Marking an accomplishment

I hate needles.

But this spring, an idea crept into my head.

After a bunch of personal-worst races in 2014-15 due to injury, under-training, or both, I bounced back after last summer’s strength program and put together a gratifying string of races and PRs.

There was September’s 8K that I finished way faster than I expected. Then two weeks later I ran a seven-minute PR (nevermind that my goal was -7:30) at the Army Ten-Miler. In January I PR’d the Rogue Distance Festival 10K by four minutes, and two weeks later took nine minutes off my half-marathon PR at 3M. That one felt especially good because I finished almost an hour faster than the previous year’s disaster. Then came the Austin 10/20, where I had a vague hope of getting  back that :30 from October; I got it and then some, finishing with a three-plus-minute PR. Finally, I ran a thirty second PR at the Noble Run 5K in early May.

The idea really started after 3M, but I didn’t seriously consider it until I blew away my goal at 10/20.

I kinda wanted a running tattoo.

There. I said it.

It did not totally come out from left field–my mother and sister both have several tattoos–but it’s out of character for me. The girl who hates needles, who’s a wimp when it comes to pain, who faced a serious dilemma during childbirth–epidural or pain–and only went with epidural because I was practically catatonic in my misery…. kinda wanted a tattoo.

I had no idea what it should look like, though. I love symbols and logos–I know a clever one when I see it, but I’m no graphic designer. I did some image searching, but I mostly found variations of the stick figure running girl, the winged shoes, and the footprint. None of those resonated with me.

B takes Latin in school, so I started searching Latin symbols. I mostly came up with Roman numerals like XIII.I, and while I think that’s a cool way to depict 13.1, I didn’t really want specific numbers–I wanted to commemorate more than one race, one distance. So I just let the idea percolate in the back of my mind–I would know the right thing when I saw it.

One night I was on the phone with my dad, talking about a potential trip to Ireland next summer. His family is American going back only a couple of generations–before that, they lived in County Cork and he’s wanted to visit for a while. M and I have been to Dublin, but just for a couple of days. I am excited to take B, if it all works out. Anyway, after that conversation I started thinking about Celtic symbols. These kinds of things tend to be trendy and overused, so while I have legit Irish heritage, I didn’t want to get something that would end up looking outdated (Chinese characters, I’m looking at you) after a few years.

I wear a silver ring stamped with Persevere–it’s the only jewelry I wear when I run–that I got almost four years ago, after I recovered from my first hip flexor injury and started half-marathon training. So I added that keyword to my search, and BINGO. I knew immediately I’d found it.


It’s called a triskelion (or triskele) and it has lots of meanings depending on which culture you ask. In Greek, the three extensions were actually legs–weird-looking, but a nice tie-in to the running theme I am going for. In Celtic it’s generally thought to mean forward progress, advancement, and achievement. It also gives the visual impression of movement.

It’s funny. Maybe a week after I discovered this symbol, I was running on the Brushy Creek trail. At my turnaround under the bridge, someone had spray painted–in flaming orange paint–a yin-yang and a triskelion on one of the columns. I’d never (consciously) seen one before, and then it jumped out at me on the running trail, of all places. 


So once school got out and the dust settled, I summoned the nerve to do it. And anyone who knows me can verify that once I have an idea in my head, it’s difficult to stop me.

M has a friend who owns a tattoo shop, so we stopped by at lunch earlier this week to make some plans. While getting inked has become much more mainstream in recent years, I felt out of place. Here I was, a 40-something mom (wearing an Athleta running skirt, no less) appearing at the tattoo shop after taking her teenager to the orthodontist. I mean, I have a chunk of raspberry pink hair, but I don’t think that boosts my street cred a whole lot. I’m pretty sure this tableau just screamed midlife crisis.

I still felt like a fish out of water (even without the Athleta skirt) when I arrived for my appointment, but everyone was super nice and the process itself was pretty interesting.

First, the artist printed out the image I’d emailed him, and we sort of played around with size and location. We talked about color and shading (I kinda wanted it Longhorn orange, to tie in another personal element), but in the end I thought simple solid black would look the best. And since it was going on my right leg, I wanted it reversed from the original in order to face forward.

Once those decisions were made, he used an old-school thermofax machine to transfer the ink from the paper to a thin sheet of plastic. I hadn’t seen a thermofax in at least a decade–some teachers used them to transfer a printed document onto transparency film for overhead projectors. I had no idea these things were still around now that no one uses transparency film anymore.

He lined up the template, then pressed it onto the place I wanted it tattooed. Purple ink–like that old ditto machine stuff!–marked its location like a stencil. It was not quite centered the first time, so he wiped off the ink and re-set it. Then when he was satisfied, he began to open up all the sterilized packages and put his equipment together.

Once he was ready, I leaned back in the chair and took a few deep breaths, bracing myself. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t … this. It felt like someone was scraping my leg with a nail file. A little weird, a little uncomfortable, but not painful. After a while, once I realized I wasn’t going to experience excruciating pain, I sat up and just watched him work for the next half-hour or so.

And then it was done.


My cat is unimpressed, but it’s exactly what I wanted, what I saw in my head.

I’ve got detailed care instructions for the next two weeks–no swimming, keep it clean, moisturized, and out of the sun–but he said my long run on Saturday should be fine, especially since I (intentionally) placed it above my sock line. All in all, it was way easier than I expected, and I’m super-pleased with the results.

Achievement: marked.


5 thoughts on “Marking an accomplishment

    • It took a while to stumble upon the symbol that resonated with me, that’s for sure. And I was pleasantly surprised at how little it hurt! I guess I chose a less-sensitive area? It was much less painful than I was expecting.


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