A former Seattleite returns to run in her 48th half-marathon after overcoming a debilitating disorder.
Why do I run? I run because I can. And hopefully to inspire.
In fall of 2006, I was ill with a violent auto-immune disease that stuck suddenly and landed me in the hospital for eight days in severe pain. I was subsequently told I’d never run again. Initially that didn’t seem like a big deal. I wasn’t much of a runner.
Fast forward four years living a careful, fear-based, cautious life, and both my personal and professional lives were upended. I needed something else to guide me.
Against doctors wishes, I decided I needed a race to train for. Something to give me purpose, direction and focus. Initially it was to prove the doctors wrong, prove those who didn’t believe in me wrong. Maybe it was to challenge the idea that somehow I was damaged goods, not good enough.
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I ran one half-marathon in April 2010 in San Francisco, never intending to run another. It was to try one, to see if I could, to see what it would feel like.
But something changed in me when I crossed the finish line and learned what I was capable of. What was still possible. Curiosity clicked. It wasn’t just a runner’s high, it was far more than that.
Now, 6 years later, I’m on my way to crossing the finish line of half-marathon No. 50 in October 2016 (Rock ’n’ Roll Brooklyn), exactly 10 years after that first hospital stay.
But first I am crossing finish line of half-marathon No. 48 here on Saturday in the Seattle Rock ’n’ Roll because I’m a local girl at heart.
I’m not a 25-year-old Olympic athlete or former college track star. I’m running here to thank Seattle for raising this non-athlete from the age of 5 through graduating from the University of Washington. I was the gawkiest, most uncoordinated, all-limbs girl you could imagine, with no designs on being an athlete other than being in the sports world. I satisfied that with jobs at KJR 950 AM and the Sonics but gave up the idea of anything other than being “healthy” through gym time.
When I moved back to Seattle in 2012, I had 16 or 17 half-marathons under my belt. Then I collapsed.
I credit my time in Seattle with some real healing that finally was able to take place, including finding passion for running again. Enjoying some intense hill repeats and speed training on the terrain around town. The peacefulness of running in the pouring rain, feeling powerful in that weather. Three years in a row I ran the Rock ’n’ Rolls in Portland and Seattle, grateful for the Pacific Northwest and it’s unique, gorgeous geography.
I’m excited to again tackle the hills of Seattle, while taking in the mountains surrounding us as we start at the Space Needle and end at CenturyLink Field; celebrating the beauty of the area, expressing gratitude for each step along the course.
Truth is, I still use an inhaler, still am affected by fatigue and joint pain that will halt activity for days. I take a nap after a race 90 percent of the time when everyone else is out celebrating their finish, and still have days where I need the entire day to motivate myself to go for a run. But I’m never down for long nor do I take anything for granted.
You don’t cross 47 ( soon 48) finish lines without learning a thing or two about determination and perseverance. I’ve learned that the power of resilience is the best motivation to go for a run, to get up and try again no matter what is in front of you. I’ve learned how to take that first, sometimes clumsy step over the start line, how to keep each foot moving forward and how to take that last satisfying step over the finish line.
I’ve learned how to be grateful for every step I freely get to take. These half-marathon races are not half-efforts or half-accomplishments, they are full-out experiences I give my whole heart to every time. They are, in a word, enough.
Who would have thought one race could turn into this incredible and generous journey?
Gretchen Schoenstein lives in Sonoma, Calif., where she is a communications and leadership facilitator and coach for Allegory Inc. She is writing a book about her half-marathon journey, “Finish Line Moments”. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @rungrateful
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