(Im)possible: My Running Story

by Carissa

For fun photo shoot with my mom. Gina Petersen Photography
As a 30 something mother of 3 boys I fell in love with distance running.  Growing up I was never  particularly coordinated.  My quick motor skills are, well, non-existent.  I just never had an identity as an athlete.  But the runner I am now - fast, strong, capable - I didn’t know she was in me.  I wish I would have known sooner that the impossible was in fact possible.

I’ve been a runner of sorts for years, regularly running two or three miles to stay in shape.  Running changed for me the year our third son was born.  I was working hard to get back into shape and lose the extra baby weight.  Tanya, my good friend and fellow sleep-deprived mommy, asked if I wanted to train for a marathon with her.  I gave it some thought and suggested that we choose a half marathon instead.

A beautiful thing about this time in my life was a realization that running let me be an individual.  I had spent the last several years learning how to be a wife.  And then a mother.  As a homeschooling mom, my days were filled with pouring into my family. I was living the exact calling I desired for my life, but along the way I felt like I had lost time to have an identity outside of those roles. Running restored a part of my individuality. Running gave me time to connect with God, spend time with friends, and have time to myself.

A week before my half marathon, I felt strong, fast and capable.  Having a race to train for enriched my life.  I was ready to take on the challenge of training for a full marathon.   Just a few months before I was one of Those People who said they would never train for a marathon.  How was it possible that I was committing to do the unthinkable?  Or that I was filled with excitement about it?

I ran the half marathon on a hot summer day and finished in one hour fifty-one minutes. Just seven months prior I had returned to running after an entire pregnancy without so much as a jog. I fought for my time and earned each minute. I was proud of myself but the accomplishment wasn’t enough. I wanted to be a stronger, faster, more capable runner. A few days later, I began marathon training.
First race post pregnancy.  I think the smile on my face says it all.
The beauty of a marathon is that the distance, especially at the beginning of the training program, seems so impossible.  Each long training run felt intimidating, gave me anxiety, and made me question my ability to cover the distance.  I literally would lose sleep the night before each big run and then marvel at the accomplishment once I successfully completed it.

I heard through the grapevine that Jodi, who I knew loosely from church, also had her eye on the Portland Marathon. We exchanged a few Facebook posts and agreed to train together. In spite of living twenty-five miles apart, we made sure to run our eighteen and twenty mile training runs together. Over the course of those runs our friendship was cemented. We cheered each other on from afar during the rest of the training.

The night before the marathon Jodi spent the night at my house.  The following morning we headed out on what must have been the wettest Portland Marathon in the history of the race!  I needed to run the race in three hours and forty minutes (3:40) to qualify for the Boston Marathon, a time that felt unreachable but exciting to dream about.  My fast start slowed after mile fifteen.  Tired and heavy legs came to stay.  I relied on my mental fight to carry me eleven more miles to the finish. I ran my debut marathon in three hours and forty-nine minutes (3:49) – not a Boston-qualifier, but completely satisfying.
Portland Marathon: No amount of rain could damper the elation of finishing.
A few months after the marathon, Jodi and I picked a spring half marathon to train for.  I got my feet wet with a couple of beginner training schedules the year before, so this time I tried an intermediate schedule. Jodi and I showed up to the race hoping to achieve a Personal Record (PR) and we certainly did.  I took more than ten minutes off my previous time with a one hour forty minute finish (1:40)!  I couldn’t believe how much I had improved since my last half marathon.  This time was outside the realm of what I had previously thought possible.  I felt proud and blessed to be able to run so fast.

I was hungry to get faster and to break an hour and forty minutes.  Another half marathon was on our schedule but unfortunately it was a challenging and hilly course.  I spent the next six weeks following an advanced training schedule.  Dare I hope for a new PR?  Race day came and the impossible happened.  I ran a 1:39:59!  I had set a new PR, coming in under 1:40 by a mere second.  With that race, my capacity to dream grew a bit bigger.
Helvetia Half: A surprise PR
There’s a fun little tool online called the McMillan Running Calculator.  It’s a dream for someone like me who loves numbers.  You can plug in a race time and it will predict the speed at which you could run a different race distance.  It also tells you the optimal speed for different kinds of training.  When I plugged my new half marathon time into the calculator it predicted I could run a 3:30 marathon.  Boston’s new qualifying time for women my age had just been changed to 3:35.  My impossible from the year before was now five minutes faster.  Might I be able to do the impossible by qualifying for Boston?  And if I qualified, should I go to Boston and run it?

I poured over training schedules and gave an advanced one a shot.  I quickly realized it was too much for me and dropped down to an intermediate schedule.  To my delight, Tanya agreed to train with me.  Like Jodi, Tanya was a perfect training partner.  We pushed each other and enjoyed passing the miles with conversation.  Everything was going perfectly until Tanya got injured and had to alter her training.  I was left to cover the remaining miles alone, sometimes in the dark.  It was lonely, but it taught me a lot about mental toughness and gave me confidence in my ability to dig deep.  Running a marathon is 26.2 miles of physical fitness AND mental fortitude. 

The day of my second marathon arrived.  I lined up with the 3:30 pace group and prayed for strength to keep up.  I kept up until mile nineteen when my legs turned to lead and the pacers slipped away.  My mental strength training paid off and I was able to keep my mind engaged.  My finish time was three hours thirty-two minutes (3:32)!
Close to the finish line.
In the course of a year I had knocked seventeen minutes off my marathon time and qualified for Boston.  I felt like a champion!  Even sweeter to me was the reality that this accomplishment was not my own. Friends and family supported me with their prayers.  The Lord Himself had made me strong, fast and capable.  It was a victory to be shared. 

Before 2010, I had run one race.  Since 2010, I have run one race after another.  I have trained with determination and dedication.  I am strong physically and mentally.  I am an athlete.  
My race history in T-shirts
Do you feel strong and capable?  Would you like to be?  Take it from the former non-athlete: you can be.  Pick a goal.  Challenge yourself to stick to the plan.  Yes, it will take resolve and faithfulness each day.  But you can do it.  I know you will be delighted to discover the athlete you are.  Why not make your impossible, possible?

I'd love to hear from you, sole sisters: how old were you when you first felt like a runner or athlete?


  1. Love it. Especially "I am an athlete." And a praying one at that! :)

    1. Thanks Annie! I'm pretty sure all my running stats are part effort and part the Lord's blessing and prayers from friends such as yourself. Thanks for helping me be fast! ;)

  2. Love your story! It may or may not have brought tears to my eyes! Love you, sweet friend!!!

    1. Thanks Kim! I love that we've been able to be a part of each others running stories! I'm so proud of the athlete that you're becoming!

  3. I love all your last-minute additions. Look at what a writer you're already becoming! Oh - and in the web version of the blog, the photos are in a Polaroid-like frame. Did you do that on purpose and if so, how?

    1. Thanks Jodi! What would I do without my writing coach? ;) The polaroid frame is news to me. It doesn't look that way on my screen.

  4. Love this Carissa! You and your story are such an inspiration!

  5. I love hearing your story, Carissa! I thought for sure you had run in college. What an inspiration you are to us! : )

    1. I certainly wish I had Niki! I remember figuring out in junior high that I liked distance running. I was one of the faster girls too but also one of the slowest sprinters. It's too bad I didn't start running then but at least I can encourage others who don't have a running back ground that it's never too late to start.

  6. Carissa, I got your wonderful comment today! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I haven't even met Holly yet, but we have a running date for the 15th set up! I would love to meet you, it does sound like we have a lot in common. As I read this page, we have even run some of the same races on the same days! :) Do you live in NW Portland? Its a joy to read your blog!!! Congrats on your BQ too, maybe you, Holly, and I can train together! :)


    1. Hi Devon! Yes, I am in NW Portland. Holly and I live pretty close. I've been trying to keep and ear out for anyone planning on going to Boston. I'm so excited to have "met" you and Holly this week. I love having training buddies and it seems like our training paces would be a great match.