. On any given run, I am fighting shin splints, back pain, or neck and shoulder tension. My breathing becomes so marked that I sound like I am hyperventilating. Snot runs freely from my nose or from my nose into my throat giving my marked breathing a sickening rattle. I cough. I spit. I gag. I am uncomfortably aware of my wiggly parts. I am the antithesis of a pretty runner.

About six years ago, while running in front of Loyola College (now Loyola University) on Charles Street in Baltimore, Maryland, I lifted my head to determine my progress as I climbed what seemed like a never ending hill, only to see a very tall, very thin girl running toward me. With a high blonde ponytail that swung like a perfectly timed pendulum, and a light bouncing step, she trotted by me with ease. Her porcelain skin and unwrinkled matching Nike outfit were noticeably free of perspiration. As I trudged along in my bargain running clothes with sweat dripping steadily from my hair and forehead into my eyes, it took a considerable amount of will power NOT to stick out my foot and watch Little Miss Perfect face plant on the cement; tearing holes in her completely dry and unwrinkled outfit, while simultaneously scraping the skin off of her porcelain complexion and skewing her perfectly proportioned features.

Over the years, I have often been reminded of this run; while negotiating raised sidewalks, pot holes, and traffic in the Baltimore neighborhood of Roland Park as elite athletes with long smooth strides glided gazelle like by me; or while sweating buckets during humid summer days at the beach as college girls trotted by in sports bras, the only apparent bounce occurring in their perky little breasts. However, I was reminded of this moment most recently while running the Stone House Museum Half Marathon on September 11.

I began training eight weeks before the race, two weeks less than I had trained for last year’s Kingdom Challenge. The two-week loss in training, however, did not worry me since I had been running consistently throughout the summer. Two weeks into training my attitude changed as the height of the summer’s heat and humidity kicked into full gear. Every run felt like a struggle. The majority of runs were far slower than I had anticipated. My training regimen was inconsistent, due partially to an utter lack of motivation born from frustration with my training performance. Though the last eight weeks had been ugly, leaving me feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally unprepared, I forced myself to reassess my goals and slipped into bed the night before the race with only the hope of finishing, regardless of my time.

I woke up on September 11 to plentiful sunshine and frost; perfect weather for running. Even more perfect for running through the picturesque Vermont hills. I was less picturesque. Crawling out of bed at six in the morning rarely agrees me. Crawling out of bed to run in a race I am less than enthused about proves an even more frightful sight.

Standing on the starting line waiting for direction from the race coordinator, I began a conversation with a girl in her twenties who was excited to be running her first half marathon. She was what most twenty year olds are…perky, pretty, and peppy. Too peppy, I thought as I stood freezing my ass off while listening to her speak with enthusiasm about the next 13.1 miles.

In an instant, the race began and off she flew, her ponytail bouncing in perfect rhythm to her spring-like easy gait. If I had been next to her tripping her would have been my first thought. However, as I fought to keep her within my sight, I could only imagine her twisting her ankle as she stepped into one of the many potholes scattered across the dirt roads, or slipping on the loose gravel, scraping her ass and smearing dirt down her perfectly pert buttocks. At mile ten, when my energy was waning and my back seizing, she kicked into high gear and I lost sight of her. Forced to focus on finishing the race without the burning flames of envy beneath my bottom, I turned up my iPod, bent my back in an attempt to stretch it, and looked uphill at the last three grueling miles.

As I ran the last few yards to the finish line, I saw the peppy twenty year-old, standing on the sidelines cheering in a relaxed manner as if she had just returned from a day at the spa. Had I not glanced down at my clock and been astonished by my time (I shaved ten minutes off my last half marathon and was the third woman to finish overall) or failed to look into the beaming face of my daughter, my envy would most likely have turned to a deep burning hatred of all perky twenty year-olds. However, my accomplishment combined with the pride my daughter felt for her own accomplishment (she ran the shorter 5k occurring simultaneously as the half marathon) turned this beast into a beauty.

At that moment, I learned that no matter how ugly of a runner I may be, no matter how graceful and easy other’s may appear, my achievements and the achievements of my daughter are the essence of beauty; that though I looked hideous while running it, and even more frightful after running it, I had not only set a goal for my race, but had far surpassed even my own expectations. I had overcome my mental, emotional, and physical roadblocks. I had crossed the finish to look into the beautiful blue eyes of my daughter, who when asked about her own race exclaimed, “I won!”

By: Alyssa Coupe T2M2R guest blogger from Vermont
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Stephanie
9/28/2011

LOVED so much of this today. I too turn all shades of red and purple when I run, sweat-not glow, and am sure look like I'm in pain sometimes. I can't wear the cute matchy-match outfits. I LOVED your realization at the end and am often asked by my nephew and niece if I won. I can't wait to hear my daughter ask me that one day too when she's old enough to understand...

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9/28/2011

LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. Im an ugly runner in the land of beautiful people (Santa Barbara) and I cant say it isnt hard. What I can say is exactly what you wrote- the beauty is in the doing and in the strength and the power of the run. Im glad I started to see that before it became a roadblock to my true joy. Ugly runners unite (<;

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Jenn
9/29/2011

So very true...I always think that if someone can look as perfect as some people do while they are running, they should be going a whole lot faster than they are! :). However, I must also say that running next to you Alyssa with your much longer legs and nice long stride compared to my short little stride does make me feel like a turtle running next to a gazelle! :)

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Karen
10/2/2011

New to this blog but just had to comment! Every word you wrote rings true and I hate to admit that I have had very similar thoughts ( I like to think of them as moderately evil feelings, not completely evil). Anyway, I'm a divorced mom of four kids (16,13,and 10 year old twins). I also teach middle school. Running keeps me sane.

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