Why I Run: Sonia’s Story

I just “met” Sonia through a mutual friend Melanie on Facebook (whom I had only recently in real life). Melanie had posted a link to an opinion piece about running skirts, which I adore, for reasons I can share at a later time. Turns out, Sonia works with Run Girl Run at the day before race shows. And then the next day, she gets her skirt and her run on in half marathons. Her story reminds of my own. But it might just be wishful thinking: she’s gorgeous and funny and strong and amazing. Because she doesn’t have enough to fill her lonely days, you can also find her here.  Say hi to Sonia. And tell us what you think of running skirts.

I was an active little kid. Small, quick, full of lots of energy.  ALWAYS outside.  It was the 70s, kids didn’t stay in.

At the end of the summer the year I was about 4 ½ years old, I went for a bike ride with my dad.  I went for lots of bike rides with my dad, there was just a little newspaper rack on the back of his bike I sat on and held on tight.  This time though I couldn’t find my shoes so I went without.

We were out in the countryside when my foot got caught in the spokes and everything went into slow motion.  All I remember is my dad turning around, throwing the bike and then everything went black.  Then I regained consciousness and there was a towel around my foot, hanging over a bucket half full of blood.  Soon thereafter I was having surgery at Dover Air Force Base having cut my heel almost completely off save for a small piece of tissue hanging on at the bottom of my foot.  I had completely severed my Achilles tendon.

I remember a few post-accident details:
The people in my neighborhood bought us a bike seat.
I got tons of toys in the hospital.
And the doctors told my parents I might not walk quite right again.

Aside from a pretty nifty scar, I didn’t just walk, I ran.  By the time I was in high school, I enjoyed some success during track doing sprints, 100s and 200s were my preferred distances.  Which is funny, that’s hardly any distance at all.  I was short and speedy.

And that was that. I kind of thought of running as something that would remain a part of my past.  A thing to do in high school.  College is too busy, then I got married and had gobs of babies, who has time to run when you have small children?  Not me…I didn’t bother.

When my boys were toddlers (my girls didn’t exist yet) I did run a couple years with a friend, nothing more than some 5Ks, but having somebody to motivate me was good.  Then I had two more babies and didn’t think about running anymore.

Fast forward to January 2009.  A friend who had moved to Arizona talked to another friend and myself about coming down there to do the PF Chang Rock N’ Roll Half in Phoenix in January 2010.  With a year to prepare, we said sure.

But then I kind of panicked.  A HALF MARATHON.  What the hell was I thinking?  I was a sprinter, not a distance runner!  Nothing sounded less fun than running 13.1 miles ON PURPOSE.  But I’d made the verbal commitment and humiliation was enough of a motivating factor to get me to start researching workouts, diet, what shoes to buy, how to train, etc.  March 2009 my other friend and I went together to get fitted for shoes and once the spring weather hit, I was starting to train.
My training slacked over the course of a busy summer but then once the kids started school in mid-August I was hardcore running the four days per week according to my training schedule, gradually increasing my mileage each week.

At this time, several things happened all at once.  For the first time in almost 14 years, I was “alone”.  After being a stay-at-home mom to four children for all that time, my “baby” was in Kindergarten.  I began to examine my life, where I’d been and where I’m going, in a new way.  It was the first time I had the opportunity to do so.  And as you runners know, all those miles means a lot of time spent in your own head.  I was at the beginning of a personal evolution of which I was completely unaware, and I’d not even crossed the finish line of my first race.

Running became my solace.  Running was what made sense in the middle of a crazy world.  Running was the only thing I had control over.  If I had to miss a few days running, I could sense becoming restless and moody.  I reached the point where I NEEDED running to stay sane.

I talked about running with both runner and non-runner friends.  By the time I ran my first race, the Women’s Running Magazine Half Marathon in St. Petersburg, Florida the weekend before Thanksgiving of 2009, I had dozens of well wishes, emails and texts both heading out to the race and congratulating me on my finish.  It was a massive cheerleading squad and it felt awesome to have so much support.

Another important step in my personal running evolution was working for Run Girl Run.  One of my best pals Lesleh encouraged me to come with her and do the expo and I could not have been more happy with what I learned from that process.

Before that first race, I’d built up a pretty awesome level of intimidation about my running and feeling like I must be an idiot to think I could run a half marathon despite my diligent training.  Then I met the women at the expo who’d be my running sisters for that first race.  They were young, and old, and everything inbetween.  They were short and tall. They were stick thin and full of curves.  There were newbies like myself and there were women who’d been running for decades.  My notion that everyone was going to be some six-pack abs, no body fat, Olympic athlete was blown out of the water.

But the encouragement I got from the powerful sisterhood of women was incredible.  Upon hearing it was going to be my first race, I got hugs, and tips, and one girl started jumping up and down, yelling, “Then you’ll definitely get a PR!”

I finished that first race with a time of 2:22:03.  My goal had been to be under 2 ½ hours so I was glad to do that especially because I had no way to gauge how well I was doing being so early in my running training.

I learned a lot from that first race experience.  I learned to deal with my uneven stride, a nifty side effect from that bike injury from my childhood.  I learned to deal with a knee problem, no doubt a result of being a nationally competitive cheerleader during high school.  I learned about pacing and hydration.  I learned that if I set a goal for myself, even one that seems kind of impossible, I can do it, ALL BY MYSELF.

By January 2010, the time for the PF Chang Rock N’ Roll Half, I was really ready.  I’d spent December and January doing all my miles on the treadmill.  Those friends who’d made the pledge with me to reach this goal…we did the race.  Dawn and I stayed together the entire course of the race.  I felt great, so great at the end of the race I felt like I could have kept going.  The PF Chang race is when that race euphoria really kicked in for me.  The beginning with it’s heady anticipation.  The last couple miles when you know you’re almost finished and you get a kick.  The adrenalin I get from running races has to be better than any drug, it is so intense.  I improved my time finishing with a 2:11:28.  One month to the day later I lost my first toenail.  Gross to you, but super exciting for me!

My 3rd race was the Disney Princess Half where, again, I worked with Lesleh doing the Expo for Run Girl Run and, again, had that sisterhood experience from all those women who’d be running by my side during the race.  I was hoping to break the two hour mark but with an insanely busy Expo where Run Girl Run was absolutely hammered for two solid days and leaving for Epcot at 4AM in order to be in our corrals by start time, I was working against some pretty hefty fatigue.  I finished with a 2:04:06.  But I’m OK with that, I got my picture in front of the castle and Disney does up a pretty kick ass medal.  Not to mention, running with people dressed up as every Disney character you can think of could not be more fun.  I kept pace behind a tiny little Latino woman who was rocking an incredible Tinkerbell costume…she definitely gave me some great pixie dust motivation for getting thru those tough middle miles.

It was at the Disney Princess Expo where I started getting some self confidence with my running.  Now, when I started training regularly, I wasn’t fat but neither was I as toned as I could have been.  But friends did start to notice a physical change in my body.  Truthfully, since I started running, I’ve only lost about 4-5 pounds, but my body has changed and toned.  Still, though, as a woman, it is so hard to let go of some body issues and insecurities.  I’m 38-years old.  I’ve had four children.  Now, I was petite back in high school when I was wearing very short cheerleading skirts, but I never was stick thin, I’ve always had curves and I’ve always had some junk in the trunk and big, strong thighs.

I have pretty much always worn pants or capris when I run because I’m self conscious about my legs.  I just thought, hey, NOBODY wants to see these flabby, pasty legs.  Then Lesleh FORCED me to put on a running skort when I was working the RGR booth.  I was fairly mortified until she told me that my issues were just that, MY issues. Nobody else was thinking I was fat or gross or whatever.

And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve had the next step on my running journey.  I don’t have the perfect body.  But I’m getting OK with it.  I’m in better shape than I was when I started running, I feel like I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my life because, as opposed to when I was a teenager, I have a much healthier diet.  And after running with women who are cancer survivors and running with women who are morbidly obese but determined to finish 13.1 miles even if they are dead last….well, it just seems all kinds of stupid to worry about some cellulite.

So, screw it, I’m wearing the damn skirt.

Running has given me much more than I could have ever imagined.  It is truly the first thing I’ve done in my whole life completely and totally for myself, by myself.  No one tells me when to run, or how.  I’m not running to make anyone proud, I’m running to make myself proud.  I’m the one who crosses the finish line.

I feel like I’m finding out who I really am along this running journey.  I never took the time to bother doing that before.  Running really has very little to do with moving yourself as quickly as you can from point A to point B.  It’s so much more than that, as only anyone else who runs can truly understand.

I may have a serious hitch in my giddy-up as a result of that bike accident, but at least I’m letting my giddy-up go!  And someday, I’ll break that 2-hour mark, wearing the brightest running skirt on the planet!

Originally published on Run Girl Run’s blog.