“NOTSOB Marathon – The Boston Fever Reliever!”

I had some grand plans for 2020.

After surprising myself with a 3:57 marathon finish in the fall of 2019 (a whopping 31-minute marathon PR!!!) I truly believed that my Boston Qualifier (3:40) was finally within my reach.

I trained hard, ate clean, and took multiple whole food and herbal supplements to support the amount of stress I was placing on my body as I pushed through the physical barriers which had always kept “Boston” as an elusive achievement that I could only see in my dreams.

In March of 2020, however, Covid-19 made its official debut and the world began to shut down. As I entered the taper phase for my goal race, my Garmin was predicting my body to be physically capable of a 3:31 marathon finish time; just then, the race announced its cancellation. Shortly thereafter, nearly every live event followed suit throughout the spring and summer months. As this “global pandemic” continued, events scheduled for the fall months also cancelled.

It’s difficult not to become disheartened. And it’s hard for someone who’s chasing a dream to stay disciplined and motivated when the purpose & prize behind the “push” is no longer in sight.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to run; but running full marathon distances is not something I want to or plan to continue beyond the realization of my Boston Marathon dream. The Half Marathon distance suits me much better and is much easier to maintain while still experiencing and living life to the fullest.

In June, I received notification from my next goal race that they had reinstated their original date of September 13th and had every intention to hold a live event which would enable athletes, like me, to attempt to qualify for the 125th Boston Marathon. They made many changes and set up multiple COVID-19 precautions but, as the time drew near, so did the jury trial for my parents fatal crash; and it was predicted to last for more than just a few days.

While I am not proud to admit it, I became overwhelmed by my emotions and the details surrounding their untimely deaths. It was hard to simply function in my day to day life while rehashing all of the details regarding the crash, the events leading up to it, as well as, the aftermath and longterm effects on myself, my sister, my daughter, and our families. More often than not, I did NOT run. And when I did, it was all I could do just to cover a few miles let alone run with purpose or a plan.

I watched as my overall fitness decreased drastically and my Garmin now predicted my race day potential to be 3:53 – which is NOT a Boston Qualifier for me.

As the trial began, I became engrossed in the details and consumed by the fight. Unfortunately, not everyone tells the truth and not everyone plays fair. I was taken aback by the things I saw, heard, and was forced to sit quietly through while expressing “no emotional reaction”. I broke down on a daily basis and found it nearly impossible to sleep. The whole truth and nothing but the truth was most certainly not heard in that Ohio courtroom. As the jury announced a “Not Guilty” verdict on all counts after just 40 minutes of deliberation, my heart sank. Justice was not served and it was difficult not to be angry.

I returned home and began the process of putting the pieces of my heart back together. Frequent counseling appointments helped me to realize that forgiving the man who took my parents lives has nothing to do with his acknowledgement of his actions or remorse for the pain that he has caused. It’s about finding peace for myself – and the desire to relieve myself of the burden which I am not responsible to carry. I wish I could say that I forgive him; but I am thankful for Dr. Michael and his ability to make me see that my intention to do so is clearly there and that fact alone, right now, is enough. I’ll get there someday and, in time, everything will be alright.

Just two weeks later, however, we received notification from our lawyers that the Judge’s ruling to withhold critical evidence and facts from being heard by the Jury was, in fact, unlawful and now open for our appeal.

My heart began to race all over again.

To pursue this appeal, we would spend months trying to convince the appellant court that the details withheld could, without a doubt, change the verdicts decided upon by the Jury. If the appellant court agreed and ruled in our favor, we would then begin the process of pursuing an entirely new jury trial – to the expense of another 3+ years of our lives reliving the details, preparing a new case, as well as, the stress of another 1-2 weeks spent inside an Ohio courtroom for 8+ hrs a day. (Not to mention the 4 hours spent driving to and from it, day after day.) And none of these things can guarantee that the truth would be told on the part of the defense and that no further dirty maneuvers would be made, as was done the first time around.

After several days and conference calls, my sister and I decided to let it go, refusing to appeal the case. Nothing we do inside any courtroom could ever bring our parents back to life. Pursuing peace of mind and healing the hurt that has been inflicted upon our hearts & minds is so much more important to us than “being right” and inflicting punishment upon this unrepentant man and his family. We chose to leave it to the universe and the laws of karma to decide what it is that he deserves and have faith that everything happens for a reason, even if we can’t see what that reason is at the time.

Throughout all of this “personal drama”, my upcoming race weighed heavy on my mind. The field size had been cut in half and was now sold out, with a waiting list in place. The sole purpose of this race is to qualify for the Boston Marathon and anyone who is not able to perform within 10-minutes of their Boston Qualifier is asked not to register. If I were to go, knowing that I do not currently have a realistic chance to qualify, it would prevent someone else from legitimately achieving their Boston dream. I opted to defer to the 2021 event, opening up a spot for an athlete on the waitlist to take my place.

Immediately following this decision, my friend Joe told me about a very small, relatively local race that was open to all 2020 Boston Marathon Qualifiers who desire to run their “virtual” event LIVE so that they may attempt to requalify or better their current qualifying time for the 125th Boston Marathon. That is, obviously, not me – yet, my friend Joe assured me that the race director was more than willing to accept my application and would not permit my presence to “block” another qualified runner from registering. I couldn’t say no! So as race day drew near, despite many self doubts about my current abilities, I made up my mind that I would show up and run – not “race pace” fast, but honest enough to go the distance and finish this race beneath the 5:00 hour course limit.

So on Sunday, September 13th 2020, I showed up and toed the START line alongside 25 other runners and set my mind upon achieving my very own P.V.! (Personal Victory).

“Welcome to Hopkinton…it all starts here!” – boomed the voice of the race director as he addressed the 26 athletes and prepared to blow the whistle which would start the race! (A quick .20 mile turnaround followed by 5x 5.20 mile laps around Lake Latonka.)

I immediately took my place at the back of the pack, as I knew these Boston Qualified runners were going to run paces I was completely unprepared to match. I did, however, get caught up in the inital excitement and ran close behind them for the first 0.35 mi at a blazing 7:35/mile pace. I quickly reigned that in, reminding myself to focus on running my own race.

I silenced my mind and lost myself in the rhythm of my footsteps and the pattern of my breath. Encouraging words of faith, hope, love, and peace written by my dear friend, Tony Garcia, occasionally echoed in my mind and my thoughts seemed to transverse the 1400+ miles between me and the state of Colorado where I knew that he, too, was running his own 26.2 mile virtual Boston Marathon in honor of his mother, whom he recently lost. I wished, for him, solemn peace and the comforting enlightenment that a long run can often bring.

I continued on and ran relatively well for the first half – even better than I had expected, considering how little (and poorly) I had trained in the previous months. I was taking in the sights with the lake on my left and so many beautiful homes and cabins along Latonka Drive, a private community constructed along the shores of Lake Latonka in Mercer, Pa.

I was entertained and impressed by the little things that the race director and volunteers had done to make this particular event as much like “Boston” as they possibly could. Like the “Wellesley College” themed Aide Station where they refrained from offering kisses, but offered cheers and bloody marys and beer! The proverbial “Heartbreak Hill” where they had set up an extremely supportive Aide Station with water, electrolytes, and cups of beer while playing music so loud you could hear it for half a mile before you got there and for half a mile after you’d left. And then there was the Citgo sign – one mile from the Finish Line. But when I saw that they had set up a “Hereford & Boylston” street sign at the final turn before the Finish Line, I was literally blown away!

By the 16th mile, my “wheels” began to fall off. The miles were taking their toll on me physically, greatly slowing my pace, and causing me to walk through the water stops as I sipped and stretched and pep talked myself back into a running pace.

As the leaders of the pack began to lap me in their race towards the Finish Line, I began to realize that it was quite possible I would be one of the only athletes still out on the course when running my 5th and final loop around the lake. I refused to apologize or feel sorry for myself though. I came here to run 26.2 miles and I had five hours in which to do it. I knew that I could do that.

I came through the Start/Finish area once more to greet my husband and steal a kiss when I realized that my boss, friend, and personal mentor, Dr. Amanda, had shown up with her daughters to offer their support!

I was soaked from the rain that had poured down in the first few hours of the race. I was tired and sore from running so far on such little training. And I was nauseous and cramping from my inability to take in any amount of proper nutrition after vomiting in the 4th mile. But I was so happy (& relieved!) to see my friends – and ecstatic to learn, as she fell in step beside me, that Dr. A would be running the entire final hour right along with me! (Just one of the many reasons why my Boss is better than yours! 😂)

I doubt that I was the greatest of company throughout those final 5 miles. There were multiple moments of mental blackout, where I was aware that Dr. A was speaking to me but I just couldn’t concentrate on or make sense of her words. Other times, my mind took me elsewhere; to a time or place (real or imaginary) that I could remember or envision clearly, as if watching a movie play out on a screen in my brain. This consumed small chunks of time and continually chopped down the amount of mileage we had left to run, bringing the literal Finish Line ever closer to the striking of my feet. At one point, near mile 24, I heard the first few notes of a song begin to play out on my phone as it shuffled the music on my favorite running playlist. I started laughing out loud (quite maniacally, if I remember correctly) and it took me several moments to be able to finally explain to Dr. A : “I’m not crazy. It’s just that we’re coming up on the “Heartbreak Hill” portion of this race and this song is called “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart!”. I couldn’t have planned that better if I’d tried!

Somewhere in the final mile of the course, my Garmin showed that the full 26.20 miles had been covered…yet, the Finish Line was not even in sight! Damn. I thought I had done well in running the tangents. But then I recalled the turns along the course and how we had been instructed to stay on the left side of the road and never cross center line as the roadways were not closed for the event and were, therefore, still open to vehicular traffic. Well, that distance had accumulated an extra .40 mile of additional running for me. As I checked the time on my watch, I realized that we were now cutting it very close to the five hour course limit and I began to think that we might not make it in under time.

Dr. A assured me that she would get me there; and that is exactly what she did! As the orange cones marking the way to the Finish Line came into sight, she called out words of encouragement and coached me to control my breathing as we quickened our pace. That’s when the iconic (albeit makeshift) street sign came into view and I cried out: “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston! All the way to the Finish Line!” and, just like that, we were there!

4:57:30 was our official time.

Mission accomplished!!!

I know I make a lot of jokes about how much some runs “suck” or how painful some workouts can be, but that’s just my way of coping with the “struggle”. The truth of the matter is, behind the jokes and beneath the “blood, sweat, and tears”, I live for the struggle and I love the pain. Even though it’s hard as hell at times, the struggle is exactly what makes it so great. The struggle is what makes you better. Nobody ever got better by taking it easy.

There’s a big difference between pain and suffering. It really is all about your mindset and how you choose to think. There’s no doubt that running this marathon caused me pain; but never once did I “suffer”. And, after everything I have been through these past few years, I believe that this fact, in and of itself, is my greatest personal victory yet!

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“The Luckiest Girl in the World.”

“You’re the luckiest girl in the world.”, my mother said to me. “Most people spend their whole lives searching for the truth, and the majority of them never find it. But you – you KNOW it.”

My mother was right – but not in the way that she meant it.

Being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I always felt different from the world around us and the people living in it; like an outsider, looking in, never truly fitting in. In a cult-like upbringing, that it is exactly what they want you to feel but, for me, it went even deeper than that. It enveloped my entire being so that, even amongst my own family, I felt as though I didn’t belong.

Running became my “escape” – much like a moving meditation, the rhythm and flow of my body as it ran the back country roads and ridges of Ohio created a freeness of mind quite difficult to explain to someone who has never felt it firsthand for themselves.

Perhaps this is what kept me grounded and in place for so long? Or perhaps this is what finally gave me the strength to pick up and leave? It’s hard to say – but the year I turned 25, I took my stand, admitting that I do not agree with them or their beliefs, and asked to leave their religion.

Immediately, I felt the fiery backlash from the organization and all who remain a part of it. I was labeled an “apostate” and marked as if I were the Devil, himself. “Worse than a person without faith”, I believe is what they called me. My friends and family were no longer allowed to speak to me or socialize with me, lest they be punished within the congregation. If I saw one of them in public, they looked the other way and if I called out to them, they pretended not to hear me. I even returned to one of their church meetings once and it was like being completely alone in a crowded room – they looked right past me as if I wasn’t even there. I was treated like I didn’t even exist, aside for the not so subtle whispers as they spoke about my prescence with great disdain and looks of disgust upon their faces. Except for my parents, of course. They simply looked sad and, at times, humiliated; genuinely longing for me to return.

“Repent and ask to be reinstated.”, they begged, “And we’ll welcome you back with open arms.”

But who, in their right mind, would ever want to return to such a superficial people whose friendship with you is 100% dependent upon your conformity to their specific belief system? With them, there is no room for questioning or thinking for yourself. It is not up to you to establish such things as “truth” in your own mind. If their governing body says that something is so – they simply accept this and believe it to be so. Anything less is considered sacrilegious.

So I ran – as far away as I could, while still keeping their granddaughter involved in their lives.

It was during this time that I experienced some of my darkest moments…and found my way through. The concept of “mindfulness” came naturally to me back then and quickly became my way of life. Looking back was painful; it hurt to realize all that I had lost and could do nothing to change. It was terrifying to look ahead; into a future of unknown which I was going to have to navigate alone. Living in the present moment – right here, right now – became my way (the only way!) for me to live life and learn how to love it again.

Running, once again, became my passion. Bad day? Go for a run. Good day? Go for a run. Stressed? Anxious? Bored? Tired? Happy? Sad? Sore? The question itself was irrelevant, the answer was always : GO FOR A RUN! And somewhere amidst those miles of moving and breathing, my mind would clear and any “answer” I had been seeking would appear. If there were no physical answer to be found, a simple sense of calm would wash over me and I’d return home at peace with whatever it is that I had been feeling.

Over the course of the next 15 years, I reestablished my life, personally and professionally, and began to compete in races, eventually setting my sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. (Thus, the birth of this blog – to chronicle my journey towards achieving this next level of athleticism.) The relationship between my parents and I improved somewhat, mostly for “emergencies” and the sake of my daughter, but never fully recovered or returned to “normal”. I felt no ill will towards them, as I had come to the conclusion that their faith was so deeply engrained in their hearts and their minds that they truly believed they were doing what their God had asked of them. They were His “faithful followers” clear up to their deaths in October of 2017.

In the 3 years since, I seemed to have lost my way again. I got stuck, for a time, caught up in the past and the pain, sadness, guilt, and regret that comes from looking back.

Shortly thereafter, or rather enmeshed in between, I fell victim to the paralyzing anxiety and fear that comes from looking too far ahead into the future and the unknown. As my sister and I fought the legal battles that followed the investigation into our parents fatal crash, it became impossible to heal as the wounds were repeatedly being ripped open, day after day, as we rehashed all the details of the crash and the events that led up to their untimely deaths.

Once again, I had become lost in my thinking as to what this life is all about and how to go about truly living it. As I continued to make some drastic life changes both personally and professionally, in order to take better care of myself, my focus on qualifying for Boston began to take a backseat to everything else on my plate. And with Covid-19 canceling nearly every single live event on our 2020 calendars, it didn’t seem to matter if I was “prepped and ready”, as the opportunity to execute was most likely not going to present itself this year afterall. Still, I continued to run. Not always far and not nearly fast enough or long enough to earn me a BQ base from which to launch, but regularly enough to keep my thoughts from stagnating and stopping me in my tracks. It was within this “delicate balance” that I, once again, began to feel my breath and find myself. I became aware of my thoughts and the paths down which they attempt to lead me. I’ve begun to practice mindfulness again; doing my best to remain in the moment – right here, right now – and letting the regrets of my past and the fears of my future present themselves yet, gently slip away, not allowing myself to follow them.

This concept is not new to me.

It came naturally to me when I was growing up, running the ridges along the hills of Ohio. It liberated me when I made the decision to release myself from the controlling grasp of organized religion.

It’s crazy to think that losing my parents on that bright and sunny October morning subsequently caused me to, for the better part of the last 3 years, lose myself. And suddenly it strikes me that, after someone we love dies, we have a tendency to redefine ourselves – to question who we are and what we’ve done. But, if given the chance to speak with them again, I’d simply like to say : I’m still the same “Aubs” you’ve always known and loved; only my viewpoints have changed, but I’m pretty sure you saw that coming. And Mom – I have no doubt that you “get me”, just like you always did.

So, yeah. My mother was right – I AM the luckiest girl in the world; because I know the truth. I just needed some time to find it in myself again.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

“Lessons Learned in Letting Go; A Universal Paradox.”

There’s right and there’s wrong; but nothing is ever always clear.

There’s black and there’s white; but sometimes even the cleanest of colors collide.

There’s fact and there’s fiction. Proof is not always required; sometimes it is seen but not adequately understood.

There’s truth and there’s lies; some people stand tall while others deny and avert their eyes.

There’s real and there’s fake; it is up to you to decide who and what you believe.

“Choose your battles wisely.”, they say; and “they” have never been more right.

Sometimes you have to lose the battle in order to win the war; but what you have lost does not matter more than what you are going to do with what you have left.

In this life there are so many choices. You are always free to choose; but you will never be free from the consequence of your choice.

It’s taken me many years of heartaches, heartbreaks, and internal arguments to come to this rather simple (yet, life changing!) conclusion:

When we finally discover that we don’t need to ask anyone any questions, we realize that we needn’t look outside ourselves for any of the answers.

(Read that again.)

*It’s not always about running – sometimes, it’s simply about life.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun