I am so thrilled to be an Athleta Sponsored Athlete this year! My delight at receiving this improbable honor and being included among such amazing women is only surpassed by my excitement for training women from my Upper East Side New York store to participate in the More Half Marathon this April. I could not be more thrilled to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and play a small role in helping these women participate in an event that will not only be social, positive, and fun, but for many it will be, in a word: transformative. For me, getting to the place of becoming a teacher, truly has been a long road.
Let me rewind to address why I use the term “improbable” to describe becoming an Athleta Sponsored Athlete and why training women for a half marathon is so important and specific an honor for me. If you read my bio, you will know that I struggled with asthma and being overweight as a child. I then developed an eating disorder that plagued me in some form until my mid-twenties. It was then that I decided to change. I wanted to be healthy and free of the mental prison to which an eating disorder can confine the human spirit. This cage is demoralizing, isolating, and depressing. In my mid-twenties I started going to the gym consistently and focusing on eating to live – I wanted to live! Through fitness I gained control of my body, my mind, and my life.
After a year of being consistently, physically active, a friend convinced me to sign up for the Dublin Ireland Marathon with Team in Training. Initially, I looked at her with a “What choo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?!” face and was absolutely NOT going to do it. I thought she was INSANE. Although I had been going to the gym every day, running on the treadmill, and using the rickety old Stairmaster in my business school dorm, I had never run outside. I was literally still running in my 1986 L.A. Gear cross-trainers from the 7th grade (seriously, I hadn’t grown much since then). I didn’t even know people ran outside on purpose until I saw them in 1998, like weird alien creatures, feverishly running around The Farm (Stanford’s campus). Growing up, people certainly weren’t doing loops of my block on the South Side of Chicago, going for “the burn”. After telling my family about the race and having them laugh at me and saying I could quote “mess around and die” (sounds worse than it was; family means well but sometimes…ya know) I got ticked off and promptly signed up for the race.
I was TERRIFIED. What if my family was right? I really could die! Most people attempting this feat had run track, run cross country, heck run to the grocery store, but I hadn’t; I had grown up an orchestra geek. I showed up to the first practice with Team in Training wearing those same L.A. Gear cross trainers. Team in Training was critical to preparing me for my first marathon and that training laid an excellent foundation for the athlete I would ultimately become.
First, they helped me to get the right shoes. Buh-bye cross-trainers. Those suckers were about 15 years old anyway. Second, they provided a very detailed schedule of what to do every day. Third, I had a mentor. I followed that training schedule to the letter, cross-trained, and constantly asked training questions of my mentor and other teammates. To go from nothing to running a marathon in 4 and half months was going to require a lot of work and I wanted to prevent injury. After long runs my body was like, “What CHOO talkin’ ‘bout Willis?!”.
The road to race day was long, tiring, and exciting. It was bumpy, but I could feel myself changing physically and emotionally with every mile and every milestone I hit along the way.
I will never forget the night before race day in Dublin, Ireland. We had a Team in Training dinner with the other chapters. I had the fortune of sitting at a table with a black woman who later told me she was in her mid-fifties (she looked 10 years younger) and had run over 100 marathons. 100 marathons?!! She wasn’t like any other black woman I had ever met. She asked me how I was feeling about the race. I told her I was scared out of my mind. The weather was horrible- raining, windy, and cold. I had to buy running tights at the Expo because it was so friggin’ cold, breaking the rule about “wear nothing new” on race day. I had agita about this and other questions: would my right I.T. band hold up? What if my asthma came back? What if I cramped? What if I stepped in a puddle? What if, what if, what if??? I was more than a little bit of a spaz. She listened to all of this craziness and calmly asked me, “Did you train? Did you do the work?”. To which I replied, “Yes”. She said “Then you’re ready. Don’t worry about all of that other stuff. You run your own race. Start out nice and easy, and if you’re feeling good, when you get to mile 20, you take off girl! But you must run your own race.” It was a weird Yoda meets Oprah moment but I listened to her. And I did. I ran my own race got to mile 20, heard her voice and took off.
It had been a long, windy, cold road, but by the time I reached mile 20, the sun was shining. When I finished by basically hurling my body across the finish line, falling on top of the little Irishman official in the process, I knew, in that specific moment, that my life had changed. I had broken down all of the barriers of self-perception, my family’s perceptions, all of that sweated away on the road I had just traveled, and with the traversing of that finish line: I had changed. I would go on to do 5 more marathons, countless halfs, and almost a dozen triathlons. I’m currently signed up for my 7th marathon by returning to my hometown to do the Chicago Marathon with my sister this Fall!
The above story is why I say “improbable”. It is also why I am so incredibly thrilled to now have the opportunity to help women from my Upper East Side Athleta store train for a race, which for many, will be their first endurance race. Their reasons for wanting to do the race inspire me – wanting to be healthier, celebrating overcoming health challenges, training to inspire their friends and families. I take training these women very seriously. Had it not been for the great training and support I got, I would not be the “me” I am today, now given the opportunity to inspire and help others. I want them to feel what I felt during training and feel the way I felt when I finished and accomplished something I thought impossible.
As I stood before my group the first training practice, some more experienced than others but for almost all this would be a new exciting, and slightly scary challenge, I thought to myself, “I am you, I’m just a little further down the road.” You will see from video their electric, positive energy, something that only comes from self-satisfaction compounded by the energy of the collective.
The road. Literally there are going to be ups and downs, cracks and potholes along the way as we train together. My road certainly has had its ups and downs and potholes (even sidestepped a little dog poop along the way J). Staying the course no matter what by having vision, inspiration, and support, and traveling with friends will make the journey as amazing as reaching the ultimate destination. We kick asphalt. Power to the She.