When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Anybody can.

One of the comments to Rob’s latest post prompted me to wonder into my “running career”. Somebody said – reading your experiences make us think if you can do it – anybody can. And that’s a powerful feeling.

Not that long ago I was a non-runner. At all. I never ran for any track team or anything else. We did have to do 100m, 500m, 2km races at school as part of PE every year throughout the high school, and I did it relatively (to others) well, coming pretty much in the front. But it’s not the same as here in Russia: kids that have talent are placed in special sports schools, so in regular once there is no serious competition. I even represented my school at regionals (competition for school that belong to one region of Moscow, kind of like would be a county here) in relays. Scary memories! I hated the fact that there is pressure and I needed to push, I would spit blood at the end of my leg and swear not to do it again ever. The only thing that close to “training” was my ever-lasting weight battle. So, loving to eat as much as I do, I choose to jog around a school in the morning, 10 min, every day.

The same pattern followed in Medical school. PE was a part of education, and I made it through all the races from 400m to 2km and 3km on cross-country ski, although by then I was a heavy smoker. My best 2km time was 9:10.

That was it. I came to US in 1993, and after gaining an insane amount of weight (my highest was 182 AFTER I gave birth to my second son) I was disgusted and ready for action. I joined gym, committed myself and slowly shed the pounds. My aerobic included 20 min on a stairmaster and 10-20 min running on indoor track – 20 laps to a mile, dizzy spell. A few times I managed to get outside and run 20 min there, but was too ashamed of my body and my speed to continue…

And then I read a book by Oprah about her marathon training…I know, it sounds pretty lame, but if some people get inspired by Dean Karnases, why not Oprah? I thought: I will run a marathon by the age of 40 (I was 32). Accidentally, my co-worker invited me to run local Mother’s day 5k. 2001, May 13. I am coming onto my 5th anniversary here…I went, petrified how I can go that far and on hilly roads instead of safely counting laps…However, it was a blast! Somehow pretty quickly I was following the lead pack (local, women only is a key point here) and kept running, and running…it was getting hotter, and just before mile 3 I stopped for a second to damp my sweatshirt and pants (all cotton) to go on…and I was looking for a finish line not knowing that 5k is actually longer than 3 miles. I finally crossed it in 27:07, and even got 5th in my AG!! The craziness started.

Living in NYC allowed me to explore and apply my new hunger to extend, as Central park had a race every weekend of the year. I went for 4M, then 5M, then 10k…and decided I am ready for a half-marathon in 3 months after that first 5k. In a mean time I “trained”, moving my runs to the local parkway and doing it 4 days a week for 30 min. That Manhattan Half was a pure survival. I went at the same pace – the only pace I knew.
9 miles went by pretty uneventful, though I wish I knew I am supposed to eat and drink, and it’s accepted to take walk breaks. I was afraid if I walk, I’ll never start running again. After that mile marker 9 I don’t remember much. It was hot and humid (August in NY). Many people were sitting on curbs waiting for medical attention. I shuffled forward, fazed out and dreaming about a banner with a clock. It took me 2:00:54, that first half, and a feeling I can do anything!

Luckily, it also brought me to a decision to start reading running books, and join a running group (NYRRC had it lead by Bob Glover, quite a character). I ran in street sneakers for 2 years, and wore cotton shirt and shorts. But I learned about speed work, longer runs, rest days, and proper fueling and hydration. I set my eyes on NYC marathon…where I didn’t get by lottery. But having raced many “halves” and done all the training, I didn’t want to waste it all and went for Mystic Places marathon in CT at the end of October 2002. It was a greatest experience to date! I hit all miles on the spot of predicted pace chart, hit the wall at exactly 20 miles, re-birthed at mile 24 to finish with a kick and in 3:49, breaking that 3;50 by mere seconds! My passion for long races was discovered there, then and forever. Looking at my blistered feet (I finally bought new shoes and new socks – duh, a day before a marathon) – I said to my family – this is what I plan to do for the rest of my life…

And just after that marathon I join a running club in the Bronx, and the first night this guy tells me he ran Vermont 100M and is accepted into WS100. It was a sign. Straight from a track workout I went home and got on internet to read about it – and that was it. Again, my plan was conservative, take a slow approach, right? 3 months after a first marathon this person invites me to run a Central park 50k as a training run for my next planned marathon. You know, it’s a loop course, you can stop any time you’d like…

I went out with headphones and a camelback. Slowly, enjoying the cold temperatures (16F at the start, and falling), trying to warm up a frozen Gatorade at the AS, looking around and not caring much of what’s doing…and didn’t even notice how I went through 27 miles with last loop to go. What, that’s it? So easy? I was super-excited, it felt that I sprinted to the finish, 4:47, not feeling any of the tiredness I had in a marathon! My friend was doing a 50 mile race (in conjunction ) and wasn’t feeling all that “hot”. I ate some soup and decided I’ll pace him for his last 3 loops. 12 more miles? Sure, no problem! We were mostly walking then, slightly breaking into jogs on gentle downhills, and still, I had no effect of miles coming. Next day, albeit stiff and somewhat achy, wasn’t extraordinary painful.

So why wait so many years to see what’s out there? Sure, lets run 50k every month now, lets join trails, lets sign up for 100M! OCD found its outlet and was as happy as can be.

My point is, as I am coming to celebrate my 5 years of running and 3 years of ultras, if I could do it – anybody can! And I am damn serious about it! All you have to do – believe in yourself, be curious of what’s out there, set goals and don’t get deterred in reaching them, discipline, friends, passion for your choice of sport, and support of loved ones. Don’t ever tell – I am not good enough, I am not fast enough, skinny enough, not blessed with genetics, not enough have time, can’t go that long, don’t know what the others will think…go crazy! We only have one life, if you don’t try it – you’ll never know. And remember, all those who do try, are same as you are, normal people, with jobs, families, responsibilities, and fat rolls of stomach hanging over running shorts:) Go out and try!


  1. Olga,

    Thank you for being an inspiration to us all.

  2. Anonymous26/4/06 14:00

    Great post, Olga! 100% inspirational! Have a wonderful day at Zane Grey!


  3. Olga, Thanks for sharing your story! You really are an inspiration.

  4. Well said, and I totally agree with you. After all, you have been very influential in my ultra training and will continue to be into the future. I know someone else who likes to test the boundaries as well though.

    I assure you that I did not neglect proper fueling on purpose, but I have a feeling that was a large part of my problem with not being able to run. Now, if I would have had you there cracking the whip things might have been different.

  5. Very motivational Olga. You've definitely got me ready to sign up.

  6. I see your comments all the time on Rob's blog. I'm glad I picked today to stop by yours. What a great post. Thanks for the history and the inspiration.

  7. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing your history.

    One question..they make you take P.E. in medical school? How strange. I'm picturing all these future docs in gym shorts trying to climb a rope or something.

  8. PE is a big part of any kind of education in Russia, as well as Military prep:)

  9. Olga, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!

  10. Your most inspirational post over. Thanks, Olga. I am really starting to hope that we can meet one day!

  11. Olga, thanks for stopping by. As soon as I saw your blog I recognized your pic from Marathon & Beyond!

    I couldn't agree more with your thoughts in this post -- I also am proof that you can do most anything if you're willing to make the commitment.

    Good luck at Zane Grey!

  12. Commit, prepare and engage! Olga, you are amazing.

    Others who have commented here call you an 'inspiration', I fail to find a better word that fits your example! Thank you for the inspiration today.