Running 2020: Looking Forward, Looking Back
I began running as a kid when I joined the 8th-grade track team and ran the 800-meter race, almost always coming in dead last. But my dedication had me up at six o’clock every morning to walk to school for early practice. I didn’t know it then, but I was building an athletic life.
My adult running career began when my sister, Laura, ran a marathon and told me I could do one, too. So in 2003, when I was 37 years old, I signed up for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon on May 4, 2004, and trained all winter. Because the basic training plan had apparently worked for thousands of people before me, I adopted it fully. I didn’t believe my sister when she advised that as soon as I crossed the finish, I would be planning the next one. But sure enough, after my 5-hour-35-minute-26.2 mile run, I said to her, “Let’s do the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Alaska next year!” Another winter of training. Another back of the pack race — 5 hours 45 minutes. By the third year, third marathon, and discovering track workouts, I hit 4 hours 57 minutes at the 2006 God’s Country Marathon in Pennsylvania. I also took an age group award as well as a personal record (PR). I’ll share a secret — “God’s Country Marathon” is code for “really darn hilly.”
Amelia's daughter Cady joins her at the finish of the Ithaca YMCA triathalon
Over the total of six years of my adult running career, I earned a few more age-group awards, mostly local, and mostly to my surprise. In 2008, when I headed out one fall day for a half-marathon, my daughter, Cady, came up to the car and said in that most adorable, optimistic voice reserved for 6-year-olds, “Mommy, go run really FAST and WIN your race!”
I thought, ’Indeed, sweetheart. Indeed.’
But I replied, to give her an honest picture, “Oh, honey, I don’t win these races, but I’ll sure try my best and have a great run!”
Her young, earnest eyes seemed to ask, “Why would you enter a race if you already know you won’t win?” or perhaps it was, “Then why don’t you stay home with me all day and cuddle on the couch?” And I was off. When I came back that afternoon with a trophy (age group award, again), and a personal record, that little girl was beside herself with joy!
I carefully explained, without downplaying the PR, that third in my group and the trophy were not exactly evidence of world-class running. Still, that small trophy is my most cherished piece of plastic. That PR was October 2008. Twenty months later, in June 2009, I survived a debilitating stroke. I was only 42 and feeling on top of the world, training for a half-Ironman triathlon. I simply got out of a lake swim one morning and broke in half.
Doctors called it “spontaneous dissection of the carotid,” which I took to mean “no good reason, it was just your turn in this fickle universe.” At first I asked, “Why me?” but mostly I asked, “When?”
- When will I get ALL better?
- When will I go running again?
- When will I move or feel my left arm or leg, at all?
- When will I be allowed out of this hospital and go take a pee by myself?
There were no answers and certainly no guarantees. Becoming completely paralyzed down my left side and suffering cognitive losses, it took every bit of moxie I owned to learn to walk again; and after four years of trying, I got my 5K time down to 2 hours. I also re-learned how to ride a bike. By 2014, five years after the stroke, I had built enough stamina to enter a 10K. Limp-walking the whole way, I finished in 3 hours 35 minutes. I came in under 3 hours in my next two races. My new perspective? Dead last is better than actually dead.
After so many years of consistent exercise-walking and treadmill time, arduous PT, and continuously digging up new wells of patience and resolve, I can hit a 24-minute mile, a 77-minute 5K and have entered several triathlons. That 6-year-old daughter has picked up no small amount of my determination and has become a teenager who still promises that she will run with me when I get rid of the limp and finally am able to run. Maybe that will be in 2020. I’m looking forward to it!
In 2014, Cady had a 7th-grade essay about a life-changing event. She wrote about my stroke:
“She has been fighting to recover ever since. But my mom was strong and determined, and I am glad to say that she is a fighter. I’ve learned that over years, anything can be achieved if you are determined enough. Look at my mother: She had a stroke, and after only five years of recovery, she did the Cayuga Lake Triathlon. This event has forever changed my perspective on the world.”
Indeed, sweetheart. Indeed.
Amelia gets back into her "normal" training groove by swimming at Keezar Lake in Maine
Amelia Habicht lives in Ithaca, New York, and is available for paid speaking engagements at events, races, or other gatherings, and for freelance writing work. Contact her for a full resume and details.
See Amelia’s TEDxIthacaCollege talk courtesy of tedxtalks.ted.com.
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