Saturday, February 28, 2015


The title of this post says it all: Ben and I did it! After months of hard work, we ran the Coldest 5K in 29:20! This was a personal record for me, including all of my training runs. The satisfaction of at last completing that goal was extremely sweet, and I was happy to earn that medal for Megan Sauer, Ben's little sister. The medal and race bib were both mailed yesterday. (In case you're worried about Ben's twin brother Jack, he has already received his medal from the January race.)

I have to say a word here about the great friends that I have. I woke up the morning of the race feeling sick with anxiety. A bitter cold front had come through in the middle of the night, and the wind was expected to come from the north at about 20-25mph at the time of the race. Icy precipitation was expected at any time, and race time wasn't until 2PM. Oh, how I would have loved to have had that race over with early in the morning, instead of thinking about my strategy, the cold, and my potential failure all morning long--not to mention watching what I ate and drank so that I wouldn't get side stitches! It was impossible to stay down for too long though, with all of my friends texting their encouragement. That morning, I got pep talks from BJ, my sister Christa, and my friends Sommer and Angie, and I got texts of encouragement from four other friends who remembered that I had a big race that day! One of those friends PR'd in her own half-marathon that morning, which was very encouraging to me as well! So, with friends filling me to the brim, BJ and I left our boys with his parents and drove to the race, listening to music and pepping each other up the whole time. Just when I started getting butterflies again, BJ would muse something such as, "Do you suppose I could win the whole race if I drove half of it at highway speed?" Once we arrived, we got ready inside the van and didn't leave until just about the last possible moment. After we took our places up near the start line, I daresay my husband stood just to the left of me and used me as a windbreaker for the remaining two minutes before gun time.


After the gun fired, I took off and tried to not think about the cold anymore. Fortunately, it was easy not to because instead I became worried about my energy level, which seemed a little low. My mouth was very dry, despite chewing gum, and I became worried that I hadn't hydrated enough. I was quickly eating BJ's dust trail and I didn't see him again until we high-fived as he was coming back the opposite direction. Despite my concerns, I felt at ease when I clocked in my first mile at 9:11. I maintained that pace and turned to come back the other direction at the halfway point at 14:28. I knew at that point that I was looking pretty good and had some play time in case I needed to slow down. Still, I saw no reason to take anything for granted. No side stitches at that point yet, but I was actively engaging in my preemptive side-stitch removal technique to try to keep them from popping up at all.

The second half was more into the wind, but I don't think this really impacted me much. I didn't seem to notice the wind too much at all. At that point I began taking good notice of the runners around me. Ahead of me were a father and son, the boy looking to be about 8 years old. I immediately thought of Ben and made my best efforts to keep this boy in my line of sight as motivation. At one point he dropped his hat, and as he stopped to retrieve it I came up right beside him and we ran side-by-side for a little bit before he sprinted up ahead again to his dad, who was looking back for him. This little boy was kind of a visceral reminder on that race course for me, and I was pleased that he did cross the finish line in front of me. The other person I took special notice of was a gal about my age who was running quite a bit faster than me, although she kept stopping to take walking breaks. In doing so, we leapfrogged each other several times. Finally on about the fourth time I passed her, I lightly slapped her shoulder on my way by and said, "You got this, girl. Come on!" A second later she caught up with me and, without speaking about it, we compromised on speed. I sped up my pace, which had fallen a bit, in order to keep up with her, and she slowed down a little bit--probably to keep herself from having to walk again. She and I ran side by side without looking at each other for two or three minutes before we began talking intermittently. We each had earphones in so I'm not sure how much we heard each other, but I know that she mostly ranted about the weather ("I can't believe we're running a 5K in this FREAKING COLD!") and I mainly shared jubilation about upcoming downhill portions of the course ("Downhill is coming! I see it!"). We each stopped once to walk, for about five to ten seconds each time, and the other stopped and walked as well. I found that she was the one keeping me in it at that point. This isn't to say that I was going to stop the race or anything; it is merely to say that my on-target pace was continuing because I found the energy to run with her, and when she stopped to walk my resolve quickly began disappearing as well. After five seconds on our last walking break, I shouted, "Enough. It's time to go." We both began running again and didn't look back. As we neared the finish, she had the energy to sprint a little ahead; she finished in front of me by five or so seconds and then turned around to high-five me, and I felt I had made a new friend. I saw her a couple of minutes after the finish and I thanked her, but never got her name.

As I crossed the finish line, BJ (who had finished in 25:07!!) screamed my name and was taking video of the glorious finish. I remember checking my watch as I crossed, but didn't look beyond the first two numbers: 29. That was all I needed to see. Mission accomplished! I walked on a little bit, completely out of breath and nauseated, and stopped to look at the river and cry a minute for Ben, who saw me through this goal from the very start, when my finishing times exceeded 40 minutes.

Thank you, Ben.

Olympic Gold may not have felt much better to me!

Megan, Kate, and Jack Sauer

 In what Sommer described as "true Jenny fashion," I have determined new goals and am ready to begin working toward them now. My next two goals will focus more on distance than speed. This year for the Memorial Marathon Relay in April I have volunteered to take the long, lakeside leg, which will be 12K (7.5ish miles) in length. I have never run that far before, but my long training runs are already about five miles in length, so it can be accomplished if I just begin recalibrating my distances. Of course, why stop there? I have long desired to run a half marathon, just to say that I have done it, and by the time I am able to run 7.5 miles I will be well over halfway there. I could begin downshifting my runs back to 5K distance after the relay, but if I'm willing to put a couple more months of hard work in, I could keep increasing distance and surprise myself by running a half marathon in June. This is what I have decided to try. Sommer ran a half marathon for Owen the month before he passed away, and I have to admit that I have wanted to dedicate the same effort for him. Today, then, I'll go ahead and just publicly put it out there--a half marathon for Owen in June. First thing's first though: Ben's baby sister Kate also needs a medal, so I better crank up my distances and fully earn one at the Memorial Marathon Relay in April. As always, my portion of the relay race will also be dedicated to a child who lost a life during the Oklahoma City Bombing. This year I have chosen six-month-old Lee Gottschall. One of my greatest honors all year is walking from the finish line to the memorial and tying my race bib to the chair of a little sweet angel.

There is ALWAYS someone to run for, so run I will.

Friday, February 20, 2015


On July 1, 2014, I wrote a blog post that stated my newest running goal: running a 5K in 29:59 or less, and honoring Ben Sauer's memory in doing so. Training runs don't count; it has to be in a race. Originally I had hoped to meet that time goal at a November race, but a stomach bug just prior to the race set me back a long way, and I ended up finishing in 31:44. In December I tried again and made a 20-second improvement (31:24), but was on antibiotics for a throat infection and once again wasn't able to gut it out. In January, I tried yet again and shaved off another minute (30:22). My February race is scheduled two days from now, and I've decided that this has to be the day that I finally conquer that time goal. It's going to be about flippin' time.

In the above-mentioned July post, I wrote these words:

Jogging, for me, is an act of spiritual unification with other people. That sounds really weird, I know, but really and truly, I find myself connecting to humanity in strange ways when I am grunting out my efforts into a jog. It's suddenly like everyone everywhere is my friend, and my sense of being joined to others becomes rich and complicated. This is why I always dedicate races and running goals to other people; it instills within me a sense of thanksgiving for other people in this life. 

I have spent months now running for Ben, and after re-reading these words tonight, I have never believed these words to be truer. Running for Ben has become a thing of the past. Instead, I now feel like I run with Ben. It's a funny feeling, to feel as though you are coming to know someone that you never really knew, but I have truly enjoyed focusing on this sweet five-year-old boy and what he must have been like. I have my own little boy who is 362 days younger than Ben was, so in many ways I can imagine some similarities. To add fuel to my already-flaming fire, Ben's mother Mindy personally contacted me last week and shared a heartfelt message. Her kind affirmation of my efforts has brought me to tears each time I read our correspondence, and I want more than ever now to beat this race clock!

I recently switched up a lot of songs on my running playlist, and I added Sia's "Chandelier" and put it near the beginning. I have never had a song give me more energy than this particular song, and it shows when I run. The other day I finished a five-mile run on a long day, and the last 11 minutes of that run were spent playing that song on repeat. When it plays, my sagging energy suddenly bursts, my arms start pumping on the "1-2-3" line, and I just want to sing out loud (okay, sometimes I do if I'm outside and no one is around). I've even adapted the beginning lyrics to make it work for me by substituting "party" with "running."

Running girls don't get hurt
Can't feel anything, when will I learn?
Push it down, push it down.

I tell myself all the time when I'm running, it doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt. Then, when I'm deep into a run and I'm truthful and can acknowledge that it does indeed hurt, I put on Pink's "Try," and keep running hard to her words, "Just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die. You gotta get up and try and try and try." Then, when it's all going down and my body tells me I should just stop running and give up because who cares anyway, I turn on Sia--over and over again, apparently. I have a feeling that her song will pop up two or three times on Sunday when we set a new personal record. (Note my positive thinking.)

Five or six times now I have easily beat the 30-minute mark in training. Other times it hasn't been so easy and I cut it very close, like today when I did my final training run before Sunday's race and I clocked in at 29:56. I won't kid myself; I know it's going to be close on Sunday, and the potential for winter precipitation doesn't make matters any easier. Nor will the promised 20-mph winds. It's okay. All I can do is the best I can do, and I think my best will be good enough this time. I've shaved ten full minutes off my time since I first set this goal, and I'm continually going faster and faster, fast as I can for Ben. Fast as I can with Ben. "I'm gonna [run] like tomorrow doesn't exist."

The Sia video, in case you haven't checked it out. The girl in the video can dance.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Impostor

I don't know if you were in the "popular" crowd in high school, but I really wasn't. I was on the pom squad, which was sort of a "popular" group, but I was the happy nerd on the pom squad. I was the one who was granted the "Albert Einstein Award" at the year-end pom banquet, and my 4.67 grade-point-average seemed to be my claim to fame on the squad. Through and through, I was really an Honors kid and I belonged with the Honors crowd, but I also spent time with the pom girls because I could do a switch-leap and a triple pirouette. While I had good friends on the squad and am still good friends with some of those ladies today, my true place of comfort was with the Honors kids. In that sense, I never really had a place with the popular crowd to which most of the pom girls belonged. It sort of felt like 'us' and 'them.' Not 'us' versus 'them,' because there was no animosity from either side. It was just that there was us, and then there was them.

Recently I have become acquainted with the idea of the "impostor syndrome."   Basically, the idea of the impostor syndrome is that a person finds it impossible to internalize their own success and believe that they could actually be responsible for it. Instead, they attribute their success to luck or some other outside factor. Though they may appear confident on the outside, when they look around they do so with a fear that somehow their incompetence will be exposed for all to see, and suddenly everyone will realize that they don't really know what they're doing. Research indicates that most people, 70 percent actually, feel like an impostor at one point or another in their lives. I know that when many of my colleagues and I were doing our pre-doctoral internships, we often felt like impostor therapists--that we were acting like therapists with real clients, but with no real knowledge of what we were doing and a real insecurity that we were unintentionally ripping people off. Our clients thought they were coming to see therapists, but what they were really getting was just us! The truth was, we actually did know what we were doing, but we were just scared shitless. Statistics pretty much indicate that at every work place, at least one person walking around feels like they don't deserve to be there and that their colleagues are infinitely more qualified than they are. They probably also think they are the only ones that feel this way, but in fact many of their colleagues feel the same way that they do.

While I have briefly felt like an impostor in both my career and in parenthood (you should have seen me freaking out on the drive home from the hospital with newborn Silas! "What if we accidentally kill him? Don't they know that we don't know what we're doing?!?!"), the main place in life where I feel like an impostor is in my running. As you likely well know, I sign up frequently for races, and at every race I feel like it's me and them. They're the real runners, and I'm the joker who has no idea what she has gotten herself into. I find myself at starting lines waiting for the gun and scanning the runners around me, wondering which ones will beat me and if there are any that I think I can finish in front of. The latter group is much smaller comparably, at least in my mind. The judgments that I make are generally based on foolish nonsense, such as how nice their shoes are, what their postures are, and how close they position themselves to the starting line. If they have nice gear or awesome legs or a water bottle strapped to their backs, I think, "Oh, crap on a stick." Anxiety kicks in and I often begin questioning myself; I think, 'These people are real runners, and I'm still just not cutting it." I may look the part, but my true folly will be exposed once the gun sounds. I've told myself things like "When I can run a 5K in 30 minutes," or "When I can run four miles," then I'll call myself a runner. Then I'll really be one of them.

It's perfectly ridiculous when I say it aloud and type it out. Of course I'm one of 'them.' As I've grown over the last six months and become a stronger and faster runner, I have cheated myself out of a really cool identity, one that I earned the first moment I ever decided to strap on my shoes.

I cheated myself out of letting myself think I was a runner.

What I've learned in only the past two weeks is the ridiculously simple truth that you're a runner when you run. Get this: when you run at all--even a little bit--you're a runner. You don't have to earn membership into that crowd with prescribed times, distances, or training. Most of those runners never thought I didn't belong. If they thought of me at all, they probably saw me as a fellow runner. What I've even learned is that probably many of them looked around at the rest of us with the same sense of anxiety as I did, feeling like an impostor at the race.

Recently I have hit a lot of those prescribed marks that I burdened myself with as an entry into the supposedly-elite class of runners: now I can run a 5K in 30 minutes. Now I can run four miles. Now I consistently finish in the top half of all racers and in the top quarter of all females in my age group. I'm a stronger runner than I was when I first started, but I'm no more of a runner now than I was then. I still want my goals just as badly, and I still get side stitches sometimes trying to get to them. Why in the world did I ever think I had to earn my way in? I already belonged.

Here's what I say. You run well on the elliptical? Great! You're a runner. You like the treadmill better, or the outside hills, or the trail, or the neighborhood sidewalks? Fantastic! You're a runner! You run in cotton t-shirts instead of techy gear? Awesome. You're a runner. You run half a mile each time you go out? Yup, you're a runner. Sign up for a 5K, and ask me to run with you, and I will join you. Why? Because we're both runners, and that's what runners do. There is no "us" and "them." When you strap on your shoes (which I really shouldn't say because some people run barefoot and we can't exclude them!) and start putting one foot in front of the other, there is only "us."

That's totally you and me, happy because we're runners!

Yup, we kicked butt, because we're runners!