Begin and Be In

Bebe Vanek is a privacy attorney working at a large healthcare provider and institute of higher education. Bebe can be found in the mountains camping and hiking with her family, or on the trails, road, or track, training for an upcoming race. Bebe loves to cook vegan meals for her family and friends, sharing her love of great food and her values of sustainability and living a cruelty-free life.

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Photo caption: Fast push to the finish during the Round Valley Rambler- the first race in the TTC in June. 

I’m an attorney by trade so I usually start with the facts – I find that it makes the story easier to tell. The facts in my case are straightforward. I’ve been a runner since elementary school, which is almost three decades ago, and I can still remember my first foot race: it was early summer shortly before school let out and I had sparkly pink jellies on. Running, but make it fancy. We were learning about the summer Olympics and hosted our own short race across the crunchy grass in the southern California summer. In my memory of this race, I was doing great but then those jellies slowed me down and I was not the winner that day. But to be fair, I have never really been a winner at running – I ran mid-pack cross country in high school and gravitated towards non-running events in track and field. But I loved running and continued to run on my own almost every day throughout college and law school. Running for me was meditative, religious; it was something I could count on and only needed a small amount of gear: myself, my shoes, and the road or trail.  I ran my first marathon in April 2015 and my second about 30 days later – which didn’t go so well. The fact is: I throw myself into the deep end of things, often with a lot of optimism and determination, with only a tiny sprinkle of reality.

My experience running my second marathon in 30 days – the Ogden Marathon in May 2015 – a mostly downhill and bitter cold road race in the snowy Utah spring in Ogden Canyon, really took the heart out of running for me. I had been disappointed in my experience in my first marathon the month before, and I realize now that I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to “beat” my time. I ended up fizzling out, hallucinating, with a diagnosis of mild hyperthermia at mile 19. I recall riding home in the backseat of my mom’s car crying and saying over and over, “I am failure, I failed.” We didn’t really talk about it much after that, but my mom still refuses to come to my races, thinking she somehow is the bad luck charm that caused my poor performance. I got married a few months later and slowly replaced running with yoga, only running a few times a week, if at all, after that. I could feel myself letting go of my runner identity, not willing to do the work to grieve what I lost and what I was giving up.

Self-timer photo at an overlook during a solo training run. 

I become pregnant in 2018 and stayed physically active, running some but focusing on hiking in the foothills and mountains near my home. Hiking brought me a lot of peace, being in the mountains of the Wasatch Front, while I was growing that baby – a boy – born in October 2018. I felt physically strong, mentally tough, and focused all of myself towards having my baby and being a mom. Like I said, I throw myself in, and I truly did. Becoming a mom was everything I thought would complete me as a person, and I put a lot of expectations on the way I thought I would feel once that was my identity. The message I told myself was I needed to be all in as “mom,” at the expense of all other things I was – and that narrative pushed out the other aspects of my identities that had brought fulfillment and beauty to my life.

Fast-forward a few hectic years, not too much to cover other than experiencing a postpartum anxiety disorder, a global pandemic, worsening climate crisis – and my second baby – a girl – who was born in July 2021. On a whim and mostly to motivate myself to get back in shape and focused on something positive in a sea of some much negative in the world, I signed up for a half marathon the winter after my daughter was born. I began running again on and off, and subsequently converted my registration to a 10k a few days before the race, not feeling conditioned enough to complete a half marathon. In May 2022, I ran the 10k and won second place in my age group. I won something at running! I was ecstatic. But more than anything, I felt something different about running that 10k, during which my pace was smack dab in the middle of the fast group and the slow group, so I ran down a beautiful canyon in the early spring sunrise mostly by myself without music. That morning, I just existed: I was fully in the present moment for those 6.1 miles. That race felt personal, it exposed a part of my identity that was sleeping quietly but suddenly woke up – more on that later. Riding that second-place victory, I decided to sign up for a three race trail series: the Triple Trail Challenge, a once-a-month race in the Park City, Utah area, concluding in a trail marathon this upcoming August. Diving right into hours of intense training, I started thinking about my identity and relationship with running and especially what that meant as I was just barely feeling comfortable in my identity as “mom” – did I have the space to be mom and a runner?

Here’s one thing about becoming a parent that I was completely unprepared for – there is so much gear. Opinions differ of course, entire books, Volumes One and Two, are written on this subject! People ask (and try to answer): What is the best gear, the right gear, the wrong gear, what’s safe, what’s toxic, what do you need? One midwife told me during a prenatal visit that we didn’t really need much – Changing table? No! change the baby on the bed. Video or sound baby monitor? Neither! Just listen at the door. Grab a convertible car seat and you’re good to go. I wish I had listened because in hindsight I think she was right. The amount of gear I accumulated over the span of two babies reached gargantuan proportions. This wasn’t all my doing, however. I was the last of my local friends to procreate so hand-me-downs found their way right into my house, plus grandparents’ gifts, and hey – I had to buy a few things, too. I’m sure I’m not alone in the sheer number of panicked middle-of-the-night, “mybabywontsleephelp!” purchases, the financial totals of which I hope to never know. Here’s the other thing about becoming a parent – these little people grow up and needs change, and the gear I just had to have and was certain would make or break sleeping, eating, nursing – I no longer needed. At the time of this writing, I have a mountain 5 feet x 5 feet of baby-baby gear, ready to be passed on to another family. All of these purchases which in the moment felt monumental – which carseat, which sleepsack, swaddle, pacifiers – all important decisions certainly, but not anything that I should have agonized over (I tell my anxious brain in hindsight, wishing I could give myself back that time) because that gear comes, serves its sometimes very short-lived purpose, and goes (in my case going into a growing pile in my garage to find a new home).

Selfie during a solo tempo run during a family vacation in June. 

Yet, as I really break down the point of that gear for me, it was my security blanket. In 2018, I found myself as a beginner – I did not know how to be that mom of the moment: cool, calm, knowing how to be it all and look good while doing it. So instead, I looked everywhere and read everything, hoping I could find something to help me feel comfortable being “mom.” I see now that it was not the decision about the gear that mattered, it was feeling like I was doing something that mattered for my baby, for the safety of my baby. It’s as if I was training to compete in the “most google searches related to infant items” race of 2018! But I realize now that my accumulation of gear was really coping with being a beginner as a first-time mom and feeling like I was losing something of myself in order to make space for that new identity. Now, as I methodically sort and pile that baby gear, it is a practice in making space for something else – the physical reentry of space in my life for me. I realize that my mindset has changed, and maybe it’s really that I have changed. I feel so much more confident and different as a mom now, it’s embedded in my identity, and I don’t quite feel so out of my element making decisions about what’s best for my children. Yet, at the same time, I have to remind myself that I can’t dwell or regret the time or money spent in making those decisions or coping with that beginning with the accumulation of gear, but instead I can celebrate that my identity has expanded to include mom.

As my no longer baby-baby celebrated her first birthday a few weeks ago, and I, her birthday-buddy only a few days following, reflect on another beginning: another year of my life, another rotation around the sun. I find myself reveling and celebrating the word: “Begin” and the words within that word, “Be In.” Having loved running before, I did not realize the grief I experienced to lose the joy it once brought me. I think that’s why I leaned so deeply into running again after so many years of feeling forsaken by it: it’s because I felt a spark of that joy again. And yet, it was different this time – or I was different this time. My mental running mantras are different, the discomfort of a hard training session is different, the knowledge of my power as a woman and what I am physically capable is different. I am a beginner trail runner, and every chance I get to run, I celebrate that I am a beginner and value the time I have outside, without a diaper bag and wonderfully minimal gear: only myself, my shoes, and the trail.

Official race photo during the Jupiter Peak Steeplechase- the second race in the TTC on July 16, 2022.

It felt impossible to the me in 2018, when I welcomed my first child, that I would ever find space to begin again. Here I am, 7 years from my last bibbed race, and almost 4 years from adding “mom” to my identity, and I am back at a beginning. This beginning, I am choosing each time to “begin” and to “be in” the moment entirely as I am – what I mean is this: when I decided what training plan to follow for my upcoming Triple Trail Challenge, I choose “beginner” despite my almost three decades of being a runner. For all intents and purposes, I am an expert runner. But that designation does not truly serve me – it is fixed, it forces unreasonable expectations onto my experience. I don’t have a three-month base of 30+ miles per week and I can’t fathom running multiple 20 milers in preparation for Little Miss Marathon barreling towards me at the end of August. But here’s the thing: I’m not scared of that marathon, and I won’t be intimated by it this time around. I’ve been through training with mega miles before, and have made it through harder, more physically demanding things – carrying a baby in my body, delivering two babies without pain medication, not sleeping longer than a few hours for weeks on end, and still having to go to work and show a semblance of executive functioning. After that, a marathon is easy, right? Women have a power in us and if we tap into that through our collective knowledge of our physical abilities and focus on supporting each other, we can truly do anything.

I feel a different pull this time at this beginning. I am inspired by my success, my growth, and I’ve never felt that before. I want to be my best, and my training time is truly the only time in my day that I am doing something that is exclusively mine. As a lawyer/mom/wife/sister/daughter – I give almost all of what I have to others every day. If I don’t get my miles in, I might not get my time and I risk not seeing my own potential and gains. And this time – I picked a trail series. I get to train on trails, in the mountains and surrounded by a small group of dedicated runners who love the same things, value the mountains, and hope to protect them, and who are inspired by the success and joy of other runners on these trails. I am finding that this time around, I gave myself a gift. The gift is I am a beginner, and I choose to be a beginner again each day by running and training, and I already feel myself getting stronger. Another gift of being a beginning is that every race I am running is a distance I’ve never tried – so every race is a personal best!

The fact is – I’ve been a runner more of my life than I haven’t been a runner. But I stopped feeling like a runner after that second marathon in 2015. I didn’t sign up for or run any races until a sunny spring morning only a few months ago. Somehow in that race, and in the time I gave myself that morning, I saw a glimpse of the identity that I loved and that mattered so much to me. As the pile of baby gear for donation grows, it feels symbolic of the space I am making in my family’s life for myself. Sometimes it takes remembering to be in every moment, even the hard ones, knowing that the only way through is to keep moving. I am choosing every day to begin and be in my life just as I am.

About the Author

Bebe Vanek is a privacy attorney working at a large healthcare provider and institute of higher education. Bebe can be found in the mountains camping and hiking with her family, or on the trails, road, or track, training for an upcoming race. Bebe loves to cook vegan meals for her family and friends, sharing her love of great food and her values of sustainability and living a cruelty-free life.

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