This Changes Everything

The IF Experiment

First, a brief history. I’ve been following Weight Watchers (now WW) plans since I was 25 years old. I lost 70 pounds between 2005 and 2008, then regained it all, plus some. In 2014, at 246 pounds, I started over, and over the next 3 years, I lost a whopping 90 pounds. I managed to maintain that for a year, but the weight started to come back on in the fall of 2018. By January of 2020, I was back in the 200s. It seemed like an endless, vicious cycle of failure, and I felt like I would never get to my weight goal!

In the summer of 2020, a friend suggested I research intermittent fasting. At first, I balked at the idea of skipping meals. Then, after reading about the Lean Gains method (16-hour fasts, 8 hours eating), I decided to try it. After all, if people do it to gain muscle, hey, it’s worth a shot. For 2 weeks in July, I would eat at 7am and stop at 5pm. I didn’t get hungry…in fact, I felt great!

Why I stopped, I don’t remember. In September, I picked up one of those $2 women’s magazines at the grocery store–you know, the ones that tout the latest weight-loss craze on the cover. When I got it home, lo and behold, the cover story was about intermittent fasting! The author recommended a book called Fast, Feast, Repeat by Gin Stephens, so I ordered it from Amazon.

If you’re curious about the IF lifestyle, I highly recommend reading this book! The author is a former elementary school teacher, who breaks down a lot of scientific jargon into layman’s terms, wading through tons of evidence of how IF works wonders for your body. Needless to say, a lightbulb went on when she explained how we can lose touch with our bodies’ hunger signals if our hunger hormones are out of whack.

I had been following WW’s green plan all summer, and I’d had both good and bad weeks. I was bingeing on occasion, but not from anything emotional. I was just so hungry, and I couldn’t stop eating junk food, even though I knew it was wrong. It just tasted SO GOOD!

So, as I started reading Fast, Feast, Repeat, I renewed my commitment to the IF lifestyle AND simultaneously tracking my WW Points. My new plan was called WWIF. Or maybe it’s called TREWW (Time Restricted Eating Weight Watchers).

Anyway, I’ve been following WWIF for over a month now. I have lost 13 pounds, my sugar cravings are GONE, my desire to binge is GONE, and I feel like I’m more in tune with my body’s hunger and fullness signals than ever!

Last Friday, I thought I’d treat myself to a pizza from our local Weis. A whole pepperoni pizza, I figured, would last me the whole weekend…and it DID! When I brought it home, I ate ONE slice for lunch, and I was satisfied! Before IF, I’d just keep going until I was miserably stuffed (and I wouldn’t track the Points either).

Of course, with such exciting results, I’ve been more than happy to share my IF experience with, well, everyone! However, it seems most people have the same initial reaction as I had. They don’t think they can go X amount of time without eating or drinking something other than water, black coffee or unsweetened tea. I get it! I had to give up chewing gum and drinking zero-calorie flavored water during my fasting hours.

We’ve been convinced for years that our bodies will go into “starvation mode” if we don’t eat every few hours. Actually, it’s when we STOP eating that our bodies burn FAT! I learned that when our bodies release insulin as we’re eating, it stops burning fat.

Oh yeah, and the Bible mentions fasting (a lot), so if God designed it, well, it’s got to be good for us, right? Our bodies are designed to withstand periods when food is less plentiful. We didn’t always have the conveniences we have today (thank you, farmers!). Humans used to have to physically hunt and gather their food. Sometimes, there wasn’t enough, but their bodies provided energy through fat to keep them going another day to hunt and gather some more.

Not a Christian? No problem! All the other major religions support fasting too.

(Getting off soapbox)

Stay tuned as I continue on my WWIF journey!

Rocks and Roles (and Broken Soles)

I love adventure. My favorite people are the ones who will invite me on their adventures…or humor me as I drag them along. With COVID, I haven’t been able to get out to run races, so I thought a nice substitute would be to go explore some of the local state parks. My initial weekend plan would have included a solo drive up to Rickett’s Glen to do some kayaking in the lake, and maybe some light hiking.

Friday, I got a text from my friend Sarah, who invited me on a trek through R.B. Winter State park, which is literally just down the road from her house. She had to complete a virtual half marathon, and I jumped at the chance. I had done plenty of long road races, and a couple tricky trail trots, so I thought, “How hard could hiking a half be?” We would go on Sunday, which would give me a day to prepare.

Do you know what I love even MORE than adventure? Music! And it just so happened that Saturday night was Switchfoot’s live stream of the Fantastic NOT Traveling Music Show. So in between songs, I was scavenging for hiking supplies, and trying to make mental notes of things I shouldn’t forget–like RunGoo, the anti-blister cream I use for long runs.

Also, I will note that I am trying desperately not to punctuate this blog post with foot and rock puns. Because there are a lot of them.

Now, ideally, before a half or a full marathon, I would be carbed-up and well rested. But I had been following a new 16/8 intermittent fasting plan for a week, and stopped eating at 4 pm on Saturday. Plus, I was up until after 10 pm watching the concert, which normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but the one side-effect I’ve had from fasting is a crazy alertness. So I’m laying in bed at 11 still awake, deep in thought.

During the concert, Jon was talking about writing songs from difficult personal experiences (which, funny, is how I end up writing music as well). This got me thinking about my song Through It All, which was written back in the early 2000’s for my family. My dad had just received the news that my Uncle Garry was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Reflecting back on my own battle with CIDP, I wrote Through It All for them.

So I’m laying there thinking about the lyrics to the second verse of Through It All:

The winding road is rough ahead

The path is rocky where your feet must tread

But don’t lose hope, you’ll make it through

‘Cause He’ll be by your side in all you do

Where the heck did I get THAT analogy? I mean, battling a life-threatening illness must be like a winding road with a rocky path, I’m assuming? Have I ever even encountered a rocky path? Is it as crippling as CIDP, or as treacherous a road as cancer? Oh well, I guess it makes sense. I mean, this song is beloved by tens of people and nobody’s questioned the lyrics.

Well, I will tell you that one curse of being a songwriter is that your lyrics can come back to haunt you. Mine did around 10:30 am Sunday morning.

We started our hike on a fairly neat trail, similar to what I had been accustomed to with running the Humdinger races outside Danville. I thought, “Oh good, I can handle 13 miles of this… a few rocks here, a few roots there.” Not bad at all. I was definitely glad I had worn my trail running shoes, though.

As we started down the second trail though, it was clear this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. The path suddenly got VERY rocky. Rocks in the path going both uphill and downhill. I didn’t recall ever hiking a trail like this before, and I got scared. Of course, I wasn’t going to admit how terrified I was to Sarah, because she was counting on me to finish this course, in a given time. If I was mentally and physically tough enough to finish two marathons, I could surely do this!

And then, those lyrics came to mind again…

The winding road is rough ahead

The path is rocky where your feet must tread

But don’t lose hope, you’ll make it through

‘Cause He’ll be by your side in all you do

Rocky paths can be very scary to someone with…uh…not the greatest balance…who was once paralyzed. I am probably the WORST yogi to ever attempt the tree pose, as my yoga instructor would probably tell you. So as we’re going along, I’m making all kinds of delightful noises as I try to maintain some semblance of balance over these unstable rocks. Did you know that rocks…rock? Back and forth when you step on them? Yeah, they like to do that.

 I am also alternating between praying for protection, and asking God why He had to create so many of these stupid shifting sedimentary statues. And moss. Although, in the proper place, moss makes a nice, cushy carpeting. And funny thing…I actually COLLECT rocks as a hobby!

Instead of enjoying this beautiful day, with the gorgeous scenery, flitting butterflies and melodic birdcalls, I am watching every single step my feet take (as I get whacked in the face several times with low-hanging branches). My body and mind are in full agreement that I’m not going to be able to hack 13 miles of this terrain. You know how I said I couldn’t get to sleep the night before? I was running on about 3 hours of sleep, plus only the fuel from a Zipfizz and a peanut butter waffle for breakfast. My stomach was churning because of the heat, so it was hard to take in nourishment on the trail.

Fortunately, Sarah was a good sport, and we turned around, doing about 8 miles in total. I was able to find a very nice walking stick, which helped immensely during the remainder of the hike.

My souvenirs from this adventure include 3 pictures, a rock (which I will make into a very fitting “medal”), blisters on the entire bottom of my left big toe, and on the outer sides of both heels, one mosquito bite and VERY sore legs. Oh, and a dead tick (thank you DEET!). But best of all, I have the memories of the experience, and the proof that rocky roads are tougher than the ice cream flavor name would have you believe. There is no marshmallow or almonds.

As difficult as that hike was for me, I’m glad I did it. After all, whether the rocks in the road are figurative or literal, my life has proven that God doesn’t forsake those with broken souls, or SOLES (I was dying to get a foot pun in here, people!). Sometimes, we human beings make stupid choices, and take ourselves down paths that our Maker wouldn’t have chosen for us. I guess that’s why free will is so important. Our mistakes might break us, but we can learn from them, and go on to write songs, or blog posts to encourage others on their own journeys (my role, if you will).

And since I can apparently write things into being with my lyrics, my next song will be about exploring the Great Barrier Reef (#1 on my bucket list).

The Thrill of the Chase

Hi! I’m Jackie, and I like to chase things. And people. But not cars. I’m not a dog…although I’ve been known to reward myself with food.

I’ve spent the majority of my running career as a back-of-the-pack or sometimes a mid-pack runner. The two whole minutes I spent at the front of the group that one 5K…yeah, that sucked. I have a signed agreement with my mitochondria that it will never happen again.

When you’re in the middle or back of a group of runners, you’re always chasing somebody. More often than not, there’s another woman that I will chase, then pass. She’ll eventually pass me, and the cycle will continue until the finish line. If I perceive her to be in my age bracket, I will push harder to beat her. You never know when there could be a medal on the line!

Sometimes I feel like Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Road Runner. This past Saturday, I decided to meet two friends at the park for a short run for me…and a cooldown for them. After getting there early, I decided to forego our previously arranged meeting spot and meet them a little further out. The plan backfired when they didn’t see me coming, and I had to chase them all the way back to the parking lot, while shouting and trying to get their attention-to no avail. I even tried to flag down a cyclist who passed me, but my cries for help fell on deaf ears. She didn’t even look back! I did eventually catch up with my friends, who made sure I returned to my car in one piece.

Of course, being an INFJ “ideal seeker” means that chasing things isn’t just limited to the scope of my athletic pursuits. I’ve always chased one ambition or another since I was little. Whether it was being a professional seashell enthusiast/marine biology nerd or learning a new instrument, I naturally pushed myself toward both attainable and seemingly unattainable goals.

Chasing dreams is generally a good thing, because it gives you hope, and passion, and something to wake up for every day. Chasing people, on the other hand, is really bad for your morale. Not physically, like you’re trying to catch them running, but by comparing yourself to a person, or trying to get them to like you. Maybe even love you.

I spent a year and a half in high school trying to get a guy to like me. Even though I was shy, I would try to win him over with talent, wit and humor. At the end of our senior year, I even asked him to our prom with a note in his locker. He never responded. Sadly, my low morale from this experience carried over into college and beyond, with rejection after rejection. Guy friends never wanted to be more than friends. Eventually, I just gave up the pursuit, because there were dreams to chase, and those were entirely up to me.

Comparing yourself to other people is also a bad idea. Sadly, some spend a lifetime chasing a “perfect” body or power or position. We are all created as unique beings, with one-of-a-kind stories, tragedies and triumphs! I believe those stories are meant to help others through their tough times, if we are willing to share them.

So in conclusion, the people that love you for who you are, that are meant to be in your life, and that encourage you–they are the ones that matter.

But if they’re runners, and they can run faster than you, feel free to chase them, because you’ll only get better at running. And if you happen to know any single, male, 40-ish runners out there…I could use some training!

Twenty-six

I’ve never really been a fan of math, but there is something about patterns of numbers in life that intrigues me…

Today is June 26, 2020.

I was born on April 26th.

There are 26 miles in a marathon (okay 26.2, but I’m rounding here).

Twenty-six years ago today, I was paralyzed and fighting for my life.

I can’t believe it’s been twenty-six years. Sometimes, it feels like yesterday. Every June, I’m transported back in time to the summer of 1994, when my world changed forever. The warmth and scent of the summer air and the rustle of the breeze through the leaves gives me pause to reflect. I think of the music cassettes I played in my Walkman as I lay in the hospital bed–the songs of hope that carried me through. I remember the people who came to visit me there…my friends, my cousin Shawn, my neighbor Sloane who brought me potato chips. It’s amazing how the positive memories drown out all the fear and pain I was experiencing at the same time.

Most of the time, I look back and I’m grateful of how far I’ve come since then. I praise the Lord for my health, my fitness, and the determination to pursue my dreams. There was a time I couldn’t walk 26 steps, and I could’ve never imagined being able to go 26 miles!

However, I am still human. My mind tends to question, like all others who have been dealt a major illness or some kind of tragedy in their lives…

Why did this happen to me?

What would have been the outcome if I never had CIDP?

Was God angry with me to have been cursed with such an illness?

Could this have been prevented in some way?

I try to turn off the inner dialogue and just accept my fate. After all, my testimony is who I AM. It’s why I RUN. It’s why I CAN run! If I never would have battled CIDP, I would be active, sure, but I probably wouldn’t have a reason to run.

But there is always a green-eyed monster lurking in the shadows of my psyche. Pointing out my peers who not only have their health, but a partner, children, and other things that the effects of my illness have kept from me. The moments I spend not being grateful, I grow angry at the world, and even angry at God. Angry at the drugs that have rendered my body unworthy of affection. Angry at the males of the human population for not giving me a chance. Angry at the “Christian” couples who crowded me out of their social circles because I am single and childless. Angry at myself for falling into depression and apathy.

On the other side of the hope and joy that propels me forward is a toxic root of bitterness fed by the hurt and anger of both my past and present condition. I refuse to let the dark side win.

So, I lace up my Sauconys and train for my third 26.2…which will either be in November, or maybe postponed until next April. Running makes me feel strong and capable of great things. Running holds back the monster inside that threatens to stifle my hope, my joy. It changes my inner dialogue to one of creativity, purpose and victory. Running gives me power to believe in myself.

High Hopes

I had high hopes for my 40th year on the planet.

Back in December 2019, I was excited about 2020’s potential. I was about to take my FIRST EVER airplane trip to my FIRST TIME at Disney World. Exciting, right? Plus, I actually couldn’t wait to turn 40 in April, because I’d be running my third marathon on my birthday.

But then, over Christmas vacation, I acquired a sinus infection that held me captive for an entire month. I was supposed to be actively training and trying to lose a few pounds in January. Instead, I was forced to rest, and resigned to my bad bingeing habits.

Once my body healed in February, I was able to do the four SRRC races in Selinsgrove, which led up to the big Disney trip, where I did the Disney Princess 5K. My hope finally gained some momentum, and as I inched closer to the April 26th marathon, I thought I might have a chance at finishing, despite my horrendous lack of training.

I came back from Disney, and two weeks later, while indulging in some Caramel Creams, one of my molars (complete with porcelain crown and post) decided it couldn’t tolerate my terrible diet choices any more. I felt it break, so I reached in and pulled it out. Don’t worry, I’m not in pain, but I’ll probably eventually have to get the rest of it removed. I just had to relearn how to chew.

Despite that, I was thankful for my health. When I went to Disney, there was talk of COVID-19. There was some, but not a lot of concern. We all knew about China, but the threat wasn’t real in the US. Yet.

Exactly a month later, I am isolated in my apartment, thanks to COVID-19. I am working from home, but I get to see my colleagues on Skype every day. I have plenty of healthy food, fresh water, and a tank of guppies to keep me company. Fortunately, I can still get out for a run and enjoy some of that March sunshine. So yeah, I have a lot to be thankful for…

But I’m still a little resentful.

A few days before the quarantine started, I learned that the New Jersey Marathon had been postponed until November. I was sad, but grateful that I’d have more time to train.

Despite the cancellation, I still had high hopes that the West Branch Chorale concert would be happening (which I would have been missing due to the race). Then, I got the word that there would be no more Chorale this season (our 50th Anniversary season too)! The concerts were cancelled altogether. We were working on some absolutely beautiful music and rehearsals were going very well. Plus, singing with the Chorale was about the only musical thing I had left besides my floundering solo career. Okay, practically nonexistent solo career.

So much for my epic 40th birthday.

Now, I could be sitting here wallowing in self-pity, as I’m sure a lot of you may be tempted to do. After all, it seems our lives have been put on hold. Some, like me, are blessed to be able to work from home. Others have lost their jobs entirely and don’t know how they’re going to face the future. Those of us who can still work should count ourselves fortunate, even if we can’t do the social activities that keep us all sane. Or even if we can’t find bananas at the local supermarket.

Amidst the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19, I have peace and hope. I know that God is still in control of all of this chaos. Even if I never get to run another race or perform another concert, or even celebrate turning 40 with family and friends, I can rest assured that He will make something good out of this situation.

Keep jogging!

Jackie Joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Joy

Photo on 12-21-18 at 2.02 PM

This week, the iTunes app on my Mac at work decided to stop working. Since it’s the week before Christmas, I’d say this is unfortunate timing. All my Christmas music is either on iTunes or on CD. Desperate for some classic Smitty Christmas, I went to Walmart and found a cheap personal CD player, which only has two volume settings–“Amoeba Burp” and “Rocket Launch.” Two days later, I conceded and now I’m listening to dcTalk’s Jesus Freak.

It’s funny how much music can have an impact on your memory. Jesus Freak brings me back to 1995, which was a very difficult year for me. My best friend had just told me she no longer wanted to be friends, I was on heavy doses of Prednisone, and I was extremely depressed. The Prednisone gave me terrible heartburn, and made me gain a lot of weight very quickly.

But something good happened in all of that heartache. That year, I discovered my favorite artistic medium: colored pencils. I still remember the project I was working on, and how I learned to do shading. I finally felt that I was progressing as a young artist.

Then came Christmas. What I really wanted was a Yamaha keyboard with my favorite voice “bell strings”. Instead, my parents completely blew my brother and I out of the water with a brand new Mac Performa computer. These were the days before the Internet was widely available, but we didn’t care. I loved playing with the creative software, making these wonderful new things called “gradients.” I had no clue what graphic design was back then, and I had no idea that I was setting myself up for a productive career.

Amidst all of that sorrow, art had given me joy. It still does! And even though I’m not famous or wealthy, I can say I’m a published colored pencil illustrator and you’ll see one of my advertising graphic designs this month in Rolling Stone.

Although I love my job as a graphic designer, it’s not always easy. In fact it can be very stressful. The past two months, I’ve been watching my joy and my energy slowly slip away. A cold-turned-sinus-infection knocked me out of my routine in October. I stopped going to the gym every day. I started binge eating again. I lost my creative desire. Somehow, Jackie Joy lost her joy.

It’s four days until Christmas and pouring down rain. My family is mourning the sudden passing of my Aunt this past Tuesday. Instead of a Christmas party this weekend, we’re going to a funeral. At this point, I don’t really wish to be around anyone, since I physically feel miserable from gaining a lot of weight. Nothing fits, and I’m not fit at the moment. I have cookies to bake, Chex mix to make, cards to send and presents to wrap. Not to mention the things I wanted to make for people but just didn’t have the enthusiasm I normally have this time of year.

It would be easy at this point to stay in bed…to hide my remining light under a bushel. Or fuzzy blanket. Bushels aren’t very comfortable to sleep under.

It is hard to be a testimony when you’re tested. It is hard to be a beacon of light when your lightbulbs are fading and the rains of life are eroding your hope. What do you do when you can’t find joy in the places it once resided?

So sitting here listening to Jesus Freak, I’m thinking about how far I’ve come since the 15-year-old me sat coloring while playing said album on cassette tape. I should be grateful…

I am healthy! Not only that, but a marathoner and triathlete!

I have a 16-year career in graphic design.

I have amazing family and friends!

I did finally get that keyboard. And a stage piano. And a synthesizer.

I’ve recorded two albums, and written a lot of songs, even though I never “made it big”

And the more you realize the blessings in your life, and are grateful for them, it’s easy to find joy in the little things…

Painting cats and dogs with my best friend at her kitchen table.

The laughter of my nephew, Andy, as I spin him on his dad’s desk chair.

The 60º air and sunshine that briefly followed today’s pouring rain.

A complement from a former coworker who’s inspired by my endeavors.

A fond Christmas memory from my childhood.

Everyone has blessings in their life to be grateful for, even in the midst of pain and sorrow. If you’re going through a hard time, I pray that you’ll find a renewed sense of joy this Christmas.

I Dare Me To Move

My Fitbit buzzes at 4:45 am. Still asleep, I wonder why my arm is vibrating.

Oh yeah…that’s right. It’s Monday.

Yay.

Sniffle.

Let’s just say I was a lot more enthusiastic about my morning treadmill time two weeks ago when September started. I figured the only way my finish times were going to improve was if I started running daily instead of two or three days a week. This meant getting to the Y before work every weekday…which didn’t bother me. I actually enjoy working out first thing in the morning, since my body is tuned to race early anyway.

However, as the month progressed, and the weather remained crappy, my excitement waned. Fall is normally prime racing season, but races are being postponed and cancelled due to flooding. Dry weekends are very few, and it’s still really humid. It does make me glad I have no long-distance races scheduled, because the heat and humidity can be draining.

By Wednesday of the second week of my treadmill streak, I needed a change of scenery. It wasn’t raining yet, so I ran around the Y parking lot and did a couple fartleks. I felt pretty good…until that afternoon.

Despite my daily vitamin regimen, my immune system decided to let a rhinovirus breach the perimeter. By lunchtime, my sinuses were aching and my throat was sore. After a quick Target run for tissues, Zicam and cough drops, I went home to sleep it off.

Thursday morning, I knew I wasn’t going to run. Or walk. But I got up, slogged through my work, then returned to bed. I also learned that the 5K I had been looking forward to next weekend, which had been postponed from August, was now cancelled due to flooding. Ugh. That was the only race I had signed up for all month!

After a full, busy day on Friday, I was grateful for a rest on Saturday. I popped in some frozen French bread pizza and watched a marathon of Star Wars prequels…

Yes, I had a fever…why do you ask?

C’mon…those movies aren’t THAT bad…

Anyway…

Sunday, I felt much better, so I decided that I could safely return to the treadmill Monday morning. I could walk a few miles even if I wasn’t feeling well enough to run. Either way, I was determined to return to my pre-cold fitness!

Which brings us to 4:45 am, Monday morning. My Lazy Side wants to argue that I didn’t really sleep well, which is a rarity for me. I think the caffeinated lemonade had something to do with that. I could sleep in for an hour and a half and continue recovering from my cold. Not a bad idea…

Me: But then there’s that goal I have to run a 5K in under 30 minutes…this year…

Lazy Me: But then again, this weekend’s race is cancelled and I don’t have anything scheduled until October.

Me: You’re already awake. And there’s burnt leftover pancakes and turkey bacon for breakfast!

Lazy Me: Trail mix.

Me: Deal!

I pack my lunch and work clothes, dress for the gym, grab some trail mix and head out around 6 am. As I stop to fill my water jug at the grocery store across the street, a pickup truck obnoxiously peels out of the parking lot. I’m not a big fan of rude truck drivers. I drive off as the sky shows just a faint glimmer of sunrise, and as I pray for the day ahead, my agitation ceases.

I turn on the radio. My local Christian radio station, which plays a Switchfoot song about once a year, was in the middle of Dare You To Move. I pull up to the YMCA with the feeling that it’s going to be a good day.

I walked and jogged 3 and a half miles on the treadmill.

Tomorrow, I should be able to run faster and further.

 

Reflections from a Snow Puddle on the Isle of Que

Bad Decision Number One was when I opted to try new “running” gel insoles in my ASICS on race day. I thought to myself, “It’s ONLY two and a half miles…what’s the WORST that could happen?”

Bad Decisions Two through Four? A sub-par warmup, an off-kilter diet, and an entire week free of training thanks to Mother Nature’s wintry fury. I guess that last one is still my fault anyway.

Oh, and starting out too fast. That’s Number Five.

All those bad choices added up to a perfect storm of misery and regret on this foggy February Sunday afternoon. Humidity aside, it was a good day for a race along the river in Selinsgrove. Turns out the Isle of Que is a nice spot for a run. I, however, was not enjoying myself as much as usual during this race. The aforementioned insoles which were supposed to prevent injuries were actually giving me shin splints in my left leg. Plus, the darned things were cramping my toes, leading to even more pain. I struggled to keep a decent pace as I dodged the snow puddles…until I failed to sidestep a deeper puddle and drenched my shoe.

Thus ended my quest for a good finish time.

I slowed to a walk, internally scolding myself for such a lousy performance. My dejected soul reflected in the puddles of melted snow. If I couldn’t run a pitiful two point five, how was I going to complete my second marathon in three weeks? I was actually supposed to run this course twice, to make a five miler, just for training purposes. At this point, I really didn’t feel like doing it again.

The others made sure I did it again.

During the second lap, I relaxed and my leg started to feel better. I completed the five miles, despite my less-than-stellar performance, and drove home satisfied.

The next day, I started my morning on the treadmill at the Y, pounding out another three miles. I have a favorite treadmill across from a window, where I can pretend I’m trying to reach the mountain ahead of me. It’s still dark outside, so I can see my reflection in the window–and the reflection of the girl on the treadmill behind me. The latter reminds me of where I started, and my own reflection reminds me of how far I’ve come. I can’t go back to the 240-pound, depressed, lethargic person I was before.

Every day, I decide whether I’d rather be more like the old me, or the new me. Would I rather sleep until 6:30, or be at the gym at 6:30? Would I rather eat whatever I wanted, or eat what benefits my body? The new me takes effort. It takes planning. Is it worth the work to feel great? Sure…but it isn’t always easy. Some days, it’s just easier to hit the snooze button and grab a cookie. Or ten.

Other days, it takes a puddle to get you back on track.

IsleofQue

Photo by Mary Beth Pace looking out at the Susquehanna River from the Isle of Que.

My first marathon

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It was somewhere between mile 25 and 26. The Third Street sidewalk decided that my body needed a break…or at least a few scratches and bruises. Before I knew what hit me, I was face-down and slightly stunned.

As I lay there, my mind drifted back to a dreary day in June 1994. My mom and I had pulled up to my grandparents’ house, where she and my Pop were attempting to pull my paralyzed body out of our car. Pop didn’t realize how heavy my dead weight was, and I fell to the gravel, badly skinning my knees. I could barely walk, and I definitely couldn’t get up from the ground on my own. Later that day, I was admitted to the hospital by my neurologist to begin treatment for what was being diagnosed as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

My 14-year-old self probably wouldn’t have believed you if you told me my 37-year-old self would be running my first marathon. Actually, I’m not sure my present self could believe it either. A few months back, I blogged about The M Word, where I told you all that I intended on running the first Williamsport Marathon. Then, summer happened, and even though I was running frequently, my training was more triathlon-focused than long-distance running. Maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal if I chickened out, or maybe just did the half marathon instead.

Therefore, I waited to register. I also didn’t do any long-distance runs to prepare myself in case I decided to go for it.

As September rolled around, I was finally persuaded to train, with what little time I had left, to run the full 26.2 miles. I knew I could at least make it 13.1 of those miles, so I stood a chance at finishing the race. Even if I was walking, limping or crawling, I was determined to finish.

October 8th dawned with heat, humidity and rain. Fortunately, by race time, the rain had stopped, and I was comfortable in my tank and shorts. I was excited, but nervous, of course, because this would be the longest distance I’d ever attempted.

In the first ten miles or so, I learned that the water stations were few and far between. They were also not well-stocked–even with water. There was a total of one porta-potty on the entire course. I also discovered that there were no mile markers, which would have helped greatly while running such a long distance. Not to mention that the volunteers abandoned their posts after a certain point. At least they couldn’t yell at us for drinking right out of the gallon water jugs because the small bottles and cups were all gone. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

After a few hours had passed, there were no bystanders cheering us on. Traffic was open, which meant traversing some less-than-well-maintained sidewalks in South Side. As I lagged behind at my 13-minute mile pace, I started to get disheartened. What if they had torn down the finish line before I could get there? What if nobody was there at the finish at all?

My body was actually holding up very well, aside from my left instep, which made me take walk breaks more frequently. I don’t remember if I was walking or running when I tripped and fell.

There I lay on the sidewalk, bruises appearing on my knee, shoulder, arm and hands. I brushed the fine gravel from the scratches on my hand, knee and shoulder. At this point, I considered giving up. Nobody would probably be at the finish anyway. I could just lay there and admit defeat.

Then, I remembered why I was doing this–for the 14-year-old who couldn’t get up.

I rose to my feet, got my bearings, and with the help of a nearby crossing guard, made it to the intersection, and on to the final half mile of the course.

When I saw the finish line, it was hard to hold back the tears. It wasn’t the fanfare finish I’d dreamed of, with only two people, both volunteers, there to welcome me. I wasn’t choked up for the lack of people…it was the fact that there WERE people at all, waiting for me. I was overwhelmed at what I had just accomplished.

I am a marathoner.

Dark Horses

“I made my mistakes

I’ve seen my heart cave in

I got my scars

I’ve been to hell and back again

Born for the blue skies

We’ll survive the rain

Born for the sunrise

We’ll survive the pain”

I’m fighting back tears as I round one of the final corners of the run segment. Today, the words to one of my favorite Switchfoot songs seem especially poignant. After making a costly mistake on the bike, I was frustrated, and almost angry with myself…but I wasn’t giving up.

It’s not hard to jump out of bed at 5 am on the day of my favorite race of the year…the Lewisburg Sprint Triathlon. In fact, I think I anticipate it more than Christmas. After months of training and attempting to lose more weight, I am ready to put my body to the ultimate test. Or am I?

A little over a week ago, I was wading out into the Atlantic with a $5 piece of foam, hoping to catch a wave back to shore. The anticipation of the tri was on my mind, but I was confident that I could do better than ever this year. If I could conquer my fear of waves, I could beat the endless sea of hilly roads outside Lewisburg. Maybe I could even run the 5K distance without the dreaded “Tri Leg” that seems to seize my quads every time I do a tri.

Or, maybe I’d come home from vacation with a cold.

When I awoke with a sore throat on Monday, I knew I was in trouble. I started taking zinc tablets with the hope that they’d banish the virus from my system within a day or two. How can I possibly have a cold on the eve of my big race? It just wasn’t fair.

Tuesday was awful. I took the day off work, and couldn’t really sleep because I couldn’t breathe.

Wednesday, I returned to work, armed with tissues and cough drops. By the end of the day, my voice was almost gone. My prospects for Saturday were not looking promising.

Wednesday night, I was finally able to sleep, and I felt quite a bit better by Thursday.

By Saturday, my energy had returned, my symptoms were almost cleared up, and I was prepared to race. My body wasn’t at 100%, but I had to give it my best tri (pun intended).

As I set up my transition area, I noticed several mountain bikes on the rack next to me. There were also in the field of competitors, a handful of women that looked heavier than I was when I did my first tri in 2015. I knew that those who had to carry extra bike weight or body weight were in for a challenge, but I was glad to see them. If I could do it, so could they.

But today, I was no longer the novice. I had done this race twice before, and now looked better-equipped with a road bike, tri suit, and lighter body. Granted, I still felt slightly intimidated looking at the pros with their tri bikes and Ironman stickers in their cars. “We all have to start somewhere,” I reminded myself.

Finally, the race started. I had to wait quite a while to get in the water, and once I did, I felt like my strength wasn’t where it should be. I told the girls behind me to go ahead and pass, because I just couldn’t hold my pace.

The bike got off to a less-than-perfect start. I had to chuck my gloves to the side of the course because I didn’t put them on before mounting my bike. Oh well…my hands would be fine.

Then, the bite valve on my CamelBak took an early leave of absence, spilling water down my legs into my socks and bike shoes. Wet feet. No water. Not cool.

All the while, I’m psyching myself up for “The Hill From Hell,” which I know is coming up toward the end of the course. Last year, I was unable to climb it with my Cannondale hybrid. Would this be the year I crushed the hill?

The hill never came.

I thought the guy told me to go straight, when I should have turned. There were two men at that intersection, and neither one yelled after me to turn around. I pedaled for quite a while before I realized I was lost. The road markings were nowhere to be found, and the intersections weren’t manned.

Trying to keep my composure, I called the race director’s number, and told her where I was. I then tried to backtrack, and got lost yet again when I followed another cyclist who, as it turned out, was not in the race. Flustered, I called the race director back and told her my new location. This time, she sent a volunteer for me to follow back to town.

Somehow, my wrong turns had avoided “The Hill From Hell” altogether.

I was very happy to return to the transition area, where I quickly changed shoes for the run. My time would be lousy, but I had to finish the race…even if I was last.

When I did my first tri, my goal was to finish. I thought of myself as the “dark horse” that wasn’t expected to complete all three events. Ever since, my goal has been to beat my previous time…to get better each year. When that doesn’t happen, it’s a pretty crushing feeling.

Those last couple blocks, I had to play that song again…

“We’re singing 

Hey, you can’t count us out

We’ve been running up against the crowd

Yeah, we are the dark horses

We’re singing

Hey, it’s not over now

We’ve been down but we’ve never been out

Yeah, we are the dark horses”

And as I sprinted toward the finish line, with my parents there cheering me on, I felt as if I had beaten the odds once again.

And I will continue to do so, as long as God gives me strength.