What I learned from 13.1

As many of you know, I ran my first half marathon just about two weeks ago. I knew I would eventually write this post, but it has taken me until not to process and reflect on my entire journey as a runner thus far. Hundreds of miles, 50 pounds, and over a year ago I never would have believed I would be a half marathon finisher. Hell, I never even thought I could run a mile. My journey as a runner has changed me as a person and as a professional. More so, training for and finishing the Old Port Half Marathon has taught me a lot about myself. I am sharing these lessons in hopes that they motivate others to reach for that seemingly unattainable feat.

On the left: 2 years and 50+ pounds ago. On the right: just before the finish line of my first half marathon a few weeks ago!

On the left: 2 years and 50+ pounds ago. On the right: just before the finish line of my first half marathon a few weeks ago!

You are stronger than you think

I never in my wildest dreams thought I could run a half marathon. Even throughout much of my training, I had my doubts. Deep down I knew I could do it, but I had to teach myself to silence that negative voice in my head that thought I was not strong enough or good enough. Silencing that voice was the most important part of this process for me. I was my own worst critic. The more I ran, the quieter that voice became. The quieter the voice, the stronger I was. That voice appeared more than just during runs; it likes to chime in at work, with relationships, and my soon-to-be new role as a father. Training for and running that half was like a big middle finger to that voice and I find that with this journey, that voice has grown weaker in all aspects of my life. I am all the better for it.

Let others help you

The running community is like no other. It is one of the most supportive and inspirational communities out there. From family to friends to colleagues, I had many cheerleaders, running partners, and supporters along the way. There will be people who will want to help, encourage, and support you in achieving your goals: LET THEM! I struggled with this. I did not want to do long runs, at first, with others because I felt I was weak or that I would not be able to keep up. What I learned quickly was running with others, especially those more experienced and faster than I, pushed me further and I learned a lot from them. This is true with anything: surround yourself with people who are smarter, faster, better than you and let them motivate and coach you along the way.

You will fail, stumble, and want to quit along the way – let it happen

I can’t tell you how many training runs I skipped or how many runs were significantly slower than my average pace. They say there is no such thing as a bad run; well I had a few. These moments were crucial for me. Bouncing back from a bad run or getting out the next day after missing a training run was almost more important to me than sticking to the plan. Life happens and some days you just don’t feel like it. That is normal and OK. It is how you bounce back that matters the most.

Celebrate milestones along the way

Milestones were important to me: my first run of over a 10k distance, my first 10 miler, and my new 5k PR. I celebrated them. I let people cheer me on. Some may call it selfish, but it is what kept me motivated to continue. I did not do this for any accolades or applause – I did it for me. The applause along the way, though, kept me motivated. At mile 13 of 13.1 with the finish line near, but not yet in sight, I was met on the path by a stranger. She was an older woman in a very distinct pink shirt and white visor. I can still hear her voice. She jumped out from the sides and was yelling “Do you hear that? That’s the finish. All those people, they are cheering for you. Run to them!” I had no idea who this woman was, but her actions and words pushed me to sprint to the finish.

Don’t jump out of the start too fast

Any runner knows that you are not supposed to come out too fast or else you will lose energy towards the end. This is super hard; perhaps one of the hardest things I had to be disciplined about during my training and the race itself. My tendency is to give it my all right at the beginning with no regard for endurance. This becomes problematic later. The same could be said for how you tackle a project, a work week, a day. Slow and steady wins the race as they say. Speed is not always the best answer in the beginning. It’s about the accomplishment, and not all about how fast you get there.

Give it your all at the end

As much as you do not want to jump out of the gate too fast, there is something powerful about sprinting at the end. After all your hard work, when you see that light at the end of the tunnel (or the finish line in my case) give it your all. I will never forget the feeling of sprinting with tears rolling down my face, goosebumps all over my body, and the sound of cheers and my name being announced over the PA system as I crossed the finish line.

Don’t settle

My immediate thought after finishing the half: I accomplished my goal, it’s done, and I never want to do that again. The race was hard. It was harder than I thought. After the initial soreness and fatigue wore off, I was quickly talking about my next race. Instead of settling after my accomplishment, I am using it as fuel for the next challenge. That is what led me here to begin with. I never wanted to run more than a 5k. That was my goal. A year and several 5ks later, I finished my first half. Use your goals as stepping stones. Let the feeling of accomplishment and success drive you towards the next one.

Discipline and flexibility are both important

Very few people can run this distance without training. Training takes discipline and persistence. It can be very daunting: running sometimes 25 miles a week and working out 5-6 days in a week. Sometimes, life happens and you just can’t. Allow yourself to be flexible. Be disciplined enough to know you need to stay on track, but flexible enough to deal with those hurdles along the way. Both are equally important.

Share your story

I have been humbled along the way to hear of others who have followed my journey and began running. I was uncomfortable with this at first. However, it was people like my dad or friend Becca that inspired me. If I can be that for someone else, then sharing my journey (both the good and the bad) was all worth it. We all learn from one another. Sharing that is never a bad thing.

 

I was just a little excited to get this medal at the finish!

I was just a little excited to get this medal at the finish!

 

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The problem with inspiration

I was asked a few weeks ago to keynote at RA training at my new institution. I was thrilled and saw this as a great opportunity to connect with a great group of student leaders. When I responded with an emphatic, “yes” my biggest question was regarding the topic(s) they wanted me to cover. Surely they had something in mind. Instead, I was told to just present on anything inspiring/motivating to lead them into the next semester. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this,” I thought. I started to question what I could possibly say that would be inspiring or motivating in any shape or form. This is where I quickly learned I was thinking about this the wrong way. My job is not to inspire them, it is to help them find their own inspiration.

It’s that time of year where folks are writing and tweeting about their New Years Resolutions and One Words for 2014.  Motivational quotes and Instagram photos are in abundance. Here’s the issue, those things do nothing for me. While a quote may resonate with me, there has to be more to motivate me into action. If I am inspired by someone or something else, it is usually short term. This is why, I think, many resolutions fail. People get inspired from outside sources, rather than from within. This is where I think a lot of motivational speeches fall short.

The BEST (and I have seen a lot) motivational talk I have ever heard, and the only that caused me to act, was given by Tom Krieglstein at #satechBOS a few years back. During this talk he used letters and notes of thanks and admiration given to student affairs professionals from students (I even submitted one that he ended up using). Using the framework from Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, he inspired us to really get a deep understanding of why we do what we do beyond the surface reasons we are so used to thinking and talking about (helping people, giving back, passionate GASP about education, yada yada yada). Yes, we might do what we do becuase we want to help people, but WHY do we want to help others. Asking that next question helps you to dig even deeper into why you do what you do. The main difference between Tom’s talk and every other one I have heard is that he did not use words alone to inspire. He gave us the tools to find the inspiration within ourselves.

I have battled with weight issues my whole life. In 2013, I lost 45 pounds and am now a proud runner. What was different this time? For me, it was because I was motivated internally, being fed up with my poor health and inability to do things my family loved doing together. This is very different from being inspired by other people’s actions, reading a fitness blog, watching Biggest Loser, or just wanting to look good (all reasons I attempted weight loss in the past). The deeper I peeled the layers of my motivation for wanting to lose weight, the more successful I was at staying motivated. As an example, I could not run more than a mile at one point because I had no motivation. Then April 15th happened. On the 16th I ran 2.5 miles at a faster pace than ever. Why? I was motivated, fired up even.

I have seen posts the last couple days from friends (see Mallory’s post and Sue’s post) who have talked about just doing. We are in sole control over our actions. I have heard a saying before that goes something like; if you get motivation from a quote or a pretty picture, your job (task) is too easy and will probably be done by robots soon. The work we do in student affairs is complex, hard and stressful.  To be successful, we need to fully understand why we do what we do, at a deep level. No other person, quote, picture can give us this motivation. Only we can find that motivation and inspiration to keep moving.

I have taken pieces of what Tom presented to us at #satechBOS and have presented my “Why” presentation to hundreds of student leaders. I hope the RA team will take something from this.


This is my favorite clip to use in any of my “Why” presentations.

What motivates you? Where do you find inspiration?

Why I #runforBoston

I had never been a runner.  EVER.  Never thought I could be.  Never thought I would like it.  That was my mindset 5 plus months and 30 pounds ago.  Most of you who know me are aware that I am in the middle of a fitness and weightloss journey.  Through all of the decisions I have made to exercise more, sleep better and eat healthier, the one I am convinced has helped me the most is running.  You see, I always wanted to run.  I envied people as I drove by them.  Running is a lifestyle.  Running is a community.  I wanted to be a part of it, but did not know how and did not think I could.

My inspiration to run comes from my dad.  Not to share his whole life story, but my dad has been through an even more amazing fitness and weight loss journey than I.  He has run several marathons, including Boston twice.  It was his urging 5 months ago over a text message conversation while I was at the gym that motivated me to run.  He told me that, “You need to start somewhere, even if it is 20 seconds at a time.”  Through his coaching and support, I began intervals.  After 30 seconds of running, I felt like I wanted to quit.  30 seconds turned to 3 minutes, which has turned to 30 minutes.  In June, I will run my first ever race: a 5k in Kennebunk, ME.  What will make this momentous occasion more special to me is that I will be running alongside my wife and my dad.

My dad running the Marathon in '08

My dad running the Marathon in ’08

As I said above, Running is a community.  I never fully understood this until recently.  I am not the only person my dad has motivated.  Under his guidance and support with a little bit of knowledge/skill and a whole lot of motivation, he has coached hundreds of runners, two of whom (as far as I know) ran yesterday.  Members of the #safit community on Twitter and Facebook have shared their stories, challenges, ideas, tips, motivation, and successes.  This, to me, is what running is all about.  Sure, running is a sport.  However, it is a sport where the competition is with oneself and where everyone wants each other to beat the elements, beat their personal best, and finish the race.

This is why I was so distraught, so crushed, yesterday at the events that took place at the Marathon.  Thousands of people from all over the world come to cheer on loved ones and strangers as they do the unthinkable.  It is the ultimate motivator.  In 2008, watching my dad finish with pride and tears in my eyes, I stood in the very spot the bomb went off yesterday.  The year later, I volunteered at the finish line with classmates from my graduate cohort just a few weeks before graduating with a master’s degree; a tradition in our program.  This place, this event has deep meaning for me and for others and it was attacked yesterday.

My view of the finish in 2008; the very spot that was attacked yesterday.

My view of the finish in 2008; the very spot that was attacked yesterday.

While I was still am angry over what happened yesterday, I am reminded (and the rest of the world is seeing) how incredible runners, Bostonians, Marathon volunteers, and emergency professionals are.  We have all seen the images and videos of people running towards the aftermath to help.  We have heard stories of runners, who after a grueling 26.2 mile race, kept running to provide assistance at local hospitals.  They are heroes.  This is what running is all about.  It is about bettering yourself physically and mentally, while supporting and encouraging others along the way.

This morning, I took my usual route here in Saco, ME with a heavy heart and my 2009 volunteer jacket on.  I could not help feel emotional as I ran by newspapers with the headline “Tragedy in Boston.”  For as sad as I was, I was that much more motivated and had my best run yet.  I was running for something bigger than myself.  I, for the first time, really felt like a runner and a part of the community I had watched from the sidelines.  I owe this to my dad and the thousands of people like him in the running community.  My run was part of the #runforBoston challenge that my friend Becca Obergefell initiated.  Though, I couldn’t fit this entire story on her Google Doc, I thought it was important for me to share why I began running, why I will continue to run, and why I #runforBoston.

With my fellow Northeastern College Student Development and Counseling program classmates and alums volunteering at the finish line in 2009.

With my fellow Northeastern College Student Development and Counseling program classmates and alums volunteering at the finish line in 2009.

Why do you run, jog, bike, or walk for Boston?  Share your story.