What’s AIP again? An autoimmune healing update

What’s AIP again? An autoimmune healing update

I ditched the autoimmune protocol.

Excitedly making all the fruit crumbles in my post AIP phase.

It happened gradually and yet quite suddenly. One day I was on board, the next I was not. I didn’t reintroduce everything in a day. I was (somewhat) systematic in my reintroductions; I didn’t want three-plus months of strictly following the elimination phase to go to waste. But I also wasn’t entirely scientific in my approach. I added things one at a time, waited to add legumes as I know they can be fickle for me, and what do you know, I felt better and better with each reintroduction.

When I started the autoimmune protocol (AIP), I was very invested. I bought books, consumed podcasts, and religiously followed every #AIP Instagram influencer I could find. I’m glad I took this all-in approach, otherwise, completing the elimination phase may not have been possible. I stuck with it, gave it my all, and emerged on the other side somewhat unscathed.

The first 4-6 weeks on the protocol went well. Symptoms improved, I believed in the process, and I was sure I was on the path toward healing. Some symptoms remained, however, and the real healing didn’t start until two things happened:

  1. I started thyroid hormone supplementation.
  2. I actually, legitimately rested.

The key component here was rest. Real rest. Not an extra rest day here or there, but sit-on-the-couch, do nothing rest. This is when things really turned around.

Less pounding, more downward dog-ing.

One of my physicians recommended I take some time off. I resisted. And in that resistance, I found softness. Ease. I recognized my history of exercise addiction, disordered eating, and restriction. I noticed my fear and insecurity, the wisps of my identity wrapped around my running shoes. This was an opportunity to push myself, address my fears, and honor my body. I circumnavigated my ego and stopped running. I was terrified.

I took some time with no structured exercise. I still moved: I did yoga, went on walks, rock climbed with friends – but nothing was prescribed. Each day was a blank slate. It nourished my soul – and my adrenal glands.

During those two months, I did some blood work with my doctor and discovered that since starting AIP, my inflammatory markers worsened, while my thyroid levels stayed roughly the same. Some GI symptoms were reemerging, despite continuing to abide by AIP, and my energy levels weren’t up to par. My doctor recommended I ditch the prescribed diet and focus on eating intuitively instead.

“It’s up to you,” she said. “But if I were you, I’d at least add some variety into your diet.”

I reintroduced black pepper that night. A few days later, I ate some white rice. The next day, a bell pepper. It was scandalous.

Many factors could have contributed to the change in blood levels: stress from AIP, a sudden shift in brain chemicals from ditching regular, intense physical activity, the stress of choosing a grad school and flying across the country multiple times… many things could have influenced this shift. After stressing over the change in blood levels – and at the recommendation of many health care providers – I’ve chosen to place my focus on my day-to-day symptoms (or lack thereof!) instead of the numbers.

I continued reintroducing foods in what I’ll call an aggressively systematic manner. I felt better and better with each reintroduction. My energy increased, my skin improved, I was sleeping through the night, and my GI system found a state of normalcy and regularity I have never known (it’s a miracle!). And, after nearly four months of an absent menstrual cycle, my period returned. Things were in working order again – and all it took were some tomatoes and white rice.

The upward trajectory continued as I reincorporated more movement into my days and weeks. I started running again, gently and slowly, honoring my lost fitness and gained perspective. I relished the activity’s simplicity, even with sore legs and tired lungs. My heart was full.  

Let's Adventure
Dormant dreams (of mountain adventures with friends) are coming alive again.

The elimination phase of the autoimmune protocol provided a physical, emotional, and mental recalibration. It helped me widen my lens and gain a greater understanding of my relationship with food, movement, and my body. It stripped me raw and was triggering in many ways, but it also helped me rebuild. A few steps back, a few steps forward.

I no longer subscribe to AIP. I no longer subscribe to any dietary regimen (except gluten-free, because autoimmune disease). I am working to better understand intuitive eating and its many principles and takeaways (this podcast series is a great start!). I know what makes me feel good and what doesn’t – sometimes that’s ice cream, other times it’s a salad. I can feel my body inch toward homeostasis – toward its home base, a place of health, nourishment, and vibrancy. If AIP has taught me anything it is that my body knows exactly what it needs at any given moment, and it is up to me to listen.

Listening to my body is akin to running up mountains – it requires grit, grace, patience, and humility. I am feeling like myself again: Fueled, energized, and dreaming up big, audacious goals that excite, inspire, and scare me. This feels right. This feels like home.

Let’s adventure, I’m coaching!

Let’s adventure, I’m coaching!

I’m coaching!

I’m officially opening up coaching services for road runners, trail runners, weekend warriors, triathletes, and adventurers of all abilities and goals. I offer personalized one-on-one coaching, tailored training plans, and distance-specific training plans to help you accomplish your goal, whether that be consistency in your daily training or your first Ironman.

How does coaching work?

All it requires is your willingness to do hard things – and to learn about yourself in the process. I work with athletes of all abilities and backgrounds, and my training philosophy is one of balance and joy. We will work to bring joy into your daily training and life, balancing your goals with your passions, life, and the spontaneous opportunity for adventure.

As a coach, my athletes prioritize three key pillars in their training:

  1. Listening to your body – As athletes, it’s easy to ignore our body’s messages in favor of getting in that final interval or pushing through for a PR. In some cases this is an important skill to have; in others, it is imperative to learn to listen and respect our bodies’ needs and cravings. We will work together to break through your body’s code and speak its language – and use it to your advantage.
  2. Balance – Stress is stress is stress. Our bodies compute a stressful day in the office in the same way it computes a taxing tempo run. Rather than battle through life’s unpredictability, we will use this to our advantage. We will prioritize balance above all else, getting you to each adventure healthy, fit, and ready.
  3. Adventure – Every finish line is a learning opportunity – and while we will train and work hard, we will also view each day as an opportunity to prepare for more than a single race or daunting goal. Life is full of hard things – and our goal will be to help you prepare for every challenge, whether that is consistency in training or a 100-mile trail race.

Why do I need a coach?

Perhaps you have a specific goal in mind or maybe you want some guidance to your training. Maybe you’re coming off an injury or you’ve hit a plateau in your endeavors. Or maybe you just want a teammate – someone to guide your efforts for your next adventure. Hiring a coach provides the discipline some may lack in their training – whether that is to get out the door for a workout or the discipline to adequately rest. Whether you want one-on-one personalized coaching or a training plan for your next race, we can work together to help you achieve your next goal.

Can I work with you?

The short answer – yes! Shoot me an email and we can talk details about your life, your goals, and what hard things you dream about completing. I have expertise in various endurance endeavors, including road and trail running, triathlon, cycling, and swimrunning. Whether you have a goal in mind or want some help brainstorming, we can work together to get your adventure started.

I am particularly passionate about helping those recovering from eating disorders, bone injuries, and the female athlete triad and seeking to mindfully incorporate more activity and physical challenges into their recovery. This also includes disordered eating, compulsive exercise, bone injuries, hormonal imbalances, and amenorrhea. Interested in learning more about my work in this area? Check out the non-profit I co-founded, the Lane 9 Project!

How much does it cost?

I offer one-on-one coaching, personalized training plans, and race-specific training plans for purchase. Send me an email and we can determine what works best for you to achieve your goals. Here’s what you can expect from me:

  • One on one coaching, with daily check-ins and unlimited contact.
  • A personalized plan tailored to your background and what you’re running (or swimming or biking) toward.
  • Flexibility for your life.

Interested? Let’s chat!

Why coaching?

It all started around 2 a.m. somewhere in the Sawatch Range near Leadville, Colo. We weren’t running, per say, more so stumbling along a rugged fire road, making our way down the day’s final mountain. Words of encouragement were met with whispered grunts and the occasional profanity. We reached a rhythm: shuffle-step-shuffle-“sh*t!”-step-hobble-trip-“look out…”-grunt. We kept this rhythm, following the trail of flickering headlamps, lost in our own abyss of pain, suffering, and unsheathed persistence.

Two hours prior, I was huddled among strangers, sharing warmth and tales of adventure around a roaring fire. It was a summer night, but at 10,000 feet “summer” required three layers of wool and a stranger’s down jacket. I was nervous. A friend asked me to pace his final 25-ish miles of the Leadville 100: His first 100-mile race, my first pacing experience. Together we were a ball of nerves, exhaustion, and human emotion. Around 1 a.m. I heard his number called, peeled off my layers, donned my pack, and found him – confident, running, asking coherently for caffeine. This didn’t last long.

As we left the aid station, we were rolling. Hollering, laughing, and jogging our way through the night, I was confident – He was cruising! This pacing thing would be easy! – This quickly changed.

We were two of hundreds of headlamps flickering along the edge of this mountain, stumbling our way toward the unknown. I called out every root, rock, and snag in the trail. He responded with a whispered four-letter word and the occasional grunt. Conversation was out of the question. Simple questions were our limit.

Have you eaten?

Yes.

Did you drink that bottle yet?

No.

Drink it.

No.

That wasn’t a question.

I watched my friend become a shell of a human. He sank deeper and deeper into this personalized abyss, a dark cavern of uncertainty, persistence, and pain. I was not there to encourage him. I was not there to be kind. I was there to push him deeper into the darkness – to force him into places he’d never been before – and to remind him that he is strong enough to make it to the other side. I was there to remind him that the determination, will, and resolve required to do this incredibly hard thing lay within him, waiting to be awakened.

Eight hours later, as we walked through the warm sunlight, celebrating each tenth of a mile covered, I saw this strength. I saw this will. I saw the human condition in its rawest form – and with it our capacity to do incredibly hard things.

I watched my friend break into a run toward the finish line. He shuffled, hobbled, and limped, and each step was a beautiful testament to human achievement. I peeled off and snuck into the crowded sidelines, overwhelmed with joy and awe as I watched him cross the line, exuberant, victorious, exhausted.

Where it began - pacing the Leadville 100

I’ve experienced the exhilaration of meeting a daunting goal, but no accomplishment can match the joy, awe, and satisfaction I experienced helping my friend cross his finish line. And now, I want to help you cross yours.

As a coach, I am here to help you do hard things. I am here to help you find the determination, will, and resolve lying dormant within you, waiting to be awakened. And I want to have some fun while we do it.

<< 2017 Leadville 100 finish. All smiles, with hardware in hand.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

I am an active woman. At any weight.

HGTV hummed in the background and a stack of gossip magazines were lazily stacked on the table next to me. My hands rested on my lap, tightly woven together. Thumbs anxiously pressed against each other, I hummed to myself. A combination of Beyoncé and Sylvan Esso circulated through my head – my pump up music driving to the office. I was nervous.

The room had that typical waiting room sense of calm and fatigue – a damp heaviness reminiscent of a summer evening in DC. I wrung my fingers and trapped them under my thighs, hoping to ease my nervous energy. Thirty seconds later they were back on my lap, twisted into an anxious knot.

I was at the doctor’s office, waiting for a routine check-up and exam. Typically a mundane way to spend the afternoon, but this was different. The nurse called my name and pointed me toward the first room on the right – I saw the scale in the corner. She took my blood pressure and attempted light conversation. Her voice was in a tunnel, and I just laughed and nodded when the time seemed right. She gestured to the scale, and, not wanting to make a scene, I stepped on. The burden of years of anxiety, restriction, and inadequacy weighed heavily on my shoulders. With that same dry tone she used to say hello, she announced the number and scribbled it on her clipboard.

In college, I weighed myself regularly. Every visit to the campus rec center involved stepping on the scale two, maybe three times a day. Miles and reps were added to workouts if the number was deemed too high; meals skipped even if it remained the same. The scale had a hypnotic power over me. An allure I could not deny. For years, the scale determined my attitude, appetite, and confidence. It honed my ability to control my cravings and cut off all communication with my body, physically and emotionally. My sense of worth and empowerment was transient, and the scale provided a clean and easy means of measuring my value to the world. The ritual was sacred.

A series of injuries and a shift from collegiate triathlon to amateur cycling forced me away from the gym. Away from the scale. The ritual became more infrequent and, eventually, nonexistent. Pathways opened, and I began the process of healing – of learning to listen to my body and isolate my worth from metrics.

But the familiar comfort, the sacred nature of the scale, continues to taunt me.

When I stepped on that scale two weeks ago, I was terrified. It wasn’t the number that scared me so much as myself. Diminished self-worth seemed imminent, and stepping on that scale felt as though I was opening the door for my eating disorder, welcoming it into my home, and inviting it to stay a while. It brought me eye-to-eye with my past struggles and pains. And yet, in that split moment, as I registered the number on the screen, I felt nothing. No remorse. No pain. No rejection. I felt the exact same as I did before I knew the number. I opened the door, and no one was there.

I finished up the appointment and walked into that stagnant waiting room elated. I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride for my body, for its health and resilience. Its strength and curves. Being a woman no longer seems like a burden, and being an active woman no longer seems so well-defined. I am an active woman. At any weight.

I have a newfound sense of ownership and gratitude. This is mine. Every pound. Every curve. Every muscle. It’s me. It’s unapologetically me. An athlete, a friend, an advocate, a woman.

—-

This was originally published for the Lane 9 Project here.

Lighting the Flame

Lighting the Flame

My first-ever run was on a hot summer afternoon at sixth grade cross-country practice. I hated it. Every afternoon I purposely ran on roots, sticks, and uneven ground hoping I would trip, fall, break an ankle, and never have to run again. I quit the team within two weeks.

Three months later, I was watching a video my science teacher had created about his mini-marathon training program. His classroom was adorned with race bibs and finisher medals, and he had an infectious endorphin-fueled outlook on life. In the dimly lit halls of my middle school, this teacher was a ray of light. Every year he coordinated a program for students to train and race the Indianapolis Mini Marathon together. It was a daunting challenge, especially considering I had declared my hatred for the sport, but with encouragement from my teacher and pressure from my peers, I signed up. My parents doubted me, and for good reason, I couldn’t finish a three-kilometer race — but I was determined.

Training began in February. We ran laps inside the middle school, and by “ran,” I mean we sprinted down hallways, giggled at boys, and walked until we had to run and hide from our pre-pubescent emotions again. It was fun.

As we shifted our training to the outdoors in the spring, my dad decided to join me. Twice a week we ran, together. Slowly, deliberately, gleefully. While it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be running with my dad, I cherished these miles. My father taught me the mantra, “slow and steady wins the race,” which became the soundtrack of my journey as a runner. Miles ticked by as I vented to him about the tribulations of being a twelve-year-old girl. He listened as I lamented about cliques, classes, and life’s lack of fairness. He provided insight and wisdom, laughter and inspiration. He taught me confidence, self-belief, and humility. He believed in me when I didn’t know how. He could see a soft flame flickering within me, waiting to be ignited.

Middle school Samantha racing the Indianapolis Mini Marathon

We ran my first half-marathon together, stride for stride, without walking a single step. It took three hours, and most of my peers beat me. But I finished my first race, with my best friend and greatest training partner, and it was exhilarating.

I kept running.

Over the next three years I ran multiple half marathons, each faster than the last. There was no more chasing boys, just miles. My dad continued to be my trusted training partner, and I started to run with my mom as well. She became my sounding board for life’s conflicts, failures, frustrations, and victories. We shared laughter, tears, wisdom, and love on the pavement. My parents were so much more than training partners; they became trusted confidants and mentors. They taught me to run, and eventually, like a child riding without training wheels for the first time, they let me run without them.

It was in this solitude that I found myself.

Every footfall, mile, and race was an opportunity to discover another layer within myself, to dig deep into my adolescent mind and find so much more than a mess of hormones. I unraveled every layer, finding my relentless drive, deep anxiety, and enduring tenacity; I found my need for acceptance, longing for validation, and hunger for a challenge. I continue to peel away these layers today. The solitude of a quiet run pulls back each layer revealing my vulnerable, raw, and unearthed remains, building this intricate account of myself I aspire to know.

Running is my sanctuary. It is where the push and pull of my muscles brings stillness and calm to my mind. It is where the comforting rhythm of my breathing reminds me that I’m alive. It is where I find myself — broken, grateful, whole, and yet never complete. One footfall after another, running is where my story begins.


This story was originally published with the Lane 9 Project here.

NEDA Week Day 4: Eating Disorder, defined

NEDA Week Day 4: Eating Disorder, defined
NEDAwareness Week Day 4: Defining an Eating Disorder

The room smelled familiar – like antiseptic soap and one too many sprays of Febreeze. I shifted on the table, wincing as the paper scratched against the cheap leather. I had just finished another round of the Gardasil vaccine and inquired about remedies for dry skin – my hands used to get really dry in the winter – as in arid, cracked hands with knuckles that bled when I held a pencil. My doctor looked over my hands, brushing his moisturized fingers over the red knuckles. He set them down on my lap and looked at me very matter-of-factly. Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 4: Eating Disorder, defined”

It’s Time to Talk About It

It’s Time to Talk About It
It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

And this year’s theme is “It’s Time to Talk About It.” 

Talking about mental illness is hard. The stigma, the shame, the embarrassment. it leaves little room for recovery and community, little space to grow and heal. But it is time to talk about it. It is time to allow our stories and struggles to live and breathe. Because there is power in shared experiences. There is strength in community.

Sharing my story is hard, but so is recovery.

Next week, I’m sharing my story. I’m allowing my words, experiences, and struggles to live and breathe. My journey is unique and yet shared by so many. The anxiety and shame, the restriction and amenorrhea, the depression and need for control. It is all interwoven, creating the life I lead today. As we work through this year’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I will share a piece of my story each day, including my struggles with anxiety and depression, my relationship with running, my quest for healing, and my partnership in a project aimed at keeping this conversation going.

It’s National Eating Disorder Week, and this year we’re going to talk about it.  

 

Finding Home: Washington D.C. Edition

Finding Home: Washington D.C. Edition

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Cars hummed on the bridge above me. A jet thundered across the sky, like clockwork, creating a shadow on the packed dirt trail. I sharply inhaled the damp, stagnant air. My legs ached, and my heart pounded. I was running – as fast as I could – away. Away from this city. Away from this anguish. Away from this reality. Away from myself.

Minutes earlier I was on the floor in my apartment, weak from sobbing. I pulled myself up, looked in the mirror, and stared blankly at a woman I no longer recognized. Her eyes were dull; cheeks tear-stained and red. What is happening? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This was not glamorous. This was not shiny and new. This was difficult, incredibly, overwhelmingly difficult.

For those that didn’t hear, I decided to graduate a year early, pack my life into my Subaru, and leave the only home I’ve known for a policy consulting job in Washington D.C. It was my dream job. It was my dream city. It was going to be perfect.

I should have known.

I’m terrible with transitions; change uproots me and warps my perception. When I’m out of my routine and in unfamiliar places I’m slower to combat my internal critic and less apt to have perspective. Unfamiliarity and discomfort weakens my internal optimist. I was known to write letters asking my parents to come get me at summer camp. I almost pleaded my way out of a summer program in France. It took me eight weeks to be okay with living in San Diego for a total nine weeks. Change is hard. And Washington has been no different.

For the past month, I often woke up confused and dismayed to realize that I was in D.C., again. Most days ended tear-streaked and taking to the trails – running as far from my reality as I could, only to begrudgingly return to it miles later. The permanency of my situation weighs down on my conscience. There is no end date to return home and tie a nice bow on my experience. This isn’t a summer internship or semester-long program to be captured and turned in for a grade. This isn’t a test-run. I am in Washington. For an undetermined amount of time. With a job, a job with contracts, benefits, and expectations. I am not in my safe and sacred classroom anymore. I know how to handle the classroom – I’ve been navigating classrooms for the last 15 years. School is my safe place. Corporate America, however, is a strange and foreign land, and I forgot to buy the guidebook.

Since moving, I have felt uprooted and misplaced, as though I lost myself somewhere between Indiana and D.C. This is not my home. This is not my dream. I don’t belong here. I have spent the last five weeks imprisoned by my own grief – grief over the loss of who I was, of my past experiences and routines. Grief over the absence of familiarity and the overwhelming presence of the strange and unfamiliar. I shoved my sadness under the rug and chastised myself for feeling anything but grateful. You’re not supposed to feel this way. This is your dream job, remember?! You’re not allowed to feel sad; you should be grateful for this opportunity. Get it together.

But I’m not together. I’m not okay. I’m tired, I’m confused, and I keep getting lost trying to find Target. Maybe this isn’t my dream job. Maybe, at the ripe age of 21, I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I’m not ready for this. But, maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s not until I recognize this grief, look it in the eye and say, “Yes. I see you. I understand your pain, and it’s okay.”

It’s okay to be afraid leaving the only home I’ve ever known. It’s okay to be apprehensive in new situations and challenges. It’s okay to be lonely. I have given myself permission to feel sadness, to stop resisting the uncertainty and fear, and in this grief, I have made space. Space to grow and learn. Space to fill with new experiences, opportunities, and relationships. By acknowledging and accepting the grief, anxiety, and loss over who I was, I can finally embrace who I am becoming.

So no, my new life in Washington is not as wonderful as I had anticipated – yet. But it’s also not a new life. I’m still me – the mildly introverted, somewhat obsessive, nerdy me. The girl who would rather run ten miles in the woods than sleep until noon. The one that collects miniature Buddha’s and old, family Bibles. The one with the lobbying and consulting job on K Street in Washington, D.C. It’s all me. And while change is hard, nerve-wracking, and out-right scary, it’s also necessary. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now. I still don’t really know how to get to Target. But I do know I am here. I am here to learn, grow, and explore this next chapter. I am here to relinquish my white-knuckled grip on life and embrace each moment’s opportunity. I am here to discover the young woman I am becoming. I am here, and I am no longer running away.


Also, as evidence that I have done more than think deeply about life, below are some photos from my adventures the past few weeks in D.C. For more, follow me on Instagram and Twitter! (I have been known to live-tweet Congressional hearings, you have been warned).

More than “Enough”

Friends and acquaintances alike have reached out over various mediums (email, Facebook, warm mugs of tea, emojis…) to tell me how much they can relate to my experience expressed in my latest post, “Enough.” The post was mainly my way of sharing my thoughts on my personal journey through self-awareness and seeking to better understand my own identity and authenticity. It turns out a lot of my peers are deep in the trenches of this process. Many of us are asking these questions of ourselves. The matter of identity is a timely one.

I was a little nervous to share that post. Much of it is verbatim from my personal journal (with slightly better comma usage), which I usually keep securely to myself for fear of judgement and overexposure. But what is the point of pursuing authenticity without seeking your own truth, whatever it may be. Exposing who you are – the parts you would gladly share and the bits and pieces you’d rather keep hidden – is the essence of finding contentment and gratitude within your own identity. Whether that process is through journaling, running, reading, or blogging, discovering and exposing the inner workings of oneself is grounding and inspiring.

It appears that many of us, my collegiate peers in particular, are yearning for this exposure. For something raw, unfiltered, and real. I’m thrilled to help start this conversation.

 

Part II: Lighting the Flame

Part II: Lighting the Flame

As promised, Part II of my journey as an athlete and woman begins with my first-ever run. This fateful run was on a hot summer afternoon at sixth grade cross-country practice. I hated it. Every afternoon I purposely ran on the roots, sticks and uneven ground hoping I would trip, fall, break an ankle and never have to run again. I quit the team within two weeks.

Three months later, I found myself watching a video my science teacher had created about his mini-marathon training program. His classroom was adorned with race bibs and finisher medals, and he had an infectious endorphin-fueled outlook on life. In the dimly lit halls of my middle school, this teacher was a ray of light. Every year he coordinated a program for students to train and race the Indianapolis Mini Marathon together. It was a daunting challenge, especially considering I had declared my hatred for the sport, but with encouragement from my teacher and pressure from my peers, I signed up. My parents doubted me, and for good reason – I couldn’t finish a three-kilometer race – but I was determined.

Training began in February. We ran laps inside of the middle school, and by “ran,” I mean we sprinted down hallways, giggled at boys, and walked until we had to run and hide from our pre-pubescent emotions again. It was fun.

As we shifted our training to the outdoors in the spring, my dad decided to join me. Twice a week we ran, together. Slowly, deliberately, gleefully. While it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be running with my dad instead of chasing boys, I cherished these miles. My father taught me the mantra, “slow and steady wins the race,” and this became the soundtrack of my journey to become a runner. Miles ticked by as I vented to him about the tribulations of being a twelve-year-old girl. He listened as I lamented about boys, cliques, classes, and the constant lack of fairness in the world. He provided insight and wisdom, laughter and inspiration. He taught me confidence, self-belief and humility. He believed in me when I didn’t know how. He could see a soft flame flickering within me, just waiting to be ignited.

We ran my first half-marathon together, stride for stride, without walking a single step. It took three hours, and most of my peers beat me. But I finished my first race, with my best friend and greatest training partner, and it was exhilarating.

I kept running.

Over the next three years I ran multiple half marathons, each faster than the last. There was no more chasing boys, just miles. My dad continued to be my trusted training partner, and I started to run with my mom as well. She became my sounding board for life’s conflicts, failures, frustrations, and victories. We shared laughter, tears, wisdom, and love on the pavement. My parents were so much more than training partners; they became trusted confidants, mentors, and my best friends. They taught me to run, and eventually, like a child riding without training wheels for the first time, they let me run without them.

It was in this solitude that I found myself. Every footfall, mile, and race was an opportunity to discover another layer within myself, to dig deep into my twelve-year-old mind and find so much more than a mess of raging hormones. I unraveled every layer, finding my relentless drive, deep anxiety, and enduring tenacity; I found my need for acceptance, longing for validation, and hunger for a challenge. I continue to peel away these layers today. The solitude of a quiet run or ride pulls back each layer revealing my vulnerable, raw and unearthed remains, building this intricate account of myself I aspire to know.

The pavement is my sanctuary. It is where I leave the rubble in search of peace. It is where the comforting rhythm of my breathing reminds me I’m alive. It is where I find myself – broken, blessed, whole, and yet never complete. The pavement is where my story begins.

Middle-school Samantha realizing running is about more than chasing boys down the hallway.
Middle-school Samantha realizing running is about more than chasing boys down the hallway.

I didn’t race a triathlon this year. And that’s okay.

I didn’t race a triathlon this year. And that’s okay.

I lost my goggles, and my racing flats are collecting dust. I haven’t updated my training log since July. I’ve started riding more miles on my road bike than my car. I only run on trails, without a watch, without mile splits, and without expectations. I’ve become my own coach, and my first order of business is to relax.

Since returning to Bloomington this fall, the first question I’m often asked isn’t how was your summer or what classes are you taking, but “how’s training going?” “How were your races this summer?”

At first, I considered lying – fabricating some great tale of why I didn’t race a single triathlon this year. I felt the need to explain myself, to mask a consuming sense of inadequacy. I wanted to reassure them that I’m still an elite amateur triathlete. I still dedicate more than 20 hours a week to training. I still dream of Kona starting lines and sponsorships.

But, the reality is, I don’t. Priorities shift. Passions evolve.

When I first explained this to a friend, I anticipated disappointment: Disappointment in my inability to fulfill the professional athlete persona my peers have grown accustomed to; disappointment in my comfortable lifestyle and lax training regimen. But instead the news was greeted with a smile. I didn’t need to explain myself. I didn’t need to cover my tracks. I didn’t race a triathlon this year, and that’s okay.

After years of letting coaches, doctors and training plans dictate my daily choices and activities, I’ve found the strength and confidence to let my body do the talking – and to listen. This realization didn’t come easy, but it did come with clarity. Two months into my latest running progression following a femoral neck stress fracture, I broke down in tears on a run. This was the third run to end in tears in two weeks. A combination of unanswerable lower leg pain, frustration, exhaustion and a yearning for answers finally broke me down. I was done. For the first time in nine years, I hated running. I threw my running shoes into the back of my closet and declared good riddance.

Coaches and physios were confident they could find the answer. I smiled and nodded, compliant with their plans and outward confidence, but deep down I wanted nothing to do with a comeback. I was done “coming back.” I had nowhere to come from.

I am no longer Samantha the triathlete, but I like to think I never was. I have experienced the dangers of identifying oneself through sport – I was once Samantha the varsity cross country runner, Samantha the half-marathoner, Samantha the swimmer, but predominantly, I have been Samantha the injured athlete. Countless times I have had these self-made identities taken away from me, leaving pain and disappointment to fill the void. Injuries, setbacks and regret have ripped these identities from my bare skin, leaving stinging bruises and the occasional scar in its place. I’m done being categorized. I’m done being labeled. I’m ready to just be Samantha, no qualifiers, no titles, no personas to satisfy.

The journey to this point of self-assurance has been rocky, unsettling and uncomfortable. But it has also been rewarding, enlightening and liberating. After years of depending on others’ training plans, guidance and validation, I am seeking comfort in my own assurance. For the first time in my athletic career, I am listening to my body without a workout, expectation or goal looming over me. For the first time I am not plotting a comeback. I am comfortable with where I am right now.

So where is that? Where am I today, right now? Answering this question requires more than one blog post, and thus I’m attempting to embark on a series of posts about this journey, beginning with my first run nine years ago and continuing through to today. There will be countless injuries, tears, redemption and doubt. There will be labels, judgments and self-blame. There will be fear, new experiences and countless friends. There will be joy, salvation and that little jittery feeling you get deep in your stomach mid-run when you realize all is right in the world. There is no ending, just a continuation of shifting priorities and evolving passions. We’ll see how this goes.