Greetings, Salty Runners! I am from Nashville, Tennessee, pursuing a sub-20:00 5K. I work days as a fundraising strategist for a nonprofit hospital, and I go home to my cat Cordelia. I live next door to my younger sister, henceforth referred to as Meca, who works at Nashville Running Company, our local running store. I began running in earnest in late 2012, and after a brief medical mishap (another post for another time), I am finding local success. I hope you’ll read along as I train on the track and in my mind toward my 5K goal. Meanwhile, some background. . .
I was always a dancer who occasionally ran for fitness around my suburban Nashville hometown. When I went to the University of Alabama to major in dance, I would not be the best in class for the first time in my life. The other dancers in the program had far more training than I, coming from performing arts schools or internships with professional companies. I spent college trying to become one of them. I came close one season.
I remember the year our on-campus company performed excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty. I worked all summer for the fall auditions. After all lead-role-hopefuls had performed select variations, one typically stoic ballet teacher remarked that roles were not guaranteed to the usual suspects, while she gave me an approving nod. I felt warm with pride. Though I ultimately danced in the corps de ballet, I, the jazz dancer with a swayback, had been considered, however briefly, for a principal role. I ultimately found my niche performing musicals in the theater department. I even landed speaking roles as the Hunyak in a revue of Chicago and as Kristine in A Chorus Line.
While I wasn’t convinced I wanted to be a dancer my whole life, I moved to New York City soon after graduation in 2006. I knew I couldn’t decide to pursue it at age 30; I had to go right then. I spent about a year learning how to live in New York, another year learning I needed to specialize in one style of dance, and one more year pursuing the musical theater specialty I selected.
During this time, I studied the Feldenkrais Method. It’s a system of body awareness that addresses tensions, pains, and inhibited action through movement. I describe it this way: If massage (which I totally advocate and enjoy) releases tension while you’re lying still, Feldenkrais lessons address tensions in the movement patterns that create them. I enrolled in the training program and saw my dance performance soar. Technical aspects that had eluded me suddenly became available. I frequented one jazz class full of dancers who would go to their jobs on Broadway in the evenings. I achieved the self-satisfaction I sought from dance when I could line up with those professionals and hold my own.
Also in New York, I found running.
One Saturday morning in early 2008, I was lying on a tiny futon in my kitchen watching cartoons (the living room was converted to a bedroom so my roommate and I could afford to live in Manhattan). I had a waitressing shift at 5 that evening. When it dawned on me that … I was lying on a tiny futon in my kitchen watching cartoons. So, I rushed out the door in running shoes. I ran 6 miles in Central Park and 3 more on a treadmill at the gym. I went from couch to 9 miles in a morning. I paid for it, mind you. I couldn’t walk straight for a couple days. Meca and other friends were training for the Country Music Half Marathon, Nashville’s biggest race, held annually on the last weekend of April. I ran, too, and went on to do two other half marathons and a 10K that summer. I turned my focus back to dance, and I left running behind.
Eventually, I fell victim to the recession. Unable to pay bills with my “survival job,” with zero dance prospects, I moved back to Tennessee in late 2009. I hadn’t come close to Broadway, but it was a transformative life season. I discovered running, achieved my personal definition of dance success, and learned a body technique that I still use.
I wouldn’t pick up running seriously again until December 2012, when some friends organized a run to fund after-school programs in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, after the school shooting. I did 7 miles that day. It was the first time I’d run for something outside myself. Each runner received an “angel,” a victim from the shooting. Whenever I noticed physical discomfort or fatigue, I would turn my thoughts to my angel’s family. I finished with such a sense of oneness with my fellow runners and with that family in my heart, I wanted to be a runner. I wanted to be part of this community who shares emotional pain by entering into physical pain. I experienced running as more than a form of exercise, but as a moving meditation. It was a way to join mind and body in a singular effort, one that yields contentment, satisfaction, and peace. Running is a state of mind and being.
Following the Sandy Hook run, I set some goals. First, I would train for the 2013 Country Music Half Marathon for one month. If I had no injuries and still loved running, I would register for the race. At the finish line, if I had no injuries and still loved running, I would register for the 2014 Mardi Gras Marathon. And that is what happened.
Along the way I found my main running groups: the Nooners and RunWest. The Nooners run on the Vanderbilt University track at noon twice a week. RunWest meets at Nashville Running Company Thursday mornings and evenings. Most of my long runs are with PR Bandits, an East Nasty spinoff that does long runs outside Country Music Marathon season.
I’ve also found my running concentration in the 5K. I like to go hard! I like that I can compete all the time, instead of only a couple times a year like my marathon friends. I like that I can WIN, which is a fun perk of small, local charity races. I like the lung-searing, muscle burning pain of a short race, versus the joint aching pain of a longer race.
I can’t to share even more with you. Join me on my journey to my fastest 5K. Follow me to the sometimes dark places running takes us: the places where mind and body push perceived limitations. I look forward to following all of you, too.