I believe that running unites us all, whether you’re an Olympian or someone working towards your first 5K. We all have the same fears, doubts, and worries. I hope I inspire people to run, and to stay with running even when they have setbacks, because I’ve been there, too.

01.12 2015

Jenna Zajac- I was meant to run

Running has become a relatively recent addition to my life. About a year ago, I started running a few miles recreationally, just to keep in shape. However, I never could have imagined the long road and incredible journey that running has taken me through and the life changing experiences that have come of it.

I had never been a runner. I hated the mere idea of running and never understood why anyone would put themselves through it. I thought it was boring, strenuous, and just didn’t believe my body was made for something like that. The problem was, I never gave it a chance. I basically created false accusations against myself without actually putting in any effort to improve. I actually started running when I was playing lacrosse. I wanted to keep in shape and began to find that I really liked the feeling after finishing a run. I felt energized, motivated, and just plain happy. This is the first lesson that running taught me. Do things in life that make you happy, even if they were not a part of your “original plan.” So, the next logical step to me at the time was to stop playing lacrosse. I realized in this short period of time that lacrosse had become more of a chore than a passion. I looked more forward to going out for a run than going to practice. In that moment, it became evident that running was going to become more than just a fitness routine.


I wasted no time. I quickly signed up for my first two races. The Syracuse Half Marathon and the Mountain Goat. I knew that the only way to keep myself going was to have an end goal in mind. I needed something to work towards, something to push me to never give up. So, through the long, cold winter: I trained. When people were sleeping, I was running. When people were out partying, I was resting. When people were eating ice cream, I was eating a bowl of fruit. I became stronger, leaner, and more determined than ever. I followed that training plan as if it were the Bible. Eventually, that hard work paid off. I ran my first half marathon a few months later in March finishing in 1hr 49min. I continued training and placed 3rd in my age category (0-18yr) in May for the Mountain Goat. The feeling of crossing that finish line was incredible. The over-joyed sense of accomplishment came over me as I stood there realizing what I had just done. I knew I was where I belonged.

The next race coming up was the Boilermaker. By this time, I was in full swing training and working to build my speed. I was running 6 miles most days of the week and running 10+ miles every Sunday. On top of this, I was also doing a ton of cross training. It never occurred to me that perhaps I was working too hard. In June, I had a run in with my IT band taking me out of running for a few weeks. This was my first reality check that I needed to slow down. I slowly started building myself back up, as the Boilermaker was less than a month away. When the time came, I made it through the race, but that was not the end of my injury.

I continued battling this issue throughout the summer. I went to physical therapy, the chiropractor, and did what I could to heal before the next half marathon I signed up for in September. However, my down fall was that I never allowed myself to fully recover. I always wanted to get back in the saddle too early, and in turn, unconsciously was hurting myself even more.

By the end of the summer, my IT band was starting to heal and I was feeling pretty good. At this point I made the bold decision to sign up for my first Marathon in October. It was one of those spur of the moment decisions that I had. I thought that if I didn’t sign up for it now, who knows if I ever would. I also knew that it was another goal I wanted to reach and something I strived to do. It was the next challenge.

So, I went back to school in mid August, continuing training and working on keeping myself together. I trained harder than ever and in September, dropped my half marathon time by 11 minutes finishing in 1:39 and placing first in my age category. This was definitely a high for me and gave me even more of a drive for my upcoming marathon, which was in about a month. As the race got closer, the high mileages were definitely taking a toll on my body. My legs ached, my IT bands sometimes felt like they were going to break in half, and I was overall becoming physically and mentally drained. The actual running was not the only thing that was taking this toll on my body either. It was the training outside of running. I was doing physical therapy twice a day, going to the gym and lifting on top of running, following a very strict eating schedule, and on top of all of this, being a college student. However, throughout all of this, I also felt the most driven that I ever have. I wanted this so bad I could taste it.

Finally, the day came. It was cold, bitter cold. I got to the race, shivering, wondering what the heck me, a 19 year old girl who started running less than a year ago, was doing at a marathon. I was in a state of panic. I could not believe that I was about to run 26.2 miles. I mean, think of all the things that could go wrong? One of my injuries could bother me, I might have to go to the bathroom, or I could just get too tired to finish. Quickly i knocked myself out of this sense of thinking and realized something. None of it matters. The thing that matters is that I had the courage to be there at this moment. I had the courage to train despite some input from other people and even doctors. I had the courage to start. So, I lined up at the starting line, right at the front. Looked around me and saw all of the other people there for the same reason. To share their passion, their life. To run.

I ended up finishing that race. I crossed that finish line with the biggest smile on my face. I never knew something could feel so good. I did it. I beat the odds. At 19 I never thought I would be able to say that I ran a marathon. At that point, everything I had done, everything I went through paid off. Nothing was more important for me than this moment.

Since then, I had another run in with my achilles tendon and my unfortunate high arched feet. I am currently on the road to recovery and hope to race in the half marathons in February and March that I signed up for.

This time can definitely be frustrating, but also teaches you something. In ways, I have learned more from my injuries than I have when I am on my A-game. I have learned that not everything goes the way you plan, but goes the way it’s meant to be. Sometimes life brings you down to teach you how to pick yourself back up again. Everything in life is meant to teach you something. The bad moments are there to make you appreciate the good. The obstacles you encounter are there to show you that nothing worth having comes easy. If I have learned one thing from my whole running experience it’s that, everyone on this planet has a purpose: whether it is to inspire, to delegate, to teach, or maybe even to run. We are all here for a reason and no matter how long it takes, we will get there. So, why I tell you this is, sometimes you need to stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not. Stop trying to create yourself in an image of someone else. It won’t work. Everyone is unique and is not meant to be like anyone else. Instead, believe that there is a purpose out there for you, and that one day, you will find it; maybe even unexpectedly. But for now, enjoy the journey.

I plan to continue running for as long as my body allows me. I plan to be smarter about my training and keep my body as my #1 priority. I plan to run many more races and hopefully improve in each one. I “plan” to do all these things, but as previously shown by my story, things do not always go as planned. However, now I know how to recover from each fall even stronger than before. I know how to take on challenges as they come and take them with a grain of salt. I know that I have a loving support system behind me that will do anything to help me succeed. I know to learn from my mistakes and never regret any experience that I had because each one teaches you something different.

I know I was meant to run.

01.13 2014

Hi Kara, I’m Kat. My dad interviewed you a couple years ago for his book, In Search of Fatherhood. You might not remember, but you came over to our house with your husband because my dad wanted us to meet you. And you probably don’t remember me because I was about 10 and very shy and   Read more