PHOTO: Caitlin Stevens-Kelly is shown in this photo at the Hampton 5-Miler. This year, she will race the half marathon at Marathon by the Sea. Photo from Run NB/Armand Landry.
What started as a quest for improved health has transformed into a deep appreciation for fitness and running for Caitlin Stevens-Kelly. When once a 5-kilometre race appeared daunting, she now leads community running clinics and has a number of longer distances on her resume, on her way to her first marathon event. Here is her story and her goals for Emera Marathon by the Sea in August.
by Caitlin Stevens-Kelly
A doctor told me I had the lungs of a 76-year-old.
I was 30 at the time. I do have chronic lung disease because I was born prematurely. I weighed 1.0 kilogram at birth but had no other problems and through the years, I have been able, to some degree, ignore my chronic lung disease. However, asthma, several bouts of pneumonia and lots of medications later, I knew something had to change. I knew, and the doctor agreed, exercise might be the answer. So I started running.
So I didn’t find running; running found me and we have been great friends ever since. That was five years ago. I did a “Couch to 5km” program that I found online after my family had been going through a stressful time. Sometimes my children joined me and sometimes they played in the playground while I ran on the track, so it was a kind of family time. Once the weather got cold, I stopped, “wimping out” when I realized how many layers I might have to wear to survive fall/winter running.
Growing up I was a shy, quiet girl. I shied away from team sports and left the athletic endeavours to my friends. They were all basketball players, swimmers and soccer players. I preferred to read, take art classes than be involved in team activities.
When I had children, I wanted them to learn the things I thought you only learned by being part of a team. It was something I missed but learned later, there are other ways to learn sportsmanship, leadership, patience, persistence and working towards a goal – and that is running.
In the spring after I “wimped out” of running in the winter, a friend was offering a group learn-to-run program, similar to one I had completed before. Another friend had suggested I start running again when I wanted to find an activity other than going to a gym. I was too intimidated to go to a gym and thought running would be an inexpensive way to get some physical activity. But I worried that I would not be motivated to keep going, so my friend suggested I sign up for a race and she would participate as well.
I completed my first 5km race that summer. I was hooked.
The energy of the race, the participants and the people watching the race were infectious and I loved that my children were able to see me accomplish a goal that I had been working toward. I decided the next winter that I would train for my first half marathon.
I chose the Bluenose half marathon because I grew up in Halifax and because my friend Nicole, who first got me motivated to run, lived there. On race day though, I was feeling sorry for myself. The experience wasn’t living up to my hopes, in part because my children weren’t there, unable to see me accomplish my goal.
I had run all winter, splitting my time between tread mills and snow banks. I had sacrificed time with them and made training a priority. I was sidelined with pneumonia for a month, recovered and continued training. To me, the half marathon was the ultimate running goal. Training for the half seemed manageable whereas full marathon training seemed to be only for “serious” runners, and I did not feel I was a “serious” runner.
“Serious runners” were athletes, and I was not an athlete. I was just trying to de-stress, lose some weight maybe, get off my couch and fix my lungs up a bit. I’ll admit I felt sorry for myself the first 5kms of that race. I was accomplishing a goal, but my family was not there to see me. I saw my friend’s husband at the 6km mark, but he did not see me among all the hundreds of runners, further fueling my disappointment.
Then, when I got to the halfway mark, all of a sudden it seemed like I was attacked from behind by two people in running jackets. My friends Nicole and Lex had come to run about 1.5kms of the race with me.
They left me to continue on my race alone but I was buoyed by their friendship, enthusiasm and excitement. I continued to run through the city that I had grown up in.
The last 3kms, I spent reflecting on the difficulties of the prior year, realizing that maybe I actually was more of a “serious” runner than I realized. Each year since, Nicole has come out to watch me run the Bluenose half. It means more to me than she will ever know.
I’ve kept running.
I still don’t see myself as a “serious” runner. “Serious” runners are fast, and I’m never going to finish very high in my age group speed wise. This year though, I’ve decided to accomplish what I feel is a “serious” runners’ goal – the full marathon.
Recently, I ran my 10th half marathon. I’ve run numerous 5km races, 5 milers, 10km races. I’ve met some of my best friends through running. A year and a half ago, I took over a small-town running group where we have offered several learn-to-run programs and a 10km program. I’ve organized and volunteered at a few races. I’ve seen people accomplish goals they never thought possible.
That’s why I run.
I still run to de-stress and to keep an active lifestyle but more than anything, I’ve gained more from the friendships and the inspirational people that running has brought to me.
This summer, I will be participating in the MBTS half marathon as the half way mark to participating in my first full marathon, another step on my way to being a “serious” runner. Also, I will be able to check it off on the Ultimate Running Challenge, which I also participated in last year.
By the way, the last time I saw my doctor, the one who said I had the lungs of a 76-year-old, she said my lungs now looked to be at least 20 years younger.