The Road to I CAN Guest post by fellow Heron, Diane Agnew (Albuquerque, NM)

I haven’t always been a runner. In fact, I used to think I hated running. I had tried, several times throughout my life to run because I was drawn to the idea of it but I could never get past that first run. Admittedly, that first ever run is terrible. Everything burns and it feels like way too much work to get through a short distance.

I still remember the moment when I made the decision to start running. By that point in my life, I was in the best shape of my life. I was working out 4-5 times a week and I had discovered that I really love a good cardio workout. My husband and I were sliding into our third year of infertility and I was reeling from yet another pregnancy loss. I had this overwhelming sense that I needed to RUN. I recognized then, and now, that it was partially a flight reflex triggered by the pregnancy loss. It was also this urge to run hard and fast, as if I could catch up with time. I literally woke up feeling like I needed to run, got a pair of shoes, started running, and never looked back.

I ran for two years before we started IVF. In those days, my max distance was 3 miles and I had no structure to my running. My races were all the fun 5k races, like the Hot Chocolate Run and The Color Run. I was having fun. The running made me feel strong and able, gifting me with moments of loving my body. It anchored me but had more of the tone of socializing than fitness.

I had to stop running as we started IVF. I was fortunate to become pregnant with twins and had a very difficult pregnancy, that included 6 weeks of bedrest. I went from being incredibly active to the complete opposite end of the spectrum as I turned all of my energy and focus into growing my babies and hitting my pregnancy goals. I gave my body over to these two, tiny gifts and trusted that I would find my way back to my body eventually. I was HUGE at the end of my pregnancy. I am proud of getting my babies to 38 weeks, growing them into normal singleton weight babies (each ~7 lbs), and having no NICU time.

Throughout pregnancy and the first year of post-partum I leaned hard into the knowledge that I would get moving again. I listened to my body and the guidance of my doctors. I entered into running slowly with my first 5k when the babies were 6 months old, run/walking the entire route with the babies in the stroller. I found a mom friend to run/walk with every Saturday morning and watched the miles get easier and the walking portions get shorter. I was mindful to work strength building at the same time as working on my miles, so that I would have the core strength to get moving again. My runs were short shuffles that first winter with the babies and in February I signed up for another 5k to run with a group of friends.

I decided to find an online training program to prepare for the 5k. It was my first time ever actually training for a race. I chose the training program because I really needed the benefits of setting a goal and having a structure to follow. The combination of the goal and the accountability of doing the race with a group was great motivation to get up and out the door in the mornings.  I learned so much from training for that race but the most important lessons were that running was critical for “filling my well” as a mama to twin babies and that training brought tangible progress. Running became so much more than just running but an incredible journey to discover what I could do. I ran the race, hitting my goals, crossing the finish line to love on my babies who were just barely one year old. That race was about reconnecting with a part of myself that I loved before becoming a mother and in the end I found that I could not only run again but that I could do it better in my post-partum mom-bod than before.

My return to running took off from that race. I started to wonder what else I could do. I picked a 10k to run in the Fall and followed a training program for that as well. Four times a week I was out the door at 5:30 a.m., knocking out workouts. I had intentionally built in about 2 months of time into the training schedule for life to happen in. Weeks lost to illness and sleepless nights were easier to roll with, knowing I had time. I was so emotional at the start of that race; I remember standing at the starting line bawling. I was crying from the release of holding the space for the race for so many months. I really wanted to do well and have the training be worth it. I was also terrified to find out that I could not do it. I felt like I was an imposter and that at any moment my body was going to be like “JK! You can’t run!” In the end, I could not quite shake the doubt that had taken over in the last couple of weeks of training and ran the race more conservatively than I had planned. I finished and beat my pace goals but it took me weeks to feel proud of myself. I had so much negative self-talk I had to shift through to find joy in my accomplishment.

At the end of the 10k, I was ready to get serious about running. I set my sights on longer races for the next year and wanted to get faster. I started working with a running coach, signed up for two half marathons, and got to work. I kicked off the 2016 season with a PR 10k race in some of the worst weather New Mexico can deliver in the Spring. I ran in 30 mph winds and in bitter cold temps and had a crazy fun time. I placed 3rd in my age group and I’ll never forget how my daughter proudly wore my medal the rest of the day.

My biggest accomplishment was running my first Half Marathon. Ever. I trained so diligently for this race. I had an injury nearly take me out and walked that careful line of self-care and healing, while maintaining my fitness level and sanity. I had so_much_fun at my first Half. So much of the experience was magic, from the scenery to my actual race. I had the same imposter doubt creep in on this race too. This time I reached out to my coach and my support system of running friends to drown out the self-doubt. I exceeded my race goal by 10 minutes, something that I had seriously doubted I would be able to do. I felt great throughout the race, even finding that little bit extra for the final two miles.

I had ambitiously signed up for a second Half only four weeks after my first. In January, that seemed completely doable. Then life happened. I took a week off from running to recover and then had to travel for work. My plans for running while on travel disintegrated in the incredibly long and exhausted days of field work. I adapted my training workouts and ended up with two weeks of off-time from running instead of the original plan of one. The week after travel was rough for training runs too, between illness and overall exhaustion. I nervously reduced my miles that week too, trusting in the training from the entire Summer. I managed the taper week workouts on point and went into the second Half really unsure of what would happen. As it turns out, it went well and I was only a few seconds off of my time from the first half.

This year I found the space to do my training workouts with more flexibility and less stress than before. I discovered the joy of running longer distances, finding that my body happily settles in as the miles go up.  I discovered my tribe of women runners who are there for me when I need a buddy to get me out of the house for a run. I have loved working with a running coach, finding that I really need someone to help me adapt my running as life happens and also to have confidence in myself. I knocked off 2 minutes per mile from my sustainable pace, making this the fastest year of running in my life. I also had plenty of moments of doubt, many tears, and incredible self-discovery on all realms.

I am aware that I have my Littles watching me, looking to me for guidance on how to be in their bodies and in this world. One of my deepest desires is that my baby girl never doubts herself, that she never questions what she is capable of. I want her to believe that she can do anything and everything. And for her to be able to do that, she needs to see me doing that too. So with each step, each mile, each race I am nurturing in myself the belief of I CAN.

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