February 13 2018
Colleen Kelly Alexander discusses the accident that changed her life and how she has rebounded in spite of the trauma to her mind and body.
This past weekend, I attended the Brooks Beasts’ Altitude Training Camp (a.k.a. #CampBrooks). They brought together runners of all shapes and sizes to train with the pros at altitude. It was only slightly intimidating. As an extroverted person, I thought I would be fine, but I got there and was immediately overwhelmed and filled with doubt. How did I score an invite to this event? These people are so legit!
Running and training has come in waves like this for me. The track workout on the first day did not really help with this much. I felt okay, at best. After 9 hours of travel plus the altitude, it felt like someone was grabbing my lungs and squeezing as hard as they could. The next morning we hit the trails bright and early and I was even more nervous. Trails? On a mountain? The last time I ran trails was for a Ragnar and I still have nightmares about trails at 3 a.m. in the dark.
When we got out to the desert, my breath was taken away. We were supposed to be taking photos and documenting our trip, but I left my phone on the bus and chose to just see how this would go. The first mile I honestly thought I was going to pass out on the trail. Two men were behind me and I kept telling them to “Go by if you want,” followed by a few nervous laughs. They obviously were also struggling and refused. Finally, about 3 miles deep of the 7, I just started to float. I lost everyone around me and just ran. I looked up, I took in the scenery, I breathed deeply and I fell in love with running again. My journey has been an interesting one in which I have fallen in and out of love with running many times. I have never given myself the space from training that I sometimes need, but I rely on moments like these to remember what it is all about. I was on a high the rest of the morning and I want to remember that run for the rest of my life.
When we got back we went into a focus group to talk about product design, our favorite products and what we would like from Brooks. It was so interesting to hear various women’s struggles with their clothing and their bodies. I kindly referred to my body as “curvy for a marathoner” many times and was surprised when another woman said she, “unfortunately did not have my beautiful curves,” and therefore clothing doesn’t fit her for other reasons. I was astounded because I spend a lot (way too much) time obsessing over why I don’t “look like a runner.” And it comes from inside but also from other people directly saying things like, “Wow, you’re not skinny for a marathoner,” or “You have huge quads for a marathoner.” Yes, these are direct quotes. It was in this moment I realized that we are all runners. My body is a runner’s body and so was the woman’s without any curves. We all need the right clothing, because we run!
Then, a magical thing happened. The lead designer asked us to answer the question: Why do you run? Why I run? Well that’s a loaded question. I have written at least ten articles about this and I can tell you they are all saved on my computer or in the trash because I have been too afraid to make myself that vulnerable to an audience I barely know. Why I run? Could I hold it together and not cry? I didn’t tell my story, but I summed it up with, I really started running to deal with grief and then realized I actually love to compete, especially with myself. Then, each woman opened up. Like really and truly told their whole story to this group of strangers. One of the elite runners was in the room, too, and she confessed why she started and why she needs to remember this because it is so easy to forget sometimes. And then I cried. And she cried.
How powerful is this thing we have? It has saved women from addictive behaviors, it has saved me from grief and horrible body image issues, it has saved women from themselves—given many of us an escape and the ability to step back and take on life as the best version of ourselves. Running is so powerful. Running is so beautiful. Running is so fun. I have four weeks left until my next big race, and I can confidently say that I am ready to dive back into love with my training and running, because this trip reminded me that I am incredibly lucky that I get to run.