Thursday, February 28, 2013

Small Steps, Incredible Journey

This week I will run my first official half marathon race.
  • Saturday, I put in 13.2 miles and on Sunday, my “Race Husband” followed up my practice run with a foot massage.
  • I have carefully washed all my tech shirts and my running tights are hung up to dry.
  • I’ve packed my race outfit and I’m almost done with a seriously rad playlist.
All the preparation is complete, but it’s still hard to believe that I am runner.
I started running just about two years ago. There were several reasons I decided to get in shape in 2011, but perhaps one of the first motivators was a surgery I had in December 2010.

            I wasn't terribly out of shape, but over the course of about a year and I half, I lost 30 pounds… so, I clearly needed to correct some bad habits.
Growing up, I was never athletic. I was horribly clumsy, but I also simply preferred to sit in the comfort of my air conditioned room reading a fascinating novel over running around sweating in a stuffy dress (school dress code mandate) on scorching Alabama afternoons. I hated exercise and physical exertion. PE was my least favorite subject and I even convinced my mom to let me skip school the day of the Physical Fitness Test One Mile Run. I learned a valuable life lesson that year: Face challenges head on; don’t procrastinate. You see, I had to run the make-up mile by myself the next day in PE while everyone else played kickball and watched me run around the outside of the Big Field’s chain link fence (in a dress). Oy, the horrors of elementary school.
            Fortunately, the dread of running is behind me. Nowadays, I relish my runs. I find running meditative. It’s the ultimate “me time.” The running process is all completing goals and training my body to perform to its highest ability. Plus, I’m a junkie for the runner’s high.
But I didn’t wake up from surgery with Nikes on. I actually started working out after my surgery failed to be the weight loss catalyst I was expecting. Not only did I not lose any weight, I actually gained weight despite not having the use of my mouth for over a week! I felt duped. I felt like it should have been impossible for my body to be acting this way. I was also disappointed in how poorly I handled the surgery. Obviously, I was expecting pain, but I thought I was tough! I expected to bounce right back. I wasn’t mentally prepared to be down. And, I think that was the turning point for me. I realized that part of managing my condition means I need to stay healthy as a whole. Since I do not have control over one aspect of my health, I don’t know what my future holds or what medical intervention I will need to undergo in the future. That feeling is threatening. But instead of feeling threatened, staying healthy is empowering. I may have to have another ear or jaw surgery, but I will definitely have to have medical intervention if I don’t eat right, exercise, and stay healthy in other ways.  I’m aware that I already deal with a few extra doctors and precautions due to my mild craniofacial anomalies and that realization helped me decide to take better care of my immune system, my cardiovascular system, and all those other “systems.”
            After the surgery, I didn’t feel very confident about the future. I didn’t feel very confident about myself, either. So I took the tiniest baby step towards better health. I started working out on the notion that I would just “do a few arm exercises during TV commercials,” since I loathed the way my arms looked in sleeveless tops. Plus, my folks had just purchased a beach condo. I needed to be able to rock a tank top confidently.
            Three sets of rows and curls grew to adding in lunges and squats. Instead of commercial break workouts, I started using weights during the show and doing cardio during commercials. (Try it! Thirty seconds of high knees will light you up!) Then, I found some exercise DVDs and Jillian Michaels became my mentor. In just about three weeks, I started feeling small changes. I didn’t see anything right away, but I had more energy and I felt proud of myself. I wasn’t thinking about all of the things I couldn’t do, because I had finally learned how to do a pull up. (Another Physical Fitness Test dream come true!)
            After experiencing truly minor successes, I wanted to take my fitness journey to the next level, which conjured up memories of the lone year I played softball. I think it was sixth grade. I never got one hit the entire season. My bat never made contact with the ball in a game. Not once. Nada. Zip… Sad, right?
 I mean, I could hit the ball in practice time after time after time. But when it was my turn to bat in the game, I got so nervous that I choked every darn time. However, there was one redeeming thing that my coach did for me that season. He made me the pinch runner. Coach said, “You’re fast. Surprisingly fast. You’ll be our pinch runner.”  So when Alison, our best batter, suffered a sprained ankle, she continued to muscle the ground balls and I was her legs. That opportunity and a solitary compliment meant so much to Little Erica.
Yes, readers, I will admit, that as an adult I remembered that comment and well, the rest is history. I started running.
It was slow going, at first. (Haha, it’s still pretty slow going!) I walked much more than I ran. But steadily, I became stronger. I altered my diet to nurture my body and aid “performance.” Yes, this body was in training! My body was no longer viewed as my hopeless, remote “situation,” but as something I could change, mold and improve. I read a lot of fitness advice and began to view my body as a machine. Reframing how I viewed and interacted with my own body has been extremely beneficial in many ways, but especially when I face health issues. It is still scary now to receive unexpected news, but at least I know that I am doing something right for my overall health. Whatever treatment I need to undergo to treat my cranio anomalies, I can be confident that I’m in tip top shape to recover from it.
            Additionally, getting in shape often comes with an injury along the way. Having to heal from injuries unrelated to my facial condition helped me in two ways. First, it reassured me that yes, other parts of my body can and do function normally (whew). That fact reduces anxiety since I no longer need to assume every injury is a calamity. Second, healing from injuries helps me understand the process of recovery. I went a very long time without a surgery, so I had become really afraid of the idea of going under, being cut on old scars and what it would feel like when I woke up. I was terrified and I believe I experienced far more anxiety than was necessary. Now, knowing my body’s reaction to injury helps me put medical recoveries into perspective. I know the physical and psychological impact of being less than 100%, and while I will still experience all of the same feelings, I will know that they, like the pain, are only temporary. The third day after surgery may be like Mile 10: The hard part is behind me, but I still can’t quite see the finish line. Running has given me mental endurance and patience when it comes to my body’s limits and potential.
            So, I’m going to run a half marathon. It’s going to be a lot of fun and an exciting challenge. Hopefully I’ll have a great time (I’m talking hour:minute) and I’ll probably even have a cool race picture to share next week.

Cheers to the challenge!


  1. Great post, Erica! ALMOST makes me want to take up running! Almost. ;)

  2. Very inspiring and insightful. I love to read about your perspective Erica. Can't wait to see your cool race picture!


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