Back to What You Know

Five days ago I ran my fourth half marathon of the year. In this space, I’ve only spoken about one of them.

There are a lot of reasons I have kept quiet about them, and many of them really have nothing to do with running. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind year, to say the least (hey guys, I’m married!), yet being busy was only part of it.

This was the year where I had to decide what the definition of “abject failure” was when it comes to running and where my line in the sand was. Talking about it (here, anyway….sorry, select friends who did have to hear about it) made it worse.

This was the year that I hit my breaking point. This was the year that I felt absolutely like a running failure, like I had no business even calling myself a runner. This was the year where 75% of my half marathons were the catalyst to second-guessing myself and physical pain. This was the year where 50% of my half marathons were finish lines I crossed with nothing but tears in my eyes and disdain for the sport in my head.

This was the year I ran my slowest half marathon ever as well as the worst race of my life, which incidentally were not the same races.

This was the year that if I hadn’t already been signed up for a fall half marathon, I’d have quit half marathons after April’s race.

And then there was Sunday. Perfectly temperatured, adequately fueled (guess who finally found a Gu flavor that doesn’t make her want to hurl?! Bless you, salted watermelon). It was a really good race, even if it wasn’t what I set out to do.

You know, maybe running isn’t so bad.

If this feels a bit disjointed, trust me, it’s far more eloquent than what’s been in my head.

This is why runners are insane. Because once you are a runner, you don’t just stop being one because you’ve had a rough year (or years, as the case may be). What do you do? You sign up for another race. And another one. And another. And you keep setting goals and learn how to bounce back if you don’t meet them.

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You find training plans that work for you and running partners who you adore and you go out there on race day with nerves in the pit of your belly just like you had on the morning of that very first race. You make a decision to rededicate yourself to the sport more often than you buy new running shoes, which may or may not be a good thing.

It sounds cheesy, but you keep going and keep working and keep racing because deep down (sometimes so deep down you don’t believe it’s there) you love it.

Running is hard. It’s stupid and it’s challenging and it’s beautiful and it’s inspiring and it’s all of these millions of different things to each different runner, which makes it perfect. My running is not your running or Ange’s running or my mom’s running or anyone else’s running.

And that’s why I can’t quit. I can’t walk away from something so delightfully and explicitly MINE.

Because I am a runner. Because I will always be a runner.

I’m Just a Girl

I mentioned last time that running and I are at an odd place, and it’s been that way since before the GO! half. It’s not like this is the first time it’s happened. I believe that’s very well documented right here.

This time is turning around differently though.

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to take part in the Girls on the Run 5k. The organization “[P]rovides pre-adolescent girls with the necessary tools to embrace their individual strengths and successfully navigate life experiences.” To be honest, I’m surprised it took me so long to even run one. That’s a philosophy I can absolutely support.

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Admittedly, the reason that I ran this race was because a 5k fit into my training plan for Ragnar, and the start line was six blocks from my apartment. It’s very difficult to not run races that close to my apartment (bonus of living downtown).

And yet this race became my favorite race.

You see, these girls of all colors from all walks of life showed up on that bright and sunny Saturday morning for the same reason. To run. To finish what they’d been working so hard towards. To prove to themselves and everyone else that “Can’t” wasn’t an option.

The words I heard the most along the race course were “Finish Strong.” Not “fast.” Not “before everyone else.” Strong.

That’s what running’s all about, isn’t it? I mean, that’s what LIFE is all about.

Running with these girls and parents and coaches and siblings and the general public just out to support them has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. It was precisely the reminder that I needed for why I go out and put my muscles and my body through hell and back.

When the coach running beside me mentioned to her girl, “It’s just a hill, we’ll go steady all the way to the top,” it was a reminder that so much of this is mental. So many times it’s not a body shutting down but a mental refusal to go any further. I needed that reminder that sometimes the difficulty of a race is all in my head. I can get to the top. I can make it further than I ever thought. With Ragnar less than a month away, holy moly I needed that.

There were the parents holding on to the hands of their daughters as the girls got tired, as the race became more difficult. It was a reminder that even though I’m an adult myself, there will always be a parent there to support me through the hard times and hold my hand if I need it.

The finish line was packed on both sides with supporters, almost more than were at the finish line of the last half marathon. Sometimes even strangers can be proud of you. If someone who doesn’t even know you can be proud of you, you can absolutely be proud of yourself.

And then there were the two girls who couldn’t have been more than ten. One was hurt somehow, limping a little bit, yet the finish line was only a tenth of a mile away. The friend had her arm around her, speaking words of encouragement into her ear. “You can do it, we’re almost there. I know it hurts, but just a little farther.” If I wasn’t already choked up that close to the finish line (I was), this did me in entirely. Sometimes you need a reminder that things can be hard, and you can be hurting, but if you’re lucky you’ll have a friend who will push you to your limits and be there for you every step of the way. Or at least make you actually run the last mile of the longest half marathon of your life.

Walking away from that finish line, away from the continuous cheers of support and the smiles of pride on the faces of the girls, I found myself reinvigorated. This was everything I needed to get out of my funk.

Yes, sometimes running is hard, but it is worth it. It is worth it to have a sense of pride in yourself, to have a healthy outlet for stress and frustration.

It is worth the aches and pains and blisters and on some days flat out exhaustion.

It is worth it to feel like we can do whatever we set our minds to.

It is worth it to feel strong. To finish strong.

To be strong.

To be a girl on the run.

She’s Going the Distance

The thing about birthdays, as I’ve said before, is that they give you bench marks on life. For example, twenty-two was a wonderful year, full of graduating and getting a job and buying a car and moving to St Louis.

Other years have had some absolute highs, 27 coming in very close to the top of the list. But nothing will compare to 29.

This year is going to be a phenomenal year.

A couple of weeks ago at work, I submitted the goals that I am working towards for this fiscal year. This was right around the time that Angela was posting her October goals wrap-up and listing her November goals (let’s be honest, we aren’t the Type A A-Team in our Disney races for nothing). In our emails surrounding both of her posts, we talked a lot about goals. Running goals, life goals, wedding goals (on my part), etc.

I’m not one to set New Year’s Resolutions. It seems to me that if you want to improve yourself, the time to start is now, not in a few months at some arbitrary point in the winter. Yet somehow, my birthday benchmarks always make me take note of some goals I’d made without consciously considering them.

I suppose this year is a combination of goals and a “pre-30 Bucket List.” And what better way to hold yourself accountable than writing them out for the entire interwebs to see.

So. My goals for 29 years old/pre-30 bucket list.

1. Get through the wedding under budget. Wedding world is expensive. When we first started talking budget, we had a figure in mind that was almost immediately blown out of the water when we started looking at what we WANTED to do. When we found a place that would do everything and more that we were looking for, we bumped our budget up a little bit more. And then we sat down and had probably the most intense, down-to-the-penny type conversation I’ve ever had with another person. That figure (which is honestly nearly double what we originally set) is what I’d like to spend less than. Really. Granted, after going almost $300 over budget on my dress this past Saturday, it probably won’t be easy, but I think we can do it.

2. Find a pair of jeans that actually fits me. It’s interesting, this whole taking measurements for dresses thing. The size chart made me both chuckle and sigh, as my bust and waist size had me between two sizes, yet my hips had me between two different sizes that were a couple sizes bigger than the bust/waist sizes. Yay for being pear shaped. Later that day, I did actually find a pair of skinny jeans that mostly fit, yet I still spent part of the evening pulling them up. I want a pair of jeans that fits, that doesn’t have the gap in the back, that I won’t spend a full day pulling back up to where they belong.

3. Run a half marathon in under two hours. Over the last year or so, my focus has shifted away from running (clearly). I want to put it back. It is invigorating to run. I have missed it. And setting this goal (that is entirely doable, by the way) gives me something to focus on. Once the marathon was over, any and all focus on timed events went straight out the window. See: Tough Mudder, where the goal was to just finish the damn thing. Yesterday Danielle at T-Rex Runner posted about her absolutely incredible PR. I don’t even know her and was damn near cheering in my seat reading about it. A PR is satisfying on levels that are hard to describe. I never started running to race people. I actually hate racing people. But racing against my past self? That’s something I can get behind. I will cheer on ANYONE who’s going for  PR, and I’m still cheering for Danielle. My goal is to be able to cheer for myself come February, and as a pipe dream, again in April.

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4. Run. In races and new events. For fun. For health. Just run. I feel like I’m well on my way here, as I’ve already scheduled a few new races coming up. I’ve got a 10k on Thanksgiving, a 15k in December, obviously my Glass Slipper Challenge in February, and I’ve signed up for a half marathon in April as well. And then? Then I shall do Ragnar Chicago again. I lovelovelove Ragnar, and reading Janae’s updates on Ragnar Vegas gave me some SERIOUS running jealousy. I suppose it was just really good timing then that last week I got an email about joining another Ragnar Chicago team. I am so excited!!

5. Be healthier. I was going to go into more detail here, but I won’t for a whole lot of reasons. Suffice it to say, I have health and fitness related goals that I’ll be working on this year, I just won’t be listing them out for the whole wide world.

6. Write more. This is one that I won’t put many specifications around. However, I do know that I like writing. I would like to do more of it. Whether or not it’s in this space remains to be seen.

7. Stay happy. The last year has been the happiest of my life. Things are in such a remarkably good place, and I would like to keep it that way. There are some big things and some not so big things to look forward to, but every single day I want to be happy. I want to take a few minutes every day to appreciate the things around me and what I’ve been blessed to have. I want to remember that though there could be rough times ahead that life is awesome.

8. Win a fantasy football championship. We’ll just have to see how this one goes.

Dust in the Wind

Today has already been an interesting day. Today, after a year and a half and over 300 different posts, I retired my hockey blog.

There are quite a few reasons I have for making this decision, many of which I won’t discuss here as I firmly believe that what happens behind closed doors needs to not make its way onto a public(ish) site. If you’re really curious, ask me. I might tell you.

The biggest reason for this, though, is simple.

Life.

Real life, MY life, the one I’m living right now, has been filling up. I have been doing what I can to take full advantage of things, to EXPERIENCE things, and I was running out of time to give my fullest devotion and effort to the blog, as much as I loved it.

A year and a half ago when my friend Mike suggested I contact the network CEO about writing for her/them, there was a lot of hesitation on my part. I knew how to write, but to write about hockey? I mean, hell, I had only been watching the sport for a year. But I went for it. There were A LOT of growing pains, a lot of time spent finding my voice and my place within not only the network, but within the Blues blogosphere as well. Some of those growing pains hurt like a motherfucker.

The thing is, back then I was struggling. I was struggling really hard with my place in life and how things were going at the time. There were a lot of really down days back then. The blog was a bit of a lifeline for me.

It gave me a sense of purpose, something to work for and towards, something to distract me from the not-so-great days. It allowed me to create a niche, however unexpected, and let me feel one of the greatest senses of belonging ever.

What I didn’t expect, though, were the benefits from such a thing. There were things like becoming a better writer and learning more about the sport of hockey in a matter of months than I ever thought possible. There was the absolute crashing face first, head over heels (further) in love with the Blues. There was an undeniable feeling of connectedness to my city. It brought me closer to friends I’d already had because I was more capable of intelligently discussing this sport.

More importantly than any of that is the people.

There have been the people I’ve had the pleasure of talking to strictly on and because of the Twitterverse and that ever so awesome #stlblues hashtag.

Some of the other writers for the network have become incredibly important parts of my life. There have been Aerys meetups and inside jokes (font bowler…heh) and one particular graphic artist who became and still is a phenomenal friend, with whom I have spent COUNTLESS hours talking to. Then of course there’s Miranda, a fellow writer, who has quickly become one of my closest friends.

But the kicker has been the other Blues fans I’ve met. The people who started as screen names on Game Time or a Twitter handle but who became the people I most wanted to spend time with before, during, and after Blues games. These people became my friends and my fellow tailgaters and road tripping compadres and my half-marathon running buddies and, in a somewhat roundabout way, my boyfriend. They became a family, of sorts. A dysfunctional, sometimes argumentative, always insane, yet incredible and supportive Blues family. There have been some awful days where only their comments and hugs have lifted me up.

I am SO LUCKY to have them.

So I suppose it’s the end of an era. I’ll still contribute to Aerys where I can, but the days of You’re My Boys, Blues are over. It’s been a great era, but it’s time to tackle the next thing life has to offer.

Here we go.

If You Try Sometimes, You Get What You Need

Can I just say I love you all for your comments and emails yesterday? Truly, I do. Seriously, you guys are the bestest (even the Anon, whose identity is still a mystery to me).

I feel, though, that there’s a teensy bit I should clarify.

When I say I know exactly what I want, it’s a list of intangibles, things that are the opposite of stuff I have seen and experienced in my past that led me down some incredibly painful roads. My list is one that may not describe a perfect person, as I don’t think anyone could possibly be perfect, but might describe someone who is perfect FOR ME. I don’t think it’s a bad list either. As my lovely friend Erratic pointed out, sometimes things on the “list” may have to take a back seat if the right person comes along, and while I know she’s absolutely correct, there are things on my list that are flat out non-negotiable. I will not go back to where I was nine years ago. I will never again be subjected to a partner who thinks it’s within his rights to control me. I don’t think I should have to either.

I want someone I can talk to.

I want someone who trusts me.

I want someone who doesn’t use guilt as a tool of manipulation.

I want someone who understands that I have my girlfriends and will spend time with them WITHOUT him.

I want someone who’s ok with that.

I want someone who doesn’t try to change things about me like how I dress, what I listen to, which sports teams I cheer for.

I want someone who’s willing to discuss opinions when we differ in mindsets, rather than getting angry because I don’t agree with him.

I want someone who is willing to admit when he’s wrong, someone who will forgive me when I’m wrong.

I want someone who will listen to me and understand that my feelings are valid, even if at times they come from a source best described as “the crazy part of Ann’s brain.” I’m capable of recognizing that I’ve been crazy, I promise. It just might take me a day or two.

I want someone I want to spend time with.

I want someone who won’t ignore what I’m saying just because it’s something he doesn’t want to hear.

I want someone who will hold my hand during the rough times.

I want someone who’s willing to cheer me on and encourage me, someone who will be my biggest fan.

I want someone who understands that I yell at the TV during hockey games. And baseball games. And football games even when I don’t have a favorite team. And curling. Oh hell, I yell at sports.

I want someone who makes me laugh. And someone who makes me think.

I want someone who makes me want to be a better person.

I want someone I don’t want to live without.

I want someone who loves me for who I am, who accepts every part of me, flaws and all, and is willing to navigate all the bumps in the road along the way. I want someone who is willing to work for it, for US, if it’s right. I want a partner and an equal, and someone who sees me as such.

I think this is a damn fine list.

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Do you ever get those questions that just totally and completely throw you off guard? It’s hard to answer those questions, isn’t it?

Last night I was talking to a friend of mine. He knows that I’m pretty much an open book, will answer anything without incredibly good reason not to. This is why it shouldn’t have surprised me, yet it totally threw me for a loop, when our conversation took a drastic turn as he asked me, “So why are you still single?”

In certain situations, this question is more an insult than anything else, as it seems to be said with an air of “Well, you seem normal enough, but what kind of craziness are you hiding that has made you incapable of convincing someone to be in a relationship with you?” Fun, right? This time, though, it was just an honestly curious question.

Since he had asked, I regaled him with the last ten years (!!!) or so of my dating history.

Let me be incredibly honest with you guys for a minute. Ten years includes all of one long-term boyfriend (who sucked), four guys I’ve talked to/dated for about 3 weeks apiece, one that I was crazy about for a long time back in college who decided he’d rather not be in a relationship with me so we never technically dated, one I dated for only three months who went on shortly thereafter to be in multiple long-term, long distance relationships after having said he didn’t want either, a few who weren’t so much relationships as they were a physical means to an end, whatever you want to call the drama associated with That Friend, a few interests that never panned out into anything, and then the one I fell for who crushed me. Only four guys, an interest that didn’t pan to anything, two of those three-week-apiece types and then That Friend, actually fell within the last almost two years.

That is…..kind of depressing.

I wrapped everything up with, “Yeah, guys tend to think I’m better as a friend.”

Trust me, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. I adore the male friends I have, honestly and truly.

Sometimes, though. Sometimes it’s eye opening and a bit sad to see all that right in front of your face. It’s a cold-hearted truth, and brings up some insecurities I’d rather ceased to exist.

I am painfully aware that a lot of the briefness of these forays, as well as the long and drawn out periods of singledom, are very much and completely my own fault. I have incredibly high emotional walls and sometimes (ok, a lot of times) an antagonistic demeanor towards anyone who seems interested. I recognize that I have to be willing to actually let someone in if that whole perpetually single thing is going to go away.

I’m really bad at letting people in.

A lot of times I blame the ex-boyfriend for supremely fucking me up, or I’ll point at the last time I fell for someone to indicate just how well it works when I let someone get close to me. It’s so easy to just say, “Well, I’m so messed up because of how he treated me” or something similar. It’s a cop out, and I know it every single time those words leave my mouth. Every time.

The ex-boyfriend, former flings, interests, and receivers of my feelings might have left me broken and hurt and entirely shut down, but at this point, the biggest thing remaining is the clarity of knowledge about what I absolutely do and do not want.

That is one thing I have to be grateful for. I know EXACTLY what I do and do not want. I know that when a red flag makes its presence known, I pay attention. When my gut instinct starts screaming for me to walk away, I fucking listen. I don’t second-guess my gut instinct, even when it comes to giving second chances.

I know all this, and it makes me feel so much stronger than my 20-year-old self would ever have dreamed I could be.

You bet your sweet ass I am

There are those times, though, that I miss certain aspects of the dating bit. I miss feeling like someone can’t get enough of me. I miss reciprocal feelings. I miss laying in bed and just chatting about the mundane things of the day. I miss butterflies. I miss waking up and immediately checking my phone for any text I might have gotten while I was sleeping. I miss kisses that actually hold affection behind them rather than the “I’m drunk, and you’re right in front of me” kisses.

I miss WANTING someone to know every single thing about me, rather than actively trying to keep them out.

However, until that situation presents itself, IF if ever does, I’ll be just fine. I always am.

Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.

Not What it Seems

I am aware that for all intents and purposes, all over social media, I am one of those obnoxious “You can do it!!” type runners. Like so:

I’ll “like” people’s statuses about completing races, offer my services to friends when it comes to sending motivating emails (much like Miranda does for me), forward along my running/workout schedule as a template for someone looking for their own way of organizing fitness, comment on blogs, etc.

However, for all the benefits of this level of physical activity, and believe me there are TONS of benefits, there are some things that suck. Lots. For example.

-Being “rungry”: This is basically when you’ve kicked your metabolism up to the point where you are ALWAYS hungry. Eat until you’re full, sure! Be prepared to be hunting down the next meal within two hours or so though. Prime example. This morning my friend Timmy emailed me asking for my guacamole recipe. Upon receiving that email, my hunger kicked so far into high gear that all I can think of, still, is getting guacamole into my face. Did I care that it was 10am, which is traditionally not the time for delicious, delicious guacamole? No. AND THEN. Then my coworker decided to bust out with, “You know, I wish I was sitting on a patio, drinking a margarita.” WOMAN, are you trying to KILL ME? At 1115 I couldn’t take the yowling stomach anymore and went and heated up my lunch. An otherwise satisfactory lunch of leftover chicken fried rice has left me ENTIRELY UNSATISFIED and dreaming of chips piled high with the avocado-y goodness. Or a turkey sandwich piled high with it. Or a spoon piled high with it. Essentially, I will heretofore be unhappy with my state until guacamole gets into my system. Full stop. OMGUACAMOLE.

-The blisters: Yep. My poor little footsies are a bit worse for the wear at this point. It’s gross. I will spare you the graphic details, but just know that I have sworn off pedicures until at least three weeks after my Ragnar in order to save the poor pedicurist from what would surely be a frightening experience.

-The breakouts: Not face breakouts. Guys, when I workout, I wear a sports bra. When I workout, I sweat. When I workout, that sweat likes to stick around under my sports bra. Um…ew. Some weeks are worse than others, but still, it’s not the most fun situation. Looks like I’ll be sticking primarily to racerback tank tops for a bit.

-The boobs: Let me be clear here. I’ve never been what you might call “voluptuous” up top. I’ve got hips and an ass that could knock over just about anything, but disproportion has been a fact of my life for as long as…..well, since I got boobs. It was a source of SEVERE self-consciousness when I was younger, and every once in a while I still get those “dammit, I wish I had big boobs” cravings. Becoming comfortable in my own skin to the point of liking my own chest was one of my biggest emotional accomplishments a while back. I know, and knew going into this crazy workout thing I’ve had going for a while now, that the decreasing fat on my body during these workouts was going to make what little curve I had just go right on away. And they have, in spectacular fashion. I don’t think a single one of my bras fits correctly anymore, and those fuckers are EXPENSIVE to replace. Pretty sure I’m going to end up concave here before too long. The thing is? That curve that’s running away from my chest? It’s repositioning itself right back on my booty. Because MORE disproportion is what I needed, right? I mean, really, I can wear a pair of jeans that’s totally tight around my hips and butt and yet still stick out a good six inches from my waist. NEAT.

-Being sore/tired: I’m always sore. I’m always tired. Granted, this might be because I’m running constantly it seems like, and that tends to, oh I don’t know, tear muscle fibers. I am going to do hill sprints and lift today. I know that tomorrow is going to include me limping around work like I spent far too much time on a mechanical bull. And what am I going to do tomorrow? What any normal person would do: run twelve miles. The smartz. I haz them. It’s a constant that is manageable, but aggravating at times.

Even with the negatives involved, yesterday’s run (one of my best in a LONG time) and how I feel today have reinvigorated me. They’ve reminded me just how AWESOME it feels to get to the end of something and go “fuck YES I did that.” The time I spend with my running shoes and a long stretch of road is something I absolutely cherish. It’s MY time, no one else’s.

It’s my release and my joy and my happiness.

That. That is why I run.