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You Are Your Own Cheerleader

I hear angels singing toward the finish line

Ayear ago, if you would have asked me whether I’d run more than 3 miles, or even just a few miles, I’d probably say, “why on earth would I do that?” This year, however, I actually paid money and registered to run 13.1 miles after being dormant for 7 years.

This, is the story of how it happened, and what happened after.

Earlier this year, in May, a friend and I went to Zion National Park. We wanted to hike Angel’s Landing, the famous five mile round-trip hike with high elevation. This hike, according to Zion National Park’s pamphlet, was not recommended for people who were afraid of heights (me), so we decided not to hike the world-famous trail which is on everyone’s bucket list. Instead, I left Zion proud of myself that I even went on a hike, even if it was a super easy trail, given that:

a) the pandemic bent me out of shape physically and emotionally actually I shouldn’t blame the pandemic, but really my lack of enthusiasm for working out after a break-up, and having to live/quarantine alone for almost a year by myself in my San Francisco sized studio apartment while trying to stay sane during the quarantine and starting a podcast while still working full-time.

AND b) At its coolest time of day, Utah was 100 degrees fahrenheit.

So when I got back to San Francisco, I answered everyone’s glaring question “how was Zion National Park, did you hike Angel’s Landing?,” by puffing up my chest and saying, with an air of confidence, “it was great! I didn’t hike Angel’s Landing, but I did realize how out of shape I was.”

I kept answering this question in the same fashion until in mid-June, another friend challenged my frame of reference. Below was the text exchange:

My friend: I hear angels landing is as hard as half dome. Half dome is like a 12-hour hike lol. Me: My friend that went to Zion with me did half dome and she trained for it. I think its def the heat and elevation that makes it hard. Half dome is apparently scary too and had some rock climbing in it. 12 hours is insane! My friend: Oh yeah I’m sensitive to the heat….(blah, blah, blah)…I did half dome two years ago and it was tough! Me: Angels landing is super high and I need to get over my fear of heights…(blah, blah, blah…) the conversation went like this for a while until I asked her something that would change my life, my perspective, forever. Me: What did you do to train for your marathon? I’m hoping to get in shape soon! I want to go to Joshua Tree too and Yellow Stone! Once I start, I’m in beast mode. Aside: I can’t believe I even said this, beast mode, really Kay? Who are you? I guess I can get pretty beasty. ME: “Maybe January?” Aside: I say this thinking that for some reason I will work on myself so much this year that I will have the emotional strength to get over my fear of heights, the physical strength to climb a 5-mile mountain in the middle of a desert, and potentially train for a marathon. And then, little did I know that what my friend said next, was something that would change my life forever. My friend: I followed Hal Higdon Training plan. GIRL we should sign up for a half marathon in Big Sur. I hear it’s so beautiful. We can also sign up for a permit for January for angels landing. Let’s do all kinds of traveling.

Right after she said this, I Googled 2021 Marathon Calendar. I saw that they had a half-marathon in Chicago in September, sent her the link, we both signed up for it, bought our tickets to Chicago, asked for time-off from work, and booked our hotel. All in exactly the same order.

In July, I thought I would start training for it, and that perhaps happened to an extent, but not to the extent that most people would have trained for, for their first half marathon. It became very hard to train because it came at a horrible time at work. It was an extremely stressful time of year at work and I continued to push myself physically and emotionally. In one week, I strength trained twice with two runs. In August, I told myself I have two months before the race, and half way through August, I realized that I never once did a long distance run and hadn’t built my endurance yet, and this was when I started to panic. After pushing myself for another long week of strength training and running, I got injured. Surprisingly, I did not get injured while I was training for the marathon, instead, it was an early morning arm stretch from bed that knocked over a kombucha bottle from my bedside table that shattered on the floor, and left glass pieces in every nook and cranny of my apartment and I, unfortunately, stepped on a few of them. A few days later, as I was limping through life, hoping to heal my foot soon, I got diagnosed with Uveitis in one eye, and had to go to weekly check-ups with an Ophthalmologist. It was at the end of August when I began to feel somewhat healthier again, and I was a month away from the race.

My foot injury was 90% healed and my eye about 70%. I decided to not push myself extensively so that I would be ready on race day. I took some time off to relax, and went to Santa Monica to celebrate a friends birthday, when the universe decided to take another dump on me. Toward the end of my trip, my brother was admitted to the hospital and was there for an entire week — this event took me away emotionally, and I needed a break, from everything, but never did get one.

At this point, I did not think of the race AT ALL, and I focused on healing my body and mind first. I did not once think of, or overthink my race in Chicago, until it got closer to the day. A week after my brother was released from the hospital, and a week before the race, when I was at a cousin’s wedding, I went on a run with my (other) brother who is a physical therapist. While I wanted to stop running after a few miles, he kept pushing me to continue by yelling words of encouragement, after which I ran 7 miles. This ramped up my confidence for the race. I thought to myself, well, if I can run 7 miles with a week of training and multiple injuries (physical and emotional), I think I can run 13.1 miles, and I did.

This is what I learned throughout this journey:

1. Focus is the best skill to master Determination is the key to mastering focus. After every two miles I ran, I’d see the big number of how many miles I had just completed that fueled my determination and helped me focus on finishing. I kept focusing on seeing the next big number, hoping to see a two-digit number soon. Seeing and hearing random strangers cheering me on, helped me stay focused, and motivated me to accomplish mile after mile. I am now realizing that determination and focus has to be the best skill to master, and I’m determined to master this skill to make my dreams come true. A can-do mindset, a completion focus, and a belief in yourself will help you accomplish anything you desire.

2. You are stronger than you think you are As I ran mile after mile, I felt my socks, and the back of my shoes scrape the skin on the back of my feet. It was PAINFUL, but I kept going because my mind was so focused on the finish line. I told myself that the pain was minimal, and my mind took over my body instantaneously. It wasn’t until I finished the race that I realized how deep these wounds were because the flesh on the back of my feet throbbed so bad, that I felt the blood ooze out of it. When I got back to SF, I cleaned the wounds, and while I applied antibacterial ointment on them, I realized that I am way stronger than I thought. I could have easily let my pain take over my mind, and went to a medic during the race, but I didn’t. I was determined to finish and my body let me. In hindsight, I’m sure I was quite foolish to not at least put a bandaid on the wounds, but I knew myself, and that would have stopped me from completing the race, and so, I kept running to the finish line.

3. It is never too late to start working on your (fitness) goals After I finished the race, I was in a daze, I couldn’t believe that I just completed a half marathon. I realized that I was going to REALLY start getting in shape again after being slapped in the face by 2020. You could say that this half marathon really slapped me in the face with a reality check. It made me realize that I could mould my body into whatever I wanted it to look and feel like, and I will continue to work on making it stronger. Working on my fitness goals has been a lifetime feat for me. I am just now learning that working on my body is not an on-demand change to make, but it is constant progress toward a goal, and an overall lifestyle change.

I am now working on fueling my body with nutritious foods and trying my hardest not to subject my body to unnecessary toxins. Now that I am making these changes, I am seeing changes in not just my physical health, but also my emotional health. I am more focused, calm, and disciplined in all areas of my life.

4. Life is a marathon, not a sprint I learned so much throughout the months leading up to the race as well as after the race, and I am more confident and determined than I have ever been. I was tested so much along the way, and this journey has taught me so many lessons. I had to take a step back from pushing myself away from life’s natural flow in order to understand what these lessons were.

  • I am grateful to have had the support of my family, friends, colleagues, and random strangers, who believed that I could accomplish a half marathon.

  • I started to listen to my intuition, slow down, be present with my mind, body, and spirit, and checked-in with myself daily to see how I was feeling.

Just like this journey was, life is a constant journey toward progress, our belief in ourselves constantly gets tested, and we learn so much along the way when we stay present, and check-in with our feelings and desires.

This marathon journey has taught me to stay focused on nature’s course, and learn from every decision, person, and experience. These learnings will guide me toward my next steps, all I have to do is just close my eyes, inhale and exhale deeply, be present, and listen.

“Our limitations and success will be based, most often, on your own expectations for yourselves. What the mind dwells upon, the body acts upon.” ―Denis Waitley

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