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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.

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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! 🙂

  2. You’re fantastic! Sometimes when a run gets hard for me, my mantra is “You had a baby with no pain meds, this is nothing!” ha ha So sweet that your kids cheer you on (and dream about you!) and the little girl with her first 5k. And those husbands… they definitely are priceless when we’re training and racing! My first marathon (Whidbey Island, Washington) is this April and I’m still scared out of my mind to do it, but I know I won’t regret it. Thank you for saying that no one really cares about your time (and that most people don’t even know how far a marathon is… it’s so true!), I need to work on that and not let it ruin a race for me. All that really matters is that you’re healthy enough to even complete a race!

  3. Your story made me tear up. I am also a mother and to see my children cheering me on would mean more than anything in the world. I started running earlier this year and was doing very good, got myself up to 5 miles which was a HUGE accomplishment for me. I fell off track the last couple months but have started up again. Bought some cold weather gear so I have no excuses. Good luck in the Ironman!!!

  4. What an inspiring story! I’m also slow but steady, and have registered for my first marathon this spring, with plans to do my first tri this summer. I love your mantra: “if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”

  5. You inspired me to complete my training towards my first marathon. I am thinking I am a ‘One and Done’. I also got tears in my eyes when that young girl was looking at your medal. Keep inspiring your kids too!!

  6. I love the line, “I’m fine with being slow, I just wanted to be a little less slow”. That’s so me!
    Congratulations on all your wonderful accomplishments!

  7. Your story is very inspiring! I have begun to use the same quote: if your dreams don’t scare you, their not big enough.

    My dream for 2013 is to run my first marathon. And it scares me!

  8. Wow, this brought tears to my eyes too! And I love this quote: “if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” Congratulations on all you’ve run and hope you have a great Ironman!

  9. i feel like this could be my story as well. Having been a runner for many years, I jumped shipped over to the world of triathlon….but i don’t dream of having Mike Riley say “you are an ironman”

  10. When the little girl asked to see your medal it brought tears to my eyes. Running to inspire and influence the next generation keeps me going. I don’t know you but I am so proud of you, and know you will kick butt in AZ. It doesn’t matter your time, just that you are out there pushing yourself. When you aren’t afraid to fail you can accomplish so much more. Congratulations mother runner.

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