Mother Runner of the Month: Kristin Partenza
This month’s Mother Runner of the Month, Kristin Partenza, comes with a big lesson to listen to your body.
Her nominator dubbed her a “comeback story” but Kristin’s comeback isn’t one you would expect. She wasn’t on a break from running because of injury or having babies. No. Kristin was forced to take a break from running after learning days after completing a marathon that she had run the race with fatal blood clots in her lungs.
Kristin had somehow cheated death.
After her diagnosis, doctors told Kristin not to run. And, for a short while, she was afraid to. But then she realized how much she needed it. The Connecticut mom of four children (ages 5 to 14) needed the joy, experience, camaraderie, and community of running now more than ever.
Read Kristin’s story below along with her important message of how “listening to your body” may do more than save you from injury–it could possibly save your life.
Tell me about yourself.
I’ve been running since elementary school, but it truly became a love of mine when I was in college at Georgetown (class of 2000). It bridged the abrupt transition from playing varsity sports to not playing at the collegiate level. My current job requires diverse responsibilities from teaching (which I have my masters in), to therapy/ psychology (my undergrad minor), to nursIng, to an Uber-like driving schedule, and event planner, chef, and inn keeper…my title is “stay at home mom.” I have two daughters that are 14 and 5 years old and sons that are 12 and 10 years old. With a child in high school, one in middle school, one in the upper elementary, and one in kindergarten, running keeps my mind and body fit to keep up with them!
Why do you enjoy running?
It is freedom. It is fitness. It is thinking I can’t and then proving my doubt wrong. It is empowering. It increases productivity. It is an opportunity to test limits and break through fear. It makes me happier, more patient, and a better mom. It makes me a good role model. It has introduced me to inspirational people and given me a sense of community.
What are your running goals and accomplishments?
My biggest goal is to do as Des Linden suggests and “Just keep showing up.” Before October 8, 2019, I think I may have responded to the request for my running accomplishments as a list of the following races and paces alone. I’ve run 10 marathons. 22 half marathons. Lots of local 5ks and 10ks. A handful of 1st-3rd placements in my age group in both big and small races. Qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon in 2019 and finishing with another qualifying time for 2020. Earning a qualified entry into the NYC half and full marathons for 2020 with a half marathon of 1:35:12. This resume of races brought me joy, empowerment, and many miles of beautiful and arduous effort.
My biggest running accomplishment, however, was surviving bilateral pulmonary embolisms 3 months ago, during the Twin Cities marathon in Minnesota (and, perhaps stupidly, finishing the race). I knew I was feeling “off” and sluggish the week prior as light training sessions felt like major feats. I got another warning sign when I sweat profusely the day before the race while doing a 3-mile treadmill jog. Then, I had to pause halfway up the steps to the expo facility where I was getting my bib. After a few “nervous belly” trips to the restroom, I still toed the line on that beautiful morning in October ready to hit the paces on my armband as I had many times over the course of training…even if my warm-up felt wonky.
Today was the day to better my 3:36 marathon PR and break 3:30, so I thought.
By mile 2, I decided to give my body more time to warm up at my conservative pace because my legs were heavy and heart was racing. By mile 5, I couldn’t hit my stride and my breaths were NOT satisfying. I was beginning to panic about just how slow I was going and how awful I still felt. My hands felt tingly and numb and my low back started screaming around mile 10. My chest felt sore and my neck and nostrils strained to pull in more air. My thought was that I had a cold or virus coming on and it was time to listen to my body, and just finish the thing. Which I did, in 4:07. Not sub 3:30.
I wasn’t sad, I was ecstatic that I finished it because at times I questioned that. It wasn’t until I flew home (alone) the next day, that I was so short of breath conversationally, that I went to see my doctor. My blood test showed my D-dimer level was sky high (8,000s instead of below 250). I went to the ER that night for a CT scan and was shocked to learn my diagnosis.
I had somehow cheated death.
The reason is still unknown as I do not exhibit any of the known risk factors (hormone treatments, recent surgery, being sedentary for a long time, genetic predisposition/ disorder within blood…none of it was me after LOTS of testing). After going through this traumatic event and being ordered by doctors to walk instead of run for a while, loved ones asked if I thought I’d try to run again.
The fear had a grip for a while, but as I recovered and the anticoagulants did their job, it dawned on me that I needed running more than ever. As doctors allowed it, I began to go for walks and the sunlight was so healing, I then walk/ jogged with friends and family while watching my heart rate. Wow, how patient and loving are my dear friends and family to let go of their speed to stand beside me? I then did a Turkey Trot with family and friends and enjoyed the back of the pack because I was back IN this beautiful pack. I am on a blood thinner for life but have gradually worked my way back to training for the Boston Marathon. I’ll be there on April 20 with a whole different kind of 2020 vision.
How does your love of running impact your kids/family?
My love of running has taught my children to make time for themselves and what they love even amongst the chaos. That big goals don’t happen overnight. When we keep chipping away with consistent hard work, good things happen.
And…the “good” outcome may be different than the good outcome you were initially striving for. It has taught my husband and kids that I am strong and resilient, but am also vulnerable and appreciate their love and patience with me.
How does running make you a better mom?
It makes me more patient and able to prioritize the day’s tasks. It also shows through example that it’s important to set lofty goals, reach for them…and if you stumble or fall, dust yourself off and get back up again. It also has brought me a tribe that listens to me, helps me, and keeps me laughing and light-hearted (most of the time 😉).
What’s the best piece of running advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Just keep showing up.” “Run happy.” “Don’t forget to look up and around.” “Be patient.”
Do you have any favorite running podcasts?
Not necessarily podcasts, but all forms of writing and reflection by and about Kara Goucher, Deena Kastor, Mary Cain, Sarah Hall, “Brave Like Gabe”
How do you stay motivated when the going gets tough?
I remind myself what a gift it is to be granted the ability to run. Consider the MANY individuals who have it harder than me and aren’t complaining, but are thriving and crushing it. The Boston bombing survivors, cancer survivors, veterans, full-time working single mothers making marathon training happen… I have squat to complain about.
Thank you, Kristin!
Learn more about the signs of a pulmonary embolism, such as shortness of breath, sweating, and leg swelling, here.