Learning to Dream Again: My Running Story

by Jodi
My incredible family all dressed up for a wedding - May 2012
I have always been a tomboy.  My poor mom would send me to school all prim and proper and I’d emerge hours later a bedraggled mess – socks around my ankles, hair in tangles, uniform askew.  I tried to be a lady.  Really I did.  But being the recess tetherball champion carried more clout than being ladylike so my mom resigned herself to mending holey tights and slapping band-aids on perpetually skinned knees.

I was exposed to team sports in 7th grade and athletics became my passion.  I was no super star, but quickly realized that discipline and consistent hard work result in improvement.  I took pride in being part of a team, sharing both the pain of defeat and the glory of victory.  It was as an athlete that I experienced the power of encouragement, embraced the spirit of competition, and learned the strength of endurance.  Pushing myself harder, longer and faster was empowering. 

A large part of my identity through high school, college, and early adulthood was being an athlete.  I met my husband, Curt, on the softball field.  We got engaged on roller blades.  I wore white tennis shoes under my fancy wedding dress.  Yes – really.
what was I thinking?
When Curt started graduate school, we learned to run together.  Those after-dinner hours running the Lake Michigan neighborhood around our apartment were the only concentrated time we had together during the week.  Curt, true to his personality, methodically added mileage over time.  I ran in fits and starts.  Some days I felt like I could run forever so I ran fast and furious.  Other days it was all I could do to make it out of the parking lot without feeling like I might keel over and die.

Our flirtation with running didn’t last.  Curt graduated and we fell headfirst into babies.  They came in rapid-fire succession (1-2-3-4) and my life consisted of diapers, nursing, trips to the park, and years of interrupted sleep.  I tried to get back into some form of regular exercise but motivation was as hard to come by as sleep.  When our youngest daughter was 11 months old, I had an epiphany.  I still thought of myself as an athlete but in reality I was an exhausted, overweight, out-of-shape mom who got winded walking up the stairs.
at our heaviest and around the time we decided to do something to change it
Curt and I determined to reclaim our health.  A gym membership didn’t fit our budget, but we could afford to buy new running shoes and start pounding the pavement again.  We set a goal that was attainable with our life stage and committed to run two mornings a week and once on the weekend. 

It was miserable in the beginning.  The first morning when I looked at the twenty degree temp on the thermometer, I wanted to scrap our whole plan.  Thankfully my husband forced me out of my nice warm bed and into the cold.  I was painfully slow and my endurance was shot.  But I was running. 

Slowly but surely the weeks ticked by, the pounds melted off, and my self-esteem soared.  The athlete in me resurrected and on those days when I felt like I could run forever I dreamed of what it would be like to run a marathon.  But who in their right mind runs 26.2 miles? 

Four months after we started running we attended a family reunion anchored by a weekend of races.  Curt and I had toyed with the idea of running the 10K (6.2 miles) but we had only worked up to three miles in our training.  Doubling the distance seemed ridiculously far and slightly stupid.  Two nights before the 10K, my aunt pulled me aside.  She said, “Your uncle and I know you can do whatever you set your mind to.  We want to pay for your race fee and we want you to run the half-marathon tomorrow.  We’ll be there to celebrate with you when you cross the finish line.”
on our way to the family reunion
I stared at her in disbelief.  A 10K was a major stretch for me and she wanted me to run 13.1 miles?  I wasn’t even sure I’d packed my running shoes.  I was convinced she was crazy, but her confidence in me was infectious.  If she thought I could do it, then maybe, just maybe I really could. 

Sleep evaded me all night.  As dawn broke, I kissed Curt and our four kiddos goodbye and walked to the athlete’s village.  My hands trembled as I timidly paid my registration fee.  What on earth was I doing? This was pure insanity.  

The gun went off and my anxiety melted away as I let the reality of what I was doing soak in.  I was running a half-marathon!  At each mile marker, I threw myself a little party, no pity involved.  When I hit the halfway point, I decided that unless I got hurt, I would run every step.  No walking for this athlete.  Mile by mile, one foot in front of the other, I ran toward the finish where my family waited.  They screamed their heads off as I crossed the finish line weeping.  I will never forget that day.  It changed the course of my life.
At the start of the race - I don't have an after picture.  We were just a little busy in this phase of life.
Finishing that race gave me the confidence to pursue my dream of running an entire marathon.   Three months later I hesitantly took my place at the starting line of what ended up being the hottest marathon in Chicago’s history.  Temps topped out at 88°F with heat indexes soaring into the high 90’s. Athletes collapsed by the hundreds causing race officials to do the unthinkable – shut a race down with thousands of runners still on the course. 

Runners who hadn’t reached the halfway point were diverted to the start and finish area, while those on the second half of the course were advised to drop out, walk or board cooling buses.  I was ahead of the buses so I kept on running.  My family continued the pursuit to the finish with me, chasing me around the marathon course when quitting seemed like the only sane option.  By the grace of God, I stumbled across the finish in 4:55:05!
Finish line of the the Chicago Marathon 2007
It’s been five years since Curt and I sat down at our kitchen table and committed to a life of fitness.  Our lives look completely different than when we started this journey.  We changed what we eat and the size of our portions.  Some of our top ten dates have been racing together or backpacking Oregon’s rugged wilderness.  Our kids love biking, running, and sports of all kinds.  I learned how to swim, cycle, and do yoga.  When I had knee surgery and couldn’t run for six months, my life was filled with strength training and stationary bikes.  But running will always be my first love. 

I run because I love the wind on my face and the sweat on my brow.  I run because it makes me stronger and faster and more disciplined than I knew I could be.  I run because through running, I learned to dream again.  Running taught me to set goals – BIG goals – and then chase them down one run at a time.  But what I love most about running is the sheer joy of meeting with my Jesus in that beautiful broken-down place of raw intimacy and mental clarity that comes somewhere deep into a long run.  It’s in this place that Jesus and I have shared some of our most personal times together.  You can’t put a price tag on that.
Curt and I run together every Sunday and we both look forward to it.
What’s your story?  Have you forgotten how to dream?  Are you thinking, “Maybe, just maybe I could do that too…”  Let me assure you, YOU CAN.  You can do whatever you set your mind to.  Why not grab a pair of running shoes and start chasing down your dreams today?  We’ll be right here cheering you on. After all, we are Sole Sisters running through life…together!


  1. I used to love tetherball! Now, I'm more into running, though! Great new blog!

    1. Thanks Tina. Isn't tetherball the best EVER? I went to a private elementary school with uniforms and I blew through so many pairs of tights skinning my knees playing tetherball. My poor mom...

  2. Jodi, I really enjoyed reading about your journey to becoming a runner. So many little pieces make us who we are. I was not as seriously interested in running until after my second child was weaned. Your family played a large support role in it for you- what a blessing!
    I'll enjoy reading more about your journey from this point forward, too. :)

    1. Thanks Raina. I love following your adventures via your blog as well.

  3. Hi Jodi!

    My name is Eileen and we met at church last weekend. Thanks for giving me the link to your blog! I'm really enjoying reading your running stories and makes me even more excited for my first 1/2 marathon at the end of August! I have never been athletic and just started seriously running a couple of months ago. It's amazing to me what our bodies can do when we start training them! I am shocked every time I run 3 then 4 miles etc.....
    Look forward to reading more on the blog!


    1. Hi Eileen. I'm glad you found the blog. I hope we run into each other again soon. I'm excited about your race. Running a half marathon is a huge accomplishment!