“Running Has Changed.”

‎”As I get older I see that running has changed for me. What used to be about burning calories is now more about burning up what is false. Lies I used to tell myself about who I was and what I could do, friendships that cannot withstand hills or miles, the approval I no longer need to seek, and solidarity that cannot bear silence. I run to burn up what I don’t need and ignite what I do.”

Kristin Armstrong

Running has changed for me.

When I started down this path, I was seeking weight-loss, confidence, improved self-esteem, stress relief and, ultimately, inner peace.

I was struggling in life and in love, trying to balance many “hats” – as a wife, a mother, co-parent, Paramedic and… well, simply a person – one who didn’t yet know exactly who she was. No matter the situation or scenario in which I found myself, I’ve always had to be strong for everybody and everything else going on around me. “Adapt & Overcome” became the motto not only for my work, but also my life!

I discovered that running was hard – but I knew I could do hard things. At first, I had to break it down, mixing in frequent walking intervals, in order to simply complete a mile – but I did it. Soon that mile became two miles, three miles, four miles and then five. I increased my running intervals, decreased my walking intervals, and pretty soon I was skipping the walk breaks altogether and running for an entire hour! By this time, I had lost nearly 40 lbs. and was managing everything in my life so much better. I began to sign up for races, and even won a few age group awards! These moments were exhilarating, always driving me forward, progressing me further and further – on to the next distance, a new goal, and a better time.

*Pictured Left: One of my first 5K races, October 2010. *Pictured Right: My 1st Marathon, Pittsburgh, Pa. 2014.

At some point, however, my love of running turned into an obsession… and that obsession, despite it’s benefits, quickly became toxic.

In every run, I kept pushing for more and more, oftentimes falling short of my goals – sometimes by just a little, other times by more than alot. I labeled these moments “failures” in my mind and through the months and years that followed, through thousands of training miles and over 100 race events, I began to feel like it was just never good enough… like I was never good enough.

In 2017, we lost my parents in a car crash. I fell into a deep depression. I stopped all formal training and simply ran for the meditative benefits it offered me – the “calm amidst the chaos”.

For the majority of my life and every day at work as a Paramedic, I’ve always felt the need to be strong for everyone else – my parents, my sister, my daughter, my patients… and in every situation – personal, professional, and especially in preparing for and executing the wrongful death jury trial on behalf of my parents. Running had, once again, become my outlet – but that outlet, once again, turned toxic.

I was currently facing the most tumultuous time of my life. Anxiety, depression, P.T.S.D., changing of careers, growing apart from many friends, an existential crisis, and a pending court appearance where I would be called upon to testify for my parents against the man responsible for their deaths. I began to progress and excel in almost all of my key workouts and official race events. On the outside, this may have seemed beautiful and exciting, something to be proud of. But I am now well aware of what I was going through on the inside. I was running to make the physical pain greater than the emotional pain because, only when I pushed through it and excelled at bettering myself despite it, did I feel worthy of this life – only then, was it easier for me to breathe.

When the Covid-19 pandemic caused race events to be cancelled, I continued to run, but I became anxious and restless, constantly searching for the next best thing to provide me with the adrenaline rush I craved from racing. I pursued multiple high-risk activities and soon came to focus my attention primarily on skydiving. There truly is no better feeling than facing your greatest fear (which, for most of us, ultimately, is death) and then finding the strength inside yourself to overcome it. Skydiving is very indicative of Life itself, and it was during this time, and throughout all of my experiences with this sport, that I learned a great deal about myself – and how mentally unhealthy I had actually become.

On June 5th, 2021, in just a matter of seconds, a perfectly good solo skydiving jump went horribly wrong. I suffered 3 thoracic spinal fractures, a significant injury to my sacrum, as well as a severely fractured arm/wrist.

For the first time in my life, I was faced with the fact that I physically could not run. Several months later, when I was finally able to ease back into it (against medical advice), I quickly realized that my running would never be the same again – nor did I want it to be.

As the 2021 Boston Marathon drew near, I came to the conclusion that, while my body most certainly wasn’t “ready” to run a marathon, that did not mean that it couldn’t be done.

Boston 2021 was my slowest marathon performance ever but, by far, the greatest run of my entire life! I did not run that iconic race for anyone or anything other than myself. The pain I felt that day was purely physical – mentally and emotionally, I had finally set myself free!

I finally realized that it’s not about being strong for anyone or anything else – it’s being strong for yourself that matters the most. It’s loving yourself enough to show up, in every run, in every workout, and silence the noise going on inside your head. It’s choosing to focus on your consistency, your progress, and your ability to do the things you love, no matter the time in which it takes you to do them. It’s taking ownership and accountability of your thoughts. Filling your mind with positivity, encouragement and love, rather than feeding the self-defeating and self-imposed narrative that you have created for yourself in the past. It’s understanding that those thoughts serve no purpose other than to highlight your insecurities and hinder your growth. It’s affirming that these thoughts are no longer welcome here. It’s being grateful for and appreciating the fact that you are able to run – that your body is capable of the handling the impact, the movement, and the mileage, and understanding (now, more than ever) that not everybody is as fortunate as this.

That’s when I realized that I no longer needed to “try and be strong”. I realized that strength is just one of the many positive qualities that I already possess. It’s just one part of the greater whole, that makes me who I am. Running has become the catalyst for so much of my personal growth and I have come to realize that absolutely everything in my life is better when I run.

7 months, 24 days, 2 surgeries, 30 scar treatments, and countless hours of pain, tears, and physical therapy later – I was finally able to resume modified strength workouts at the gym. It’s hard not to feel frustrated at times, I have lost a lot of strength and stability… but none of that even matters. What matters is that I am here, and every day I get a little bit stronger.

On January 22nd, 2022 – I ran another half marathon. I no longer wear my watch or track my pace when I run. Instead, I listen to my body and give it what it needs, whatever that may be.

(NorthParkHalfMarathon, 1/22/2022)

On this particular day, my husband had accompanied me to the event and (despite the frigid -6° temperature) was patiently waiting for me to finish the race. I had given him an honest estimate of 3 hours, thinking that it would take me every bit of this timeframe to complete the 13.1 miles of rolling hills that awaited me on this well-known course. Imagine my surprise, when he fell in step beside me with a quarter mile left to go and informed me that I was “40 minutes ahead of schedule”!

(NorthParkHalfMarathon: 2:20:24)

Running has changed for me. I no longer forsee myself running full marathons or ultras… and that’s okay. I no longer want to… because running has changed for me – in fact, running has literally changed ME. But, despite all the things that I have been through, I am still here, I am still running, and I am quite proud of this fact. That, alone, is now enough – as am I.

“Speed eventually drops, PRs become permanent, medals tarnish. All you can really hold onto is today’s run. All that really lasts in running, is the lasting.”

Joe Henderson
Me & My #1 Fan, 1/22/2022

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

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