Friday, October 31, 2014

Laura Council Vs. The Mountains: The Ones In Her Head & Some Real Ones Too

While I knew Laura Council for several years (she's that friendly face at QFC after all) I did not get to know her until she started coming out to our training groups. She was always on the sidelines of her very busy running family, cheering them on, helping to volunteer, and being "the mom." Turns out Laura didn't really know herself all that well either. It was a delight for both of us (and everyone in our training group) to get to know Laura Council better. This woman is so funny, smart, kind, beautiful, intelligent, creative, and oh so tough! Read on to learn how she transformed into being not just a runner, but a woman with a very strong identity who ran up 4500 feet to the top of Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island. 
Laura's Story
By Laura Council

Growing up, I did not participate in sports until the 8th grade. I wanted to be like all the popular girls who did sports or who were cheerleaders. So, having never touched a volleyball before I tried out for the volleyball team. After three days of tryouts, I got cut. While I wasn't all that upset about not making the team, what my parents said really stung. "We knew you wouldn't make the team but we let you try anyway." From this point on I was afraid to try anything. I didn't want to fail again.

After my dad passed away my sophomore year, we moved to a small town in North Dakota. When volleyball season rolled around, I was asked by the coach to come play. There were no tryouts. They just needed girls. My coach was very sweet and a great coach. After two years of playing JV, I made varsity my senior year and started every game. I was voted "most improved."

My family today has always been into sports, starting with my husband Cordell. I used to get mad going to his races. With my small babies in tow, I'd sit around and wait for him to finish. Of course, once he finished I was always very proud of him. I guess I was mad because I never took or made time for myself. I was always spending my time trying to be the best mom and wife I could be. As my kids got into sports, I made it a priority to support them in whatever way I could. I gave them the support I wished I'd had for myself growing up.

I got the running bug the year our whole family worked the Seattle Rock N Roll expo. Everyone was so excited about the race and there was tons of information about other races you could run. The one that caught my eye was called "The Princess Challenge." I LOVE Disneyland! Cordell said to me and my daughters, "If you take up running, I will send you there." We were like, "Run 13 miles? Not us!" The following year, when I watched Cordell and three out of four of our kids cross the finish line of the Rock N Roll half marathon, I started to think a lot harder about running. That spring, Cordell ran his very first Boston Marathon. It's hard to describe just what it was like to be there and be a part of this event. The cheers and tears of all the people really got to me. When Cordell finished, we both cried. I grabbed him in a hug and said, "You just ran Frickin' Boston!"

Then one day Cordell saw a posting on Facebook for a 5K/Weight Loss class. When he told me about the class, I took it personally. Truth be told, I signed up for the class only to prove to Cordell that I would fail. I went into Route 16 Running & Walking, where the class was being offered, and told my new coach "this has to be about me, not him." I was so nervous! My coach settled me down, and we headed out on our first run. I was scared to death to fail in front of all these other runners. But like my sweet volleyball coach, my running coach actually coached me and I started to relax.

The following night, inspired to see if I could improve my time, I parked at Route 16 and went out to run the same route that we'd run the night before at running class. The next thing I know, here comes Cordell with about five very fit and skinny girls from his own running group. As they passed me and sped away, I started to cry. I thought to myself, "He comes to running club to be seen with thin people."

I kept feeling sad until the day my running coach gave me a very challenging hill workout on the trails. I loved every bit of this run, and felt great... well, until I fell. But somehow I got back up and that night a fellow Dirty Girl told me I was ready and able to run a 5K. So I did run a 5K, and that "most improved" feeling I got from Volleyball came back to me in a huge way. Then I realized, "This is why my husband runs. It's not because of the skinny girls. He runs for the feeling that running gives you." It was a huge awakening.

I was starting to love the whole running group thing, and now there was talk about a race called "Orcas" or something like that. I kept hearing other runners moaning about how hard it was. At the same time they were all signing up for this race! My coach told me I should think about signing up too. I was like, "yeah, right," but then I realized the day of this race was the same day of my birthday. This didn't seem like a coincidence. I was sold.

Running he Orcas Island 25K on my birthday was pretty much like giving birth. You train for it for months. You wait. The day arrives and every emotion goes through your mind. You are worried, excited, scared, and hoping that you are ready. Well ready or not here you go. At first it's not too bad. A hill here, another hill there. Then the hills just keep on coming like contractions. Pretty soon the hills become an actual mountain. Now you're breathing really hard, swearing, sweating, and crying. Your IT Band is killing you. You want drugs! Then, the summit of Mount Constitution. You're on top of the world. Literally. The feeling you get is like being pumped through with happy drugs. Now you know it's all downhill. But it's a long downhill on a throbbing knee... an exponential ouch! But then you see it, that beautiful finish line, and there are all these beautiful people waiting for you, singing happy Happy Birthday as you run towards them.

Orcas on my birthday. Birth. Rebirth. All the time I was out there on this challenging mountain course, I kept thinking how beautiful my surroundings were, and how beautiful it was that I was a part of it all. I would do this race again in a heartbeat, and I would challenge anyone who might be thinking about attempting it to "Just do it!" I had a ton of support from my daughter Ariel who ran it with me, and kept me laughing. She had no idea what she was getting into when she signed up to be my companion during this race. She had to run up that darn mountain too. My husband finished the race before us, and then came to find us to run us in. That meant a lot. Now that it's over there are some people who still say snide things like, "You're too old to run... that's why you got hurt at Orcas." I just smile because they will never know the elation of being on the top of Mount Constitution. I didn't just climb a mountain. I ran a mountain.

These days I am grateful for the hills and mountains. I am running towards my fears, instead of running away from them. I know now that I don't have to be "skinny" to be fit and strong. Even though I don't run crazy fast like my husband, I'm a very happy runner. Running gives Cordell and I another bond. We have started running races as a family, and we try to make our running events fun-filled days with the kids. What's next for me? Getting even stronger. I want to try some of the same races I've run this past year of running, just to see how I have grown. But I'm not going to be hard on myself. I know better now. I also hope to complete a couple more of the Rainshadow Running Races (the group that puts on the Orcas Island 25K), and of course Disney!

With my girls grown up and out of my house, and my sons in high school (crazy fast guys like Cordell), I need my Dirty Girls. I don't know if this essay will inspire anyone to run, but if you have any interest and are nervous about it, come be a part of this running community. You and your fears will be in great hands. Every one one of us has wrestled with fear. After your first class it will go away. I promise you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Susan Olive Lives To Tell About Her First Year As A Runner

Headlamps, Hip Pains, Hysterectomies, Hills & Hokas
My First Year in Review as a Bona Fide Runner

By Susan Olive

 It was in the not so distant past when I would be driving along and notice that dedicated athlete, huffing away as they pounded the pavement in less than pleasant conditions.  I would always think to myself “Why on earth would they run voluntarily?”  I would become even more perplexed if it was early or really late in the day, pouring down rain, or some other typical northwest weather unpleasantry.   Yet at the very same moment, I was secretly wondering if that person could ever be me.  

So about a year ago, at the ripe old age of 46, I began entertaining the thought of running for the first time in my life.  I was trying one of those popular “Couch to 5K” training programs and was having a hard time getting past the part where it would have you run for more than a couple minutes at a time.  I hated that part.  It hurt.  My legs felt like I had lead shoes on.  Absolutely nothing about it was fun.  I dreaded the “run” portions and couldn’t wait for the “walk” portions.   I was starting to convince myself that I must not be the runner type.  

Then my good friend, Aimee (who is a long time runner) started telling me about a running class called “Dirty Girls Trail Running” that she had recently joined.  She seemed to really like it and was having a lot of fun.  I distinctly remember my first thought being, “Why would you ever pay somebody to go running with you?” ..with my second thought being, “How could running possibly be that fun?”  But she seemed genuinely enthusiastic about it.  So I thought that perhaps I should give it a try and take one last shot at seeing if there was a hidden runner inside me waiting to come out.

I proceeded to check out these so called “Dirty Girls” and wanted to see how they were managing to make running fun.  Aimee hooked me up with Coach Alexa and I took a peek at her website.    I was relieved to see that the participants were not all zero percent body fat ultra-marathoner twenty something year-olds.  There appeared to be various shapes, sizes and ages taking the classes.  And best of all, every one of them was smiling and looking like they were having the time of their lives!

I decide to go with the “beginner” 5k Wednesday night class 6 week session.  I remember my first day very well.  It was the middle of winter, the class was mid-session, and it happened to be meeting at a local track that night.  It was cold and dark, but I was prepared.  I was nervous, but excited at the same time.  I wouldn’t know anybody there, which made it a little bit out of my comfort zone.   Plus I was trying something new where I didn’t feel particularly confident in my abilities.    It also didn’t help that on my way to the class, I had called my mother to excitedly tell her about joining a 5k running class and her response was, “Are you sure you will be able to run at your weight?”.  She actually really is a sweetheart and meant well (and totally regrets that she said it to this day).  However, she said it because she had the preconception that I and many others had/have:  You need to be thin/in shape to run.  Running isn’t for overweight people.

Despite the non-vote of confidence from my dear mother, I continued to drive and went to the class.  As I approached the group in my embarrassingly clean and newly purchased first pair of real running shoes, I introduced myself and was pleased to find the people to be extremely welcoming.  My nerves started to settle down and I began to think that the worst was over.  And that’s when Coach Alexa announces that it is time to start the “warm up”.  Apparently, the warm up consists of running two laps around the track.   Wait.  Hold on a second.   Did she just say run two laps?  I thought I was here to learn HOW to run…….over a period of time!    Even the Couch to 5K lets you start out walking!  As people took off on the track, some of the lovely runners gently took me under their wing and assured me I’d be fine.   I decided to suck it up and started running alongside them, praying that I wouldn’t embarrass myself while desperately repeating “don’t pass out, don’t pass out, don’t pass out” in my head.  By the time we were done with the two lap warm up, I was completely out of breath and wondering how I could possibly survive the entire class.  But secretly, I was a little bit surprised and delighted that I actually was able to run that far and live to tell about it.    I really had no idea I had that in me.

Well, since that fateful first day of class last February, Coach Alexa and the Dirty Girls (and Dudes!)  had me hook, line and sinker.  I kept re-enrolling in the 6 week class.  By the time summer rolled around, I was adding the Saturday longer distance trail classes as well.   I even started dragging my husband along so I could share this positive experience with him.  There truly are not enough words to describe the many things that I love about this group and how it has enriched my life.   I have fallen in love with the splendor of the forest trails and appreciate exercising in the magnificence of the great outdoors.  I have met so many encouraging and inspiring people.  I am forming wonderful lasting new friendships.  I am discovering that my body can achieve things I never thought could be possible.  And last, but certainly not least, there is the amazing Coach Alexa, who has the uncanny ability to know exactly when to push you and when to pull back.  She is like a mother, mentor, best friend and your biggest cheerleader rolled into one zany, hilarious, smart, fearless, beautiful package.  

Now don’t get me wrong, the Year of Running has not been a complete bed of roses.   I did have a couple of setbacks in the beginning.  I needed a little physical therapy for a sore knee (despite what my title says, it wasn’t really hip pain -  but knee didn’t work as well into the title’s alliteration). Then there was the unexpected hysterectomy surgery in July that set me back 6 weeks.   However, I surprised myself by not using either one of them as an excuse to give up.  I found myself being determined to recover as quickly as possible so that I could get back to running again. I found out that I actually missed it!

I also feel I must disclose that I haven’t broken any speed records and I’m certainly not running any marathons.   I do enjoy a nice kind pace (Alexa doesn’t like us to use the word slow).    She has taught me that it is not a failure if you need to walk for part of your run.   She has shown me how to listen to my body and know when I need to rest and when I need to push a little harder.    My original goal was to just be able to do 5ks, but I just did a 15k recently and hope to complete a 25K in May.

I recently find myself wanting to branch out just a little bit more and test the running waters.  I want to push myself just a little bit harder.  I attribute a lot of this to Alexa’s recent ingenious “Diehard Challenge” (and perhaps my recent induction into the Hoka Cult) .  The Diehard Challenge was created to help encourage us all to continue our outdoor running during the winter months.  The worse the weather/conditions, the more points you earn.   Now I’m excited when I find out my run is going to be on a dark, cold morning with sideways rain and howling wind.  More challenge points! I’m even getting up on Tuesdays at 5 a.m. to run in the middle of the dark cougar populated forest with a bunch of headlamp wearing “Dirty Before Dawn”, diehard girls/dudes before work…and I love every minute of it!  All of a sudden I find myself starting to feel more confident about my running and wanting to see what else I am capable of. 

Recently I ran a 5k for time.  It was a course I ran in November where I was just happy to have been able to finish the race without walking.  Now I wanted to see if I could step it up.  I wanted to see if I could sustain, what for me is, an uncomfortable pace.  It wasn’t my prettiest of runs.  My legs felt like lead for most of it and the least bit of incline was a struggle.   I couldn’t even talk to my friend running alongside me because I had to concentrate on my breathing or I thought for sure I would pass out!  My friend was a great encourager and helped pace me and inspire me to keep pushing along.   As we rounded the final corner and dramatically increased our speed towards the finish line, I started to feel a new exhilaration that I hadn’t experienced ever before.  When we crossed that finish line and I knew I had gotten my PR, I couldn’t help but burst into tears.  I was on cloud nine!

I am proud to see how far I have come in this last year, and am eager to see what this coming year has in store.    I look forward to all the fun races & running trips planned with a remarkable group of people and the cherished friends I have made.  I look forward to seeing what challenges I will face and how I will overcome them.  I look forward to continue working on conquering those hills and see if I really can pick up the pace a little.  Heck, maybe I could even pick up the pace AND talk at the same time?!

In December our Dirty Before Dawn  group ran the Narrows Bridge at 5am on Christmas Eve.  Cars were honking as we ran in our Christmas tutus, Santa hats and jingle bells.  It was then that it occurred to me that now I am “one of those runner people”.  The ones that people drive by and think, “Why on earth is she running at this time of the morning?!”  

It took me awhile to feel comfortable describing myself as “runner”.    Not only am I now a bona fide runner…. I’m a crazy early in the morning, out in the dark pouring rain kind of runner!   I had no idea it had been sitting there inside me for 46 years, patiently waiting for a chance to come out and play.