Why I Run: A Tribute to the Boston Marathon

by Angie McDermott

July, 2009 – Austin, TX

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. The jack hammering continued on the left side of my forehead, as I long for my lovely salad days that have long sense wilted into rotting, smelly leftovers shoved to the back of the refrigerator.

So there I was 49, recently divorced with two adolescent children and I’m in bed contemplating my life as I dealt with my first shingles attack on the upper left side of my swollen, disfigured face. Heartbroken. Defeated. My body had all it could take and simply served up a disease that would stop me in my tracks. The last three years had been a nightmare as I watched Jeff, my “forever guy”, slip into the abyss of addiction and surrender to its edges.   A painful divorce followed and seven months later he was in the hospital fighting for his life. The crushing stress led to my outbreak. Jeff died ten months later.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.   “Gratitude….I must focus on gratitude,” I told myself.   So, I started making a list of the things for which I was grateful – my almost daily practice during my soul-searching days leading up to the divorce. Max and Mackenzie, my children, were always at the top of the list, followed by my large supportive extended family, loving friends, and dear colleagues. Even this well-worn list could not comfort me now. I needed new. I needed happy. So, I started to make a list of things that I loved to do – things I jettisoned out of my life when just making it through the day seemed like a miracle. Running.   I had always loved to run. On Sundays, I would sneak away to jog a three-mile loop around the lake, which became my sanctuary – my place to recharge and regroup.   I had always wanted to run a marathon, but had never quite gotten around to it. I grabbed my computer. To my amazement, the Austin Marathon was scheduled for February 14th – my 50th birthday seven months away. It felt like a sign…a big blinking neon sign…”THIS IS YOUR MARATHON!”

I immediately signed up for a training program with Rogue that would start in early September. I liked the name…it fit my newly found attitude. One night a week I would gather with my small running group at a nearby high school for a “quality” workout. Saturdays we would run with all the other small groups for a long run.   I hung back with some of the ladies around my age. We were chatty, slow and steady. The 30-something men were always ahead. The more I ran the stronger and more confident I became.   I started keeping up with the guys. Warming up one day, someone suggested I should try to quality for the Boston Marathon – every woman/man’s Olympics.  I shrugged it off as crazy talk, but then checked it out. At that time, I needed to finish before 4 hours and 10 minutes. I would have to average a 9:32 pace. It started to feel possible. What if? Ten-mile long runs turned into 14, then 16, then 18, and then 20. What had seemed impossible started feeling doable….not easy, but doable. My initial goal of “just finishing healthy” slowly shifted to qualifying for the Boston Marathon my first race.

February 14, 2010 – My 1st Marathon in Austin, TX

I was a nervous wreck that morning. The kids and I stayed at a downtown hotel so that they could watch me finish. It was cold…low 40’s – perfect marathon weather. What was I thinking when I put on a singlet, two long sleeve shirts, AND a jacket? I started out with the four hour pace group. Feeling crowded behind the pacers, I went out in front for some space. When I looked over my shoulder a mile or so later, they were no longer in sight. I had made two classic rookie mistakes – going out too fast and over dressing. My temperature continued to rise as I struggled up the hills. At the halfway mark, my pace group passed me up as I threw down one of my long sleeve shirts….sweat soaked it slapped to the ground. Another layer of my life peeled away. I saw my coach at mile 18. He had that “Oh my, she looks awful” look. My brother met me at mile 20 to run me in.   I burst into tears as I saw him. For the next 6 miles we played “what doesn’t hurt.” “My ear lobe doesn’t hurt.” “Does your nose hurt?” Max met us at mile 25. He pleaded with me to speed up. “You only have one more mile, Mama.” It felt like 20 miles. I missed qualifying for Boston by 4 minutes and 13 seconds.

Mad, defeated, and in need of the medical tent, I finished. Lying on the cot with my loving family (mother, siblings, children), around me, I was hooked. While my marathon goal was not reached, I had achieved something far greater. Running had helped heal me. I reclaimed my life, my power, and my strength.

January 30, 2011 – Houston, TX

I qualified for Boston a year later in Houston.   Seconds after crossing the finished line I was escorted to the medical tent (again!) by two adorable young men. I had made my qualifying time with seven minutes to spare.

April 16, 2012 – Boston, MA

The day before the race, organizers were sending emails warning us of the heat. It was to be the second hottest Boston marathon on record. (The record was set in 1905 when the temperature reached 100 degrees.) Our wave started at 10:40 am. The temperature was 87 degrees. I dedicated the race to my father who died 40 years earlier on this day.   I’m not sure if it was the heat combined with my amped up emotions or if it was real, but almost every dead person I knew visited me during the race. My father showed up first within the first six miles. “Not now, Daddy.   Wait until I need you later on. “ Jeff, my ex-husband who died two years earlier showed up next. We had a long closure discussion. I pleaded with him let me go. “Please let me go.” It was then that I realized it was ME that needed to let go. I struggled to breath through my weeping, grateful for the sunglasses that concealed my tears.

We kept running.   I hit the wall before the base of Heartbreak Hill at mile 20. My heart broke again as I climbed the one mile hill.   So much had happened, so much grief to carry. So, I let it go. I just put it down. It was all I could do to move forward. As I made it to the top of the hill, I spotted a group of adorable young men cheering everyone on with enthusiasm. I needed a little of that energy so I jogged closer to them to receive my high fives.

My death march with my dead relatives continued for the next five miles.   In my mind’s eye, they (my ex, both grandmothers, my grandfather, stepfather, and uncles) were on their feet in the grandstand cheering me on with much enthusiasm. Relieved to be finished, I stumbled forward. A kind volunteer wheeled me into the medical tent. Reeling from the emotion of the day, the tears continued to flow. As always, my biggest fans – Max and Mackenzie waited outside the tent.  I missed re-qualifying by three minutes, but the Boston Marathon became my new symbol of strength and healing.

IMG_1525April, 2014 – Austin, TX

Fast forward to today. Max, Mackenzie and I are thriving. We’ve come a long way since the dark days of 2009. We are strong, persistent, and powerful.   Life has opened up for us in new and magical ways. I re-qualified for Boston twice in 2013 with a personal record in Austin and again in New York (and finally no longer in need of the medical tent).

My first Boston marathon played a pivotal role in my healing. It feels so right I’ll be running the 2014 Boston marathon to be part of the healing from the tragic events of last years race. I’ll be proudly and fearlessly wearing bib number 23242.

As I top Heartbreak Hill this year, my heart will be healed (well mostly).   It turns out that the adorable young men on the top of Heartbreak Hill were Boston College boys. Max, a freshman at BC, will be among them as he and his new buddies cheer me on. As I see his sweet face at the top of the hill, we will celebrate for just a moment before I race off to finish what we started. Perhaps it was supposed to turn out like this all along.

Becoming a Runner

by Daniel West

Rogue Lemons IBM 10kFor as long as I can remember, I was overweight. Physical activity always seemed like this huge chore, and it was never fun. When I was in elementary school, during our schools “Fun Run and/or Turkey Trot,” I wasn’t the one running; I was the one helping at the water booth. I would always pick the easiest role to play (i.e., goalie). As a second grader, I found out I had asthma, and so for the rest of primary and secondary school, I used that as a crutch. I always had some sort of excuse; too tired, homework, work, etc… for not doing any sort of physical activity. I was in marching band in high school, and enjoyed it, but once the spring rolled around, hello couch. I was a frequent visitor of the vending machine, as well. Dr. Pepper and I had an ongoing love-hate relationship. For lunch, I would always opt for the cheeseburger or pizza for lunch in high school. Food was food to me. I didn’t recognize or understand the positive or negative consequences it could do to my body.

Fast-forwarding to 2003, I started college at Austin Community College (ACC). I had moved into an apartment with my older brother and twin brother. My twin brother had been overweight for quite sometime, and made the decision to lose weight. He started the Akins diet, and my older brother joined in with him. I, on the other hand, was just along for the ride. It never registered that I needed to lose weight. I was just thinking, “we all eat the same food, so I might as well just join in.” This same year, I had a serious kidney stone, and the only remedy was surgery. It wasn’t invasive, but was still painful, and put me out of commission for a solid week. Anyone who has had kidney stones will feel my pain. The result of this week was a 25 lb weight loss. I thought, “Hey, alright, I like this.” Just like anyone else who loses weight, I bought new clothes, but soon, I went back to my old eating patterns. While all of this is going on, I still had NO appreciation for my overall health. I thought getting sick, as often as I was, was normal. I attributed sinus infections to living in Austin. The light never went off, and wouldn’t for quite sometime.

Moving on to 2005. I had transferred from ACC to Texas State. I did very well there. Well enough to transfer to The University of Texas in the fall of 2006. I thought my life was on the right track, but I was wrong. My life changed drastically that year.  On October 16, 2006, I was rear-ended in my Ford Explorer, which caused it to spin into a 360-degree revolution. I lost consciousness; my left elbow had been severely punctured by the glass from the car window, and I had no idea what had just happened. The months following were hard. The onset of PTSD like symptoms set in, and I felt like my life was going into a tailspin. Food and espresso soon became the one thing I could rely upon. About a year after the accident, I began counseling. It wasn’t until after the first day of counseling, that I came to fully understand what had happened.  I literally broke down.

Two years later, I had completed my second year of counseling, had changed my major, and was finally on the path to what I loved to do: teach. I had become actively involved in a couple of student organizations at Texas, had the opportunity to travel to Mexico to build a house, amongst other things. While all of this was going on, the person I was seeing in the mirror was getting bigger. I began to realize that I probably needed to lose weight, but just wasn’t high on the list of priorities. I had tried working out at the gyms at Texas, but a lack of knowledge on how to workout drained any sort of motivation.

The spring of 2010 rolls around, and I’m finally graduating from The University of Texas. At this point, I’m the largest I’ve ever been. If I remember correctly, I weighted around 247 to 250 pounds.

The rest of 2010 was not very productive. I didn’t have a full-time job, had no idea on how to even start losing weight, but I knew that I needed to do something. In early 2011, I started a part-time job as a messenger down at the Capitol for the legislative session. This was one of the best things that could of ever happened to me. I was walking 2-3 miles a day, drinking tons of water, and being exposed to different people who exercised on a daily basis. I ended up getting a permanent part-time position.

It was the summer now, and I went in for my routine physical. My doctor freaked out when he saw how much I weighed, my blood work, etc…He wanted to put me on all sorts of medication for pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, and I knew what that would lead too. I didn’t let him. I wanted to prove him wrong.

One of my co-workers was a trainer at a local gym. With the help of my parents, after the legislative session was over, I started training with him. I went to him with my hat in my hand. I needed help. I trained with him for six weeks straight, and lost about 20 pounds and 3% of my overall body fat (My starting body fat percentage was around 30%). I wanted to continue training with him, but neither my parents nor I had the money to pay for it.

About a month later, I joined Gold’s Gym. It was something that I could afford. In November 2011, I got my first full-time, salary position. Shortly thereafter, I started training with a trainer at Gold’s. For almost year, twice a week, I’d meet with my trainer. These two days are what I looked forward to the most. I was eager to learn new ways I could workout. My workouts were more of a HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. Soon, Crossfit intrigued me. My trainer started putting my through a Crossfit style workout, and I couldn’t believe the rush.

In the space of a year, I had gone from living a sedentary lifestyle, to being physically active on a daily basis. My trainer encouraged me to start practicing yoga. I was reluctant at first, mostly because of the stereotypes of guys and yoga. However, I decided I wanted to give it a shot, and that is all I needed. I love it. If you need a good yoga studio, I recommend Black Swan Yoga or Castle Hill Yoga.

It’s now the summer of 2012, and for a while, I’ve been looking for a cardio element to add into my workout regimen. Then, out of the blue one day, on Lululemon’s facebook status, I see an event for a running group to train for the IBM Uptown Classic in 8 weeks. Lululemon and Rogue sponsored it. Seeing as how I had lost a bunch of weight, and my asthma didn’t seem to be a problem anymore, I wanted to give it a shot. I thought, how hard could this be?

I remember the first day like it was yesterday. To say that I was nervous was an understatement. I walked in, having never run since middle school, feeling very awkward. The coaches introduced themselves: Jenn and Stephanie. As we went around to introducing ourselves, I was listening to the other runners talk about how they had run 10Ks, marathons and half-marathons. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. I introduced myself, and stated that I had not run since middle school. I was relieved to find out that others had not run in quite some time as well. I thought to myself, thank God.

Weeks went by as I trained, and soon, I saw some really good progress. Around week 4, I ran almost 4 miles in 38 minutes. The next four weeks were an uphill battle. As a new runner, I began to experience some aches and pains new runners get. The RICE rule and I became quick friends.

Daniel 2_IBM 10kFinally, October 7th, 2012 was here. It was cold, windy, and damp. We had trained hard on the course for eight weeks, and while I was scared of what I was about to do, I knew I could do it. The first half of the course had a strong head wind. My Achilles tendon on my left foot that was starting to bother me around mile 3, but I was determined to finish the race. I kept pushing on. Mile 4. Mile 5. I stayed positive. I knew I could do this. I was on the home stretch, and one of my teammates, Jessie was along the side, and told me it was less than a mile. Believe it or not, that was the extra kick I needed. I headed towards the last turn, and headed towards mile 6 and the finish line. I remember my twin brother and his wife running beside me. That was so helpful, and gave me an extra kick in my giddy up. I had passed mile 6, and was so close, but ready to pass out. I approached the finish line. My brother and sister-in-law stopped, and it was all on me. As I neared the finish line, my coach Jenn, and my teammates ran along side of me. I was in a full on sprint to the finish. I remember Jenn telling me to keep pushing, keep pushing. I ran the fastest I had ever run. Finally, it was there. I had crossed the finish line. I had finished my first race ever, a 10K. I gave my coach Jenn a huge hug.

Today, I weight roughly 200 lbs, give or take, depending on the weather. I can’t say enough for Jenn and Stephanie. Without them, I would not have kept showing up week after week. Also, I big shot out to James Dodds. Every week, I go to the Cedar Park Rogue to do my long runs, and James has always been there to provide guidance and support. Now, I am training with the Jenn and Tonics, and I’m running the Rogue 10K in January 2013. I am proud to say, I am a runner.

Check out a video record of Daniel’s journey!

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