See Jane walk really fast

Jane and me having fun along the Myrtle Beach Diva Half Marathon course in 2014

Jane and me having fun along the Myrtle Beach Diva Half Marathon course in 2014, where she helped me keep a speedy pace

This is my friend Jane (right). Jane is vivacious, engaging, caring and determined. She’s a mom, a wife, a nurse and a dog lover. She is a joy to know and is a great cheerleader to have in your corner.

Jane is also a very fast walker who has completed many marathons and half marathons. I know she’s fast because I have managed to (and, other times, tried and not managed to!) keep up with her on the race course.

She is training for her next race and posted recently on Facebook about some people she encountered along the way.

“Over the last few weeks,” she shared, “I have been taunted by rude remarks from some women…. One said I didn’t look like marathon material…. Another felt I wasn’t ‘skinny enough’ to complete a marathon! Little did they know I completed a lot of them.”

Jane’s reaction: to call for more positivity and kindness rather than the alternative, and I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve been on the scene for many marathons and half marathons, both as a participant and on the sidelines/finish line as a team coach. I’ve seen people of ALL shapes and sizes on race courses and coming across the finish line. (I’ve previously written about my friend Lana, who, yes, was obese but defied judging a book by its cover.) All of that has left me with the knowledge that we do not know someone’s capabilities, their strength, their stamina by simply looking at them.

Why doesn’t Jane look like marathon material to the observer who said so? Because she doesn’t fit a predetermined stereotype about marathoners? Who’s to say what a marathoner should look like? Believe me, they look like any random cross-section of the population.

Many people are surprised to learn that you can walk a marathon instead of run — I’ve mentioned this several times in several posts — and sometimes we walkers find ourselves on the defensive when other racers (read: runners) imply that we don’t belong.

Anyone who trains and prepares is qualified to participate in a race. If you reach that benchmark, more power to you! Why anyone would seek to tear down someone who is working hard to achieve a physical goal is a mystery. I’m not sure why someone would seek to denigrate a stranger based on surface assumptions. Let’s seek to lift each other up and celebrate others’ accomplishments rather than belittle and assume that someone can’t or shouldn’t.

It’s easy to look at someone and think, “How could she possibly run/walk 13.1 miles? She doesn’t look fast/strong/dedicated enough.”

But look deeper.

(And then, for fun — with a warning in advance for some strong language — read this.)

A life-changing date

Ten years ago today, I did my first race: On Oct. 30, 2005, I walked a full marathon (26.2 miles), the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

My life has since changed in numerous, wonderful ways. To be honest, it changed even before that date, as I embarked on months of training for the race. Committing to such a goal and working toward it provides motivation and reward at many steps along the way. And I shared so much of that with co-workers who also were training for the event.

Crossing my first finish line was a very emotional experience!

Crossing my first finish line was a very emotional experience!

The goal was daunting, to be sure, but with each longer-distance training walk, I felt stronger, more prepared and more sure that I could do it.

The race day itself remains one of the most emotional and fantastic days of my life, and the memory will never (I hope!) fade.

The Marine Corps Marathon certainly is a great experience for a first-timer — and a walker, at that — because 1) it attracts a huge participant field and you’re never alone on the course, 2) the spectators are plentiful and nearly everywhere, 3) the scenery is pretty impressive (U.S. Capitol … Washington Monument … Smithsonian buildings), and 4) a Marine puts your medal around your neck. How great is that?

Doing this race was life-changing for the obvious reasons — achieving a big fitness goal, learning about what I could accomplish physically, feeling oh-so-proud for doing it.

But that’s not all.

As someone who hated gym class, was never among the first chosen for a team, and finished pretty much last in every meet when I spent one season on the high school track team (javelin, discus and shot-put), I finally found a physical outlet that felt great and at which I could feel a sense of achievement.

I caught the race bug, to be sure. I did a full marathon each of the next two years and then tried my hand (foot?) at half marathons. Before each race, I still felt a few butterflies, but I also felt confident in my abilities. As each finish line came into view and I crossed it, I still felt the same sense of elation and pride. I returned to the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011 to do my fourth full marathon, and on Sunday I’ll be doing my 15th half marathon.

Lots of fun times with race friends!

Lots of fun times with race friends!

Doing races is a great way to visit new places and really see them. There’s nothing like a race course that winds around a city to help you get an overview of somewhere new. Races have taken me to (among other places) Oregon, the Outer Banks, Myrtle Beach, new parts of Pennsylvania, Las Vegas, Florida and Dallas. In some cases, I was participating and in some cases I was there as a team coordinator, but in either case the travel was a great bonus.

Becoming a marathoner has altered my career path as well. It led me to seek certification as a group fitness instructor so I could work with others who were inspired and motivated by the idea of training to walk a race. I can’t get enough of the great feelings gained from doing a race; I love to see others experience it too!

But probably the best part of my race “career” is the friendships I’ve formed with fellow walkers. Preparing for and participating in a race is quite the bonding experience — and it’s so much fun to share it with good friends.

So, I want to send thanks and love to Katie, MaryPat, Beth, Pat, Pam, Rebecca, Jane, George, Kim, Annie, MaryAnn, Lee, Mary, Megan, Lana, Robynn, Bim, Jes, Marianne and others with whom I’ve shared this journey. (Katie, MaryPat and Beth get top billing because they, too, were on that course 10 years ago today, even though I didn’t know MaryPat and Beth very well at that point. Pat and Pam were seemingly everywhere along the course to cheer for us, even though we barely knew each other.) I’ll always have a fond place in my heart, too, for Karen, Polly and Craig, the most organized spectator crew ever on that day in 2005.

Thanks and love go, too, to the guy I call my “personal cheerleader-slash-photographer,” Chris. He’s the most patient and willing spectator I know.

micheleAnd special thanks and love to Michele, whose idea to create a walk-a-marathon training plan and program started it all. Look at how much pride and joy you’ve brought to so many, Michele! THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart (and feet).

A joyful feeling

Today I couldn’t wait to get to the fitness class I teach, because one of my class members did her first 5K yesterday, as a walker.

D. attended my walking class over the summer. As I watched her form and speed improve, I posed a question to her: “Have you ever thought about doing some type of race as a walker?”

In a word? No.

But she was intrigued by the idea, and we chatted about it over the weeks that followed. I told her that I thought her speed was well within the parameters of walking a 5K, and that I was confident that she could do it.

As she turned the idea around in her mind, she asked me about the race process, both how to prepare and what to expect. Finally, she decided: Yes, this was a goal she’d like to aim for. Once she made the decision, her enthusiasm grew.

So I sent her a list with links to several local 5Ks. From there she chose one in a neighboring town, scheduled for yesterday. I thought about surprising her at the finish area, but she’d very politely turned down my offer to join her for the race if she wanted me to — I got the sense that she wanted to do this all on her own.

And I’m so proud to say that she did well, with a steady pace and a good finish time. It was written all over her face when she came into class tonight — she was beaming! — and I couldn’t wait to ask her about the experience. She thanked me for all the encouragement, but the truth is, I’m inspired by her experience. I think seeing first-timers complete a race is a bit of a high for me, too!

At the risk of embarrassing her (and saying as much), I shared her accomplishment with the rest of the class. They were quick to offer congratulations and ask her all about it.

And from what I can tell, I think a racer has been born: She definitely wants to do it again. She joked that the 3.1 miles seemed long enough, so the thought of 13.1 (a half marathon) seems crazy. I countered that 8Ks and 10-milers make great next goals, once she has another 5K or three under her belt.

One of the greatest feelings in all my life was when I completed my first race. The joy and pride have not diminished in nine years. And that’s part of why I’m so thrilled every time I see someone else experience that feeling — the feeling of setting a fitness goal, working toward it for weeks or months or longer, putting your training to use when push comes to shove, and achieving it. Knowing that it’s something you did solely on your own (with cheerleading support from family and friends, of course), through the efforts of your own body/heart/lungs/muscles … it’s a tremendous feeling.

So … congratulations to D., who can count me as cheerleader #1.

My first race (of 17 and counting)

We all have to start somewhere.

I started big — a full 26.2-mile marathon. Some people start with 5Ks and work up. Nope, not me! Ha!

And I started not with just any full marathon: My first race was the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., with about 30,000 other willing participants and a big rumbling BOOM of a Howitzer or some such as a starting gun. Talk about race-day atmosphere!

To be fair, most of the details of my first race were decided by someone else. If it were left to me, I probably wouldn’t have become a racer at all! Or at least, I doubt it would have occurred to me. Who knew you could walk in a race?

You see, I worked at Prevention magazine. (If you’re not familiar with it, it focuses primarily on health and wellness.) In 2005, our fitness editor/director, Michele Stanten, came up with the great idea to publish a story encouraging readers to set a fitness goal of walking a half or full marathon. We printed training info in the magazine and reserved some registration spots with the race for our readers. Response was overwhelming! We had a handful of entry slots for staff members who were interested in participating, too.

Michele asked us to let her know if we wanted to sign up. (Here’s where you can refer to my previous post, Why I Race.) In short, I thought about my own health and wellness and decided to be proactive. I have to confess that there was a bit of ignorance in there too! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But in the end, what I was getting myself into was utterly positive, rewarding and life-changing.

The MCM has a time limit that can be challenging for some walkers. It’s not about a finish time but about reaching and crossing a bridge three-quarters of the way through the course before the bridge is reopened to traffic — a.k.a. “Beat the Bridge.” Suffice it to say that it made us all be more committed to preparing properly for the event. Who wanted to train for months and months, racking up the mileage, only to be foiled on race day? It was a daunting thought. And that aspect served as a foundation for all my race training and preparation to come. Walking a race is one thing. Walking a race at a brisk pace that gets you through the course with support and across the finish line within established time limits so you can enjoy the atmosphere and the finish festivities is another.

During MCM training, we coworkers who were participating had so much to compare notes on and bond over as the months went by. I can’t imagine doing something like this for the first time all on my own, without a support system of fellow participants. It was reassuring to all of us.

The calendar ticked down and race day arrived. I could do a whole separate post on specific memories of race day (and maybe at some point I will), but I’ll share the highlights now:

  • A race-morning starting area is the biggest illustration of “hurry up and wait” that you will ever experience
  • Few things are better than seeing a familiar face cheering you on at about mile 13 or 19 when you could really use a boost
  • Walking a race is a great way to really see many neighborhoods of one city (and all in one day!)
  • Hiccup-crying for a whole mile is draining but cathartic (I beat the bridge, but wasn’t sure I would until I did!)
  • Cookies at mile 22 are the best cookies you ever ate in your life, followed closely by a celebratory bacon cheeseburger
  • Knowing you are going to cross the finish line after so many months of training and preparation is one of the most emotional things you might ever experience. It’s been nearly 9 years and it still makes me tear up even now.

Finishing a marathon is something no one can ever take away from you, and it’s an accomplishment to surely be proud of. Whether you walk it or run it or do a combo of both, everyone on the race course is entitled to give it his or her best shot and reap the emotional and physical rewards.