Saturday, June 27, 2020

Covid-19 Quarantine Day 106: Where Has All the Time Gone?

It's been 64 days since my last post. Where have I been these last two months? I've been so caught up inside this little universe I've created since we've gone on lockdown that I can't comprehend that it's already the end of June. Time feels like a concept more than anything these days. And if I'm being honest, I'll admit, I started writing this blog post at 100 days....adding a day, then another, then... well, here we are!

One-Hundred! Six! Days! Of social isolation!

Where has all the time gone?

Back in March, it was easy to tell myself that it was okay to take a break from marathon training for a little bit. After all, we're living in a pandemic! Back then, I thought I'd be back at work within two weeks, four weeks tops. Now, I'm wondering if I'll go back into the office at all before 2021. Mike and I haven't been total sloths since our social quarantine. We've gone hiking on various mountains and we've run around our neighborhood, but we haven't been consistent. Some days, it feels too mentally exhausting to gear up to run after working a long day on the computer. Logically, I KNOW that's even more reason to get out there and run! Being stationary all day is not healthy! I'm more grateful than ever for buying my standing desk; sitting all day, every day was killing my lower back!

Finding zen in the middle of the mountain
Even though I haven't physically fallen off the face of the planet, I feel like I've disappeared virtually. I've been terrible at posting my activities on social media. I've found myself thinking, I'll post this later tonight. Then later tonight turns into a week, and we're already out on our next hiking adventure!

It's been difficult to find technological balance when we're on the computer all-day-every-day for work—emails, phone calls, Zoom meetings—all in addition to my actual work. Without my morning and evening commute, I don't get that downtime from my computer screen; that little break to reset. So I find myself ignoring phone calls and texts from friends, and sometimes I forget that I even have a social media community. Oh! There's all my friends! HiHiHiHiHi

I need to get out of this rut, and find a NEW routine that works during this social distancing lifestyle.

Where has all the time gone? I don't even know anymore.
My motto used to be: "Write a five a.m.; run at five p.m!" That motto motivated me finish a novel revision and train for my first marathon! What helped me stay accountable was an online group of writers who also wrote early mornings. Knowing I wasn't the only one cuckoo enough to wake up at the crack of dawn to write before work really kept me motivated. To keep me accountable for marathon training, I found a group of newbie runners also training for their first marathon. Again, knowing I wasn't the only one spending all my free time running, running, running when many of my friends were busy doing literally anything other than running for hours on end kept me going.

But it's been a long while since I maintained that level of productivity.

Since all of my races this year have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely, I've been finding it difficult to hold myself accountable to get into marathon shape. The less active I am, the worse I feel. And the worse I feel, the less motivated I am to get out there and move! But enough is enough, already. This pandemic may not be the new normal, but social distancing is not going away anytime soon. I need to stop making excuses and jump back into training. Races canceled or not, I feel my best self when I am marathon ready!

But how do I get out of this rut-ine?

I've started plotting out my novel's emotional arcs
to show character growth as the plot unfolds
A couple weekends ago, I participated in a virtual writing retreat. The "retreat" was two full days of writing. To hold us accountable and motivated, the organizers set up check-ins via Zoom in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of each day. I could only participate in one of the days, but it was the most productive writing day I've had in a long while! It was so great to connect with my writing friends who I've seen every year at in-person writing retreats for the last ten years, except this year due to COVID-19 shutdowns. It made me realize how motivated and supported my writing community makes me feel. My writing routine is back on track (though, admittedly, not at 5:00 a.m anymore, though in my defense, working remotely allows me to sleep in a tad bit more).

I knew if I could get myself out of my writing rut, I could get my physical self back on track too.

My friends at IllumiNITE have been so great at checking in on Mike and me to see how we're doing. Mike and I were supposed to go on a spring fashion photoshoot in May, but clearly, that had to be postponed until it's safe to gather. In the meantime, the IllumiNITE team has been busy making masks for essential workers the past few months. I'll be sharing more on that in a future post!

IllumiNITE is giving away beautiful wraps (like my
floral one) w every $50 purchase while supplies last)
IllumiNITE just started back up on clothing design and production, and we just had the most fabulous phone meeting! Chatting with the designers about upcoming styles truly inspired me to get out there and run again! We discussed some of the adventures Mike and I want to go on this summer and we brainstormed what would keep us dry, cool, and comfortable in this hot, summer heat—as well as what would keep us warm on New England mountain tops where the weather can be anything from windy to rainy to icy and bitter cold—yes, even in the summer.

Lucky for Mike, IllumiNITE just came out with new tank tops, among other clothing items and accessories for men! We just received our latest shipment from IllumiNITE, and I'm so excited to incorporate these new pieces into our running and hiking activities! I'll share our product reveal video soon! In the meantime, here's a sneak peek at what we got!

So now, Mike and I have the clothing and accessories and support from our IllumiNITE team to help us get out of this rut! But what will help us maintain accountability?

The "U" in Community

Our latest IllumiNITE shipment.
Could there be something inside for YOU?
I'm turning to YOU—my online community—to help us stay motivated, inspired, and accountable for getting back in shape! Hopefully, we can motivate and inspire you, too!

Stay tuned for a series of blog posts and social media posts on Instagram for our new workout schedule, running and hiking tips, and a few IllumiNITE GIVEAWAYS!

Let's wrangle time back into a tangible tool to get us all back on track to become our most healthy, most active, most illumiNITEd selves we can be. Until next time, run brightly, my friends!

What are you doing to keep yourself motivated? What would help you stay motivated? Are you interested in an accountability group? Post your comments below!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Story Slam: Five Minutes Or Less

Local Dirt Productions "The Unexplained"
Spooky Concert and Story Swap, Oct. 2019
 I fell into story slamming by accident when I was a creative writing instructor. I was about to start a new eight-week session, and I was searching the Internet for topic ideas. I came across a call for auditions for the Valley Voices Story Slam, hosted by New England Public Radio and Academy of Music

I clicked the link. A theme was presented, and to audition, you had to call into a phone line with the first line (only) of your true story. If you were chosen, you had to perform on stage with no script or prompts. And you only had five minutes maximum!

What a perfect premise for the next eight weeks of writing, I thought. I chose an upcoming theme for the Valley Voices audition line that coordinated with my writing session timeline and presented it to my students.

"Here's the catch," I said. "We're going to perfect those stories, and then perfect those first lines, and then you're going to actually audition." I explained we'd also hold our own story slam on our last writing night of that session with their finished stories.

My students are clever. They all agreed that if they had to audition, I had to audition. "Fine," I said. In my mind, I added, What are the odds I'd get chosen?

Who knew? One of my students got in as well. Proud teacher moment!

I didn't win that story slam, but it was the first time I ever performed on stage in my life. I had no idea how exhilarating it felt to perform! I fell in love with the rush of nerves, the energy of the crowd, the captured attention of an entire room—even if only for five minutes. I was hooked!

Valley Voices Best of the Best Story Slam
on the Academy of Music Stage, April 2015
Since that first show in 2014, I've performed in multiple Valley Voices Story Slams, twice making it to the Best of the Best competition on the Academy of Music stage. I've also had the honor of performing at other events, such as a Halloween storytelling event that Local Dirt Productions hosted at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center, The MOuTH storytelling event at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and a few other local events. I even got into the filming of Stories From the Stage, and I felt like a celebrity for an evening. My story wasn't chosen for the aired show, and I'm okay with that. You can't win them all. For me, it's about the experience of performance more than the win. Though, I can't deny it feels incredible when my name gets announced as one of the winners!

The writer in me really enjoys the writing aspect of story slams. It's a lot harder than it might look to tell a complete story in just five minutes. A story must have a strong opening hook, a meaty middle that's compelling enough to keep the audience engaged, AND a complete story arc that ends with a punch—all that in about 700-ish words! Every single word counts. Text for speech is written differently than text for reading. It's quite a fun puzzle to put all the parts together and rearrange-rearrange-rearrange until the words magically snap together. I'm often editing in my head until the very last minute as I practice out loud without a paper in front of me—sometimes I'm even editing on stage as I'm telling the story live! Yes, I'm a word nerd, and proud of it!

Valley Voices "Sweet & Salty" Story Slam,
March 2020
Right before social distancing was placed in order, I won second place at the "Sweet & Salty" Valley Voices Story Slam competition at Hawks & Reed. I'll be heading back to the Academy of Music for my third shot at the Best of the Best title when it's safe to gather again. Here's hoping that's sooner than later.

I'll admit, I've been bummed that the next two Valley Voices Story Slam for this season were postponed due to COVID-19. I love attending shows as much as performing in them. I get sucked into someone else's world, five minutes at a time, and it mesmerizes me. But it's for the best that we all do our part to stay home to help save lives.

When the producers of Valley Voices asked me to participate in a virtual story slam, I jumped at the opportunity. What a great idea! It definitely made for an exciting week of putting a story together, figuring out the lighting and staging of the kitchen, and recording a story—over and over and over again—until it felt natural. Talking to a camera feels so bizarre. I can't gauge the energy like I can with a live audience, so I focused on my own excited energy, like when I tell a story to a friend. The nerves remained so hopefully my story feels alive and fun. Thank you to the Academy of Music and New England Public Radio for continuing to bring joy to our community during this unprecedented time.

The Game Plan virtual story slam, April 2020
I hope you take the time to watch the stories on Around the Dinner Table this week. Stop by a different storytellers home, virtually of course, to see what story they've cooked up for you. My story The Game Plan was aired on Monday night, but it's still up for you all to see. And you can VOTE for me starting Sunday, April 26th!

Welcome to my kitchen! I can't wait for you to hear my story The Game Plan. If you like it, please vote for me at SURVEY MONKEY! Voting is open through Tuesday, April 28th and it literally is just two clicks!

And hopefully someday soon, I'll be able to see you from the stage at a live event.

What new can't-live-without hobbies/projects have you accidentally discovered during this time of social distancing? 

Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Overwhelmed: COVID-19 Is Not the New Normal

Grateful for the sun while I work remotely;
though it's mighty chilly in this room lol
It has been three weeks since I started working remotely, and two weeks since I've stepped foot in a store or have seen a friend or loved one outside of the house. I'm so grateful to have Mike, and we've done our best to keep to as normal a routine as we possibly can with us both working from home. We set boundaries on work time, we take daily walks, we make meals together, and we have alone time and virtual time with friends. But despite this new routine we've settled into, I am feeling vastly overwhelmed. And I know I'm not alone.

Friends and colleagues have shared how overwhelming this "new normal" is, and one person this week said something so profound; it hit me right in the gut. It was something like:

"We're going about business as if everything is normal except for the fact that we're working remotely. But everything is NOT normal. This new normal is NOT normal. People are really sick. People are dying."

"Kindness counts;" "Spread love;"
I know people whose loved ones have fallen ill with COVID-19, some have lost lives. I have friends who are essential staff, many in the medical field. I worry about them and their families every day. It is a thankless job, and I appreciate their dedication to caring for sick people on a regular basis.

This is a serious pandemic, and I'm shocked at how many people are still carrying on as if this isn't a big deal. I'll admit, way back in January (god, that feels so long ago), I was one of them. I thought COVID-19 was all media hype. These days, it's hard to believe what's real and what's fake news. But, by this point, we should all recognize that this is serious.

I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the amount of time I'm spending on my computer, not just to perform the everyday functions of my job, but also for Zoom meetings, messaging with friends, virtual visits with my son who is isolated (safely) in another state. Then there's texting and phone calls and personal emails and social media, and I feel like my eyes are glued to a screen every waking moment of every day.

I've become that friend who flakes on people because I'm in the middle of something when someone contacts me, or I'm mentally drained and just can't handle anything other than the task-at-hand, and then I forget to message back—for days, weeks (what is time right now, seriously?). Anyone who knows me knows this is not my norm.

But we are not living in normal times, right now. So, I am being extra kind to myself. I am not beating myself up for needing to sleep in, even though that may mean not writing in the morning. I'm forgiving myself for not texting someone back in a timely manner. And yes, I am eating more chocolate. It's the comfort I need right now.

Thursday night "Cocktail Hour" with running friends
I don't mean for this post to be all gloom and doom. I have seen many wonderful things in my brief moments away from this virtual world.

I have seen sidewalk chalk messages and "bear hunts" in the neighborhood that let me know we are all in this together.

I have had meaningful "visits" with my friends on Zoom

I have had silly moments with my son on FaceTime.

I am reading Stephen Chbosky's newest book Imaginary Friend (though, it's beginning to feel like a premonition to COVID-19).

I am enjoying quiet moments on the couch with Mike drinking coffee before the world wakes up in the morning.

And I'm enjoying family dinners together every night, sharing highlights of our day, to remember that we can still communicate in real life.

Our first picture together as an official couple!
But I realized I need a bit more. I need to reset. Mike and I are taking Monday off work to celebrate our one-year anniversary. HOORAY! This seems like an opportune time to break from the virtual world to just live in the real world, despite how small "my world" is right now. So, I am signing off social media, the internet, my computer—hell, even my phone—until Tuesday. I want to take the time to celebrate the love we share with no distractions. I want to live in the here and now—even if it's just for three days—to focus on what's most important in life.

Our last picture together: working remotely!
(yes, I might be wearing pajamas)

Are you feeling overwhelmed? How are you managing during this stressful time? 

What will you do this weekend to recharge? Please post a comment below.

And please, stay safe, be well, and practice social distancing. Let's help end this pandemic!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Going Stir-Crazy? Explore the World of Color

Time for a hike? Loving this pop of hot pink!
IllumiNITE Unisex Velocity Mitten
It's week two of isolation, and I must admit I'm going a bit stir-crazy. I've worked remotely for years, and I've gotten pretty good at it. I know to set specific hours to avoid working nonstop. I know to take little breaks throughout the day to stretch, get water, have a snack. I know to break down my work station at the end of every day, and yes, even shut off my computer and store it out of sight. This gives a sense of transition from work time to down time at the end of the "work day."

But I'm not JUST working remotely. I AM remote completely—away from friends and family and people in my community. I never fully appreciated how integrated my world was. Besides driving to work, there's going to the store or bank or gas station. There's stopping by the local library to pick up a new set of books. There's going for a run with my run club. There's the impromptu coffee or drink with a friend. All of this is gone. And it takes its toll, more than we realize.

Wearing IllumiNITE Pink Love Tee
to brighten my day
I read a great article by Harvard Business Review entitled That Discomfort You're Feeling Is Grief. And it makes sense. Even though I'm getting more sleep than ever and my daily routine is solid, I have to look at the calendar every day to see what day of the week it is and what date it is. Is it really only Tuesday? How is it Friday already? Wait, is today Saturday, or Sunday? Time has become a concept, one big, blurry mess.

I'm having a harder time waking up in the morning, my brain feels foggy and groggy, and I wrestle between experiencing bounds of energy to wanting to sleep until this COVID-19 pandemic is over.

In this new normal, I'm trying to find ways to add more joy into my life. For example, I'm definitely eating a lot more chocolate! haha But that alone, isn't cutting it. But I noticed that working near a window and looking out at the world around me has given me more joy. Spring is in the air, the buds are sprouting on the trees, and slowly the world is blossoming into color: bright blue skies, greener grass, red cardinals! Each pop of color creates this surge of joy inside me.

Can you find the garter snake?
As I stated in my last post, COVID-19: Stay Remote, Not Isolated, I'm getting out in nature to explore as much as I'm able! last weekend, I came across the cutest little garter snake while on a hike. I wouldn't have seen if it didn't rustle up the leaves as it slithered away—it was completely camouflaged.

Seeing this nearly invisible snake made me remember a conversation I had with a friend a while back. She had painted her fingernails bright colors, which surprised me because she doesn't normally paint her nails, let alone paint them all different colors. When asked about it, she mentioned that she had just read the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee. She said the book mentioned that adding color, shapes, and textures into your life bring you pops of joy. (mental note: I must buy this book!)

Thinking about this concept of color bringing joy while watching this adorable little snake trying to blend into its background made me realize: This COVID-19 pandemic is making me feel like I'm fading into the background! Every day, my work outfits have been a rotating array of black and blue hoodies and sweatpants. What else would I wear while being cooped up in my house?! But...I realized that "dressing up" to go for a hike or a run has been my happiest moments of the week. Yes, a large part of that is the fact that I'm doing something outside of the house. But the other part of that happiness is: I'm wearing bright colors!

Wearing these pops of color has become my social outlet; my pops of joy throughout the week; it's my way of being seen when we can't socialize, my way of announcing to the world: I'm here! I see you! Do you see me?

Maybe it's the stir-crazy, but the most exciting moment last week was when Mike noticed that my IllumiNITE Ambition Reflective Women's Hoodie has a ponytail pull-through! How have I never noticed this before? So what does one do when discovering this amazement?

 PHOTOSHOOT! No autographs, please! haha


I'm wearing Beetroot/Silver
Mike's wearing Hawaiian Blue
And, I just found out that the IllumiNITE Ambition Women's Hoodie AND the Early Riser Men's Pullover are on final sale! So get yours before it's gone! Don't worry! You can order online! And if you use discount code Sera15, you'll get 15% off the rest of your order (non-sale items).

Okay, so maybe this blog post is all over the place...this is the state of my scattered mind. But seriously, get some COLOR into your world! It will make you happy! will brighten the day of anyone you may pass (remember: 6 feet apart) on the road or hiking trails! It seems there are a lot more people exploring the outdoors now that businesses are closed. Are you one of them?!

What are you doing to bring pops of joy into your life during this time of social isolation? 

Leave a comment below!

Friday, March 13, 2020

COVID-19: Stay Remote, Not Isolated

Climbing mountains
keeps me centered
The world is in complete chaos right now, and my head is spinning from the constant COVID-19 updates in my news and social media feeds. With businesses and schools closing and store shelves clearing out, I know that we will be hunkering down at home, working remotely, in the very near future. 

It's hard to predict what the next few weeks will bring. While I'm taking necessary precautions, such as washing my hands more frequently, limiting social activities, and shopping online to support local and independent businesses, I'm also sticking to my daily routines as much as possible. This includes adhering to my hiking and running schedules. 

Finding balance and peace
on mountaintops
April begins our rigorous mountain running training—ski slopes and jagged, rocky inclines galore—so I've increased my hiking activities this month to prepare my body for the increased intensity that mountain running adds. Despite the lingering cold weather, my IllumiNITE Tahoe performance jacket, cold weather hood, and Satellite running tights (pictured) have kept me warm. The sun has been shining and the skies have been blue. Spring teases the air, and it's bringing me so much joy. 

Being amidst the trees and rocks helps me feel centered to clear my head and regroup. The breathtaking views at the tops of these mountains reminds me to stay positive, even when it feels society is falling apart, and to remember that beauty exists in this world.

IllumiNITE Tahoe Performance jacket and cold weather hood
Staying warm, despite
this cold New England weather 
I truly urge you: get outside and enjoy the walking trails, forests, and mountains near you. Escape the news feeds and anxiety-ridden posts. Take the time to center yourself and be present with the here and now. If you need activewear that keeps you warm and dry, I highly recommend supporting independent retailer IllumiNITE. Use my discount code Sera15 for 15% off your entire order. And remember, stay safe! 

What are YOU doing to find balance amidst the chaos? I'd love to hear your ideas. Leave a comment below.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Train, Hike, Race, Repeat: An IllumiNITEd Agenda

IllumiNITE Savannah Shirt
January and February are always my lowest miles months. The cold, short days really zap my enthusiasm, but I figure if there is any time to rest and recover, winter is the perfect excuse to kick off my running shoes and catch up on my shows. Remember, 2020 is all about finding balance.

So far, I'm finding my groove. I've settled into my new 5:00 am writing routine before going into my day job.

I've been working out at the gym with my sister on our lunch hour, adding in strength training and speedwork on the treadmill.

Sera: IllumiNITE Dovetail Tee
and Women's Shortie

And I've officially planned out my hikes and races for the year!

Yes! As part of goals for living a balanced life, I'm incorporating more mountains back into my athletic activities. Why? Two reasons:

1) I promised my life partner that I'd hike more if he ran a marathon (his first) with me (he did! and he signed up for two more!).

2) In 2018, I ran my fastest marathon and was in the greatest shape of my life. I truly believe it's because I incorporated mountain training/races into my running routine that year.

So what's on my IllumiNITEd agenda this year? I thought you'd never ask!


IlumiNITE Eclipse HeadbandVigor Singlet,
and Women's Shortie
First up is Loon Mountain Race in Lincoln, New Hampshire, in July. This race is 6.6 miles straight up a mountain—with the last kilometer on a black diamond ski slope—a 45-degree angle!

Check out the Upper Walking Boss video to see for yourself. Hang onto your'll get vertigo just watching!

It's brutal; it's dizzying; it's So. Much. Fun!

Instead of taking the gondola ride that's included in the race fee, I always run back down the mountain afterwards. And then I cool off in the river!

IlumiNITE Eclipse HeadbandVigor Singlet,
and Women's Shortie
Ahh, best mini-vacation ever! Since we're there, we'll hike up Franconia Ridge a few days before the race as well. That weekend is a 16-miler training weekend for us (for our marathon), so the hike and race will fulfill that requirement. This will be my third year doing this race, and I seriously cannot wait to run it with Mike!

Training for this race will include the Seven Sisters race route and Mt. Tom ski slopes. My quads and glutes are already burning thinking about it!


I ran so fast, I burned holes in my socks! haha
What goes up, must go down! Everyone who knows me knows how much I hate hills! So to reward myself for all this climbing, I've signed back up for the New England Green River Marathon in August. The course is one way, from Vermont to Massachusetts, on a tree-canopied road alongside the cooling Green River. The elevation LOSS is an appreciated 1,450 feet.

I ran this race ONCE, and it was my fastest marathon yet! At the time, I was at the peak of my mountain racing, so I'm hoping I can beat my record now that I'm adding mountains back into my routine!

I chose this marathon again because it's the perfect FIRST marathon, and since Mike's first marathon was the ever-grueling, mostly uphill, jam-packed marathon in Greece, I thought Green River would make for a nice contrast (he's still not convinced he likes marathons, but soon he will LOVE them, haha).

Training for this will include hikes on Mount Greylock and Mount Race (gotta keep up our strength) and speedwork (intervals) on a track.


My son and I costuming it up at
Ghost Train Ultra in 2018 
We'll end the year with Ghost Train Ultra Marathon in October. This was my first ultramarathon (I did 30 miles), and it's 15-mile out and back course makes it perfect for the newbie (or seasoned) ultramarathoner. The course is relatively flat with just one hill (that goes up both ways!), but is hardly boring as it's filled with spooky, Halloweenie decorations, costumes galore, and a tunnel—yes! a tunnel!—to run through!

This year, I'd like to accomplish 45 miles, 30 on Saturday and 15 on Sunday. We'll see how my year goes before I officially commit to that! What I'm most excited for is dressing up in costume for this race! Maybe this year, we can wear capes! I'm already feeling like a superhero as I think about bounding up all these mountains and racing at the speed of IllumiNITE!

IllumiNITE Fishbone Halloween Cape
New England Green River Marathon is perfectly timed 7 weeks before this ultra! I'll just continue on with Hal Higdon's Ultramarathon schedule to stay on track, maybe doing half-distance the day after my long distance runs to get used to running long stretches back-to-back. For example: 26 miles on Saturday and then 10 miles on Sunday. And I'll have to shave off one week, so I'll just skip week 21 and go right to week 22.

I'm crossing my fingers that Mike will feel motivated to "go the distance" and join me with my ultra training. He is thinking of running 15 miles on Saturday and 15 miles on Sunday for a total of 30 miles that weekend...but I'm wondering if all the excitement and magic of race day will get him to do 30 all at once!!! No pressure (yet!)!

Sera: IllumiNITE Ambition Hoodie
Mike: IllumiNITE Early Riser

So tell me:

What races are you signed up for this year?

What's your training plan? 

I'd love to hear! Leave a comment below!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Hey Valentine: You're the Run For Me

Mike: IllumiNITE Rochester Jacket
Sera: IllumiNITE Tahoe Jacket
I knew he was The One when he agreed to travel to Greece with me to run the Athens Authentic Marathon—his very first marathon—and then followed through by actually buying his plane ticket and training for the race. I fell in love with him while we trained side by side, running long stretches together, sometimes chatting, sometimes enjoying the silence. And I knew he loved me long before he said the words because he followed the new, restrictive nutrition plan I implemented and took our training schedule seriously. He ran every scheduled training run, including a few long distance runs without me because I was traveling for work.

While marathon training, we checked in with each other's physical and mental health on a regular basis. We made sure the other was getting the proper nutrition, getting enough rest, and stretching before and after running. We learned to rely on each other on the road or on a wooded trail. We reminded each other to drink water, eat food, and take walk breaks. We helped each other get through "bad" running days, whether physically or mentally. And we celebrated running milestones.

Sera: IllumiNITE Shortie,
Featherlite Packable Jacket,
Mike: Long Sleeve Warm Up Tee
When we crossed the finish line at the Panathanaic Stadium in Athens, both of us exhausted and sweaty and smelly and famished, I felt our bond strengthen into something bigger than life. Despite being much faster than me, he didn't leave my side during the entire marathon. We spent five-plus hours together, marveling at the beauty of a country neither of us had visited before. Five-plus hours keeping each other motivated, pushing each other to run our best but also slowing down when we saw the other struggling. Trust me, even though it was his first marathon while it was my tenth, I don't know how I would have finished without him. I was nauseous for twenty of those miles and struggled through many uphill stretches. He gave me the strength I needed, and the support, to push through to the end; his patience was unwavering. Five-plus hours of physical and mental exertion and exhaustion, and I still loved him. Hell, I still liked him; I wasn't even the slightest bit annoyed by him, not one bit. That's when I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
Sera: IllumiNITE Powerstretch Pant
Mike IllumiNITE Mercury Run Tight

Reflecting on those five months of training together, I realized that the relationship we developed as
runners carried over into the everyday life of our romantic relationship. We're not afraid to try new interests. We support each other through the toughest of times, and we celebrate life successes, even the tiniest milestones. Most importantly, we respect what we each bring to the relationship.

Running with a romantic partner nourished a part of my soul I didn't realize needed nourishing. It taught me that communication is key to meeting each other's needs without comprising our own needs. That it's okay to be vulnerable, and then to actually be vulnerable. That I have a lot more to offer than I realized, and what I have to offer is desired and appreciated. That it's okay to rely on someone else—I've always been independent to a fault!—and that accepting help makes me a stronger person (It also makes life so much easier. Who knew?) It taught me that having a supportive, equal partnership is attainable—something I never thought possible.

IllumiNITE Men's Early Riser
in Hawaiian Blue
Most of all, it taught me that the love I always dreamed of really does exist, and it's worth waiting for. All the years of believing someone like me wasn't worthy of real love—believing that no one out there would ever want to be with a girl like me—believing that the type of romantic partnership I dreamed of didn't exist, was all just a lie that fear fed to me. It took me a long while to open up and be ready for love, truly ready, and then even longer to find someone who was also ready for love. In fact, it took me seven months before I even agreed to let my friend give her family friend my phone number, and another two months before he texted me an invite to coffee. Spoiler alert: he was worth the wait.

The History Channel states that “Valentinus,” the Latin word that “Valentine” was derived from, means “worthy, strong or powerful” (Who was St. Valentine?) And while I know there is much angst about the corporate intentions behind creating Valentine’s Day, I do believe that taking time to celebrate loved ones is a worthy act.

IllumiNITE Love Tee
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So this Valentine’s Day weekend, I will wear my heart on the outside and watch it glow bright as I
celebrate the love I share and cherish with my life partner. I urge you all to find a special someone to go on a run with this weekend. Whether that special someone be your life partner, a new crush you've been dying to ask out, your bestest friend, or a new friend, there is just something magical that happens between people when running together. You become your most truest selves, and your heart opens to endless possibilities.

Hey Valentine, you're the run for me. Today, and always. I love you. 

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