People go through life thinking they are a certain way, and it is not until they endure life-changing experiences that they realize they can be so much more. That happened to me recently. I ran the Miami Marathon and the woman that crossed the start line was not the same that ran over the finish line. Before I get to share my transformation, allow me to give you some running-related background that set the grounds for the new me.
April 2005. My first experience with running was because of Alain, who ran the Corporate Run every year. I joined him when his bank sponsored our participation, but when they dropped this expense, my handsome and athletic hubby didn’t hesitate to create the Alain Guerra, Inc. This new “corporation” that only operated one Thursday of the year, sponsored our tent-less space by a tree in Bayfront Park. Our spot consisted of a table, a couple of chairs, a well-stocked cooler and some yummy treats that included the perfect post workout meal: fried chicken. The run was just an excuse to gather with friends every year and take a beating when my hubby would take off and leave me behind because I just couldn’t keep up. After all, I was no runner! It didn’t matter; it was still a lovely tradition!
January 24, 2009. Alain and I had been married for over two years and were expecting our first baby when our brother, Frank Peña, invited us to go see him as he completed his first marathon. He had been a “boring” friend for a few months because he couldn’t drink and always had to leave early from our Friday evening events for his early morning long runs. That’s all I knew about training for a marathon! Frankie invited us to witness his accomplishment and we were honored to watch him cross that finish line! But honestly, I didn’t really get it at the time. I just thought it was CRAZY and absolutely amazing that someone could run for almost five hours straight. I felt proud of Frankie for accomplishing that, but not for a second did I feel inspired to try it myself. In fact, Alain asked me in the car on the way home if I ever wanted to do a marathon and I responded with a sturdy “NO!” Alain asked, “Why?” and I proudly responded, “I can’t do it. I’m not a runner”. I remember the feeling of pride I felt about my answer. I had been humble and capable of acknowledging my own limitations. I was a confident woman with many virtues and talents, but running for five hours wasn’t one of them!!! I sensed that Alain was also proud of my response when he said that most people wouldn’t admit to it
August 25, 2013 my life ended…for a second, but it ended. I lost her and lost myself. Who was I without my daughter? How was I going to survive her loss? I vividly remember my death. I was in the hospital -THAT day- standing by the stretcher that held her little lifeless body. The excruciating pain I felt penetrated my bones, my organs, my heart, and my mind. It clouded any possible ray of hope. It was the end for me. I wanted to die with her. And it was like I did. You die when you lose hope, you know?
But God DID NOT want to take ME yet.
Right there, as I prayed incessantly for THE miracle and witnessed the medical staff do the impossible to grant it to me, I heard HIM. HE said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” God speaks to me in Spanish, and when you hear that verse (Phil 4:13) in my primary language, it sounds more like “you’re going to be okay no matter what”. Hence, that clearly suggested that my miracle was not going to happen. What I didn’t know was that other miracles were in the making… some of which had to do with running.
November 9, 2014. I ran a half marathon in honor of my beloved daughter. Just kidding! It was more like a .38 half marathon or .19 full (5 miles). After reconnecting with my lovely ex-roommate and friend, Claudia, I started hearing about her running endeavors. I mentioned that at times I had considered the possibility of adding a HALF marathon to my bucket list (not sure if this was true or if it was just the thing to say). She didn’t hesitate to jump at it and suggest that we do the half relay in Ft. Lauderdale in honor of my daughter, where I would only do 5 miles and she would do the other 8. Five didn’t sound like much at the time, so I was excited to accept with an enthusiastic “Absolutely!
Five is not much when you talk about fingers, french fries, or even ex-boyfriends… But when you talk about miles and you’re NOT a runner, FIVE feels like 100!!! Well, it turns out I didn’t train for the half relay because five sounded easy and I swore that I didn’t have to practice running if I worked out regularly and had a healthy physical condition. Not quite! To each their own! If you are running, you practice RUNNING! Needless to say, I was dead! I finished it, but I didn’t feel strong nor did I enjoy what could’ve been a beautiful run along the ocean. But then again, I was no runner!
March 13, 2015. I ran my first half marathon in Puerto Rico with Team Fofi!
One of the many blessings that I have received since my daughter went to Heaven is reconnecting with VIP (literally VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE). My high-school friends (actually, more like “SCHOOL” friends because some of them were with me since Pre-K), had been very empathetic, kind, and compassionate with me after I lost my little princess. Despite the fact that we had disconnected for years because life gets to you (and you let it!), they were THERE. They still are!!! I knew how present they were when a year and a half after the sudden incident, they were planning something BIG to honor my little Fofi and support the foundation that was created in her name (La Fofi’s Rainbow). And if your guess is that it had to do with running, well you’re right! But this time there was no cheating. I had to do the entire HALF; not .38 of it! I hated running, I was breastfeeding (which dehydrates you), I had no spare time, and I had no one to train with here in Miami (my friends live in PR). I made a phone call: “Caro, would you train with me for a half marathon to honor Fofi?” On the other side of the speaker I heard a somewhat intimidated, but firm, “YES!” This was coming from a woman that didn’t run (didn’t even work out, really), had three little kids like mine, didn’t have spare time, worked full time, took care of her dad who was battling cancer, and did not have “run a half marathon” in her bucket list. Why did I call her, then? Well, Caro is a fearless, hard-working, positive, confident, giving, and LOYAL kind of woman. She is a growth and knowledge seeker, she welcomes challenges, and is the kind of person that excels in everything she does because she ALWAYS runs the extra MILE (literally and figuratively). She is also an amazing friend that was truly THERE for me before, during, and after my temporary death. This was no exception. Caro dragged me through the training of my marathon, to which she wasn’t even planning on attending because of her father’s health condition. I can save that story for another day, but know that if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it. Training was a struggle and so was the actual race. This run was a true resemblance of the battles I was encountering at the time, but also a reminder of how much love and support surrounds me. However, I swore to NEVER do it again! I’m NOT a runner, remember?
June 11, 2015. Caro’s old man -her soul mate- completed his journey in this life. Although she took it like a champ and had no regrets because of the extraordinary daughter she was to him, my heart was grieving for her. I needed to do something for her. I wanted to BE THERE for her the same way she was for me when I lost my precious daughter. It turns out that she got into running after our half was over. She was now part of a running group and was considering running again in Miami. Being that she was the one person in this world who truly understood how much I hated running and never wanted to do it again, I figured it was the thing to do. And so I made the phone call again: “Caro, I’m running a half to honor your dad”. This time, the surprised and intimidated one was I when I heard on the other side of the speaker, “I’m thinking about doing the full!”. HOLY COW!!! Do you remember when I mentioned that in running 5 miles felt like 100 miles to me?! MULTIPLY THAT BY 5!!!!! TWENTY SIX, POINT TWO miiiiiiiles! Of course I didn’t commit to it! I said HALF!!! I’m NOT as fearless as Caro, so I told her I’d wait for her at the finish line. She had become a runner, but I was nowhere near that!
August 2, 2015. I read a post on Facebook by my dear friend Esther. She is an inspiration to me when it comes to running as well as living your life as a true Christian. Her post was on the challenges she faced in the San Francisco Marathon, which she had completed that weekend. When I saw her in soccer practice that week, I couldn’t resist asking for more details about her experience. I shared I was running the Miami HALF for Caro’s old man, but at times the thought of completing the full alongside my friend haunted me. I was not a runner. This was just an act of love. Esther offered to send me the blog she wrote on her New York Marathon. She also mentioned she had recently become the running ambassador of the organization Every Mother Counts, which makes childbirth safe for women. She even offered me the opportunity of training with her group while I caught up with Caro, who was way more advanced and WAS a runner.
September 7, 2015. I read Esther’s blog, I went to the Running Store, I bought my sneakers, and I made a phone call: “Caro, I’m in for the FULL!!!!”. Of course, she didn’t waste any time and replied, “See you Saturday at 6am in Pinecrest Gardens!”
September 14, 2015 (Training Day). I didn’t realize how out-of-shape I was after being out of commission for a month due to surgery. In my mind I could totally do at least 5 of the 10 miles Caro was scheduled to complete. And then I remembered I was not a runner. I could barely do three, and even then I had to walk because I was so out of breath. You need to know that when I trained for the half marathon, NEVER ONCE did I allow myself to walk. It was my thing. I felt like a looser if I walked, so even if it seemed like I was running in place because of how exhausted I was, my legs never stopped. HAVING to walk on my FIRST training day was very discouraging.
“I am not a runner”, I thought to myself. But that was about to change. I was not just going to “see Caro at the finish line”. I was going to cross it with her! I HAD to become a runner, and I was going to. You see, we tend to believe that feeling a certain way is the effect of being that way. I feel like a runner because I am a runner. Not necessarily. You can talk yourself into being what you want to become. Whenever I went for a run at the crack of dawn, I heard myself repeat over and over again: “I love running. It is beautiful to be awake so early and witness the sunrise. I enjoy running. I’m healthy and capable. I can do this. I AM A RUNNER…” It wasn’t long before I saw a runner in my mirror!
What are YOU trying to become? Is your conversation with yourself contributing to the change you want to achieve or is it further perpetuating your undesired qualities and behaviors? Are you actively pursuing what you would like to become or are you suffering from paralysis? PUT ON your running shoes and run to that goal that you’re yet to reach!
IF IT IS TO BE… IT IS UP TO ME! –William H Johnsen and Joachim De Posada