Why I Run: Jessica Russell

98182-270-013fJessica Russell lives in Oakland, California with her "patient husband and energetic 4 ½ year old twins." She works full time as the director of alumni relations at a local arts college. She has run "three very slow marathons and 10 half-marathons." She completed her first half iron-distance triathlon this past summer and dreams of completing her first full Ironman in 2014.

When my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I ask myself why I run. When it is pouring rain and my shoes are soaked, I ask myself why I run. When my iPod dies half way through a 12-miler, I ask myself why I run. But nowhere do I ask this question more than during a marathon.

On November 6, 2011, 47,000 people came to a famous East Coast city to run one of the most popular marathons in the world. I did not. I ran a marathon in Fresno. Fresno, CA is not known as a destination city for runners, but I was hoping the flat, out-and-back course would help me reach my goal of a sub-4:30 race.

The morning of the race was brisk and beautiful, and with only 600 other runners it was easy to find a spot at the starting line. The gun went off and I settled in to my pace. I had run two other marathons (the first, a year after having twins), coming in around 5 hours both times. I was fine with being slow; I just wanted to be a little less slow. Having followed my training plan to the letter I felt ready to meet my goal.

For the first 10 miles my legs felt great. In fact, I felt the best I had ever felt during a marathon. Then at mile 11 my pace slowed; by 10 seconds at first, then 20, then 30, until by mile 15 I was running a minute slower than my goal pace. I began doubting myself. “Why do I run?” I grumbled.

My friends and family were waiting for me at mile 16 so I pushed on. I could see my 3-year-old daughter cheering and my spirits lifted, but as I headed away from my family, I saw that the next 5 miles were downhill.  This meant that the last 5 miles would be uphill. I was getting discouraged and letting the hills psych me out.  “Why do I run?” I screamed in my head.

As the miles slowly passed I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Should I have done more speed work?  Was I fueling wrong? Did I not get enough sleep?   began to walk the first part of every mile and then push myself to run to the next mile marker. My mantra was, “you gave birth to twins, you can do this,” but what I was really thinking was, “why do I run?”

I wasn’t sure if I would see my cheering section again, but as I reached mile 25 I saw my son holding a sign that said, “Go, mama, go!” I willed my legs into a shuffling run and headed towards the finish. I stopped my watch at 5:07:26, got my medal, and headed towards my family and friends. Their hugs and kisses should have made me realize that nobody cared about my time, but I was still disappointed to have run my slowest marathon despite all my training.

Me and my 4 1/2-year-old twins.

But then, wearing my medal at brunch I was stopped by three different tables of people congratulating me on my race. I realized none of them cared about my time either. Most people don’t even know how long a marathon is!  Then a mother approached my table with her 7-year-old daughter. “Excuse me, did you run the marathon?” She asked. I told her I had. “My daughter just finished her first 5K and really wanted to look your medal,” she said.  The way the little girl looked at me made me feel like a rock star. Later that night I was putting my own daughter to bed and she told me, “I’m going to dream about you running tonight, mommy.” At that moment I realized that I had met my race goals after all. And that’s why I run.

Having only completed a few sprint distance triathlons, I decided that I was going to race a half-iron distance triathlon the year I turned 40. After much research I picked Barb's Race, a women-only half iron-distance race (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) in the Northern California wine country in July 2012.  Too intimidated to join a triathlon club, I found a training program online and did the 8 to 10 hours a week of training all on my own; waking up at 5 a.m. to swim, riding my bike trainer late into the night, running at lunch, and thanking my husband profusely for all the times he had to watch the kids. It took me 7 hours and 17 minutes to finish the race, with my kids cheering me on at every transition. I had such a great time that as soon as I crossed the finish line I told my husband I wanted to do a full Ironman! He just shook his head in disbelief, but my new mantra is, "if your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough." Watch out Ironman Arizona, I'm coming for you in 2014!

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17 responses to “Why I Run: Jessica Russell

  1. What a beautiful story! I love that you felt like a rock star…that part just made me want to go run a marathon!! (yikes) Thank you for reminding me how much I love to hear my kids talk about mommy running! My 13 year old is going to go running with me today! I am even more happy about that after reading this! 🙂

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