Every once in a while…every once in a while you run across a person who’s story is so amazingly inspirational and motivational that it makes you stop and give pause. This is one of those times. There are no words that I can use that will give any justice to what you are about to read. So I am just going stop talking and let you get to it. Thank you JoAnne.
My Journey to complete and Win the Icebreaker Gold Medal Challenge
I have to confess I have started to write this a million times but nothing ever seams to come out just right. This weekend along with the training that went into it and the journey that brought me to this point has been a long emotional one. I could not figure out what was important enough to leave in and what to leave out.. So I decided to start from the beginning. For me all aspects of the journey have made my life a better place and I cherish every moment of it!
Running and working out has always been a big part of my life! Even after I married and had kids. I did not know how important it was till my husband deployed for the first time to Afghanistan. While my husband was deployed I tried my hardest to workout when I could. It was very hard with 3 little kids and I did not make it a priority, I put my workouts on the back burner. I was feeling ok but looking back I can see how I was very fast I was falling in to depression. It was very hard having him gone and when he finally got home all the depression I had been holding on to came up to the surface and I gave up on many things I loved, like working out and running because I just wanted to sit on the couch with him. I AM NOT BLAMING him!! He always encouraged me “get out and do my thing.” but I choose to just stay home and just be depressed.
My husband being the great man he is saw how depressed I was and thought signing me up to do the San Antonio Rock n Roll Marathon in October of 2011 would help me get out of it. I was not worried because hey I did one before, it will be a piece of cake. WRONG!!! I did not train much and just winged it.. And I DIED on the run!! I almost did not finish it and promised my husband I would never run another marathon again!!
This marathon made me realize that I was out of shape in more than just my body but my mind as well and needed to get back in the habit of working out and was praying it would help get me out of my depression state. I started meeting with Dustin, a personal trainer at the YMCA and words can not even start to say what influence that he had on me! He pushed me back to life! Everyday when I walked in there he would have the greatest workouts for me and I would smash them and then he would have even harder ones the next go around. I loved it he was challenging me and helping me reach out of the depression hole. I was really starting to feel alive again. My family started to notice a difference and our home life became enjoyable again! The saying is true if the mom is not happy no one is!
Dustin then challenged me to participate with him in a local 5K run. I was so scared. Our workout friends had bets who would win, him or me. I can honestly say I think we both did! I came in first for my age and he says it did no care that he did not place and I beat him.. He just loved seeing his trainee win! That is when my self esteem went through the ROOF!! I felt like the old me again and life was looking up!! Working out and running was helping me see that there was more to me and it gave me so much to look forward to and something to challenge myself at.
When things were really looking up we found out that my husband once again would be leaving us to do a tour in South Korea. This time I made a promise to myself that I would not get depressed and would not give up my running/working out and I would stay grounded. Running would be my therapy and I would get through this tour happy and strong!
My husband was worried I would fall back into my depression and had us move up North to Wisconsin to be with my family. At first I was so mad I did not want to leave my people in Texas and did not know if I was ready to go on my own working out. I did not know if I had it in me to keep going. The first day I got to Wisconsin I went out and ran and pretty much every day since! When I started to feel depressed I would push myself harder to be faster. This determination to keep going and not become depressed is what led up to me signing and winning the Icebreaker Gold Medal Challenge Jan 19 th and 20 th of 2013.
Through out the summer I trained for the 2012 I ran the Chicago Allstate ½ marathon and the Chicago ½ marathon and the Cahoots Challenge in Utah always improving my times and feeling good about myself. When I completed the Milwaukee Brewers ½ marathon in September and came in first for my age division I knew it was time to up my game and once again try a marathon! My family thought I was crazy they remembered what I looked like and felt like after the Rock n Roll marathon, but I was determined. I was a little worried because I had not trained over 15 miles the whole summer but I figured if I ran 9 min miles instead of my 7:20 miles then I should be able to do fine. And I was! I completed the whole Haunted Hustle Marathon without stopping, even though my legs were SCRREAMING at me. I finished with a time of 4 hours 2min. I came in the top 10 for my age and was 141 to cross the finish line! While on this run I met Bill and Amy, they were pacers from a few of the races I had ran and remembered me. We talked and with all the encouragement that they gave me I decided it was time to push even harder! The next day I started training for the Gold Medal challenge!
The Gold Medal Challenge is a unique Challenge. It consists of completing the Icebreaker PRO ½ marathon on Saturday (in which you HAD to be done with under 2 hours!) and then the full Icebreaker Marathon on Sunday. Only 40 people are allowed to enter this because it all takes place on the INDOOR track at the Pettit National Ice Rink. Going into the run my thoughts where see if you can place for the ½ marathon and then just finish the marathon! What got me really excited about this is I would get 3 medals for completing both runs and I LOVE my race bling!! Then I really got excited because my brother asked if I would train him so that he could complete his first marathon!! (but just the marathon! He want it know that he is NOT as crazy as me!) The race just kept getting better and better!
As we started our training I knew it would be difficult because I had to be faster at the ½ marathon and then take it slower for the marathon. I came up with a plan that I would do my normal pace of 7:20 during the week and train for the ½ marathon on my own and then on the weekends my brother and I did around 8:40 miles but we would train for the marathon distance. I will be very honest I got scared!! I started to get worried that I would not be able to keep my ½ marathon time low enough and I would be cut off from the race. My brother and father never once doubted me… call me crazy and insane, yes but they always said you can do it.
Training with my brother was so much fun!! We were able to leave all our kids behind and just run, talk, laugh, poke fun, complain, whatever and it was ok! I really got to know my brother and to me that was the best part! We never had the chance growing up because he is 6 years older then me so this was a great opportunity to really get to know one another and we have become very close since!
The weekend runs became my favorite because I did get to spend time with my brother. We became a funny pair, Saturdays that I just did not want to get out of bed he would show up right on time ready to go and then once we got going and I was awake I would find the biggest hills possible to get back at him for waking me up. He was always allowed “1 death” for 6 miles where he could complain. I was proud of my brother each week! Before this he had NEVER ran over 8 miles and now he was running in the teens each Saturday or more!
The weekday runs became the work. I would push myself to reach new PR and I would put everything I had into my insanity workouts, TRX and yoga. The Insanity and TRX helped build my endurance and muscle so that I could push my legs to go faster. The yoga was a big help because I hated to stretch and always seemed to forget to do it! I felt strong and with the encouragement from my brother, my husband, kids and my parents I felt like I was ready to go!
The night before the ½ marathon I could not sleep at all! I was more worried about none of my family showing up, and letting the people I had met while running down by not getting a good time then I was about running the track 47.7 times! My most loyal fan, my Dad drove me in to the Pettit center the day of the race nice and early so I could pick up my timing chip and get ready for day ones ½ marathon! I was so happy he was there! It is always nice to see someone you know cheering for you while you run but in this race I would be able to see him 47 times!! While picking up my timing chip I met the race nutritionist Amy and a running Coach named Dave. We got talking and they introduced me to Mary Flaws the winner of the Gold Medal Challenge since it began! After we talked Dave said to me.. “I bet you can beat her!” I laughed and said I”I just want to place and then finish the marathon!”
Start time was almost here. I went to line up talked to a few people and the gun went off…. Along with my heart and legs! The energy in the building was AMAZING!! As you ran around the track you got to run with first place, last place and everyone in between! Everyone cheered each other on, yelling good job as people passed you and getting encouragement as you passed others! It was the running community at their best! As I ran in circles Dave the Running Coach was there yelling at me that I was in 4 th place overall now 3 rd place and I was 3 laps ahead of Mary and all kinds of encouragement. I also had my dad there yelling you can go faster I know you can! To top off my cheering squad my kids, niece and brother showed up and started yelling at me to Go Go Go! What I loved most is I had someone yelling at me every min or so and my energy just soared! Having so many people there believing in me I knew I could take first for my age division!
1hour 32 min latter I crossed the finish line a very happy lady! Not only had I set a new PR I had my kids jumping on me yelling good job mom we love you, my father and mother there saying we are proud of you, my brother yelling that’s my coach and to top it off Dave saying you took 3 rd overall women!!! Talk about taking my goal and accomplishing it!! Standing on the podium with the first and second place ladies felt amazing! I had done better then what I had set out to do!!
Right after I jumped off the podium Dave graded me and said “you are in first place to win the Gold Medal.. You have 9 min on Mary and 19 on Katie who was in 3 rd place.. Just keep Mary in your sight and you can win it!” and of course my family heard this and agreed… talk about adding the pressure on!!
The next morning I was up and ready to go!! In my mind I had the two little runners going back and forth saying “you can win this you can do it!!” and the other saying “if you go after it and loss you will disappoint yourself and all your family and fall into a depression, better not try.. Just take it nice and easy” talk about a conflict in my brain! My brother told me “if you wanna go for it do it. I will be ok finishing on my own.” I felt like I should stay with him so as the race begin we took off and we were doing great! 2:15ish min laps we passed Mary 3 times I was feeling great! And my mind started shouting “you can do this YOU CAN WIN!” and then the wall came for me and my brother at the same time, right around lap 50 and we still had 46 to go….. My brother said “keep going I will catch up I just need to walk a second.”
I did as he said but did not want to my body was just screaming at me wanting to stop that is when Dave yelled at me “Get a GU packet NOW!!” Guess I not only felt dead but looked it to. I had never had a GU packet and thought fine I will give it a shot.. And man was that a nasty little shot!!! But I downed it grabbed some water all the while Dave laughed. He latter told me he was laughing because of the faces I was pulling as I forced down the GU. I caught up to my brother and was about to stop and walk when my dad yelled “don’t you dare” and my brother yelled “WIN IT” how could I stop after that!? The next time around my kids showed up and seeing them there smiling and cheering for me I got the most CRAZY burst of energy. I picked up the pace back to 2:15 min laps just so I could see them more often and before I knew it I only had 12 laps left. Every time I passed them they would yell how many I had left and each time I picked up the pace and ran the next lap faster. Dave was yelling “You look like you just started!! What happened?” as I came around the bend and I heard the announcer say “JoAnne Bernhardt you have one lap left” I almost started crying! It was such a great feeling I ran past my family and yelled last lap and they cheered and I picked up the pace again and came flying in to the finish line and as I crossed it I yelled so loud I was so happy I finished the marathon I did NOT walk! I did not give up even when I really really wanted to! I pushed myself I had done it!!
As I crossed the finish line my family was there waiting along with Dave, Amy, Mary and the race director Chris there waiting for me I was so happy thought “heck yeah I just came in second place for the Gold Medal challenge!” but then Dave says to me “Girl you won!!” I went into complete SHOCK I had won are you people sure!? Mary was there saying “congratulations!” I was so happy I did cry! I was giving everyone hugs and my kids were there just beaming at me. My 6 year old ran up and said “Mommy I am so proud of you!!” those 7 words were all I needed to hear!!
Dave told me he never doubted me for a second that he knew I had it in me to win it! I learned a few days latter that this was true because he had talked to the news reporter and pointed me out to him as I ran. It was a amazing feeling knowing that this running coach someone I had only met day earlier had that much faith in me!! How I could not have the faith!?
After the award ceremony I was able to jump back on the track and finish out the last mile of my brothers marathon!! I was so proud of him for finishing it!! He had a amazing time as well 4:22!!! I was one proud sister and coach! He loved/hated doing the marathon so much that he has now signed up to do another marathon with me and has 3 ½ marathons this summer! The best part of training my brother was seeing he succeed and his love for running grow!!
I was so proud and happy that I did not give up when it got tough and that I pushed it out to the end! This just goes to show what you can do when you put your mind to it, and have a loving support system. Running has taken me to new levels of fitness but has also helped me gain self esteem, has kept me sane while trying to be a single parent while me husband is deployed. I have met the most wonderful and inspiration people while running and know I will enjoy those friendships for a very long time! Running is more than a sport to me it is a therapy , a drug, its my “me time” . Depression did not take over this deployment, running and my family made sure of that! I cant wait to see where my running will take me next!