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#Inspiration

As I continue along on my journey to finish my very first marathon I find myself reflecting upon what, or rather who, inspires me to be a better runner: my father.

Kenny wedding dad kass

Dad and I dancing at my brother’s wedding in 2008

My father is a 5’7” pale, freckled, 160 lb redheaded running machine. Even though he is a short Irishman, he has always looked like a runner to me. He is lean, has toned arms and humongous quads (let’s just say that the man isn’t afraid of hills). When I think back to my childhood, I always recall waking up around 6:30 am to see him come home from his morning run in his freakishly short running shorts and a loose tank top with the arms cut off. Even though this was the accepted look of the 1980’s/1990’s runner, my dad has unfortunately failed to update his running wardrobe to match that of new millennium. His shorts still come to about 6 inches above his knee and he may or may not still wear the same 1986 NY Giants Superbowl Champs tank. Cue the awkward moment when he waves to other road runners.

The man is a creature of habit, and I love him for it. His consistent love for fitness has inspired me for as long as I can remember. An avid runner, my dad woke up at 4:45 am every morning to meet 5 or so of his friends at the local YMCA for their early bird 8 mile run. He did not cross-train, and he rarely lifted. The man simply loved the open road. Honestly, no one really knows what those men did every morning (coffee and donuts maybe?), however with the amount of cookies that my dad ate throughout each day, it’s safe to say that he was logging many miles.

Dad (#340) at a race with his life-long running buddies

Rain or shine, home or on vacation my dad pounded the pavement every morning before the rest of the world rolled out of bed. It didn’t matter if we were skiing in Vermont, sailing on a cruise ship, or celebrating Thanksgiving, the man refused to sacrifice his workout that made him feel empowered, strong, and happy. And really, why should he have had to? Why should you have to sacrifice an activity that makes you feel good about yourself and helps you become a better version of yourself?

I have always admired something about how my father carries himself; he exudes balance, happiness and a carefree attitude. He is a dedicated and motivated man and, above all, a great father. I can only hope to grow into the amazing runner and person that he is and always has been.

While my dad has been in hundreds of races, he doesn’t talk about them too often. It’s always seemed that running has been his love—not racing. Boy, was I misinformed! Recently I asked my dad if he remembered any of his PR times and if so, what they were. With zero hesitation he listed the following times (to the second):

Distance Time Pace Race Name
5K 17:49 5:44 Warner Lambert Classic, NJ
10K 36:21 5:51 Denville Run for the Roses, NJ
13.1 1:23:17 6:20 Hispanic Half Marathon in Central Park, NYC
26.2 3:16:05 7:28 Philadelphia Marathon*

*He also ran the NYC marathon twice, the Marine Corps marathon in DC twice and the Newport RI marathon.

 

One of his many races with the NY Road Runners

A 1:26 half marathon finish. Simply amazing

When I heard his 5k time I tried to do the math in my head to figure out his pace. Once I realized that it was under 6-minute splits, I shouted, “Holy crap! So you were like a ‘real’ runner??”

Until recently I never really realized that my dad was a super-fast, competitive runner. My dad assures me that when he was running 6-minute splits, the other guys were running 5-minute splits, but this awakened me to a whole new understanding of who my dad was and is. Since I have started off on this quest of road racing, we have discovered a whole new side to our friendship; we chat on the phone about our weekly runs, races and how to fuel properly. For so many reasons, my dad is my inspiration, my confidant and truly is one of my best friends. Actually, in a way, I think we inspire each other. My dad recently ran his first 5K in several years (after coming off a 6 month knee injury); naturally he ran it in 24:40 (under 8 minute splits).

The man ceases to amaze me and this is why he is my inspiration to be a better runner, mother and wife and most importantly to find the balance between all three. Now whenever I’m running I feel my dad next to me and realize I’m no longer running for myself, but running towards a much bigger picture.

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Running and Sex: It’s Personal

Mind-blowing sex happens when two people are so in sync that they completely lose themselves in each other; both individuals temporarily free themselves of the endless to-do lists and frustrations from work as they fully give their mind and body over to their partner. It’s an erotic, intimate experience.
http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-stones-do-not-disturb-image21257835
It’s no secret that married couples have sex, yet few married people talk about their sex lives. How often do other couples have sex? Share secrets on different positions? What do you do if you woke up at 5 am with a sick baby, were puked on all day and you’re just plain not in the mood when your husband comes home from work? I smirk as I think, Tell us! Tell us! The people want to know! But no one will—not one word—even though it is a shared, universal act. Why do you think that is?

Maybe it’s due to cultural traditions or proper etiquette to remain mum. Either way, the sexual experiences people have are incredibly personal, private and are considered sacred to many. Intimacy occurs when you expose the tarnished parts of yourself and are undoubtedly accepted by your partner. It is the rare occasion when you voluntarily reveal your raw, vulnerable self to another.

This discussion is not a foray into my personal sex life. In fact, it’s just the opposite. My sex life is private; meant for my husband and I. Sorry, not budging on the particulars there!

So, where does running fit in all of this? Allow me to explain.

 

The Perpetrator
A couple of months ago I met a young male trainer (early 20s or so) at my gym. We received our spin certification together and have bumped into each other a couple of times since then. Despite being a nice young man, every single time I saw him he criticized how I lifted, did push-ups and even jumped rope. Once he was on the second floor and yelled down to me (on the 1st floor) to negatively critique my jump squat. Then he just disappeared! If you are going to criticize me at least stick around to show me how to do it correctly!!

While these criticisms initially irritated me, I started to accept that this trainer was actually trying to be helpful and friendly—in a somewhat socially awkward fashion. I really believe that he means well and that I probably have been overly sensitive (wouldn’t be the first time). In short, all was forgiven—UNTIL that fateful day when he harped on my running.

 

The Scene of the Crime
I decided to jog around the track in between lifting sets: four measly laps for kicks. Nothing crazy. No fast pace. Just for fun. As I trotted along I looked up to see the little bugger staring at me. “Relax your arms when you run. You’re holding them too high,” he called. Oh no you didn’t! I fumed to myself. B**ch, puh-lease!

I totally got my panties in a bunch. Couldn’t help it! Four silly little laps and you are going to correct my form? What? But we barely know each other! In my mind I was going to round-house kick this kid to the curb, Kill Bill style right there and then. (Now would be a good time to mention that I was an overly emotional, estrogen-filled wreck that day.)

Disregarding the irate ramblings of my inner monologue, somehow I managed to calmly respond, “I’m a runner. This was four silly little laps. Please don’t correct my form.” He looked at me with a blank expression and said, “YOU? A RUNNER?” The steam started to rise again. Oh hell no, kid!!!!!! You are KILLING ME TODAY.

I thought to myself, YES—ME—a runner! Is it so hard to believe? The trainer’s statement was followed by another winning declaration, “Oh, I don’t run, but my friend does and he suggests to always keep your arms loose and lowered when you run.” My thoughts erupted into a sea of expletives. WHAT THE F*@K?!?! YOU DON’T EVEN RUN! Why am I still standing here talking to you! Bah! Go away!

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OK, so maybe my arms are a little high….

Lessons Learned
Before I spiral off into full blown rant I want to circle back to my point: how running and sex are similar. After “the incident” occurred, I spent the rest of the day thinking about this young trainer and what he said to me. Moreover, I spent most of my time thinking about why I took his comments so personally. Why did I care so much? (Aside from the obvious answer: I am an overly sensitive, overly emotional, hormone-crazed woman.)

Like sex, everything about my running is personal, private and sacred. Albeit strong, my running self is vulnerable and emotionally raw. Any critique against this part of myself feels like an assault against everything I strive to be. You have to earn the right to correct me about my running style. I have to invite you in, ask for tips and pointers and be open to hearing what I’m doing wrong or could do better. Anything new I want to try in terms of training has to come from my personal desire. My husband is the one I am open to hearing from when it comes to sex; this young trainer was not that person when it comes to running.

Running is a skill I have been honing for over 10 years and right now, with a toddler, it’s the only time I have to myself. It’s my happy place, and I guard it fiercely. Running makes me feel strong, invincible and free. I can be anyone and accomplish anything. When I run I let go of all my stressors and worries, and I become the confident, capable woman who usually only appears in my dreams. In many ways I view my running self as the best version of myself. This woman is driven, focused, passionate, strong and confident. The other 23 hours of the day are comprised of managing a household (laundry, diapers and cooking, oh my!); my mommy and wife selves draw strength from the resilient running alter-ego who resides somewhere within my bones.

Yes, running can be as sacred as sex.

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Sunrise Run Part Two: Running Report

Sunrise runs are more than just pretty morning jogs. Their powerful effects might just change you, inside and out.

Even though I run alone I enjoy sharing my stories with other runners and hearing their experiences in return. Most often, I tend to reflect on my long runs with my father. Soon after I finish my run I tend to call my dad to “report in.” I’d like to believe that he enjoys hearing about my progress towards the marathon and honestly, it’s really nice to have someone with whom I can share my experiences. I called my dad sometime in the afternoon the day of my sunrise run. Our conversation went something like this:

Me- Ran 13.5 in 1 hr 49 min.

Dad- Good time. You’re really cookin’. Try to run the second half of your runs faster than the first half.

Me- Will do. It was so cool. I was on the road by 5:30 and ran by moonlight. It was breathtaking…. (pause) Dad, I watched the world wake up. Just priceless.

Dad- I’ve watched the world wake up for 30 years. Pretty amazing, eh? (pause) [serious tone] You know Kass, I think my real running days are over.

Me- Come on, don’t say that.

Dad- (sigh) But I think they are. Been sick, been injured then sick again. Doing more golf, spin and elliptical. I haven’t been able to string more than a couple runs together in the past couple weeks. And even then, I’m running shorter distances…. [abruptly he changed his tone] Well, I have to go. Talk to you later. Love you, Bye.

Me- Love you too. Bye.

Even though this conversation was short, it stayed with me for days, weeks really. His words resonated with me “I’ve watched the world wake up for 30 years.” He discovered the magic of the sunrise run long ago. He knew exactly what I witnessed and how I felt: vacant roads that are usually lively, the arrival of a new day as the sun’s rays creep over the horizon, the sense of accomplishment on finishing a run before most people leave their homes and most importantly impatiently longing to do it all over again. The experience is enchanting. But nothing more needed to be said between us. He had lived and breathed the sunrise run for decades, now it was my turn. A sense of excitement immediately rushes over me as I say the words: it’s my turn.

My turn to feel the crisp morning air on my face. To challenge myself and face my fears. To log miles in the early dawn and uncover a hidden part of myself, a strong woman who hides within this anxiety ridden shell of a body. As I think about my future sunrise runs the edges of my lips curl up and I say it again- It’s my turn.

Our conversation left me with a sense of sadness too. Could his running days really be numbered? I slowly digested this information. The man has spent over 30 years of his life waking up to do something that brings him pure joy – and that could all be gone. My eyes begin to fill with tears. As I reflect on how happy running makes me, I am simultaneously faced with the thought of having it being ripped away from me some day. I still feel his pain. That’s why he hung up so quickly. He just couldn’t face it. Not yet at least. And I don’t want to face it either. In the meantime I am going to hold out hope that he’s wrong- that he has a ninth running life stored away somewhere within his strong legs.

While we are in drastically different stages of our running careers we are able to bond over our varied running experiences and how they affect our outlook on life. I have truly found a best friend in this new career of mine: my father. I told you before: sunrise runs are more than just pretty morning jogs; their powerful effects might just change you, inside and out.