Annie K. I competitive runner + Teacher
“What do you do better than most? That is what you should pursue.”
Where did you grow up? How would you describe that place and its people?
I grew up in Westfield, MA but went to school (7th-12th grades) in CT. Westfield is not a very interesting city, however, it does have places like Stanley Park which make it worth while. It is so amazing with fields, trails, ponds, playgrounds...I spend a lot of time there! There is a wide range of people too: you have all sorts of different immigrants and then you have the people who have lived here most of their lives.
What are your parents like? What was your home-life like?
My parents are awesome and wildly different. I had a great life as a kid! My dad is a Doctor who worked his ass off and my mom worked hers off as well keeping up with the house, the kids, and also helping my dad out at his practice. They are both so loving and supportive, always. I wouldn’t have made it through life without them.
Any fun traditions?
I remember when I was a kid we used get a small glass of wine on Christmas eve…I think this may have started when I was 12? Nothing crazy, but just to sip on after midnight mass.
Describe yourself as a child. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I talked to EVERYONE, had no fear, struggled big time in school, and loved riding horses. I think I always wanted to work with people in some fashion. In hindsight, I wish I had pursued my interest in medicine and followed in my dad’s footsteps, but because I was so bad at school, I didn’t. I thought about it my junior year of college but decided to just keep going with sociology and Spanish.
How did you end up where you are now? Why this place? Does it speak to you?
Umm—here in Westfield? (laughs) Well, we lived in Guatemala and then moved here so our daughter, Sophia, could grow up close to her grandparents. I love being near my parents too, but I also would love to try living in Colorado or maybe somewhere warmer.
What do you do? How did you find it? Did it find you?
My passion is running. I guess I consider myself a marathoner. I have run 7 full marathons and 9 half marathons over the course of 5 years, which for some is very little and for some may seem impossible! (It is not impossible though!) I've always loved running. My Dad used to take me out on HoneyPot Rd where I grew up and have me run with him. Then I started playing soccer and my coaches always had me in positions where they needed someone who could run the field without getting tired. And after college, I started running more with my boyfriend (now husband), doing half marathons. One day I ran 15 miles in training...that day I signed up for my first full marathon in Hartford, CT. I ran a 3:14, which was amazing and exciting. I never thought in a million years I'd qualify for Boston on my first shot, but I did!
Professionally, I want to find a way to my heart’s passion. I haven’t given up on that just trying to figure out how it translates into a career. I heard someone say, “What do you do better than most? That is what you should pursue.” I am trying to figure that out…
Was there a big break or moment when you knew you had to do it?
I think what I love about long distance running is getting lost in the run--not so much getting lost, which has happened. I think my big moment was getting a BQ (Boston Qualifier) in my first marathon because not a lot people can do that. I realized, wow, maybe I have something here! The full marathon is not my most consistent race as far as times but it is my favorite. It is so hard! It takes every ounce of strength and discipline to finish...it actually takes more than every ounce but around miles 24 and 25 you realize just how strong you are. It is unlike any other experience.
Describe your typical day: the hours, the preparation, the blood, sweat + tears….
I wake up at 4:00am Monday through Friday when I am in training, to run on average 8 miles a day. On Wednesdays, I was running 12 miles before work. Tuesdays and Thurdays were speed days so I usually would do a short shake out - 3 to 4 miles in the morning and then 8 to 10 miles after school, or do hill repeats after running 6 miles. I had a very tough training cycle this last time before running the Boston Marathon. I ran 12 to 14 days without rest. Sometimes I was close to 170 miles over two weeks...that's insane! But it's do-able with the entire army of people that helped me. I have training buddies that were willing to get up at 4am when they didn't have to, I had an amazing coach who recognized my dream and pushed me in new ways, I had a training partner who was willing to help me on the longer and harder work outs, and then my family too! My husband who watched our daughter on the weekends, or my Mom would take her too, and my Dad sponsored sports massages for me so I could stay injury free. I always say, "it may be me running, but all of these people are with me, every step!" It is not easy, and sometimes I question myself and wonder, "is it really worth it?" It is though. Running isn't just a hobby, it is my community, it is my lifestyle. It is life and love all wrapped into something that makes me feel alive every day. I am so grateful that I can even run, and a lot of times I do think about the people who can't and that pushes me forward. Especially this year at Boston...seeing people out there with prostethic legs was very powerful, so inspiring. Never give up, no matter what! Your dreams matter because they are what keep us moving forward!
I love my early mornings. I know it sounds crazy waking up at 4am but it’s the time of the day that is totally mine. I cherish that beyond words.
Do you have a work "process" of sorts?
Because I run so early there really isn't a process to getting ready...get up, start my car, get dressed and head out the door. In regards to the process of running: my running team, Western Mass Distance Project's motto is "Respect The Process." This is the training process, the healing process, the racing process...really anything, but there is a process, and it demands to be respected because if not, you will be sidelined and that sucks!
What is your favorite part of what you do?
The 4:30am runs are early, but there is nothing like it. Even in single digits, even in snow or rain, and complete darkness, it is my sanctuary - my time to think about everything and anything. I can wake up in a horrible mood, go for a run and things always seem better. So, even more than racing, I love the training process: starting and seeing growth, I love that! Being given a work out to do that seems impossible and then nailing it, it is incredibly satisfying!
In my teaching I find a lot of satisfaction in the kids, but not so much teaching them. A lot of them come when it isn’t their class time, or should be in another class, to say hi or get a mint. I keep a huge bag of mints in my desk and make them ask for them in Spanish. I even have kids that aren’t my students learning how to say this for a mint! It wasn’t that long ago that I was in high school. I remember the drama and the stress. I try to be understanding of all of that….
Your least favorite?
The laundry. Especially in the winter, there is so much fricking laundry! So many layers!
In all seriousness though, respecting the process of healing can be very hard. Even a week after a race I feel good and in my mind, I am ready to go. I know I have to wait and really give my body time to heal.
What lessons have you learned?
This is a great but challenging question. I think running has taught me that I am capable of more than I could have ever imagined, but also that I am capable of even more than what I've already done. It has taught me to fall in love with limitless possibility. It has taught me about the process in life and in love and to respect that--everything has its process. It has also showed me how good and kind people can be. After the bombings at Boston last year, the outpouring of the world in terms of kindness was amazing. A lot of people call us "runners" crazy sometimes, but I think they got to see that we are this incredibly tightly bonded community. We don't all know each other, but we get one another - no matter the language, no matter anything really. It is privilege to be part of this community!
Being a teacher can be challenging too. I have learned so much about myself as a result. Understanding the fine line between being compassionate and being a pushover. I have to learn to be tough, but not mean. To be kind, but not too nice that they want to take advantage of that.
What or who inspires you?
What doesn't inspire me?! I am pretty easy to inspire! My friends laugh at me because I can be inspired by the sparkly snow or a conversation about travel or something else completely random, but I think overall dreams inspire me. My dream of someday breaking the 3 hr mark at a marathon inspires me for sure. My friends inspire me, stories of other women who have a million kids and a career and still run super fast inspire me, people who can't run inspire me, my daughter inspires me, being a good example to her inspires me... I could go on and on!!
Do you have a mentor?
Karin George I would consider to my mentor. She has run 53 marathons, but it is more than that. She is an amazing person, works hard, loves her family, and is fierce competitor. She always has time to talk or converse about life or running. I am incredibly thankful for her!!
Advice for someone to succeed in your world?
My world, good luck! Just kidding!
1. One thing that I have come to realize is that I can't be good at every distance. I can enjoy the different distances, but I can't be the best at all of them. For me, 10 miles and up, that's my focus and what I love. So find a focus.
2. Every day is a new day. If yesterday sucked, then take a deep breath, go to sleep, and wake up determined that TODAY is a new day.
3. I have crazy dreams and don't apologize for them! Never apologize for your dreams!
4. Be willing and open to go through pain to reach those crazy dreams. Everything and anything is possible, if you are willing to work your ass for them. I heard once, "You don't get what you wish for, you get what you work for."
What does the word authentic mean to you?
Wow, good question! I have been doing so much thinking about this word lately. I’ve read a couple of books recently: The Alchemist, Aleph, The Invitation, and all of these books have to do with being true to your heart, knowing what you want to do, and doing it. It is easy to say… “follow your heart,” but when you have mouths to feed and mortgage to pay it is a little scary to say “ok, this career isn’t for me, I am going to quit.” However, I do think when we aren’t true to our hearts and dreams, we spiral into bad habits, and our soul dies. I have been asking myself a lot, “what makes me feel alive?” I am starting to see what that is...now I just have to figure out how that translates into a career and lifestyle.
Who are the people you want to surround yourself with? What are the things and activities you want to fill your days with?
I want to surround myself with people who are willing to say YES to life. Who are willing to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, who dream out loud, and go to bed happily exhausted every day knowing that they lived exactly how they wanted to live today. I run quite a bit …more than some and less than others. It is a lifestyle for me, something that I do every day, just like some people read, write, paint, talk, sing. Every day: I run. I get up and go, every day.
I’ve always loved to run, even back in middle school and high school, but it wasn’t until after college that I really got into it. My husband introduced me to road races, and I discovered that I actually loved it! I ran my first marathon and my life has never been the same. It takes a lot of discipline but it is also love and drive that gets me up at 4am. I actually really love getting up early. The roads are basically empty, it is serene, and dark and it is my time to just “be”.
What kind of person do you aspire to be? How does your work and/or passion relate to this?
I want to be a person who lives with her heart wide open. I love my family, and I love my friends as family. I think the people in our lives, whether it’s friends, co workers, family, or even strangers, all have something to teach us. I want to be open to that. I want to love myself too. Part of being able to love others and have others love me, is learning how to love and respect myself. This is a process, harder than some may realize.
Words that you live by?
Love and passion. I am proud of my drive, passion, and commitment to running. It really has changed my life. I didn’t realize how tough I was, both mentally and physically, until I ran my first marathon. The marathon constantly asks you to give up, but I’ve learned to let the voice in my head be louder and say, "NO, that is not an option today." I guess those are my two things… love and passion.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? goals?
Geez, where did you girls come up with this? In 5 years, I’ll be 38…I have no idea. I hope at peace with life, my career, and my relationship.