Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why We Train Wednesday: Featured Athlete: Stephanie Saunders

A few weeks ago I was running with this lovely lady and we were bouncing around ideas for our respective blogs.  It was out of this run that this feature was borne so I felt it fitting to have Stephanie be the first one to share her story.

I'm always fascinated and motivated by people's fitness journeys.  If you are a runner, what made you take that first step?  If you do crossfit how did you get started?  Many of our reasons may be similar but every story is different.   I wanted this feature to be more than just a short Q & A.  I want it to be a place where people can share all the details of their journey and motivate others.  Where they started, where they are now and where they hope to be.   If you're interested in taking part, drop me a line at phaedrakennedy at sympatico dot ca.

Without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Stephanie Saunders, my first featured athlete.  I have known Stephanie for several years now, having worked together on many projects over the years.  Despite knowing her for several years, I never knew how she got started with running.  Now I do.

Where to find Stephanie online:

twitter:  @SSaundersDesign
Blog: stephaniesaundersdesign.wordpress.com
instagram: stephaniesaundersdesign

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I started running about 7 years ago when I lived beside High Park in the West End.  I had always been an avid walker -ever since I was kid I loved going for walks to clear my head or to spend time outdoors (and escape my hectic home).  Running seemed like a natural extension and so I started on the park trails by running short little bursts of 20 minutes or so twice a week.  At that point, I thought I was doing well and was super happy to join the rest of the awesome people I saw doing the same thing.  I kept it up and slowly extended my time and distance and loved every minute of it.  My job can be very demanding and running became the thing I did at the end of the day to balance out my mood, to be away from the phone and emails and get a much needed endorphin rush that made my stress disappear completely.  It was a bridge between work and home that I came to look forward to and need.

About a year-in, I met someone, fell in love and decided to uproot my life and move to the other side of the city to be with him, leaving my beloved park behind.  At the time, I was happy to do it but unfortunately I also made the short-sighted choice to put my running mostly on hold.  My new partner is a top-caliber triathlete and my role became that of meal-maker, driver, bag-holder and cheering section.  There just wasn't enough time for both of us to be the athlete and (truth be told) I was really intimidated anyway.  So I stopped and so did my progress.

After that relationship ended I moved to the Beaches and needed an outlet to make myself feel better.  Without going into too much detail, it was one of the darkest times of  my life.
Luckily, I was living in one of the brightest and prettiest parts of Toronto:  I found an apartment very close to the boardwalk and it may have saved my sanity.  I've heard many tales of people who run to fix a broken heart and I can tell you from experience that it is an excellent way, although there are some pitfalls to avoid.  At first I thought that running fast and hard as often as possible would get me back to where I was pre-relationship and would burn away all my feelings of sadness and anxiety.   Unfortunately, as with everything, you can't rush your training any more than you can force your heart to mend.   I gave myself a very painful stress fracture in my left foot that made me stop for 6 weeks.  That was a big mistake and I found it devastating at the time.  These things take time and patience and a slow build. 

Eventually, I found a trainer to help me learn how to do it properly (what? you mean many of my kms are supposed to be slow and easy??!!) and I spent 3 months working towards my first half marathon.  For me, it was a way to get my power back and to feel like I could do whatever I set my mind to. I wasn't on the sidelines anymore, I was doing it and it felt amazing.  Running provides innumerable life lessons and racing sharpens those lessons in a way that makes them very meaningful.  When you have only yourself, your shoes, and your watch to rely on you have to dig deep to find your motivation and even deeper to find your source of power.  I have never done anything more difficult than to keep running when my body is screaming to stop and walk.  It takes a stubbornness that would shock a donkey. I crossed the finish line with the exact time that I was aiming for (1:45) and from then on I was totally hooked.  It was a triumph!  I was back in charge of my life and I was on fire!

Since then, I have run several more half marathons (most great, one bad), 5 kms and 10kms races and my times are getting better with every try.   I have had a few small injuries, run with a group, had two great coaches, met some inspiring running-friends and logged countless training hours on that boardwalk.  I JUST ran the Scotia Half on Sunday and knocked nearly 10 minutes off of my original time after just 3 short years of work.  It may not sound like a lot to everyone but to a runner 10 minutes represents hours of blood, sweat and tears.   As I look at it now, this is a lifelong process and I am right in the middle of it.  After every race, I look up to the sky and say a little thank-you to whatever power is looking down and allowing me to do this.  I feel lucky and privileged to be a runner and it will be a part of my life as long as I have two legs and some shoes to carry me down the trail.




Thank you Stephanie for allowing me to share your story!
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