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img-6884.jpgIt's easy for people to think distance runners are crazy, especially when the distances start getting into the marathon plus range! In fact, I was once one of those people who could never understand how in the world anyone would like to go out and run for hours at a time - some of them without headphones!

After running my first half marathon in 2015, I knew I wanted to run more, but it was hard to find the time to train for a large event, especially when it came to working around my job as a backpacking guide.  When you're on your feet for hours, it's definitely hard to find motivation to get out and spend even more time running in circles trying to get in those training miles.  

After successfully training for and completing my first marathon in 2016, I finally understood the hype.  As someone who regularly suffers from anxiety and depression, being out on my own for hours at a time and only concentrating on my footsteps and breath has become so incredibly comforting.  I knew after that marathon it was time to take the ultra leap and begin working on my mental health.  While I was working as a guide, I did get to spend a lot of time outside, but being responsible for a group of people and being in "teacher mode" for days on end really left me mentally drained.  Later in November 2016, our area - a temperate rainforest! - suffered a catastrophic wildfire.  This event really threw my depression back at me full force and I struggled for the next eight months with bouts of depression so severe I didn't even want to get out of bed.  Throughout this period, however, I made running more of a priority for myself than I had in years past with my job.  Even if all I could do was fit in one mile after getting my clients to camp, I made taking that mental break a must.  
Unlike previous seasons as a guide, in 2017 I was able to retain much of my running fitness.  After having some really impressive times, including my fastest ever half marathon time, in a series of training runs after my busy season was over I decided to sign up for my first ever timed ultra event.  This 12-hour trail race promised to be challenging physically due to our east coast terrain and I was more than ready to take on the challenge.  In fact, timed ultras are a lot like taking a long, LONG day hike where you run a lot! This I could do!  I ran for the first four hours of the race and then took a walk break for my lunch.  I ran off and on throughout the day and ended up finishing my last lap at 10:57:00.  I didn't have enough time to complete another loop, but ended up with 40.5 official trail miles and was the fourth place female finisher!  
After spending so many years struggling with my mental and physical health, losing more than 50 pounds, and finding a way to work outdoors in a place I love, I keep finding a way to come back to running.  It challenges me mentally and physically and does wonders for keeping me sane.
By: Jen Kelley, Sevierville, TN

jensmith.jpgI don’t remember the exact day or time when I decided I would become a runner.  I remember seeing an influx of running posts from my Facebook friends and I would always think to myself, “I’m not a runner.”  I was never athletic as a child—I would rather have my nose in a book than participate in a physical activity.  After frequently telling myself “I’m not a runner,” one day my thought changed and my response to the Facebook posts became “Why don’t I run?”  I come from a family that is plagued with obesity, high blood pressure and other types of health issues.  Frankly, I didn’t want to become a genetic statistic and continue this family tradition.  So I decided to run.

My first run was terrible and I’m not even sure if I could call it a run.  I thought I was ready—I had on running shoes, running clothes and my running music playlist ready.  But I soon discovered I couldn’t even get through an entire song without stopping.  If I couldn’t run for three minutes, how was I ever going to run any type of distance? I hated it.  But I did it again.  And again.  Eventually I could run through one song and then two.  And the next thing I knew I was running a mile.  I slowly built myself up and I was ready for a 5K—I ran my first 5K in September of 2013.  I did it- I was so excited that I had reached the running goal I set for myself.  So I did the next logical thing—I stopped running.  It would be a couple months before I decided to run again.  And once I had committed to running again, I was consistent—running 3-4 days a week.  And then I got hurt.  I had a foot injury and was in a walking boot for 4 months.  During the time I couldn’t run, I was also going through shifts in both my professional and personal life.   As soon as the doctor gave me the okay, I went for a run.  It surprised me that this was the first thing I wanted to do.  I didn't realize how much I had missed running.  Then I was hit for the hardest thing I’ve ever faced in my life—my mom passed away.  It was unexpected and I felt as though I had been hit by a semi truck and left on the side of a road, completely lost.We live in a culture that thrives on labels and after my mom passed away, I wasn’t quite sure what my label was anymore.  So I put more energy into my running—running was the one place where labels didn’t matter.  Running has given me so much more than I ever anticipated.  It allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and I have become a better version of me.  I’ve met some amazing people and have had some great traveling adventures.  Since my mom passed away, I have run numerous 5Ks, three 10Ks, a 15K, thirteen half-marathons and one marathon.  In losing my mom, I found running again and in that, I found myself again.So in this culture that thrives on labels, who am I? I am a woman.  I am a friend.  I am a daughter.  I am a sister.  I am hard-of-hearing.  I am a teacher.  I am a runner.  
By: Jenn Smith, El Cajon, California




I never used to be a runner.  I ran from time to time, a mile or two, here and there, often with many years in between.  I hiked sometimes, biked sometimes, but never really had any sort of fitness program at all.  I’d been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was 26.  I had symptoms like weakness, fatigue and dizziness, and sudden onset blindness a few times.   My neurologist told me every time I saw her that she would prescribe exercise to me if she could, but I never really took that to heart.  The things I had to do took enough work, and exercise just didn’t seem like something I could work into my day.   I went to grad school, got a good job, got married, had a child, but I never really prioritized exercise.  When I was 40, I learned I had MS related sleep apnea, and I began to treat it.  I had been on intermittent disability at work because of fatigue, and with treatment of the apnea, I began to get some energy back.   By a stroke of luck, I happened to be having a great day one Saturday in late October of 2011.  I went shopping for groceries, and I realized it was the weekend of the Mount Desert Island (MDI) Marathon.  The town was buzzing with athletes preparing for a weekend of running adventures.   I had a moment of envying those smiling, fit people.  Then, almost immediately, I had a moment of enlightenment.    Right there in the produce department of the Hannaford, I decided I would run the MDI marathon in 2012. 

That night I told my husband of my plan.   He looked at me, shook his head, and said "Okay." in a somewhat incredulous, but supportive tone.  So the next day, I dug a 10 year old pair of running shoes out of my closet, and went for a torturous one mile run.  It sucked.  I doubted myself.  41 year old people with MS who couldn’t even stay awake all day for the past few years just don’t start running.   So I made myself publically accountable.  I came home from that run and posted my goal online.  I started raising money for the MS Society.  I ran.  Got to 2 miles, then I bought some new running shoes.  Four miles, and it started to not suck so bad.   But then it was winter, and it was cold and icy.  I still ran.  Once I slipped on the ice two miles out on a dirt trail, hurt my knee, hobbled back.  Went out and ran again (on the plowed roads this time).   I kept running. 

Someone told me I should run some other race before I went and ran a marathon, so I signed up for a half marathon in June of 2012.  It was so hot that day I wanted to die.  But I finished the race, thanks to nice people with ice cold sponges and hoses spraying water, and my pure determination.   In October 2012, I was ready for the full.  It was in the mid 40’s and raining on the day of the race, but all the pics I have of me, I was smiling like crazy.  I was happy!  I was living my year long, hard earned dream, and it felt great!  I felt great!  I finished the marathon (a hilly one!) in 4:42:26. And I raised several thousand dollars for the National MS Society.  It was amazing. 

The best thing was that running was no longer difficult.  It was fun!   I saw such a strong connection between my energy levels and my fitness.  I’ve now run 13 other marathon distance or greater races, and I’m currently training for an Ironman triathlon.   I’ve accomplished things I’ve never thought possible, and had tons of fun doing it.  I know I still have a diagnosis of MS, but it’s no longer who I am.  I’m a runner.   I do lots of other things, too, but everything now is fueled by the confidence and energy that running has given me.   I’m so thankful for those happy runners in Bar Harbor in October 2011, and for the little bit of jealousy that they sparked in me, and for everyone who supported me in that first year and the years after.  Run on! 

By: Melissa Ossanna, Bar Harbor, Maine

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