Sunday, December 22, 2013

Running For Her Life

First off, Merry Christmas everyone!
Wow…I guess I haven't blogged in a pretty long time?? Although some of my Facebook posts do seem to come out like mini blogs sometimes:), I probably haven’t done the best job lately keeping up with race recaps, training thoughts and whatever else Elite Runners are supposed to blog about! I originally wanted to write a blog after a "certain" article about my life came out in the Charlotte Observer on September 15th.  
In fact, the journalist, Theoden Janes, recently just got an award from the N.C. Press Association for "Best Profile Feature" and believe me, he deserved every bit of it!  
Working with Théoden  (Bless his very patient heart!) on the story Running For her Life , forced me to go to places that I had never gone before and the process became quite the“roller coaster” type of project.  So I guess you could say that after 9 months of work, the story kinda came out to be one HUGE blog all in one!  It took a lot out of me emotionally, and in all honesty, I think I went into a small state of shock after it came out. I'm not exactly sure how to describe it, except that it was tough to comprehend how for 30 years, a major part of my life that I had always tried to hide, was now revealed. And even though to accommodate certain legalities, the story portrayed only a few small glimpses of the tough stuff, I still felt more exposed than I ever had.

But with all that said, I think I knew deep down, and all my close mentors and friends agreed, that it was the right time to do something like this. As I had mentioned on Facebook, and in the article itself, I felt that God had given me an opportunity that I may never have again. That there was potential for my story to reach people who may need encouragement and hope.  And why wouldn't that be a good thing?  My other anticipation was that people might learn more about the signs and effects of certain abuses, but also the redemption that can follow with a lot of help and hard work.  To my surprise, there was an absolutely amazing outpouring of positive  responses that were 
portrayed in a variety of ways. Many young people, older people, male and female alike who could relate and  had similar stories of their own. It was more than I could ever have imagined and I was so touched and so moved, that I wanted to respond to every single person.  So in the end, I think that the main mission was accomplished, and the positive things that have come from it, are way more worthwhile and satisfying than any other outward accomplishment I could ever strive for.

Of course none of this means that my life is perfect now or that everything is all gone. Or that I can erase the hard parts of the first 20 years of life.  I don't think PTSD ever really goes away completely and in fact, as my close friends can attest, my life ain't always smooth sailing! But I have found courage through other personal stories and witnessed many great examples of people where their mindset is, if I can get back up from "THAT" then I can certainly get back up from this. If I can survive "THAT" then I can survive this.  So here we are closing out 2013, a year where I've definitely gone through some trials and it's once again time to put that mindset to use!  Were these recent experiences worse or harder than other things I have gone through in my younger years?....Well if you have read the article, than you can  probably guess that the answer is: No, not at all. But between changes in living, a cyst in my knee, Kidney Stones, VERY low iron, financial setbacks, relational breakups, a marathon that didn’t go exactly how I had hoped, and a few other unmentionable personal trials, I am already trying to figure out how I can learn from, and use these 2013 roadblocks for better outcomes. 
1 Peter 1:7 says :  "These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold -- and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold." 
I believe this verse and it once again comes down to trusting that God can work all things out for good in some way if I have faith. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Burrito Blog

b4 the burrito 5k

during the burrito 5k

After the burrito 5k!!!
Well plans can change quickly in the life of an Elite Runner. Long term plans where just one or two small situations can change a whole season. And short term plans where things can change in the span of 2 or 3 days. As I said in my last blog, "Overcoming Boston," there are some things that you just don't see coming or could possibly plan for in life. So on a lighter note to everything that's happened in the last week, signing up last minute for the Moe's burrito 5k dash in Columbia S.C.  seemed like a fun way to keep racing light-hearted, while still keeping in mind the tragedies of Boston.

 I was originally really excited about racing in Raleigh at the Tar Heel 10 miler. I very rarely get to race locally, so to drive a few hours and win a few bucks sounded like a good chance to take. Of course it would have been a tough physical task to run a very hilly 10 mile race this weekend and then head to Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby Festival to run a very hilly half-marathon the next. So when I heard about the Moe's dash and how it offered quadruple the $ for first place, compared to Tar Heel, AND it was only a 5k, I decided to take a chance and try something different; And the venue of the Moe's Burrito 5k dash was DEFINITELY different. The main idea was pretty simple. You run about half the race, eat and finish a burrito, and then finish the race. The first 3 Males and females to cross the finish would get cash prizes and there were age group awards as well. The race was also set up so that You could choose not to eat the burrito but then you would not be eligible for cash prizes ....or bragging rights:)

Anyhow, as silly as it sounds, I was pretty nervous before the race because I knew my burrito eating split would be very slow.  Without getting in to too much detail, I have no bottom molars to chew with except my wisdom teeth in the back of the mouth. I am also missing some top molars, so with all those teeth gone, it's pretty difficult for me to eat things quickly with the exception of soups or smoothies:) And unlike any other race where this would never matter, I knew not having teeth could be a HUGE hindrance for this one!:) But I talked to some close friends about the disadvantage and decided to go ahead and put my burrito eating fears behind me!!

 On race day I did not tell my arch rivals from the Charlotte Running Club, Caitlin Bullock and Laurie Knowles about my disadvantage, because I knew how fast they were running wise, but ALSO knew that at least Caitlin, was known to be a very fast burrito consumer!  And boy was I correct!  After running the first 1.7 miles at about 5:08 pace, and thinking that I had a pretty good lead to start the consumption, before I knew it, I looked to my left and could not believe how close to me Caitlin and Laurie were as far as their burrito dwindling. I kept looking at their burritos thinking man, they are animals....they must have been given a kids size or something?? I was trying so hard to chew and swallow, but again, when you don't have teeth, it's pretty hard to get anything down in a rush. After over 2 and a half minutes of choking, I was ready to go, but both Caitlin and Laurie were right behind me and there I was back to square one. Straining to keep the very small lead I had, the post burrito mile felt like one of the last miles of a marathon!!  I knew the Charlotte duo were behind me and competition is all that can keep you going in a race where all you want to do is stop and throw up! It was a slower pace than I would normally finish a 5k, but I was relieved to finish and run straight for the bushes to..... well, you know(ugggh) I kept going to the bushes or the bathroom for the next 45 minutes to the point where they were giving out awards for first place female and I was no where to be found. They had to come get me in the bathroom after they had already called my name. I was in severe digestive pain to say the least!

Anyway, when all is said and done, it was a really fun morning to go to such a unique event. Warming up with Caitlin and Laurie, the talented band, the people dressed up as burritos, and winning a couple grand....those are some things I just don't get to enjoy EVERY race I go to. I'm sure next week's Half Marathon in Kentucky will not be nearly as exciting!! Thanks Moe's for a great experience!!

P.S.- Oh and as far as my body rebelling against the burrito, I was sure to replenish with a 12 inch from subway and cookies on the side. I had to go home and run an easy 20 miler, so knew I would need something in there!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Overcoming at Boston

Well I was just getting ready to post a blog on "The power of Cross Training while trying to maintain fitness as a runner," but obviously there are way more important things going on right now. So many of us, whether in the running community or not, are heavy in heart.  "Run for your Life", the store that I work at, posted this picture yesterday that hit me to my core. 

I've always had the mindset and faith to KNOW that this life we live is short, fragile and so uncertain.  Just read some of my prior blogs to know that I do not believe that this our eternal home forever and so the time that we do have here is, well.....unknown?  The people who were at Boston yesterday, wether they were spectators, runners, volunteers, coaches, family etc., did not deserve to experience what they experienced. They are not only the "poor souls" that we will see suffering on the TV screen for the next few weeks, they are people in OUR running commuinty. People who we know and love. Or people who we may not know, but have a common bond with, because we are runners. They are friends and fans who are our cheerleaders; Coaches and Race Directors who are our leaders; and Fellow Runners who have the discipline and tenacity to train for, and qualify for one of the most enduring and grueling, yet prestigeous events in the world!

 You don't just wake up one day and say "Hey, I am going to run 26.2 miles today."  Running a marathon requires discipline, sacrifice  and persistence.  After I ran one myself last fall, I can honestly say running a marathon at any speed is no joke. And the people that were doing so yesterday, are more often than not, the kind of people that you teach your children to be like. Hard working, diligent and persistent. Many of them have the kind of character traits that spur others on to be better in running and in life.  They know what it takes to keep putting one foot in front of the other in any situation, and are the type of people with contagious personalities who are what continues to draw me to the sport on a daily basis.
So now what?  This situation differs from the 2012 NYC Marathon, in that it was not a tragedy caused by weather or accident. The idea,... the thought of what happened, is what many would call "PURE EVIL".  In fact, if you really dwell on the thoughts of why someone would do this, the mind can go sour fast, and become so enraged that then you yourself become "overcome" wth evil. 

So what do you do with this evil? How do you respond?  We've all seen evil, and experienced it at some point. I know that the reactions people have right now in the immediate aftermath are going to vary from one extreme to the other.  Justice needs to be served. The people who did this need to pay for their actions, and I believe at some point, they will.  But what do the rest of us do in the meantime?   As in any situation when overcome by anger, we can try to take revenge, manipulate or "get back" at whoever wronged us. We can be mad, enraged, and consumed to the point that we point fingers, blame God, or blame others that had nothing to do with the horrific events. Or even worse, we can have an "I give up" mentality, quit what we do, and continually question the imperfect world we live in.
 I've seen people take those routes before, and it doesn't seem to end with much satisfaction.  I know it's hard, and we all struggle with it at some point,  but I do think that ULTIMATELY, the only way we can truly overcome evil is with good.

Romans 12:19 -21 : "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Whether you believe in the Bible or not....whether you take to heart some of what it says, ...or just a few things, I think this verse sums up what the people in Boston, and in the surrounding communities are already doing. And it is AMAZING and heart warming to see.

The only way we can fight back at the cowards who do these things, is to display a a righteous support that wouldn't even make sense to the people who do these things. The following article is just one small example of the goodness in human kind.

Thank You, Boston and fellow runners for already coming together and "overcoming pure evil with pure good."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Tribute to Zap Fitness

Pete Rea from Zap Fitness asked me to write a short blog for the website the other day explaining how I got involved with Zap and the story behind it.  Well it's hard to make the story short, but I did what I could, and here is the result:!

A Tribute to Zap Fitness-

Some of the 2005 Zapsters and I going for a hike in Blowing Rock, NC!!!

By: Stephanie Pezz Pezzullo

8 years ago I had a "chance" encounter on just a regular day that changed the course of my life.  It is crazy to think now about how that "chance" meeting with Zap Elite Coach, Pete Rea has been the ignition to what has fueled my life as a runner.  But I always knew it was more than just chance and am grateful to this day that it happened.

I was at a Clemson Soccer game with the all-famous Dominique Barnes, one of the Charlotte Lady Eagles Soccer Squad's main supporters and influences. We were there with a  few other Lady Eagle players and it was a beautiful fall day. Not only was it the Fall following the 2005 Lady Eagle Soccer Season, but that spring I had just graduated from Penn State.  It was the culmination of a  5 year span of playing Division 1 soccer as well as one surprise season of Women's Track and Field my last semester.
Domonique Barnes and some of the PSU soccer girls out for dinner in State College

Anyhow, at halftime of the game, I had a little extra energy and so I decided to go to the track for a little jog.  I saw this guy timing an athlete on the track and it all looked pretty serious so I tried to stay out of their way.  I finished my run but when I stopped to head back to the game, this guy and his athlete approached me.  He had noticed my Penn State shirt and after some small talk, it eventually came out that I had played soccer there as my main sport.  He kept probing, and I explained to him that when our soccer season got cut short my senior year, I wanted to attempt "the impossible" by trying out for the very prestigeous Women's Track team. The team was head up by Coach Beth Sullivan, who he happened to know. I told him that it all happened pretty quickly, but that I did what I had to do to make the team, and that throughout the season I ran in a few different middle distance events.  He then point blank asked what my times were and I told him that I got my 1500m time down to 4:29 by the end of the season.  I said it was hard work, but that I thrived on the competition and enjoyed the challenge.  BUT in my mind, competitive running was over, because  I didn't think that the one season resulted in anything spectacular? This guy known as Pete Rea from Zap Fitness, thought much differently!!
He insisted that the times I posted in the 800m and 1500m/mile distances were really promising given that I had never been a distance runner or trained for it in High School or College.  He gave me his number and said I should come to a race with his Elite training squad "Zap Fitness", or at least check out the facility in Blowing Rock, NC, 2 hours north of where I lived in Charlotte. I went back to the Clemson game and told Domonique about how funny it was that he knew Beth Sullivan, but I NEVER intended on giving him a call.

2006 Indoor Nationals 3k- My first National Caliber Race with Zap
Fast forward about a month and I still hadn't called Pete or thought much of it.  But Domonique had been urging me to give it a try and was always a force when it came to any woman pursuing sport!  She had come to all of the Lady Eagle games and even a bunch of my 2005 PSU soccer games and track meets.  She was convinced that I was born to be a competitor and that because there was no real Women's Professional leauge for soccer at the time, that I should see what this "Running" thing was all about. Of course, ...I was hesitant. I was working full time as a Personal Trainer and trying to get into the swing of things in Charlotte before the 2006 Semi-Pro Lady Eagle season would start again. However because of my competitive nature and the urging from Dom, the thought of "Elite" running and the curiosity of what it was, sat deep in the back of my mind. I eventually journaled and prayed about giving running a shot. On the outside, there wasn't any definite reason that I had the talent, but maybe Dom was right in that I should at least see what this "Elite Running" buisness was all about? I kept putting it off... until one day.  I had a bad day, a real bad one. It was the culmination of a really tough week and some emotional circumstances that had made me upset, to say the least.  So as has happned so many times in my life before, I decided to use my emotion or whatever you want to call it, and try to make some good out of it.  Just like I would do on the field or court in High School and College, except this time I went to a track. I  made up my own workout, killed myself for an hour or so and ran faster than I ever thought I could. Only this time there wasn't a ball.  It was just me and the rubber, and apparently the results of that workout proved to myself that I was ready for something.  That night I called up Pete!

Within 2 weeks of the call, with little to no formal training, I found myself driving to Blowing Rock, NC to stay in the mountains with people I didnt know and run in a 4 mile race in a place I had never heard of in Tennessee. The race was hard and it hurt like hell, but I think Pete was a bit surprised that I didnt finish too far off of his athletes. Even though I had never raced anything longer than a 5k, I somehow ran sub 6 minute pace which he said was good.  I didn't even know what the term "sub 6 meant"?  All I knew was that Pete said I did good and that was all I needed to hear! Within a month from that day, I found myself staying long weekends in the mountains with these "crazy" people who had "schedules" which I was not used to.  They ate at certain times, slept at certain times and ran everyday, sometimes twice!!!!  The athletes at Zap were, and still are dedicated and goal -driven people, and even though I at first thought they were crazy, I did love their passion for sport!

Zika Rea, Co-founder of Zap and now Pete's wife, was one of the main reasons why I continued with Zap and participated in some of the workouts.  She was willing to give me a chance in this very unforgiving sport right from the beginning.    They both seemed to know exactly how to train someone like me and explained to me the physiological benefits and purposes of each workout.  Every weekend was a challenge and after each workout or race with them, I was completely ZAPPED:)! (no pun intended) Soccer had not prepared me all the way for this type of training and my body had never been so sore! I remember thinking how physically painful it was to keep up with the other girls, but that I would not show them how much it hurt.  I wanted to show Pete and Zika I could hold my own and that they hadn't made a mistake. And Pete didn't bat an eyelash.  He used the same methods on me as he did everyone else and I loved that he tested my limits! If he told me to run backward for 100 miles I would have done it.  In fact, I listened to what everyone at Zap told me about running, and the next year and a half came with highlights that I never dreamed could occur.  Qualifying for Indoor and Outdoor Nationals on the track in the 3k and 3k Steeplechase were huge stepping stones.  I also put out some descent marks in a few big named road races like the Manchester Road Race and Tufts 10k.  Before I knew it, a few of these achievements had labeled me an "Elite Runner" and  had enabled me to become a true standard "A" Zap Athlete with Pete and Zika guiding me every step of the way

2004-2005 Zap athlete Amanda Chase and I dressing up for a workout:) of my best friends to this day!!!
In 2006, Zap supported me with a full schedule of workouts and races.  They talked to me about what they thought worked and what didn't and eventually helped me out financially so that I did not have to work as much and could come to Zap on Thursdays to stay and train through the weekends.  For 2 years they taught me everything I needed to know about the sport, all the while realizing that this was all so new to me.  They could probably guess that I was more of a natural athlete than runner, but still they encouraged me by saying that I had potential and could keep improving. And because they are the type of people who don't lie to make you feel good, I believed them. They may not have knew it, but they were in the midst of supporting a  dream that I had had since a very young age; to compete with the best,... no matter what sport it was in.  By 2007, there I was competing with the best and traveling all over the world, with a chance to run the 3k Steeplechase in the 2008 Olympic Trials.
A Christmas dinner with Zika, Pete, Amanda and myself!!

Of course no story comes without valleys.  Running wise, the 3 years that followed were tough.  I broke my ankle pretty badly in 2007 in a Steeplechase accident that Pete described as "something he never wanted to see again."  I'll never forget the look on his face when we went to the emergency room that day.  We both knew it was bad.  The accident forced me to have a major surgery and step aside from the sport for a couple years.  And so a comeback to be an Elite Runner again was questionable and slow in process. I never went back to being a Zap Athlete, mainly because we didn't know how the ankle would respond to heavy training again?  But also I am the type of personality that is to this day, a little more "scattered" and different, so I am not sure how long I would have made it on the mountain anyway!!  But I never forgot about what was accomplished those 2 years, and I never forgot the feeling I got when Pete Rea told me I was "good" or how Zika took a chance on me when she knew I was so new to the sport.  To this day, I believe God had a plan in it all and that He still does; and so I continue to run.  I have been blessed to travel all over the country and all over the world to run in races with some of the worlds best! I am affiliated with Team Alchemy and  Newton Running (Newton Running) which has been a huge goal since my competitive comeback in 2010 and I just was recently named one of the Running Times top 10 Woman Marathoner's of the year for running a 2:32 debut marathon.  Besides all that though, I know that the people I've met, the lessons I've learned and any successes I've had can all be traced back to Zap Fitness and the phenomenal program that they run. Sure, I've had ups and downs, but I am still plugging and still improving, determined to see what we can get out of this old, worn out soccer body.  Currently, I live and train in Charlotte under Coach Mark Hadley(Elite Marathoining Coach).  We have some lofty 2013 goals that I would like to achieve, but I try to take one day at a time and am already so thankful for what the sport has done for me and SO MANY people. 

To conclude, Pete wanted me to explain why I chose to donate 10% of all my Race Winnings/Prize money this past 2012 year to Zap.  I never planned on telling anyone and was hoping that he wouldn't either.  But if it will help Zap in any way, than thats what I'll do.  To me, it was the LEAST I could do for a program that has helped make my dreams become reality. If I could I would do more and for a longer time.  The athletes that come to Zap may not have come out of college with triple figure contracts, but they are hard working and talented individuals that a program like Zap gives the chance to flourish. The coaching, the system, the camps and the philosophy are all geared toward making you the best runner you can be and I think that's whats it about.  Maximizing your own potential to get out of running what you want out of it.  I feel that I still have a long way to go in the sport, and am not sure exactly how long I'll stay competitive, but I do know that it is only because of post-collegiate running groups like Zap Fitness that I at least have had the chance.  A chance is sometimes what we all need in life and Zap gives young people chances to fulfill their dreams.  I was just trying to mind my own business and watch a friend play soccer,.... but a chance was given to me that day, and I am so glad I took it!