Moving Forward Is The Only Option

Today marks one year since I broke my leg in New Orleans. I’ve been held upright by a titanium rod in my right tibia for the past 365 days. I am forever grateful for the skilled surgeons at Tulane Medical Center that put me back together. I’m thankful for the friends & family that helped me out during one of the most difficult times of my life. The road to recovery has been tough. Thankfully there have been more ups than downs. I have a new respect for pain. I remember crying myself to sleep when even the strongest medications couldn’t relieve the tremendous burning & throbbing that I felt in my leg those initial post-operative weeks. Keep in mind that I’m no wimp when it comes to pain. I was induced with my pregnancies and I delivered both babies without medication. The pain from this surgery was on a totally different level. There were days that I truly don’t know how I made it out of the bed. But being the person that I am, whining was not an option. I had to be strong for my kids and I needed to be functional to keep my business afloat. After awhile something clicked and I stopped asking “why me” and I started making a plan for my comeback. Months of physical therapy followed. Progress seemed to move at a snail’s pace but at least it was moving …. forward. Cycling and swimming played a big role in the recovery process but I was overjoyed when I was cleared to walk/run.

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14379819_10154605314981549_7986477342743340543_oMy leg broke one week before my first triathlon was scheduled to take place. I was devastated. I thought my athletic days were over. But there was something inside of me that just wouldn’t allow me to go out like that. I kept reminding myself that I had come too far to throw it all away. A fire within was ignited and I committed to only looking and moving forward. Making a comeback from this accident has been challenging and humbling. I’ve had to work extra hard and the results haven’t come easily. This process has been lonely at times. I tend to run, cycle & swim alone because I don’t want to hold anybody back. I am constantly reminded of just how far behind I am. When I see those around me breaking personal records, running back-to-back/ultra marathons, qualifying for Boston, and making it to the podium, I can’t help but feel some kinda way. The harsh reality is that I’m not able to do what I used to do. I’m thirty minutes behind my average half-marathon time. It takes me one hour longer to run a marathon. I’ve put on a few pounds and I can’t go into turbo mode like I did before. But despite the obstacles, I’m glad to be back in the mix. This is what keeps me motivated. The back of the pack looks a little brighter now. Not breaking a personal record every run is not such a big deal. It’s unlikely that I’ll qualify for Boston until I’m 80 years old. But, I’m OK with all of this. One word sums is up ….. PERSPECTIVE.

Now don’t get me wrong, my comeback has been EPIC in my opinion! I’ve completed three  full marathons,  three half marathons, one ten miler and four 5K’s since my surgery. Throw in there completing Ragnar Relay DC for a third time and finishing a metric century cycling event. But the best things about my comeback go beyond the physical. I’ve become a better physician because I can relate to pain. I now see suffering through a different lens. I’m a better athlete because I’ve had to work harder than ever before. I’ve had to push myself when no one was watching. I’m a better parent because I witnessed the full potential of my children as they stepped up around the house while I was recovering. My injury put them to the challenge & I am so proud of the caring & responsible young adults that they are becoming.

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15843971_10154890971091549_9068396171086456530_oThank you to all who have offered kind words of support and encouragement during this process. Thank you to my run family  for always checking in on me and reminding me that I wasn’t out of the game. I’m even thankful for those who told me that I was moving too fast and needed to sit down somewhere. I believe that your words were filled with love & good intention. I’m excited to see what the next 365 days bring my way. For now weight training is making me stronger and my running is progressing. I’m slowly saying goodbye to the extra pounds. Another surgery is in the near future. I’m not excited about this but it’s part of the process. I’m good with whatever it takes to reach my fullest potential as long as I’m moving forward.15626563_10154853649026549_9170684608979706511_o

Exploring Cuba

 

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It has taken me a few weeks to compose my thoughts about my recent visit to the island nation of Cuba. I’ll put it out there up front ….. everyone should visit Cuba, especially African-Americans. I’ve wanted to visit Cuba since President Obama relaxed the travel restrictions that had been in place for over 50 years. My knowledge of Cuba up to now had been based on what I was taught in grade school and what I saw on television. When I thought about Cuba, I thought of communism, oppression, boat people , Scar Face (“say hello to my little friend”) and the controversy surrounding the young Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez. Clearly I was uninformed. Little did I know of the deep ties between Cuba, the African diaspora and Black history. Little did I know about the similarities between the colonization of Cuba and the colonization of the Unites States. The very same Christopher IMG_7462Columbus credited for discovering the New World set foot in Cuba just as he did the Americas. I was always taught that the voyages of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria were to be celebrated as stories of brave explorers discovering new lands. But contrary to what the textbooks tell us, Columbus didn’t really discover new territory. Native inhabitants were already thriving & surviving in the Americas & in Cuba before Columbus arrived. What Columbus did was introduce a plethora of diseases that nearly wiped out the native people. The European entrance to the New World was the start of a downhill battle for people of color. If you fast forward to slavery, the similarities between Cuba and the United States abound. The slave trade in Cuba was extensive. IMG_7409Europeans kidnapped Africans and forced them to work the sugar, tobacco and coffee plantations in Cuba the same way they forced slaves to work the cotton plantations of the South. It took the civil war to bring an end to racial slavery in the United States in 1865. Cuba held on longer to the system of barbaric oppression and did not end slavery until 1886. Interestingly, the heritage of enslaved Africans  has been well-preserved in Cuba. You can feel the connection to the Yoruba culture throughout the island. The Yoruba people are descendants from the various West African & Central African countries where people were forcibly taken from their homes and put on slave shipsIMG_7464. Despite the hardships, the Yoruba people survived slavery as did much of their culture and religion. This is evident in Cuba through the practice of Santeria, the religion under which Africans continued to follow their native beliefs under the guise of new world Catholicism. Fast forward to post-slavery days, Jim Crow & segregation. Many of the things that were going on here in the United States were going on in Cuba as well. People of color continued to be treated unfairly. America tried to bring segregation to the popular Havana nightclubs.  This is where things changed. While the United States entered into the civil rights movement, Cuban took a different approach. IMG_7457Many Cubans, mostly the poor, were oppressed under the rule of President Fulgencio Batista, a dictator. Cuba became a playground for America’s rich and famous. Batista’s ties to the US mafia ran deep and gambling, mob violence, prostitution and crime infiltrated the country. Long story short, the rich got richer while the poor suffered as they worked in US-owned factories and resorts for low wages & no benefits. Cuba’s close proximity to the United States provided easy access making it an attractive investment property for American interests. Meanwhile the majority of Cubans were living in poverty. Many felt that this state of disrepair was due to American domination of the country. IMG_7404Turmoil ensued and the Cuban Revolution was born under the leadership of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. The Batista regime was overthrown. Batista was ultimately forced to flee the country. Many unfortunate things then happened including the failed US-backed military invasion of Cuba (the Bay of Pigs)  and the Cuban Missile Crisis. All roads led to Cuban disengagement with the United States. The US-Cuban embargo was introduced and all ties were severed between the two countries. Cuba then aligned with the Soviet Union and this is where most of their imports started coming from. Cuba became a one-party communist state but fell into hard times with the collapse of the Soviet Union. No longer getting goods or supplies from the Soviet Union and with no ties to the United States, Cuba became frozen in time. This is essentially why Cuba looks the way it does today. Old cars, crumbling buildings, and poor infrastructure are all noticeable as you walk through the streets of Havana. But spend some time with the people and your view will quickly change. Cubans are friendly, welcoming, authentic and take great pride in their country.

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If you plan to visit Cuba, I would suggest reading up on its history first. You’ll have a better appreciation for the key political figures & events memorialized throughout Havana in the form of statues, murals and museums. For those with the time to really dig deep, the book “Fidel Castro. My Life” is an excellent read. For a quick read I recommend “Culture Smart! Cuba” by Mandy Macdonald & Russell Maddicks.

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Enough about the history ….. let’s move on to the fun stuff. Visiting Cuba is currently not that difficult to do but planning is essential. First and foremost you’ll need a valid passport. You’ll also need an entry VISA stating that you are traveling to Cuba under one of twelve authorized travel categories. Specifics can be found at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/cuba.html. I used the category of educational activities/people-to-people exchanges for my trip. Prior to departing I wrote up an itinerary of how I would spend every day of my trip. This included tours that I registered for and places that I intended to visit. I obtained the entry VISA from the airline when I checked in for my flight. The fee was $50. Also included with this fee was the travel health insurance required by the Cuban government. Your current health insurance policy will not provide coverage in Cuba. Accommodations were easy to secure. We rented a condo through Airbnb. I would strongly encourage going this route so that you’ll get a real flavor of life in Cuba. You will have to figure out your money beforehand.  The US dollar is not recognized in Cuba nor can you use US issued credit/debit cards while there. I paid for the condo and the excursions all though Airbnb beforehand using my credit card. Before departing I exchanged US dollars for Euros at my local bank with no extra fees or charges. Upon arrival in Cuba, I exchanged the Euros for Cuban Convertible Currency (CUC), the currency used by tourists. The process was not difficult. My arrival into Havana was also easy. While I saw other Americans being stopped & having their documents checked, I sailed right through customs. The immigration officer stamped my entry without hesitation. I attribute this to me greeting him in  Spanish and trying my best to not look like a tourist. The airport is similar to other airports in the Caribbean – hot, crowded and slow-moving. Do your best to travel with carry-on baggage only. If you check in bags, it may be awhile before you retrieve them. We located our driver after a few calls to our Airbnb host. Though tolerable, you will immediately notice the exhaust fumes from the classic cars as soon as you walk out of the terminal.

Our accommodations were contemporary and matched the description found on the AirbnbIMG_7349 website. We stayed in the Vedado neighborhood which is more modern than downtown Havana. The area had several paladares which are family-run restaurants. Vedado was far from Old Havana so we had to pay for transportation to get to most places. I would recommend staying in downtown Havana if you are looking for less expensive lodging and you want to avoid the taxi fees which can quickly add up. Though always aware of our surroundings, we felt safe walkng around Havana. A police presence was apparent at all times. You will not see shopping centers or billboards in Havana. Nor will you see a WaWa, CVS or fast food restaurant. You will see nondescript markets where locals shop for basics. The locals pay using either their ration coupons or cuban pesos. The stores are not well stocked. Meat and frozen foods were extremely limited.

IMG_7442The highlight of the trip was the Afro-Cuban Tour where we learned all about the religion of Santeria. The tour included a visit to Guanabacoa, one of the oldest neighborhood in Havana thought to be IMG_7444the place where slaves resided. We visited the Musea Historico de Guanabacoa where the link between the Yoruba religion and Catholicism was cleverly explained. A dance troupe and live band performed and we participated in a traditional ceremony. Our guide Adriana was fabulous. This tour is sure to change you in one way or the other. I highly recommend signing up for this experience as soon as you book your flight for Cuba. The tour can be booked at https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/1096.IMG_7456

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Other excursions included a day trip to Viñales Valley which is a vast amount of farm land located about two hours from Havana. We visited a quaint hotel atop a mountain that provided a stunning view of the underlying valley. We went on a boat tour through a cave. From there we visited a tobacco farm and learned how cigars are made. The process was way more intricate than I ever imagined. We got to sample the cigars while we were there and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that authentic Cuban cigars do not stink. IMG_7417We visited the Viñales Mural de la Prehistoria, an elaborate painting on the side of a massive rock formation in the valley. We finished up with dinner at an organic farm serving locally grown cuisine (and piña coladas served in coconuts)!

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On our last day we visited the beach. We opted for Santa Maria Beach versus the more popular Varadero due to its close proximity to Havana. Unfortunately it started raining shortly after we arrived so we didn’t get to lay out and soak up the rays. IMG_7487Nonetheless the beachfront was just as beautiful as other Caribbean destinations. We had lunch at a beachfront restaurant and indulged on supposedly fresh seafood. All was good at the IMG_7489moment but little did I know about the havoc that would soon hit my digestive tract. Unfortunately I spent my last night in Cuba very ill with the onset of a terrible case of travelers’ diarrhea …. not fun. This leads me to my next word of advice. Pack basic medications for this trip including ibuprofen, benadryl, pepto-bismol, electrolyte tablets and a small first aid kit. These items are not readily available for purchase in Cuba.

IMG_7468Cuba is a beautiful country steeped in history. Havana, the capital city, is the cultural epicenter filled with old world charm. You’ll hear music everywhere you go and a vibrant livelihood fills most public spaces. As you stroll along el Malecón, you’ll feel as though you’re being transported back in time. You’ll stumble upon musicians & various street performers as you watch the waves crash into the sea wall. Be careful because IMG_7479the ground is slippery. Wear comfortable shoes at all times.

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Should you decide to visit Cuba, go with the right mindset. Modern conveniences are not a given. Power & water can cut off temporarily without notice. Don’t expect public restrooms to be clean or to have toilet seats or covers. Carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer everywhere you go. Expect to see disabled vehicles all around town and learn to operate on island time. Only drink bottled water and don’t buy food from street vendors. Stray dogs are plentiful but you shouldn’t pet or feed them. Plan on being disconnected as far as phone & internet service. There are places where you can get internet access for a fee but the service is spotty. You should also keep in mind that internet usage is monitored. Consider bringing small gifts such as soaps, lotions or spices for your Airbnb hosts. Bring individually wrapped candy for children that you may meet as you venture through the city streets. If you plan on taking photographs of the locals, be prepared to pay them with pesos or chocolates.

IMG_7421Hopefully I’ve given you an idea about some of what Cuba has to offer. I plan on returning in the near future. There is still a lot that I want to see in Havana. I also want to visit other cities throughout the country. I would definitely suggest that you visit Cuba soon. I suspect that change will be coming though it will likely be slow. GetIMG_7424 to Cuba while it is still in its authentic state. While you’re there, talk to the people and immerse yourself in the culture. Cuba will not let you down.IMG_7460

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This is What Democracy Looks Like

womens-march-on-washington-015I sit here in awe trying to digest all that I witnessed today at the Women’s March on Washington. The scene at our nation’s capital was electrifying. I had to fight back tears as I walked through the crowd. I had no idea of the enormity of the event. I’ve never witnessed so many people in one place. There were people standing on light posts and people perched in trees. The crowd was easily double that of the crowd at yesterday’s inaugural events. If you add in the attendees at sister marches across the United States and abroad, the number grows even larger. Everyday citizens organized, mobilized and showed up in record- breaking numbers. This is not false reporting or fake news. I was there. The proof is in the pictures.

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The tone of the crowd was one of solidarity and peace. Folks said hello to one another, exchanged pleasantries, asked how you were doing and waited for an answer. The sheer volume of people made it hard to move around but few people complained. You became familiar with the people standing around you and you learned little bits and pieces of their story. The signs definitely captured my attention. Some were serious, some were funny and some were plain raw. The most moving signs for me were the ones that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Respect Women of Color”. The people carrying these signs were mostly white. Wow …..I had to let that one simmer for a moment.

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I walk away from this march knowing that I’m not the only one fed up and concerned. The resurgence of racism and bigotry is being felt throughout the country. I’m not the only one unwilling to turn a blind eye to the potential negative impact of this new administration. I’m not the only one sickened by the fact that people actually elected a man with a history of insulting and objectifying women, going as far as to brag about grabbing genitalia. A man whose company was sued twice by the Justice Department for racially discriminating against black people looking to rent apartments in his buildings. A man who championed the birther movement, the racist theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore an illegitimate president. A man who contorted his body making fun of a disabled reporter and then denied doing so even though there was televised footage. A man who called for barring all Muslims from entering the United States. A man who sends grammatically incorrect childlike tweets at the crack of dawn. How could one cast their vote for a person like this? How could one shrug this off as acceptable behavior?

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If nothing else the next four years will be interesting. Only time will tell how it will play out. If “Make America Great Again” equates to reviving the gender and race roles of the 1950’s, I suspect that this won’t be the last march of this magnitude. I just hope that people remain fired up and don’t allow fear to silence them. I hope people learned the importance of exercising their right to vote. Clearly too many people sat this one out.

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So where will I go from here? I will stay informed and I will voice my opinion. I will be more involved on a local level and I will educate myself on the electoral process. I will step up my volunteerism. I will engage my kids in civic activities so that they have an understanding of how our government works and how they can make a difference in the lives of others. I will do what I believe is right and I will stand & protest for human rights. I will pray for all of our leaders and hope that they mature as human beings. I will always remember the awesomeness of today. I will not allow hate to have a place in my heart.

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Not Easily Broken

It’s been two weeks since my accident & it’s the first time I’ve had the clarity to write about my experience. I’m still in disbelief that all that I’ve been working for could fall to pieces in a matter of seconds. With my first triathlon only one week away, my goals were crushed in a single step. The range of emotions that I’ve gone through have included fear, pain, defeat, and anger. For this mother-son weekend trip to culminate in a broken leg seems unimaginable. I’ve replayed the events over and over in my head, trying to decipher if I could have prevented it from occurring. Yet I’m quickly reminded that this one was in no way under my control. I can’t blame over-training, previous injury or lack of preparedness for this situation.

IMG_2922Daniel & I were enjoying our day at Jazz Fest when the skies opened. The rain was heavy and the streets were soon flooded. The lightning was so intense that the event was forced to end early. As we made our way back to our hotel, we were moving along quickly with the crowd trying to escape the elements. With a single step I twisted my ankle on an uneven piece of the curb. I subsequently fell forward with my leg twisting in the direction opposite that of my ankle. It was a hard fall and happened so quickly that I couldn’t even attempt to stop it with my hands. A loud popping sound followed, much like a gun shot, drawing the attention of all those in close proximity. I immediately felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew that something had gone terribly wrong. As I tried to stand up I felt a pain so severe that it made tears flow from my eyes. I felt the opposing ends of the broken bone slip over each other and I immediately fell backwards. My tibia had completely snapped in half and was unable to bear any weight. Daniel tried his hardest to help me up but I was frozen in pain and the slightest movement made it worse. I lifted up my pant leg and could tell by the look on Daniel’s face that my instinct was correct. I reached my hand down over my leg and I could feel the sharp edge of the broken bone pushing against my skin. I couldn’t bear to look down as I felt like I was about pass out. I was beyond scared but mommy-mode kicked in and I knew that I needed to keep my cool. I told Daniel that it wasn’t as bad as it looked but that we needed to get to the nearest hospital. I was amazed at the number of people who passed us by without offering a helping hand. Finally a gentleman appeared out of nowhere and asked what he could do to help. I thank God for this kind soul. He hailed a cab for us and we were rushed off to the hospital which was only a few blocks away. From there everything moved rather quickly. The urgency of the situation was obvious as soon as the triage nurse saw my leg. The pain was severe and it was clear that simple casting was not going to suffice. The swelling was worsening by the minute and preparations for emergency surgery were underway. Surgery followed and a titanium rod was placed in my tibia.

fall-down-seven-times-stand__quotes-by-japanese-proverb-24The physical recovery has been hard due to the extensive swelling and bruising. My mobility is limited but getting a little better every day. The emotional toll has been significant. I’ve finally accepted the reality of the injury and my anger has subsided. My sights are now set on recovery. My spirituality tells me that there is a reason for everything. God never puts more on you than you can handle. Perhaps this happened to protect me from something or someone. Perhaps it happened to serve as an entryway to some new beginning. Whatever the case, my eyes are wide open and I am listening attentively. Now is the time for me to press forward and be brave. The bottom line is that I am a runner ….. focus, determination and discipline are all part of my DNA. In time I suspect that I will figure out what greatness this misfortune is positioning me to receive. When I get depressed, I remind myself of all that I’ve accomplished up to this point. I also remind myself to keep my goals in sight even though the timeline to achieving them will need to be adjusted. The physical damage has been corrected and it is now the season for recovery and healing. It’s time to get my goals back on track and to get my mind readied for the task ahead of me. The road to regaining function and strength is going to be an uphill battle. Persistence and patience will be key along with faith that everything will come together in due time.

Affirmations-for-positive-attitude-Setbacks-will-only-make-me-strongerThankfully this accident happened at a time when I’m in good physical and mental shape. I’m so glad that my son was with me through this trauma. If he hadn’t been there, I think I would have crumbled. I was fortunate to have an excellent surgical team available to repair the injury. I was blessed to have family & friends in New Orleans to take care of us while we were there. I’ve felt nothing but love and support since returning home. I am thankful to be surrounded by family and genuine friends who have gone out of their way to help me get through this ordeal.

setbacks-quotes-6My prayer is to return to the playing field stronger than ever. Running the New York City and Paris Marathons remain my long-term goals. Completing a triathlon is still on the top of my to-do list. I’m glad that swimming and cycling are now part of my routine as they will both be important in the recovery process. The one thing that I will not do is allow this accident to define me. Surely better days are ahead. This setback is merely a setup for a greater comeback! Please keep me in your prayers.

She Believed She Could So She Did

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she believed she couldI get a little teary-eyed when I reflect on my 2015 running journey. Without a doubt, it was a MUCH better year than 2014. I completed two full marathons, ten half marathons, a Ragnar Relay and numerous smaller distance races.  The year started out with me making my way back to the pavement after a six month hiatus due to injuries. Coming back was difficult because I constantly feared re-injury. I did my best to gradually build up the miles & to listen to my body when it needed to rest. My comeback race was the Mercedes Benz Half Marathon in February 2015 which I completed without difficulty. I utilized the Galloway method throughout most of the year & I was fortunate to remain injury free. My solitary goal for 2015 was to complete a full marathon. Marathon training dominated the summer of 2015. I did it right this time and aligned myself with a marathon training group. The early morning long-runs were tough but I got them done. Ultimately I reached my goal of conquering 26.2 miles at the Chicago Marathon in October. A second full marathon followed two weeks later.

A special shout-out to Coach Marlon of Team Lean.Strong.Fast for an excellent marathon training plan. There’s no way I could have pulled off back-to-back marathons without his guidance. Having the right people in your corner is key!

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I could go on and on about my 2015 running adventures but I’ll spare you the details. Basically, my HOKAS and I covered a total of 825 miles in nine different states when you combine time spent training and racing. Here’s a recap of the best and worst moments of my 2015 running journey.

  1. Favorite Race Experience of 2015 – Dallas Half Marathon

I had a blast in Dallas. I became a Certified Running Coach and saw all my peeps at the National Black Marathoners Association’s Annual Summit. The race itself was great …..the entire experience was unforgettable.

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2. Favorite Race Course of 2015 – Navy Air Force Half Marathon

Put this race on your list for 2016. It’s a fast course that will expose you to the very best of our nation’s capital. There’s nothing better than running by the monuments & memorials of Washington, DC. You also get to run in the East and West Potomac Parks and along Rock Creek Parkway. The race is not as packed as the other downtown races so you really get the chance to take it all in.

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3. Least Favorite Race Course of 2015 – DIVAS Half Marathon DC Wine Country

One word ….. HILLS! I did not like this race even though it was basically in my backyard. The only good part about it was that I got to share the pavement with my sisters of Black Girls RUN! DC Loudoun.

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4. Favorite Bling of 2015 – Marine Corps Marathon

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Loved this medal from the 40th Marine Corps Marathon! This symbolized so much to me including honor, strength, and perseverance. My journey to obtaining this medal was a challenging one with several highs & lows along the way. Words cannot describe the feeling that I had when this bling was placed around my neck.

 

 

5. Least Favorite Bling of 2015 – Chicago Marathon

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I can honestly say that I wish the medal from my first marathon was nicer. This medal doesn’t reflect the excitement of that day. In fact, I didn’t even know what the medal was depicting. I thought it was showing a whale. It was days later that I was told that it is actually showing the Chicago Bean Sculpture. Hmmmm ….. still scratching my head over that one.

 

6.Theme of 2015 – Rain, rain and more rain

What more can I say? It rained for the majority of my races this season. Lessons were learned and I now know to pack heavy-duty black trash bags and duct tape when traveling to races.

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7. Mantra of 2015

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8. Power Song of 2015‘Till I Collaspe by Eminem

9. Five Favorite Moments of 2015

Finishing the Chicago MarathonThere are no words to describe the feeling that comes with finishing your first marathon.The tears started at mile 20. I can now say that I am a marathoner …… I am hanging with the 1%.

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Viewing the most beautiful sunrise ever at the Sarasota Half Marathon –
Although it was hot, the Sarasota Half Marathon course offered some magnificent scenery. The awesome sunrise literally stopped me in my tracks. I was certainly not alone! Several other race participants stopped to photograph the wonderful views.

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Running my first leg of Ragnar Relay DC in a torrential downpour (a.k.a Hurricane Joaquin) – Ragnar Relay DC was definitely memorable. Serving as captain of Team SWATT meant bringing together 12 folks of varying personalities & skills to conquer one task …….. running 200 miles from Cumberland, MD to downtown Washington, DC. Thankfully Hurricane Joaquin didn’t stop us. We got the job done!

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Having friends come out to offer support at the Marine Corps Marathon – I was beyond grateful for having a support crew at my second marathon. Seeing their faces kept me going. There’s nothing better than having friends that understand and support your mission. The orange slices and bananas tasted like manna from heaven.

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MARINE CORPS MARATHON 2015 010Running the streets of my hometown at the Brooklyn Half Marathon – Running through Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Zoo, Ocean Parkway and Coney Island was truly epic. I was so very humbled when I ran by the apartment building that I called home as a child. I felt butterflies in my stomach as I ran this course.

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**** A special Honorable Mention goes to meeting Jeff Galloway at the Marine Corps Marathon Expo and Meb Keflezighi at the National Black Marathoners Association Banquet. Having a chance to converse with these running icons was awesome. Their encouraging words will forever be embedded in my heart. These men are true athletes and both have beautiful souls. *****

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10. Five Least Favorite Moments of 2015

  1. Rain at Mercedes Benz Half Marathon
  2. Rain at Marine Corps Marathon
  3. Rain at Dallas Half Marathon
  4. Rain at Brooklyn Half Marathon
  5. Rain at Ragnar Relay DC

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A huge “Thank You” to my running family for always supporting me. From picking up my race packet to making sure that I didn’t oversleep on race morning, I have been blessed to share the pavement with you guys. There is not enough room to thank each person individually, but I’m certain that you know who you are! I’m glad that I get to share these experiences with all of you and I’m looking forward to more adventures in 2016.

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I feel good closing the book on 2015. It’s been a great year and I have no regrets. Now it’s time to enlarge my territory & step out of my comfort zone. My plans for 2016 include cleaning up my diet, improving my marathon times and learning how to swim competitively. I’ll be entering the world of triathlons and my main goal is completing a half ironman in the next year. IronMan 70.3 Augusta ….. I’m coming for you!!

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Marathon Blessings

marathon1It has been said that the person who starts the marathon is not the same person who finishes. I can confirm this statement to be true as I am not the same person that I was two years ago when I set my sights on completing a marathon.

In October I became a Marathoner. For the non-runners out there, that means I ran the equivalent of 33,000 steps. I crossed the finish line at both the Chicago Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. The idea of running two marathons in a two-week time frame seemed impossible but I’ve come to realize that the only limits are the ones we create ourselves. This journey has been a game-changer for me and I will treasure the lessons that I’ve learned during the process:

marathon61. A setback is often a blessing in disguise. My first attempt at running a marathon resulted in a series of injuries. Shin splints, stress fractures and over-training led to me being unable to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 as planned. I attribute this setback to having unrealistic goals, lacking a proper training plan and having the wrong people in my corner. The downtime was a blessing however because it forced me to be still and to reevaluate. It is true that the quieter you become, the more you hear. It was during my recovery that I read every book on running that I could get my hands on. I questioned seasoned runners about their training and their experiences. Once I was back on my feet I worked with a running coach who taught me proper running technique. He also showed me how to run efficiently.  I also lightened my load by getting rid of the toxic people in my life. After a six month hiatus, I returned to running as a much wiser and stronger person.

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 2. If you continuously compete with yourself, you will become better. One important thing to learn at the outset is that running is an individual sport. You are your own competition. No one can run the miles for you. No one can force you to get out of bed at o’ dark thirty to get that long run done. It’s you against yourself. This takes a profound amount of discipline. It’s also best to realize when you first hit the pavement that the goal is not to beat the other runners. The goal is to beat that little voice inside your head that tries to convince you that it is way too early and way too cold to go out for a run. The voice that tries to tell you that you’re too old to be trying to run a marathon. Believe me when I say that running is largely a mental game. Getting faster and getting better will only happen if you train your mind as well as your body. You instinctively aim to do better than you did before. Your very own personal record is the time that you want to beat.

3. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Although running is an individual sport, there is strength in numbers. I enjoy running alone at times but I push myself harder when I run with other people. There is something comforting about watching other runners push through pain right along side of you. It provides validation that you are in fact not crazy. It is reassuring to see that there are others out there who find pleasure in pushing their body beyond the point of exhaustion. Simply put, runners motivate runners. Black Girls Run, Black Men Run, National Black Marathoners Association, Black Greek Running Nation …… I’m not sure I could have pulled this off without my run family. Without motivation it’s hard to succeed. Keep your circle positive and be a cheerleader for other runners. Remember, when race day comes, it’s those fist bumps, high-fives and words of encouragement that help you get from mile marker to mile marker. It’s knowing that you have a support team on the side-line that pushes you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

CHICAGO MARATHON 2015 0014. Respect the distance. 26 miles 385 yards is a really long distance to cover. Attempting to conquer this distance without the proper training is not a good idea. Respecting the distance means training and preparing months in advance for the big dance. Showing up at the starting line is important but the majority of the work is done well in advance of race day. Running a marathon puts tremendous stress on your body. One can only handle the distance if proper training has taken place. I was fortunate to connect with an excellent coach as I trained for the Chicago marathon. The training plan incorporated all of the essentials including speed training, strength training, and long runs. Good nutrition was also a focus, as the system must be fueled properly if you expect it to perform at its best. Respect the distance every time you step on the pavement. It is not a given that you’re going to finish any given race. Runners get hurt, runners risk dehydration, and sadly runners can even die while participating in distance running events. The medal that gets placed around your neck at the finish is the result of hard work, sweat, sacrifice and tears. Respect the distance ……. 26.2 is never given, it is always earned.

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5. Celebrate how far you have come and have faith in how far you can go. I’m pretty sure I cried through a large portion of both the Chicago Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. In Chicago the flood gates opened when I got to mile 20. It was at that point that I accepted the fact that I was actually going to finish this race. I had no pain and I hadn’t hit “the wall”. All the setbacks, heart breaks, and drama of my adult life passed before my eyes. Somehow finishing this race symbolized that I was good enough, strong enough and deserving enough to be happy in my existence. Yes I’m getting deep here, but this is what happens when you train for and run a marathon. You spend a lot of time with your thoughts, even the memories that you thought were neatly tucked away in a far off storage unit. The tears started flowing at Marine Corps Marathon around mile 18. I couldn’t believe that I was running my second marathon. I reflected on my journey. I thought about every hill & valley (literal & figurative) that I had encountered along the way. I thought about my kids, the two little beings that give me purpose. Then I thought about how this process had changed me. I have become stronger physically, spiritually and mentally. Having the right mindset has opened the door for the right people to come into my life. As I approached the finish line it struck me that timing is everything. I failed miserably when I attempted to do things on my time schedule.  But once I sat back and relinquished all of the worry and all the doubt, things began to fall into place. As I crossed the finish line I became instantly aware that I had finally arrived at a place in my life that I’m meant to be. It is my time to shine.

marathon4Finishing a marathon is proof that anything is possible. If you want to change your life, train for and run a marathon. Know that it takes courage to show up at the starting line, endurance to run the distance and passion to cross the finish line. The process will transform you in more ways than one.

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Conversations with Myself

Medals May 2015

Brooklyn Half Marathon & Run for the Dream Half Marathon

May has been an interesting month for me. I completed half marathons #18 and 19, the Brooklyn Half Marathon on May 16th and the Run for the Dream Half Marathon today in Williamsburg. Respective finish times were 2:19:52 and 2:20:20. Both races had their challenges, heavy rain in Brooklyn and heat & humidity in Williamsburg. Though satisfied with these results, I’m ready to see some improvement. I spent the drive home analyzing my race performance and trying to identify specific areas that I need to work on. The truth is that I’m feeling physically strong but I need to get out of my comfort zone if I want to get faster. Next my thoughts turn to my mental game plan and how it effects my performance.

Essentially, I break the half-marathon into five distinct segments – the pre-race, the first 4 miles, miles 5 through 9, miles 10 through 13.1 and the post-race. The thoughts running through my head during each segment are distinctly different. The conversations that I have with myself are interesting to say the least.

The hour or so before the race is filled with anxiousness & adrenaline. I always arrive at the race venue early which can be both good and bad. Everyone is pumped and the energy level is through the roof. Lots of action going on here. People are checking bags, setting their watches, stretching, waiting in line to use the porta-potties, etc. Folks are stressing about the challenging parts of the course and planning their strategies to try to PR (beat their personal record). Then you have the nervous nellies who are already making up excuses for why they won’t perform well. I try to block out all of these distractions and not let them get in my head. I wait patiently in my corral and listen to something inspirational. My song of choice for these two races has been Conqueror by Estelle. I put that puppy on repeat and just listen to it over and over again. Next up is the singing of the National Anthem. The earbuds come out and I stand proud and listen attentively. I’m not sure what it is about the National Anthem but I always get teary eyed when I hear it performed live. Wish I could say this was due to my extreme sense of patriotism but that wouldn’t be the truth. I suspect that the tears are due to my unspoken nervousness about the journey I’m about to take. As I start walking towards the start, I pray. I ask God to give me the strength to run with endurance the race set before me and to do so injury-free. I program my watch, start my music and make my way across the starting line. I am now locked in and there is no turning around. Backing out is no longer an option.

Miles one through four are the hardest for me. Inevitably I’m experiencing some sort of discomfort as my legs start to engage. I’ve learned to start out slowly to avoid shin splints although I still get them if I haven’t stretched adequately on the days leading up to the race. Extra effort is required during these initial miles because the crowd is densely packed and you need to weave around people in order to maintain any kind of pace. Getting through this part of the race is purely mental. The conversation in my head is always the same during this time. I’m asking myself why am I doing this nonsense again, what made me sign up for this race, and do I actually believe that I can pull this off yet again? Since I’m running slower than my typical pace and I’m running intervals, people are passing me left and right. The competitive part of me wants to run faster but the smart part of me knows that going out the gate too fast is a surefire way to burn out quickly. To counter these negative thoughts, I start telling myself that I can’t let ’em see me sweat ….. I can’t prove the haters correct. I’m not exactly sure who said haters are but I know that there are some out there that wouldn’t mind seeing me fail. It’s me against the world for these first miles and I’m feeling every single step that I take.This is the part of the race that is mentally the most challenging because I can easily convince myself that I may not finish this race. My mind will play tricks on me if I grant it permission so I need to stay mentally focused. My mantra during these miles is “just keep swimming” and I tell myself that I will be fine if I can just push through and knock out these first 3-4 miles.

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The middle portion of the race is definitely my sweet spot. My body is now warmed up, I’m in a rhythm and I’m feeling good. This is the part where my body takes over. It is here that I am an athlete and I have no doubts about finishing this race. I’m having nothing but positive thoughts and my mantra has changed to “you got this”. I hear Ludacris in the background saying “move B****, get out the way”. Yes, this may sound extreme but I’m just keeping it real. I’m moving along like a well-oiled machine and nothing can stand in my way. I pick up my pace and the running seems effortless. Now I’m the one passing people and it feels good. I go through a checklist to ensure that my form is on point. I stand taller, relax the shoulders, unclench the fists, lean forward ever so slightly and let gravity do the work. The miles go faster & faster because I’m moving like a svelte cheetah. There’s no stopping me. I’m in full beast mode. Haters are hating right now but I’m totally cool with it.

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Run for the Dream Mile 12.5

As I approach mile ten, discomfort is beginning to kick in again. My legs are starting to fatigue and I start having cramps in my toes and calves if I haven’t hydrated properly. This is the part of race where I need to dig deep ….. real deep. It doesn’t help that I’m surrounded by runners who are starting to look exhausted and frustrated. These last miles seem to take forever. The distance between the mile markers seems to have magically doubled. My legs feel like heavy weights and that cheetah has turned into an elephant. I’m working for every stride and I’m cognizant of every breath that I take. My mantra now goes something like this “you only have 3.1 miles left, a simple 5K, you run those in your sleep, finish the dang thing”. My mental clarity and physical condition are no longer the glue holding it all together. The ability to finish this race now comes purely from the heart. I remind myself of all the reasons that I love to run. I remind myself that this is not my first time at the rodeo. I think about the bagel, banana and chocolate milk that is hopefully waiting for me at the end. I remind myself that if this running thing was easy, everyone would be doing it. Again I do a quick survey of my running form. I may not feel strong but I need to perform as if I am strong so that I can get to the finish. I also check my form because I don’t want to look like a slug in those finishing photos! This is when I call on the big boys to carry me through. These boys include Eminem, Jay Z, KRS-One, and Biz Markie just to name a few! I have no choice but to get gangsta right now and fight my way to the end. Once I see the actual finish line I basically take off in a sprint so that I can put this thing to rest.

Crossing the finish line is an awesome feeling. I now have some nice bling around my neck and I’m getting high-fives & fist-bumps from friends and strangers. The mood is best described as festive. The euphoria kicks in and I’m thinking that my 13.1 mile journey wasn’t so bad after all. The aches and pain are gone and enough energy has returned to help me find my way to the food, drink and other post-race activities. I’m feeling thankful to have another one under my belt. Like most of my fellow runners, my thoughts now turn to one thing …… when do I get to do this again?

 

NO EXCUSES

I’ve been bombarded this week by excuses. Excuses from myself as well as excuses from those around me. I even found myself making up excuses for other people as a desperate attempt to rationalize their actions. We all make excuses from time to time as a way to justify those things that we don’t want to do or to make ourselves feel better about the shady stuff that we have done. But excuses are simply not cool. Excuses allow us to limit ourselves before we even try. When you make an excuse for someone or something, you lose the power to control the situation. Excuses make us slackers and give us license to do less and to expect less from others. Sometimes our excuses are so good that we actually convince ourselves that they are valid.

When it comes to fitness and running, excuses are plentiful. Anyone in my circle knows that I promote exercise as the cure for just about everything. But it’s not just about running, it’s about keeping it moving. Walking, zumba, kick-boxing, yoga, swimming, cycling, martial arts – any of these activities will suffice. In my medical practice I see the wrath that obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can have on the mind, body and spirit. Many people are too busy to realize that they are allowing themselves to physically deteriorate because they are not carving a little bit of time out of their day to take care of themselves. Unfortunately things change as we get older and we cannot rely on a good diet alone to keep us healthy. As we age a few major things happen. First, we start loosing muscle mass. You will become saggy if you don’t incorporate some form of strength training into your lifestyle. Second, hormones begin to wreak havoc on us as we enter mid-life. This goes for both men and women. These hormonal changes can lead to many unpleasantries including unintentional weight gain with fat settling in places that are not so flattering. The third and biggest change is the slowing of our metabolism. It is a well established fact that our basal metabolic rate declines with each year of life. Simply put, we burn less calories as we age. If your body is a machine, think of it as the machine slowing down and becoming less and less efficient. Exercise fuels the machine. The more exercise you do, the better your basal metabolic rate. This is turns makes your machine burn fat & calories more efficiently and decreases the risk of obesity. Obesity is a bad player not only because of its physical effects but also because it increases the risk of many health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, cancer, liver & gall bladder disease, sleep apnea & respiratory problems, arthritis, fertility & sexual function, and depression. Therefore we must be engaged in some sort of physical activity if we wish to maintain a healthy body, toned physique and mental readiness. The harsh reality is that we will slowly accumulate pounds in the midsection and find ourselves on a plethora of medications if we fail to do so.

Now that I’ve laid out the grim reality, I need to follow with surefire ways to avoid such a fate. The first thing you must do is make a plan and get rid of the excuses. Your body is your temple and it deserves your full attention. Physical activity needs to become as important as that board meeting, your kid’s recital and that appointment at the salon. You also need to pay attention to the food that you are putting in your mouth (but that’s the topic for another blog). You will not succeed if any of the following statements come out of your mouth –  “I can’t exercise today, I just got my hair done”, “I’ll start after vacation”, “I’m still nursing an old injury”, “I need to get in shape before I can start exercising”, “I don’t have the time”, “I’ll start when the kids get out of school for the summer”, “I don’t need to exercise, I eat healthy”. The excuse about not having time always makes me cringe. The reality is that we make the time for things that are important to us. We are all extremely busy with work, parenting, family, activities, etc and there never seems to be enough time to get it all done. But here is where you need to think outside the box. If you keep doing things the way you have always done them, nothing is going to change. My daily exercise is put on my calendar just like every other important appointment. I register for races because then I always have a goal to work towards. Exercising in the morning is also something to consider. I get my workout done before the kids get up, before the e-mails start coming in, and before the demands of the day require my full attention. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. may not be everyone’s cup of tea but you have to do what works. If you are too busy to do it after work, the early morning hours may be your only option. It will be challenging at first, but you will ultimately find yourself in a rhythm and you will actually feel worse if you miss your workout! Trust me, your temple will thank you when all is said and done. Having a workout partner or being part of a group helps tremendously. Accountability is key and if you know that someone is waiting for you at the gym or is meeting you at the trail for that early morning run, you WILL get up and you WILL show up. As I said before, having a goal is also a helpful way to start. Register for a 5K or schedule a professional photo shoot that is three months down the road. Give yourself something to work for so that you have that thought to fall back on when the going gets tough. I believe that the biggest part of your success will be surrounding yourself with like minded people, folks who are going to encourage and applaud your efforts. This can be a tough one because you will come to realize that not everyone will be excited about your commitment and determination. The solution is easy. Get rid of the haters …. some people are just not meant to be part of your journey.

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Running – My Spiritual Journey

Crossing the Finish Line

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run April 12, 2015

Springtime is my favorite time of year in Washington, DC. The Cherry Blossom Festival equates to the end of the winter and the start of a new season. There is something surreal about strolling along the Tidal Basin underneath a canopy of beautiful blooms. I’m a creature of habit and since moving to the DC area in 2004, I’ve made my way to view the cherry blossoms every year rain or shine. Even better than looking at the scenery is actually running through downtown DC with the cherry blossoms & the treasured monuments all within view. This past Sunday marked my fourth time participating in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. It was freakishly soothing going through my pre-race routines as it really plays to my type A personality. Like all previous runs, I had my ritual items on the checklist – begin hydrating a few days prior to race, look at the course map to establish visual landmarks, check multiple weather sources to know how to dress on race day, try on several outfits to see which one best covers my flaws, lay out the race day outfit down to the socks, eat a protein-rich meal which typically includes a steak for me (Go Team Beef), attempt to go to bed early although pre-race jitters usually keep me awake, set two alarm clocks to avoid the possibility of oversleeping, confirm that all essential items are in my waist belt, and finally, have the logistics all laid out as far as getting from my home to the starting corral with time to spare. Surely this sounds like quite a bit of work but I’ve got it narrowed down to a science! Race morning itself has another set of rituals. I typically get up one hour before I need to leave. I have a great big cup of coffee and step outside to assess the weather. I then take some time to reflect on what’s about to go down and I pray for the endurance to finish strong & injury-free. Before walking out the door, I recheck that I have everything that I need including phone, race bib, cash and keys. Last but certainly not least, I use the bathroom one final time. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I have an aversion to porta potties. Though my number one goal is crossing that finish line, a second hidden goal is getting through the race without needing to use the facilities! So, out the door I went at 5:20am as planned. Race day went as planned except for a last-minute change in the  course due to crime scene activity. Luckily the adjustments were minor but the changes did shorten the course to 9.39 miles rather than 10 miles. I was particularly reflective again during this race and the pavement once again served as my therapist. I was struck by the beauty that surrounded me and even stopped to take a few photographs. The crowd support was great and I got to see many of my running buddies. The end result was a fabulous run at a 10:31 pace and I finished pain-free. I’ve come to realize that running is truly a spiritual event for me. The preparation for the race forces me to be singularly focused. It is one of the rare times that I put myself first. The kids, the job and the calendar all get placed to the side.  I disconnect on race day and it feels good. Phone calls, text messages, and e-mails all get put on hold until the task is completed. We all need something that puts us in this zone. Running serves as this sacred time for me because it makes me stop & listen to myself. I’m forced to listen to my own breathing and connect with my body’s rhythm. I cannot multitask as I do the majority of the time. Any issues that I have been avoiding come to the forefront and I have no choice but to think and reflect. In the end, I consider running to be my gift to myself. The race fees, gear and travel expenses are minimal compared to what I get in return. I am glad to have found a lifestyle that gives so much yet requires so little.

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The Love of the Run

I didn’t realize how much I loved running until the ability to run was taken away from me. Most of the summer of 2014 was spent training for the Marine Corps Marathon which was scheduled to be my very first marathon. I followed my training plan diligently with long runs at o’dark thirty just to get it done and to beat the heat. I was in a groove with a routine of running 3-4 times per week and cross-training on my non-run days. I was eating clean, body fat was low and endurance was up.  I completed the much-anticipated 20 mile run and was confident that I would soon be amongst the 1% of people to earn the title of marathoner. It was a few weeks before the marathon that I was to run the Army Ten Miler. This was to be a fun run, a piece of cake considering the mileage I had been putting in all summer. But just like that, my dream was crushed. Pain started almost the instant I crossed the starting line. I tried to blame it on muscle tightness, shin splints, electrolyte imbalance, the need for new sneakers – anything other than the possibility that I was injured. I told my running partner to go ahead and not wait for me, that I was going to just walk it out and catch up with her at the finish. But with each step the pain worsened. The possibility that I may not finish this race crossed my mind but a DNF (Did Not Finish) was not an option. Being the competitor that I am, I told myself that I would crawl to the finish line if I had to. Well, my body didn’t agree with this plan & my leg buckled and I ended up face down on the pavement. The tears followed. I was lifted off the course by two young Army men who tried their hardest to comfort me. Of course me being me, I refused to go to the hospital and I still thought that this was just a momentary set back. The rest of the day was a blur. The pain remained intense and I could not bear weight on my leg. A visit to the orthopedic surgeon and an MRI the next morning confirmed multiple stress fractures in both legs. The cause of the damage was overuse. Basically, I had done this to myself. Next came the dreaded words “no running for 12-16 weeks”. What followed was a downhill spiral that bordered on depression. I was on crutches and wearing an Aircast so my mobility was extremely limited. Day-to-day activities became daunting tasks. Just getting myself to work took effort.  I was exhausted by the end of the day and the lack of endorphins was killing me. I stayed connected with my running friends and did my best to cheer from the sidelines even though I was beyond disappointed to not be out there with them. My clean eating changed to take-out and my general outlook on life turned negative. I saw what was happening and I didn’t like it. So I came up with plan B which involved swimming and working out with a trainer. It’s amazing how much better I felt as soon as I stepped foot in the gym. My trainer and I focused on upper body and core strengthening and the swimming was a plus. Slowly but surely the stress fractures healed and I started going for walks. I started running short distances in January. I read everything I could about distance running and avoiding injuries. I started using the Galloway method and stopped being so concerned about time and pace. In February I ran my first half marathon after a six month hiatus and I ran my second in March. I was nervous as hell at both of these races and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to go the distance. Thankfully I finished both races pain free. As I was running these race, I was overcome both times with emotion and excitement. The pavement felt so good beneath my feet, the familiar sounds and sights that come with running a race made me feel like I was home again. I wanted to hug each mile-marker sign as I was so happy to progress along the course without pain or injury. The water stops, the volunteers, the bands playing along the sideline ….. all of these things that I never really appreciated in the previous thirteen half-marathons now held my attention. Crossing that finish line was particularly amazing. I purposely did not pay attention to time for these 2 comeback races. Instead I decided to just run at a pace that felt good and I didn’t set goals like I typically had in the past. I finished both races in  2 hours and 20 minutes which is just 10 minutes off from my personal best. I realize that I have quite a bit of work to do in order to get back to where I was, but I will approach this running game differently from here on out. It’s no longer about the time, the medal or getting that sub-2,  it’s now all about the running itself. I love to run because it makes me feel good. It gives me confidence and makes me feel strong. It liberates me from the daily hustle and it is my safe haven. I love the camaraderie amongst runners and I’ve met the most down-to-earth, genuine people during my running journey. I will never take for granted the ability to put one foot in front of the other. Running is my thing and I need to respect the distance every time I lace up my HOKA ONE ONE shoes. My race calendar for 2015 is full and I’m looking forward to redemption at the 40th Marine Corps Marathon on October 25, 2015. Follow my blog, follow my journey, and hopefully it will help you find a passion that ignites a flame within you.