Thursday, June 28, 2012

A special interview with Monica!

I am so excited to feature Monica in today’s blog post. Monica is one of my faithful blog followers and cheerleaders. One of the beautiful things about running is that while it’s an individual sport, it’s a real community sport. It’s the type of sport that requires personal grit but is so much easier when you have support from others to cheer you on, challenge you, and identify with your struggles and successes. Monica has been that for me, even though we met in person only 1 week ago for the first time. I’m so thankful she was introduced to me and has been part of my circle. She has also kept me very humble. 
Monica just completed her first ever half marathon! She ran an amazing 21.1K at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon this past Sunday. I wanted to mark her accomplishment by interviewing her and featuring her on my blog. Grab a warm drink, make yourself comfy, and enjoy this special treat! I promise you a great read, but only if you wish to grin ear-to-ear, and be inspired!
ZJ: Monica, first of all, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me. And a huge congratulations on finishing this big race! You did it!
MF: I am really very honored to be featured in your blog! After meeting you on Friday at the race expo, when you told me "you only have your first half once" ... that really stuck with me. I repeated that to myself several times on Saturday, Sunday morning and during the race... I just kept thinking several times during the race, "remember, you only get to run your first race once-- remember what Zahida said: ‘You're going to do amazing!!! Smile, relax, and have fun!’ -and look, she's right, you're doing it!!"
ZJ: Hah! I am so glad what I said that day stuck with you. I was so excited to meet you, I wasn’t sure if my words were articulate.  So tell our readers a bit more about your running / activity level before you decided to train for a half marathon
MF: In early 2011, my roommate Jessie suggested that we run the St. Patrick’s Day 5K fun run together. I was nervous, unsure, & couldn’t sleep for days leading up to the event. Me? A Runner? Running 5K? Are you kidding me?!  But… I did it & it felt amazing. After I completed it, I really felt like anything was possible, that this was a community of people I wanted to be a part of. It was my first race ever & I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how supportive the community of runners was & the support I received from friends and family was amazing. After that, Jess pushed me one step further: “Let’s do the Vancouver Sun Run.” Unsure, nervous/nauseous about the idea of a 10K race (double the distance!) I took a leap of faith in my abilities and really stuck it out on my own, following the Sun Run’s “Learn to Run 10K” Guide. With Jess giving me the self confidence boost I needed, and that little bit of extra motivation to train, I registered in the Turkey Trot 10K and then the Fall Classic 10K later that same year. Every time, race day was incredible. Having those races really truly kept me running & loving the sport. It also kept me connected to this community.
Monica (left) with Jessie (right) after the recent half marathon
Even though Jess was not running with me on those occasions, she still kept me going & one of the best ways she did so was by introducing me to your blog sometime in the fall. To say that you are inspiring is an understatement. The admiration I have for you is enormous. Reading about your experience leading up to and after the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon last year planted tiny seeds of hope in me that maybe, just maybe, that could be me one day too. I continued to read your blog, talk to Jess about running, joined & stuck with it.

ZJ: Wow, Monica, you really keep me humble. Thank you! I hope you realize what a huge accomplishment all those races you completed last year is. Wow! You were hooked well before you ever found my blog. And it’s an amazing feeling to have been a part of you journey to your first 21.1K. I truly mean that. What made you decide you wanted to train for a half marathon? How did you feel about making this commitment?
MF:  Well, honestly Zahida, reading about your running journey was the primary catalyst for me. Your weight loss & fitness journey really made me a believer. You taught me that you didn’t have to be tall and skinny to learn how to run or to enjoy running for that matter. You set goals and then you went out and achieved them with beauty and grace. Your positivity is infectious and slowly, as I continued to follow your journey and your decision to train for a full marathon, I thought, “hey, you can do this, why don’t you train for a half, it is not out of your reach”
I decided to join a half marathon training clinic at the beginning of March, giving me 16 weeks to work towards my new goal. The first time I walked into the Running Room, I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t know anyone in the store and they all seemed to know each other quite well. I was overwhelmed by the amount and variety of running gear, not really sure what most of it was for. I was also rather intimidated by all the “running types” that I felt, clearly, I was not. Thankfully, all of that melted away when the clinic started. I met several others who had never run a half marathon before in their life—they were just like me! Over the next few months, I made some really great friendships and got to know my clinic coaches. I loved the routes we ran on as they were different from the roads and trails near my house- the variety kept it exciting & new. With 2-3 runs with my clinic each week, it was much easier to get in a couple solo runs each week & stay on track. When I struggled with the flu or missed a night, my clinic friends kept me accountable, asking where I was and were happy to see me return- what an amazing sense of belonging!
ZJ: Wow, that sounds wonderful. That is one of the beautiful things about joining a running club or clinic – being held accountable by other runners. In ways, you’ve been one I feel accountable to, via dailymile! So tell me a little more about your experience training: what was the best part of training? What was the hardest part of it?
MF: I guess, sort of inadvertently, the best part of training was the subtle changes it made to my body over the course of 16 weeks. Training for this half marathon was actually the first fitness goal of mine that did not center on weight loss, and well, it happened anyways. I lost about 10lbs over the course of the 16 weeks but more than that, I am much more solid than I was before. I have abs!  And people I don’t know that well or don’t see very often have said to me “you look great! Have you lost weight?!” Amazing! While the scale isn’t moving much from week to week, I feel stronger and healthier and that is a really incredible side effect of working towards my goal of running 21.1 km! The hardest part for me was pushing through post work fatigue or getting in a pre-work run on mornings when I was really tired. It was difficult making sacrifices for running at times- I am quite a social person and often have many things going on every day and every week. It was challenging saying no sometimes and head to my running training instead, or to have an earlier night when my friends are staying out at the bar for a few more. Walking away, drinking water instead of beer or going be bed early on a Friday and/or Saturday night was a huge challenge for me but a sacrifice that was ultimately very worth it time and time again. Leading up to the race, there were some key motivators. These kept me running through both my 17 & 18km solo training runs.
ZJ: Well, you have done amazing Monica! And you are positively glowing from your hard work. And often the hardest part of getting to where you are is having to make choices that impact your social life. I often get asked how I have time to run and train for races when I’m so busy. I just say, “I don’t have the time: I find the time.” We just make choices. You’ve done that, and look at you – healthy half-marathoner with abs! How did you keep yourself motivated and on track? 
MF: These pieces of inspiration got me out of bed in the morning when I desperately wanted to hit snooze:
  • You!! Talking to you via your blog, Facebook and in person before the race really kept me going and propelled me forward when I didn’t feel like it or in moments of self-doubt
  • This post race interview (after all, this interview wouldn't really be possible if I didn’t race or complete it and this really kept me motivated in the last couple weeks leading up to the race). When you asked me, I thought time and time again, "Ok Monica, Zahida is going to interview you now. You really need to stick with your training and complete this race.. so get out of bed now! Sleep in next week!"
  • My personal fundraising page (which anyone can contribute to until July 8th!): dedicating this run to my Opa  
  • All of the people who supported my fundraising efforts—I didn’t want to let them down
  • My family, friends, co-workers and fellow clinic friends

ZJ: I'd been very excited about this interview myself for some time too! I can tell running and training has been a boost to your confidence. In fact, it's commonly said that running is very much a mental sport as much as it is a physical sport. What's your take on this?
MF: I think there is a lot of truth in this but I also sort of caution taking that statement too literally. My running training allowed me to digest more stressful work days or situations; it mentally allowed me to gain new perspective/insight on any given situation & left me refreshed. So my training was perhaps had a more profound mental affect on me than it did physical. In terms of pushing through difficult moments in the race or training runs, using mantras, such as your “pain is temporary but pride is forever” really helped me complete a number of more challenging runs. That said, I think it is really important to listen to what your body is telling you, sometimes it might not be so wise to ignore what your body is physically telling you by mentally pushing through—I really feel as though doing that substantially increases risk of injury.
ZJ: Ok, I am just dying to hear more about your recent race. Tell me about it! All 21.1K of it!  What were some highlights? And of course, how was crossing the finish line!!!?
MF: I had a quite a few favourite race moments throughout the race… here are a few:
Running down Marine Drive at UBC towards the 5km mark and getting to witness the elites running past. What an inspiring thing to witness in the first quarter of the race! I loved how the crowd of runners was cheering them on as they showed us amazingly what human beings are capable of!
Giving the old man by Spanish Banks a giant high five as his car blasted classic rock & then later learning from a fellow runner that  the man has actually completed 78 Marathons and only started running at age 55—if that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is!
Running km’s 12-16 with an amazing older lady who has been running marathons and half’s based out of Vancouver for the last 15 years! She was so excited for me to be running my first race & it was fun to talk to her about her experience with groups, clinics and her love of running. When she stopped to walk and slow down a bit, she cheered me on & was so proud of me—a complete stranger, well, stranger no longer! I also (by chance) saw her post race and she gave me a hug and congratulated me. Amazing.
Getting over the Burrard Street Bridge and seeing my roommate cheering me on as I made my way over the crest of the bridge and then seeing two more friends at the bottom of the bridge, smiling, clapping and cheering my name and I turned the corner onto Beach Avenue. I don’t know how I would have managed those last few km without them. They definitely gave me a huge energy burst (ok, so maybe running is as much mental as physical? Haha).
Reaching 21km’s with some extra energy (where did this come from?!) & seeing my parents. They were yelling loudly and had huge smiles on their faces—they gave me the push to sprint the last 100m… Jess was grinning, shouting and cheering me on & I knew that I was mere seconds away from completing my goal. Although the inability to breathe kicked in with about 10m to go, I pushed through it, and crossed the line.
Crossing the finish line: I don’t think I can put that experience into words. I was winded, barely breathing and saw the sign that read: “Don’t Stop: Keep Moving” – are you kidding me?! SO somehow I walked forward, trying to regain my breath and bowed my head as if I was getting knighted or being given Olympic gold & let the woman place the medal around my neck. I continued to move forward and then there was one of my clinic coaches and fellow clinic runner with huge smiles on their faces. They were so happy for me & I was simply bursting with pure joy. Soon I was given a hug. The enormity of my accomplishment and all that it meant to me was too much for me to process & so I was in shock… I actually could not process the fact that I completed a half marathon. The only thing keeping me from thinking I was dreaming was the weight of the finished medal around my neck!
Coming over the top of the Burrard Street Bridge was also a very significant moment for me. I was tired, my lungs hurt from that long, slow hill & I was very aware that with each step, I was running further than I had ever run before. My watch was also telling me that I was going to complete it in under 2:30 (my “whisper time”), the only other goal I had aside from completion. Until I saw my roommate there on the other side of the bridge, I was actually on the verge of tears and realized then and there why people cry when they cross the finish line. It was the first time I also have ever (almost) cried tears of joy. I was so so happy of how far I’d come and I knew my completion goal was within my grasp. I was overjoyed by the support & thinking about how happy my Opa would be of me in that very moment. I know that if he was alive today, he would be so proud & I’m proud of myself for being able to do something so significant in his honor.
ZJ: Wow, what an amazing experience and an incredible story. I’m sure it’s one you’ll never forget, and one you keep close to your heart. Remember your finish anytime you feel down – guaranteed, it’ll make you feel better. You know now that you’re capable of conquering your goals, no matter how big!  I so wish I could have seen you cross the finish or found you after the race to congratulate you. I hope you wore your finisher medal for as long as you could after the race. Hang it up somewhere to display it with pride. You’re a half marathoner forever now! So, now that you've completed your first half marathon, what's next for you?
MF: Honestly, I’m not quite sure! I know I will keep running. There are a few people at work who would like to try running for the first time so I might help them start out, doing some walk/run with them once a week. I am also looking at doing some more swimming, hiking and soccer over the next month, maybe running 3-4x week instead of 5. I’m also thinking that an October 7th race might be in my future or perhaps really trying to get my 10km time "sub" 1 hour (to speak like a runner!). Really, at this point, the possibilities are endless. , I know that running is the one thing that I do for me & making time to run is how I tell myself I’m worth it. It forces me to make me a priority and I love what it has done to my mental and physical well being. I’m in love- there is no other way to describe it. I guess I really am a running junkie now!
Monica with a much-deserved celebratory drink! Congrats!
ZJ: Yes, you most definitely are worth it! Monica, thank you so much for this interview, and for being part of my own journey! I am sure my readers will love your story. I most certainly do; you are truly inspiring! Can’t wait to talk to you about race possibilities for the future. Keep thriving, and keep running!


  1. Loved the interview. Congratulations to you, Monica! Keep running and smiling.

  2. Thank-you so much!! Here is also a little blurb I wrote about it all on my blog: