Advice To My Former Self

I was just reading Too Slow For Oranges’ blog post from the NYC Marathon. I was intrigued by her blog’s name because during my first marathon in San Diego, I was really looking forward to the oranges rumored to be at the aid station around mile 18. But I got there and THERE WERE NONE LEFT. I stared at the little orange peels littering the ground I was running on and scoffed. How could they run out of oranges?! Rude.

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Anyway, she ended her post with this:

“Kim from nine years ago would have been proud. Do you ever look back at moments in your past and reflect on what your former self would think of you now?”

So, Kim planted a seed in my head and I started reflecting…because, you know…she asked so nicely.

I’ve grown quite a bit since I started running. (Literally and figuratievely…I was like, 4-foot-something in junior high. I’m now towering above everyone at a whopping 5’2.)

Kara in junior high didn’t think about being slow or fast (that I can remember). She ran track so she could hang out with her friends and get skinny and not be bored after school. (For the record, I was already thin. I was extremely out of touch with reality.) When she pictured herself as an adult, she wanted to be like Jessica from the Sweet Valley High books, live in California, and drive a Jeep.

Kara in high school thought she was too slow. All she thought about was how all her track and cross country teammates were fast and she wasn’t; no matter how hard she worked she couldn’t keep up. She believed that because she was short, she could never be fast. (I can’t even type this and not laugh.) Still, she loved being a part of a team. Running was her LIFE. Anytime she was upset and her Mom said “it’s just a race, don’t let it get you down” she screamed: “IT’S NOT JUST A RACE TO MEEEE!” She made books of motivational quotes and read every book on running she could find.

Even our team t-shirts were motivational.

Even our team t-shirts were motivational.

Good ol' XC meets!

Wish they let us keep those sweet sweatpants.

Kara in college wanted to run cross country for her school (University of Kansas – ROCK CHALK!). She was close friends with a lot of the girls and guys on the team. For a split second she became extremely motivated by them all and was determined to be the next greatest walk-on.

And then she realized she didn’t really want to go on 12 mile tempo runs on Saturday mornings.

So she ran when she wanted, stayed out late, and had the best college experience ever. And continued going to the gym to try and get skinny. She thought that was it. She had passed the peak of her athletic “career”.

And, you know, played hunting games.

Post-college Kara figured she would run a marathon. It’s just something she had always wanted to do. Separated from school and teams and thrown full-force into the working world, she decided she needed to focus on this goal. Growing up, life was always planned out…first, you finish elementary school. Then junior high. Graduate from high school. Graduate from college. Now what?! She never knew HOW she would do it, but knew she would find a way.

Great, I graduated…but I have absolutely no idea what to do now.

Kara after finishing her first marathon had no idea what the average marathon time was. She just wanted to finish. It was blazingly hot in San Diego. She drank Cytomax, which she had never even tasted before. She ended up with one of the worst stomach aches and worst sunburns of her life. It was miserable. She thought “that’s just what marathons feel like”. She finished in 6:01:22. She would never even consider the possibility of taking an hour and 23 minutes off her marathon time by her third marathon…while smiling the entire way. (She thought MAYBE she could if she lost 20 pounds.)

Seriously...look how sunburned!

Seriously…look how sunburned!

Kara from 3 years ago would never believe any future version of herself would finish an Ironman. She didn’t even know what an Ironman was. If she did, she would think it was only for insanely crazy, athleticly gifted people.

Post-Ironman, I still question myself. I’m still not sure how I finished an Ironman, and sometimes even wish I had finished it faster. I still feel like an imposter, because I’m surrounded by some really incredible people. Really awe-inspiring athletes who do a lot more than I do, and know a lot more than I do. Who work harder than I do. I still feel “small” sometimes.

But still, I’ve learned a lot throughout all these experiences. And I have some things to tell the past versions of myself:

Junior High Kara – you have so much to learn. Why are you so worried about being skinny? You’re 11 years old. Quit that. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. The friends you meet now are going to be your best friends for the rest of your life. Just focus on being a good, kind person.

High School Kara – you are faster, stronger, and tougher than you think. You run 6 days a week, lift weights 3 times per week, and do A LOT of dynamic exercises that are keeping you injury free. Someday you’re going to beg for the time and strength to do this. You’re faster than a lot of other high schoolers on track and cross country teams across the country. You go to a big school in a big city (okay, a big city in Iowa) with a huge running program, and have a lot of competition on your own team…which is only making you better. You are so lucky. Focus on being thankful for your health. Stop worrying about being slow and just do your thing, girl. And stop yelling at your parents. They are smarty-pants.

I miss spikes!

Just be glad you didn’t have to wear buns like they do now. And not the hair buns. The short shorts buns.

College Kara – I just want to hug you. Start working on building more confidence, but learn to appreciate your mental stength. It will get you far in life. Keep doing what you’re doing…because despite what you thought in high school, running doesn’t define you.

“First marathon” Kara – you’re not doomed to be slow forever. Have faith. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. If you work harder and focus more on your goals, you can in fact reach an actual time goal. Marathons don’t HAVE to feel that horrible. Train smarter. Be honest with yourelf about how hard you’re working. Learn what hard work looks like.

And now? Yeah, I still complain about things that the rational version of myself knows are stupid. The smarter, strategic-thinking part of my brain is telling me to stop, once and for all, comparing myself to others. There’s always going to be something MORE you can do…especially when it comes to sports. There’s always some harder race, something crazier, something that you think might be more fulfilling. But doing “more” probably isn’t going to fulfill you. Accepting yourself as you are, but still working hard at being the best version of yourself will.

Not to say that’s easy…but I do firmly believe that our beliefs affect our behavior. That we act according to what we focus on mentally. If you’re thinking more about why you CAN’T do something, change your mindset. Believe in what you want to see in the future.

You have to dream those crazy dreams.

You have to dream those crazy dreams.

I have drawn an enormous amount of strength, internal motivation, and confidence from my crazy dreams. I know that without all of these learning experiences and the support from my family and friends (including each and every one of you) I wouldn’t be who I am today.

A person who DOES have regular clothes.

As the saying goes…

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How have you changed throughout your life? What have you accomplished that once seemed impossible?

P.S. Writing to past and present versions of yourself is like the hardest gramatical thing ever. My apologies if this doesn’t make sense. 

23 comments

  1. Dori says:

    I love this post! So beautifully written and well said. I still am in such awe that you are in IronMan! What an amazing accomplishment. I had a dream last night that I (who does not swim or bike or have any desire to) was somehow about to start a Half IronMan. It was pretty nerve wracking even though it was not real. ANYWAY – I’ve changed so much it seems very much like that HIM dream! I’d have to say all the running and Refine… I never understood or cared about exercise in high school or college. I never thought it would be such a huge part of my life.

    • Kara says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Dori! I really need to try Refine one of these days…although I’ve been saying that for months! That’s funny about your dream – maybe it’s a sign..just sayin’ :) haha

  2. Amy Lauren says:

    I love this post! And you are short but I’m shorter, hehe. 5’0″ here. Everyone towers over me.

    I never ran in middle school, or high school, and just ran a little around campus in college. Nothing serious. I always thought I was doomed to be slow because of being short, and then when I got anemia in 2010, I thought I was just doomed. I never would’ve imagined myself running a marathon with a decent time at all, even though I didn’t make my goal time.

    Posts like this are encouraging because you look at how far you’ve come not how far you have to go. I see so many runners freak out because their 5K time was a minute better last week, their pace was 15-20 seconds off, etc. When you look at your progress over YEARS, you see change and how running has changed you as a person.

    • Kara says:

      You said it perfectly…running is so day-to-day! Sometimes I can barely keep up my marathon pace in a 4 mile run. It’s so strange. But when you look at the big picture, you really can see your progress.

      P.S. Short girls unite!! haha

  3. Erin says:

    Awesome post, Kara!

    I think it’s such a great idea to reflect on race attitudes from our past. Even though I have only been racing for three years, I can already tell such a difference in the way I approach training and racing. Thanks for sharing! :)

  4. FitnessFatale says:

    I love this post! I really want to write my own, even if I don’t publish it. It’s so crazy how our motivations and self image change over time. Also crazy to think in 5 years we will be writing to our current self with another life lesson learned.

    You seem like a great runner and a great person and you deserve all your success!!!

    • Kara says:

      You should! It was really enlightening for me. It will definitely be fun to look back on this in 5 more years. I wonder what I’ll be thinking then!

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment, that truly means so much to me!

    • Kara says:

      Thank you! It’s so fun to reflect. How great would that be if we could actually go back and tell our former selves what we’ve learned? Although, I think the fun of it is in not knowing :)

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