I was always athletic, even as a child starting, I suppose, with softball. Add to that tennis, years of basketball camp, and volleyball. I even scored a small tennis scholarship to a school I decided not to attend. I spent my high school years training, lifting weights, and running suicides when not actually playing in competitive games. If you played sports in high school, the word suicide likely just made you cringe.
I always hated distance running. At the start of each new season and sport, we’d always start with distance running and oh how I dreaded that.
When I was 25, I began running. I wanted to stay in shape, train for a long-distance bike ride, and I was broke. Running is free. Near my apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts, there was this great running location called The Emerald Necklace. I didn’t have a routine. I’d run there in the afternoon or even–eek–at night (oh the things I’d go back and tell my 25 year old self).
I was in the best shape of my life; the only time in my life I’ve ever comfortably worn a bikini and proudly purchased size 4 pants.
At some point, perhaps around 26 or so, I stopped running. Who knows why these things happen. I was dating someone new (my now darling husband) and working full time while bartending at night…life just changed.
I’m now 34. Though I don’t actually weigh more than before I became pregnant, my body is quite different post-baby.
Right before I got pregnant, I started to run again. My mom had been diagnosed with cancer and it was a great way to relieve stress. Then, I got pregnant and read about the dangers of running during pregnancy. Bye, bye running once again. I picked it up again for about a second on my maternity leave before I went back to work and life changed again.
One day in early May, I suddenly decided to sign up for a 5K for a lot of reasons. First, it would give me a reason to make myself run longer and push myself harder. Second, it wouldn’t allow room for excuses. Third, it would raise money for cancer. When you have moments of feeling helpless–especially against something as ugly and life-changing as cancer–raising money for your cause can feel like you are doing something.
The first run was so very hard. I chose to run around my neighborhood with Anderson that day. I don’t even think I made it a half mile before having to walk the burn off my calves, but I kept going and did a run/walk for another mile or so. Thoughts like “I hate this,” and “I’m so out of shape,” and “What the hell am I doing?” kept running through my mind, but my child loved it so much. He’d kick the stroller if I walked and make sounds of glee if I ran. If that isn’t motivation for you….
That whole first week was brutal, but I did it. I listened to old hip hop or dance music to keep me going. I started running a gorgeous, 3 mile ocean-side trail in my town. I’d set goals for myself that were really little. “Just make it to that next bench.” “Only count to 10 when you walk this time.”
Suddenly, I started to look forward to going. I started to feel glee when I hit really big milestones, like the first time I ran for 8 straight minutes before walking or when I’d shave a minute or two off my overall time. I loved pushing Anderson and I also loved the mornings when I went alone.
I ditched the headphones because it helped me to listen to my own breathing.
I realized my old sneakers were really toast after battling a few monster blisters. I bought the most comfortable pair I could find, which happened to be basically fluorescent pink. I hate pink. I love these sneakers.
I fell in love with the strength I started to feel waking up in my formerly athletic body.
Most of the time I’d run alone or with Anderson (who would yell HI at everyone going by in the other direction or sleep soundly). Sometimes it was sunny and other times I ran in the pouring rain.
Sometimes, I had buddies: my mom or my pal of 21 years (Brian, if you are reading this, don’t worry…I had a heart attack when I just did the math too).
Alone or with friends, I seemed to always find something utterly beautiful on my running adventures. Running has helped remind me how lucky I am to live where I live.
Then, the 22nd of June came. Race day. The night before, Anderson randomly decided to wake up in the wee hours of the morning. Awesome Husband got up and took him downstairs to ensure I would get enough sleep. When I woke up, I found them on the couch together snuggling. I stared at them for a while, then got them up and off we drove to New Hampshire.
The gun shot went off while I was strapping Anderson into his stroller, so I got a late start and had to make my way with the stroller through the walkers. I didn’t mind. That’s me all in black.
I ran slowly and steadily. I didn’t need to walk until maybe 2 miles in when we hit a small but long hill. After that hill, I started to feel so tired. Then, just when I needed it most, I saw my inspiration.
I met a man at the end, Bob, who needed some encouragement. We ran together and chatted for the last 1/4 of a mile. We hugged at the end. I wish I could high five Bob right now. I’ll never forget him.
When all was said and done, I couldn’t wait to see the rest of the people I love most in this world at the end: my mom, dad, and husband. I’m proud to say that I ran almost the entire thing, pushing a stroller and untrained with hills! I walked a total of 5 times for 20 seconds.
My cheerleader fell asleep somewhere along the way. He didn’t get to see the finish line.
He did get to see his grandpa after (and bonus – a big friendly pooch).
And his grammy.
For so many reasons, especially that particular day, I was so grateful to have my mom there. To see her face. To have her support. To hug her. I love her so much. I would like to beat the crap out of cancer. Even though my face is red and puffy here, I’m happy to have a picture of this moment.
The name of the run is I’m Trying. It was started just last year by two daughters in memory of their mom, who lost her battle with cancer. If you are in or near New Hampshire next year and would like to support cancer research or go on a nice run, you should give it a go.
I don’t think running will leave my life again anytime soon. I think it is here to stay.
I’m still a beginner, but if you are looking for any tips or encouragement, here goes:
- Ditch the headphones. Listening to your breathing can help you pace yourself or find a rhythm.
- When you start running, aim to run a little further at the beginning of each run. It is a good way to gauge progress.
- Every few runs, try to push yourself a little more. I added sprints in or ran up a hill at the end for an extra challenge.
- Find some sort of support system. I found mine in a runner friend, Joanna, who ended up being my text message running coach. I had a sense of accountability by writing to her after. I loved her words of encouragement along the way.
- Don’t be afraid of rain. My best runs happened in the rain for some reason.
- Find a way to track your progress. I used MileKeeper. I don’t know how it compares to other apps, but it worked for me.
I am in tears after reading this wonderful post. One–because I am so very proud of you..way to go!! Two–because the picture of you, Anderson, and your Mom (who looks as beautiful as ever) really warmed my heart, and three–because I’m missing my Mom so much…
Sending my love and prayers to you all.
Thanks, Sarah! I miss your mom too – I can’t even imagine. Many hugs.
Reading this brought a year to my eye, so much to relate to after running 5k myself for my mum as well. Seeing her at the finish line was one of the best moments. Love running now and your so right about the headphones! Love x
Lisa! Oh how are you? I had no idea your mom was also sick. Thanks for taking the time to read this and write to me here. Love back x
Love it Cara! Congrats on doing the race. If I can join you for a future one, let me know. Love and hugs to you, your mom, and your family.
Yes – would love to have you as as a runner buddy in one of these! You’d make me laugh the whole time though. XO
My name is Leigh Shannon Bernhardt, and I can not even begin to describe how much I enjoyed reading this post. My brother started the I’m Trying charity and 5K race. My sister and I help as well, but it is really his show 🙂 I can’t wait to forward him your story.
First off, congratulations on your immersion back into running! I understand how it can be tricky fitting in a morning workout with a little one. How lovely to see the pictures of the beauty you encountered along the way. That kind of awareness is so good for the soul…
Secondly, I am thrilled that you came out to our race. Even more thrilled to read about your experience and see that you would recommend it to others. Quick question, is Carrie Anderson your mother? I remember passing that sign and feeling strength and inspiration to keep running. My internal monologue was “if Carrie fought the good fight, how could I possibly slow down…”
so I kept running.
If that is your Mom, could you thank her for me 🙂 Even if it is not, no worries. I’m proud of her whoever she is. Sounds like she is quite the Champion, as was our Mother.
Lastly, I would so love to meet you next year if you can make it. My husband and I are both in the Navy and live about 13 hours away, but we wouldn’t miss it. We are looking at the 14th of June (Father’s Day weekend). Hopefully a holiday weekend race doesn’t backfire on us. We’ll come up with a good plan to share this day with as many people as possible.
Again, thank you for sharing your experience. It is so much more than just a 5k race to my brother, sister and I. It made my heart happy to see that it meant more to you as well.
I’m so sorry it took so long to respond. I was overwhelmed by your note! Thank you so very much for reaching out and I’m glad you enjoyed my little post about running and about the event.
First, I’m so sorry — I didn’t realize your brother was the ultimate creator of this wonderful yearly event to honor your mom.
Second, Carrie Anderson is my dear, beautiful, wonderful mom who is battling cancer. She’s been through so much and yet remains such a positive force in the lives of those she loves. It warms my heart to think she gave you a little added strength that day. I wish you could have met her that day – she was there rooting me on.
I would love to meet you next year. I’ll definitely be doing the run each year. Perhaps I can even help more next year somehow. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last thing…your mom. You could feel the love for her that day. There are no words to express how sorry I am for the loss your family has endured.
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