On chasing unicorns and flying past milestones to prove that the future is ours to create
My race began…
when I was “just a twinkle in my daddy’s eye,” as my mom used to put it. My family tree is plagued by a variety of maladies — from obesity and the heart disease or diabetes it can lead to — to depressive tendencies and the granddaddy of all killers, cancer. Needless to say, my genealogical background isn’t exactly bursting with assurances that I’m going to live to 110 years or so old, no matter how badly I want to grow up to be one of the oldest living humans of my time.
From a very early age, I was all too aware of the health concerns that plagued the people I loved most. It started with the loss of my grandfathers (Dad’s dad: heart attack; Mom’s dad: drunk driver), after which my younger brother and I watched our parents steadily gain weight as life’s stresses and a predisposition toward carrying a little extra around the midsection got the better of them. Later, my grandmother (Mom’s mom) would lose her life to complications caused by diabetes, and not long after that both of my parents were told by doctors that their futures weren’t going to look all that different if they didn’t make some serious lifestyle changes, and fast.
While all of this was happening, I was rambunctiously making my way toward adolescence, unconcerned about these grown-up problems being issues that I might personally suffer. Thanks to an (overly) active childhood spent trying to keep up with my older, bigger male cousins, the most pressing health concern I had was the kind of damage that can be sustained by, say, wiping out on one’s dirt bike (scraped knee, bruised pride) or falling off of a poorly constructed “tree house” (read: precariously perched sheets of plywood, had the wind knocked out of me really good). This natural tomboyishness ultimately led to my being a three-sport athlete (basketball, volleyball, softball) and teenage scoffs at the family mantra, “One day this is going to be you.”
That is, until college happened. I, like so many others, fell victim to my newfound freedom to eat pizza three meals a day if I wanted to, and for the first time in years didn’t find my extracurricular life being ruled by a coach’s whistle. I was living it large…er than I realized until an annual visit with the doctor revealed I had gained the infamous “Freshman 15,” plus a few more. Without even realizing it, I had veered off course and was falling down the same slippery slope that I had watched so many family members struggle with for years.
I decided then and there that it was my turn to make some serious lifestyle changes, and that’s where the real running enters My Race. Well, the running really comes after I started by downloading one of those awful calorie-counting apps and cutting back to a diet consisting of 1200 calories per day. My favorite comparison to use here is one I’ve used when writing about food struggles in the past — 1200 calories is pretty much a really good sandwich, if we’re being honest with each other. Now make that last the whole day. Not fun. And these were the days before being “hangry” was something that was socially acknowledged. This obnoxious eating habit (or lack thereof) lasted for about six months. I saw a change in the number on the scale, but felt pretty crappy about not being able to eat with the abandon that my seconds-loving self desired, so I went back to an old standby: the gym.
Somewhere along the way, I had let myself believe that running was not something that was as enjoyable as the team sports I had always been a part of. When I finally took the initiative to run for myself, not because someone else was telling me to do it, I realized it could be so much more than the means to a calorie-burning end. Running was not only a mood booster (Hello, endorphins!), it was a competition in and of itself. Each new day was a new opportunity to run a little farther, a little faster. By the time I was applying for graduate programs, I had taken my rekindled passion for running from the gym to the streets, and was signing up for my first half marathon — a racing distance that a year or two earlier would have seemed unfathomable. I finished the 2012 Lansing Half Marathon with a time of 1:52:45 and the knowledge that this would be far from my last half marathon.
In the few short years that have followed that first half marathon, many more have followed and I’ve watched my finishing times fall from 1:50-something to 1:45-ish and finally below 1:40. Around the same time I ran my first sub-1:40 half (NYC, 2014), I signed up for my second full marathon (before technically having run the first). Six months later, I finished the Chicago Marathon with a time of 3:38:37 and came to the realization that a BQ — a Boston Marathon qualifying time — was not that far off if I ran just a little farther, a little faster. A unicorn is the symbol of the running club that organizes the Boston Marathon and I’ve been chasing that unicorn ever since, most recently running the Detroit Marathon in the oh-so-cruel time of 3:35:53… my age group’s qualifying time being the elusive 3:35:00.
I won’t say I didn’t cry that day. In fact, there are some really hideous pictures of my ugly cry as I crossed the finish line that I’m sure you could find on the internet if you tried hard enough. But that’s not really the point here. The point is that, while my race was one that started as a way to stay afloat in my shallow gene pool, it is also a race that has evolved and continued challenging me in ways I never imagined or intended. It’s a race that I plan to run until I’m physically unable to run anymore (hopefully well into my centenary). Until then, you’ll find me running somewhere on the west side with visions of unicorns dancing through my head.
UPDATE: Race To 30 would like to congratulate Danielle on qualifying for the 2018 Boston Marathon at the Delaware Running Festival!!!
If you liked Danielle’s Race, we hope you’ll recommend her story! And don’t forget to follow Race To 30 as we’ll be posting incredible stories from incredible people from October 2016 to October 2017. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram!