Today I’m excited to bring you Jenn McRobbie and her awesome story of running to reclaim her body after a breast cancer diagnosis. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jenn in person and experiencing her humor and kindness first-hand (and as a result I have a total girl-crush on her). She is the real deal, and if you ever get a chance to work with her, just do it! But first, read her book and share it with everyone you know, because it will give you an incredible perspective on what it means to be a great friend.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m 40 years old, a mother of two amazing little girls (8 and 5 years old), a wife, a friend, an author and a life coach. In 2013, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, with no family history. I was Stage 3A (the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes). So, over the last 1+ year I’ve endured multiple surgeries (including a mastectomy), chemotherapy, radiation, and physical therapy. And that’s just for the physical aspects of cancer treatment. To manage the mental side, I kept asking my doctors: “When can I get back to running?” They think I’m crazy … and maybe they’re right. 🙂
How/why did you start running?
I ran track in high school. Hurdles. And I’m only 5’ 4” – so just hold that image in your mind for a minute. Yeah — it WAS as funny as you imagine it would be. I wasn’t great, but I loved it. Then, in college I did Army ROTC, so I was forced to run. I was always in the back getting “picked up” by the faster runners in our group. I spent a lot of that time feeling humiliated. So, as soon as I didn’t have to any more, I stopped running. I had my first daughter in 2007 and decided that I was through feeling like crap. So, I joined a gym and started doing a cardio fit class on the treadmill. They taught me about heart rate training … and lo and behold … I fell in love with running! The amazing thing was, I found out I was FASTER in my 30s than I had ever been in my life. I don’t know if that is because I was old enough to actually train or because my body was stronger than when I was a kid. Regardless of the reason, I haven’t looked back since.
What do you love about running – what keeps you coming back time after time?
I don’t run consistently. I’ll be ON training for a few months, then I’ll get derailed. It’s weird. I’m in that “just getting back into it” phase right now. I said to my husband, before I jumped on the treadmill the other night, “I do not want to do this.” He chuckled and didn’t respond because he knew that once I was running it would all be ok. Sometimes when I run it’s like someone else takes over. I love that running is something outside of that little voice in my head that tells me “you can’t.” I love feeling my body move. I love the satisfaction of exhaustion. And, I love the simple fact that I can.
As a cancer survivor, what does running mean to you? What has it given you?
Cancer convinced me, for a short period of time, that I was not in control of my body. My body felt foreign to me. So, I gave myself over to the thought that the doctors knew more about my body than I did. But as I moved through diagnosis to treatment and, now, on to survivorship, I realize that I really am the master of my own body. EVERY TIME I run, I reclaim my body. EVERY TIME I run, I reclaim my mind. You can’t buy that with money or therapy. Running gives me that – and I am so thankful that I’m here and able to run.
Tell us about your experience coaching other runners.
I have a really weird background. In 2009 I was losing focus with my running. I didn’t know why I was doing it any more. So, a friend of mine suggested that I start volunteering with a bourgeoning program called Cancer to 5k, which is a free, 12-week training program designed to introduce or reintroduce cancer survivors to physical activity. I started out as a “sherpa,” which means I was a running partner for a survivor. We met twice a week. I got to run with a bunch of different people who were just beginning to explore what it means to be ABLE to be fit. It was so motivating. Remember, I had no personal experience with cancer at that time. In 2012 I became a coach for the program.
Here’s what CT5K gave me: A sense of belonging to a community of runners, a chance to see what the human body is capable of, a place to “give back” to the running community. But more than that, CT5K showed me that the only thing that really matters is that you’re moving forward. I don’t care if you’re crawling, walking, run/walking, running, or just lacing up your shoes thinking you might not make it out the door … each of those things means you’re moving forward. And forward motion is worth celebrating EVERY TIME you do it.
You recently wrote and published an amazing book. Why did you write it, and what is the key message?
Thank you so much! My book isn’t about running – but it does incorporate some of the principles I learned about when running and coaching. The title is: Why Is She Acting So Weird? A Guide to Cultivating Closeness When a Friend is in Crisis. I wrote this book for my friends. For the people that really wanted to help when I was diagnosed, but didn’t know how. The key message is: your intent is everything. Behind every action and reaction there is a “why.” Until you’re honest with yourself about your why, you can’t help people as effectively.
This relates to running in the same way: Why are you getting out there to run? If you’re getting out there because someone else told you that you should or because you think it will lead you to some greener pasture (figuratively not literally … you obviously can literally run to a greener pasture! LOL) then you’re not necessarily going to “get” the true benefit of running. That’s why I think Running With Curves is so important. You teach us to run now. As we are. For us. For the body we have now. For the pure pleasure of movement. That “why” will carry you so much farther because it’s about loving yourself before you try to love anything else.
How many races have you completed? What is your favorite race/distance?
I have no idea. I’ve done 1 milers, 5ks, 10ks, 10 milers, half marathons, a marathon, sprint triathlons, and even a *near* half-iron distance triathlon (70 miles instead of 70.3). My husband and I went through a phase where we did a race every weekend for a whole season. Those times have passed … the kids have gotten older and I’ve gotten less rabid about it. My favorite race/distance is any race where a friend has asked me to run with him/her. These days, racing isn’t so much about proving anything to myself; it’s about enjoying camaraderie, getting out the door, and the simple fact that I can.
What words of wisdom do you have for brand new runners?
- Please remove the word “ONLY” from your discussions about running. DO NOT say “well, I ONLY run/walk” or “I ONLY jog.” Likewise, don’t ever say, “Yeah, but I’m really slow.” Stop negating your accomplishments. Stop comparing yourself to others. Be proud of your drive to get out and do something for yourself. Shout it from the rooftops. Haters are going to hate … but you’ll be able to outrun all the negativity in no time.
- On the days you don’t feel like getting out there to run, just lace up your shoes. That simple act is usually enough to get you moving. If you still don’t feel like it, then tell yourself “I’m just going to go for a 20 minute walk.” If you’re like me, once you’re out there, you’ll probably start running anyway. It gets you home faster. 🙂
- Try to enjoy it. Doing something new can be intimidating. So, try to find ways to make it fun: get a group of friends together, plug in to your favorite tunes/podcast/audio book, drive somewhere pretty to get your run in … the more enjoyable you make it, the more likely you are to stick with it.
How can we find/follow you on social media?
Facebook: McRobbie Coaching
Where can we get a copy of your book?
Thanks Jenn for telling your inspirational story – I hope we can get together for a run soon!
To read about more Rockstar Runners, click HERE.