The road to Boston will be long…and I am sure there will be several stories along the way that I will have to share with all of you. For now though, as we begin this journey together, I figured I would share a little bit of background information on myself and where I am from. The following is an edited version of a blog interview that I submitted, upon request, to a friend of mine, whom I had met within a Facebook running group a couple of years ago.
I grew up in a very strict, religious home. There was so much that I was not allowed to do… Ok-pretty much NOTHING that I was allowed to do. No school sports, dances, or parties outside of our church. Not even college, at that time. All such things were against my parent’s religious beliefs in some way or another; or it would require time (outside of regular, necessary school hours) around “worldly people” that they considered to be “bad association” – people not of my parent’s religion. I, naturally, gravitated towards gymnastics as my first passion. (Nadia Comaneci was my hero!) And, for a short time, my parents indulged me- I spent one full, glorious summer going to a gymnastics class every Wednesday night for 30 minutes. I was roughly, 11 years old at this time. I had taught myself several tricks, and within just a few classes, my coaches approached my parents for consent to place me on their competitive Gym Team. My parents refused, stating that this would violate our religious beliefs to remain neutral, politically and patriotically. Being on the Gym Team would require me to wear the American Flag on my uniform, stand for the National Anthem, compete for my team, and, in the event that I became one of the elite few to progress to the Olympics, then for my country. Needless to say, I was not allowed to continue professional classes beyond that year.
By the time I was in High School, I had many doubts that their religion was what I wanted or even believed in, but as their minor child, living under their roof, and not having the guts to stand up for myself, I “played by their rules”. I was full of the usual teenage angst & since there was not much else that I was “allowed” to do, I started running. We lived in the country at that time and I would set out from our house, running all the roads, ridges, and trails in the woods within a 10 mile radius. This let me blow off a lot of steam and get away from my family’s judgmental ways. Pretty much the only life path that was not frowned upon was that of getting married, having children, and supporting myself with a simple job that did not get in the way of the religion’s meetings, which were scheduled 3 times per week. So, as I graduated High School and turned 18, I immediately married my “first love”, whom I had met when I was just 14 years old. I became pregnant within a year, and at the age of 19, became a mother, myself. Over the next few years, I worked a few minimum wage paying jobs, played house, and questioned my life and all of my decisions. Running fell by the wayside, as I now had a family to help support and bills to pay.
In 2002, I was hired at Medic Rescue Ambulance and immediately enrolled in the EMT program. This job was such a rush and I loved it. Several months later, I enrolled in the Paramedic program. During this time, I never ran. My marriage was on the rocks, held together only for the sake of our young daughter, and I was contemplating leaving the religion. By the age of 25, I had left the religion, moved out on my own, filed for divorce, and was struggling to survive, having never been on my own before. I was working four jobs, going to school two nights a week, and juggling my daughter on just a few hours of sleep every other night. In leaving this religion, I was now “ex-communicated” from all of my family and former friends. Within a few difficult years, I was finally able to establish myself as a full-time paramedic at Medic Rescue and part-time at a neighboring ambulance service. My daughter was adjusting well to the divorce and was excelling at school. I had met my current husband and was now seeing him regularly. He was/is involved in a lot of different activities between work and sports. (I.e.: reffing of high school basketball and football, as well as, college football) My daughter was spending 3-4 days a week with us and the other 3-4 days with her dad and stepmom, so this left me with a fair amount of “alone” time when my husband was working or reffing a game. I began to notice how heavy and out of shape I had become from all the years of stress and simply “surviving” on whatever amount of food and sleep I could get whenever and wherever I could get it. I had times when I missed my family terribly or when I literally wanted to scream in frustration over issues co-parenting my daughter with people of that same religion. I started running again. Just a little. Walk/run intervals.
In 2009, a friend, who I admired for her running/racing passion, asked me to join her at a 5K race. I was hesitant, but I did it anyway. It was miserable. I was hungover the day of, I was still overweight for my frame so I wore long pants despite the 80 degree heat, and I had on terrible fitting, worn out shoes that were not designed for the sport of running. It took me nearly 37 minutes to finish that race. I was so embarrassed, but strangely exhilarated by the supportive atmosphere that these runners, walkers, and volunteers engulfed me in.
I began to sign up for more 5K races and started running more often so that I could better my finish time. It took months to finally run the entire race without any walk breaks and then to finish with a time in under 30 minutes, but I did it and, in doing so, earned my very first race medal! From that moment on, I was hooked. I started running to try and beat my time by even just a few seconds each race. I started to win a few more medals. I was in my glory. But I still wasn’t running very far or tracking my calorie intake, so I was not losing the weight.
I joined a friend’s Facebook group, “Keep Calm & Run On”, and was inspired by my newfound running friends with all of their posts and race plans. I began to dream of running the half marathon in Pittsburgh. My proposal of this, inspired a few others in the group to work toward this goal, as well. In the meantime, however, I became sidetracked by a promotion at work which took up almost all of my time and energy for the next nine months.
On the morning of May 6, 2012, I awoke late after sleeping in (again!) to see the half marathon posts and finish line photos of all these inspiring women who had taken my idea and run with it, (LITERALLY), sticking to their plans and goals to finish the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. I have never felt so low or so down on myself as I did that day. Prior to this moment, I had always been a self-motivated, self-disciplined person who stuck to and achieved every goal I’d ever set before myself! I went out for a run that day. Nearly 4miles. It was hard. It hurt. I nearly threw up. But I vowed to NEVER let myself down like that again.
I set my sights on the Pittsburgh Half Marathon 2013. I started running regularly again, began cross-training and tracking my diet faithfully. I ran several small races: 5K-5miles. I lost 40 lbs in the next few months and, on May 5, 2013, I completed the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 02:06:57. I have never felt so proud of myself. Running had become my passion; my stress relief after a long day or an upsetting encounter, my way to relax – pound it out on the pavement and return home a more patient, refreshed, open-minded person, employee, mother, wife, or friend. I vowed to never, ever stop running!
In the weeks after my first half marathon, I began to contemplate the idea of running the full marathon. After everything I have been through, I realized that there was so much of life that I had missed out on because of my upbringing. I have a lot of regrets and, at times, a lot of bitterness. I’d do anything for a “do-over”- to go back and live my life again from the tender age of 16, knowing all that I know now. Running has given me an outlet to “run out” or “burn off” the negative feelings that sometimes arise in me.
I began to write my “Bucket List” – a few things that I desire to do or experience before I die. “Run A Marathon” was definitely on this list. Following many weeks and months of training, I finally achieved my goal.
On May 4, 2014 I completed all TWENTY-SIX-POINT-FREAKING-TWO miles of The Pittsburgh Marathon. My official time: 04:37:36.
In training for this momentous event, I had experienced many doubts. The magnitude of this bucket-list item scared me – at times, overwhelmed me. After running the half and then browsing training plans for the full, I realized the magnitude of this venture and the level of dedication and sacrifice that this was going to take. I knew it was going to be physically and mentally exhausting and, at times, even painful. I, also, knew the risks and how careful I would need to be with strict planning, careful eating to fuel my body, and ensuring adequate rest to avoid injury. My day job is very physical, as well, and I can not afford to get hurt or lose any time or loss of pay at work. I thought endlessly about these things and finally decided that I would never be satisfied until I took on and conquered this great challenge. I made up my mind to do it and when registration opened, I signed up.
A friend once asked me what kind of “support system” I have in my life, in regards to my running. As almost every runner knows, running is a very independent sport. So when I am faced with such challenges, I am my own main support system. Sad as it is to say, my life experience has shown me truth in such quotes as: “The only person you can truly depend on to be there for you, is YOU!”, and that, “Even your own shadow leaves you when faced with darkness.”. If I don’t believe that I can accomplish something, there is no one in the world that can convince me that I can and certainly no one that can do it for me. My husband and my daughter have always believed in me and have shown silent support by putting up with my long runs, early bedtimes, and picky eating habits. If ever I verbally doubt myself, they have always told me that I can do it and that they have no doubts; but it is I that must believe this. I have, also, met some amazing people through the “Keep Calm And Run On” running group and the “Best Of Me Fitness Challenge” group that I belong to on Facebook. “BOM” is where I was fortunate enough to meet Joe (aka “The RocketMan”). I turn to Joe the most, followed by a select few within these groups to help me get through tough times, difficult training road blocks, as well as, with many issues involving nutrition and hydration for endurance races – however, it is ultimately me, myself, alone, that has to face these issues and find my own way through to that successful “finish line”.
Running has become such a huge part of my life and of who I am, as a person. After working for nearly 15 years now as a paramedic – being exposed to the negativity of the job, the world, and the quality of life of so many people, I was becoming a very negative, cynical, sarcastic, and impatient person. Having running as my outlet and racing as my hobby/passion to look forward to and strive for, I am able to “get out of my own head” and see things more clearly and simply. Running makes me a kinder person. It helps me to realize and appreciate that everyone is fighting their own battles and it is not my place, nor my duty, to judge them. I simply try to help whoever, whenever, wherever, and however I can. I work to support my family. I rush home to be with and enjoy them. Running is my time for ME – to ground me, center me, and fuel my love for life. Whenever I am given the opportunity to encourage others to pursue running/racing or any other athletic pursuits, I always tell them to “FEEL THE FEAR… BUT DO IT ANYWAY!!!”.
About a month before the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon, I had attended our region’s annual EMS Conference. One of the speakers there said something that has stuck with me ever since and rings so loudly with its truth. He said: “If you don’t want to do something, don’t. But if you are afraid to do it, then you MUST!”. Think about it… if there is something out there that you don’t want to do, you really don’t even give it a second thought. It doesn’t matter to you or cause you any further concern. But if, deep down, you want to do something but are simply “afraid” of it… the race is too long, too hard, too difficult…you think you are too weak, too slow, too fat…this thing will consume your thoughts and haunt you until you conquer it.
Quit stressing over it. Trust the training, take your time, set your own pace, and simply DO IT! One day at a time. One mile at a time. One step at a time. Over time, little by little, a little becomes a lot! This is YOUR dream… go out there and make it happen!
Sometimes my relationship with running is of a love/hate nature. As a runner, I have a competitive spirit, mostly against myself, of course. So even as I train and run and, eventually, accomplish each goal I set my sights, it just never seems to be enough. I always want to run harder, farther, faster – it is a never-ending cycle for more and better. The doubts and struggles that go along with this are always on my mind and hanging over my head – marked in ink on my calendar, counting down the days until my next race with my new, lower goal time or my stronger performance in a longer distance. And I continue to run, and push, and struggle because I will never be satisfied until I reach my goals and accomplish what I set out to do. Then, when I do it, the cycle begins all over again. I fear I shall be chasing my running/racing goals for the remainder of my entire life…and I shall love every horribly wonderful moment of this journey.
My name is Aubrey Brewer and I am a “RUNNER”.