Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Moment in the Sun

Today I found out I was featured on the Pittsburgh Marathon website as one of their "Inspirational Runner Stories".  I do have to say, I'm quite honored.  I know there are people out there who will always try to downplay what I have done with my weight loss with the always helpful sentiment, "Well, you shouldn't have let yourself get fat in the first place!"  I'm probably not the only one thinking, "No crap." 

For me, I've struggled with my weight my entire life.  When I went off to college, the problem became horrible because I was in an all you can eat buffet of food and I took that very literally.  Dinner for me would often be two or three entree type dishes because I didn't want to pick just one.  Looking back now, I can't believe I let myself get that out of control.  I knew I wasn't making GOOD choices, but I honestly didn't know anything about nutrition.  Sure, I knew that too much fat was bad and vegetables were good, but I didn't know anything about calories, portion control, why it was important to eat every meal, etc.  Now I do and my life has been forever changed.

If you do happen to go visit my story on the website, there are two pictures of me.  The before and after.  The before picture was taken when I went to a conference with my mother.  Sadly, I remember putting that outfit on that morning and thinking that I looked really cute.  Now I see that picture and feel bad.  Not about how I look though; I feel bad about how much of my life I wasted being fat.  My after picture was taken a little over a year ago at my brother's wedding.  I literally had family members that hadn't seen me in a few years asking who that girl was.  That felt pretty incredible to not be recognized by your own family.

I still have my moments where I see myself as "the fat girl".  I probably always will.  I have a skewed body image and I'm hoping that changes.  I can look in the mirror and see that I've lost the weight but I still don't have a good idea of how others perceive me.  I've been at a stable weight for about two years now and I still struggle with that every day.

I guess that I'll end with saying to anyone who tries to downplay what I've been able to accomplish.  We all have our struggles in life and weight just happened to be one of mine.  I have never been a drinker or a smoker, but my drug of choice was food and boy, did I indulge.  I indulged to the point that my addiction would probably have killed me at a young age if I hadn't made a change.  Regardless, I overcame that addiction and came out triumphant.  You can celebrate my success with me or not.  I will continue trying to do what I've done since I lost the weight, which is helping others and paying forward what I have learned.

If anyone is interested in going to read my story on the Pittsburgh Marathon website, please go to this website:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Starting Over

I typically feel a little lost after a big race, particularly one like the Oil Creek 100 that I am thinking about constantly, and my opinion or attention is constantly required.  I go from getting somewhere around 20+ emails a day to getting a few pieces of junk mail.  While the lack of stress is nice, the feeling of being needed and, well, "important" is now gone.  To counteract that this year, I have decided to throw myself full force into training for next year's race.  My goal is to be in peak condition by the Oil Creek race next year, so I can attempt and conquer the 100K.

For those of you who know me, you know that I've lost a crazy amount of weight, mostly through running.  I've accepted the fact that I'll always have "loose skin" because I lost so much so fast that it is almost like I deflated.  I've also accepted the fact that I'll always have big legs.  However, my goal is to get stronger.  I can still be strong and successful, big legs, loose skin, whatever.  I'm going to commit to going to the gym at least three days a week to lift, particularly throughout the winter when it's easy to get lazy.  I need to do some research and find some great routines that will get me ripped!

I also plan to commit to running at least five days a week.  I think my problem before was that I always ran for distance.  I need to mix it up a little... do some hill days and some speedwork days.  I'm even going to think about doing some days on the track.

Essentially, I want a purpose for the things I'm planning to do this year.  A lot of my successes as an athlete have been accidental.  I never really knew what I was doing, but I did it anyway.  I have recognized that to complete the 100K and feel good afterwards, I need to commit to running and fitness in a whole new way.  Today was day one and I'm feeling really optimistic.  Gotta keep this going!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Newbie

So rarely when we are out on the trail do we stop to take a look around and really enjoy the settings.  I had the privilege of taking two new trail runners out today.  I wanted to make sure they got the whole experience, so just at random times, I stopped so we could look at the gorgeous views around us.  Even though I've been running those trails for over two years now, even I forget to stop and take it all in.  Trail running provides us with opportunities that the majority of people will never even know we are missing.

I need to stop more frequently and admire the sites instead of just running to get done.  Enjoying the journey is part of the experience.  If it was all about the mileage, more of us would be out on the road.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs 50K Race Report

I can hardly put into words what the Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs weekend means to me.  Believe me, that won’t stop me from trying though.  It seems like we plan all year for approximately 48 hours that seem magical… then it’s over as fast as it began, leaving all of us thinking about the fantastic memories from the weekend.  Not to mention how we can improve this weekend for everyone involved.
            The weekend began on Friday evening when we all arrived to set up the spaghetti dinner and packet pickup.  For months, we had been planning on having an expo like set up in the gymnasium.  And when I say plan, I mean we had a diagram of where to set everything up.  So to say we were surprised when we arrived at the middle school to discover a girls basketball practice in the gym would be a slight understatement.  Being the quick thinking, switch on a dime team that we are, we managed to set up our packet pickup in a different location with the vendors lining the hallway, which may have actually worked out better.  People had the opportunity to visit the vendors either on the way to or way back from packet pickup.
            The cafeteria was packed with people chatting with friends old and new, eating a fantastic spaghetti dinner cooked by the Friends of Oil Creek State Park, and anticipating the events that would transpire the following morning.  There was a buzz in the air as people talked about their plans for the next day and scoped out the perfect camping location in the gymnasium.
            My morning began at 2:30AM as I needed to get back to the middle school to help set up for the volunteers that would soon be arriving.  The parking lot quickly filled up as the 100 milers and their supporters arrived to watch them take off at 5:00AM.  We all cheered as we watched them take off on the freezing cold morning.  6:00AM saw the 100K participants start.  Nearing 7:00AM, I knew it was almost my turn.
            I did not know what to expect starting this race.  My training wasn’t where it should have been, as I have been injured all year long.  It feels constantly like I go through a cycle of being okay, being injured, recovering, training really hard, feeling only okay, then getting injured again.  As I started, I knew I’d finish.  I also knew that it wouldn’t be nearly as good as I had originally hoped for.
            The crowd counted down and we were off.  The bike trail section (approximately 5K) was my undoing last year.  I had blisters and horrible foot pain by the time I reached the trail.  This year, my plan was to jog the bike trail, doing no damage to myself, mainly so I still felt good once I hit the trail.  The plan went perfectly.  I ran strong through the first section.  I ran with Autumn quite a bit, when I saw the sight I had worried most about seeing.  Adam was limping up ahead of me.  I continued running and caught up to him and he confirmed my fear – the IT band was giving him a lot of trouble.  As hard as it was for me, I ran by, knowing I had to run my own race.  And I knew that’s the way Adam would want it too.
            I ran strong into the first aid station which was decorated with a Christmas theme.  I took some Gatorade and half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I tried to eat my sandwich as I climbed the Wolfkiel switchbacks.  Usually I hate the second section but this was where I felt the strongest.  I ran the majority of this section with a huge smile on my face.  I thought I would be a little skittish as I do not usually run trails by myself but I was all alone for the majority of the race, particularly this section.  I kept getting more and more excited the closer I got to the Petroleum Center aid station.  Running down the road and back to the pavilion, I heard the group of people screaming for me.  It felt awesome.
            The third section is my Achilles heel.  No one really understands it because for the most part, it is flat and very runnable.  In fact, I have a hard time understanding it, really.  This year, I knew we had people at the Cow Run shelter about halfway through this third section.  Then after that, I would be coming into my aid station.  I was walking a little through this section and Autumn caught up to me again.  Talking with her got me motivated again and I continued running.  About a mile out from Miller Farm Road, we saw an EMT up on the trail that was actually looking for Autumn.  They were concerned about her, so they hiked up to look out for her.  She was doing awesome and we continued on running.  She was really touched that they were so concerned that they would hike up on the trail to check on her.  Soon after that, I saw Charlie the photographer.  I tried really hard to not fall and look good, then realized that I could see flashing lights.  That signaled Miller Farm Road.  Never have I been so happy to see that road in my life.
            I coasted on down Miller Farm Road, knowing I was entering THE BEST aid station of them all – MY aid station!  The crew was awesome, getting exactly what I needed and the aid station was set up to perfection.  Not to mention, they had the most delicious grilled cheese sandwiches that I’ve ever eaten.  I hung out there a little longer than I did at the other aid stations, mainly because I enjoyed the crew there, but also because I knew cemetery hill was in my future.
            As I climbed, I realized that my legs didn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought they would.  Of course they weren’t great, but the climbs were okay.  Autumn and I were joined by Dannielle during this section.  We hiked a bit, as this section has some pretty gnarly sections of tree roots that I just knew I’d mangle my ankles on if I attempted to run.  I told Autumn, when we reached the overlook bench, I’d feel incredibly happy as it is only about 5 miles from there.  I decided to leave the girls at this point, as my family was at the middle school waiting to see me finish.  I felt a little guilty as Autumn was having some pretty severe knee pain by this point, but I knew she was a tough girl and wouldn’t let anything stop her from finishing.
            The remaining trail section flew by.  I managed to get a text out to my family when I reached four miles to go, just letting them know I was coming.  I ran the majority of the trail, passing about five people.  I got to the end of the trail and had two road miles to go.  That hurt really badly.  I bargained with myself that I would run until the pain was unbearable and then I’d allow myself two minutes to walk to make my body recover.  In that last two miles, I took four walking breaks of two minutes each.  My run at that point probably looked like a slow motion run anyway, but it made me feel better to at least be making a running motion.
            I got to the end of the Queen City bike path and knew I had almost made it.  I ran down the road, across Brown Street bridge, and rounded the corner to the finish line.  The crowd cheered and most yelled my name.  This was in HUGE contrast to last year, where the only people there when I finished were Adam, Tom Jennings, and Becky.  There was an actual crowd of people this year.  It was awesome.  I saw my friend Cristin and her family standing there cheering for me and standing back toward the finish line, I saw my family.  I was near tears as I ran as fast as I could (or at least limped as quickly as I could) toward the finish.  I was shocked that Adam was at the finish line as well.  His IT band pain has been so bad that he had to DNF at Miller Farm Aid Station 3 and made it back within minutes of my finish.
            There was nothing as emotional for me as seeing my family at the finish line.  There were tears, hugs, and numerous photographs!  Once all was said and done, I stood there by Tom, wondering when he’d hand me my buckle.  He just stood there, so I remember looking at him and saying, “Make with the buckle, Jennings!”!  He laughed, congratulated me, and gave me my buckle. 
I then went inside to get the most fantastic massage/rolfing ever, which I know helped me recover faster.  Next came the food that was donated by volunteers or made by Penny.  It was absolutely delicious.  We hung out at the middle school for awhile.  We saw many of our friends finish; many of them finishing their first ultramarathon.  I came home, showered, and hurried out to my aid station at Miller Farm to support the remaining 100K and 100 mile runners as they continued on through the night.  My weekend concluded with cleaning up the aid station the next morning, returning to the middle school to watch the 100 mile wrap-up, then finishing clean up at the middle school.
I have to say, I was worried that the race would not live up to last year in my memory.  I knew last year’s race would be hard to beat.  It was the first Oil Creek 100.  It was my first ultramarathon.  The memories of the 2009 race will forever be some of the greatest I have, but this year seemed just as good.  The race was organized and well thought out.  We have such fantastic support from our community, which is another reason it is so special.  Now, all I can do is think of and anticipate my 100K attempt at the Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs 2011!