Since we opened the store nearly three years ago, we have been awed and inspired by women of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels who have embarked on and completed challenging training journeys. Last week, we put out a call via Facebook for our friends to send us their stories of training for and completing a marathon. Of the submissions we received, we were particularly moved by the stories of Jen Fiorenza and Angela Genin. We've shared them here and hope you enjoy them as much as we do. Congratulations, ladies. We're proud of you! 26.2 by Jen Fiorenza I am a runner. I can run a mile for fun. I can run 26.2 miles for fun (with some training, of course). I am a marathoner. I feel accomplished. I did not always feel this way. I was not athletic as a child. In some ways, I still do not think of myself as "athletic." I grew up in a single parent household and there wasn't time or money for sports. I sat on the sidelines wanting to feel that energy. I wanted to know what victory felt like. It would be decades before my dream was realized. A few years ago, I thought I would try running for exercise. Running alone did not motivate me, so I registered for a race to motivate my running. I started small; my first race was Crazylegs. After I ran Crazylegs, my dear friend Nicole convinced me I could run a half marathon. No way! Not me! That seemed like such a long distance - 13.1 miles? That was crazy talk! But she believed in me when I did not believe in myself. And under the guise of running for fun, she helped me train a summer for my first half marathon. When we crossed the finish line of the Chicago Half Marathon - I cried from disbelief. How could I - who did not possess an athletic bone in my body - accomplish that race? But my journey was just beginning. Last year, as our milestone birthdays approached, Nicole (again) convinced me I could run a marathon. Easy for her; she had many under her belt. I have asthma. I am not athletic. I am not the fastest or strongest. Is this really my new idea of fun? Yes! Yes it is! We registered for the Chicago Marathon. We would run as Solemates for Girls on the Run. This time, we shared the journey of training with our friend Amie, a fellow GOTR coach and another non-believer of her running ability. As GOTR coaches, we were teaching young girls to believe in themselves and look at themselves positively. How could we teach that but not live it? We had to do it! We spent all summer training religiously. Honestly, I was scared/intimidated/unsure not to follow my training schedule. I remember my friend Chris sending me a motivational quote as I trained. It might not be completely appropriate for everyone but it was exactly what I needed: "Never underestimate the strength of a woman. Never f*ck with one who runs 26.2 miles for fun." With that quote in my head and good training under my belt, I knew I was ready. I knew I could do it. Marathon day was amazing! Perfect weather! Perfect preparations! We stood in the corral waiting to start the race and I just felt strong. Our families were all over the course cheering us on! When I crossed the finish line, I was shaking, shaking with joy and disbelief! Actually feelings greater than joy and disbelief! I knew in my heart I had done the best I could. I felt accomplished! I was a marathoner! And right next to me was Nicole. A friend who helped me achieve crazy dreams. She believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. She is a friend who completely altered my being and made me a runner. I am a runner. I am a marathoner. One marathon and numerous half marathons later, she still corrects me when I tell people I am not a “runner.” My marathon was as much about personal accomplishment as it was about friendship. Deep in my heart and mind, I hold on to that accomplishment. It gets me through tough times (Jen, you can do it. You ran a marathon!). It gives me a quiet inner strength. I will always be proud of my first marathon. And I know it will not be my last! :) Photo: Jen Fiorenza (center) with her friends and marathon training partners, Amie and Nicole, at the 2012 Chicago Marathon My Marathon Story by Angela Genin In January 2012 my best friend and only running partner who lives in MN hinted that she was going to doing her first marathon, Grandmas, and that I should consider it. Of course I had many reasons why this was not a good idea and I would stick to my usual halfs. She made it clear that this was a good idea: Me: "I don't have the time." Rebecca: "Here is the schedule, it isn't that bad and you can make the time." Me: "I have a lot of horse riding events going on." Rebecca: "It will make you a more athletic person and better rider." Me: "I don't know, I may falter during training." Rebecca: "Call me when you need a pick me up, we can support each other." Me: "I am not sure I can do this, what if I need to walk?” Rebecca: "I will walk with you." The last thing she had to say was,"It is on your 35th birthday. What a great present to yourself." The next thing I knew, two other girlfriends had signed up to do this with us, they also provided me with inspiration and support. See, I doubted myself as about a year earlier I had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). At that the time of diagnosis I had shooting pains through the bottoms of my feet, lost control of my left leg and went partly blind in my right eye. It took me about a year to retrain nerves and for some of my nerves to heal and get back to normal. For the first few months after diagnosis walking a mile was a struggle. My family became really concerned and they thought the training would stress me out and send me back into a relapse. I signed up, took on the schedule and made sure to stay in touch with my running partner. I had some major bad runs. It was a hot spring and with MS I suffer in the heat. Next was the fatigue issues, but every week we would all check in and I realized we all have issues. Before I knew it the day had come: June 16, 2012. Separately we all made our way to Minnesota with plans to meet up for dinner and stay together. Walking into the expo for Grandmas was when my stomach rolled. This is big, real big! I kept thinking, "Was my training good enough? I had those few weeks where I was sick - will that hurt me? What if I am having a bad day? Will my gear hold up?" I was so nervous. We had a wonderful dinner with friends and family and then we headed to the hotel. We all said good night to our friends and family because in the morning we would not see them, not even at the starting line. The unique thing about Grandmas is at the starting line there are no spectators, just the runners. We started charging Garmins and iPods, then she handed me a very cool sign for me to wear on my back, "It’s my birthday follow me to the party." That morning we woke up, ate the breakfast we planned and hopped on the bus. The bus ride was full of doubt and listening to people’s Garmins beeping! Once we got to the starting line we waited for our other friends, though we never found them. This was okay as our other girlfriends were running for their sister who passed away training for Ironman. They had their sister Mary in their hearts and minds that day. It was time. Rebecca and I headed to the starting line. We agreed on a pace to try to keep and gave each other a hug. Then my favorite part: they played ‘Jump Around!’ So cool! I am a huge UW Badger football fan and this made my morning! We were off. It seemed like nothing. We gave each other a high five at every mile, kept smiles on our faces and enjoyed other runners’ conversations. I had more "happy birthdays" than I would have ever imagined. For a few miles we hung with an ultra-runner, he was on his second 26.2 that morning. He started at the finish line and ran to the start to run the entire thing over again! At mile 20 we said okay, just a 10K left. We have this. The weather started to change it got windy and cold, but we welcomed the cold because it had been warm and humid. Then at about mile 21-22 we hit the well-known lollipop hill and I cramped. I told Rebecca I needed to walk a minute. She turned and looked and at me and said "Just a minute, you can do this, we will do this hill. You have overcome bigger things." I listened to her and we took off. The last four miles were a blur. Every time I thought I was going to slow down she looked back at me and said "You have this. We are almost done." The crowd support grew as we got closer, we came around the last corner to the finish line and there were our friends and family, and we both started to cry. She grabbed my hand and we crossed the finish line and hugged. Without her, I would have never been able to accomplish a marathon. At that point I realized it was a journey and the marathon was just the last chapter. I am so thankful for her support, advice and love! Photo: Angela Genin and her friend and training partner, Rebecca, on Angela's 35th birthday, crossing the finish line of the Grandmas Marathon in 2012.