Author Archives: Kate Mroz

For those who need a place to vent, talk, mourn, etc. in wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report

I’ve put off posting about this, mainly because the right words escape me. To my fellow Catholics, I just signed this statement calling for the collective resignation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have chosen to remain Catholic in spite of the many crises of faith that I have experienced long before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released. For many people, Catholic Church has not been a place that they can call “home,” including but not limited to women, divorced and remarried persons, LGBTQ persons, and those who, faithful to their conscience, say or act in a way that does not align fully with the Magisterium.

For those, like myself, who identify as Catholic, I believe we hold a responsibility to not only be aware of the systemic evil and injustice that has taken place in the institutional church but also to be willing to listen to all those who have been affected by it. For those of you who want someone to talk to about recent (or not so recent, since we have known that sexual abuse has been happening in the church for a LONG TIME) events, I am here- and I hope to offer the same to my students as we start a new semester next week- I am hear to listen without nudging you to leave the Church or stay in the Church, etc. I firmly believe we need to create space for people to express their feelings and reactions, even if those may be hard for us to hear.

However, one thing I WILL ALWAYS MAINTAIN is that GOD IS NOT THE PROBLEM. The way we talk about God is the problem, even right down to the very names we use for God. Human beings have a done a good job of convincing various people that God does not approve of them, that their suffering is somehow deserved or pre-ordained by God, but just because human beings abuse their power and utter such sentiments, that does not make them true. The God that I believe in is not an almighty ruler looking to punish us for every transgression or a distant God removed from the suffering and pain of our every day lives, but A CRUCIFIED GOD, a God who suffered and was crucified again every time a child of Hers was abused. We need to do a much better job of proclaiming this Crucified God. The institutional Church has abandoned God’s people, but God has not abandoned His people.*

The switching off between His and Hers as pronouns for God is intentional. God is beyond gender and no human category can exhaust the incredible Mystery that is God. All people – men, women, and transgendered persons, are capable of imaging God and therefore, God should be expressed and named using many different kinds of words and images.

 

 

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Finish Though Your Legs Are Shaking, Finish Though Your Heart is Breaking- the 2018 Boston Marathon

As many of you know, it was a dream of mine to someday run the Boston Marathon. When I first started training for the marathon distance in summer of 2016, I had no clue what to expect and thought my road to Boston would be much longer than it actually was. When I BQed on my first marathon in October 2016 (thanks to my fiancé, you should check out that story), it was only -1:33. It was not enough to get in but enough to give me the confidence to know I could do it. I ran another marathon in May 2017 for a -4:28 to squeak in by just a little over a minute.

I was euphoric when I got that e-mail from the BAA that I was officially registered in the 2018 Boston Marathon. I decided not to do a fall marathon in 2017 and start training earlier than I typically would. Big mistake. I think I put way too much pressure on myself for Boston, and it ultimately lead to too much stress and a decline in my performance.Image may contain: one or more people and text

Throughout most of my training, everything pointed to me being able to hit my goal of sub 3:30. Besides a one-week bout with the flu, I was hitting the right paces on my workouts and my “easy pace” got faster. Five weeks before race day, I did a 20 miler on the course with the last 5 miles at faster than marathon pace and felt like I still had more in the tank. I did not do any other races during the cycle, keeping my sole focus on a PR and BQ at Boston.

March 21- the morning of my dissertation defense- BAM! I was doing a 7 mile tempo run at half-marathon pace, a challenging workout but nothing I had not already done in training. After the tempo portion, I felt a sharp pain in my butt and hobbled home. I passed my defense, officially becoming a PhD, but I was in pain. The next day I woke up crying that “Boston was over.” Not healed by that Saturday, I had to miss my 22 mile long run. To make matters worse, my 22 miler was going to be done with friends and I had been looking forward to it for months. It was hard to not board the bus to Hopkinton that morning.Image may contain: Kate Mroz, smiling, standing and indoor

I was diagnosed with SI joint dysfunction. Both my PT and doctor assured me that I would still run Boston, but it was hard to believe them especially as the healing took longer than even they expected. I was out of running for two weeks, though doing some intense work on the recumbent bike- who know how good of a workout you could get on that thing?

At one appointment, my doctor told me that I could try running again on Easter Sunday. As a theologian, I got excited and joked that the waiting to run part was my Lenten penance. However, I was not really joking. I woke up on Easter Sunday with a lot of hope and went into a very dark place when I was not able to run that morning. To make matters worse, the gym was closed so I had to skip biking that day. My fiancé had to force me to go to church. I was a mess. I felt that God had abandoned me. After all this work, why would I get this freak injury out of the clear blue on the day of my defense of all possible mornings? As some of you may know, I dealt with some pretty bad anxiety and depression while finishing up my dissertation, and marathon training really helped with that. Everything on my Facebook and in my house reminded me of Boston- it felt like the world was mocking me. Every morning when I woke up in my pain, it seemed like I would get another e-mail update about Boston.

Finally, shortly after Easter, the pain did go away and I was able to return to running. My doctor gave me a cortisone shot. Even as he was giving me the shot, he said “You are going to PR this thing!” He insisted that the biking kept up my fitness and that because I was already through two marathons, I would be fine. I was skeptical but decided that if he believed in me, I would not give up. I got in some runs before the marathon. The first two were bit shaky, but I started getting my groove back after that.

I set two goals for myself. 1) Still run the sub 3:30 if possible. 2) If I was not feeling a sub 3:30 and knew it was not going to happen, to just enjoy the race, shake hands with spectators, kiss my fiancé at his viewing spots, take selfies, and just savor the course.

I reached neither goal. But God was in this crazy mess, and I did take something important away from this race.

Race weekend was a lot of fun. On Saturday, my fiancé and I went to the Expo and had an amazing time. We tried so many delicious samples. I ended up buying a Roo pouch to carry my gels and phone during the race (great decision). Bryan also bought me a Spike the Unicorn stuffed animal, which I have wanted for a very very long time!No automatic alt text available.

On Sunday, we went to the Blessing of the Runners at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, which brought me some calm and comfort. When we got home, I spent hours agonizing over what to wear on race day. I tried on about 100 different outfits. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing and outdoor

On race morning, I got to take a private bus to the Athlete’s Village, thanks to a running buddy, Mark Sekelsky. I sat next to another running buddy, Erin Cheyenne Staker, on the bus. It was a great group and talking to everyone calmed my nerves. As we kept looking at the weather report, I was more and more at peace with my #2 goal, thinking that would still give me a 3:40ish marathon.Image may contain: 1 person

Walking to the starting line from the Athlete’s Village turned out to be total chaos. Veteran Boston Marathoners assured me this was not normal. We were packed like sardines for 45 minutes, barely moving. When I finally got the starting line, it was after my scheduled 10:50am start time. I kept waiting to line up with my corral but never got the chance. I did not realize I was supposed to start running. I flipped out and a volunteer helped me get off my extra clothes.

The weather was thankfully not so bad in the beginning. I was going pretty fast. I forced myself to slow down to save energy for the later parts of the race. I had to keep pushing through other people since I did not start with my corral and no one around me was running my pace. I kept asking if anyone was doing “7:50-8:00 minute miles” and everyone just looked at me like I was crazy. I felt sad that I had no one to run with, since I normally start marathons talking to the people around me. Slightly before the half way point, I noticed my splits dropping but figured I would make them up on the downhills.

By the half way point, I felt a slight ache in my hips that I at first though was the injury but that my doctor and PT think was just the cold.  I knew a PR was over but I was determined to make goal #2 happen.  Then around mile 15, I just knew something was terribly wrong. The rain got heavier and my clothing was soaked. My splits dropped dramatically. It was incredibly frustrating. I tried to just enjoy the crowds, but I was so cold that I could not even muster a smile or high five for anyone. Cardiovascularly, I was not even tired but my legs were so cold they would just not move any faster.

By the time I saw my fiancé at mile 16, I knew I was going super slow, so I decided to take a few minutes to stop and get a new pair of gloves from him. He caught this on video and watching it again now, it’s pretty funny!  He was standing with a volunteer who was incredibly kind. I was sobbing. The woman he was had a warm smile and kept telling me “we’ve been waiting for you! You are doing great!”

Me: “I don’t feel good. My time is going to be terrible.”

Bryan: “That’s OK. Just take your time.”

Me: “I am going to finish”

Volunteer: “Of course you are!”

Bryan and the volunteer (I wish I knew her name, she was truly an angel) helped put the new gloves on my hands. We were all so cold and disoriented that I noticed when I got back on the course that Bryan had given me two different gloves! Thankfully, my hands were warm. They were the only part of my body that was!

I sped up slightly after seeing Bryan but then slowed down dramatically again right before the Newton Hills. I kept getting text messages from Bryan, who knew something had to be terribly wrong. Even on my easiest easy runs (think like, the day after a 20 miler), I was running at least 1-2 minutes per mile faster than the pace I was now running. During training, I could not even have run this slow if I tried!

“Kate, are you OK?”

“Please drop out, this is not worth it.”

At this point, Bryan started alerting some of the other people tracking me that something was wrong. “Kate dropped to a 9:49 pace. Her last marathon was an 8:00 pace. Something is wrong- I hope she stops.”

I kept going. The Newton Hills were a blur. I stopped looking at my watch. My teeth were chattering and my legs felt frozen, I could not move them any faster. But I refused to walk. I knew that if I walked, I would just feel colder.

When I got to Heartbreak Hill, I cried. I cried because I felt so awful and the medical tent looked so tempting. I also cried because I run up Heartbreak Hill all the time. I was so prepared for this part of the course and my legs would not move. I used to joke all the time during training, “Heartbreak Hill isn’t going to break my heart!” And yet, here I was on race day, the day that mattered and I was literally stuck in that nightmare a lot of runners have where you are at the race and your legs feel like they are moving through quicksand.

I remember being at the top of Heartbreak Hill during training and saying, “Let it rip!” After Heartbreak Hill, the course is mostly downhill. Its where you can let it go and give it your all. Cardiovascularly, I wanted to start sprinting but my legs still wouldn’t move faster even as I went downhill. I could not bear to look at my watch, now registering splits that were so slow they set new records for “personal worsts.”  If this happened on a training run, I totally would have given up. However, before the race, I remember telling my family that if I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I would finish no matter what. I kept saying out loud “I’m gonna finish. I’m gonna finish.”

I knew my running club, the Brighton Bangers, was going to be at mile 22. However, I had thought that perhaps since I was going so much slower than expected, they might have been gone by the time I reached Cleveland Circle. Not the case! As I sobbed, shivering and soaking wet, while running down Chestnut Hill Ave, I heard people yelling “Go Kate!” I turned to my left and they were holding a sign that said “The Wizard of Mroz.” Surprising myself, I managed a big smile and a wave.No automatic alt text available.

By mile 23, I was frightened that I might pass out before reaching the finish line. “I’m so close. I’m so close. 5k. You can run 5k in your sleep.” My teeth could not stop chattering. My heart broke as I saw my watch reach my original goal time, 3:25, only at mile 23.

People still cheered for me like I was a rock star. In the middle of torrential rain, the crowds did not stop. I wished I had the energy to look at their signs and smile at them, but at that point, I could barely think.

At mile 24, I began the Our Father and realized I had forgotten the words. I just counted on God to finish the prayer for me, and to know what was in my heart.

For the entire last two miles, I felt so confused and cold that I kept reminding myself of my name. “You are Kate Mroz and your fiancé is Bryan Weinstein. You are Kate Mroz and your fiancé is Bryan Weinstein.” I figured that if I at least could remember that, it would be OK.

I had dreams of the iconic turn “right on Hereford, left on Bolyston.” It was nothing like what I dreamed. Confused and disoriented, I did not even hear or see my fiancé scream to me right before turning on Hereford.

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When I finally crossed the finish line, I just started crying. My body was shaking uncontrollably. I kept looking behind me to make sure I actually finished- with how bad I felt, I was so afraid I only imagined stepping over the mat. One of the medical volunteers grabbed me immediately and I was put in a wheelchair and moved into one of the medical tents. My legs were shaking violently and my teeth would not stop chattering. The doctor asked if anything hurt and surprisingly, I had no pain or soreness at that point, just immense cold and confusion. They took my temperature and it was 92 degrees. Normal is 98 degrees, and anything under 95 degrees is considered hypothermia.

My hands were so shaking so much that I could not do anything. A few female volunteers helped me get my wet clothes off and texted my fiancé to tell him where I was. They wrapped me in warm blankets and also had me hooked to a heating machine. Even though more runners were constantly being brought in and many were more ill than I was, I never felt neglected. I was really scared, and one of the nurses was sitting with me and holding my arm and telling me that it was going to be OK. When I was feeling slightly better but still shaking, I suddenly got upset asking if I had actually finished and if I would get a medal. One of the nurses went and got my medal for me and put it around my neck.

When my hands stopped shaking and I could maneuver my phone, I checked my official time. 4:02:49. Over 32 minutes slower than my previous marathon. My heart sunk. I remember saying before the race, “if worse comes to worse and I’m not feeling it, I’ll just finish under 4 hours, I can totally do that!” Of course, I would have been under 4 had I not stopped for those gloves, but not by much! My parents called to see that I was OK and I remember crying into the phone, “I didn’t even break 4 hours. We all said that even in the worst conditions, I’d still break 4 hours!”

Unfortunately, after I felt better, it took a while for me to get released. My clothes were in bag check and the BAA did not want to release them to Bryan. It took almost an hour to finally get my clothes to the medical tent. Once I got dressed, one of the physical therapists made me walk around with her holding my arm. Unfortunately, due to the hypothermia, I did not follow proper post marathon protocol, which is 1) walk around after crossing the finish line 2) get some nutrition right away. Thankfully, we had to walk a bit to catch an Uber which helped flush out the lactic acid build up in my legs.

I did not get to go to any post-race parties as I had originally planned. There are a lot of online training buddies that I missed meeting. I am telling myself that I need to get back to Boston another year because I still owe my dad a picture of myself in the Boston Red Sox dugout wearing a Yankee shirt and a medal!

I did not eat any of the snacks Bryan packed for me except for my Muscle Milk Protein shake. It was so late that we decided to just go straight to dinner after showering. We enjoyed some ribs at Stockyard Bar and Grill. I wore my celebration jacket. Due to the hypothermia, I was a lot hungrier after this marathon than previous ones. My metabolism was in an elevated state for the entire week after I finished the race.Image may contain: Kate Mroz, smiling, sitting, table, food and indoor

I am not going to lie and say that I do not feel bad about how this race turned out, I do. My heart is broken. I battle the voices in my head that ask why my body gave out in the cold and other people’s bodies did not, why I was not strong enough.  However, this race tested my strength as an athlete in ways it had never been tested before.

It also made me realize how much support I have, even though I often think I am alone.  When I was struggling with my injury: my fiance, my parents, my doctor, and my physical therapist became “Team Get Kate to Boston Healthy.” I spent a lot of time crying over what I thought would be a DNS, and they comforted me and told me to stay positive. Before the race, I received tons of text messages and Facebook posts (both private and on my timeline) wishing me the best.  Friends and family that I had not heard from in a while contacted me after the race to tell me how proud they were. Lots of people expressed amazement that I finished my PhD and the Boston Marathon in the same year. People could not care less about my time! People have treated me like a rock star, even though I do not feel like one and that is a beautiful thing. I am going to do my best to accept it and enjoy it.

As Edward Schillbeeckx said, “God is new each moment.” I am amazed at how throughout my life, I have often felt like God is absent, and then I have come to feel God’s presence in the most unexpected places and in the most unexpected ways. God was there in the midst of this hypothermia- inducing marathon. It was not the day I dreamed about, but I discovered some beautiful surprises nonetheless.

 

Getting the Flu in the Middle of Marathon Training: The Smack in the Face I Needed

In early February, I woke up with a cough. I still worked out since I felt fine otherwise but later that night, I started running a fever, which has not happened since middle school. And, of course, the first things I said to myself were, “this can’t be happening. I HAVE to hand in my dissertation on February 21. I HAVE to get my long run in because I am running the Boston Marathon in April. I can’t be sick.”

Long story short, a trip to an urgent care center in Watertown after a big spike in fever on Saturday morning confirmed it was the flu. And not just any flu, the worst flu of my life. Whether it was good timing or not, I was sick and the kind of sick where I did not even have enough energy to worry about the fact that I was sick. And that is why, in many ways—while I would not wish this flu on ANYONE and I mean, ANYONE because it was that awful—it was a positive learning experience.

I know this flu has affected a lot of people, and many of my fellow graduate students and runners in training for a big race,  have asked me desperately, “When will it be over?” “When do you get back to training?” “What do I do?” Here are some thoughts.

Doctors are not God. You can and should speak up.

Before Bryan had to drive me to urgent care, I went to another doctor and was told it was just a cold. I should have demanded a flu test. I now advise anyone who goes to the doctor during flu season to do this. The sooner you get Tamiflu the better.  I even told my students that they can say “my theology professor told me to do it.”

Forced rest can be exactly what you need.

My mind and body often cry out for a break, but I rarely give it to them or only “partially” give it to them.

“I’ll run and just cut it a bit short or go an easier pace.”

“I’ll go home and sit in my pajamas but read that article, write that chapter, etc.”

“I’ll just push through the pain and relax tonight.”

When we arrived at the urgent care center, my brain was so foggy that Bryan filled out the medical information sheet for me, so there was no way I was answering e-mails or writing. On the drive home, watching runners felt painful, there was no way I putting my running shoes on, even for an easy couple of miles.

The world will not end if you are sick.

When I was in college, I never missed class. Ever. For anything. No matter how bad I felt. I was so worried that if I missed class, I would not get an A and then ruin my GPA and make the professor not like me anymore and not get into graduate school and and you get the picture…. Not healthy physically or mentally.

This flu season, I had no choice but to cancel a class and—gasp—I was the professor!  And—gasp—the world did not blow up. My syllabus did not blow up. My students are not scarred for life.

Same applies to running. Do not count days.

Running buddies who have been stricken with the flu have asked, “how long did it take you? When will I get back?” It’s different for everybody, but the more you rest, the greater your chances are of getting back to normal sooner. I did no exercise for an entire week. That’s right. AN ENTIRE WEEK. In the middle of training for Boston. And I SURVIVED. And had I counted the days and freaked out in the middle and said “oh no, it’s day 4, gotta get out there,” I probably would have delayed the comeback by another week. Relapse and flu complication due happen, often from doing too much too soon.

True love is not what you do when you go on fancy dates, it is what you do when you are at your worst.

When the fever was high, I could not think straight. My fiancé kept track of the hours and gave me my pills. He made me eggs and toast when I had no energy to think about food. We had plans for Super Bowl Sunday, which, of course, did not happen. My fever broke right before the game and I finally got an appetite. We ordered Thai food, drank Propel Fitness water, and sat and watched the game, and really enjoyed being together. Be with someone who loves to be with you, even when your hair is uncombed, your nose is running, and you are wearing a bathrobe.

The lessons learned from the flu should stick with you even post-flu.

The flu is bad. Just because the symptoms disappear does not mean you can jump right back into your normal routine and work yourself to the bone. Even now, I am not 100% myself. I am back to training and hitting my paces and loving my runs. But my mind and body have been through a lot and therefore, I’ve needed some extra recovery time after intense workouts and long runs and I’ve taken it. An extra rest day here and there is OK.

During the later stages of dissertating, I had horrible anxiety and insomnia. Since rest is really the only way to cure the flu, I was forced into making a better effort to reduce my stress and get more sleep. I am starting to prioritize these things in the same way I prioritize my research, my teaching, my training, and my relationships. I cannot be there for others if I cannot be there for myself.

Things worked out, though maybe not as planned.  

I handed in my dissertation on the afternoon of February 21. My defense is happening March 21.

I am still running the Boston Marathon and according to my PT and my running buddies, a PR is not out of reach. However, after the flu, I had to start following the “Kate Mroz Training Plan.” In other words, I am doing my own thing instead of following a specific training plan as I was pre-flu. As much as I still want that PR, I am also taking a step back to be grateful that I have this opportunity and to just try to enjoy it as much as I can.

By the end of this summer, I am going to be a doctor and a Boston Marathon finisher and a wife.
The road has been bumpy, but it has also been beautiful.

Colt State Park Half Marathon Race Report- Finally Got My Half PR!

As you are aware, after months of training, I did not start the BAA Half Marathon last month due to Achilles issues. My doctor basically gave me the following options: 1) Run the BAA Half without PRing because you’ll be in pain and needing a lot of recovery time 2) Take care of this injury, cross-train, and run a PR in late October/early November. As disappointed as I was to not get to do BAA for a second time, I am so glad I chose the latter option. I was also excited to debut this new outfit my mom bought for me for my birthday back in June.

pre-race

 

My fiancé was a real trooper. He drove 1 hr 15 minutes to Bristol, RI so I could do this race. I wanted to PR so badly that I tried to do everything perfectly. I tapered. I carbo-loaded for two days prior, and I forced myself to eat a little before the race (I often have trouble eating before races and its hurt me in the past). While I was stretching, someone came up to me and said “Are you Kate Mroz?” It was one of my online running buddies. We were thrilled to finally meet in person, and took a picture to send to our running group.

me and stephanie

My strategy was to stick with the 1:40 pacer and just see how it felt. Thankfully, it felt perfect. The first two miles felt easy and I was shocked at the splits, but I decided to control myself as I’ve started out too fast in the past and paid for it later. Sure enough, mile 3 had a few slight inclines and was slower, so I got worried but by mile 5, I knew I was at the right speed. I was also in awe of the breathtaking view of the water. This race was absolutely gorgeous.

As those of you who know me are aware, I LOVE TO TALK (and that’s an understatement). Thankfully, I spent miles 1-11 talking to Matt, the 1:40 pacer, and Chris, another runner from Massachusetts. Chris and I were determined to break 1:40 together. Around mile 4, I learned that she lost her sister to a heart attack this year, and not long after that, had to put her dog to sleep. She said she was doing this race for her sister, and I decided I would too. (Of course, I still kept my planned mile intentions at each mile- so don’t worry, friends and family) We sent up a prayer to Darlene and we thanked her at the end of the race. This was very fitting considering that right now in Exploring Catholicism, I am covering saints. The communion of saints is something I love about Catholicism, that we not only have a who list of official saints whom we can read about and look up to, but we believe that all persons who have gone before us are people to whom we can pray for guidance.

During the race, Matt, who has done numerous triathlons, gave us the following advice. “I’d love nothing more than to see you pass me during the last few miles if you feel you can do it. Just don’t speed up too quick and have me catch you!” This made me cautious, so Chris and I decided together to stick with him until mile 11. At mile 11, we speed up by about 10 seconds, knowing that mile 12 had some inclines. At mile 12, I just took off, thought of all those months of training, and gave it my all. I somehow ended up doing my last mile in 6:48. It was the only part of the race that was truly painful, and I wonder if I should have sped up earlier.

I saw Bryan after passing the mile 13 marker. There was an abrupt, awkward turn at that point, so he wasn’t able to get a picture. I knew I must have been doing well because Bryan did not, as he usually does, tell me to “hurry up!” He was just like “Go Kate!” Sure enough, when I got to the finish line, I saw 1:37something and was elated. All I wanted was sub 1:40, so it surpassed my expectations!

Chris finished shortly after me and we hugged each other. Matt finished right on target at 1:39 and we both thanked him for pacing us. Poor Bryan was wondering why I wasn’t trying to find him and was talking to all these strangers. Thankfully, he walked over to the finish line and met everybody.

with matt and chris

Shortly after that, my online running buddy Stephanie crossed the finish. We later found out that we both placed 2nd in our respective age groups, and we starting jumping up and down. My official time was 1:37:32.

age group

 

This race taught me a very important lesson. Running, contrary to popular belief, is not an individual sport. Sure, my time is my own and I run independently of a team, but my fellow runners bring out the best in me. Running reminds me that God comes to us through other people and places.

 

 

Right now, I am focused on doing easy runs, strength training, and cross-training in preparation to start training for Boston.

Overall, I highly recommend this race and really want to do it again (am actually torn between putting my name in the NYC Marathon lottery or doing this race next year since they are the same weekend). The directors and volunteers were amazing. When we arrived, there was a problem with the tide and there was tons of water on the course. We were warned that we would get wet. With only a 10 minute delay from the original start time (which I welcomed since it gave me more warm-up time), they managed to get all of the water off of the course. I was pleasantly surprised and did not get wet. There was plenty of water every mile and a half, and volunteers to cheer us on. The course was gorgeous. Flat with a few very very small inclines that mostly just helped to stave off boredom. I’m lactose intolerant, but my fiance enjoyed the post-race pizza party. This is a great race if you want a fall half-marathon PR.

Stop Fretting: Your Sweaty Grimacing Race Photos Are Beautiful

“Why can’t I look good in race photos?”

Fall racing season is in full gear and I think I have come across this question a billion times over the past few weeks. It breaks my heart. A woman completes a 5k, half-marathon, or marathon and feels tremendously proud of herself, but instead of celebrating, she agonizes over the race pictures.

“I look sweaty and gross.”

“My mouth is hanging open.”

“I’m not smiling.”

“ My legs look weird.”

“ Why can’t I look like the lady next to me? She’s smiling.”

“Why can’t I look good in race photos?”
I’m here to tell you that you can “look good” in race photos. In fact, you already do “look good’ in race photos. It’s just that so many of us women have been socialized to have a very limited of what “looks good.” We associate beauty with happy faces, hair and make-up in place, and an elimination of any pain or struggle in our expression or body language. “Smile.” “Look at the camera.” “Cheer up.” “Don’t slouch.” “Comb your hair.” “Take off your glasses.”  No wonder cameras are sometimes a source of anxiety. Sure, it’s OK to spend extra effort before taking a professional headshot or a formal photo, but sadly, so many of us cringe whenever a camera comes out at a party or race because we are not “picture ready.” But shouldn’t pictures capture “real life” and “real time expressions?”

Bangers 5k finish line 2016

Determination. 

 

As a Catholic theologian, I subscribe to a Catholic anthropology that sees the extraordinary in the ordinary, that finds God in the everyday, including the messy and chaotic. Beauty, my friends, is not just smiles and fancy hair dos. Beauty can be sweating, bleeding, crying, and screaming. Beauty is life as it is lived, and that is not always smiling and posing.

baa half mile 12

It’s raining and its mile 12 and I’m almost finished! 

One of the best words of wisdom came to me from my mom, who reminded me that the most miraculous things in life often happen when we are struggling, not smiling. Think of childbirth- a woman giving birth is sweaty and bloody and in pain AND SO BEAUTIFUL.

So when you see that race photo of yourself with sweat dripping off your face, your hair all mussed up, and your mouth in a grimace, BE PROUD. It shows a strong woman who is working hard and giving it her all.

So, everybody, here are my race photos. I used to be embarrassed of them, but now I cherish them. They represent some of my greatest memories and accomplishments, and remind me how strong and tough I am.

kate fools dual finish

Yeah, I totally saw my fiance with the camera, but I was not going to stop to smile. “I’m going to PR and win third place in my age group and I’m going to keep my beautiful mouth open!” 

 

Mary brought out the best in Jesus, we need to bring out the best in each other- what I learned at Pre-Cana

Last weekend, Bryan and I took part in marriage preparation, often called pre-Cana after this Gospel story, at Boston College. For those who are unfamiliar, all couples getting married in the Catholic Church have to complete some sort of marriage preparation program prior to their wedding date.

The experience was much more low-key and enjoyable than we expected. We were not forced to prove our Catholic orthodoxy, or share our most intimate thoughts with a priest or a random couple. Rather, we listened to talks by three married couples on various topics, and then went on walks together to discuss how to handle certain issues. This may seem silly- after all, couldn’t we have just done this on our own at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir? Well, not exactly. As participants in a program, we were removed from our work and other concerns. Instead of our focus being Kate’s dissertation and a little Bryan, or Bryan’s experiment and a little Kate (which so often happens), the focus was entirely on the two of us. Furthermore, in a calm environment with prompts in front of us, we were able to talk about potentially contentious issues in a way that caused no hard feelings, speaking to each other with respect and a genuine interest in each other’s expectations. During such a stressful period in our lives (two of us trying to finish doctoral degrees, teach, and plan our wedding), getting to walk around a beautiful campus holding hands and just looking forward to our future together was a positive and necessary experience.

 

I think the most inspirational part of the day for me, however, came at the end. Fr. Tony Penna, the priest in charge of the program, said a mass for us. Keep in mind this was at the end of an all day program, so I was not expected to feel super pumped or excited about doing any more listening and reflecting. Yet, when the Gospel was spoken and it was the Wedding Feast at Cana, my eyes lit up and I turned to Bryan and was like “this is one of my favorites” and this, of course, peeked his curiosity.

When the wine runs out at the wedding feast, Jesus’ mother Mary notices and informs her son. Yet, she is rebuffed with the words, “My hour has not yet come.” Mary does not take no for answer and sure enough, Jesus performs a miracle. As Fr. Penna explained, Mary brings out the best in Jesus. She believes in him and prods him- perhaps she knows what he is capable of more than he does! This, he told us, is what marriage is about- two people coming together to bring the best out of each other.

Indeed, this is something Bryan and I have already had to do for each other. When I was nervous about teaching my first class on my own this semester, Bryan told me it was time to accept my newfound position and qualifications, and all that hard work I did to get there.

 

Think about it. When you are standing in a room full of people and you go up to talk to someone, you cannot see yourself as you engage in conversation. You may notice that you are moving your lips and your hands, or standing in a certain position, but you cannot really see what you look like at each moment. Your conversation partner can see things you cannot see. Likewise, you too, can see your conversation partner in a way that they cannot see themselves. In other words, our perspectives are limited. It is not physically possible to see everything going on simultaneously. How our senses perceive the world at any given moment is never exactly the same as how another person’s senses perceive the world at that given moment.

 

When you love someone, you see things they cannot see. They see things you cannot see. Therefore, sometimes you need to be each other’s eyes. You might be the one to first spot a talent in your partner, or draw them to something beautiful about themselves that they may never have recognized and vice versa. You might also help each other correct problems. If your partner is tired, you might be the one who observes that they have not been sleeping or do not eat a lot for breakfast in the morning. If you are anxious, your partner might be the one to notice that you have not spent a lot of time together lately, and need more downtime.

 

This also need not apply only to married couples or romantic relationships; this sort of dynamic is seen in friendships, parent-child relationships, and mentor-mentee relationships. It is also not a sign of weakness, but a sign of our humanity. Even Jesus did not figure out who he was and what he was capable of without the help of other people.

As I prepare to get married to Bryan this August, I know that there will be a lot of ups and downs in our lives. We will make mistakes, we will get annoyed with each other at times. Yet, through it all, my promise is to help make Bryan “better at being himself” and his promise is to help make me “better at being myself.”

mary newton campus

The Spinathon- When Cross-Training Becomes More Than Cross-Training

I love racing. I guess that is obvious.

 

I love the training, the nerves and anticipation of the course, the use of my sport for the benefit of local charities, the bonding with other runners, the sense of accomplishment after a tough finish and the first taste of that protein shake and bagel with peanut butter (my post-long run breakfast of choice).

 

So, when I got an injury 5 weeks before the BAA Half (at which I was hoping and planning to PR), I was quite disappointed. The doctor diagnosed it as Achilles bursitis, which, thankfully, it’s not as bad as Achilles tendonitis. The bursa are thin, lubricated cushions that serve as the points of friction between bone and soft tissue. It’s painful, but not nearly as painful as some other common running injuries.

 

The injury also happened two weeks before the Brighton Bangers 5k- super super important event to me given that it is put on by my running club! My doctor allowed me to do the race provided the pain stayed under a 5. I finished in 21:40, which was slower than my time for that course last year but better than I expected with an injury. This was the first race where I approached the finish line and my fiancé did not cheer for to “hurry up,” since he begged me to take it easy. In retrospect, I should not have raced. Mile one was a great split- 6:47- and I got confident that I could repeat last year’s performance, but then the injury kicked in and I had to slow down – 7:20 for mile 2 and 7:09 for mile 3. The foot hurt so bad afterwards that I could not do a cool down and instead of socializing, I went home to ice it. That being said, I still had fun and the pain subsided on the walk home. But overall, I probably should have just volunteered and stayed out of the race (but NOT RACING when others are running is so so hard :/)

 

So, when the Oak Square YMCA announced a Spinathon to raise money to help local families, I was super excited. For the past two years, spin has been a fun cross-training activity but it’s taken on an even bigger role during this injury. Spin classes have kept up my cardiovascular fitness while I am unable to run much, and in fact, I think they are quite more challenging than a lot of my runs! The sprints and hills mimic running workouts.

 

The Spinathon had an option of doing 1, 2, or all 3 hours. Eager for a new challenge given that I am not running a fall marathon and my half may be out of the picture (still deciding), I decided to try for the 3. My fiancé joined me for the first hour and we had so much fun looking over at each other. Prior to this, an hour had been my maximum for a spin session. After that hour, I took a quick break to say goodbye to Bryan and hopped back on. We switched instructors mid-way and just like a long race, hunger suddenly came on and I grabbed some Powerade and a banana. After the burst of Powerade, I knew I could finish the thing. I seriously need to have more sports drinks during my long runs and races, they help! The instructors were super enthusiastic, and one made us put our hands up and shout “woo!” during various points in the last hour. While my sprints were slower and my resistance lower during the third hour, they were much higher than I expected they would be. I kind of thought I would be barely pedaling toward the end, but that was not the case. As the instructors reminded everyone, our legs are stronger than we think! I also kept thinking of Iron Tony upstairs, attempting to break the world record for an indoor triathlon. If someone can run 26.2 miles on a treadmill, surely I can spin for 3 hours!

 

When I got off the bike, I felt a bit dizzy at first but not nearly as bad as I expected to feel. There were only a few of us who stayed for the whole thing, so we took a picture together. Even though we barely talked (I mean, it’s hard to hold a conversation while spinning), we felt a special bond after our three-hour ordeal.

 

While the soreness and dehydration were not as bad as a marathon (namely because I had constant access to water), the hunger was just as intense. I drank a muscle milk on my walk home, and called my fiancé to make sure he had bagels, peanut butter, and fruit waiting for me. On my walk home, I passed by people running a 5k and instead of feeling upset and angry about not being in it, I shouted “go runners!” It did not even occur to me until the next day that it should have been my last long run before the half-marathon. I had so much fun and felt so accomplished, I barely thought about my injury!

 

Moral of the story- there can be a silver lining in injuries. While I have always cross-trained, I never took the time to really develop a love for one of my cross-training activities or used one of my cross-training activities to benefit a local charity and meet other athletes. Cross-training need not be viewed as “cross-training.” It can become another hobby, another love. Indeed, that’s how I’ve come to see strength training/weight-lifting and spinning. Running is not the only thing I can do to challenge myself, to support a good cause, to stay in shape, and to meet other amazing athletes. While I expect to recover from this injury soon and resume normal training, this was not my last Spinathon!

Big thanks to Emily & Alyson for leading us, and to Bryan, as always, for doing the first hour with me and for feeding me afterwards! 🙂