Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Strong Running Mama: Diane Montes Harris

Today's Strong Running Mama will prove to you all that you should never give up.

For real. Just check out this story . . .

Diane Montes Harris is a 46-year-old mother of two (Calvin, 20, and Elaine, 19) who works in sales. Both her husband and her son are in the New York Army National Guard -- her son is currently stationed in Kuwait and her husband spent 2012 in Bahrain.

She is also fast. Diane has a marathon PR of 3:53:33 and right now, she is training for the Boston Marathon and will run seven half-marathons in the first half of 2014. Check out her fast times (PRs):

Marathon, 3:53:33
Half marathon: 1:47:22  
Army Ten Miler: 1:20:42 
5K: 23:01

Impressive, right? Yes, for sure. However, even more impressive (to me, at least) and extremely inspirational is where Diane was before she posted her speedy times.

In 1999, Diane was skiing with friends at West Mountain in icy conditions. As she says:
"I volunteered to check things out and determine the safest route down. I stopped at a juncture and did a 'Suzy Chafee swish' (if you ever saw the old Chapstick commercials). My right leg and ski turned. My left leg turned -- but not the ski. There was lots of incredible pain. After a stretcher run down the mountain, they took me to Glens Falls Hospital where they pumped me with A LOT of morphine and determined they didn't know where to start."
Diane would later learn that one place they started was to consider amputation.

Fortunately, that didn't happen:
"I didn't know about the original prognosis or plans until after the heavy sedation lifted. I was not in decision-making mode; luckily the orthopedic surgeon had a plan. It involved dealing with acute compartment syndrome (swelling due to trauma) and an external fixator (looks like a bird cage, they will use this to treat spinal/neck injuries in motorcycle accident victims, for instance). I was only 'freaked out' when, after a couple of weeks, the doctor said I'd never run again and would always walk with a limp! That was unacceptable to me. My kids were 4 and 5 1/2 at the time . . . I was a single mother then, and there were many things I both needed and planned to do with them that involved a high activity level! I never learned the status of my ACL or MCL; I asked, and the doctor said, 'You don't want to know.' That was probably the right answer."
Diane was in the hospital for two weeks with a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula, and shattered tibial plateau.  She spent six months in an external fixator and seven months on crutches. Gradually, she was able to walk without crutches or a cane.
"First it was .1 mile (I remember that one in particular). Then .25 miles. Then a half mile. Eventually I worked up to walking 4-5 miles a day. One day I walked about 12 miles, just because. Then I joined a gym and in addition to weight training I walked on the treadmill. Then I wondered if I could run .  . . worked up a walk/run pattern for a while and got to 2 miles straight.

Eventually I started running outside and about the same time talked to a couple of family friends who were running the SEFCU Labor Day 5K. One of these friends and I then ran a 5K together every month for the following year except either January or February. Later that year (2010), I tried the Great Pumpkin Challenge 10K. Then another friend talked me into the 2011 Mohawk Hudson Half Marathon.  That was so much fun, I had to do a full. I bombed that at 4:10 (injured, sister with breast cancer, husband deployed in Bahrain, more excuses available if needed) so to redeem myself I then ran 4 marathons in 4 months in 2013 (Feb through May), and became a Marathon Maniac before running last year's 5th in October.

So I credit/blame my friend Frank for encouraging me to do my first series of 5Ks, my friend Cynthia for getting me into distance ("why bother with the Boilermaker 15K? Just do a half marathon!") and my husband for buying me a Garmin."
Smiling her way through the Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon

Pretty awesome -- for anyone, let alone someone who almost lost her leg and who was in an external fixator for six months!

Diane has had to deal with some running injuries as well. Last fall, before the Mohawk-Hudson Marathon she had really bad Plantar Fasciitis for which she went to a physical therapist for intense calf massage that helped get her through.

Some of Diane's favorites:

Running gear: "Yaktrax (Pro version) – they have made winter running possible!"

Place to run: "Anywhere flat. I live in a hilly area, so anytime I can get a break from hills I’m happy!"

Race:  "Army Ten Miler"

Time to run: "I'm almost exclusively a morning runner – except when including hill/speed workouts with training partners. It’s easier to prioritize when running early in the day – the rest of the world may change what happens as the day goes on, but early mornings are mine." 
Most memorable running achievement: "I ran four marathons between February and May 2013, qualifying as a 'Marathon Maniac' and the March marathon yielded a BQ time!"

Yeah, that would seem a bit memorable to me!

One thing that has helped Diane run all of these marathons is having training partners. 

"For my first half marathon in 2011, I trained with a woman who became a good friend – and remains one of my dearest friends.  She suggested I join a training team for my first marathon; many of the folks from the 2012 training group are still my training partners and good friends, and we now travel together to other races.  There’s something about the support, motivation, camaraderie – something that happens as you go through the trenches together – that makes the finish line so much more special.  Not only are you celebrating your own accomplishment, but the triumphs of those around you.  And on rough days or after a rough finish, you don’t have to explain yourself -- you know that someone understands exactly what you’re going through."
As someone who used to run alone all the time, but now values running and training with friends, I believe Diane is right on!

Speaking of running with friends . . . I asked Diane what "strong running mama" means to her:

"To me, that means two things: First, a woman who’s willing and able to give herself the gift of fitness, health, strength, accomplishment – not at the expense of family responsibilities, but as an integral part of who she is/her identity within the family (it’s very easy to always put everyone’s needs first and run out of time for oneself); second, we all know our kids learn by watching what we do, not what we say.  Placing a value on physical activity and health, and demonstrating how to work that in as an important part of life is a HUGE life lesson.  (i.e., my daughter completed the Mohawk Hudson Half Marathon in 2013!)"
Yup. Totally agree.

And I am sure that Diane has set a great example for her kids -- and probably for most of us who've read her story! I'm sure there are many people who would have accepted their doctor's word that they'd never run again and would only walk with a limp. But not Diane. She had a busy life to lead so she sure proved that doctor wrong!

Let's hope we could all be that strong.

Thanks for sharing this, Diane. You're an inspiration!

Have a great week, everyone!


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