It all started with a pair of shoes…

Marylin Monroe once said “give a woman the right pair of shoes and she can conquer the world”.

Vibram running shoes

My "ugly" shoes have grown on me. Now they are always close by. 🙂

My boyfriend had been on my case for several weeks that I needed to switch over to vibram running shoes.  I wasn’t paying him much attention.  I knew my limitations.  From the time I started high school, I had a multitude of orthopedists explain to me exactly why I wasn’t built to run and shouldn’t do it.  They told me that my bone alignment was wrong, my arches were flat, my IT bands were too tight, I needed orthotics and knee replacements.  One particularly delightful fellow (and by delightful I mean arrogant and dismissive) even explained that women, in general, are not built for running.  He thought I should not only stop, but also avoid stairs and knee bends greater than 30 degrees.  I have patellar subluxation (a fancy way of saying my kneecaps pop out-of-place when I move), so running for me was always associated with pain.  However, the thought of not running was pretty much on par with not breathing in my mind.  I tried physical therapy, ice, the whirlpool,  medication, tape, stabilizing shoes, and cross training before, I ultimately learned to tune it out and run through it.  However, I was still limited in my mileage.

All that being said, how could a 6’2″ naturally athletic marathon runner possibly think that eliminating the support in a shoe would help me- the orthopedic disaster?  It sounded insane, but I had nothing to lose.  He was so confident that I would love them, that he even bought me my first pair.  I teased him at the time that he was just afraid of looking ridiculous by himself.   Nonetheless, I was now the owner of an ugly pair of toe shoes with a date set to test them out.

The day we planned our inaugural run I had done a particularly hard work out at the gym and didn’t expect much.  We headed to a  flat, gravel trail and started jogging at a slow place.  We were two miles into our run before I felt any pain in my knees, which was remarkable for me.  By three miles, my calves and ankle muscles were SCREAMING.  I was hurting in places I had never hurt before. We did another mile and called it a day.  The following day at work I passed out.  Yup, out cold- like dreaming and then rudely awakened to a room full of people staring…   Maybe I overdid it a little.  My calves were like jello for days, making walking difficult and stairs near impossible.  It was amazing none the less.  I had accomplished something I wasn’t supposed to do in shoes with absolutely no support.

Overcoming the physical barriers was only part of the sense of triumph.  As a survivor of domestic abuse, I had suffered from crippling anxiety and nightmares for well over a year.  Just waking up in the morning was enough to provoke a  sense of the world closing in around me .   I was miserable, exhausted, and completely drained both physically and emotionally.  I never reached the point where I wanted to die, but I certainly wanted to disappear on multiple occasions when facing another day seemed like too tremendous an effort to stomach.  I saw counselors, therapists, and even a psychiatrist who all reassured me that I was experiencing a “completely normal reaction to a traumatic experience”.  It certainly didn’t feel normal, or even remotely acceptable.  I was prescribed medications to help me sleep; but the first one made me completely sedated and irritable.  The second one caused me to outright hallucinate (which made nightmares seem not so bad in comparison).  By the time an antipsychotic called seroquel was suggested I threw in the towel and fired the shrink.

That was when I found Susan Omilian (creator of the My Avenging Angel Workshops) and decided to attend one of her 2 part sessions.  I desperately wanted to feel “normal” again and move on with my life.  I knew there was a happier and more carefree person inside, but didn’t know how to let her out.  Like she has with so many other women, Susan allowed me to get in touch with the part of myself that wasn’t “damaged”.  She helped me rediscover what I am passionate about and establish short and long-term goals for myself.  She and the other women in the group also made me realize that I was not alone, and it was the first time since my world turned upside down that someone told me I was going to be okay and I actually believed it.

So in a sense, that 4 miles was more meaningful to me than any other distance I had ever achieved.  I was redefining myself and my limits, and I didn’t stop.   I registered for my first 10 K with my boyfriend.  It was last-minute and a distance I hadn’t run or even been able to run in years.  However, it happened to be a trail race at one of my favorite cross-country venues from high school; and I (in a viewing myself as the center of the universe sort of way) took at as a positive sign.  During the run, I was convinced that if I did manage to finish it would be well behind everyone else;  yet, that was not the case at all.  I not only finished, but also managed to finish ahead of one other runner.   It was a slow pace, but I was moving and moving pain free at that.  Plus, it was a great experience to realize that most of the people I was running with were struggling as much as I was.  Luckily, that race was part of a 4 race series and I was hooked.  I did the second and third 10K and then decided it was time to set my sights on something higher.  The final race offered a 15K option, so I signed up and kicked up my training.  Then I registered for a Tough Mudder in NorCal with my boyfriend and the Diva Half marathon in Long Island.  I was excited at the opportunity to combine two things I loved: running and helping other people.  I started a bottle and can drive to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, then I approached Susan Omilian about using the Diva Half Marathon as a way to raise money and awareness for other victims of domestic violence.

Currently my plan to use all my future half and full marathons to raise money for CT-ALIVE (the CT Alliance for Victims of Violence and the Families).  I would encourage other runners to find a cause to run for as well.  It is a great way to give back and an opportunity to make the whole experience richer.

So, that pretty much brings us up to present date!  If you hadn’t figured it out yet, my purpose for this blog is to encourage other people, especially women, to get out there and do whatever it is that makes you feel alive.    I love running because I feel like it’s the only time I get to be alone and selfish and not feel guilty for it.  It’s my quiet time. Plus, it’s hard to waste energy being anxious when you are using every ounce to push up a tough hill.

I think many people discount themselves thinking they can’t run, and that women specifically short change themselves instead of realizing what tremendous inner strength they possess.  Distance running is a women’s sport- especially ultra running- because women are built to endure better than men.  They are the glue that holds their families together.  They deliver babies. Running a few miles is no big deal compared to that!

That is why I am here to tell you to get out and run because  if I can do it, you can too!

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35 comments

  1. My foot doc told me to give up running several years ago, too, because of the issues with my feet. I have not had nearly the same amount of pain since I got into my VFFs.

    I am surprised you did as much the first time out, considering your boyfriend wears VFFs- I figured he would have helped you ease in slower, lol. Day 4 I did my full 5 miles, and while I didn’t have the calf pain, I had top of the foot pain, and wowee- after that I went back to gradually easing into them. 😆 By day 34, I was in them full time. Now I can increase with no issues, but after that first round, I knew I had to go slower than what I wanted.

    BOO to anyone who thinks women can’t run! Rock on!

  2. Jenny, were the insoles/footbed in yours glued down? My Bikilas are solid, but the Komodosport LS insoles can be folded up on the sides (maybe even removed??). Makes me wonder if they come out during washing….

    1. They are not glued down, but I have never had an issue. They’ve been through the wash and dryer (low heat) multiple times now, and (aside from being discolored from running in mud regularly and a little worn from all the mileage) are still good as new.

      1. Good to know! What’s your mileage on them? 🙂 The thing I think I’m most concerned about is the sizing- I don’t remember my Bikilas being this tight, and they are visually different in size, even though the sizing is the same (some aren’t, like the Classics, and those run a size bigger). So, I’m thinking on that and wearing them around the house to try to determine if I need to go up a size. My others are not this snug (nor as short in the toes) but at this point, they are pretty well worn. I did cut the tag off, but am now wondering if I should have done that. Decisions, decisions, decisions! 😆

      2. Not sure of the exact mileage, but I started training in them in March. They’re pretty much all I’ve worn for running since then, and that’s easily 20+ miles a week for about 6 months. The only thing worn is the color… and the seams on the sole are just starting to separate. I know I’m do for a new pair soon, but they have sentimental value now and I don’t want to give them up (no matter how smelly they are getting lol)

      3. Eh, the funk alrighty, lol. So, you’re looking at 500 miles, give or take. I’ve read before that some people go for 1,000 with holes in the bottom before replacing, so we’ll see where I land. The only real complaint I have with my Bikilas is the white foot bed, and trying to keep it looking clean.

        I was fine with no funk until I decided to hand wash and soak and try to get the insole white again- I don’t dry them in the dryer, and while I squeezed as much water out of them as I could, they took forever to dry (like the weekend I didn’t run, it took them about two days to dry)- and then came the smell. It was like a cat had peed in them; real strong ammonia smell, which was crazy. It took a few weeks, but I finally got that smell out of them, and no real funk any more, but we’ve landed on gray instead of white. I figure that’s better than that smell! 😆

        The outside color seems to be ok so far. I have to say, I do like the yellow insole on the Komodosport LSes better than the white, but I am not complaining! And I have to say, I am toying with the idea of wearing them for running outside, but want to see how my Bikilas hold out first. I am so anal! 😆

  3. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I can tell you are an amazing woman with incredible strength.
    You have also made me think twice about vibram shoes. Any pointers you can give me on starting out with them?

    1. I fully agree with TikkTok. I would go slow. If you are experiencing a lot of calf pain, you can try compression sleeves. It took me a long time to get used to mine, but now I’d never think about running in anything else!

  4. This is such a great story! I am sooooo curious about the barefoot running shoes but have also been informed that I should never wear them: low arches, knock knees and I over-pronate.

    1. Thanks! I was informed a few times that I shouldn’t run, period. Not all advise is good advice. 😉 I had completely flat arches and pronation when I started with my vibrams, which have improved dramatically with their use. I also had a lot of knee issues, which have all pretty much vanished (with the exception of IT band issues- which are a work in progress).

      PS- I would recommend reading “Born to Run” if you haven’t yet!

      Good luck!!!!

      1. My foot doc also told me to stop running completely- I think they have a vested interest in selling orthotics, to be honest. I’ve tried posting this several times and not sure why it won’t show (sorry if you get a gazillion comments!) I was really amazed at how my arches came back, too.

        I’ve two articles that are good and will try to post them if this one makes it….

        If you decide to try them, let us know how it goes!

  5. Your blog is great! Thank you so much for visiting mine, I love connecting through blogging and learning about your story was really powerful. How it connects, now, to running is amazing. Keep posting, you’re a great writer and very inspiring!

  6. Great story! I always love to read about those who triumph over their challenges and move on to inspire others. I only learned a few weeks ago that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and as a result I felt compelled to blog about it. I’m glad we were able to connect and I had a chance to learn about the “thrivers” and other resources that I can share with others. To every brave, strong, courageous woman, I say no matter what life throws at you, fight through it and keep thriving.

  7. I applaud you for your strength, courage and newfound vitality! I am currently training for a Wounded Warrior half marathon in May. It will be my longest race yet!! o)

  8. All I did was click the link to your first post and I am glad I did. I’m a survivor too and actually looking at a pair of those very shoes!

    While I’ve finally managed to move through the healing process (it took nearly 8 years!) I too am going to finish that first race.

    Thank you for sharing this 😀

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