“Lessons in Letting Go.”

It’s crazy to think that just a few weeks ago, the world looked so different; or perhaps I was just oblivious, considering I rarely watch the news or browse mindlessly on social media. I knew of the Coronavirus outbreak and saw the care being taken to plan and prepare for a potential pandemic, but I did not dwell on it or delve into the details, as (luckily, for me) this is no longer my primary field of work. But as this virus gained momentum, the whole world began to take note and adjust accordingly. Race events postponed or cancelled. Offices and “nonessential” businesses began to cancel appointments and shutdown. Social distancing and self-isolation became a “thing”.

Truth be told, I’ve always considered myself a bit of a “Pro” at this behavior because, while I enjoy interacting with people and encouraging, inspiring, or building them up, I oftentimes find myself drained by too much social interaction and require quite a bit of time alone to “recharge”.

Training for marathons has always helped me find that time for myself. (Not too many people are wanting to tag along for runs lasting hours long or for speed intervals that literally make you puke.) But when my goal races cancelled, just 6 weeks away from my next event, I cannot lie, I had a mini-meltdown. And when the Boston Athletic Association made the difficult decision to postpone this year’s Boston Marathon, the potential impact for next year’s qualifying standards were palpable.

This was the moment when my life stood still, stopped in its tracks. All that time, all that effort, all those workouts I didn’t think that I could do but found a way to get done… were they all for nothing?

But, when the fate and future of all humankind becomes uncertain, the pursuits of such athletic achievements pale in comparison and suddenly feel trivial and selfish.

Panic began to rise up in my chest. Fears of the past echoing out my name. All those times I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. All those days that lacing up my shoes felt pointless. The feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and the bitter taste of sadness, guilt, and regret.

It was BOSTON that got me through…wasn’t it?

Chasing that elusive “unicorn” to better days and faster race times. This was what brought me back to life in that period where “death” was a more peaceful state of being than my own mind was at the time. There I was, back on my feet, chasing a dream that was, finally, within my reach. Just six more weeks and the possibility was very real that I could achieve it; or come so close as to know that it could be done by the end of summer.

And just like that; it was all over.

Postponed.

Cancelled.

The world stopped in its tracks; and so did I.

Truth be told, it was about a week before I ran again. But the thought finally occurred to me: I don’t need “Boston” to tell me I’m “good enough”.

If the world never fully recovers and races never resume, would I not still run?

OF COURSE I WOULD!

I am a RUNNER, it’s what I do! And I love doing it!

So WHY was I pushing myself so hard and placing all of my confidence and self-worth in the hands of an “association” that doesn’t even know my name, let alone who I am, as a person?

Is not the real value of our training the physical benefits of being fit, healthy, and capable of enduring the time, distance, and/or pace of what we consider our “play”?

As a kid, did you not wake up every morning, chomping at the bit to go outside and “play”?

Did you not “play” for as long and as hard as you were allowed?

So at what point did I place so much “value” on the Boston Marathon that I let it dictate if and when and how I “play”?

The answer doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that I am now realizing that “Boston”, while a very prestigious event and incredible honor to achieve, is merely just that – simply, an event.

Like opting in to a game of “Chase” or “Rundown” as a child. Sure, you have to run fast enough to get in. But not everyone who runs “fast enough” CHOOSES to go run Boston.

Does that make them any less of a runner?

Not in my opinion.

In fact, there are many runners who are fitter, faster, and stronger than any Boston Qualifying time.

In the current state of this world, I am taking advantage of some of my “downtime” to read several books written by such runners. Ultramarathoners who have used their running to overcome some very difficult stages of their lives and have progressed to the point of completing and/or competing in race events much more challenging than a 26.2 mile road race.

One thing I have noticed that they all have in common is an inner peace and mental strength far greater than anything that I have ever experienced.

THIS is what I seek.

This is what I have been searching for my entire adult life.

This is what I have caught glimpses of on many of my “untracked”, “unplanned”, “unregulated” runs.

Runs where I allowed myself to just enjoy the act of running; when I ran simply “for the love of the run”!

Call it “mediation”, call it “mindfulness”, call it whatever you’d like; but when you let go of what “was” or what “should be” and simply embrace what IS, you will feel it.

And the more you feel it, the more it will set you free.

Who knew that “Letting Go” could be such a beautiful thing?

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

⚠️Spoiler Alert : WE ALL DIE IN THE END.

I’ve been wondering why this whole #Coronavirus2020😷 hasn’t scared me.
On the contrary, I’ve become more calm, peaceful, and at ease. 🧘🏻‍♀️


I believe it has to do with what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and all that I’ve seen working as a Paramedic for most of my life, as well as, the things I have felt, experienced, and somehow survived these past 2 & 1/2 years.

Prior to losing my parents, I felt so much pride in my profession.
It was an honor and a privilege to serve the public and I truly believed we saved lives.

After losing my parents, my views on life, death, and everything in between completely changed.
I realized that the majority of the time we really didn’t SAVE many lives but, rather, prolonged an inevitable death…and, in many cases, added to the pain and misery with which it ultimately concluded.
Day to day “problems” and stressors seemed to pale in comparison to the very real fragility of this life which we all too often take for granted.

It was in this very dark time that I lost my connection with many things – including my role as a Paramedic and my connection with many people that simply could not understand my thought process regarding life and death and what REALLY matters in this world.
Perhaps because they did not share my feelings and experiences or because I withdrew from most everyone and everything as I attempted to sort it all out in my own head.

To this day, I still struggle with truly connecting with people and understanding the passions and “purpose” to which some people cling to.
Oftentimes I struggle to conform and/or fit in and that used to bother me…but not any more.
It’s not that I “have all the answers” because I most certainly do not.
But, in this time of “social distancing” and taking care of what REALLY matters – myself & my family- I have finally felt 💯 at peace for the first time in my whole life.

This is what I know for sure:

You can not change the past – no matter how long you stand still, looking back, feeling sadness, guilt, or regret.

You can not predict the future – no matter how meticulously you calculate, plot, plan, or prepare.

The only thing you can control is yourself and how you choose to perceive your current circumstances and surroundings.

You see, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living, how much money you make, or how big of a house you live in.
What matters most in this life (the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS in this life) is THIS VERY MOMENT.
Right here.
Right now.
And how you choose to experience it.

I choose peace.
☯️🤍🧘🏻‍♀️🤍☯️

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“Coronavirus 2020: Lessons Learned in Isolation”

Pt. I :

If your struggle is with the world,

this will feel like “Heaven”.

If your struggle is with yourself,

this will feel like “Hell”.

What you discover might surprise you.

Pt. 2 :

I wish for you “Heaven”.

But should you find yourself facing the flames of “Hell”,

I wish for you strength –

to withstand your storm and emerge, peacefully, on the other side;

Knowing

that you are better for this.

Pt. 3 :

Always remember :

“Pain is inevitable : suffering is optional.” – Hakuri Murakami

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

Philadelphia Marathon: “3:57:05”

It’s been almost three weeks since I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, PR’ing the 26.2 mile distance by nearly 31 minutes.

I must admit, it hardly feels real.

Yet, it’s a fact. Plain as day, in black and white.

Anyone who has ever run a marathon knows how hard it is to race this distance. Anyone who has ever run it again knows how hard it is to PR by just a few seconds or minutes, let alone a half hour!

I am by no means a competitive athlete. This ginormous personal record still has me tucked tightly in the middle of the pack when it comes to the race field, as a whole. But that does not matter to me. My goals are personal; and my PR at this race means more to me than if I had been the winner of the race, itself. Alot of blood, sweat, and tears went into achieving this finish time. (Literally and figuratively!) It reminds me of a quote I read a few years ago :

It is not the level of achievement or the numbers attached to a PR. It is the size of our hearts. It is what we do in those moments when all hope seems lost and we are confronted with a choice to give up or to keep trying. It is what we learn about ourselves through those dire circumstances that gives us the courage and strength to conquer the other challenges and hills in our lives.”

– Adam Goucher

I think back to that day in Philly and, while I cannot be more proud of the end result, I still see room for improvement as I prepare to move forward and enter another marathon training cycle.

I had trained harder (in the beginning weeks) than I ever had before. I was following the Hanson’s Marathon Method but, about 8-10 weeks in, the cumulative fatigue the program is designed to cause (along with a busy work schedule) took its toll. I broke down and took a few days off, followed by several easy days, and converted my training plan back over to the Runner’s World Break 4:00 program which I had been attempting to master for the past several years.

At this point, mentally, I was losing hope. I was not feeling confident in myself or my running/racing abilities. I have never been one to give up, however, and I have never not finished what I’ve started. So I simply kept going. If I hit the set training paces? Great. If I didn’t? I came as close as I physically could in that moment and immediately moved on. I chose not to think about it or dwell on it. When I arrived at a race and friends asked me what I was planning to run my response was always the same : “Whatever my best is for today.”, and I did. In doing so, I finished every single race event feeling proud of what I had run…and the results were always better than I had expected, with many of them resulting in new PR’s and awards for myself.

A few days prior to Philly, I reached out to my friend, Joe, asking him what pace he planned to run for the marathon. When he told me his plan, I was surprised to feel that I could potentially run with him; I just wasn’t sure for how long? Regardless, we planned to try.

As we lined up in our corral, the cold wind and rain chilled us all, but the excitement was palpable amongst the field of 24,000 runners.

It took us over 20 minutes to reach the START and count down to the beginning of our wave; but then, finally, we were off.

The pace felt easy and I hoped that it would stay this way. Before we even reached the 1 mile mark though, Joe took a hard right off course and stopped at a porta potty. I spun around in the street for several seconds, cursing under my breath.

What do I do?! What do I do?! Do I wait?! Do I go?! I don’t know! We didn’t discuss or plan for this!

So I ran.

Joe is a strong runner, a very experienced marathoner. We call him “The Rocketman”. There was no doubt in my mind that Joe could catch up to me. My biggest fear this day was the point in the race when I could no longer keep up with him, so I did not want to lose any time now.

I zoned in.

I ran how I have run every race event this year, based on feel. A comfortable, easy, steady effort that did not tax my breathing into a controlled rhythm.

The miles ticked by.

My pace was strong and tracking updates notified me of my estimated finish time; approximately 3:47:xx. I was ecstatic but kept telling myself not to get too excited; the race is long and the hardest miles are still hours away.

The scenery along the course in Philly is phenomenal with so many beautiful city streets, murals, and historical statues, monuments, and buildings to see along the way. The crowd support was fantastic; the music, the noise, the race signs. I was frustrated only by the need to weave so frequently, as the field of athletes was quite large and there were several miles in this race where it was hard to move at all, running shoulder to shoulder with other participants.

At Mile 6, I was scanning the crowd lined streets in search of my husband. To this day, I still don’t know how I spotted him so easily, but I did, and I made my way across the course toward him, hopping the curb and tapping his shoulder as I ran by. It was at this moment, jumping back off that curb, that I realized exactly how fast I was running : 7:35/mi !!!

“Don’t get too excited.” I told myself, “There’s still 20 miles left to run.” (But, damn, it sure felt good!)

Miles 8-10+, we faced some serious hills.

But at Mile 14, received a “power up” hug by my running icon, Meb Keflezighi, himself.

Around Mile 16, I desperately needed a pit stop. I spotted a cluster of porta potties and jumped in line behind 4 other runners. While waiting, I continued to scan the crowd of people running the course. I still had not seen Joe.

2 minutes passed.

The bathroom line had not budged.

I became too anxious and stepped out of line. I took off running again, this time, scanning any possibility of using a “facili-tree” along the course. We were running along a river at this point and I spotted my opportunity by a cluster of bushes next to a building. I took it and was back on course, running, less than a minute or two later.

Miles 17-18, the crowds grew silent between cheer stations. The runners began to struggle. The wind and rain picked up. I had Katy Perry’s song “Hot And Cold” echoing in my mind as I put my gloves on to warm up my hands, only to rip them off minutes later because I was too warm.

“You’re hot then you’re cold.
You’re yes then you’re no.
You’re in then you’re out.
You’re up then you’re down.”

This pattern repeated continuously through this entire race.

Yes, this is how my mind works…and it amused me for miles, interrupted only by the periodic “cheers” erupting from my phone, tucked in the back of my running vest, as my friends back home tracked my pace and progress along the course.

“Eye Of The Tiger” played out and runners behind me LOVED it!!!

I’m still not sure which of my friends followed it up with the munchkins from “The Wizard Of Oz” singing “Follow The Yellow Brick Road”, but it made me (and several other runners) laugh.

Mile 19 – I was still cruising along, but starting to feel tight in the hips. I still hadn’t seen Joe, but I catch a glimpse of my friend, Ryan. I moved over and slid up next to him, grabbed his arm, and said Hello. I was surprised how quickly I ran by, my legs still firing at a pace I’ve never known this late in a marathon. Ryan called out some encouragement, telling me that we were almost to the turnaround and it powered me through.

Mile 20 – I saw it. The newest mural in Philly, dedicated to the Marathon itself, unveiled just days before. It was beautiful. We were now entering Manayunk, very similar to Pittsburgh’s South Side. Crowds, bands, bars, and beer EVERYWHERE! Yes, even at aid stations for runners. I passed on the beer but gratefully accepted an orange slice…discovering, moments later, as I sucked down the juice from it, that I had been handed a LEMON slice! Thankfully, another station was just ahead (after the sharpest, most awkward turnaround point in marathon history) and they handed me a LEGIT orange slice.

I was now well on my way running the homestretch – the final 6 miles – back towards the Philadelphia Museum Of Art.

I was scanning the faces amongst the crowd of runners still on their way towards Manayunk, looking for Joe, when I spotted him!

Head down, struggling.

My estimate was that he was approximately 2 miles behind me at this point – too far behind for me to wait – and I so desperately wanted to be DONE already.

I’m struggling to write the remaining miles of this race because remembering it is so unclear.

My mind literally zoned OUT when my body entered “the pain cave” portion of this race.

Fueling was, as always, a bit of a struggle for me and by Mile 22 or 23 I was, again, in search of an available bathroom. The lines for the porta potties were long and I was acutely aware of the loss of time threatening to take away my sub-4 hour marathon goal.

I spotted a gas station up ahead, a block off the course route. I picked up my pace and ran for it.

A man was stepping out of the restroom and saw me running up. He held the door and I ran right in. On my way back onto the course, I slipped coming off a curb. The paint was slick from the rain. I came down hard on my arm, cracking my Garmin. It shut down. I thought it was broken. A bystander helped me up, brushed me off, and I took off running again. I was tired, dizzy, a little delirious…and now, I was angry too. My mind was buzzing with the stress of not knowing where I was, how fast I was running, and no longer having cheers, music, or the tracking alerts telling me that I was still okay and on pace to succeed.

My stomach churned. My ears were ringing. My vision was blurry. I thought I might throw up. Or worse. 

I ran harder, desperate for another pit stop yet seeing none.

I made a split decision to jump the fencing along the left side of the course near a line of trees, following it up to the top of a hill, and found a secluded spot where I could stop.

Upon returning to the course, climbing back over the same fence, my Honey came running up to me asking what I was doing. I broke down in tears and told him I was sick. “I’m done!”, I remember saying.

“What do you mean you’re done? The Finish Line is right there!”, he said, hugging me.

WHAT?!

Where am I???

He pointed to the top of the hill in front of us. “You’re almost done! Keep running. I’ll meet you at the Finish.”, and he pushed me away.

So I ran.

And that’s when I heard it.

The voice of the announcer, calling out the runner’s names.

The celebration going on in the surrounding tents.

The roar of the crowds along the fence line.

The music, blaring the ROCKY fight song:

“Trying hard now
It’s so hard now
Trying hard now

Getting strong now
Won’t be long now
Getting strong now

Gonna fly now
Flying high now
Gonna fly, fly, fly.

I ran harder than I’ve ever run before across a Finish Line and I heard the announcer calling out MY name.

The clock read 4:19:xx.

Damn.

But wait… when I started, didn’t the clock say 00:21:xx???

A man placed a medal around my neck and hugged me like he knew me. He did not know my official finish time.

I pulled out my phone and realized the charging case I placed it in was never turned on, therefore my battery had died. I turned it on and powered on my phone. The rain was pouring down now and I was soaked and cold, walking through hundreds of people, searching for my husband.

Messages began to flood my phone.

Shep sent me a text: “Congratulations, you did it!”, as did another friend.

I texted them both back, asking what I did.

They responded with: “3:57:05”!!!

I, immediately, came alive and was hyper aware of everything around me. The festivities, the music…YES!!! The Music!!! “The Rolling Stones” were playing and the lyrics were perfect for this precise moment : “You can’t always get what you want. but, if you try sometimes, you just might find – you get what you need!”

As I look back now, it’s amazing how one race can change an entire mindset. I’ve spent the last few years believing the odds were stacked against me and that “Boston” was, in reality, too far away for me to actually achieve.

But, thanks to the Philadelphia Marathon, I now confidently say and firmly believe that:

“Boston is now just 17 minutes away.”

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“Lose Yourself…”

🎶 “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it? Or just let it slip?”🎶

I fly out tomorrow for the:

I should be packing right now but anyone that knows me knows how much I hate packing so… I’m writing this blog instead.

The pre-race jitters have given way to the skin tingling feel of endless possibilities.

I get it now.

The body will only go as far as the mind says that it can.

🎶 “You better lose yourself in the music. The moment, you own it! You better never let it go! You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow; this opportunity comes once in a lifetime!”🎶

I’ve learned this lesson the hard way through years worth of time spend running, racing, and training; friendships forged through the coaching of miles, paces, and races… and parting ways or losing touch due to busy lives and feet moving in different directions. But it all comes back to one thing, one connecting force, that always brings us back – the run, itself.

In 2017, I PR’d the Pittsburgh Marathon with a time of 4:27:56. You may even remember this, if you’ve followed my blog that long? I had spent that training cycle listening to and incorporating the wisdom of my friend Joe, aka: “The RocketMan”.

He and I had planned to run that entire race together but, as the time grew closer, I began to panic. Joe kept pushing for more and better race goals and my mind was filled with doubt.

Those doubts gave way to fear and, shortly thereafter, my fear became panic.

As raceday approached, Joe rightly and politely removed himself from me to go out and run his own race.

I employed the help of a friend in getting through the first half of the race and then continued on into the second half alone.

I PR’d the race that day by over 10 minutes but, looking back now, was it truly the best I could have done?

I don’t know.

But, reflecting back on my past 6 months of running and racing, what I do know is this:

THE BODY WILL ONLY GO AS FAR AS THE MIND SAYS THAT IT CAN.

So isn’t it funny how, at 7 am on Sunday morning, Joe and I will be together again, lined up, side by side, at the START line of the 2019 Philadelphia Marathon…but, this time, I truly believe that ANYTHING is possible.

🎶 “So here I go, it’s my shot! Feet, fail me not! This may be the only opportunity that I got! You better lose yourself in the music. The moment, you own it! You better never let it go! You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow! This opportunity comes once in a lifetime!

You can do anything you set your mind to, man.”🎶

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

* Full music and lyrical credit to the artist, Eminem, for his hit song “Lose Yourself”. I thank you for the inspiration and motivation.

“Trust yourself ; the rest is yet unwritten.”

What no one tells you about marathon training :

It all comes down to trust.

You spend 16 weeks preparing for your goal race. Hundreds of miles spent running. Countless hours spent strength training, meal prepping, and preventing injuries.

For 14 weeks you Go, Go, GO! Increasing distance, increasing pace, increasing mileage.

When you reach the 15th week you begin to taper… physically, you are nearly spent. Mentally, ready to quit. You wonder if it’s really even worth it? WHY do we do this to ourselves???

But then you feel the healing affects of the taper as it begins to work it’s magic, repairing your body from the past few months of grinding.

By the 16th week there’s nothing left to do but wait. A few more easy runs just to stay loose but other than that, just…wait.

I have not RACED a Marathon since Peak To Creek, October 2018 (the one year anniversary of my parents deaths). After experiencing the exquisite pain from that particular course (20 of the 26.2 miles run on a wet, winding, washed out or flooded, heavily graded, unpaved gravel road) I, honestly, wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to walk normally, let alone race another marathon again. And I just didn’t want to.

So as 2019 began, I simply ran “for the love of the run”. No pace, time, or distance expectations. No specific training plan on my calendar. I ran for fun…and to help whoever I could along the way, be it at an organized race or simply a long training run with a friend who was fighting her own personal battles, as well.

But then I started to notice improvement. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Slight, at first, but most certainly there. I began to toy with the idea of getting back out there again. Running for myself. Just to see if I could possibly give just a little bit more?

I was making advancements with my personal and professional life…why not keep striving for more athletically as well?

I gave myself a goal, a deadline with which to restore myself as a runner.

I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon set to take place on Sunday, November 24th 2019.

No pressure. Just run.

And so began my summer of training.

Since then, I have run and/or raced many smaller events, leading up to Philly, as a part of my training. Looking back now, I realize that I have medaled and/or PR’d at EVERY SINGLE EVENT AND DISTANCE THIS YEAR.

1 mile – 7:02

5K – 23:56

5 mile – 41:16

10K – 54:32

10 mile – 1:28:20

Half Marathon – 1:49:32

These are the race times I have been chasing for years! These are the paces that, with a little more training and alot of determination, have the potential to make me a legitimate contender for a Boston Qualifier!

The only thing left now is the full marathon.

My final race for 2019.

THE PHILADELPHIA MARATHON ;

…just one week from today.

My mind begins to race. To doubt. I know I can do this. I’ve done it before. But can I do it BETTER this time? I don’t know. I hope so, but…

🤫 Sssshhhhh….

The work is done. I’ve done my best. Now is the time to rest.

Rest my body, but train my mind.

The body can withstand most anything you put it through…the challenge is to silence the mind. It is your mind you must convince to never, ever quit.

Trust the training.

Trust the taper.

TRUST YOURSELF ; the rest is yet unwritten…

(Click on the video above to see my 2019 race recap.😊)

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun



“Keep Showing Up.”

“Keep showing up.” – Des Linden, has become the mantra that repeats in my head over and over and over again, especially as of late.

I have been keeping myself very busy with my new career path and the start of a new marathon training cycle in preparation for Philly Marathon this fall. There sometimes seems to just not be enough hours in the day to get everything done. I do my best and have, so far, been finding my way; except in preparing for this one little race.

The Pittsburgh Liberty Mile.

I had every intention to prepare for it and attempt my fastest one mile PR (6:56 or better) but I simply let LIFE get in my way. I’ve kept running. Daily, in fact, in accordance with my run streak pact with a friend, but I did not incorporate any kind of organized speed training at all. As race day fast approached, I began to experience that fear and doubt. I told myself that “It’s just one mile, it really doesn’t matter if I don’t show up.”, and in reality, it’s not like anyone would have missed me at this event. I didn’t even tell many people that I was even going. But as the day arrived, I knew that I could not NOT show up. It’s simply not in my nature to back out of anything that I have committed myself to. So my Honey and I made the drive to the city and I did my best to look on the bright side. It IS only ONE MILE. I am fully capable of running a fast ONE MILE split despite the fact that it would not be a PR for me. (I honestly believed 7:20 might be my current fitness level for the mile.) But then, the most incredible part: I came to realize that this particular race is set up completely in reverse of any other race that I have run. The kids mile, pup walk, and recreational runner waves go off FIRST. Then the qualified heats: MASTERS – ages 40+ that have qualified with a sub-8 min mile, UNSTOPPABLES – ages 14-39 that have qualified with a sub-8 min mile, PRO Men – capable of running a sub-4 min mile, and PRO Women – capable of running 4:40/mi or better. This would mean that I would be able to run my race and then actually be standing there at the Finish Line to watch the Pro runners finish their race. I have never had this opportunity before as all of the Pro runners I have raced with have always been assigned to the corral ahead of me, started the race before me, and then finished well before me. So I was actually pretty excited about this part.

Once I arrived, however, the nerves really started to take over. I reached out to a friend of mine and he replied with an incredible “pep talk” that he had written previously but which most definitely applied to me this night:

“1. You begin with little more than hopes and fears. How you finish, depends on which you choose as your fuel.

2. When you realize you cannot outrun your fear, you stop inviting it to the race.

3. It can be a competition or celebration. With one, you stand a good chance of not winning. With the other, you never stand a chance of losing. Choose to celebrate it.

4. Be ready for the storm, but always expect the sunshine.

5. Physical preparation brings you to the start. Mental preparation brings you home. Both are necessary.

6. Strength is required for the climb, but first, you must believe youself capable of reaching the summit.

7. If you run carrying doubt, you will find signs which give you reason to further doubt. If you run carrying faith, you will find signs which give you reason to further believe.

8. Weakness only finds a foothold when you forget how strong you are.

9. If you dare open yourself completely to the challenge, you will find the pieces buried within you made for but one purpose: to overcome.

10. The greatest respect you can demonstrate is to offer no excuses.

11. Being grateful is not a singular act, it is a way of being.

12. You once did this for the sheer joy of it. If that now is your only reason, it is enough.”

– Tony Garcia

I stepped into my corral with his words echoing in my mind. I still felt very out of place. I have never been in a qualified heat before. There were not many of us there. There was so much room to move; almost too much. I had to take some deep breaths and calm my pounding heart.

I then realized: I just might be the absolute last person to cross the finish line from this wave. My husband lovingly said,”So what? You were still good enough to be in it.”, and he was so right. Despite feeling wildly out of my league, I was simply happy to be there; and yes, – I had earned my space in this place.

I caught sight of someone I knew and performed some strides alongside him to warmup. As we stood near the Start Line waiting for the gun to go off, I came upon another friend that I knew. It was comforting to see a familiar face. An older man, who had to be in his mid to late 70’s, walked up beside me and confessed “I am so nervous right now. If I don’t run under 8, I’ll not only be disqualified, but I’ll have to prequalify at another race to get back in here next year. I’m not sure I can do it.”. I smiled at him and said, “Then let’s do it here tonight. And don’t worry, they can’t sweep us if they can’t catch us, so…”, 🤷🏻‍♀️and we laughed. We wished each other luck and took off with the gun, running down the middle of Penn Avenue.

I ran as fast as I could while trying my best to stay in control. “Breathe easy”, I kept saying in my mind but it was hard not to get caught up in the rush of the runners beside me. At the quarter mile split I saw the clock: 1 min. 30 seconds. (A 6 minute mile pace.) We made the turn onto 11th Street and at the half mile split my watch told me I was running 5:35/mi.. I made the final turn onto Liberty Avenue and realized that there were not many people around me anymore. The majority of the pack had pulled away and moved ahead. There was a female ahead of me that I gained upon quickly. I noticed that she picked up her pace as I moved up alongside her and a part of me wanted to back off, just let her go, but I couldn’t allow myself to do that. I focused my eyes forward, found the next female runner ahead, and pushed my pace to try and catch up. My legs felt like lead, however, and I started to slow. My lungs were on fire, my throat was burning, and I was experiencing the worst “dry, cotton mouth” that I have ever known. It would have been so easy to allow myself to back off, to let my pace drop further, knowing that I was already certain for a sub-8 finish time, but the words of my friend echoed in my mind:

“The greatest respect you can demonstrate is to offer no excuses.”

Just then a woman’s voice cried out from the sidewalk : “Keep going, you’re going to break 7!”.

WHAT??? I might actually be able to PR this race! I dug deep and pushed my pace.

I could see the Finish Line and hear the announcer. As I got closer, my vision focused on the clock that read 6:59. I crossed the line just 3 seconds later at 7:02.

“THE GREATEST RESPECT YOU CAN DEMONSTRATE IS TO OFFER NO EXCUSES!”

This lesson applies to everything; in running and in life.

As the week went on, I felt the weight of the world heavy upon my shoulders again; being subpoenaed to testify in court regarding a case that I was the lead Paramedic on this past winter. All the bad emotions that I have been doing so well at leaving behind came flooding back with tremendous force. I couldn’t wait to be finished with this, to get back to my new job with my positive, supportive team, and leave all of the negativity of the “EMS Life” behind me again. When I got back in the office, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could breathe again. This is how I know I am right where I need to be and definitely on the right path towards a better future.

As the workweek ended, I came upon a FaceBook post about a local race being run this weekend. “Will Of The Warrior” 5K Run, Walk, or Ruck. My mind drifted back to a woman I had met in March of this year. She had approached me as I was sitting in the Ambulance outside of a Subway restaurant where my partner was buying himself dinner. She told me about this nonprofit organization that she had helped to established that seeks to encourage and support military veterans as well as local police, fire, ems, and first responders through physical activities such as boxing in their gym or relaxing on their pontoon boat with no monetary price tag attached. I was skeptical at first as, in my experience, nothing in life is ever “free” and very few people actually do things “out of the goodness of their hearts”, but she assured me she was neither looking to benefit from nor profit off of this endeavor in any way. She explained that she has seen and felt the effects of stressful situations herself and we realized that our lives had both been impacted recently by a mutual friend’s very serious suicide attempt. There were tears and hugs and a heartfelt exchange of encouragement between us before we went our seperate ways. Now, just hours after I read about this local event, I received a private message from her asking if I would run her race…”Will Of The Warrior”?

Of course I will.

I arrived at this event not knowing much of anything about it. Also, not knowing for certain if anyone I knew would be running. I rarely have difficulty finding SOMEONE I know at a local race though; and wouldn’t you know it, as I stepped out of my Jeep, the man parked in the space next to me was one of my favorite running friends. As we were hugging our hellos, two other friends we knew came walking up, and then another, and yet another. It had been entirely too long since any of us had seen each other or ran together. This was shaping up to be a really good day already!

We picked up our bibs and made our way to the opening ceremony. This was a spine tingling display for me, as they explained the meaning behind this organization and event.

The “Will of the Warrior” Program is associated with a local boxing club and is “dedicated to assist disabled veterans and first responders to recover both mentally and physically from their missions. “…guiding each Warrior to gain the 3 most important elements of all champion boxers: a healthy body, mind and spirit.”

More than just the physical, though, they spoke of the “invisible wounds” such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. They went even further to address the similarities between Military Veterans and local Police, Fire, and EMS Responders; connecting us all by way of our drive, our focus, our characteristics, as well as, the hardships that we all face as a result of the work that we do and the things we have seen/done. I felt my heartbeat quicken, my throat tighten, and my hands began to shake. My mind flashed back to that day in April of this year when my counselor finally addressed “the elephant in the room” because neither one of us could deny it anymore.

PTSD.

This has always been something that I have associated with Military Veterans and heroes returning home from wars and large scale catastrophic events, but never with myself. However, the symptoms I was experiencing could no longer be denied and had escalated to a level so far outside the normal pattern and progression of “grief” over the loss of my parents. That did not make this diagnosis any easier to accept though. It was (& still is, at times) hard not to feel “weak”. To me “PTSD” is a label; and I hate labels. I refuse to let any one thing define me. PTSD is not who I am; it is simply something that I am going through. PTSD is not what I want you to think of when you hear my name or see my face; it is simply a speedbump along this journey of my life, something that I have experienced but am overcoming each and every day. It is not who I am at the very core of my being. Therefore I have been, and will continue to do, everything in my power to change my course and overcome this very real, very “human”, issue. I say it this way because that is exactly what it is. If you have ever experienced these things it does not mean that you are “sick” and you certainly are not crazy; you are simply HUMAN. The kind of human who feels things, deeply; most likely an empath who not only feels and fights your own emotions, but who absorbs the emotions and heartaches of those around you. The people with whom you come in contact with, encounter in an emergent situation, or do your best to help physically, mentally, or emotionally. All of these things take their toll. All of these things bring with them a heavy burden of emotional weight. “Crumbling” beneath the weight of such things does not make you “weak”. Finding your way to stand back up beneath this weight, however, most certainly makes you “strong”. THIS is what “Warrior’s Call Boxing” strives to do and what this “Will Of The Warrior” event was created for – to connect the community and encourage all of us to keep moving forward, despite the challenges that we face in our day to day lives.

It was a challenge to hold back the tears as the organizers spoke, the National Anthem was played, the bagpiper played “Amazing Grace”, and the pastor prayed for us all.

My friend standing beside me, whispering words of strength and encouragement is something I will not soon forget. Running this event as a representative “Team RWB”, he explained that this is their mission, as well:

“…to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”

I have several friends that run/race for this organization but I had always believed you had to be military to be one of them, as most of my friends are. I discovered that this is not the case; civilians are also welcome to join; afterall, CONNECTING people through physical and social activity is the mission. If members of our society are excluded because they had not served our great nation on a military level, a division/separation could be the result which would, obviously, defeat their purpose. For those of us who were unable to serve, perhaps this is our way of giving back? Of giving thanks? Of helping and serving those who dedicated the best years of their lives to protect us, our homes, and our freedoms? As I often say, “I can not LOVE this enough!”.

We made our way to the Start Line and, in true runner friend fashion, wished each other luck and lined up to each run our own race, whatever that may be for this day.

Again, I have not been doing any organized speed training or hill workouts for strength. My marathon training for this fall has only just begun. I know this course well, having run here in training but never have I raced here. It is notoriously Beaver County’s most difficult 5K. I decided to simply run my best, pacing myself through the hills and aiming to remain steady so as not to tire out.

The gun went off and so did we.

Running the first hill, the masses passed me by. “Be patient”, I told myself and, as the course changed from pavement to grass, I picked up my pace accelerating towards the trail through the woods. I passed the majority of people who had taken off too fast by the 1/2 mile mark. I played “leap frog” with a pair of teenage boys who looked like they could crush the majority of the field if we were running a quarter mile on a track right now. I listened to them talk to each other as they tried to figure out how to face the ginormous hill ahead of us. They slowed to a walk and I patted their backs as I passed them by, “Pace yourself through the hills then push the pace at the end.”, I told them.

I did the same; slowing my pace on the biggest and longest, seemingly unending hill of this course. I reached the top and thanked the volunteers who were stationed there, handing out cups of cold water. I chose to take a small sip before dumping the rest of the cup on my body. The sun was high and it was already hot and humid.

I crested the hill, made the turn, and started up the next hill, knowing that a long, steady downhill “break” awaited me just ahead. It was a glorious moment, too, allowing my body and heartrate to recover as I “coasted” down that hill and allowed myself to catch my breath. At the next turn around, I caught sight of the first female ahead of me, ponytail swinging. I had seen her take off at the gun and it occurred to me now that she is quite possibly the only female left ahead of me, as all the others had fallen off pace before the first trail in that very first mile. I kept this woman in my sight but continued to run my own race. The two teenage boys that I spoke of earlier now passed me as my watch beeped in at “Mile 2”. The boys called out to me this time, “Keep going, you’re doing great!”. I thanked them and said “I’ll meet you at the Finish Line!”.

The course began to climb again as that previously “long and steady downhill” is now being run on the “long and steady” UPHILL. I felt my heartrate begin to rise and, in order to forget about my own pain, I started to look ahead at every runner coming down the hill towards me. I smiled, I waved, I made eye contact and brought many in for the classic high-five “power up”. There’s no better feeling than watching the pain of a runner’s “race face” transform into the smile of relief when they realize that they are not alone in this moment. We are all hurting here, but that is never a reason to ever give up.

As I approached the crest of this hill, I shifted my focus forward and realized that the female I had seen ahead of me was now DIRECTLY in front of me and her pace had slowed tremendously. I called out to her as I passed, “Don’t stop now, you’re almost there. .30 mi left to go!”. As I said these words, a seemingly weightless runner flew past the both of us on our right; another female, running with a beautiful stride. “Get it, girl, you got this!”, I called out, impressed that I had never even heard her approach. I opened up my own stride on the downhill, catching up to the woman, and she matched my pace. We encouraged each other on the uphill by the Old Economy Park barn as Station 47’s ladder truck was extended, the American flag on proud display.

“We’re almost there!” she cried out, reaching for my hand. “.20 mi and one more hill.”, I replied, as she groaned and immediately backed off our pace. I made the final turn and started pumping my arms. “Open it up.”, I told myself, “Always finish strong.”.

As I climbed the final hill and the orange cones marking the Finish Line came into sight, I heard the cheers and the voice of the announcer saying “Let’s hear it for the first female finisher!”, and they clocked my time as I tried to stop without stumbling. I looked around and then looked back, no one else had crossed the line beside me. Event staff retrieved my bib tag and I realized they were talking about ME! For the first time in my entire running life, I was the first female finisher! I checked my watch and realized, with total satisfaction, that I had run this course several minutes faster today than I had ever been able to run it in training. I put it all out there and could not be more proud of my performance on this course. I ran “smart” instead of just “fast”; something I have rarely been able to accomplish in a 5K race.

I saw the teenage boys I had run with earlier and we congratulated each other on the race. I watched the 2nd and 3rd females cross the line and congratulated them, as well. My friend (Team RWB) powered up that final hill and finished his race and the celebrations continued.

He and I jogged back down the course, encouraging and high-fiving the tired, sweating runners as they made their way to the end of their race.

We took turns running alongside a few, helping them find their second wind in order to power up that hill and cross the Finish Line. This is quite possibly my favorite part of the race. To fall in step beside someone and make certain they know that they are not alone. It never fails; you see them dig deep, pick up their pace, and finish the race with a strength they did not even realize they had. It’s an incredible moment and bearing witness to this transformation is an experience that is second to none!

The sense of camaraderie and celebration grew as we all stood in attention and cheered for the final ruckers to bring the race to its conclusion.

As if all of that was not fun enough, the after party and cookout immediately followed!

As we ate, drank, and played, the “heaviness” of the opening ceremony was notably relieved from my soul…yet, I couldn’t help but think of how incredibly symbolic this race course was to this particular event. As a runner, you really have to dig deep, pace yourself, find your “why”, find your peace, and summon up your innermost strength in order to finish or this course will beat you down. The same is true in life when you consider the ups, the downs, the peaks, and the valleys that each and every one of us face in our own lifetime and journey. It is then that I realized the quote that had been placed upon our bibs for today:

“Our ability to handle life’s challenges is a measure of our strength of character.” – Les Brown

And I couldn’t agree more.

I have been coming to realize, more and more, in recent weeks that where I am now is exactly where I am meant to be. This moment, right here, right now, is all that matters; and so long as I remain present in this moment, I will always be in position to give or receive exactly what I need or that which is needed by someone else.

So, again, in the words of my favorite female runner, Des Linden: “Somedays it just flows and I feel like I am born to do this; other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try and be better. My advice: KEEP SHOWING UP.”.

#WillOfTheWarrior5K2019 #OutRunTheDark #ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“All The Science, I don’t understand…”

It has been nearly two months since my last blog post and so much has happened that it is hard to decide exactly where to start, so I’m just going to jump right in.

✨RUNNING & TRAINING✨

I am currently in the dreaded downtime between training for big race events, but I am still running. Every single day, as a matter of fact, thanks to a “Mile Streak” pact that I have going with a friend of mine for the past 195 days straight. (200 has got nothin’ on us Mr.G!) I have been using this downtime to read up on and try out a few different training methods and techniques. I have narrowed my “search”, and am now focused solely on the Hanson’s Marathon Method. (The same kind of training plan followed by my favorite elite female runner & winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon, Des Linden.) The science explained throughout their book is mindblowing. I find myself rereading page after and page and thinking: “So…I’ve been doing this wrong all along?!”. Things my friend, Joe, and Coach Shep have said in the past are now starting to make sense. The science behind running slower in training has been resulting in faster/easier race performances and increased training speeds even on the smallest scale for me considering I’ve not really been “training”. I’ve honestly just been “playing” these past few months; enjoying whatever my run turns out to be, day after day. I do, however, plan to give this method an honest, hard working try for my upcoming fall marathon.

❤️PERSONALLY & EMOTIONALLY💔

I have had my share of intense struggles the past few months. I have kept quiet about the details and the extent of it to all but the people closest to me…and the few who witnessed my “meltdown” firsthand. After losing my parents in October 2017, I became restless and agitated, especially at work. I felt the need to return to working on the Ambulance fulltime; as if there was something “more” that I could do for this world (or our community) by functioning in the fullest capacity to which I have been trained. For awhile, this seemed like the right decision. I started to feel “like me” again. As time went on though, the reality of things began to set in for me. What once seemed like saving lives and making a difference in this world no longer seemed so true. I began to realize that, more often than not, we are simply prolonging an inevitable death. The outcome is almost always out of our control. We’re being called upon in a person’s worst possible moments, and we do everything in our power/ability to help, but seldom do we actually make a lasting difference. We put bandaids on bulletholes, so to speak, and never truly get to the root of the problem because the problems are not ours to fix. People need to be willing (and wanting!) to save themselves by making the necessary changes in their own lives and bodies in order for their prognosis to truly improve, otherwise, they simply live to die another day. That being said, my faith in this field, in myself, and my abilites began to fade.

💔PTSD & ME❤️

Early February 2019, I was working a 24-hour shift with one of my favorite partners when a call went out over the air and we both froze in our tracks. If you’ve ever worked a day in EMS, you’ll know what I mean; when that dispatcher’s voice hits a higher pitch as he/she dispatches the initial emergency with a fast paced urgency that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

You just know.

This is going to be bad.

I remember it all as if it were yesterday. My heart felt as if it had stopped in my chest and then began to pound so hard and so fast that it hurt. I could hardly breathe. Time stood still. The sun was setting and the red/gold haze that streamed through the room reminded me of “that day” back in October; the day I got the call about my parents. The room began to spin.

A smarter person would have shut off the radio.

A wiser person would have walked away.

The call was not mine to respond to. My location was far enough away that it was unlikely that I would even be called as the backup unit, yet, I could not turn it off, and I could not walk away. Just like with my parents, I needed to “see” everything, hear everything, and feel everything. And, just like with my parents, there was nothing I could do about it. Sadly, there was also nothing the responding medics could do either. Two people were pronounced dead at the scene.

From this day forward, I was not the same. I tried to act like I was fine. I tried to pretend that everything was okay, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In the past 17 years, serving as a Paramedic, there is not much that I have not seen and done in this field. I have always prided myself on the fact that I was one of the “strong” ones. I could see and do whatever this job called upon me to see/do and continue on, unphased, because none of it was ever personal to me. I could move from one call to the next with efficiency and ease and rarely think twice about what had just happened or what my partner and I had been called upon to do or bear witness to. All of the sudden, however, it was as if every single thing I had ever seen or done over the course of my career came flooding back to me in frighteningly crisp, clear detail. We’d pass a house on the way to a call and the visions would flash through my mind and replay for me the stories: the patients, the families, the details of them all. Things I had not seen for 5, 10, 15, or more years! People and things I had never seen, heard, or thought about twice since they happened. Over the next few weeks, it became quite exhausting. None of these stories are good. None of them have happy endings. There are no silver lining here, and no one (I don’t care how strong you think you are!) can keep a positive mind amongst this level of negativity. The symptoms began to manifest physically on a daily basis; my racing heart, my skin crawling/tingling, my hands shaking. I had trouble thinking, trouble sleeping, and a real hard time focusing even on the simplest of tasks. I started making stupid mistakes. Daily. I started snapping at friends and/or family for no apparent reason; agitation and impatience a daily occurrence, when at work. My Garmin smartwatch started to send me “high stress” alerts and warned me to get some rest. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or interact with anyone. I simply wanted to be left alone, yet, I didn’t want to feel alone.

On Monday, April 15, 2019, the same day as the 2019 Boston Marathon, I responded to a motor vehicle crash. I knew from the inital dispatch that it was going to be bad. I immediately wanted to go home. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to sink through the seat that I was sitting in. I wanted to be going ANYWHERE other than on that particular call. My Gramin watch, again, alerted me to the high stress that I could already feel; recording a heart rate of 177 as I sat in the passenger seat of the Ambulance, trying not to vomit, while en route to the scene. The call itself is still hazy in my mind. The details come back to me in nonsequential bits and pieces now but there are certain details that remain crystal clear. These details are eerily similar to my own parents crash and, on that day, they sucked me in like a moth to a flame. I knew getting distracted by them could burn me but I simply could not turn away. As a result, I came close to ignoring some very serious “warning signs” and hesitated in making some critical decisions. In reviewing the case, including chronological time stamps, it would appear as if everything was done in good time but, to me, it felt like an eternity. The magnitude of what could have happened weighs heavily on my mind. It is a weight that my shoulders can not bear to carry. I left the shift shortly after that call. (Something I have never done and I am not proud of.) I found myself at a bar with a bottle of Jack Daniels, surrounded by friends who were on the call, as well, functioning on behalf of the fire department. I did not leave until the bottle was empty. When I woke up the next morning (feeling like death had become me) I at least had enough sense to call my counselor for an impromptu appointment. I’m pretty certain I scared even him on this day. He did not let me leave without concrete followup. I saw him several times that week and the week that followed. It was at this time that he seemed to switch gears with me. He began to employ techniques used for treating PTSD and, while I was skeptical, I must admit that these things have truly helped. Through several additional appointments, I have come to face the realization that I can no longer continue in the field of emergency medicine. I no longer love this profession and it is crushing my soul. At one point in my life, it truly helped me to grow as a person. It gave me the strength and confidence I needed to stand up for myself as a human being, while motivating me to keep moving forward in an effort to help as many people as I possibly could to the best of my ability. But this is no longer the case. At this point in my life, nothing good can come from this. It is time for me to move on…and so I did.

✨PART OF A BRAND NEW TEAM✨

In the eight weeks that followed, I began my avid job search. I enrolled in and completed an on-line certification class to help boost my chances of securing a better job. I applied to several posted employment opportunities and attended multiple job interviews.

At 8am on May 31st, I showed up for an interview at a nearby chiropractic clinic. FOUR HOURS LATER, I emerged feeling as if my life was about to change for the better. I can not put into words what happened that morning, but I can tell you that I finally know what people mean when they say “everything happens for a reason”. It feels as if every hard moment that I have had to face over the past few years of my life was leading me to this place. In that moment, on that morning, I was “interviewed” and conversed with in a manner that I can only describe as “transcendent”. I was not seen for where I am or what I have been through but, rather, for who I am at the very core of my being and what I can be if placed in the right environment, surrounded by the right people, and supported with positive energy and genuine intention.

BUT WAIT! It gets even better…

✨PHYSICALLY✨

As if accepting the inital employment offer wasn’t life changing enough, I have, also, opted to take advantage of the talents of my employers by consenting to care in their practice as a patient, myself.

The years of working EMS have taken their toll on me physically, as well. I have been aware of the damage that the “EMS Life” has done to my body for quite some time now, but every chiropractor I have ever had has always told me the same thing: “There is nothing we can do to reverse the damage; we can simply manage it and keep it from getting worse”.

(*Xrays from 2017)

So imagine my surprise when my newfound employer and CORRECTIVE CARE CHIROPRACTOR not only tells me, but SHOWS me, that not only has my body continued to deteriorate despite my regular chiropractic care, but that there is no reason (considering my current age and overall good health) that we can not CORRECT most, if not all, of my issues!

(*June 2019 Xrays)

(*Correction Potential Xray, June 2019)

Well, obviously, I’m “all in” on this opportunity as well, so I have committed to care. It has only been 2 weeks but I can tell you this: I have not had a single headache in these two weeks, my energy level is much higher, and my “chronic pains”, while still present, have significantly decreased.

Today, “Dr.A” even introduced me to “foot protocol”, addressing the issues and adjusting the bones in my feet that have been causing me difficulty on my runs for years. I never even knew this was a “thing”?!

So here I am, right here, right now, facing a brand new direction in my life, and I couldn’t be more excited. Truth be told, it is alot to learn and take in all at once, but I am jumping right in.

All the science I don’t understand, but with a team like this by my side, directing my next step and having my back, I am confident that I will not fail. And for the first time since October 2017, I have very little interest in ever looking back.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“I Am Resilient.”

Recently, I was asked to participate, on behalf of UPMC Healthplan, in a video series entitled “YOU ARE HERE” regarding the Pittsburgh Half Marathon 2019. After hearing the objective of this project, I was honored and excited to be a part of it all. I was told that, “It’s not about where you want to be or wish to be in running; it’s about where you are NOW and finding the good in that. It’s a way to inspire you and others running alongside you to continue.”

This fits so perfectly with where I am in my life right now.

Anyone that knows me, knows that my heart aches for Boston…but Pittsburgh is where I got my start.

So this hometown race, also, means the world to me.

The past 18 months have been the most diffult of my entire life and I have faced multiple setbacks, personally and professionally. I take the hits and am finding my way to adapt and overcome them all. Through it all, I have always found a way to keep running. Running is my strength, my saving grace.

“Chasing Boston” requires a higher level of running and training, which I am just now starting back down the path of. (The events I am actually RACING with PR’s in mind are not scheduled until fall.)

So, as raceday in Pittsburgh quickly approached, I had to take an honest look at myself and decide how I was going to proceed. When I heard from two of my friends that they were recovering from their own personal/physical setbacks; one recovering from thyroid cancer and surgery, the other from foot surgery and subsequent foot pain/injury. Both of them were considering scratching from the race altogether..but I could not let them quit. Instead, I knew exactly what we needed to do.

We needed to: “Stop. Take a look around. Realize where (we) are now, how far (we’ve) come, and just appreciate that.”

So we agreed to run this year’s race together just “for the love of the run”. Not only that, but to take it all in and appreciate the efforts of all the people along the way that help to make this race, not only possible, but the incredible experience that it has come to be. And we did just that.

I had created a list of things for my friends to look for, say, and/or do all along the course. We called it “Aubrey’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon Challenge 2019”.

In all honesty though, these ladies took to this style of thankful running so easily that we rarely even looked at this list, yet still accomplished everything on it and so much more!

We ran our miles together, taking our time, and giving back to those who were there in the cold and the rain, sacrificing their time and energy to inspire and motivate us. We interacted with the crowds, the race signs, the costumed funny guys/girls, the cheer-ers, the children, the bands, the military, the volunteers, and all of the first responders.

We had our small gifts, gestures of thanks, high-fives, smiles, and awards to hand out all along the way.

In the words of Des Linden: “Make it more than just a run. When time becomes memorable, it turns into a moment.”

May 5, 2019 is a moment I will not soon forget.

It reminded me of why I do this.

It reminded me of who I am.

It has inspired me to get back on my best try and continue chasing my dreams.

#IAmResilient #IAmHere

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“You Are Here.”

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. In about 12 hours, I will be in the city of Pittsburgh, sitting in front of a camera, telling my story; a quick, abbreviated version, anyway. I think it’s safe to say, I’m nervous. I need to gather my thoughts and prepare my own mind; remind myself that this is not just a story about loss, or losing my momentum, or falling off track. This is a story about resilience, about being knocked down, but getting back up. It’s about finding my way through the darkest of moments and helping to shine a light on the pathway of someone else.

To fill you in, I was recently chosen to participate in this year’s UPMC Half Marathon Campaign entitled; “YOU ARE HERE.”. To be honest, I was quite surprised that they picked me. A friend kept posting the application on my social media feeds and repeatedly tagged me, asking me to apply. I didn’t want to be rude, but I really just wanted her to stop. So, in order to shut her up, I filled out the application and sent it off. She was ecstatic and I was relieved to not be “tagged” anymore. A few weeks later, however, I received an email informing me that they found my submission to be “very inspiring” and they were requesting a telephone call followed by my participation in their upcoming video series. After speaking with their Video Production Manager on the phone and hearing about their theme for this year, I was actually pretty excited to be involved.

But now here I am, the night before we film, nervous and unable to sleep; thinking back on all these years and how I came to be where I am today.

I grew up in a very strict, religious home. There wasn’t a whole lot that we were allowed to do; no birthdays, holidays, school dances or prom, no sports or extracurricular activities of any kind. We lived in the country along a ridge that boasted the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, so I would get out there and run. I ran the roads, ridges, and trails all over the area, probably about a 10-mile radius from our house. And I loved it. But I got married not long after graduating high school and had my daughter a year and a half later. Running fell by the wayside as I embraced my new role as a wife and mother. In 2002, I started working for a local Ambulance Company and I loved that too. Remaining calm in chaotic situations and helping people in their most vulnerable moments brought satisfaction to my life in a way that no other 9-5 job could. Over the next few years, however, things began to fall apart in my personal life. I walked away from my parents’ religion and, shortly thereafter, was navigating divorce and a co-parenting relationship for the sake of our daughter. In order to support myself and my daughter, as well as, fulfill my personal desire to know more and do more in the field of Emergency Services, I began to further my education, attending classes two nights per week, while simultaneously working for multiple employers. It was difficult. I slept every second or third night and my diet consisted of whatever was fast, cheap, and convenient while driving to or from school or work. This unhealthy lifestyle led me to a 40 pound weight gain over the course of just a few short years. Once I became a Paramedic and settled into my full-time profession with just one or two employers, I began to realize how unhealthy I had become. Initially, I started running simply to lose weight and I did so quite quickly. But then a friend encouraged me to sign up for a 5K race. I could not even run the whole thing, but it was exhilarating and fun. So I did it again. Pretty soon I was running 5k’s without stopping to walk at all and when I won my first age group award, I was hooked! I kept pushing myself to go further and faster; 5K, 5-mile, 10K, 10-mile, and in 2013, I ran my 1st half marathon in Pittsburgh. As I crossed the finish line and accepted my medal, I asked myself: “Why not the full?”, and so I continued to run and returned to the streets of Pittsburgh the following year and ran my first full marathon. There really is nothing quite like it. For something to hurt so bad yet feel so good is just inexplicable.

Running has not only served its purpose in helping me achieve and maintain my physical health but also creates a healthy outlet for my mental and emotional well being. I am coming up on my 17th consecutive year in EMS, serving our community as a full-time Paramedic and, as anyone that has ever worked in this profession for any length of time will tell you, things tend to get a little bit heavy at times. No one ever calls 911 because they’re having a good day. Most of them are calling us for help in some of the worst moments they will ever experience. We, as emergency responders, might be trained to handle these situations in the calm, cool, collected manner you see when we arrive on scene but this does not mean that we are immune to the stressors of your emergencies. This job takes its toll on every one of us. Running has helped to alleviate this for me. In the “E.M.S. Life” someone is always sick, dead, dying, or complaining of something. We are called upon at all hours of the day and night to see and do things that most people can’t even imagine, let alone live with. Everywhere we go and everything we do is to help someone else. At the end of the day, you have got to step up and do something for yourself, to take care of yourself, otherwise you will face the effects of the job sooner or later; wether that be in declining physical health that takes your role from “Provider” to “Patient”, or mentally to the point where you may not be able to continue in this field due to the cumulative stress of it all. Running has helped me in both of these areas. It’s such a relief, at the end of the day, to be able to simply lace up my shoes and hit the road alone. I don’t have to talk to anyone, listen to anyone, or do anything for anyone else in this moment; it’s just me and the road. There is a lot of strength to be gained in that silence. It’s a spiritual process in a lot of ways. Over the past 9 years I have run thousands of miles, raced countless 5K’s, 10K’s, nearly 20 half marathons in a half dozen states, completed 6 full marathons, and 1 ultramarathon. I am in no way, shape, or form ready to quit running or racing anytime soon. In fact, my ultimate running goal is to one day qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. I was making incredible progress towards this goal in 2017, setting personal records in every distance I raced; 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon. The plan was to continue this progress and, with a lot of hard work and a whole lot of luck, just maybe be one of the 30,000 invited runners to toe the Start Line in Hopkinton in 2019 or 2020. But things don’t always go “as planned”.

At 11:46am on October 26, 2017, the 911 call went out for a motor vehicle crash involving a car and a tanker truck. The emergency response was impeccable. Police, Fire, and EMS arrived on scene within minutes. But there were no lives to be saved this time; there were no injuries that they could treat. My mom and dad were pronounced dead at the scene.

Just like that, everything changed. I have never felt so helpless in all my life. Suddenly, not a whole lot really mattered to me anymore. When faced with moments of life or death, everything seems to pale in comparison. Just getting out of bed in the morning took a tremendous amount of energy. A few of my closest friends stepped in and made me do it though. They refused to take “No” for an answer. They kept calling, texting, even showing up at my door. Even just days after it all happened, they were physically helping me lace up my shoes and hitting the road right beside me.

It is because of this day, this moment, and these people, that I continued to do so despite the avalanche of emotions and events that followed in the days, weeks, and months after. I run for many reasons, but especially for the simple fact that running teaches us to keep moving forward even in our most difficult moments.

Now here we are, nearly 18 months later, and although my progress in “Chasing Boston” has not gone according to plan, I am still running. I may not be exactly where I want to be, and it may take me much longer to accomplish my goals than I had originally planned, but I am so much further ahead than if I had given it all up that day. Some days are all about putting in the miles, doing the work, and chasing those dreams, but every now and then, you need to take a moment to stop and look around. Appreciate where you are, where you’ve been, and how far you have come in between. You are here right now and that’s a really good place to be.

On May 5th, nearly 36,000 runners will take to the streets of Pittsburgh and as they cross that Finish Line downtown most will never even think twice about it, but do you know why they call it a “Finish” line?

Because runners never quit.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun