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Have a little faith: Finnish legends and finish line motivators

"Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen" (Rough translation: ‘Grasshopper, Grasshopper, Go to Hell!’)

This week, I turn 43-years old. For decades, I relished sharing my birthday with a holiday known as St. Urho’s Day. As a hard core Finlander, I always thought this was fate until my mid-20s. It was then, in a newsroom, where my boss informed me that St. Urho’s Day was not in fact a national Finnish holiday but instead manufactured in northern Minnesota in the 1950s as a joke in response to St. Patrick’s Day.

I was blindsided—and seriously embarrassed in one of my worse blond moments of all time.

In hindsight, I should have known. The legend is a bit absurd: St. Urho chases grasshoppers out of Finland saves the grape crop, and you celebrate every March 16 by wearing purple and sipping a purple beer.

But my mom had always talked about me being born on St. Urho’s Day. I had no reason not to believe her—and so I did, up until my boss popped the purple bubble on it.

Think about it for a minute. Do other fellow mother runners ever listen to the stories we tell our kids? The intricate details we fabricate when explaining why Santa doesn’t get injured coming down our wood burning stove chimney; or why the tooth fairy just knows to deliver cash for teeth (which is really creepy when you think about it); or  how Easter Bunny hides eggs. (Let’s not even talk about Elf on the Shelf. As if I need another reason to make my house messier.)

Man, we pull these stories off and what’s crazy is our kids BELIEVE US.

If they believe the crazy stories we tell, then why is it so hard for us to believe in ourselves? Why do we find ourselves consistently talking ourselves down or filling our brains with self-doubt about all of the reasons we cannot succeed?

 If you have the answer, please share. Because I’m nowhere near understanding my shortcomings. But this is what I do know.

Ten years ago, I told myself a crazy narrative. I decided, while recovering from a carb (and maybe mojito) hang-over that I should be a runner. That I, who didn’t even own running shoes, should run a half-marathon. Absurd? Absolutely. Did I do it. Yes. Did a whole bunch of people believe in me prior to crossing that finish line? Nope.

How did I do it? Blind faith in myself (and a side of ignorance). I talk in my book about genuinely believing there was a chance I would die before I crossed the finish line of my first half-marathon. I honestly didn’t know. I mean I knew I probably wouldn’t die but I didn’t really know until I heard the words “strong finisher” over the loudspeaker as I finished next to last.

If that’s not faith, then I don’t know what to call it.

running incentives
Dumbo thought he needed a feather to fly. I rely on a lot more to cross that finish line.

I couple that faith with incentives. Lots and lots of incentives. I genuinely believe in those incentives. You know how Dumbo needed a feather to fly? I need Brooks Glycerin shoes. Not exactly a feather but they get me across the finish line every time. I rely on the training schedules, the hydration, the stretching. I invest in the massage guns and the wicking shirts and the reinforced sports bra to cup by 44D chest (and hopefully save my back in the process). I carbo load the spaghetti. I read the memes on Instagram and Pinterest. I listen to the podcasts and drill my cool running friends for tips and tricks.

But, at the end of the day, I have faith in myself.

I believe in myself enough to say, it doesn’t matter where I finish as long as I show up and put one foot in front of the other. That’s what I’m doing right now. As I type this piece, I’m nearly half-way through my training. My latest incentive is finally upgrading to Spotify Premium and crafting the perfect playlists to enjoy when I venture off my treadmill and into the icy streets of northern Wisconsin.

My goal is to line up on May 1 and to finish strong. Sure, I have a time in my head as well (under 14-minute miles). But, if I don’t hit it, at least I believed enough in myself to show up. To try. And, if I fall short, that’s ok. I can still enjoy a (purple) beer at the end.

Because the great thing about believing in yourself is you always have another chance to show up. At the heart of it, that’s the greatest running victory I’ll ever experience.

6 responses to “Have a little faith: Finnish legends and finish line motivators

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it as I am also turning 43 this year and a hardcore Finlander. Have a great race in May and good luck with all of your training!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I had people around me who were sure I was going to die, too. specifically, my husband. I was 48 when I started running, and after my first 10k but before my first half, I ran Ragnar Wasatch Back in 2011, encompassing 3 legs totaling 18+ miles within 24 hours. He was sure I was going to die and begged me to call him when I was done. So I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one! Also thank you for the reminder about self talk. Lastly, I think the strongest part of being an older runner (I’ll be 60 in 4 months!) is our mental toughness. So go out there and get it on May 1!!!

  3. Thanks for being real! I love hearing everyone’s stories. I need ALL the encouragement as I feel very alone as an on again off again runner in her mid 50’s.

  4. Haha! I love the St. Urho story. A similar thing happened to me. While I am not a “Finn”, I grew up in an area that had several towns that were “Finnish” and went to a Finnish museum in one, ran a St. Urho road race in another, etc. I thought it was a real holiday too. That is, I thought it was real until I moved, and one day said something to my class about celebrating St. Urho’s day. Every single one of them looked at me blankly, so I had to look it up. Imagine my surprise when I found out the true back story! Now I just tell them to dress in purple on this day, and then I tell them the story of St. Urho, and give them some grape juice. 🙂 Good luck on all of your running!

  5. I upgraded to Spotify Premium last summer specifically for uninterrupted playlists in my runs and it has been worth every penny! One of my goals for this year to to run my first half. Good luck with your training!

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