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