Thursday, January 29, 2015

For Runner

Today, I ran for Runner.  Runner Aitken, a sweet boy who passed away last night at the age of 9 from a rare form of pediatric liver cancer.   I learned about Runner a few weeks ago after receiving our local Fleet Feet newsletter.  The St. Louis Track Club has an annual Winter race series, called the Frostbite Series, and the next race in the series was set to take place the next day, Saturday, January 10th.  What made this particular race so special was that it was an opportunity to grant Runner's wish to run in a race with his dad, Mike.

Runner was born with a rare genetic seizure disorder and from the time he was born, his dad would push him in a jogging stroller and take him on runs.  It was an opportunity for father and son to bond, but it was also very therapeutic for Runner when he become immobile.  In late 2014,  Runner was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric liver cancer and his wish was to go to Disneyworld to run a race with his Dad.  Unfortunately, Runner's declining health made it impossible for him to travel to Disney, so Make-a-Wish Missouri and the St. Louis Track Club decided to bring the race to him!

Mike and Runner were going to participate in the 20K race that Saturday and runners and spectators alike were encouraged to wear green in support of liver cancer.  Make-a-Wish was also organizing cheering sections for Runner and I felt compelled to go cheer on this sweet boy who had been given so much to handle, especially considering that my Dad had fought liver cancer, too.

I made a few posters that night for Runner (note to self: use stronger paper and/or poster board when making signs.  On windy winter days, regular paper is fickle and bendy) and Nick and I set out the next morning to cheer Runner on.  It was bitterly cold, but we bundled up, accessorized with some green items, and made our way to the park.

Wearing green and ready to cheer on Runner!

Nick was a bit cold, but super excited to get a cowbell from a sweet stranger to help cheer Runner on!
Snuggling to stay warm
Mike and Runner #inspiring
We were able to get to the starting line at the perfect time, right before Mike said a few words thanking everyone for their support.  We cheered them at the starting line and since the course was actually several loops around the park we saw them two more times.  There was quite a good crowd of spectators for Runner, which was really awesome.

Nick and I started to feel the effects of the cold and since Nick had a Scouting field trip that morning, we needed to head out, so unfortunately we didn't get to see Mike and Runner cross the finish line.  
Here is a great story about Runner and Mike's race, though, which was featured on one of our local news stations.  We had a really great time cheering them on, though, and Runner really left an impression on Nick and I.  

I began following Runner's journey on his Facebook page and Nick would often ask me about Runner.  I kept him updated although as Runner's health deteriorated over the past week or so, it was a bit difficult figuring out the best way to explain it to him.  Nick, of course, was aware of my Dad's illness and passing, but it's hard to explain to a 7 year old that someone just a bit older than he is also facing the same difficult illness.  I told him a few days ago that Runner wasn't doing well and was beginning his journey to Heaven and he told me that he would keep Runner and his family in his prayers.  I've said it before, but I'll say it again, Nick always amazes me with his compassion and empathy and it is one of my favorite things about him.  Tonight, after I told him Runner passed away, he gave me a hug and said "I bet Bebaw [my dad] is showing Runner around Heaven."  Yes, sweet boy, I'm sure he is!

I can't even begin to imagine the pain and heartache that Mike, Julie (Runner's mom), and Dash (his little brother who is about Jack's age) are feeling right now.  On the one hand, Runner isn't in pain anymore and is at peace, but speaking from experience, I know how little that can help when you are grieving.  It is truly amazing, though, to see the impact that Runner had in his short life.  He donated a small portion of his skin a few days ago to help scientists research his genetic disorder, his corneas were donated upon his passing, and he inspired so many people with his strength in the face of such difficult circumstances.

I planned to go for a run at lunch today, but I really didn't want to go.  The howling wind woke me up several times this morning and it was cold.  I just didn't want to go and was thinking of just about any excuse to not go.  Then I thought of Runner and how much he loved to run with his Dad.  I thought of how sad his Dad might be on his next run, but also about how now Runner was surely running free. I thought of Runner's determination and strength and so I put on my running clothes and laced up my shoes.

It wasn't my fastest run, nor was it the most euphoric run, but it was a therapeutic run.  I saw a cardinal on a grassy field about a mile into my run and it reminded me of Runner spreading his wings and soaring in Heaven.  I took a different route through the park and ran by the Korean War Memorial that my Dad and I visited almost 8 years ago.  A place that I hadn't been to since that visit and frankly, I forgot existed.  I went over to visit the memorial again and sat on a bench for a few minutes just thinking about my Dad.  I honestly felt his presence for just a minute, as if he was sitting on the bench with me.  It was a gloomy, chilly afternoon, so I didn't stay too long at the memorial, but it was a nice moment.

The cardinal that reminded me of Runner

Having a moment at the Korean War Memorial

I'm really glad I went out for a run; it was really good to reflect a bit and remember two special people who left large footprints on the hearts of so many.

Rest in peace, sweet Runner.

"God saw you getting tired and a cure was not to be. So He put His arms around you and whispered 'Come to Me.'"

Monday, January 26, 2015

Looking forward, not back

This post has been a long time in the making and I wish I could say it was because I have been busy or otherwise occupied.  While those things are true, in reality, I have put off writing this post out of embarrassment and it has taken me awhile to get to a place where I feel comfortable posting it and have accepted where I am and where I'm going.

I have obviously been seriously neglecting my blog over the past month and even going as far back as the past 6 months or so, I was sporadic with my postings.  I wasn't in a good place with my weight or my running and I felt like the blog was becoming monotonous with frequent refrains of "I didn't run today" or "I need to get back on track and get in the zone with exercise and eating."  It seemed easier to avoid blogging and the reality that my weight loss and my running had become virtually nonexistent in my life.  That is the exact opposite, though, of what my intentions with this blog were.

When I started blogging in June 2013, I set out to document this journey; all of it.  The good, the bad, and the ugly, because let's face it, it isn't easy.  There will be good days and bad days, just like in life.  I wanted to give an honest, raw look at my own personal journey to hold myself accountable and to perhaps inspire someone like me, who never thought they could run or lose weight and keep it off to do just that.  

When I started this journey on January 5th, 2013, I weighed 286.2 lbs, which I hate seeing in print (still makes me cringe), but I finally published the number on the blog because it was important for me to be transparent and as much as it mortifies me, it's part of me and my story.  For a time, weight fell off of me and it was exhilarating.  My clothes were fitting better and eventually began to hang off of me, resulting in some new clothes and donating my bigger clothes.

I was in my zone with an indestructible willpower.  Yes, I let myself have occasional treats, but generally speaking, I was eating well, tracking my food, and working out (running and cross-training) on a very regular basis.  My running, which started out at a snail's pace, consistently improved both in pace and endurance.  I felt invincible, probably never more so than the day I crossed the finish line of my first 10K in October of 2013.  That day nothing could bring me down.  I was on top of the world and euphoric because I knew that day that I could do anything I set my mind to.  It was also that autumn that I reached my lowest weight in well over a decade.  I weighed in at 221.7 lbs in November 2013, a 64.5 weight loss from just 10 months before.  I was in striking distance of my short-term weight loss goal of 200 lbs and my long-term goal weight of 180 lbs.

I wish I could pinpoint what changed and where I lost my willpower.  I think it is a combination of things; this month marks the 1 year anniversary of my Dad getting sick leading to his death last March.  Dealing with his illness, his passing, and subsequent post-funeral necessities (some of which I still haven't fully resolved, like thank you notes to everyone whose kindness I can't repay.  I figure I have a year window, right??) affected more than I could have imagined.  I knew it wouldn't be easy, but nothing prepares you for the loss of a parent, especially so quickly and unexpectedly.

I am still grieving and trying to process his death, which I guess is to be expected given that it hasn't quite been a year yet, but even after the initial, immediate shock of his death passed, I still felt in a slump.  I knew in my heart and mind that I could get back on track, but did I really want to?  The rational answer is "Yes! Of course you do, you want to be healthy and be a good role model for your boys, you want to feel good, you want to get to your goal weight!"  However, the grieving Laura (and not the invincible Lovely Laura) who is dealing with her own mortality in light of her Dad's passing is saying "It was such hard work losing all that weight in the first place.  Life is short; enjoy your boys when they are little, eat ice cream when you want, live life to the fullest."  

Living life to the fullest for me the past few months has been not focusing on my physical health.  I do feel like I have been focusing on my mental though, which has meant spending more time with the boys and taking a little (long?) break from blogging and the internet in general.  Most nights lately, I haven't even turned my computer on after getting home from work, which isn't necessarily a bag thing, but it does not bode well for blogging!

Now onto the part of this post that is the hardest for me to type.  As of yesterday, my weight is 259.7 lbs.  My thoughts on this are as follows:

  1. Complete and utter frustrations.  That is entirely too close to my starting weight and I'll be damned if I am ever going to weigh 286 lbs again.  
  2. This means I have gained back almost 40 lbs from when I was at my lowest weight.  (There is a string of expletives exploding in my head right now, but I will spare you from reading said thoughts).
  3. Looking at this from a glass half full point of view, I still have managed to lose (and keep) 26.5 lbs over the past two years.  Silver lining?  I'm trying to look at it that way.  It's hard.  Really hard. 
While we are at the hard stuff, I'll throw this out there:  my running has suffered from my weight gain and from lack of consistent training.  I have reverted back to run/walk intervals and believe me, there is absolutely nothing (nothing!) wrong with run/walk intervals, but my mind is having a hell of a time reconciling that I ran a 10K in its entirety and I feel like I am back where I started when I first started running.  I feel that way, because I am essentially back where I started and I am starting to see that maybe that isn't a bad thing.  
I received a newsletter from our local Fleet Feet stores in early January and I always enjoy Amy Marxkors articles, because I feel like she gets in my head and she knows exactly what to tell me when I need to hear it.  Her article from January 5th ("The Thing About Looking Back") was no different as she spoke about looking back, both in the context of being a race (looking back to see where other runners are in relation to you can cause you to miss what is in front of you, such as dangerous conditions or obstacles) and in life.  This paragraph jumped out at me and I felt like Amy was saying to me "Laura, are you reading this?"

"But looking back can be a tricky thing, because there are two kinds of looking back.  One centers on remembering.  The other, on regret.  The former is healthy.  The latter is crippling.  With the former, you can move on, wiser and stronger.  With the latter, you can't move on at all."  

Wow!  I still get goosebumps reading that quote and believe me, I've read it over and over.  Remembering vs. regretting.  Healthy vs. crippling.  You can move on, wiser and stronger vs. not moving on at all.  

Not only does this speak to me in regards to my running and weight loss but also to my grief about my Dad.  I need to remember the time I had with my Dad and the time he had with my boys instead of drowning in regret about the things he will miss and the things we didn't get to do together.  I need to remember that life is short and to enjoy every moment instead of being terrified and living in fear that everything I know can change in a blink of an eye.  I need to look back on the past two years and remember that I can do anything I put my mind to in regards to weight loss and running instead of constantly beating myself up about where I am now.  I know what works for me and I know how to be successful.  It's time to learn from past successes and focus on today, where I am right now.  

I think this is probably the most difficult post I've written and it brought me to tears.  Not sad tears necessarily, just tears of acceptance and resolve.  So thank you for reading if you've made it this far!

I feel like there is much to update you on, but I think this is enough for tonight!  I hope that your 2015 has started off full of promise and much happiness! 

I think another one of Amy's quotes from the article above is a fitting sign-off for tonight's post.

"Life is too exciting and wonderful to waste looking over your shoulder. Look in the direction you’re moving. All the best stuff is in front of you."