Sometimes It’s My Slowest Races That I’m Most Proud Of

Sometimes it’s my slowest races that I am most proud of.

Many hard core runners would shrink back, aghast, at such a statement. By most people’s standards I’m a hard core runner – evidenced by 5 Ironman Triathlons, 48 full marathons and zillions of other races – but my way of thinking, in running and in life, has never reflected the quintessential or conventional thought process of, well, most human beings, let alone the mind set of a super hard core, competitive runner. You can’t put Baby in the corner, and you can’t put Liz in a neat little box. It’s just the way it is.

I sat in the airport in Rochester, MN after completing my 48th marathon – and my 34th state of my 50 States For Sole campaign in the city of Winona earlier that morning. The Rochester airport looked like a library from the 1970’s. There were only a few gates and the entire place was void of travelers other than myself and two other women.

My stomach was bugging me, my eyelids were as heavy as X-Ray aprons, and my left ass cheek had a Charley Horse big enough to accommodate John Wayne himself. The weekend before I had run a marathon in Newport, Oregon and a week or two before that I ran one in Denver. Next week I will be doing a marathon on Friday in Idaho and another one on Sunday in Wyoming. 50 States For Sole is ticking by at an incredible pace. At times I long for home and my family, and my body feels the mileage the way it might if I were, say, hit by a bus – but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. This is what I’m meant to do, and the fact that it’s a challenge and it hurts sometimes exemplify the true nature and spirit of not only endurance running, but the core message of what I try and teach my Girls With Sole kids. It’s not always going to be easy, but we can all move forward with perseverance, optimism and resilience- in running and in life.

No one is impervious to a little bit of self-pity now and then, but a Girl With Sole, and an endurance athlete, uses her life experience and wisdom to squash it before it gets big enough to do any real damage to her spirit.

Sleep at the Super 8 the night before the race didn’t come easy. It was as if my dingy surroundings made my family feel even further away and the crappy hotel gave me permission to feel sorry for myself. I woke at 3:45 am to an unwelcome alarm and the loud rapping of rain on my hotel window which could have exacerbated those feelings of self-pity. But I got up, got dressed and went down to the lobby to grab a coffee and what I like to refer to as a cherry poppin’ garbage bag. It’s hard to believe, but in over 20 years of endurance racing I had never worn a garbage bag to stay warm and dry. Well, there’s a first for everything so I grabbed that garbage bag offered by the Super 8 front desk guy, cut a hole in it for my head, and set out into the darkness – reminding myself that this marathon is something that I GET to do, and that I WANT to do. 50 States For Sole is a challenge, but I’ve experienced much worse in my life than running 26.2 miles in the rain.

For the most part, thus far, I feel I have actually embraced the challenges presented by my 50 States goal. I kind of revel in the adventure while simultaneously longing for home and my family each time I leave for a race. It’s a whacky dichotomy of bohemian and homebody all rolled into one. What can I say? I’m a complicated and complex individual who can’t be categorized. Just when you think you can put me into a certain box, I’ll surprise you (and myself) with a vulnerability never seen or an extreme boldness unexpected. I’ve learned over the years that this is me, and that it’s ok – awesome, even. In the past I used to wish that I was a simpler and easier person and inwardly condemned myself for being so different. But now I fully embrace my hippy-earthy-boho-anxious-loud-quiet-brave-nervous-Type A-over-achiever-slacker self-with extroverted and introverted tendencies.

After parking the car at the State Park and waiting for the start to go off, I mustered up my mental toughness and let the rain wash away any residual feelings of self-pity as I ran the first few loops in the dark. With each runner’s stride, it got sloppy and muddy on the trail very quickly yet I couldn’t help smiling and having fun despite myself. The fact remains that I love to run, and overcoming obstacles and running with passion, heart and purpose is what this is all about.

The heavy rain created havoc on the race course causing dangerously slippery conditions. Too many runners were going down too many times, and I even saw one young lady in tears, garnering supportive words of encouragement and hugs from her fellow athletes. In order to keep everyone safe, the race director changed the race course course multiple times while we were running it!

To help keep track, runners picked up a rubber band upon completion of each loop. With the course change, the number of required loops increased to 17 but I was happy to get out of the woods and slick mud and onto the gravel and dirt road with surer footing. Days like this – when adversity is thrown at you and things continuously change- are a great reminder that you have to be resilient and roll with the unexpected. It’s also an amazing reminder that Lacing Up for a Lifetime of Achievement isn’t just a tagline for Girls With Sole. A Girl With Sole digs deep, laces up and can rely on her perseverance, optimism, wisdom, energy, and resilience (POWER) to keep moving forward and achieve her goals on the race course and in life.

It’s my life’s mission to be a living example and to show all the girls who need GWS that the Finish Line isn’t the end — it’s the beginning of what’s possible. We can’t control what happens to us and around us, but as Maya Angelou says- we can control how we respond to it.
It’s in times like this that I’m glad I’m not your average bear and I don’t get too caught up in being brought down by “unfair” or uncomfortable conditions. Simply rolling with what you are given, staying positive, and focusing on the good can be so powerful and can help you see things in a different light.

It’s also quite liberating and empowering to run Garmin free for the pure, unadulterated joy gained from the rhythm of your feet and the movement in your heart and soul.

Happiness and pride shouldn’t only come from the fastest times and swiftest course. Our slowest races can bring the biggest rewards because they were fought for and there is great pride to be had in truly earning that Finish Line Feeling.

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Change the way you think about things – and life becomes good

This guest blog post is another wonderful installment of Voice of Soles.
Everyone has a story. If we give voice to our story, we empower ourselves and others. Sometimes all a person needs to know is that they aren’t alone in their journey.
We are many soles with one voice.

Change The Way You Think About Things – And Life Becomes Good
Age 20

After hearing Liz’s story, I felt extremely grateful for everything that has happened in my life, whether it was good or bad. Hearing her talk about her childhood made me think about how I grew up and how it made me the person I am today.

I grew up in a house with a working mom, a lost father, and a brother who was six years older than me. In my younger years, I was a crazy child and only my mom knew how to handle me, but she was always working. So the responsibility fell on the other two people left in the house, my dad and brother. I was scared of my dad, he would always yell at me and he ended up hitting me few times; he used me as the scapegoat for everything from his financial anxieties to things going wrong with his business. In high school, I started to find my strength and I did not want to receive any kind of abuse. I don’t think he has any idea the effect his actions had on me when I was growing up. I used to have so much hate and contempt towards him, and I’ve learned that it was only hurting me. I try to let all my negativity go and move on; let it go as much as I can, and things have gotten so much better now that I’m older and doing my own thing.
Sometimes I feel sad about my childhood because I could’ve had a much better one and a healthy relationship with my father like I see my friends do. But I’ve come to realization that every single event that happened to me lead me to where I am right now just as Liz talked about. By changing the way I think about life, I change the way I feel in a more positive way. I believe that what you put out into the world comes back to you, but you decide whether its good or bad.
Listening to her came at a perfect time for me due to the fact that I have been questioning and doubting myself. Liz helped me relight the fire I always knew I had inside of me. I never knew how important working to better my self is along with bettering my life. I’ve come to realize that they aren’t separate but interconnected just like everything else in this world is.
I have felt so lost at times that I don’t even know how I made it to where I am. I feel like being lost, however, allowed me to find my true purpose and place at this point and time in life. I heard a quote on the television the other day: “We aren’t meant to be perfect, we’re meant to be whole.” I’ve found that sometimes I’m very hard on myself and others, and I notice that all I’m doing is being negative. I try to make things perfect or be a certain way. Life doesn’t always go the way I expect it to and instead of trying to make it perfect, I have to make myself whole from what life throws my way; to ground myself when I feel lost. To me, Liz is the epitome of my thoughts and she has such a positive energy that she spread it throughout the lecture hall to every single person in some shape or form. I feel honored to have heard her story and I will never forget the emotions she struck in me.
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“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
— C. JoyBell C.

Reflections Of The Family Black Sheep
By : Cristaly Carrion
Age: 21

Today, I was blessed to be able to listen to a presentation by Liz Ferro, the founder of Girls With Sole, a non-profit organization that uses fitness to empower at-risk girls.  It was a presentation that broke my heart.  During the presentation, I experienced sadness, fear, inspiration, hope, and rage.  It was overwhelming.  All of the emotions I experienced while Liz was talking scared me.  I could not control myself, and had to sit for a few minutes after class just to allow myself to cry.
In six weeks, I will be graduating from Cleveland State University with a B.A. in Psychology as well as a B.A. in Music.  After this, my life truly begins.  I do not have a set plan for my life after May 9th.  However, I do know where my heart is, what my passion is, and what I want to devote my life to.  I do not know in what setting, or what subset of the population I want to work with, but I want to work with kids.  I have known that about myself since I was in high school.  
Liz’s visit hit me so hard for several reasons, the first being that I had never met someone so strong in real life.  She is a survivor, and does not call herself a victim.  I found that to be powerful.  Her sense of humor, openness, and even her word choices are all signs of strength.  Yet, I am almost 100% sure that she would not like or appreciate being called strong.  That she would shrug it off. The balance that she has created in her life and the stability that she provides for the girls that she works with are astounding to me.
Another influential point that Liz showed me is that it is more than okay to be “directionless.”  Although I am not a victim of sexual abuse, I do come from an emotionally and verbally abusive environment.  My parents come from physically abusive environments.  Through my experiences and study of Psychology, I recently have been able to identify this.  In this way, I could relate to much of the feelings and experiences that Liz shared with us.  I know what it is like to be called “crazy.”  To be the “black sheep.”  To be made fun of by the family and betrayed or abandoned by the people whose job or duty it is to protect you.  It was not in the form of a denial of sexual abuse, but it came in other forms.

abuse is abuse

I am so grateful, not only for Liz’s visit, but just for her very existence!  She has taken her life experiences and used them to make the world a better place, one person at a time.  She has used her pain, suffering, mistakes, poor decisions, agony, and her education to create something beautiful.  In my opinion, she is the very definition of the word resilient.  It takes an incredible amount of effort to rise from the kind of abuse that Liz endured, but it takes even more to revisit the pain day after day in order to help another person.  As she said, statistically, she should not even be alive.  But as she also said, if she could make a difference in even one person’s life, it would all be worth it…and that is exactly what she does through Girls With Sole.


It was a truly incredible experience to be able to hear her story, and to know that there are people and organizations out there that serve the communities I am interested in working with.  She inspired me to do some research and soul-searching, and for that I am appreciative.
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Everything We Do Makes A Difference

Voice of Soles Guest Blog Post
By Deanna Black
Age 48

It is often said we are all running. Running towards something or running away from something.
Liz Ferro is a runner. What began as running away from things has changed to running towards a greater good, running with a purpose and running with the brightest smile on her face entering marathons in 50 states as well as random shorter runs.
Girls with Sole (GWS) was founded because Liz began changing her own life. Realizing how empowering it was, she began sharing what worked for her to empower others to change theirs. And I’m not talking about those challenges that we all face but those challenges we should never have to face particularly as a child.
abuse is abuse
I met Liz through my fitness friends and had heard about her through talk revolving around races and triathlons in the community. She was the one to aspire to be, the one to keep up with and for the competitive the one to beat. But it wasn’t until I attended one of her LULA (Lacing Up for a Lifetime of Achievement) 5K’s that I really got to know her.

A friend of mine asked me to run in a 5K put on by Girls with Sole, Liz’s organization. During the welcome Liz spoke and I was so impressed with how real she is. No prepared notes, no memorized speech, she spoke from her heart laughing at the moments she got a little tongue-tied. She talked about how Girls with Sole is an organization that teaches girls who have been or currently are in foster care, residential centers, and community programs as a result of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, making poor choices and/or being the victim of another person making wrong choices. Liz was a kid in foster care. Liz was a kid who was sexually abused. Liz was making wrong choices. Liz did get caught in the wrong places at the wrong time. She credited running, fitness and physical activities to not only get her through her own tribulations but over come them. What began as post-traumatic stress disorder has become post-traumatic growth syndrome and this is what she is teaching.
GWS has connected with various programs. Liz and her volunteer coaches show up offering a session of physical exercise and a self-empowerment exercise. I am thrilled to be one of her volunteer coaches.

For my first session, Liz asked if I would teach a yoga class to a group of girls ages 15-19. I had no idea what to expect and even began to wonder if I could even help. What did I know? I grew up in what I call “Mayberry, white bread, small town, middle class America.” I’d been bullied but nothing like the experiences these girls have been through.
We gathered together and introduced each other not only with our name but also favorite color. Then we said the creed, call and response, shoutin’ it out with a clap and a sway:

We’re Girls with Sole and we’re on the move
We’re strong and proud you can’t stop our groove
We know who we are and who we want to be
We sail through life with resiliency
At Girls with Sole we set goals and believe
If we keep lacing up we will always achieve

I led them through a yoga class and while in warrior pose I spoke of the times that we need to fight both to protect ourselves but also what we believe in. But also if there is at all possible, a way to do it with out causing harm to us or to others. That’s a tough one! After class Liz pulled out a bunch of postcards, stickers, magazine cut outs and markers to make our own inspiration card. Then we went around the room sharing the story behind each of our cards.
Every GWS session is like this. We know the physical as well as mental and emotional benefits to exercise. We know how important trusting human connections are to have. We know the importance of being able to speak and admit your feelings, of being heard. This is GWS. I have heard things that I never thought I would hear such as, “I can’t participate today, I have an injury.” I asked what happened because maybe there is a way I can modify the activity so she could participate.

“I got grazed by a bullet.”

What?!?!? This is Ohio!

Though she did not physically participate in the Zumba/yoga class I taught that day, she was in the room taking in the positive tribal energy including the moments of laughter.

Another powerful moment was after another class Zumba/yoga class I taught, Liz had us make Life Maps. One of the girls was sharing her map and admitted that she had “never told anyone that before.” This again is GWS, a safe and trusting environment.
Liz is currently running a marathon in every state to raise money and awareness for Girls with Sole. She is also the author of Finish Line Feeling, an autobiography of herself leading into the inspiration of GWS. All the money raised and donations received are put right back into the organization to provide wellness programs, transportation, running shoes as well as fitness journals and sports bras for the girls. Her vision is one in which each girl views themselves as an athlete. The times we win and find ourselves in the flow or in the zone but maybe more importantly, the times we come in last and what we learned from that experience and what it takes to get back out there again. Liz shares with the girls the times she got knocked down and what it took to get back up.
youcando it
Currently Girls With Sole are at 6 locations in the Northeast Ohio area. Since their beginning in 2009 Liz has served around 800 girls. I have seen first hand what a difference Liz has made in these girls’ lives let alone all others around her. I have always taught that everything we do makes a difference. And I mean EVERYTHING, from eye contact with a stranger passing by, to answering the phone at 2 AM to hear your best friend crying on the other end, to sharing your story letting others know they are not alone, to giving a young girl a pair of running shoes and watching her cross the finish line. At some point when around Liz Ferro, you too will have a Finish Line Feeling.


Extra note: A couple years ago, I signed up for a sprint triathlon at Huntington that I had done the year before but this time had not trained at all. Maybe a run, more like a jog here and there, definitely no swimming unless you count falling off the stand up paddle board and swimming back to it and a bike ride on my cruiser to a local café. I saw Liz was competing in it to so before the race I thought if I could just stand next to her, maybe some of her energy and athletic skills will rub off on me! I found her, hugged her, got a pic with her and shaved 4 minutes off my time from the previous year! Boom! Finish Line Feeling! Read more

Liz Ferro Voice of Soles Post – My Story

Age 45 (46 in 23 days)

When I was born I was given to the foster care system. After living in four foster homes amongst trauma and turmoil, I was adopted at age two. At the age of eight my next-door neighbor began sexually abusing me and continued to do so for about a year. When my mom discovered what was happening she made the fatal mistake of sweeping it under the rug. Maybe if we ignore it – it will go away. Well, much like anything that needs healing –ignoring it can often do more damage than good.
For much of my life I felt helpless and out of control – like I wanted to run away from myself. I wondered if I would ever feel at home in my body. Read more