Fitness

My career as a semi-serious runner began shortly after moving to Baltimore and at the beginning of my third year of college. Always physically active (I played basketball throughout junior high, danced throughout high school, and during the first two years of college ice skated four to five times a week), I found myself three thousand miles away from home, at a new school and in a new town lacking the resources I had previously depended upon for physical exercise. Forming a relationship with Jody, an avid runner, was, therefore, propitious timing.

            When I first met Jody, and for months after meeting him, I was unaware that he was a runner, and an avid one at that. I knew that he swam in high school and college and that he coached two swim teams, a club team and his school’s team. I knew that he played tennis growing up. That he played golf and worked at a golf course one summer. I even knew that, as children, he, his brother, and their friends liked to play Evil Knievil by jumping bikes over each other while lying in the dirt. However, I did not know he ran. That is until I inquired as to his whereabouts after an almost two-week absence from work. He answered, “Ireland with my dad.” “Touring?” I asked. “Yes” he very nonchalantly answered, “but mainly went to run the Dublin Marathon.” I must admit that at that time I had no idea that a marathon entailed running 26.2 miles. My knowledge of marathon distance was limited to “many miles”, especially to run. I believe my jaw was slightly ajar in “ah” at the time. However, I must have appeared the gawking idiot as I pried further, only to find out that Dublin was not his first marathon. In fact, it was his third or fourth in addition to several triathlons.

As our relationship progressed from friendship to formal dating, Jody and I often talked about running and its physical benefits, but more importantly, we discussed the emotional and mental health benefits that he derived from hitting the pavement 5-6 times a week. It was these discussions, my increased lack of physical activity, and my desire to find a sport that did not require gyms, dance studios, or ice rinks that drove me to lace up my running shoes, which I had only ever run in once or twice, and to venture out for my first very painful, pathetically short run.

Confidence

            Not only were my lungs on fire, but I was developing a sharp cramp in my rib cage and I was only a quarter of a mile into what I hoped would be a two mile run. By a half a mile the cramp had worsened, my breathing had quickened, and my legs were beginning to feel gelatinous. However, I pushed on, hoping that I could get into a reasonable pace, take a deep breath, and, if necessary, complete the two miles I had hoped to accomplish without stopping to walk, even if it meant running at a snail’s pace. At three quarters of a mile, I stopped. The cramp had become so severe I could barely stand up straight. My legs were giving out on me and I was gasping for air. I was mad. Make that livid! My body was not doing what I wanted it to do and the confidence I felt ten steps into my run was now ground into the pavement by my sparkling new running shoes. I walked the three quarters of a mile back to my parent’s house feeling hopelessly defeated and questioning whether I would ever do this again.

My therapist once told me that anger is, in reality, a positive emotion. Unfortunately, individual’s negative actions because of anger have made it a taboo emotion. However, anger is a driving force, one that, when used positively can help achieve great things. Thank God, it is not in my nature to surrender gracefully. Otherwise, that first run would have been my last, depriving me of a life long sport, confidence booster, and coping mechanism.

The blind rage I felt at the end of that first run motivated me to venture out again, completing a mile; then again, increasing my runs by another half a mile, until I was running three miles regularly and working my way up to four miles, three to four times a week. During many of these runs, I felt like stopping, throwing my hands up in the air and saying, “Fuck it!” However, the thought of failing fueled my anger, forcing me to ignore the physical pain, silence the negative voices in my head, and focus on the finish.

Soon I was training for my first five-kilometer run, a small fundraiser that began and ended at Jody’s place of employment. Most novice runners would simply strive to finish the race, and if I were not such a perfectionist, I would have been smart to do so. However, being the perfectionist I am, I set two goals for myself. First, I vowed not to stop and walk and any point during the race. Second, I strove to complete the race in thirty minutes or less, a not unreasonable time considering the ten-minute mile average I had been maintaining.

The moment I committed to the race, my nerves were highjacked. The thought of stopping at any point during the race produced tears of frustration. The thought of finishing with more than thirty minutes on the clock made me want to scream. In order to calm my nerves and release some tension, I decided to run the course the race would take three or four times before race day.

Standing on the starting line early that misty Saturday morning, I thought I might vomit. My nerves were wound so tightly they would have twanged if plucked. When the gun went off signaling the start of the race, I stood stunned for a moment before I remembered that I must put one foot in front of the other. Heart pounding in my chest, I took off, remembering that three quarters of the race was a steady uphill climb, and pacing myself was the key to achieving both my goals. I plugged along steadily, watching a handful of individuals sprint by me, stop and walk, then sprint by me again a half a mile later. I trudged on trying to ignore the uphill climb by staring at my feet and the pavement in front of me. While reciting, “I think I can, I think I can” repetitively, I looked up briefly only to realize I had reached the summit. My heart leapt with joy. All I had to conquer was a downhill mile. I crossed the finish line in just over 29 minutes, having run the entire race.  

Driving home that morning, I felt accomplished and confident. I had not only set a goal and achieved it, but also overcome my own doubt and nerves. I had pushed myself both physically and mentally, running a distance that six months before would have been unthinkable. I had competed against myself, and I had won.

Serenity NOW!

            Most of my friends, and a few brave souls that have dared to ask, know that my daughter, Lucy, came into being through In Vitro Fertilization. Less well known is the severe post-partum depression I suffered approximately 5 months after her birth. Having a baby is a life altering experience. An experience that though joyful, is also physically, and emotionally, taxing. The coping mechanisms I had previously used in order to deal with stress, such as a couple of hours alone or the ability to have a good soul cleansing cry, ceased to be options with an infant whose every need I was responsible for meeting. Through intensive therapy, an hour every day when at my worst, I not only got to the heart of my anxiety and depression, but also worked on formulating a list of coping mechanisms that had worked in the past and could be fit into my daily routine with Lu. Conversation after conversation, list after list resulted in one reliable answer: exercise.

            When Lu was small, running was not the best option. We lived in Baltimore city. Pushing a running stroller in the street was unsafe. Pushing the running stroller over the pitted and pitched sidewalks was not only difficult but I feared would give Lu whiplash. Therefore, I turned to walking. The worse I felt, the more I walked. Most days I walked no less than 4 or 5 miles. My schedule soon revolved around my morning walks to Starbucks and when Lu was nine or ten months old, the playground. From 9am until noon, I walked. On the rare occasions Jody was not working, I snuck in a run. That walking, and those periodic runs, not only helped me lose what was left of my pregnancy weight, but also saved my sanity.

            In 2009, Jody and I moved to Vermont to create a better life for ourselves and for Lu. For the first time in the twelve years we had known each other, Jody would only be working one job. Shortly after our move, we began working on a schedule that allowed both of us the opportunity to exercise by alternating days or meeting up at the gym after Jody had had the opportunity to work out. I once again began running three to four times a week and lifting two or three times a week.

            In August of last year, I registered for a half marathon. I trained for ten weeks battling sickness and the inclement weather that a Vermont fall can produce. However, I also treasured those healthy days when my long runs consisted of brilliantly crisp, indescribably beautiful fall days through the Vermont countryside.

The day of the marathon brought with it freezing temperatures and snow. The route, described as moderately hilly by the coordinators, included a thousand foot climb. Despite these factors, I crossed the finish line a mere four minutes shy of my two-hour goal and surprisingly at peace with my “failure”.

            Motherhood, and life, remains as challenging as it did three years ago. The challenges just change with each passing day. The crushing depression I suffered from three years ago, periodically tries to rear its ugly head. However, it is on those bad days that I now lace up my running shoes, plug into my iPod, and bask in the knowledge that the next thirty minutes to an hour will bring me solitude, clarity, and an increasing sense of serenity.

By: Alyssa Coupe T2M2R guest blogger from Vermont

             

Liz
9/21/2011

Great post! Thanks for sharing!

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Stephanie
9/21/2011

Thanks for writing this week. Nice to "meet" you! Running in Baltimore City would be challenging with a stroller, geesh.
My husband loves to run and workout too (maybe more than me) so like you we juggle to fit both of our workouts in.


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Great piece of writing, I really liked the way you highlighted some really important and significant points. Thanks so much, I appreciate your work.

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I think that fitness, confidence and serenity affect the career. Your post regarding this topic is very informative. Thanks for the post.

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