As we prepare for the holidays, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and busyness of our everyday lives. Amidst gift buying, family get-togethers, and traditions, we often lose sight of what we’re thankful for.
By now, it’s no secret that practicing gratitude allows our brains to release serotonin and dopamine—two “feel good” chemicals that positively impact mood, willpower, and motivation. Regularly practicing gratitude strengthens our neural pathways and rewires our brains to focus on what’s going well versus what isn’t. Whether going for a gratitude run or writing down a list of things you’re thankful for, we hope you can take some time to slow down and reflect. Here are three RADs on what they are most grateful for in their running journey.
After many diagnostic tests and seeing seven different medical specialists, my younger brother finally got the answer he had been looking for as to why his legs kept giving out. It was not a sciatic issue as initially suspected, and he was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s Disease at age 33. We were grateful to have an answer and to get him started on the correct medications, but it was bittersweet knowing I wasn’t able to help as much as I would have liked.
I researched to find out what I could do, and learned the Parkinson Foundation Western Pennsylvania had a charity team for the Pittsburgh Marathon. My brother was a previous runner himself, so I felt this was a great way to help give back.
Even though the 2020 Pittsburgh Marathon was cancelled, I ran virtually on World Parkinson’s Day and completed my first half marathon. My parents made signs for the start, halfway mark, and finish line. I loved having a ribbon to cross; it was such a thoughtful gesture for my first ever half!
When the race was cancelled again in 2021, I kept my commitment to run for a reason and once again ran the half marathon virtually around our hometown on World’s Parkinson’s Day to support my brother.
I guess you can say I caught the running bug. I hit a 5K, 10K, and half PR in 2023. I even started running trail races this past summer. I’m currently training for my fourth half and hoping for another PR. I’ve made so many friends throughout the Pittsburgh running community, and even more RAD friends online!
What began as a charity race became a fun hobby and remains a challenge for me. I continue to run for those who cannot, and think about my brother during each race. He’s my biggest motivation to run fast and strong!
I was a few months shy of turning 52. I hated to sweat. My go-to shoes were heels. I never left the house without makeup. Then in May of 2009, my son graduated from college. I was a complete empty nester. Something was missing in my life. “Now what?”
Maybe I should take up running? When I made the announcement, my husband and son laughed. “Sure!!! We can’t see you keeping it up.” I have a truly supportive family, but their doubt fueled my desire to prove them wrong.
I began to run a block, then two. One mile became three…then six. One day, my son said, “Mom, why don’t you try running a 10K race?” Awesome! There’s a race in September. I have a goal now. I trained every day. Sweat? No problem!
Finally, it was race day. It was a popular road race in the suburbs of Atlanta. Without any kind of expectations, I took off. When I finished, I felt good. And even better when I found out I got 2nd AG and was given a medal. I never turned back.
From the fall of 2009, I woke up at 4am every weekday to get 5 miles in before I reported to work as a school teacher. I started entering road and trail races. The distance went from 10K to half marathons. Then one day, I decided to train for a full marathon. My finish time was slow. When I crossed the finish line, I vowed never to run a marathon again. I changed my mind the next day.
I started dreaming that I wanted to qualify for Boston. Hah! Crazy! In the meantime, trail running became my love. In 2012, I went to Hawaii for the XTERRA Trail World Championship. And to my surprise, I got first AG. The following year, I won XTERRA Nationals AG in Utah. People who knew me as an adult started looking at me as a darn good runner.
During my second ever marathon, my pacer scoffed at me for wanting to qualify for Boston. She told me it wasn’t going to happen. I was crestfallen, but there is something about being told you can’t do it. The following year, I tried again. This time, I had the most amazing pacer. In March of 2013, I qualified for Boston! It was an unbelievable feeling. I was pumped to register for Boston 2014 that September. By the time registration opened in the fall, the number of qualifiers exceeded the race field. A cutoff time was set and I did not make it in. The following year, I BQd again. And when I registered, I still did not make the cut. By then, I was emotionally broken to keep trying. So, I decided to take a break from running marathons.
In 2017, I ran another marathon and qualified for Boston! The third time was the charm! That fall, I finally received the coveted email that I will be running Boston 2018! The conditions were unbelievably brutal that morning. Torrential rain, hail, sleet, and wind. But nothing was going to stop me from finishing the race. On Boylston Street, I found my husband and son in the crowd cheering me on. Whatever they said in 2009 to tease me, they were my biggest cheerleaders.
Running gave me the opportunity be part of this amazing group as a RADrabbit. This is my third year as a RAD and I am so thankful for our community. I learn so much from this group. Some people are destined to be a runner from a young age. For me, I chose my destiny.
Picture this: a fresh-faced college graduate who has just moved back home and in with mom. She has a job and while she is glad to be back in Arlington, she seems to have lost her friend base over the last four years. She thinks she is in great shape at 22, tells her mom and friends that they are INSANE for marathon training, and hesitantly decides to join mom at the local fun run just to meet some people. Boy was she wrong about being in shape, and that fun run changed the trajectory of her life.
My mom was the mother of our running group. The ages of runners ranged between the two of us so it was easy to make friends without feeling like the young one or like I was hanging out with my moms friends as a third wheel. Mama Blair as she came to be known got me into running and I didn’t look back. I found a community, a family, and the best support group anyone could ask for – at races, the running store, and at home. Once I realized these friends would be friends for life, I couldn’t stop running. Running was our connection and what kept us seeing each other regularly. We would run and go to happy hour or run and go to brunch. There weren’t many activities at that point where running wasn’t part of the agenda.
I didn’t know at the time that running would become my identity. It was quite the roller coaster to be a new and slow runner back then. It took a while to be able to say “I’m a running” because everyone seemed to be faster and running marathons like they were just another easy run. But once I accepted my fate, it wasn’t long before I was signed up for my first marathon just a year later. I remember every milestone – my first half-marathon, my first ten-miler, my first 20 mile long run. All of it. Finally when I crossed the Marine Corps Marathon finish line I could say wow, I think I’m a runner now.
Most of my runner friends have stepped away from running – and some have come back – but I’m so thankful that we have each other still and they are just great friends not needing a “runner” preface. When my mom died, the outpouring of love and support from our local running community and store was overwhelming. I think in the back of my mind I knew that she had been part of something bigger but I didn’t put it together until the memorial service that our store hosted for us. The thought has crossed my mind of “what if I’m just not a runner anymore” when I finish a marathon and then I laugh because what would I do for fun?! What would challenge me?! Who would run for my mom who can’t anymore?
Running has given me more than I think I’ll ever truly know but I will always be thankful for this community and my mom, who made me the person I am and the runner I came to be.
“You should join the track team”—six words that would change how I would predominantly move my body through exercise, talk to myself, and even identify.
I had changed schools after my mom remarried so myself and my stepsisters would all attend the same private middle school, and during one of my first gym classes we established a fitness baseline by doing some basic movements—quick sprints, toe-touch, jumping as far as we could (then as high as we could), sit-ups, pushups, etc. My gym teacher was also the coach for the junior high and high school track and cross-country teams. Some of his favorite mottos were: “this isn’t brain surgery”, and my personal favorite (usually announced from the middle of the basketball court as he was standing and we were running along the perimeter), “you will run until I get tired”. I had grown up dabbling in many different sports, including ballet, figure skating, and after-school karate class, but the only familiarity with track (sprinting events more specifically) I’d had was being gifted a Flo-Jo Barbie doll by my mom as she told me about the amazing runner she’d been modeled after. So, I felt an odd sensation of being “chosen” as if for greatness or celebrity—like my teacher saw some spark nobody else had—when he uttered those words.
Looking back, I’m not certain whether I was picked out simply because he needed more kids on the team, or if he really did see something special. Regardless, thus began a relationship between myself and the track… and later the treadmill and the road and trails, that would evolve from a means to stay “fit” to a way to relieve stress and anxiety, to most recently the most rewarding and personally fulfilling way I heal, sort through life’s BS, and meet (without exaggeration) THE best and most wonderful people I have the privilege to call friends.
My running journey has been lifelong, and for that I’m grateful. And even though it’s been a lifelong journey, with “gently rolling hills”, I can’t say I’ve always identified as a runner. Growing up, “runners” were lithe, godlike creatures that make it look easy—and when they didn’t, somehow made suffering look like glory. Being basically the exact opposite build of a young woman didn’t lend itself to seeing a runner in the mirror, even considering my accomplishments as a sprinter—especially when even then, my accomplishments were far from celebrated, as my collection of 5th place ribbons far outweighed the one blue ribbon I ever got. My years of sprinting and suffering through the mile-long runs we did as part of track and gym practice had me convinced I would never, could never, be someone that ran weekend 5k’s. And marathons? Ultras? You’ve gotta be kidding me.
Fast forward 20-some years, and I’m signed up for my first 5k, panicking over the 2-mile long run I have over the weekend. That 5k was far from pretty. I walked a lot. But the bug had bitten, and shortly thereafter, I was signed up for a 10k, then a 10-miler, a half-marathon, and yes—my first full marathon. It took only a couple years before I signed up for a 50k, then the Dopey Challenge, and I’m proud to say that this year’s NYC Marathon will be my 10th.
Never sell yourself short. Your past does not define your present or your future, it merely informs your decisions forward. No matter my pace, my weight, my gender, or my age, I am a runner. My miles are the same as the elites, even if they’re more than twice as long. I know I’ve made that mid-high track team me proud, and will never tire of sprinting as fast as I can toward the finish— and that’s ultimately what matters.