Everyone’s journeys are a little different. They’re different in a good way, of course, but different in the end. They have their ups + downs ++ times they turn inside out. Somewhere in between, your journey will hopefully lead you to the answer in discovering who you really are. This story here is my journey through my relationship with running + how I fell in love with it — twice.
It started in high school — high school was a time where everyone seemed like they were kind of just trying to figure out what they were supposed to be doing — me included. My best friend since I can even remember wanted me to join the cross-country team with her + like any best friend would do, I ran alongside her. Both of us played lacrosse together the year before high school started + our coaches wanted us to stay in shape before the spring. I was planning on trying out for the soccer team, but something was pulling me in another direction. Something was telling me I had to do this.
We brought our team from 19th in the state for years to tie for 2nd in just one year. It was incredible. It was life-changing. It was something that bonded the team + made us feel whole. Our top 5 [varsity crew] was forever together, until the end of the season when sophomore year came along.
We’d just started training with the boys’ team. Our practices went from zero-to-one hundred just. like. that. I went from a 14 year-old girl to a 15 year-old competitive varsity athlete between freshman + sophomore year, + that’s when it started to get a lil’ rocky.
I’d been having a lot of trouble with my knees + ankles, but couldn’t pinpoint the problem. There was constant pain no matter how far or fast I ran. Even if I was doing absolutely nothing, the pain wouldn’t stop. After multiple doctor visits that remained inconclusive, we finally came to an answer: I had fractured my lower spine between L3 + L4. With the spine being connected to practically everything, it trickled down into my legs + that’s where the pain came from. The nightmare had officially begun.
The first year our team went to States? I watched from the sidelines. When it was time for indoor track to come around? I never touched the track once. To say that was the worst year of my life is an understatement. I no longer had a place to be. I went to every practice for a while, but I couldn’t do it anymore. It was breaking my heart piece by piece.
I wore a back brace around school + sometimes was on crutches. Everyone noticed. Everyone saw. I started going to physical therapy multiple times a week + more doctor appointments to find a better solution, but it all started to just blend together. My days felt like years.
Once Spring rolled around, I slowly came back in + got to practice with my lacrosse team. Little by little, I was getting into a groove. I was feeling a little more like myself again, but something wasn’t right. Once I started running again come junior year’s cross-country season, I realized that something had changed.
As junior + senior year went on, my passion for running felt lost. My drive was lowered. I couldn’t find the same motivation to keep on keepin’ on like I always had. I felt defeated. My times that were once considered the top in the state were deteriorating along with my love for the run.
College applications. One after another after another. Rolling admissions + early admissions flying through. I was recruited by a few universities to play lacrosse, but I wasn’t sure that was the dream anymore. I always wanted to go to school in New York, but it wasn’t in the cards for me anymore. Actually, I didn’t really know what I wanted.
After applying to eight schools, I was contacted by University of Maryland to run Division One cross-country + track on scholarship. The dream that I never thought I would want had happened.
I ran varsity cross-country + indoor track all four years of high school, not to mention all four years of lacrosse. I trained under nationally-ranked coaches + alongside some of the best in the nation. I placed in the top 100 runners on the east coast, but none of that mattered anymore. My heart wasn’t in it anymore + I couldn’t do that to another team. I turned it down.
Like most people will say who come to Penn State, I visited the campus after turning down UMD’s offer + immediately fell in love. I knew that’s where I would be + that’s exactly where I was in the fall after graduation. I lived up what I thought was a normal freshman year — late nights out with friends, sleeping in until I couldn’t sleep anymore on weekends, doing everything I could to keep my work together, volunteering for THON as much as possible, making it to the gym every now + again without having a scheduled practice or two-a-day workout on a weekend. I thought that’s how being free was supposed to feel, but it wasn’t + it’s not.
Coming into my sophomore year with a leadership position for THON, I knew I needed to get a grip: it was now or never that I needed to figure out what kind of person I was going to be. Was I going to go through the motions I thought I was supposed be going through because that’s what everyone else was doing or was I going to do me + be me? I chose the latter.
I worked out more. I went out less. I went on a few runs when I’d miss it to find out the tendonitis in my ankles or the slightly put together fracture in my back wasn’t having it. I pulled together a minor for my major. I was feeling more like myself than I had in a while, but the stresses kept coming. I was starting to realize right then more than I ever had before: my life was never going to stop changing. It’s inevitable + it can be great just as much as it can be terrifying, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do something about it.
What was I missing? What did I want? What did I need to feel like me?
All of those trips to If The Shoe Fits + True Runner, all of the Sports Beans + GU packs before races, all of the pasta dinners + practices ++ home meets with every single one of your friends right there next to you were over. But, running didn’t have to be.
It was a Tuesday. I took a run after class. I lost my running watch a while ago + I was so accustomed to running without music after high school, so I had nothing to tie me down. I had no time to be back or a mileage to go — I just up + went ++ I came back feeling like me. I felt happy.
I ran the next day + the next day + the day after that until I just needed a break. I ran almost every day [except on those cross-training days ; )] until the end of the semester. I ran every day this summer + every day this semester. I’m training for my first half-marathon in May + will start training for my first full [the longest I’ll have ever run] a year later. My times are better than they’ve ever been. I look + I feel better than I ever have — I’m in the best shape of my life + nothing is stopping me. I. am. me.
By the end of this long, twisted, nonsensical journey, I really found who I was. Who I am + who I’ve always wanted to be. Who I used to be, but so much more than that. I feel like I fit in my own skin now. I’ve discovered how much health + fitness is + will forever be important to my daily life, how much eating well + feeling great go hand in hand, how having a community of girls [that’s you all : )] to back you up is hard to come by + I’ll continue to treasure my CHAARG girls//my main girls from home, but — really — I’ve rediscovered my passion for running. I’ve awakened from my nightmare.
Even though #runCHAARG may be over, that doesn’t mean we should stop running! It’s hard not to be inspired by Amber’s story, as well as the five #runCHAARG winners [have you read their stories yet?]. Use that inspiration to fuel you. You may still be sore from Week One [eeee!], but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to give today [+ every day this week!] all you’ve got. Share your sweaty selfie with us during your 1 mile CHAARG UP. Bonus points to all those who go on an extra run today! Make sure to tag #CHAARGSBFP + @CHAARG in your posts!
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