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Running with Soul: Meet Joanne (#16)

How many years have you been running?
I only started in February 2013 so just about 9 months.

Since I started I've run 9 5K's, a 15K, a 10 Miler, and a half marathon. So that's 60.3 miles, give or take, in races alone. I love a good challenge and doing bigger and better things.

Little bit about yourself: 
I was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. I'm the youngest of 5 children by 15-20 years so I'm more like an only child according to my siblings. I was raised by a mom who has been incredibly supportive of me trying new things.

Currently, I am an attorney in Central Florida. I work as a bar exam tutor and a blogger but I would love to practice Social Media Law or Computer Criminal Law. I recently spoke at the Jacksonville LGBT Conference about bullying and have several other speaking engagements scheduled thanks to my work I do with students. Often, you'll find me on the go. I love helping others and meeting new people. 

And even though I try to pretend to be big and bad, I'm really a nerd who loves comic books, video games, RPG's, and art. 

Who or what inspires you to run? 
I started running after I saw my brother run the 2012 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon. He's my oldest brother by 20 years. I watched him run his heart out and finish his first half marathon. Well, since we are siblings, I figured that if he could do it, so could I. 

Well, in December 2012 I started bar exam prep and I needed a way to stay active so it was time to put my money where my mouth is. I signed up for my first 5K and I began running. I ran my first 5K three days before the bar exam with my homemade t-shirt that read "I have spent the last 11 weeks studying for the Florida Bar Exam. What's your excuse?". It probably wasn't the smartest idea because I was woefully unprepared and I hurt for days. But I had made the deal with myself that if I could finish the 5K, then I could pass the bar. 

And I did both.

After the bar exam, I found that running became the one thing I felt like I could control in my life. Even though I've had some really terrible interviews and dealt with different issues with students as well as health problems, I've managed to stay together mentally because of running. It's my time alone where I choose how far I go, how hard I run, and how much I feel I can handle. It's all about me.

So I guess you say that my desire to control something is what inspires me to keep running.

And my desire to keep up with my big brother, Tommy.

What is your running mantra?
I may not be a graceful gazelle, but I am one damn sexy flopping walrus. I'm very proud to be a sexy flopping walrus.

What is your favorite running/fitness blog?
I read a wide variety of blogs. Honestly, I don't have a favorite because I find all blogs full of great stories, tips, tricks, and hope.

Actually, I have a favorite Facebook Group for running which is the Women's Running Community. I usually feel like an outcast no matter what I do, but this group accepted me without question and supports me constantly. It's a huge group with about 7,000 members but I feel a bond with each one and love them to pieces.

What has been your most memorable race?
My most memorable race was the 2013 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon that I ran earlier this month. I write race recap's on one of my many Facebook Running Groups and here's the recap:

Around 6:45PM I made my way down to the buses at the resort to find that there was already a line of racers. Normally, I'm used to seeing people of every shape and size at my races but for some reason these people all looked like experienced runners, skinny and muscley. So I didn't really fit in well. It took awhile to get up the front and all the while my nerves were getting worse.

I said good bye to my mom and boyfriend and got on the bus. Since I was running alone, I took a seat by myself and hoped that I wouldn't be like the nerdy kid I was as a child and would be left to myself. It took a few minutes before someone sat beside me.

When my seat mate sat down she instantly broke the ice when she failed to move her water belt and ended up squirting both of us in the face with her water. It was the runner's equivalent of a fart. We giggled and began talking only to discover that we were both running alone and it was both of our first half marathons and we were both absolutely petrified. It was lovely.

When we got to the starting line the bus dropped us off and we were surprised with a security check. After having my bag torn to shreds and having a metal detection wand stuck in places that normally I only let people enjoy if they've bought me dinner first, I made my way inside. When I got inside, I said goodbye to my new friend who was going to make her way to her corral and headed to bag check.

What a living nightmare. Who provides someone as clumsy as me with clear masking tape that hasn't been pre-pulled? After I spent ten minutes shredding the tape with my nails and cutting my hand on the tape, I just tied a knot in the bag and handed it over to bag check.

I then proceeded to go meet with my pace group. Now, here's the thing, it was my first time with a pace group and my last time with a pace group. I walked over and felt immediately awkward because everyone was socializing and had their backs turned to the rest of the crowds. So I stood around for a few minutes looking like the nerd who wanted to appear to be a cool kid. They took a few pictures which I weaseled my way into. I figured this way I could have a decent race photo for once.

After that we meet with our pace team captains. Captain A-hole was my captain who promptly informed me that he would not be starting in my corral or the one behind mine because then there would be no chance of beating the sweepers (sweepers are the individuals who pull people off of a race course who unable to maintain the course pace which was 16 minutes per mile for this race). This instilled no confidence in me and I was instantly angry because I felt like he was implying that I wouldn't be able to finish the race. Captain A-Hole then told me I had to figure a way to catch up. I promised him I would and then I promised I would beat him. I then stormed off to my corral.

I sat outside the corral and stretched until they let us inside. When I got in I found a lovely piece of curb and got comfy since we had another hour until the first gun went off. In the corrals I chit chatted with people but you could tell everyone was nervous. Turned out that most people in my corral were running a half for the first time which gave me a sense of comfort. But I did watch as people began hopping over the fences, never to return again. 200 people supposedly dropped out of the race before it even began.

When the gun finally went off, my fear was at a breaking point. I began running and had a silent conversation with myself where I made myself a deal: It was going to be ok if I got swept so long as I had fun and lived in the moment. Immediately, the nerves disappeared and I just kept trucking. So here's the mile by mile coverage:

Up to mile 1: I huffed along, watching as others past to see their costumes and outfits while telling myself it was all going to be OK. I got 3/4's of a mile before the gun for the corral behind me went off making me feel like I was going to be OK.

Mile 1: Some lady came running up beside me and told me that I only had 12.1 miles left. I told her that she was wrong; in my head I only had 2.1 miles to go because I was taking this in 5K increments. She looked super confused and pulled back which made me smirk. As I trotted along, I saw runners on the other side of the course running along mile 6. I began cheering for them and telling them to keep running. Many of the runners cheered back and told me I was doing a great job. People running along side me got annoyed at my cheering since it was so early on but I didn't give a damn: I promised myself to have fun and that's what I was doing. One guy even ran across the grass to give me a high five and then ran back to his side of the course to finish. It was pretty epic.

Mile 2: To be obnoxious, I found the woman who told me that I had 12.1 miles left at mile 1 and informed her that now I only had 11.1 miles left. She huffed at me and I ran off, bouncing with my music. I continued cheering for people as I went, telling those who appeared to be struggling to keep it up because there was beer at the end. I had a new fancy light that attached to my visor so I used it when the road got really dark. Like moths to a flame, other runners started to gather around me. I looked at one guy who hadn't liked my cheering and said "Oh, so you like me NOW, huh?" He smiled sheepishly and told me I had a nice light. So I let him run beside me since this was the closest thing to a compliment from another man I had gotten in a long time.

Mile 3: At this point we were closing in on Animal Kingdom. My confidence began to rise. I had run this road during Tower of Terror 10 Miler and I had run Animal Kingdom itself during Expedition Everest Challenge so I felt like I had an advantage. A girl began running next to me who was chanting "I want a burger. I want a burger." I told her we were only 10 miles from a burger. She explained that for training she gave up burgers and beer. I told her I gave up beer but I refused to give up burgers. She laughed and we kept going. Three ladies ran up who had on cool shirts that said "Where's the Finish Wine?" so I complimented them. It creeped them out so they ran faster to which I gave myself a pat on the back for helping people pick up the pace. At the 5K mark, I yelled out to those around me that we were now under 10 miles until the beer. People cheered and we crossed under the over pass into the Animal Kingdom parking lot. We came up on the first water station when I almost ran smack into captain A-Hole, the pace group leader.

"Hey!" I cried out happily. "I can't believe I caught up!"

"That's nice. It's time to run," he said not even looking at me. At the same time my boyfriend called in to see where I was and how I was holding up. I told him I was entering Animal Kingdom, give me 20 minutes and call back. He said OK and hung up.

Now this is the moment I realized I don't like pace groups. A) Because Captain A-Hole kind of ruined them for me with his constant whining and B) I don't run the same pace. They were running a 30/30 run walk pace. I realized as I tried to keep up that I run a run-until-you-feel-like-your-about-to-die-because-your-heart-wants-to-explode-and-your-legs-want-to-mutiny then walk-until-sweet-nirvana-sets-in-and-you-don't-hurt-anymore pace. It probably equates to a 2/1 pace but I like my version better. So I tried for awhile to stay with them because I wasn't sure if I could run this whole thing alone. We got into the park and instantly I had flash backs of Expedition Everest. I hate Animal Kingdom, folks. I hate to admit it but the ground gets to me and I really can't stand the smell. So all I wanted was to be done. Well, that wasn't in Captain A-Hole's plans. He wanted everyone to stop for a potty break. When I had had the conversation with myself in the beginning about having fun I also had the all important potty conversation with myself. I decided that, well, I've peed myself in a race before and it wasn't so bad, plus this was a night race, so I would only use a potty if I had the trots. Plus, I didn't want to get swept because I was too civilized and needed toilet paper. If it was just liquid, I would just use it as lubrication to keep my legs going. So when Captain A-Hole tried to get everyone to have a potty break I disappeared into the crowd and picked up speed.

Mile 4: I don't remember much other than celebrating that I was in single digits left to run. I focused on getting out of Animal Kingdom and away from Captain A-Hole.

Mile 5: The boyfriend calls just as I hit Mile 5. He asks where I am and I said I exited Animal Kingdom. He told me he really did call back in 20 minutes so I made record time for me to get out of that damn park. He started filling me on the race and I told him about what was going on in the course. I come up on the water stop and essentially bath myself in water to cool off. It was glorious. But my knee was hurting, so I got as much Biofreeze from the medical tent as I could and numbed the hell out of my knees. I then get all the way out of the parking lot and back on the main roads while the BF chats away in my ear, giving me comfort that I'm not really running alone.

Mile 6: It felt like the never ending mile. Captain A-Hole catches up. Turns out his lovely group all ditched him except one person. So I just try to blend in (which is hard to do when you're a pudgy red head wearing a bright blue shirt) and keep going. At the 10 K mark, I jumped up and down on the treadle about six times. I wanted to make sure it registered. And I was celebrating. I chugged along making jokes with my boyfriend along the way, confusing everyone around me who thought I was talking to them.

Mile 7: Suddenly, I was really tired. I kept telling my BF "I'm trying; I'm trying." He told me how proud he was and to keep going. I was catching up with a friend of ours running the race who has run multiple halves and typically keeps a 12 minute pace. A big screen in the road announced we were at the halfway point and I just huffed at it. I just wanted to lay down and take a nap. But I kept chugging. We went down an overpass when all of a sudden I saw two green army men who were miked. I was running basically alone at this point so they started yelling at me to pick up the pace, soldier. I straightened up and called out "Hoo-ah!" which got a response of "That's right, soldier! Now, left-right-left-right! We don't leave anyone behind!" That was the second wind I needed. After a quick stop at the medical tent to get more Biofreeze and numb my throbbing hamstrings I was off and running again.

Mile 8: Nothing but road. It had to be the most uneventful, boring mile of the entire race. Up until the food stop. Normally, I use Sports Beans. They are lovely orange flavored jelly beans that speak to my inner and outer fat kid. But for some reason by the time I reached the food stop I could have eaten a slower runner around me. But all they were handing out was Clif shots. It doesn't sound bad but I had never had it before. Nevertheless, I was starving and relatively sure I had enough energy to chase a fellow runner down for a snack. so instead of risking being swept or jail, I opted for a chocolate Clif shot. I'm thinking these things are probably nasty under normal circumstances but at that moment, it was the nectar of the gods. I ate the whole thing and debated asking for more but I didn't want to risk it. Nonetheless, it helped and suddenly I wasn't as tired or as hungry. No one was harmed during this mile.

At the water stop I did my typical bath in a cup of water and rejoice in the coolness. I also proposed to the guy who handed me the water. He turned me down, which was OK. But I appreciated him anyway. Some lady made a comment of "Well, I haven't reached the point of desperation yet to pour water on myself. I KNOW what I'M doing. Besides, I'd only do it with cold water." I just turned on her and said "Any water is cold when you have run 8 miles . And I know what I'm doing too so go to hell." Turned back and kept running. My boyfriend, whose still on the phone, just laughed. I hate mean people during races. Don't judge others who are trying and PS- beating you.

Mile 9: I made it to Hollywood Studios. baby angels were singing in my head. As much as the Tower of Terror 10 Miler sucked for me, I was grateful I ran it because I knew where I was going. I got in the park and suddenly found lots of photographers. In accordance with my private contract with myself, I decided to have fun and posed for each picture because damn it, I want a nice race picture finally. I have attached the results to this post for your entertainment and vote on which I should buy. In front of the hat, I photobombed another runner who was none too pleased but it was damn funny. My photo escapades continued throughout this mile.

Mile 10: Just as I hit Mile 10 I saw Wreck It Ralph who was wrecking cones on the course. Not only was it hilarious but much needed. I found the energy to run for a full 5 minutes which for me is astounding. By this point my BF was yelling in my ear that I had officially PR-ed. He was right; my longest race was 10 miles , anything after 10 was a PR. So it no longer mattered to me if I got swept, which is what I told him. Some British lady near me heard me saying this and told me that no one gets swept after you hit Hollywood Studios, that I could just enjoy the rest of the race. I dove at her and bear hugged her while apologizing for bear hugging her. She said it was OK, she probably needed the human contact too. Just as we finished hugging (while running at the same time, it was impressive) we came on New York Street which was decorated for the Osbourne Spectacle of Lights with over 1 million Christmas lights. It was amazing. So finally I started crying. My BF panicked on the phone asking what happened, why was I crying and I told him the truth: I was more proud of myself in that moment than I had been in many years because in that moment I realized I was going to finish.

So Mile 10 was the emotional mile. I even cried when I saw Darth Vader although I cut the turn too sharp and almost ran into him. I just felt amazing.

Another medical tent and more Biofreeze. Now I ran singing about how Biofreeze was my only true friend and how I love it more than life. I think this is called runner's insanity.

It was towards the end of Hollywood Studios and suddenly I heard the theme song from Captain America . I started running harder hoping they had him hiding somewhere but no such luck. It was awesome anyway because I was wearing my UnderArmour Captain America socks (which are amazing to run in). Then it happened.

I peed myself.

I was so proud I told the runner next to me.

And she told me she just peed too.

We were really proud of ourselves so we ran together out of Holllywood Studios leaving behind our marks.

My BF was proud but slightly disgusted.

Mile 11: I could see Spaceship Earth in the distance. We ran along the river to Epcot. Dozens of spectators lined the path giving high fives, yelling out encouragement, cow bells (there are not enough cow bells in the world), and handing us water bottles. It was amazing. I think it was the best mile of the whole race because the spectators were there to help.

It got a little congested so I walked for a bit but I met the Founder of California Runners who told me for my first half I looked amazing and she was thrilled I was still smiling and making jokes. She walked with me for awhile telling me how proud she was. A total stranger was proud of me. It was awesome.

We made it to Yacht Club when a spectator was cheering saying she'd run with us. I told her challenge accepted and she ran on the race course and we ran full speed down the boardwalk together until she couldn't run anymore. She clapped me on the back and told me to finish strong which was awesome.

Mile 12: Still running strong but my foot started killing me. But that's when I met Peggy Sue. Peggy Sue apparently comes to every runDisney race. She sat in her motorized chair with her sign and offered me Starbursts because she knew we were in need of food. I turned her down saying thanks but told her that I loved her for being there. People like that make running worth while.

I got into Epcot, my foot killing me, and just concentrated on finishing.

I no longer cared about what people thought about me. I posed for pictures, I skipped as I ran, and I yelled at crowds to cheer.

Mile 13: Almost there. I told my boyfriend I hit 13 and I began to really run. I sprinted full speed. I wanted to be done. I wanted my freaking beer. And a nap. Perhaps a shower. But really, I just wanted to stop moving. I ran with everything I had left.

And when I crossed that finish line I Hulk Screamed so loud I scared everyone around me. and I continued to yell as I got my medal and my pictures because I did it. My boyfriend Hulk screamed for me. My mom Hulk screamed. It was like being released from years of imprisonment. It was like being set free. I was a beast.

I AM a beast.

An injured beast with a sprained knee that took 2 days to unlock finally and who is still completely exhausted and too sore to run. But damn, there has been no other feeling like crossing that finish line and letting out that scream.
Everyone should run a half marathon. Anyone can be a beast.

I'm a beast.

So there you have it: my race recap from my first and not to be last half marathon. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I loved running it.

What is your dream race? (Besides Boston)
I want so badly to run The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run. Stephen Siller was a firefighter that abandoned his truck and ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel with his gear to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He gave his life that day trying to save others. The race is memory of all those who lost their lives that day. 

I may not be from New York, but I come from a fire family. My uncle was a firefighter, my grandfather died in a fire, my great grandfather drove one of the last fire boats in Philadelphia, and another relative was the first fire matron. There is a special place in my heart for firefighters so, of course, I want to run any race for firefighters.

But I remember September 11th like it was yesterday. I remember watching the Towers fall on TV, my friends devastated because they lost their parents when the Towers came crashing down, being locked in to high school with no way to reach my family to see if they were OK, and knowing that my world would never be the same. I feel like September 11th is not just a day but a day that has driven my path in life. I want to be there with others who feel the same, I want to give back, I want to run for those who can't. I want to remember.

What one piece of running gear can you not live without?

I love, LOVE my Captain America Under Armor Training Socks. They are soft but more importantly, Captain America is the man. I told you I am a nerd.

If you could share any words of advice/encouragement to a new runner, what would it be?

My mom recently got into the race scene and she's 70 years old. She was terrified. But here's what I told her: Don't worry about anyone else. There are runners of every shape, size, weight, hair color, and attitude. But running isn't about everyone around you. It's just you versus the road/trail/whatever you like to run. Don't let anyone else into your head. It's all about you. So don't look back, don't look to the side or down. Look straight on to the road ahead and take it one step at a time. And celebrate each step because it was a step you wouldn't have previously taken.

Just so you know, she finished her first 5K in October and she is now addicted.

Goes to show that you are never too old to get out there and clock some miles.

Oh, and buy moisture-wicking socks are a must. Blisters suck. 

Be sure to follow Joanne on her journey1

Big thanks to Joanne for participating in the series!

Check back each Monday at 9 am CST as another runner shares their journey of running with soul!

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