Dani at mile 23 of this year's Chicago Marathon, held earlier this month. She finished with a time of 3:54:40.

I “met” Dani Beals of Grand Haven through the Michigan Runner Girl Facebook page, where she connected with fellow runner Sybil Ashworth. These two women didn’t know each other outside the online world, but soon became running partners and friends when they met up this past summer for a few training runs along the shores of Lake Michigan. I was thrilled to hear that they’d met up given that Sybil, vacationing in western Michigan with family, and Dani both were training for a marathon. (Sybil shared this story of meeting Dani over on her blog Sybil Runs Things) Dani, an avid 41-year-old runner here in the mitten state since 2009, inspired me with her running story—a journey that’s led her to strength both in body and mind.

Running through pain, anger: I started running in March of 2009. While the catalyst for this abrupt desire to start running after 37 years of a rather sedentary lifestyle was my decision to stop smoking, I quickly learned that running provided a much needed outlet to the struggle I was dealing with in my life. Going back to the spring of 2002, when my father, a 59-year-self-employed, self-starter, active grandfather and friend, suffered from a debilitating stroke, was when everything changed. At that time, I had a 21-month-old son and a 5-month-old daughter. To say the earth turned upside down the moment I received the news is an understatement. My father taught me a great many things and one of the most important was that you take care of your family. And that is what I did. I diligently stayed by his side through it all; hospitals, surgeries, rehabilitation and moves, all the while trying to take care of my young family. Days turned to months and months into years. This constant care-taker role took its toll on me emotionally and physically. I found myself at a very angry point during this journey—a journey I am still traveling today. I was angry at just about everyone and everything. I was mad at my father for “letting” this happen. I was mad at brother for leaving me to take care of “our” father on my own, and worse yet, I was so angry with God that I railed against Him daily. And while only my husband and closest friends knew of my pain, I went on. Then in January of 2009, both my husband and I decided we really needed to stop smoking and “for good” this time, so we banded together and did just that. About that time, I started taking better care of myself by exercising. So when my dear friends suggested we go for a run one day while on vacation I agreed. I was so surprised at my actual enjoyment that I continued trying to run after I returned home.  It was then that I noticed running eliminated any of my nicotine cravings. But better still, when I ran upset or angry (which was more often than not), the run soothed my soul. As I look back on it now, I probably spent that first year and half running while angry.
Running toward health, strength: Running provided me an exit to where I was able to channel all my hurt and sadness into the run. Into the rhythm of my footsteps.  Into the sound of my breath. I didn’t care about speed then. I didn’t care about training properly. I didn’t care about nutrition. All I knew is that for the first time in seven years, I felt a load lifted from my shoulders. I felt as if I could almost fly. And it was that lightness that kept bringing me back to the run. Running gave me myself back to me, only better. I remember clearly the day I was out on a run when it occurred to me that I just wasn’t angry anymore. My circumstances hadn’t changed.   still had a disabled father. I still held the responsibility for his care. I still worried endlessly about him and my own family. But I had changed. I wasn’t angry. No… I. Was. Capable. I knew without a doubt that there was no situation that I, by my own self-determination, couldn’t overcome. Others always told me I was a strong individual but now I believed in that. I believe I can do hard things. Running brought me to that. And that message has been weaved through so many other areas in my life since then.
Running in the Mitten: I love the changing seasons that come with running in Michigan.  Like most runners, fall is my favorite but I really do love running in a snowy white winter wonderland as well. After training in the heat this past year, I learned to appreciate what the summer months can do for my abilities as a runner. I don’t think I could ever live anywhere that didn’t give me that change in temperature, seasons, and scenic views. My most favorite routes are the ones that bring me to Lake Michigan. Coming up over a hill or turning a corner and seeing the beauty of that lake, the enormity of it, always takes my breath away. No matter how many times I see it, I have the same thoughts every time; that I am so blessed to be able to live so close to it and that I am fortunate to be able run alongside it. Whether I run a route that takes me down the shoreline or down the boardwalk to the pier in downtown Grand Haven, Lake Michigan is always a treasure I cherish.
Favorite race distance: My most favorite distance would have to be around six to eight miles. I find that my “engine” is just starting when I only run three miles but that a good six- to eight-milers gives me a chance to really spend some time working my cardio and my strength, without draining me for the rest of the day. That distance also gets to me my favorite place, to the lake and back.
Dani at the finish of the 2012 Chicago Marathon with friends, including runner Kim Armitage who is one of her oldest friends who lives near Kalamazoo--they trained together “virtually” via text and email. "The other two fabulous ladies were our cheerleaders for the day, Diana Frendt and Jennie Jerovsek," Dani says. "They were the friends who encouraged me to take that first run back in 2009. Having them at the marathon to cheer me on was exactly what I needed to finish strong that day. "

Favorite Michigan race: The Betsie Valley Half-Marathon near Crystal Mountain in October. I have only run it once, in the fall of 2011. It was one of those most perfect fall days: cool, crisp and sunny. The trees were in all their fall color glory. The route was part road race and part trail. It really doesn’t get much better than that. I have also run and truly enjoyed the Park to Park Half-Marathon in Holland, MI. It too, offers beautiful views, including Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa.

“My Running” in three words: 1.)  I like to run with a purpose, whether it be training or just to blow off some energy.  2) I like to push myself to see how much farther or faster I can go.  3) And persistence because there are plenty of times I just don’t want to walk out the door but running has taught me to quit whining and to just do it.
Best running advice: I have gotten so many wonderful words of advice over the past couple of years since I started running, from setting my pace, form, running clothes, nutrition …   However, I think the number one most important thing that every other runner has shown me is their belief in my ability. Their words of encouragement and support were what spurred me to begin to believe in my own capability.  I am in place now that I run because I love the challenge.  As dark and twisty as this may sound, I love proving myself wrong. I never thought I could simply run, let alone a run marathon. But I just did.  Running shows me that anything is possible if I just believe. And that belief started with words from other runners.

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