Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Welcome Surprises

Well, we did it! Graduation is finally behind me and it still doesn't feel totally real. My parents were in town to support me, and I was actually excited to walk and attend my graduation. Surprisingly, walking to receive my masters, in a way, felt like a bigger accomplishment than my undergraduate degree. I'm sure part of this was due to the fact that I was one of five students receiving my degree that day. 
The countdown to graduation had been never ending (can we say, Am I There Yet?). It was one thing after another, this due, that event, this deadline, blah, blah, blah. In the days leading up to graduation, I found that I was forgetting that while I would be staying in Philadelphia post-graduation, this would be the end of the road for some of my friends. While I was so excited for graduation, I wasn't ready to see them go. I was so focused on graduation that I forgot that this anticipated, oh-so-exciting event was also a marker for some of my friends'  dwindling days in Philadelphia before moving, starting jobs, beginning new chapters, and leaving me. 

This sad-yet-happy feeling really began to weigh heavily on me in the past few weeks and got me thinking about my expectations upon arriving in Philadelphia almost two years ago. I had left a great group of friends, both at college and at home, and expected that graduate school would be filled with acquaintances; school friends, part-time friends, as terrible as it sounds to say, non-substantial friends. I don't know if it was the expectation that more students would be working full time, or that graduate school would be more work than undergraduate, and in turn, less fun than undergraduate, but I was convinced that graduate school would be a "nice to meet ya, see ya later" type of environment. 

Two years later, I have to say this couldn't be further from the truth. Some of you will stay, and some of you will go, but many of you have become lifelong friends and will always be just a phone call away. We've navigated one another's stresses (personal and professional), lamented and worried about the same deadlines, projects, internships, and directions our lives were heading (personally and professionally, again). Our time together has been highlighted by an immeasurable amount of laughs, weekend trips, lazy days, wild nights, and calorie filled frozen yogurt, late night pizza, and taco night binges. These two years together have surpassed my wildest expectations, and I've created a whole new group of friends that I cannot imagine moving forward without. 

Who knows where the shuffle of our lives will take us in the next few months, let alone the next few years. But, my welcomes surprises, I know you'll all still be there. 

Until next time.. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Marathon Mania

And so, the marathon has come to an end. Figuratively and literally. 

This past weekend I was back in Pittsburgh (where it all began) to complete my second Pittsburgh Half Marathon, my third half to date. Per my usual self, I was nervous, but this time I was more "laid back nervous" (what does it say about you when you have varying degrees of neurosis)? This laid back nervousness consisted of being unsure of whether I was properly prepared, but too tired, lazycranky, short for time, to do anything about it. As finals and final projects wrapped up I couldn't decide where to focus my energy; graduating or crossing the finish line. As it turns out, it was a bit of a split effort. My training schedule took the biggest hit though, as failing there wouldn't result in lack of a degree.

So, the big day arrived Sunday and it was ready or not. My unspoken goal was to break 2 hours 10 minutes. At my last half I had shaved 7 minutes off my original time and hit 2:13, so I figured breaking 2:10 was the next logical goal for someone who was half heartedly training. To be honest, I was prepared to be disappointed and meet my November time of 2:13...at best. 

As my sister-in-law, boyfriend, and I woke at 5:00 a.m. I was as ready as I'd be. Obnoxious green shorts (to identify me in a sea of 25,000 runners), check. Bib, check. Sporty hat, check. Entering the city I felt the same rush and sense of excitement as before. It did something for my confidence, but I was still concerned.

As the gun went off, I wished my sister-in-law well as she darted ahead of me, and settled into 2+ hours of conversation...with myself. Around mile 3, the day grew hot and it seemed the water stations were moving further from one another. Turns out I had only prepared about 90 minutes of conversation between me, myself and I, and at mile 9 I hit a big wall. An, "I may actually have to walk this out" wall. But I carried on, scolding myself for getting myself into this yet again. As the miles hit the 10, 11, 12 marks the hills were steeper and more frequent. I knew the last mile was all downhill, and thank god, because it was the only thing getting me to that bright yellow mile marker. I imagine I looked hilarious moving at a pace which could only technically be classified as still "running." But at least I was moving.

As I hit mile 12, I checked my time and was still in line to finish close to my 2:10 goal if I hurried. Thank god I could see the finish line. My legs felt like jello, I don't even think my mouth was producing saliva at this point, but I went as fast as my legs (and Eminem) would carry me. 

To my surprise, I crossed the finish line with a final time of 2:10:17. Easy to be disappointed that I didn't break my goal, but still in shock that despite my worrying, and lack of training, I had still improved by 3 minutes from my November time. 

It was only after I was back at my brother's house, relaxing from my grueling day at 11:00 a.m., that I finally realized what I'd accomplished. For the first time in months I felt totally relaxed. I had not only surpassed my goal, despite my self doubt, but I realized that I had accomplished something not many people do. Not just with my personal goal that morning, but elsewhere. Not everyone runs a half marathon, or elects to continue their education. Not everyone can push through their training, whether it be 12 weeks, or 2 years, or the 6 years it took to get me where I am today. Not everyone can conquer a marathon, let alone what can feel like multiple marathons at once. 

I felt a sense of relief, and accomplishment, that in one week I had continued to test a major personal challenge (becoming a runner), and would walk across the stage to receive a masters degree, a major professional accomplishment. A tale of two marathons if you will; one literal and one figurative. 

Crossing the finish line on Sunday wasn't just about the running, it was about realizing I was a successful finisher. Not just on the course, but elsewhere. Other challenges will surely present themselves, but today I can breathe easy. The marathon is over.