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Today I am thrilled to welcome a guest to my blog. When Nichol shared her writing with me and expressed an interest in “putting it somewhere,” I asked her if she’d like to make a guest post on Characteristically Speaking. When I read her message, I almost begged her to share it here. Even if you are not a runner, there are so many lessons in what she writes. Whatever your passion, find your own strength – pull from the inspiration all around you – and keep at it.  Thanks, Nichol. It is my honor to share this.


Guest Post by Nichol Hoff

To borrow from The Counting Crows, “It was a long December…”And that’s when it all started.

A fitness friend of mine talked about setting a new goal for herself. In a slump myself, it seemed like a good idea and I followed suit. I really followed suit. I signed up for the 26.2 mile NJ Marathon.

With full intentions of meeting my goal, I wrote out a training schedule that blended workouts with my crazy life. And at first I was very diligent. I was out there running all the time. In late February/early March, I backed off a little, but still always tried to get in my long run. By April, I realized I had overtrained. My body wanted none of it and was protesting. For the last few weeks, I did 1-2 short runs each week.

On the morning of the marathon, I woke at 3:45 a.m. I remember thinking, “It’s time. I trained for months and now it’s time to GO!” With my friend and my daughter (my personal cheerleader), I was in the car and on my way, hydrating and fueling the whole drive. “Remember,” I told myself, “through HIM I can do all things.” On the way to the starting line, I wrote six names on my arm: all people who inspire me in different ways. I wasn’t out to break any records. I just wanted to finish.

I was lined up at 7:45 a.m. And then at 8 a.m., I heard the call: Marathon runners are you ready? The horn blew and it was game time. I breezed through the first few miles, using funny memories of friends and experiences to distract me.

At mile eight, I joined a group of runners wearing shirts that said, “I am running for…” One of the runner’s shirts said: I am running for Denise, my wife. He pushed a wheelchair that carried a woman; presumably Denise. Reminded that unconditional love exists in this world, I began to cry. I had experienced it once. Would I again? Could I again find someone who can handle the intensity of my love? I don’t know how to dip my toe into anything; you get all or nothing. It’s not for everyone. This I know all too well.

Seventeen miles in and I was doing ok, although getting a handle on potty breaks and hydration was a challenge. Made a mistake and allowed myself to walk for a few minutes during the last nine miles (warning: DON’T do that. You suddenly feel EVERYTHING). Sensing my struggle, a woman I had been running with for several miles reminded me of a client in one of the fitness classes I teach – a client whose husband battled his way through cancer and is now on his way to recovery. Her strength inspired me. Suddenly, my spirit was renewed!

When I hit mile marker 20, I decided that the best way to get through the last six miles was to assign a mile to each person whose name appeared on my arm. I name them here because of the influence they make on my life:

Mile 21: Mr. Hoffman. I immediately thought about forgiveness, God’s grace, and love. Mr. Hoffman lost a battle to cancer. Once a strong man, we watched him deteriorate. When he was still healthy, he helped me process some things I had buried; things that held me back from living my potential. And when I first started to train, I would run by his house. When I was tired, I thought of him and his pain. It helped me to keep going. I remembered that he had accepted Jesus into his heart. Through HIM all things are possible. I kept running.

Mile 22: Kevin Fidler. Kevin was my first husband and nineteen years after his death I still think about him often. His wild and adventurous side scared me; yet made me feel so alive. He was my first love and taught me so much about myself; the most important lesson being that material things don’t matter. Love is love, no matter what. Loving him – and losing him – taught me about loss…true loss. I learned how strong I am. I kept running.

Mile 23: Mom. My mom struggled with inner demons that wreaked havoc on her life and my family’s. Her choices made me unable to decipher truth from fiction and I was insecure and unable to get close to others for a long time. My relationship with her taught me about faith in God and the importance of forgiveness. I am grateful that we had found a shared peace before she died; that we better understood each other’s love. I am thankful that she is at peace now. I kept running.

Mile 24: Dad. He is and will always be my hero. A straight shooter who will always tell you like it is, he is the most loyal man I know. While he doesn’t always know how to show emotion, he sacrificed everything – including himself – for many years to give me the best he had to offer. To this day, when I am in trouble, I call dad, my Dad E Boy. I kept running.

Mile 25: Richard. A well-educated man who surfed, skied, and loved the shore, Richard was a client of mine for a few years. Our conversations about his adventures inspired me to add an overseas ski trip to my bucket list. When he was diagnosed with invasive cancer, Richard pursued treatment that left him in ICU for a week each time. But his strength is what I remember. Today, he works out harder than ever. He does not quit. I kept running.

Mile 26: Emma, my true love. When I found out on Super Bowl Sunday of 2004 that I was pregnant, I was nervous and excited at the same time. It was an overall easy pregnancy. I loved having her in my belly! And the day she was born, I fell completely in love. It was a year of abundant dragonflies; they were everywhere! She is my little dragonfly. Every day she teaches me about unconditional love. She challenges me to be my best and forgives me when I fail. Her adventurous yet cautious spirit reminds me that life is short. Work hard, play hard, and be genuine and true. Being a mom is the toughest job I could ever have. I am blessed. I kept running.

There are so many reasons I run. A friend of mine (who had lost almost 200 pounds), invited me to run some 5K races with her because she wanted someone to push her. My own on and off battle with food and weight prompted me to run. I ran during a failing marriage because it was an outlet for me where I could be on my own, talk to God, and let my emotions flow. Through happiness and tears, for motivation and out of determination, I run. Running allows me to feel strong, to know that through HIM, I can do anything.

When I completed the marathon and crossed the finish line, I feel like I carried so many people over the line with me; not only those whose names were etched on my arm, but so many others who inspire and motivate me. And there she stood: my Emma, waiting to congratulate me and cheering me on. In her embrace I realized just how strong I am: spiritually, mentally, and physically. And for her – for us – I keep running.

(Nichol Hoff lives in Cape May Courthouse, NJ. She teaches fitness and is a lover of the beach, the surf, and of course, her daughter Emma.)


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