Where to begin the story of the Old Soul? First off, yes, I finally caved in and made a blog, just like all of the college-aged girls are doing nowadays. I realize most people have way too much going on in their lives to set aside a chunk of time to read about some 19-year-old’s obsession with running. However, those that do somehow find the time to read this sarcasm-soaked blog, welcome aboard!
Back to the story… it’s easy to say I was born being inside my own head (thanks for passing it on to me, dad). The realization that I wasn’t “normal” became more obvious when I entered high school. I never felt like I fit in with any groups of people, even in a school with 3,000 kids. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t fully accepting of who I was, but what 5’9″ freshman girl would be overflowing with confidence as she towered above everyone? My height, along with the flow of acne courtesy of puberty, and oh-so-sexy braces, was a recipe for a self-conscious teen. Among all of those things that were out of my control, my weight was the one thing I could control.
Towards the end of middle school, my eating disorder had already began to an extent. Freshman year it only got worse, and getting signed on with a modeling agency made me feel better about my thin frame. I don’t want to drag this out, because it was a total roller coaster. It was a continuous cycle of promising my mom I would get better, crying from guilt, promising I would finally change, and falling back into my old ways. A part of me wanted to be healthy, part of me thought what I was doing was healthy, and another part of me knew I couldn’t keep living this way.
It wasn’t until Christmas of (I think) my sophomore year of high school that things finally started to change, for good. Our grandparents bought my sister and me passes to Lifetime Fitness that year. I was guilt-fully thrilled, yet at the same time I was scared for myself. Our first day there, Morgan (my sister) and I went to a Zumba class held in one of the studios on the second floor. Inside the studio, the walls are covered in mirrors, so with every move you take you see your reflection. These mirrors are the revelation I so badly needed. Who was this frail, gray, sunken-collar-bone, malnourished girl ahead of me? It was then that for the first time, I saw myself. I wanted to cry.
For individuals with an eating disorder, nobody can convince them to change their habits except themselves. I went home that night and cried a cry that wasn’t like the other times, where I said I wanted to change but deep down I was afraid. This time I told my mom what I saw in that studio at Lifetime, and how much I wanted to look like the gorgeous African-American Zumba instructor who was muscular and well-toned. She had such a glow to her, and gave off an energy that everyone in the room was feeding off of. How nice it must be, I thought to myself. How could I be like her?
I was blessed to have my mother with me through the hardest moments of my journey. She has a Ph.D in social work, and offers counseling services at her own private practice. As beneficial as it was to have a professional in my own household, I believe it was her abilities as a parent that made all the difference. She set me up with both a nutritionist and a personal trainer at Lifetime to get me started on the right path. A few weeks of learning about how much I needed to eat, combined with weight training, resulted in a few pounds gradually being put on. Was it scary at first? Oh god yeah, but I had a goal in mind.
All throughout my eating disorder, I used exercise for the wrong reasons (burning off everything I ate). I took advantage of running, going on jaunts around my neighborhood after eating half of a slice of bread with jam. That’s why, during recovery I decided that I wanted to become a real runner. In my mind, they were the epitome of what it meant to be strong, a characteristic I so badly wanted to have. I looked up half marathons that I could do in the summer, which would give me plenty of time to train my slightly improved physique. It was March, and the Cincinnati Half Marathon was in late June. It was the start of something wonderful; or so I thought.
At one point I was running 5-milers every day, and was incredibly proud of it. I didn’t have a training plan or anything, but I knew how long a half marathon was. I got to six miles, then the next week I tried seven, then eight miles the day after that. It was all up and no down, no time to rest or recover in between building. It was an amazing feeling, training for a half, telling everyone at school that I was training for one. With the continuous build, came a dull ache in my left ankle. Like every stubborn athlete does, I ignored it. All it needed was some ice then it would be fine. In the back of my mind I got slightly concerned when it became painful to bear weight. I wasn’t exactly limping, but I wasn’t walking like I was sure of myself. A week or two longer of icing and running, and I was almost up to ten miles.
It was a few days before my birthday weekend, and we had signed me up for the Rat Race 10k on the Loveland Bike Path which would take place April 25th (my birthday). I decided to get one more long run in prior to the race, and opted to do so on the bike path. Four miles out, I stopped and started to limp. Shit. It’s probably just an irritated tendon or something, I thought to myself. Looking back, I can’t fathom how I managed to run four miles back to my car that day. Seriously, how stupid was I? No, how stubborn could I be? I didn’t want to call my mom and cry. It was all going to be fine. Just go home and ice it, yes, that will do the trick. The next day at school, I remember sitting in my pre-calculus classroom when it was let out, and feeling the throb in my ankle. It was like with every beat of my heart, my ankle was screaming.
Revealing the truth to my mom was devastating, not because I wanted to keep the truth from her, but because it was like admitting defeat in my decision to train for the half. She was weary about it in the first place, unsure if my body was ready for it, while I assured her it was. Note to self: mom is always right. She immediately booked an appointment with Dr. Velazquez at Beacon Orthopedics, and we got in the next day. Two days before my birthday, I was sitting in a doctor’s office looking at an x-ray, still telling myself it wasn’t anything major. He looked up at me, somewhat sympathetic, and said it was a stress fracture. I’d have to be put in a boot and on crutches for six weeks. No running, for six weeks. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I turned to my mom who was also looking at me sympathetically.
It was a moment I will never forget; my heart broke for the first time in my life. This thing I had fallen in love with, this incredibly simple but fulfilling sport that was supposed to make me strong, it was taken away from me. I cried the rest of the day, and refused to go to school the following day (how embarrassing it would be, to show up in this). My mom continuously reminded me that this is because I didn’t listen to my body for so long. She said I would get back to running, and will have learned from my mistake. Something I said at the time that she (to this day) continues to throw back in my face, was that maybe the injury was a sign that I wasn’t meant to be a runner. My mom, being the straight-forward woman that she is, told me that was ridiculous.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I was adjusting to the life of crutches, assistance, and dependence. My sister was a saving grace during this time. Every night she would take me to Lifetime and help me crutch my way over to the edge of the pool where I would swim laps while she went to Zumba. Swimming was the one thing I could do that would keep me sane. Still battling the mental demons of my eating disorder, swimming reminded me that food was fuel, and I needed it if I ever wanted to get back to running. Physical therapy was another place I could feel normal, take off my boot, and test the strength of my cocooned ankle. My physical therapist and his assistants were absolutely amazing. I owe a lot to them.
Then came my first run on the treadmill at Beacon, almost seven weeks after being put in the boot. I was smiling so much, I even started to laugh. From there, I was to follow a run/walk program to get back to where I was (safely). The next day I walked a minute, then ran four minutes, and did that twice. It was raining out, and I looked up to the sky as I ran and smiled, feeling grateful to have running back in my life again. I made a promise to my body that I would give it everything it needed in order for me to run healthy and strong. My ankle got a stress fracture not just from over-training, but because of the fact that I had deprived my body for so long that my bones became weak.
Everything kind of escalated from there, and I don’t really remember every detail of what happened in the following weeks. Something I do remember very well was when I joined a running club in West Chester, Ohio; Mojo Running. Who knew that this group of fellow running-obsessed individuals would become my second family? They took me in like I already belonged there. Despite my nerves that Friday summer night before the Saturday run club, I fit right in with a group of people running an 11-miler. They were all older than me, but it was the first time in my life I felt like I could be myself around others. When we finished, I introduced myself to a few people who told me that I should sign up for the Little Miami Half Marathon the following month.
Surprise! One month later I was (finally) running my first half marathon! Oh, but I have to mention that I showed up a half hour late, got lost, and ended up running 14.4 miles. So it wasn’t the best start to my running career, but hey, I got to put a 13.1 magnet on my car. All along the course I saw fellow Mojo runners on the out-and-back who cheered and gave out high-fives for each other. My mom still gives me crap for getting the wrong start time and for getting lost on my first half marathon. She also keeps a picture of me looking pissed off with my crutches on the inside of our cabinet, called “Mad Maddie”, to remind me to always listen to my body.
Honestly I don’t know who the hell has read this far but if you have, great! The story only goes up from here. Over the course of my junior year, I ran a dozen half marathons. I continued to swim, and eat, and listen to my body. Sporting my 30-pounds-stronger physique, I felt incredible. I ran through the winter, and before I knew it I was welcoming the anniversary of my injury. That April, I got redemption of the Rat Race 10k for my 17th birthday. After another summer of running half marathons like a maniac, getting a job at Mojo, and looking into where I wanted to go to college, I was entering my senior year of high school.
I was envious of all of the Mojo runners who ran the Flying Pig Marathon in May, and decided I wanted to train for the full, too. I did some impromptu long runs with the group during the next few months, despite training not beginning yet. However when training finally did begin, I took it very seriously. Every day after school I would run, and every Saturday I would be awake earlier than I was any other day of the week for group run. It was exhausting to be honest, but at the same time it was invigorating. Not only did running give me something I could control, but it gave me confidence, an identity, and a family.
The winter months of spring marathon training are never enjoyable. The group never complained though, and so I didn’t either. We would layer up and suck it up. Fast forward some more (sorry this is really long already) and it was time to taper for the race. My birthday passed and I did the Rat Race yet again, and turned 18 the week before my first full marathon. The expo, oh man the expo. What had I been missing out on my entire life? My mom and I must’ve spent three hours there that day. We got shirts, hats, free things, asked questions, and squealed over everything. I could barely sleep that night.
It was race day, finally. Awake at 3:30am (what the hell were we doing?) and on the road by 4:30am. The race started at 6:30am which would give us plenty of time to go downtown and find the pacer I wanted to follow. We called my grandma on the way down, who wished me luck and said she would be flying next to me in spirit during the race. It was scary saying bye to my mom, but I was so pent-up on adrenaline that I bounced over to my Mojo friends who were following the same pacer as me. We were off, and it couldn’t have been a more gorgeous morning. Perfect conditions, and a beautiful sunrise over the river as we crossed the bridge into Kentucky, and then back to Cincinnati. The pacers went out pretty fast, so I decided to do my own thing.
I won’t give an entire play-by-play of the race, because that would take way too long! Some of the highlights were when I saw my mom right before we made the climb into Eden Park, when Mr. Mojo (my Ironman-crazed boss) biked next to me on the highway portion of the course, and the moment I realized I was going to finish in under four hours. The last bit before the finish line was lined with thousands of people, and I heard a few people call out my name but I couldn’t see who they were. Crossed the finish, saw my time (3:53), my hands went to my knees, and I bawled. They offered me a wheelchair, to which I stood straight up and said I was fine. I’d looked for my mom as I was about to finish but I didn’t find her.
Thankfully I had my phone with me, and I called her as I sat on concrete curb. I remember this conversation so well.
“Babe where are you I got notified that you finished but I didn’t see you I was so mad!” She said.
“Mom I did it, I finished!” I said, wondering if she could decipher my emotional jumble.
“Aw I know you did, I’m so proud of you. Where are you?”
“I’m right past the finish line sitting on a curb.”
“I’m behind a chain-linked fence I can’t get to you! I want to hug you!” She started getting emotional too.
With the tips of her fingers waving above the tall chain-linked fence, I hobbled towards her, and she handed me a big bouquet of flowers with a 26.2 magnet clipped on the front. I was a mess, she was a mess, and we tried the best we could to hold hands through the links of the fence. We promised to meet up in the family-meet-up area. I collected my beautiful finisher’s medal (which is still one of my favorites to this day), my free food and obligatory banana, and went to sit by my mom. It was surreal. All of it. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life, yet I’d done it.
For weeks to follow, the less and less real the whole thing became. Did I really run a full marathon? The lingering soreness in my muscles reminded me that yes, I had done it. As if that wasn’t big enough of an accomplishment, I was graduating later that month! I was accepted into Miami University of Oxford, Ohio. My entire family came to watch me walk at graduation, including my dad who accepted a job in Afghanistan two years prior (he comes home for Christmas and for two weeks out of the summer). Life was flowing by so fast that I was afraid if I blinked I would miss something wonderful.
Things died down and I was working hard over the summer to pay for my single dorm. We signed up for a fall marathon, the Columbus Marathon, which I would get my first Boston Qualifier at (3:32). Freshman year was definitely a learning experience. People my age like to drink, even if it’s illegal. They like spending their time and money in some bar uptown, where the floor is covered in a mixture of vomit, beer, and who knows what the hell else. They like to spend the night with someone they only just met, and then never talk to them again. I’m not saying other people my age are bad or wrong. The point I am trying to make is that I will never be like them. I find insignificant things that will not benefit me in life, or that hold some greater importance, to not be worth my time. That’s just me.
To this day I occasionally find myself struggling to accept my quirks and differences. However I am much better off than I used to be. Running has helped give me confidence and stability in my life. My next BQ (Boston Qualifier) was up in Traverse City, MI, in May of 2016. I brought my time down to 3:27, which assured me that I would get into the Boston Marathon. My favorite race of all (so far) is the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which I ran this past October in a time of 3:23. I had already been accepted into Boston, but this new PR improved my seeding for the race in April.
I end this long-ass post with a focus on Boston because it is the epitome of who I have been striving to be. Through the eating disorder, the injury, the comeback, the tears, the fear of not fitting in; running has been the light at the end of the tunnel. Am I obsessive with it? Oh absolutely. Some days it drives my mom crazy how running is all I can talk about. However she continues to be my biggest supporter. She has been to every single race I have ever done; she has sweltered in the heat at the Rock n’ Roll Chicago Half, and has lost feeling in her fingers at the Heart Mini Half. She has done so much that I don’t think there will ever come a day where I can say I have repaid her. My dad sacrifices his life in the States for a job overseas that helps pay for my sister and I to go to college. My sister holds herself back from telling me to shut the hell up, and takes some great race photos.
So who am I? I am an old soul. I rise before the sun, and tuck myself in bed when people are heading uptown. I am a running-crazed college girl that regrets nothing in my life because it all has led to where I am now, and who I am now. I am a Boston Qualifier, training for the 2017 Boston Marathon. The people that I’ve met during this incredibly humbling journey have continued to inspire me and encourage me every day. I am stronger than I’ve ever been before, and although I still have a ways to go, I know I have a village of friends and family to push me to accomplish any goal I set before myself.
I wish to continue to life my life day in and day out, meet new people, love more, laugh more, and be even stronger. I wish to share these golden moments with the world.