Taking Shape

When I was sixteen my parents gave me a membership to a gym called “Taking Shape” run by an talented trainer named Moses. It was a small gym in an office building, but I found a new world inside. I learned how strong I could be, and also how well I could relate to a different crowd, as I was usually the youngest person working out there. I would go there almost every week night and most Saturdays during the off season to hang out and workout.

Moses was a great man and a world class trainer. Before he opened up Taking Shape, he traveled the world working with elite athletes. He would come up with fun drills based on what events I was running or position I was playing in basketball. Sometimes he would take me on outings to get a running workout in, but since I was a sprinter, he would have me do drills up and down the hallway once the workday was over. The workouts were always varied and challenging, and I was ripped by the time I was seventeen.

All the people at the gym would get together once it closed at night and go to a nearby restaurant to eat. I liked the crowd. The people were in their thirties to forties, so at least twice my age, with experience to pass on, and I learned so much during that time. We had shirts that read “Created by God, Improved by Moses”. I met my running mentor, Steve, at that gym, the man who pushed me to try the 400 meter race after I had spent a season running just the 100 and 200 meters.

Moses got sick when I was going away to college. It was hard news to hear. I had written one of my college entry essays about him as a mentor. Here was a man who ate right, lived right, but still got stricken with disease. He would still show up to the gym, though not as often, and on my breaks from college I would go in for an hour a day to run on the treadmill, while he rested, so I still got to spend time with him.

A few semesters into college, Moses passed away. The gym members went to the service. Pat spoke. It chokes me up to think about it. Pat told me recently that Moses would be proud of me, how active I am and how persistently I pursue my fitness goals. We don’t get to keep everyone for as long as we like, but we get to carry on their legacy the best we can, and hope the message does not get weakened. Go- get fit, be strong, be the best you can be which is always good enough.

New Zealand & Solo Travel Beginnings

In its not always easy to be true to yourself. The search to be “you” is hard. It doesn’t always reveal something easily managed, but I also found that the nicer you are to yourself, the more kindness you store up for the rest of the world. Say you are standing in the middle of a room with ten new objects surrounding you. No one is looking and you have time to consider- Which doodad do you walk to? Which one would you want to examine more closely?

“So Travel has helped me to have direct experiences, and to know more about myself”

                                                                                                -Michael Crichton, Travels


            The fall semester after I graduated college, My friend Monica and I did a three-city tour of Europe. We started in Dublin, then flew to Amsterdam, and took a train to Paris. In Amsterdam we met a young man who was traveling alone, and had been for quite awhile. I imagined him to be a prodigal son, someone who was expected to do great things at home but sought the world instead. Monica and I would often find him in the array of pillows and rugs provided in the common area of the hostel we holed up in, The Flying Pigand at some point we got into a deep conversation about traveling solo. I asked,

“Why can’t I travel by myself?” He assured me I could, that he knew plenty of young women that did.

            Previously, I had traveled to London to visit a high school friend studying abroad, and also gone on a one month group trip to Costa Rica with International Student Volunteers, but my desire of truly traveling about foreign places seemed out of reach. I had been enamored with the adventures of “Alexander Supertramp” after reading Into the Wild in high school. I had no designs on dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness, but the idea of throwing up my thumb and seeing the country and meeting new people thrilled me. As I talked to this lost boy in the hostel, a spark flew in my heart and I knew I would go on a trip by myself, soon.

            I had always wanted to go to New Zealand, had even read Lonely Planet travel guides on it in high school, so I decided to travel there, first. I researched and planned, and by the next spring I was on a plane to a place brand-new to me. I had no idea why I wanted to go out to the world so badly, but there I was, ready to dive into that unexplained phenomenon known as wanderlust.

            I landed in Auckland and spent my first night alone in a hostel that blew the ones in Europe out of the water. All of the hostels I stayed at in New Zealand were amazing- I don’t know if I planned well or if that is just how they do it there. My foreign running exploration began in that city. On the second day I was there I went on a long run with minimal planning. I had a street map and information for the bus, so that if I ran too far I could ride back. On that run I was able to see Holly’s Auckland, the things that stood out to me, rather than being reported by a tour guide or a book. I ran to the harbor and examined yachts. I changed direction and ran through the city to a calm park with great, drooping trees. I finished at a coffee shop (like many runners, I’m a coffee addict), then took a bus back to the hostel.

            I completed more sight-seeing runs on the trip. It wasn’t my focus, but I’m a runner so I ran. The most memorable jogs were along the coast in Napier and a bit of trail running in Queenstown. On these runs, I took my time, and I would slow down when I found the little nuances that made a place a place for me. I found on that trip that it wasn’t about what New Zealand was, it was about how I related to it. I found a small part of my wanderlust explained- I was after the experience of discovering what I was truly drawn to.

            In its not always easy to be true to yourself. The search to be “you” is hard. It doesn’t always reveal something easily managed, but I also found that the nicer you are to yourself, the more kindness you store up for the rest of the world. Say you are standing in the middle of a room with ten new objects surrounding you. No one is looking and you have time to consider- Which doodad do you walk to? Which one would you want to examine more closely?

That is how traveling alone is to me. Given no constraints, and with no one really looking, what do I want to pick up? Heck, I went fly-fishing in New Zealand. No idea why I was drawn to that. I’m terrified of heights and falling, but I flung myself down 134 meters at a bungy jump. I also found that I wanted a boat. I get seasick, and I know they are money pits, but when I got back to the States and people started in on me, my stance was solidified and no one could talk me out of it. I still don’t have the boat, but its there on some horizon, waiting for me and my skeptical friends.

Breaks and Breakthroughs

I had two knee surgeries my senior year of high school. Those surgeries were minor in comparison to other types done on that joint, and though I missed the competitive seasons senior year, I was able to pick up running again by graduation, without any memorable deficiencies or hindrances.

This recent ankle injury was more hard hitting. In high school, I was going to school, spending a lot of time with friends, and lived with my family, so being injured didn’t really do much in the way of removing me from life. These days I work for a running retailer. At least half of my socializing revolves around running. My work is physical in nature.  With the DNF, I got a break in another sense- I found out how much I relied on running to keep me involved with my life, and that I had some growing to do, some development of self.

I was sad in the days following my injury, but within two weeks I was suffering from diagnosed depression. The weight of not being able to run, work, and the challenge of not being able to do simple things to take care of myself got to me. I love to read, but it was hard on painkillers. I watched a lot of TV. Couple that with the fact that I was coming off of training for a marathon and used to almost daily rushes of dopamine. Physically and emotionally I became lethargic. My sister came to visit and found me in a sad state. The pain from the swelling was so intense that I would go to bed and wake up crying, I just couldn’t help it. Once she left, I dipped a little lower in my mental and emotional state before realizing I needed help.

I had to go to a really low point before I got help. If you think you are suffering from depression, don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself, at least, it worked for me. Friends and professionals helped me to put everything in perspective and do what I could to get back to normal. I turned off the TV. I got off the painkillers and started reading again. I took interest in something new from my couch, America’s Gilded Age, and read two books on it. I read Dune for fun. I read Running Within, a book with spiritual guidance for runners, and started practicing positive affirmations while visualizing what I wanted from my runs once I got back. I highly recommend that book for anyone that has reached a plateau with physical training and is looking for another push.

After 5 weeks I was able to start physical therapy. It wasn’t anything special, I just got to move my ankle a bit, but it was something. I still wasn’t back to work, but I had developed a floor/chair regimen to work out my upper body and core for a little while each day. I stuck to everything on my PT plan religiously. As I was able to bear weight on my ankle, I made it to the gym. I swam and biked. Once I started running again, I came back almost at full speed. I owe this to not only the PT, but during my healing I progressively added higher intensity workouts that fit with the demands my ankle could handle. I was able to go back to work. I felt useful again, which did huge things for my mood. Eventually I was feeling happy again.

I ran a race almost four months to the day of my injury. It was a mile road race, and it would be my third year in a row competing in it. I ran it one second faster than I had the previous year- 6:34. I was floored. That feeling was good, but it was nothing compared to the one I got a few weeks later, when I was able to work a run club event, and jog next to a new runner who was trying out one of our events for the first time. She struggled with the same mental games I knew so well, but she did it. There is nothing like feeling like you can’t and then finding out you can. This event and similar ones that followed motivated me to begin pursuing my interest in personal training again.

“ShesTheRun” is an invention for sharing my running, travel, and life adventures in a way that keeps me motivated to do more for myself, and others. It is a by-product of my personal journey with truly missing running and the ensuing depression that followed. I can’t keep something unless I give it away. Equipped with this point of view, I hope I can create something for others to enjoy and be inspired by.

Thanks for reading,