Monday, October 31, 2011

My Running Stamp

Written by Michelle Kempton
Published in Canadian Running Magazine

I decided that my reward for completing a winter half-marathon would be a tattoo. I spent months day-dreaming ideas that would symbolize my passion, dedication and experience with the only sport that I’ve ever embraced – running.

Near the end of my first half-marathon, I got a mild case of frostbite and started hallucinating – not about the finish line – but something much more permanent: my tattoo design. I envisioned a sneaker splashing in a puddle, surrounded by the four seasons and all the weather conditions
that I’ve run through during the last three years.

At first glance, a stranger wouldn’t guess that I’m a runner. I’m short, curvy and don’t look like an athlete, but I consistently run five days a week. Three years ago, I was a morbidly obese sedentary adult. I took-up running and transformed myself into a healthy, confident and energetic woman.

My journey to become a runner wasn’t easy and I had a few failures. When I started running, I was a 250-pound woman who could barely run 100m without stopping.

As my mileage increased, I started losing a significant amount of weight. A year later, my first race was a 10k, where I ran through the finish line in the wrong direction.

It was still a victory. I weighed 165 lbs with a finish-time of 52 minutes.
People started asking me when I would run my first half-marathon, I’d quickly reply with an enthusiastic “never!” Truth be told, I didn’t believe that I could run that far and I don’t like to fail. A year
after my first race, guess what I was doing? Training for the Hypothermic Half-Marathon in Halifax. It’s a legendary race.

The terrain is hilly and our coastal winter weather is unpredictable.
On race day, I thought my half-marathon experience was the most painful thing that I’ve ever experienced, which says a lot, since I delivered twins. It wasn’t a pretty sight at the Hypothermic Half. My low-tech, last-minute attempt to keep my feet dry involved wearing Ziploc bags between two layers of socks and I’m pretty sure that I looked like death at the finish line. I was cold, wet, and my legs felt like rubber.

My race time was an embarrassing 30 minutes longer than I had hoped for. I placed second-last, crossing the finish line at 2:57. In my defense, I was dodging enormous water puddles, dealing with slippery road conditions and pushing against intense headwinds (but, then again, so was everyone else). In hindsight, I’m glad the weather was horrible, it makes me feel like a running warrior and the finish line was more gratifying.

My reward for completing this half-marathon was surprisingly twice as painful as the race – it took longer too. To celebrate my first half-marathon, I sat in a tattoo studio for five hours, exposing my ears to heavy metal music, while an artist attacked my back with a needle injecting ink into my skin. I’m sure this doesn’t sound like a reward to
most, but I have absolutely no regrets. The pain of the tattoo quickly faded, much like the agony of running a winter half-marathon.

To this day, my Hypothermic Half race medal is my most prized possession. It’s not valuable to anyone except for me, but it represents how far I’ve come and what I am capable of doing. And, the tattoo is a daily reminder of my strength and perseverance as a runner.

Michelle Kempton is a runner based in Dartmouth, N.S., and founder
of the Heart & Sole Running Club.