Something Wild.

Something Wild. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately.

Something Wild is actually a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately. The lyrics inspire me, the melody awakens me, and the song makes me realize how much I’ve grown. Training for my 57 mile run is changing me. The long training runs give me time to look at myself in retrospect, to look at the broken path I’ve run down, and realize how I built the road before me with those pieces.

You had your maps drawn
You had other plans to hang your hopes on
Every road they let you down felt so wrong
So you found another way

Running helps define who I am and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

My running career has been anything but simple. It’s been a rollercoaster ride. A hike with so many peaks and valleys I’ve lost count of the times I’ve stood triumphantly at the summit and felt lost in the low depressions, surrounded by seemingly unclimbable hills and towering pines. But still I run, blindly following where my feet guide me next.

Running brings peace and calmness to my life. When I’ve struggled in my personal life and/or professional life, running is what helped me disconnect from the madness. There are times where I felt so lost, I wasn’t sure if the path I was traveling down was the right one. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes the road cracked and crumbled beneath my feet. Sometimes I came to a dead end and couldn’t imagine turning around and going back down the twisted way I’d already stumbled through. But in these times I could always clear my mind with a run through the woods. And when I was injured, I visualized myself being back out there – breathing in and out, a methodical rhythm, one foot softly landing before the other across a leaf-strewn path.

And I found another way.

You’ve got a big heart
The way you see the world
It got you this far
You might have some bruises
And a few scars
But you know you’re gonna be okay

For as long as I can remember, I cared most about everyone but myself. Whether it was a boy, friend, family or boss, I was terrified of disappointing anyone in my life. I always put myself last in hopes it would mean I would never lose those people in my life. It worked for a little awhile, until the stress and anxiety caused me to disintegrate. Other than family, I lost those people anyways. It wasn’t until recently, as I was struggling to find my diagnosis with lyme, did I learn it’s okay to put myself first and take care of the pain I felt.

I do have many bruises and scars, and it’s okay. I used to be embarrassed of who I used to be and the things I did. By no means am I proud of myself in some of those instances, but I no longer feel the urgency to keep the “old me” locked away and secret, in fear of being judged. I don’t care if you judge me or see me in a different light. I don’t care if you know I struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder – I’ll put it out there bluntly for you because those things don’t define who I am anymore. They never did (as much as I thought so in the moment). It took me a really long time to realize this, and even though it’s been many years, I don’t think I could understand until I was truly okay.

And even though you’re scared
You’re stronger than you know

I’m not ashamed of the old me. The old me is one of the strongest people I know.

And I’ve only gotten stronger.

If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding
Caught in all, the stars are hiding
That’s when something wild calls you home, home
If you face the fear that keeps you frozen
Chase the sky into the ocean
That’s when something wild calls you home, home

Nature heals. And running allows me to experience the world in such unique fashion. There is an orchestral interlude during Something Wild where the violinist plays a folksy melody reminding me specifically of running through Ireland’s green countryside with my dad and Erin. We headed out early in the morning from our rental cottage near the sea, the salty air filling our lungs and hearts. The narrow roads were lined with large archaic-looking stones, and we hopped through them, onto a strait through the receded bay where herds of sheep grazed lazily, thinking nothing of the rising tide to come later. I don’t remember the conversations had (and it’s possible we ran mostly in silence, taking in the beautiful landscape around us) but I do remember the green, the crunch of gravel beneath our feet, and the languished squawks of seabirds above. I remember this lightness in my chest and calmness in my mind as we ran in a line toward the sea, and the sun rose higher above us. There was no other place we were supposed to be in that moment, experiencing the freedom and beauty of Ireland before most people were even awake.

On this same trip, I can also remember sitting in a small pub late at night with my family, as my parents sipped Guinness and we listened to a band playing traditional Irish jigs and reels. As we sat in the dim pub, my parents tapping their feet to the fast beat, I sat hunched over my notebook writing endlessly. Back then, I was in my early teens, I used to carry paper with my everywhere so I could write my stories whenever I had a chance. The music inspired me, and even though I never looked up from my paper, I felt as if I was experiencing that pub and music in the best way possible. At one point, the lead musician came over to my parents and commented he had been watching me the whole time during the set and noticed I hadn’t stopped writing once. My parents said, “she’s a writer,” and my heart swelled with pride. As I scribbled out my story the rest of the night, I thought of myself as a real writer, and imagined myself doing it as a profession.

These moments of clarity are living. These are the memories I hold nearest to my heart, and running has given many to me.

Lately, I am tired of feeling trapped, spinning in the same circle as I try to find the right balance between my responsibilities. For a long time, I forgot I am a writer, even though my younger self was so sure. I lost my writing after college to a high demand job, and then my brain fog from lyme took my vocabulary. And as it’s slowly coming back, I know I AM still a storyteller.

When I left my job in communications just about two years ago, I left for several reasons. I was sick, I was unhappy, and I wanted to bring back meaning to my life, which otherwise felt stale. I wanted to rediscover myself and see if it was possible for me to take part in my life again, instead of standing by and watching it whirl by in front of me. And while it was hard to let go of who I thought I was, it ended up being the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Being a disappointment to family and friends has always been one of my greatest fears, but when I finally stood up to my fear and left the job to focus on finding what truly made me happy, I became an even better person. I learned it doesn’t matter what you think others think of you and the choices you make in your life, because ultimately it’s your life. And your happiness matters most. You don’t have to have a corporate job to be successful and respected by others. And I didn’t learn this until I let go of the standard we’re taught that without a corporate/professional job after college we are not successful.

There is not just one equation for success.

I believe happiness is the ultimate success.

Sometimes the past can
Make the ground beneath you feel like a quicksand
You don’t have to worry
You reach for my hand
Yeah I know you’re gonna be okay
You’re gonna be okay

When I envision myself running 57 miles I don’t think about being sick or past injuries I struggled through. No matter the injury or sickness I was dealing with, I always planned to get back to running. I was always hopeful and believed in my ability to get back to the roads and trails where I could be myself.

When I stress fractured my hip my senior year of high school it nearly broke me, but I persevered and ran a personal best in the 5k once healed. After my knee injury and surgery in college, a surgeon told me I should never run again, and certainly not long distance. But I believed in myself. And after I taught myself how to walk again, I taught myself how to run again. And I started slow and the process was painful and challenging, but it was all worth it when two years later I ran my first marathon. Giving up is something foreign to me. Don’t ever let someone else tell you what you can and cannot do.

I don’t let my past injuries and challenges in life define how I look at the future. 57 miles is the biggest challenge I’ve ever embarked on, and even though I have a past riddled with injuries it doesn’t mean I can’t do it. After being a competitive long distance runner for 18 years, I know my mind needs to be stronger than my body. And I’ve never been surer my positive mentality will carry me through. I couldn’t run for three weeks before my 50k this past April, but once I got out there on the trails I fell into the same mentality I always have during runs: a blank tranquility only focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again.

So, I guess what the song helped me realize is it’s okay to take a different path than the one you always expected yourself to go down. It’s okay to have a complex past, to see yourself in different stages of life as different people who finally grew into the wonderful person you are today. Having the urge to be free from every day routines is natural. I know every once and awhile I need to immerse myself in nature, set myself loose into the wild.

Because the wild is home to me.

15056456_10208836523734034_6560461171735939567_n

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The 57 miles from Penn State to Bucknell

1927615_1043614734252_1287_n
photo I took of sunset over campus in 2008

It is hard to believe 2017 marks five years since I graduated from Bucknell.  Like many individuals realize after graduation, there are so many aspects of college I miss.  There was always something to do, something to learn, and I loved having a community of friends all around me.  And because I was a part of the cross country team, I had a close circle of great friends at my doorstep who loved most of the things I did (running, obviously) and had similar priorities.

I’ve made a lot of changes in my life since I graduated back in 2012, the most being just in the past year.  I left a job where I was unhappy, I got married,  I started running again, I got sick, I found a diagnosis, and I started putting myself first.  None of this has been easy (except the getting married part – 100% sure on that one) but life isn’t about making easy choices.  And as we close on 2016 and I struggle to deal with treating my Lyme disease, I’ve realized now more than ever, I want to make a difference.

This past weekend I was back in New Jersey for a best friend’s wedding.  The weather was perfect, and Erin and I hit up all our favorite running stomping grounds.  We ran in Thompson Park, where I used to speed along the reservoir trail hopping roots expertly, the trail memorized from repetition.  Thompson was my place of solace, the trails seemingly hidden from the world.  It was a place I could think and rebuild myself when feeling broken.  This weekend, as we gingerly picked our way through the layers of fallen leaves hiding the treacherous roots we no longer knew, the sharp memories of high school flooded to the surface.  The past is a complicated place to tread.

I’ve always been great at keeping secrets, but the ones I kept in high school were often detrimental to my health.  My depression, anxiety and disordered eating are issues which affected me deeply and shaped my life for many years.  Few people knew, and eventually I overcame these challenges but not before first seeking help.  And that’s why last year I set out to write a memoir about these challenges in hopes I can make a difference in others’ lives.  And even though this goal has been derailed by my lyme, it’s one I won’t give up on. Even if my story helps just one person, I’d consider it a success.  Those challenges helped shape who I am as a person but what I didn’t know then is I didn’t have to go at it alone.

Lyme disease is just one more challenge in my life I will overcome.

After thompson park, when we got back to the hotel that night, we switched on the TV to try and unwind.  But it was broken.  We snickered quietly as hilarious pixelated images tried to come to surface on the screen and eventually the maintenance man gave up and brought in an entirely new TV.  He switched on the TV and flipped to a random channel and I watched as a giant deer tick flashed to the screen.  It was a news clip about the seriousness and complexity of lyme, and the newscaster shared the story of a young girl struggling with the disease.  Our laughing stopped.  We watched silently as this girl’s story was shared.  For years she went undiagnosed, and among other complications, lost her ability to walk.

I’m not going to say this story made me realize how much worse others have it or how lucky I am, because I already knew this.  What I did realize is I am still avoiding accepting I actually have lyme.  Despite the many pills I take every day, my doctor’s diagnosis, and the sickness I feel, I’ve been avoiding looking up any lyme disease resources or acknowledging my feelings.  The girl’s story made me feel an overwhelming sadness. It took many years for her to get a diagnosis.  In comparison, it took me only a year and although this felt like a lifetime to me, I’m grateful I had the knowledge to get further testing before my health got worse.  Watching her story re-lit a fire inside of me – the one that wants to make a difference.

So, let’s go back to those 57 miles in the title of this post.  Pretty much my entire four years at Bucknell, I dated a member of the men’s cross country team (he’s now my husband!) and I learned about many xc traditions they upheld.  But only one always stood out in my mind.  It involved one or more seniors running from the Penn State track to the Bucknell track at the end of the outdoor track season.  I don’t know why they did it or how long ago it started, but each year I was there it happened.  No one trained specifically for it – they just ran.  It is 57 miles of hard-earned tradition.  And one I’ve always wanted to be a part of.

2017 Bucknell Homecoming will be November 3-5, and it will be the five year marker for me.  In celebration (and a bout of insanity), I’ve decided I will be running the 57 miles from Penn State to Bucknell.  I haven’t decided if I’ll run November 2 or 3, but my main goal for this run is to raise money for lyme disease research.  I’ve yet to pick the foundation I’ll be donating the money to (I’ve got it narrowed down between two non-profits – I’ll choose soon) but once I decide, you’ll be sure to see a post.

This won’t be easy and I’ll be the first to admit I’m afraid.  But when I think about all the challenges I’ve already overcome in my life, I know I can do this if I train smart and listen to my body.  I have just about a year to train for this event and get my fundraising in order and honestly as much as I’m nervous I’m also excited.  After all, it’s good to be nervous about things.  It means you care.

So how will I do this?  I’ll be ramping up the mileage slowly and taking time to cross train when I feel too sick/tired to run.  I’m going to start strengthening again.  And I have only two other races on my 2017 schedule strategically planned to help get me used to longer distances.

In March I’ll be racing the Tennessee Ragnar Relay as part of an ultra team.  If training is going alright, I plan on taking one of the higher mileage positions so I’ll end up running 30+ miles over the course of 24 hours.  Then in April I’ll be racing the DC Northface 50k.  It will be my first “real”  ultra and my training for this race started this week!  Hokas will be my best friend.

I’m not even going to pretend like I think this training will go smoothly, especially with the absurd amount of medication I’m currently taking.  My biggest (and most important) challenge for training will be NUTRITION and learning what my body will accept pre, during and after runs. But I’m not going to give up on any of this.  Even though my body may physically not be at its prime, my strong mentality has always been what gets me through distance running.

Sooooo, save the date for Homecoming 2017 because it’s going to be amazing.  If you have any interest in being a part of my support team that day, or if you’re a Bucknell Alum and want to run portions of it with me, please don’t hesitate to message me.  I have a year to get this all figured out, which seems like a long time, but I know it will fly by.  I just couldn’t sit on the idea any longer!

Look forward to updates about my training and the non-profit I choose to fundraise for.  I’ve never done anything like this before in my life, so if you have any tips I welcome your feedback.