"Call Me Crazy" 5K Challenge

Am I crazy? Maybe I am.

I've decided to run a 5K (3.1 miles) every weekend in September to say goodbye to 31 and ring in my 32nd year, and I'm going to support some great causes while I'm at it. And if 4 5Ks wasn't enough, I'm kicking it off with a 7K obstacle course for good measure. (I warned you it might be crazy!)

In addition to participating in runs that support important causes, I'm also raising funds to support the cause that's closest to my heart: mental health. Mental illness has been significant to me, both personally and professionally, and I want to increase awareness of the importance of mental health, reduce stigma around getting help, and support an organization that works to do these things as well. I'm excited to be partnering with NØSTIGMAS, an amazing organization dedicated to redefining mental health and erasing the stigmas around suicide and mental illness. September is a big month for them, too, as they are launching new programs and initiatives!

But why? Why give to this cause? Why run all these races?

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I've always hated running. Always. I think it goes back to the first time I had to run a mile in my high school gym class when I finished second-to-last in 15 minutes. I've never been an athlete or anything even close to one (unless you count "tripping" or "getting bizarre, accidental injuries" as sports). Over the years, I've dabbled in various exercise fads or DVDs for a few weeks at a time, and eventually I settled on the occasional (read: "rare") yoga class as my fitness routine.

Fast forward a few years...after accumulating several years of stress from grad school, a career change, being unemployed, an exceptionally demanding and sometimes traumatic job, and just general day-to-day life, I started feeling the effects of all that unmanaged stress. I felt drained in every sense of the word and was experiencing numerous physical and mental symptoms.

After seeing my doctor and ruling out several other possibilities, I realized that I was suffering from burn out. And yes, that is an actual "thing" with very real symptoms. I also realized that everyone who had preached to me about self-care wasn't kidding and that I could no longer be educating others about stress management with a "do as I say, not as I do" approach. As I started working to reduce and address the stress, I realized that developing an actual fitness routine would be beneficial to restoring some balance to my physical and mental wellbeing.

So, a few years after that fateful gym class (ok, about 17 years later), my husband and I joined a gym, and I started working with a personal trainer in March of this year. She asked me what goal I wanted to work toward, and I said I wanted to be able to run a mile, without stopping, in less than 15 minutes.

Well, in my first session, she made me run a half mile. I was huffing and puffing and thought for sure I might pass out, but I didn't.

And then, before my second session with her, I ran 1 mile on my own, in 10:30. When I saw her again and told her, she asked how I felt when I did it.

I said, "Sick." She laughed. I didn't. But I kept on running.

Then she suggested I do a 5K. I laughed. She didn't. So I signed up.

I trained, and on July 18, I ran my first 5K...with a minor foot injury and in 90 degree heat with ridiculous humidity. And about 15 minutes after finishing in 34:46, I was thinking, "That was BRUTAL!....When can I do it again?"

I've come to realize that while running is physically challenging, I the biggest challenge for me is mental. The negative thoughts are always there, trying to talk me out of running, rationalizing that I deserve to relax. While running, about a half mile in, I often start to hear a little voice say, "Why are you doing this?...You don't need to do this....You can stop...You just ran yesterday..." But I've learn to combat that voice with "I want to do this...I can do this...I have done this!...When I finish I will feel great!" And I always do.

After my first 5K, I started looking for more races, but I decided to wait awhile to let the worst of the summer heat run its course (pun intended). I started targeting September, and thought it might be fun to do run for my birthday. Then friends started asking me about doing races with them. Then I had an idea...which turned into a goal...which may be crazy...but I can handle crazy...(I'm a professional counselor, after all...) And so the "Call Me Crazy" 5K Challenge was born.

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Here are my challenge races:

August 31 - Badass Dash 7K - benefiting Autism Speaks
September 7 - Run Against Traffick - benefiting Traffick Free
September 15 - Bucktown 5K - benefiting Gilda's Club
September 22 - Zoo Run Run - benefiting the Chicago Zoological Society
September 28 - AIDS Run & Walk - benefiting the AIDS Foundation of Chicago
October 20 - Monster Dash 10K !!

My goal is to raise $1600 for NØSTIGMAS. I consider this fundraising goal a big challenge in and of itself, but I know we can make this happen! I will handle the running, but I need your support to reach this goal! This money will enable NØSTIGMAS to build their Online Wellness Center, develop their 1-on-1 Peer Support Program, and expand their directory of free/low-cost mental health services.

Please consider supporting us if you:

-have or know someone who has a mental health condition

-want to challenge/promise yourself to get support with a mental health issue

-have lost someone to a mental health-related or fitness-related health condition

-have experienced the mental or physical benefits of running or a regular exercise routine

-want to challenge/promise yourself to start a fitness routine

-understand that wellness includes physical, mental and emotional health

-feel like supporting a mental health professional/aspiring runner

-want to wish me a happy birthday!

You may also support me by cheering me on as I train and run these races...or you could join me for the race that supports your favorite cause!

Whatever you decide, thanks in advance for your support of my efforts and of NØSTIGMAS!

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Stephanie Saia 
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